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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Self-Condemned (1954) by Wyndham Lewis

Book Review
Self-Condemned (1954)
 by Wyndham Lewis

  You can make a strong case that Wyndham Lewis is a canonical artist of the 20th century.  He invented artistic movements(Vorticism, the only "avant garde" art movement to emerge in England in the early 20th century), wrote roman a clef type novels which continue to maintain audience and critical attention and had a strong reputation as a painter.  On the other hand, he is generally a hateful human being and flirted with Nazism prior to the outset of World War II, which he, essentially, fled.

 Self-Condemned is a thinly veiled autobiographical novel about a Lewis type figure who gives up his kushy job as a University Professor in England to move to a mid-size town in Canada, where he knows no one and has no prospects.  The first portion of the novel is set in England, where Rene announces his decision, much to the shock and disappointment of almost everyone in his immediate and extended family.

  Most significantly his wife, Hester(called Essie) who is that sort of 20th century woman who is hooked up with a male "intellectual" without herself being one. Upon arrival in North America, they are literally confined to a hotel room, where the interactions between husband and wife assume the proportions of a Samuel Beckett play- claustrophobic and hateful.

  All of Lewis' major novels concern the interactions between hateful intellectuals and wealthy English, but none maintains the kind of focus on a pair of characters like Self-Condemned.  By the end of the book I really hated Rene, and I really kind of hate Wyndham Lewis, and I say that after reading Tarr and Apes of Wrath- his books about pre-World War I Paris and post World War I London respectively. Maybe though it's Lewis' success at evoking this strong passion that marks him as a great novelist.

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