Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Lewis, Wyndham

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(1882-1957) UK writer and painter, founder of Vorticism, a radical programme for modernizing the visual arts which he espoused in the journal Blast: Review of the Great English Vortex (1914-1915) co-ed with Ezra Pound (1885-1972), and in The Caliph's Design: Architects! Where is Your Vortex? (1919 chap). His illustrations for Naomi Mitchison's Beyond This Limit (1935 chap) are in his full-fledged mature style, which sometimes resembles a moderately tamed Cubism. Enemy of the Stars (1914 Blast; 1932) is a play in which figures emblematic of flesh and spirit square off against each other, surreally. Although it has been read as sf, WL's most ambitious fiction, The Human AgeThe Childermass (1928; rev 1956) and Monstre Gai; Malign Fiesta (coll 1955; vt in 2 vols Monstre Gai 1966 and Malign Fiesta 1966) – begins as a Posthumous Fantasy of very great scope, though it soon evolves into an Afterlife narrative which carries the original Souls-as-protagonists into several venues. The overall structure refers but ultimately owes little to Dante's The Divine Comedy (written 1307-1321). The two protagonists begin their posthumous existence in a vast Waste Land, where they must await the decision of the Bailiff as to whether they can pass through the Portal to the Magnetic City, but in the end do not follow him. Later they are carried elsewhere: first into an infernal Parody of the British Welfare State where the Bailiff is re-introduced as a criminal czar who rules this Underworld; and second into Hell, which is called Matapolis, and is ruled by a dangerously plausible fallen Angel. After a discordant Revel, the sequence stops in mid-flight as the hosts of Heaven prepare their assault. A further section was never written.

WL had an unerring capacity to offend socially and politically – he espoused antisemitic theories in the 1930s, which he recanted barely in time in The Jews: Are They Human? (1939) – and his style seems at times too truculently rebarbative. But he remains a major 20th-century Modernist. [JC]

other works: Mrs Duke's Millions (1977), posthumous.

Percy Wyndham Lewis


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.