Wyndham Lewis Additional 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...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207096-Lewis.jpg Wyndham Lewis Published by Salem Press, Inc.

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.)


(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 day, and his ideas continue to provoke contemporary readers.