Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 693
No one can be expected to love satire, especially the reader, Wyndham Lewis wrote in 1934, but for the writer it is otherwise. Like his other works of fiction, The Revenge for Love is a satire, but it is satire with a difference. Not only is the novel considered his best, if not his most typical, but also it is a much gentler book, one in which the characters assume a human dimension often missing in his other satires.
The book is divided into seven parts and begins in Spain, where Percy Hardcaster, a British Communist organizer, is awaiting trial for his political activities. It is uncertain whether he will be shot or pardoned. Because of this uncertainty, he decides to escape with the aid of the prison guard, Serafin, and with some help from the outside. During the attempt, the guard is killed and Percy is shot in the leg, which he eventually loses. The end of the opening section finds Percy recuperating in a Spanish hospital attended by devoted nuns.
The second part of the novel moves the story to London and introduces the reader into the world of left-wing politics among the intellectuals and artists of England. The reader meets Victor Stamp, an Australian painter of uncertain talent, and his devoted wife, Gwendolyn Margaret Savage (Margot), and learns of their dire economic situation and of Victor’s doubts about his artistic abilities. Section 3 begins with a description of John (Jack) Cruze’s office, where he advises his clients on their tax difficulties and where one is also introduced to Tristram (Tristy) Phipps, a rather well-known and successful young painter who, because he occasionally paints nudes, attracts Jack’s interest. At Tristy’s apartment, Jack meets the painter’s wife, Gillian (Jill), and immediately falls in love with her. On a subsequent visit, Jack spies Jill in the nude, considerably inflaming his lust and strengthening his resolve to make her his next “bit of skirt.”
The fourth part of The Revenge for Love contains a wonderfully funny party episode at the house of Sean O’Hara, a gunrunner, during which Wyndham Lewis makes fun of British parlor leftists of every stripe. Percy Hardcaster is also reintroduced to the narrative, having returned from Spain a wounded hero of the war against Fascism. The affair between Jack and Jill (now called Jill Communist because of her fierce left-wing beliefs) heats up in the next part, and Percy is beaten by Jack for attacking Jill’s political leanings as false and meretricious. The episode allows Lewis, through Percy, to vent his contempt for the fashionable leftism of the 1930’s.
The next section takes the reader into the world of the art forgers, among whom are now numbered both Victor Stamp and Tristy Phipps, neither of whom can make enough money elsewhere to keep themselves alive. The art factory is run by Freddie Salmon and a man named Abershaw, who proves to be the most treacherous and unprincipled character in the novel. It is in this section that the two men arrange for Victor to accompany Percy back to Spain in order to run guns to the Communists in their fight against the Fascists.
Part 7, the final section, moves the story once again to Spain, as Victor, accompanied by Margot, has encamped on the French-Spanish border in preparation for transporting the arms. Margot receives several premonitions of impending disaster, including a bizarre incident with a dwarf, and she repeatedly begs Victor to abandon the project. At the last minute, she does in fact warn her husband of his imminent arrest, and, in perhaps the most action-filled scenes ever written by Lewis, they escape the Spanish authorities. Percy is not as lucky: He is recaptured by the Guard Civil and put in prison, where he reads of the accidental deaths of Victor and Margot, who have been killed by walking off a cliff during a storm as they were making their way back to France. The novel concludes in a most un-Lewisian manner, with Percy, in a moment of both self-pity and genuine grief, weeping over the death of his friends and the loss of his ideals.