On this day…18 November

On 18 November 1882 Wyndham Lewis was born.

Born in Canada, Lewis was brought to England by his mother after his parents’ separation. He went to Rugby School and then studied art at the Slade School of Art in London.

Lewis was heavily influenced by Cubism and Italian Futurism of Marinetti, out of which he developed his own style which Ezra Pound titled ‘Vorticism.’ In April 1914 Pound wrote to Joyce about a new ‘Futurist, Cubist, Imagiste’ magazine that Lewis was planning. Though Pound described it as being mainly a painters’ magazine, he thought it might be a suitable outlet for some of Joyce’s essays. Lewis apparently liked Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man which Joyce had been sending to Pound in instalments, but he didn’t think much of the stories in Dubliners.

The magazine Lewis was planning was Blast – Review of the Great English Vortex, edited by Lewis and published by John Lane. Though only two issues were published, one in July 1914 and one in July 1915, it had a very big impact, just as Pound had predicted it would. The first issue of Blast contained a vorticist manifesto written by Pound and Lewis along with work by writers such as Ford Madox Hueffer and Rebecca West, and by artists like Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Frederick Etchells, Spencer Gore, Jacob Epstein and Lewis himself.

Lewis was enlisted during the First World War and fought in France before becoming a war artist for the Canadian forces. Pound’s essay on Lewis appeared in the Egoist magazine on 15 June 1914 immediately after an instalment of Joyce’s A Portrait…, and Lewis’ novel Tarr was serialised in the Egoist during 1916 and 1917. A story by Lewis, ‘Cantleman’s Spring Mate,’ in the Little Review magazine in October 1917 led to the first suppression of the Little Review for indecency.

Joyce and Lewis met for the first time in August 1920 when Lewis visited Paris with TS Eliot. Their first meeting was later described by Lewis in his autobiography Blasting and Bombardiering (1937). Joyce arrived for the meeting at the Hôtel de l’Elysée with his son Giorgio, and Eliot and Lewis arrived bearing a parcel which Pound had asked them to give to Joyce. It turned out to contain a second-hand suit and pair of second-hand shoes.

Lewis’ early enthusiasm for Joyce’s work waned, and in Time and Western Man (1927) he launched an attack on Joyce’s work. An article by Lewis in the Enemy magazine in January 1929 also contained a few scathing remarks about Joyce’s Work in Progress. Joyce was surprised and offended at Lewis’ attacks, and worked his defence against Lewis into the fable of the Ondt and the Gracehoper in Finnegans Wake. There we can find reference to ‘windhame,’ and elsewhere there’s a reference to ‘Spice and Westend Woman,’ a pun on the title of Lewis’ book.

Lewis continued his writing with The Childermass (1928), The Apes of God (1930), and The Revenge for Love (1937) among others. He also wrote two volumes of autobiography: Blasting and Bombardiering (1937) and Rude Assignment (1950). At the end of the 1930s he concentrated on his painting, producing notable portraits of fellow-writers and friends like Ezra Pound, TS Eliot, and Edith Sitwell. Lewis spent the Second World War in America and Canada, after which he returned to England. He had to give up painting because of blindness but continued to write up to his death in 1957.


Sources & Further Reading:

Dohmen, William F., ‘“Chilly Spaces”: Wyndham Lewis as Ondt,’ James Joyce Quarterly, vol. 11, no. 4, Summer 1974, pp. 368-386.

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – new and revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Fargnoli, A Nicholas, & Michael Patrick Gillespie: James Joyce A to Z – An Encyclopedic Guide to his Life and Work, London: Bloomsbury, 1995.

Pound, Ezra: Pound/Joyce – The Letters of Ezra Pound to James Joyce with Pound’s Essays on Joyce, edited with a Commentary by Forrest Reid, London: Faber & Faber, 1968.

Otte, George, ‘Time and Space (with the emphasis on the conjunction): Joyce’s Response to Lewis,’ James Joyce Quarterly, vol. 22, no. 3, Spring 1985, pp. 297-306.


View the first issue of Blast here