Wyndham Lewis – Apes of God, 1930

Part 8. Lesbian-Ape

DAN scudded down Launceston Place, a high wind smote 
its acacia fernery, and he found his way to Ashbum Place,
which was up in arms. Two vagabond cripples had seized
 a basement, into which they had fallen. This Place he descended 
in quick strides passing to the other side of the road, averting his
head from the scene of disorder. Where Ashburn Place ended he 
hesitated, and then entered Rosary Gardens. Leaving them 
behind him, and passing over into Chelsea, he consulted his 

It was a long way to this spot from Mrs. Farnham’s. He could
 never have done it without the help of a pocket-atlas of London
 and his natural map-craft. Policemen made him extremely shy.
 He never spoke to them if he could help it, and avoided their eyes,
 even, when crossing the tides of traffic. From experience he had
 found that, on account of his self-consciousness, it was quite 
impossible to understand their directions at all. Nothing but
 confusion ensued from asking to be directed by one of these 
helmeted young men in blue—whose proverbially kind eyes only 
drew him in, under the cruel peaked eaves of their helmets, and
 made him forgetful of his duty and feel so terribly hot and ashamed 
too and only upset him in any case.

Dan went along a tunnel that was an arched way beneath 
flats. And in the twilight he came to an empty terrace, upon one 
side of which was a row of liver-umber, brick, geraniumed 
cottages. Confronting them was a high and gloomy wall, it
 filled the terrace with premature darkness. Above it Dan could 
see the tops of the windows of formidable studios.—These were 
the gardens he was to visit. A great nest of women Apes! The 
studios were secluded.

Turning into a paved court, out of the narrow terrace, there 
was a row of wicket-gates, cottage-effect. He attempted in spite 
of the misty dusk to read the numbers upon the small green studio
doors. He stopped at the third wicket-gate. He looked over it 
for a little while, he was satisfied. Although the number was
 blurred and might be five instead of three, he entered and knocked 
upon the massive doll’s-house entrance. The door opened very suddenly. Dan at the moment was 
collapsed, as if deflated, and crumpling at the left side. He had 
forgotten he was there, about to put his head into the she-ape’s
 den, in a spasm of delicious reminiscence, and of anticipation.
 Tomorrow Horace would be with him !

With alarm he glanced up. Before him stood a severe masculine figure. In general effect it was a bavarian youth-movement 
elderly enthusiast. She was beyond question somewhat past
mark-of-mouth. But this was a woman, as in fact she had 
appeared in the typed description. Of that he felt tolerably cer
tain, because of the indefinable something that could only be
 described as ” masculine.” An heroic something or other in the
bold blue eye, that held an eyeglass, that reminded him of the 
Old Guard or the Death-or-Glory-Boys, in the house of Mr. Brian 
Macdonnell, secured for him certainty of the sex at least without 
further worry. It was She. This was Miss Ansell.

She was wiry and alert with hennaed hair bristling, en-
brosse. In khaki-shorts, her hands were in their pockets, and her 
bare sunburnt legs were all muscle and no nonsense at all. There
 was something that reminded Dan of Dick Whittingdon, for she
 was bald, he remarked with a deep blush, on the top of her head.
 Only there the resemblance ended it seemed, for whereas Dick 
was anxious, that was easy to see, to disguise his naked scalp, this
 strong-minded person had a peculiar air of being proud of it all 
the time (to be bald, like the ability to grow a moustache, was a
 masculine monopoly). A march had been stolen, with her
masculine calvity. But a strawberry-pink pull-over was oddly 
surmounted by a stiff Radcliffe-Hall collar, of antique masculine
cut—suggestive of the masculine hey-day, when men were men 
starched-up and stiff as pokers, in their tandems and tilburys.
 The bare brown feet were strapped into spartan sandals. A 
cigarette-holder half a foot long protruded from a firm-set jaw.
 It pointed at Dan, sparkling angrily as the breath was compressed 
within its bore.

