Wyndham Lewis Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)
ph_0111207096-Lewis.jpg Wyndham Lewis Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Percy Wyndham Lewis is one of the most important figures of British modernism and one of the best portrait painters of the twentieth century. As novelist, poet, critic, editor, philosopher, draftsman, and painter, he displays a volume and breadth in his work that are unrivaled among that of his contemporaries. He was born off the coast of Nova Scotia on his father’s yacht. Charles Edward Lewis, an American who had been awarded the rank of brevet captain for his valiant service to the Union Army in the Civil War, never held a permanent job after the war, depending, rather, on his family’s investments in mining and railroad companies. Lewis’s mother, Anne Stuart Prickett, who was English, cherished her son, who returned her affection: They had a close relationship throughout her life. The family lived in Maine and Canada until 1888, when they moved to the Isle of Wight. After Charles Lewis left with a housemaid in 1893, Wyndham and his mother were left with very little means of support. Lewis was to spend the rest of his life in poverty or near-poverty, always struggling to survive.

Lewis attended Rugby School and the Slade School of Art from 1897 to 1901. His interest in art and culture led him to Paris, where until 1908 he pursued a career as both a writer and an artist. He first gained prominence in England as editor of Blast, the manifesto for Vorticism, a revolutionary movement in both literature and the visual arts launched by Lewis, Ezra Pound, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, and T. S. Eliot. The periodical’s shocking pink covers, bold block lettering, abstract paintings, and unorthodox essays, poems, plays, and stories stridently announced the revolutionary energy and intensity central to the movement’s defiance of convention and naturalism. Violent energy and defiance continued to be the hallmarks of Lewis’s art. Tarr, his first novel, soon followed. A satire of much of the hypocrisy in the bohemian Paris where Lewis had lived, the novel is most striking for its stylistic innovations. With fragmented sentences and unorthodox grammar and punctuation, Lewis attempted to approximate in prose the...

(The entire section is 872 words.)

Wyndham Lewis Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Percy Wyndham Lewis was born on November 18, 1882, on his father’s yacht moored near Amherst, Nova Scotia, Canada. Lewis was the son of an American army officer who had fought in the Civil War, Charles Lewis, and a British woman, Anne Prickett. He kept the Canadian nationality all of his life. When he was eleven, Lewis’s parents separated, and he lived for some years in genteel poverty with his mother in the London suburbs. At Rugby, Lewis ranked at the bottom of his class, but at the Slade School of Art he began to write poetry and make friends with poets such as Thomas Sturge Moore and Lawrence Binyon. In the early 1900’s, Lewis resided mainly in Paris (in Montparnasse, the artists’ quarter) but also visited Spain, Holland, and Germany and spent summers in Normandy and Brittany. During this time, he studied painting and lived a profligate life of garrets and mistresses (by several of whom he had illegitimate children); as a consequence, he suffered several bouts of illness and venereal disease. His first novel, Tarr (1918, 1928), was set amid the Parisian student and café life.

When he returned to England in 1909, he began publishing his first stories and became associated with various art movements. Together with Pound he publicized the vorticist revolution. He met Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Richard Aldington, Rebecca West, and Ford Madox Ford, among others, but, arrogantly brash, argumentative, and egotistical, he made more enemies than friends. In 1913, when he led an active opposition against Roger Fry, he lost his former friends among the Bloomsbury Group and began a critical exchange that led eventually to his satiric novel The Apes of God (1930). In 1914, he and Pound founded...

(The entire section is 707 words.)

Wyndham Lewis Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Percy Wyndham Lewis was born on his father’s sailboat off Nova Scotia in 1882. His parents made an improbable couple, his father an independently wealthy American from upstate New York, his mother an Englishwoman who returned to England with her child after the marriage collapsed when Lewis was ten years old. Lewis then attended a number of schools, including Rugby, without distinction and finally went to the Slade School of Art in London from 1898 to 1901. After that came an extended period of wandering through Europe, particularly Germany, France, and Spain. The ostensible purpose of these travels was to paint and to study painting, but Lewis also saw himself as a writer, and his first appearance in print, in The English Review in 1909, was with a sketch drawn from his travels.

By 1912, the family finances could no longer support such travels, and Lewis returned to London to make his mark in the art world. He founded an art movement, vorticism, published a magazine, Blast, which caused a sensation though it only appeared twice, and created a distinctively vorticist style in both painting and writing. By 1914, the year of the vorticist movement, it looked as if he were on the verge of a brilliant career, but World War I interrupted these plans. Vorticism came to an end in the war, and Lewis fought in the trenches in France as a bombardier.

Keeping a much lower profile after the war, Lewis, though he continued to paint, saw...

(The entire section is 441 words.)

Wyndham Lewis Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

A beginning like Percy Wyndham Lewis’s could hardly yield a conventional adult. Lewis first saw the light of day aboard the family yacht anchored off Amherst, Nova Scotia, Canada, on November 18, 1882, when his British mother, Anne Prickett Lewis, gave birth to him. Although his father, Charles Lewis, was an American who had attended West Point, been an army officer, and fought in the Civil War, the infant was officially a Canadian citizen, bearing for life the citizenship of neither parent.

When Percy Lewis was six, the family, which had lived in coastal Maine and on the Chesapeake Bay, resettled in England. The Lewis marriage was teetering and before long ended. Anne’s finances were limited although Charles had sufficient means to live the life of a gentleman, having no pressing need to work. Young Percy, as he was then called, lived with his mother in genteel poverty.

The lad, nevertheless, was able to enter the Rugby School in 1897, supported in part by his father. Percy proved a disappointing scholar who ranked last in his class. At Rugby, however, he acquired the bearing and accent of a proper British gentleman; he was also encouraged in his art work, probably because art was the only pursuit for which he showed both an enthusiasm and an aptitude.

Lewis’s mother encouraged the boy’s painting. She used some of her meager resources every summer to take Percy abroad for as long as she could afford to stay. He was regularly exposed to the art works of the Louvre and the museums at Luxembourg. It was natural that when Lewis finished Rugby, he would seek instruction in the one thing at which he was good. He entered London’s Slade School of Art in 1898 and remained there for three years, receiving a scholarship to help finance his final year of study.

Slade was not the sort of school to push its students in daring artistic directions. Its teaching was traditional and conventional. Still, Lewis benefited greatly both from the regularity that the school’s routine imposed and from the basic instruction that taught him something about form, graphic representation, and art forms that were practiced in other parts of the world. He also began associating with artists who were alive with ideas, among them Augustus John and William Rothstein, with whom he remained friends for the rest of his life.

Upon leaving Slade, Lewis traveled abroad extensively, financed by an allowance that his father settled upon...

(The entire section is 1008 words.)

Wyndham Lewis Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Wyndham Lewis will likely be long remembered for his support of the Fascists in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. His ultraconservative views during that time stemmed from his dislike of the Germans, who had plunged the world into World War I, and from his cynicism engendered by that conflict. Yet that is an oversimplification of a highly complicated personality whose cynicism cannot be laid to a single cause.

The fact remains that Lewis was prodigiously productive and that he had some of the keenest critical insights of his day. His own novels were well crafted. His essays, although often wrongheaded, were brilliant in presenting heterodox views of society. Lewis as a provocateur served a valuable function in his...

(The entire section is 128 words.)