According to Lewis, the “era of puff and blurb in place of criticism” started with Arnold Bennett, when he “turned reviewer/star salesman for the publishers”. Lewis portrays Bennett in The Roaring Queen as representative of the commercialisation of literature – the transformation of book-publishing into big business – a business in which Lewis wasn’t about to participate. Hostility to puffery, a proclivity for argument, and brilliant literary insight all boil up in Lewis to explain why he went out of his way to criticise the establishment.
From an early age, Lewis cultivated what could be termed anti-pathos: a strategic, rather than merely tactical or opportunist, avoidance of sentiment. This strategy was to manifest itself in his art as a preference for the abstract, in his writing as a preference for satire and invective, and in his politics as a tough-mindedness shading almost imperceptibly into advocacy of tough action.
Schuyler’s rhetorical extravagances become more understandable when one discovers that he was a mentee of the famed polemicist and cultural critic H. L. Mencken. While there is definitely space for polemicists in cultural criticism, it is important to recall that polemicists have the tendency to sacrifice dialectical argumentation for the attention that comes from exaggerated, performative disagreement. They garner attention but can cheapen important points that are more suited to sober analysis. Polemicists, then, can only be serious thinkers to the extent that they are willing to prioritize serious thought above attention-garnering antics.
The real reason [Campbell] has been exiled from the discussion for so long and for so thoroughly go back to his time in Britain in the 1920s. He and his wife Mary became involved in the Bloomsbury Group, and Vita Sackville-West seduced her. Campbell and his family moved to the south of France and he proceeded to attack the decadence and dissolution of the Bloomsbury Group in a long satire, The Georgiad (1931), modeled on Alexander Pope’s The Dunciad.
As Roger Scruton wrote in 2009, the Bloomsbury Group’s ideals “amounted, for Campbell, to a refusal to grow up. The new elite, in Campbell’s opinion, lived as bloodless parasites on their social inferiors and moral betters; they jettisoned real responsibilities in favor of utopian fantasies and flattered themselves that their precious sensibilities were signs of moral refinement, rather than the marks of a fastidious narcissism.”
In other words, they were the original fragile snowflakes.