Daniel Boleyn stood simply rooted to the spot. He was frankly
 dismayed, but could think of nothing to say to excuse himself for
 having knocked at all. ” The wrong door! ” he muttered in his 
mind but he could not utter the apology. He was genuinely 
sorry he had knocked—but he was quite unable to find his 
tongue. Could this be Miss Ansell? Surely he would have been warned in his morning duty-sheet. Not even Horace would 
have been so inhumane as not to whisper a caveat! Why had
 he been sent to her? He must have mistaken the number. What
 was the number? Was it five? Was it three? He had not 
looked for some time at his instructions, though he was positive 
three was the number. What a terrible oversight! —

They stood staring at each other for a momentous half-
minute, the woman with the utmost hostility.

“What are you staring at! “at last she asked him, bold and
 gruff, straight from the shoulder.

A shiver went down Dan’s back as he heard this voice, but he 
was incapable of moving a muscle.

She turned up a wrist-watch towards the sky.
 “It’s a bit late isn’t it?” She pointed out to him gruffly.

Dan blushed. It was late.

“Come in, if you’re coming in!”

She turned upon her heel and went back into a large lighted
 studio, which he could perceive beyond. At least it was a studio,
 even if the wrong one, and should he bolt she would be after him 
like a flash of greased lightning he was positive and catch him
 before he had gone far.

But as she left him he did regain the use of his legs. Con
vulsively he stepped out and it was forward he was moving. He 
followed the soldierly boy-scoutish fantosh into the artist’s-studio, 
slinking in the wake of its positive strut.

“Shut the door!” she called over her shoulder at him, as
 she receded.

Dan went back and, with the most anxious attention, he
closed the front door without making any noise whatever, as he
pushed it into its sleek solid oaken rabbets. Then anew he made
 his way into the lighted interior, and she faced him in the manner
t hat is indicated by the word roundly and by the word squarely.

There she stood, and avoiding her militant male eye he approached 
her. Her dander was up.

“Who sent you? Was it Borstie? Was it Miss Lippencott? “
 she demanded.

“Lip Got!” Dan cooed, with blankest eyes, in Beach-la-Mar.

“Lippencott” she said with a dark puzzled scorn.
 He was quite silent. However pressed for an answer, he would 
have been quite unable to open his lips any more. She quizzed the drooping six-foot-three of speechless man-hood. With vicious eye she wrenched off his four-foot of swaying
 trouser-leg. She tore to shreds the massive pretences of the male

She snorted a sigh, as she saw the man quail at her glances. 
”Well, let’s have a look at you!” she then ruggedly ex
claimed, as one chap to another. She jerked a thumb backwards, 
towards a screen, beneath the balcony, which ran the entire 
length of the long side of the place.

“You can undress there! Look slippy!”

At this Dan’s knees in fact did shake. Had he had a tongue 
in his head he would have told her then and there that she must 
be mistaken. He was not an Italian model (such as he had seen 
leaving the studio of Melanie). There was some fearful misunderstanding. This was not Miss Ansell, he had been deceived. 
It was quite a different kind of Ape, that dwelt in this lonely well,
 to the one it had been Horace’s wish he should visit.

But even as these words (which would not materialize) were
 crying out inside his brain, he was assailed by a new doubt. If
 this were after all Miss Ansell?  Horace he said to himself would 
not have sent him here upon a purposeless errand. There was 
nothing purposeless about Horace. This was a noted Ape of
 God no doubt. He had been dispatched to report upon her — he 
must not leave empty-handed. It was not his place to call in
question the arrangements of Horace. Horace, it might very
 well be, had intended him to pose as a nude Italian model, to this
 woman. For the ways of Horace were mysterious in the extreme.

Taken to its ultimatum and crisis, where would this not 
perhaps lead? The expressive eyes of this dewy colossus, this
 maidenly great doe, rolled in panic — he saw the path that Horace 
had, it might be, intended him to tread, but he balked it in one
 sweeping squirm of lovely revulsion. He writhed, beneath her 
insulting eyes. Mustht I? his eye, in tender obsecration, asked.
 Yrslh! her eye signalled in response, in beastly parody—hitting 
every time below the belt.

