Wyndham Lewis Biography

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.)

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.)