- “TARR”. A second review of Tarr, by P. Wyndham Lewis
- The Johns Hopkins University Press and Faber & Faber Ltd
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[ 745 “TARR” A second review of Tarr by P. Wyndham Lewis London: Egoist Press, Ltd., 1918. Pp. xii + 320.1 The Egoist, 5 (Sept 1918) 105-06 The fact that Mr. Wyndham Lewis is known as a draughtsman and painter is not of the least consequence to his standing as a prose writer. To treat his writing as an outlet for his superabundant vitality, or a means on his part of satisfying intellectual passions and keeping his art healthy, cannot lead to accurate criticism. His prose must be judged quite independently of his painting, he must be allowed the hypothesis of a dual creative personality. It would be quite another thing, of course, to find in his writing the evidences of a draughtsman’s training–the training to respond to an ocular impression with the motion of a line on paper; the special reaction to vision and especially the development of the tactile sense, recognition of emotion by the physical strains and movements which are its basis. It is already a commonplace to compare Mr. Lewis to Dostoevsky,2 [an] analogy fostered by Mr. Lewis’s explicit admiration for Dostoevsky.3 The relationship is so apparent that we can all the more easily be mistaken in our analysis of it. To find the resemblance is nothing; several other contemporary novelists have obviously admired Dostoevsky, and the result is of no importance. Mr. Lewis has made such good use of Dostoevsky–has commandeered him so efficiently for his purposes–that his differences from the Russian must be insisted upon. His mind is different, his method is different , his aims are different. The method of Mr. Lewis is in fact no more like that of Dostoevsky, taking Tarr as a whole, than it is like that of Flaubert. The book does not comply with any of the accepted categories of fiction. It is not the extended conte (“Cantelman’s Spring Mate” is not on the pattern of either Turgenev or Maupassant).4 It is not the elaboration of a datum, as Madame Bovary. From the standpoint of a Dostoevsky novel Tarr needs filling out: so much of Dostoevsky’s effect is due to apparent pure receptivity, lack of conscious selection, to the irrelevances which merely happen and contribute imperceptibly to a total impression. In contrast to Dostoevsky, Mr. Lewis is 1918: Journalism 746 ] impressively deliberate, frigid; his interest in his own personages is wholly intellectual. This is a peculiar intellectuality, not kin to Flaubert; and perhaps inhuman would be a better word than frigid. Intelligence, however, is only a part of Mr. Lewis’s quality; it is united with a vigorous physical organism which interests itself directly in sensation for its own sake. The direct contact with the senses, perception of the world of immediate experience with its own scale of values, is like Dostoevsky, but there is always the suggestion of a purely intellectual curiosity in the senses which will disconcert many readers of the Russian novelist. And there is another important quality, neither French nor Russian, which may disconcert them still more. This is Humour. Humour is distinctively English. No one can be so aware of the environment of Stupidity as the Englishman; no other nationality perhaps provides so dense an environment as the English. The intelligent Englishman is more aware of loneliness, has more reserves, than the man of intelligence of any other nation. Wit is public, it is in the object; humour (I am speaking only of real humour)5 is the instinctive attempt of a sensitive mind to protect beauty against ugliness; and to protect itself against stupidity. The older British humour is of this sort; in that great but decadent humorist, Dickens, and in some of his contemporaries it is on the way to the imbecilities of Punch. Mr. Lewis’s humour is near to Dickens, but on the right side, for it is not too remote from Ben Jonson.6 In Tarr it is by no means omnipresent . It turns up when the movement is relaxed, it disappears when the action moves rapidly. The action is in places very rapid indeed: from the blow given by Kreisler in the café to the suicide is one uninterrupted movement . The awakening of Kreisler by the alarum-clock is as good as anything ofthesortbyDostoevsky;thefeverishhasteofthesuit-caseepisodeproceeds without a smile. Bertha’s impression of Kreisler is good in the same way: She saw side by side, and unconnected, the silent figure drawing her and the other one full of...