In spite of the fact that his glances were downcast mainly, 
Dan was yet present to every object, and he had immediately 
observed with terror a large dog-whip upon the model’s-throne.
 Haunted as he was by the memory of the. Bokharan ox thong he
 had been compelled to hold by that grinning old Jenny, the sight of this disciplinary instrument disturbed him extremely. In
fancy he could see himself naked, in full flight, before this little
hennaed white-collared huntress — her dog-thong cracking about
 his girl-white surfaces, of Clydesdale proportions, as he rushed 
round and round her artist’s studio — till probably he would fall, 
panting and exhausted, at her sandalled feet! And vac victis of 
course — there would be no quarter in this sanguinary immera. 
For better or for worse, he must escape at once—he could not
 go through with it, he had made up his mind—tomorrow he 
must inform Horace that posing as a nude model was a thing he 
was quite unable to do. Would Horace excuse him nude-posing
 please, as a great concession! It would be asking him to suffer
the tortures of the Damned! Please Horace, do not ask me to 
strip and nude-pose — not that! (It was not as though he were 
beautiful, he added with a secret blush.)

“What are you doing may I ask?” the horrid masculine
 accents banged out at him ever so loud in the big hollow studio,
 and caused him a fright-bang too — a discharge of adrenalin.

“Look sharp! I can’t hang about here all night for you to

Oh how that dreadful word peel left him not only naked, but 
skinless! What, wrench off his putamen, in obedience to this 
martinet? Oh what a horrid errand was this, upon which Horace 
had sent him! — if, that was, he had come to the right address.
 What an anguishing thought — the real Ape he had been sent in
quest of might in fact all the time be expecting him with a glass 
of sherry, in the studio opposite.

She had been lighting a cigarette, straddling her tiger-skinned
 hearth, selecting a seasoned cigarette-holder, resembling a 
Brissago, facing the mantelpiece. Catching sight (out of the 
corner of her eye) of this maddening male professional lay-figure,
 who had turned up to offer himself for posing-work, still in the
same place (posing as it were already where he stood) she wheeled
about in the most savage manner possible. Pointing to the
 screen, she shouted:

“There you idiot — over there! — can’t you see the bloody 
thing! Go over there and peel at once or I’ll chuck you out of
the bloody studio neck and crop! Yes I mean it! I do believe 
you’re some beastly Fairy! I don’t know what possessed Borstie
 to send a ghastly Fairy round here! It’s no use your making sheep’s eyes at me! Either go in there and peel or else beat it! 
Do you get me! Jump to it !

As she said jump she jumped herself, and more dead than 
alive Dan skipped as well. As she took a threatening step in his
 direction he turned tail, he rushed quickly over straight at the 
screen. Bolt upright behind it, his heart-rate trebled, he held
 his breath and bit his lip, rolling frightened eyes. He strained
 his ears to catch her movements. Oh — what he had gone through
 for the sake of this man! And did Horace return his devotion?
 He smiled wanly to himself, in the comparative darkness — no,
 one would scarcely say Horace did, to judge from all he made
 him suffer!

Dan became slowly aware that his was the opposite case to
that of the ostrich. He had achieved the occultation of his body,
 but the luxuriant summit of his head must be visible above the
 screen. So he made haste to crouch down, and in that position
 he placed an eye to a crack, where two of the panels of the screen
 met. With an intense alarm, he was able now to observe all the 
movements of the threatening masculine person beyond, in her 
sports-kit (dressed to kill, by sheer roughness, and to subdue all 
the skirted kind) scraping a large palette with an ugly looking 

He saw her look up, stop scraping, and incline her head to
listen. Then she called out sharply.

“I say aren’t you ready yet? You take a long time to peel for 
a man!”

There was a pause in which, knife in hand, she listened.

“I don’t believe you are peeling! “
He saw her put down the palette upon the model’s-throne,
 next to the dog-whip. She retained, he observed abashed, the 
long jack-knife in her hand.

In an instant Dan had wrenched off his jacket, torn from his
 neck his collar and his tie. With hands all thumbs and all
 a-flutter, he undid, and then in one continuous movement
 dropped down, and kicked off, his man’s long trousers — as if as a
 symbol of capitulation to the militant feminine-male beyond.
 Standing white, occult, and quite naked, his teeth chattering,
 with his vest in one hand and limp shoe in the other, he awaited 
the next move of the master-spirit — the boy-scout spinster mascu
line rake. But suddenly he was pulled up sharp with a vengeance, and put to work to think in earnest: he gazed, startled and guilty,
 blushing unseen, quite lost in thought. Feverishly he turned over 
in his mind a most knotty problem. It had not presented itself 
to him before, in the midst of this breathless march of events.

