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Porteus recalled that Lewis introduced him to the press baron Lord Rothermere as “my biographer”, and he was unduly severe about his awkwardly titled first book, Wyndham Lewis: A Discursive Exposition (1932): “It is a v. silly book, written by a semi-literate art student over 40 years ago . . . The book I wrote on W.L. was pretty ridiculous. It was written, or scribbled, as a defence against the only worthy assessment, by Edgell Rickword” in Scrutinies, volume 2 (1931). But he had a daunting task and it was a creditable achievement to explain for the first time Lewis’s difficult works of the late 1920s, The Art of Being Ruled and Time and Western Man, and his massive satirical novel The Apes of God.

Porteus’s unorthodox book attempts to answer three questions: “What is this man trying to do? Does he succeed? . . . Is the result of interest?” He believes that Lewis is “supreme among contemporary filibusters of letters” and in Eliot’s words, “the most fascinating personality of our time”. The reviews of Porteus’s book precisely reflected the views of the editors who published them. F.R. Leavis disliked Lewis, Eliot admired him. In Leavis’s Scrutiny (March 1933) T.R. Barnes put the knife in: “Mr Porteus is a disciple . . . and bases his estimate mainly on Lewis’s style and his satire . . . He finds adequate praise difficult: Mr. Lewis’s satire is better than Dryden’s and his style is as good as Shakespeare’s.” In Eliot’s Criterion (July 1933) Michael Roberts recognised the merits of Porteus’s book: “His exposition is not only a valuable elucidation of the work of Wyndham Lewis, it is also a shrewd and entertaining comment on contemporary literature and an excellent essay on the place of visual imagery in   poetry and prose.”

Porteus’s letters to me shrewdly analysed Lewis’s complex and abrasive character:

He was, not without reason, a difficult customer. I found him v. hospitable and agreeable whenever we met . . .

[But] Lewis certainly enjoyed being contentious. So did I! We had magnificent confrontations, always mended quite amicably. Always as poor as myself, he was a most generous host. But “difficult”? Oh yes! You had to sail him like a boat. Lewis, Eliot and Myself were all fair sailors. The worst squabble I had with Lewis was when I rashly observed about something or other that “I know what you are busy thinking!” That really got his goat: though in fact I was quite right. I cd. almost invariably predict his reactions to my often deliberately teasing remarks. . . .

Lewis had a masochistic wish to pin down his most amiable friends as enemies. Is it ironic that he shd. marry a masochistic doll? They were absolutely devoted to one another, and thoroughly enjoyed their merely verbal duels or duets. Froanna was a placid devotee, and a superb hostess. I had always supposed that W.L. wd. be oriental in his intense jealousy if males so much as glanced at Froanna. . . .

I can’t say W.L. taught me to write. I may be slipshod as a spontaneous writer. But he did teach me to see.

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