As might be expected, Lewis's semiallegorical associations of his own career with large-scale social history tell only part of the story. The evidence of Lewis's letters and the excellent philological material in Paul Edwards's reedited Time and Western Man make it possible to describe the immediate process by which Lewis developed his critique of modernism and evolved the critical orientation of his later fiction. For Edwards, Lewis's publication of "The Revolutionary Simpleton," first in The Enemy in January 1927 and then again the following year as the first part of Time and Western Man , is not simply an index of Lewis's disenchantment with modernism; it is also the very act by which Lewis broke with its artistic cadre. In "The Revolutionary Simpleton," Lewis delivered a series of blistering attacks on Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Anita Loos, Charlie Chaplin, Ernst Walsh, and other important figures of the modernist movement. If Lewis viewed 1926 as a pivotal year in his career, this publication played a substantial role in its drama.
The years following the war saw the convergence of several currents in Lewis's life, work, and thinking. First, there was a crucial shift in the center of gravity in his creative life from painting to writing and a concomitant change of focus in Lewis's artistic politics. This transition was marked by three main phases: a period of relative hiatus in the years immediately following the war (about 1918-1921); Lewis's commencement of a large-scale work, The Man of the World , in 1922 and the composition of a philosophically oriented but generically undifferentiated mass of prose between 1922 and 1925; and his segmenting and rewriting of this aggregate as independent books from 1925 to 1928. In this last phase, Lewis also revised and republished his early works The Wild Body and Tarr ; his other major early text, The Enemy of the Stars , reappeared in revised form in 1932.
A letter to Ezra Pound dated 29 April 1925 suggests the scope of Lewis's Man of the World at this time and the segmenting of that work which would form the basis of the majority of Lewis's published books in the latter half of the 1920s. Lewis describes how, having failed with one publisher, he changed his mind about publishing The Man of the World as a single five-hundred-thousand-word book. It would have to be broken up into separate volumes, a task fortunately requiring little rewriting, since the original form of the work lent itself to this partitioning: "In each part of the original book I had repeated the initial argument, associating it with the new evidence provided by the particular material of each part." Lewis goes on to enumerate the projected series of works:
One of them . . . is to be printed by Macalmon [McAlmon]. That is about the question of CLASS, but I have not got a title for it yet. There is a hundred thousand word volume, called The Lion and the Fox about Shakespeare, principally. There is one called Sub Persona Infantis which deals with a particular phase . . . of the contemporary sensibility: The Shaman about exoliti & sex-transformation. The Politics of the Personality (100 thousand) principally evidence of philosophy, one (100 thousand) called The Politics of Philistia & one called The Strategy of Defeat (40 thousand). Then there are z vols. (not of course part of the Man of the World) of The Apes of God (fiction) the first of which is nearly done. Joint (sketched & partly done) Archie (complete, thirty, or forty thousand).— The Great Fish Jesus Christ (45 thousand). (P/L , 144-145)
Notable are both Lewis's encyclopedic ambition and the implied links his monumental work made between class, race, age, and sexuality in the realms of social life, politics, philosophy, and culture. Moreover,
Lewis's mention of the works of fiction that are not part of The Man of the World nonetheless sets the satires and fiction in the ideational cosmos formed by it, while the fiction represents a more immediate testing ground for philosophical and political ideas. At the same time, Lewis began casting about for a publisher to reissue the vorticist drama Enemy of the Stars , now carrying a forty-thousand-word essay in tow. As with the Man of the World material, Lewis increasingly tied his literary works to his new commitment to theorize and polemicize directly about his social context.
The three years prior to the break in 1927 not only saw the articulation of The Man of the World into several separate volumes of key importance in Lewis's corpus; they also constituted a period of intensive contact between Lewis and his modernist peers, especially those of the Anglo-American expatriate scene in Paris. Lewis's connections at this time included not just the "men of 1914"—Joyce, Eliot, and Pound—with whom he is often associated in literary history and criticism, but also less olympian figures who were nonetheless integral to the financial and publication infrastructure of Paris-based modernism: Ernst Walsh (editor of This Quarter ); Winifred Ellerman (known as "Bryher," companion of the poet H.D., novelist, and wealthy supporter of many artistic and political causes); and Robert McAlmon (novelist and editor of the Contact Press and Journal). Prior to his permanent departure for Italy late in 1924 (and by correspondence afterward), Pound facilitated Lewis's approach to the Parisian circles, but he conducted his well-meant campaigns in ways guaranteed to sour his touchy friend on the whole affair. In particular, Pound sought to maintain the division of labor between Lewis as the genius of the visual arts and the other men of 1914 as the genii of the word. As Paul Edwards notes, "Pound, generous as always, wanted to 'sell' Lewis to This Quarter as an avant-garde painter, but this would be for Lewis only a distraction from his new career as a writer. He did not welcome such a revival of his earlier role, in which he had been thwarted in England, he believed, by the machinations of Bloomsbury." Pound unsuccessfully tried to convince Lewis, who for his part was interested in publishing his new prose, that his interest in Lewis's visual artwork was not simply a scheme to reject his writing: "This does not mean that they wont [sic] use and pay for your text, but it does mean that they are definitely ready to lay out on doing a decent W.L. art supplement; you may remember, or you mayn't, that I tried to get Lane et al. to take a book on you, by me, WITH illustrations back in 16 or 17." Pound's damage control for
This Quarter just compounded the perceived slight for Lewis. For not only did Pound's well-meaning efforts harken back nostalgically to the short-lived vorticist community (in "The Revolutionary Simpleton," Lewis would attack Pound as "A Man in Love with the Past"). It also failed to acknowledge Lewis's reemergence as a writer and cultural critic, engaged centrally with the practice and politics of literature in the postwar period. Lewis responded with characteristic testiness: "Dear E.P I do not want a 'Lewis number' or anything of that sort in This Quarter or anywhere else, at this moment. My reasons are my own affair, although I indicated them as much as was necessary. Have I said this to you or not?" Following a series of petty quarrels and more serious disagreements of outlook with Walsh, McAlmon, and Pound himself, Lewis definitively closed this chapter of his career with his publication of "The Revolutionary Simpleton."