Necessity proved herself once again, upon the spot, the 
mother of invention, and he put down his shoe and seized the 
limp empty arms of the thin cotton vest. He held it out, until the
 square body of it hung like an apron before the midst of his 
person. With the speed bred of a high sense of decorum, he had
 passed the shoulder-line of the vest, rolled into a rude rope,
 about his waist — securing it behind, at the summit of the buttocks,
 in a large knot. Then he drew the apron that hung down
 between his legs, and he incorporated its extremity in the large 
bulging knot behind.

“Look here I’ve had about enough of this!” came the now 
familiar bark, from beyond the screen.” Are you coming out or
 not? Anyone would think you were a bloody woman!”

The imperious tones of crashing command rang out upon the
air of this palatial well of stern bachelor loneliness, and they froze
 his blood.

Blushing a deeper red than any hefty big-handed Susannah 
could ever compass — surprised by the most designing of Old Elders 
that ever stepped upon painted canvas, Dan came out into the 
obscene harsh light of the arc-lamp which hung above the 

He gave one dilated terrified glance at the woman standing 
astride before her easel. Turning swiftly, he rushed back behind 
the screen. There was a hoarse laugh from the haggard old
 bachelor-girl in sports-shorts. But her voice pursued him scorn-
fully over the screen, behind which once more he crouched:

“The world’s coyest virgin what! Well well well! Come 
out of that! Come out and let’s have a look at what all the fuss 
is about! I’m sure I don’t know what the men are coming to!”

Dan stood and shook behind the screen. Wildly he rolled his
 eyes to himself in a great effort to decide what steps to take, in this
 fearful emergency — what for a Pelman-brave would have been 
Kinderspiel. But he simply shook with blank indecision.

“I say, cut this out old bean will you? You’ve come to the 
wrong shop!” she raised her voice still more. (The wrong shop 
indeed! This could not be where Horace had sent him!)

“I shall absolutely lose my patience in two shakes of a donkey’s 
tail!” the harpy’s voice whipped him like a cat-o’-nine-tails. It
 had grown ugly too. “Come out unless you want me to step
 over there and drag you out by the – ! Chuck all this jolly 
rot and roll out, you dirty little sprucer, or I’ll stick you up on 
the jolly old throne myself!”

Upon a terrified sudden impulse Dan came swiftly out from
 behind the screen. He cast one glance of wild appeal at the
 woman, and rushed up upon the model’s-throne. There, blushing 
down to his waist line—the “ram and goat” even, of the horrid
 poetry, suffused with red, his solar plexus flushed, as if it had
been punched in boxing—he limply stood, his head turned in the
opposite direction from the watching slave-driving person, his 
body drooped in profile.

“Good!” she rapped at him. “Yes!” she said, with her
 painter’s squint. “Not at all bad!” she informed the nudity 
before her, with hearty male patronage, as she ran over his
 points, “you’re quite muscular!” she yawned.

The studio was extremely cold, when you were nude, and Dan
 was beside himself with fear. He shivered without ceasing, 
occasionally gulping.

“Model! Turn round — do you mind! I’ve had that view
 of you long enough.”

Slowly Dan moved, until the whole of his back was turned
 towards her.

“No!” the woman immediately bellowed, as she grasped 
the manoeuvre. “No! Not that way! Turn round this way. 
Not your back!”

With a fresh spasm of deep-red bashfulness, Dan still more 
slowly turned about, until he faced her. But he stood with 
averted face, gazing away to his right flank. He held his chin
 high, for beneath upon the floor of the throne was the dog-whip,
 and he wished to forget its presence.

“What on earth have you got there!” he heard her exclaim.
 Dan was petrified. The hard white light poured down over 
him, splitternaked and stark as your fist’s-face, he could not move 
a muscle. Oh, what obedience to Horace (if it were indeed 
Horace who had planned this) had led him to! In a pose of 
hieratic stiffness, his head in profile, he awaited her attack. He
 heard her brisk step and the rigor increased. Marching over with decision to the model’s-throne, she did not hesitate a moment.
 A half-scream, the first sound he had uttered since his entrance,
 broke from the lips of Dan, as with careless hand she rudely
 seized the coil of his cotton vest. Then, with a violent tug, she 
dragged it clean off his shrinking person.

Standing beneath him, his vest in one hand, she fixed him
 with a chilly masculine eye.

“Listen to me my dear man!” she said: she waved a dis
dainful hand in his direction, “that is of no interest whatever to
 me. Do you understand me? Put your mind quite at rest! It
would take a jolly sight more than the likes of you to vamp me!
 Get me ? So don’t let’s have any more of this stuff! You come
 here to sit, not to try and seduce me anyway! It’s love’s labour
 lost! See? Spare yourself the derangement!”

She threw down the vest upon a chair.

“Do you want to sit or not?”

Dan violently nodded his head. He desired from the bottom
 of his heart to sit down.

“Very well. Let’s get on with the War then! I shan’t pay 
you for the time you waste while you’re trying to vamp me! If
 you want to sit — sit!”

Dan again nodded his head, without looking at her, with 
great vehemence. She was appeased.

“Very well!” it became almost a tone of approval. “Here
 get hold of this!”

To his horror she snatched up the dog-whip and brandished it.
 He retreated a step, his eyes fixed upon her in terror. She held
 out to him the handle of the whip. He seized it, and his knees
 knocking lightly together from mingled cold and dread of what 
this fearful Ape might not require of him, he held it tightly at 
his side.

“Take up an attitude like this will you?”

Dan gave her askance one fleeting look of horror — for she had
 thrown herself into an attitude replete with offence not to some
 figure but to himself he felt.

“I want you for a figure of a roman soldier threatening Our 
Saviour. No that whip!”

Dan struck several attitudes. All were designed, as far as pos
sible, to minimize the immodesty of the glaring white crown-to-foot
 exposure of his animal self. The towering milk-pink declivities of the torso beneath the arc-light, the sectioning of the chest by
 the upright black feather of body-hair, the long polished blanched
 stalks of the legs, upon which the trunk oscillated, all moved hither
 and thither. He threw his head into the scales, first to the left then
 to the right. Full it is true of earth’s old timid grace, as haunted 
by the feminine irish chastity, he threatened an imaginary 
Saviour with a whip. But at length the restless evasive bulk
 fell into an accepted position.

“Stop like that!”

Camped energetically, charcoal in hand, she dropped into a
 watchful, pouncing attitude. She looked keenly from the white 
surface of the body to the white surface of the paper, and back.
 With difficulty Dan came to a halt.

“Can you keep that?” she asked him.

His whip gave a weary upward waggle. His head sank, in
melancholy affirmative. For a few seconds he held himself quite
 still. When he saw her eyes were upon her paper he moved
 about, seeking a more comfortable arrangement for his twisted 
nudity — one that might eventually lessen the immodesty.

Now a steady scratching began. A large sheet of paper was 
fixed upon a board. Her legs wide apart, the busy artist stood
 before her super-easel — thrusting out at arm’s-length a stick of 
charcoal, from time to time, while she squinted up the eye that 
was not furnished with the eye-glass. She computed relative 
distances, from one landmark to another, upon the person of her
 sitter. She joined these major points, upon the paper before her,
 with sweeping lines.

But for Dan the physical agony, in succession to the mental 
agony, had now set in. His hips had become still more incon
veniently twisted, in order to remove away to the left the greater 
part of his exposed person, and so present as far as possible an
 offenceless edge-on object to the eye of the observer. On one
 foot the heel was gracefully removed from the ground. The 
other foot received the complete weight of a muscle-laden body 
rising above two metres into the air.

The staccato rasp, flashed to and fro, of the brittle charcoal,
 was incessant. A page was whisked off the board with as much 
force as had been used to remove Dan’s vest. It fell to the floor 
and she stamped upon it as she returned to the attack, dashing dark 
black lines here and there upon the new page.

