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Wyndham Lewis and his readers: 1911-1931



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Constable, John Bowden 


This thesis follows the public reception of the painting and writings of Wyndham Lewis from his first exhibitions in 1911 through to the publication of Hitler in 1931, and is based on a new checklist of criticism and reviews. The study shows that Lewis monitored his reputation with great care, and that many of his decisions with regard to the deployment and revision of his texts can be seen as conditioned by the short term needs of maintaining a satisfactory public standing. I also suggest that this hampered him in his highly original attempt to find a means to express hatred in a form which could be legitimated and hence guiltless. Chapter One discusses Lewis's early exhibitions and the reception of Blast and argues that the need to appear as a radical force in British painting pushed him towards a manner, abstraction, uncongenial to his aims, and induced him to bury his remarkable writings in a polemical journal. Chapter Two examines the reviews of Tarr and explains the book's commercial failure as one reason for Lewis's attempt to re-establish himself as a painter in 1919-21. The public reception of the Tyro drawings is used to illustrate his failure, and Lewis's sudden decision to turn wholeheartedly to writing is explained as a consequence of this. Chapter Three describes Lewis's twin projects of 1922-24, and their fragmentation in 1925-27. The rehandling of the material is shown to have been unfortunate in that it created a public impression that Lewis was solely a critic. This chapter also proposes that during 1926 Lewis abandoned several of the central planks of "The Man of the World" and began to take on a conservative cast. The publication of The Childermass is described as an abortive attempt to regain public standing as a creative writer. Chapter Four discusses the reception of Paleface in 1929, and reference is made to Lewis's growing interest in questions of race. The Apes of God is described as a final demand for the submissive homage of the reading public. Chapter Five analyses Hitler and shows that the book was widely and correctly understood as a cynical attempt to defend Nazism, and that its content provided alert contemporaries with a key to the Aryanism which had been a substantial component of Lewis's thought since 1926.






Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge