chapter  12
12 Pages

Wyndham Lewis: A Portrait of the Artist as Ideologue

ByGabriel R. Ricci

wyndham lewis (1882-1957) was arguably the most marginalized figure of the modernist movement. In his first autobiography, Blasting and Bombardiering (1937), one finds evidence of Ford Maddox Ford’s prediction from 1908 that Lewis’s career would culminate in a knighthood. The personal history in Blasting and Bombardiering is framed by the pre-war period, his most acclaimed artistic moment, and by the later twenties when he associated with modernist luminaries James Joyce and T. S. Eliot. However, Lewis’s literary and artistic work was so freighted with personal assaults that he is remembered mostly for his belligerent personality. For example, in a reference to Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in the introduction to his autobiography, Lewis ridiculed those who begin their autobiographical novels “with the bib and the bottle.” Unlike those who begin with the “hero in the cradle,” Lewis obscured his origins and magnified his wartime contribution and his role in the Vorticist movement. Lewis concealed his roots lest he confront an irrevocably lost social status. His well-positioned father had served as a Union officer in the Civil War, but early on had abandoned the family. Lewis had only glimpses of his father’s family’s wealth from childhood visits to the family farm. His father died in the 1918 influenza epidemic in Philadelphia, when Lewis was recuperating from his military service as bombardier and field artist.