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This review is taken from PN Review 43, Volume 11 Number 5, May - June 1985.

SIDING WITH THE WHALE Wyndham Lewis, Snooty Baronet, edited by Bernard Lafourcade (Black Sparrow Press) £16.95, £9.95 pb.

With this reprinting, just over fifty years after its original publication, Snooty Baronet is likely to assume the place it should have, as a classic of twentieth-century comedy-satire. The book has shared in the eclipse suffered until recently by Lewis's works of the 1930s. This was due notably to the long-term effects of Bloomsbury's antagonism and the author's opposition to the 'thirties' mentality. Added in the case of Snooty Baronet was the withdrawal of the book in 1937 by the publishers, on the grounds of a threatened libel suit.

'Not a bad face, flat and white, broad and weighty . . .'. With these opening words of the book, Snooty, its 'author'-narrator, introduces himself. ('The face was mine', we learn after two paragraphs; 'I must apologize for arriving as it were incognito upon the scene.') 'Snooty' is Sir Michael Kell-Imrie, Bt.: ruffian and desperado, sardonic figure of intellect as well as action. The other two chief characters are farcical personages: Val, Snooty's mistress, a gossip writer with designs of becoming Lady Kell-Imrie; and Humph 'the Chin' (Brigade of Guards), his vacuous literary agent. Already one may recognize Lewis at his high-spirited best - a promise sustained almost throughout the book.

Snooty describes himself as by profession scientific observer of human behaviour: 'behaviourist'; also as writer, having invented a dramatic narrative form for presenting his researches. It is these writings which fire Humph's imagination to secure for them a large public. Snooty is philosophical, while Humph ...


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