Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 736
Snooty Baronet is a broad social satire which focuses on Sir Michael Kell-Impie, the “Snooty Baronet” of the title, a minor writer of some celebrity, with a mechanical leg and an obscure Scottish title. The novel begins with the writer introducing himself to the reader by confessing that authors are unaccustomed to opening books in the first person, singular, but that the presence of his mechanical leg necessitates such an approach since it is impossible to extricate himself from the cab in which he is riding with any other voice. The opening sentences introduce the reader to Snooty in all of his eccentricities, both verbal and physical, and establish the confessional/hortatory tone of the fiction from the start.
Snooty soon leaves New York to return to his native country of England, and the trip to London provides an opportunity for him to give vent to his various prejudices against contemporary British society through a running monologue on various indices of imminent collapse such as billboards and the popular press. Waiting for him on his return is a note from his lover of long standing, Mrs. Valerie Ritter, and one from his agent, Captain Humphrey Cooper Carter. Both want to see him. His appointment with Val that night leads to a debauch and an invitation from Val to spend some time together in the south of France. The next morning, Snooty visits his agent, from whom he receives an invitation to write a book on the cult of Mithras in Persia, a volume Humph believes will equal Snooty’s book on fish in public interest. The invitation is a thinly disguised ruse to get Snooty captured in Persia by Ali Akbar, the bandit, so that his books will gain sales through the resultant publicity. The scenes with Val lend themselves to a satire on modern love affairs, and the scenes with Humph give Wyndham Lewis a place to air his thoughts on literary agents. In these scenes, as in the entire novel, Lewis sets up episodes as often for malicious asides as for plot development, and indeed, the book is designed as a series of episodes, or set pieces.
After a brief interlude during which Snooty talks about the bull cult of Mithras and has some fun with a parody of D. H. Lawrence, the reader meets Lily Tagel, the tobacco salesperson. Unlike Val, she has no literary pretensions. She is much more down-to-earth, lower class and, as Snooty confesses, much more to his liking. Although she has discovered Snooty’s real identity as a Baronet and author, something he kept from her, she is not overly impressed by her discoveries, a point which Snooty admires.
During a second meeting with Humph, Snooty confesses that Val will be accompanying him to Persia. They have already made plans for a vacation and he cannot back out of their arrangement; as a gentleman, he has given his word. On their way to Persia, however, Snooty and Val stop in the south of France to try to persuade Bob McPhail, a bullfighting expert and friend of Snooty, to accompany them to Persia, where he will also be commissioned by Humph to write a book, and where he can provide expert advice for Snooty’s book on Mithraism. During an amateur competition in the local bullring on the afternoon of their arrival, however, Bob is killed when a bull throws him against a barricade while he is trying to help another amateur who has been foolish enough to get caught by the animal. Snooty and Val must proceed on to Persia without their friend and adviser.
After brief stopovers in Damascus, Baghdad, before Val and Snooty continue to the town of Yes, where they are to meet the bandit leader who will take them into the hills and provide the sources for Snooty’s book, they rest in Tehran. Val and Humph, who has joined them, do not get along, and the friction between the two causes sufficient grief for Snooty that he takes to hiding out in a brothel, the most exclusive in the capital city. The novel stampedes to a conclusion outside the town of Yes, where, having met with the brigands, Humph is shot and killed by Snooty in a show of bravado marksmanship and where he abandons Val to the clutches of the chieftain before returning home to write the novel the reader is now reading.
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