Readers of a biography may expect to ‘get inside the subject’s head’: but the squeamish may find that getting on first-name terms with his brain tumour is carrying intimacy a little far. Paul O’Keeffe opens his exhaustive study of Wyndham Lewis’s life, Some Sort of Genius, with a pitiless description of the tumour that eventually blinded him, a ‘morbid excrescence … pink in section and stippled with blood vessels’, and thoughtfully named FA1008 by the Westminster Medical School.
There is more to come: by the last of these 600-odd pages, barely a cranny of the unfortunate Lewis’s brain, mouth, eyes or genitals remains unexposed. This, it seems, is literary biography for medical students.
Walter Sickert, apparently, referred to Lewis as ‘the greatest portraitist of this or any other time’; T S Eliot said he was the prose stylist of his generation. Both verdicts seem to show that, however grand we may be, our foolishness comes back to haunt us – and so, by