A Swallow Press Book
The death of Meriwether Lewis is one of the great mysteries of American history. Was he murdered at Grinder’s Stand or did he commit suicide? Vardis Fisher meticulously reconstructs the events and presents his own version of the case with the precision and persuasiveness of a fine trial lawyer. But Fisher was also a great novelist and it is his sense of character that serves him best here. We know Lewis’ complex sensibility as well as we know that of any man of his time—his Journals are so self-revealing, so exacting in the record they make of his musings, doubts, and elations. Fisher offers us this complex Lewis and, with equal perceptiveness, sets the rough, frontier scene at Grinder’s Stand. The result is a fine mystery, well solved, that leans toward tragedy.
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This is a major phenomenological work in which real learning works in graceful tandem with genuine and important insight. Yet this is not a work of scholarship; it is a work of philosophy, a work that succeeds both in the careful, descriptive massing of detail and in the power of its analysis of the conditions that underlie the possibility of such things as description, interpretation, perception, and meaning.
This third novel in the three Cases of Circumstantial Evidence provides an intimate portrayal of deception and corruption in one small poor Parisian family in the late 1600s. In contrast to the majesty of the court of Louis XIV and the bloodthirsty crowds of Paris at that time, the simple lives of Jean Larcher and his wife and son are pitiably ruined by the presence of a seducer and his political pamphlets. The result: personal and public passions mesh to hang an innocent man.
Among modernist critics Wyndham Lewis stands out because of the energy and drama of his “aggressive partisan pen—made to hurl epithets, or of the sort to use, in controversy, as a dangerous polemical lance.” With this pen Lewis created the Enemy, a flamboyant, hostile, solitary figure whose voice and stance vividly embodied the principles structuring his criticism. The frontiers of this criticism—the Enemy criticism—are best marked by the comments of his two long-time friends, T.S.