But Dan stood bathed in a cold perspiration. His face, from 
having been a sunset crimson, had become a corpse-like white.
 Then it became a most alarming pallid green. Holding stiffly at
 arm’s length the whip of the legionary, Dan swayed from side to 
side, with more and more giddy abandon.

“Keep still can’t you!” the enraged employer of labour 
shouted, from the easel. “I can’t draw you if you roll about
 like that!”

Dan’s last thought (before he fell) was of Horace. He had forgotten that this might be the wrong studio altogether. All he
 could say over and over again to himself was “Horace, why are 
you always so unkind — why — so always — unkind!”

Dan reeled, slowly at first. His body with a loud report came 
in contact with the floor of the model’s throne. As his head struck
he had a sickly flash of consciousness, and his body turned over,
in a slight convulsion. Then he lay relaxed at last in a deep faint.

When Dan came-to there were two voices audible — one soft
 and one hard. The hard one said,
 “Of course I thought you sent him, Borstie. How can you be 
so stupid!”

The soft voice replied inaudibly, it was a muffled tinkle.

“With that? Thank you!”

There was a hoarse whispering, with a snorted laugh or two,
 also a super-male chuckle, a bald ha-ha !

A more useless piece of goods I’ve never met with.”

“It is certainly a horrid sight.”

“You’re right. If it could only stand up on its legs!”
 “You don’t propose to pay it for lying on its back do you”

“The trouble I had to get the animal to peel ! II s’est fait
 prie ma chere.”

“Isn’t he a model? —What does he come for?” 
”I think he thought he’d got a bonne poire. He tried to
 vamp me!”

“My dear! That!”

“Oh yes. He wanted me to undress him. He was most
 averse to posing.”

“Pah! Turn it over! I don’t want to look at that any more!”
 Opening an eye slightly, Dan perceived a second younger 
figure, that that possessed the softer voice, beside the first — but
 dressed with recognized feminine elegance, with a breast visible to the nipple, and with sun-kissed silken legs all-clear to the 
tenderloin. Then a rough hand seized his shoulders and
 attempted to roll him along the floor of the throne.

“Don’t touch him—he might not like it, if he were conscious,” 
the feminine voice remarked, solicitous for the safety of her mate.

The man-voice snorted defiance, and gave Dan another big

Dan’s head and neck were wet with water. He made a slight 
movement with his arm.

He if coming round” said the slight voice. “My dear!

“Model! Do you feel better?”

Dan was nearer the edge of the throne now: with an eel-like
 agility born of shame and terror he rolled off, and as he did so he
 sprang to his feet. The newcomer started back and uttered a
 scream. Swiftly Dan regained the cover of the model’s undress
ing screen. His “vanish” was accompanied by two loud shouts 
of laughter from extraordinary woman No. I — who, at his bashful
 exit, indulged in the coarsest mirth, pointing after him with her 
cigarette-holder to her sweetheart, who tittered sneeringly as the 
great white mass disappeared, like a rat into its hole.

With a violent head-ache, overwhelmed with shame, Dan got
 his clothes on very quickly. But the vest remained in the hands
 of the feminine enemy. When he was quite ready, standing in 
his hiding-place he waited some minutes. He hoped that the 
second woman might take herself off. But the terrible voice of 
the first to bring him to his senses soon rang out.

“How much longer are you going to potter about in there?
 If I hadn’t seen all you’ve got I should have thought you were a
 woman. Hallo! Come out! I’ve had enough of your com
pany. Hop it! Do you hear model ?”

Dan came out and went towards the door with averted head.

“Here. Here is a half-crown for you.”

She intercepted him and thrust the money up into the occulted
palm of his trembling hand.

“Go and have a Scotch.”

He held the half-crown in his hand, and he went on towards 
the door.

“You don’t appear satisfied. It’s all you’ll get! It’s a bloody 
sight more than you deserve!”

She slammed the door upon him, as soon as he had passed out 
into the garden.

Night had now fallen. In the lighted doorway of the opposite
 studio stood a dark eminently feminine figure. As he went
 through the wicket-gate he observed it making signs to him.
 Without losing time he decamped at the double, but he heard
 at his back in the darkness a tinkling voice.

“Is that Mr. Boleyn by any chance?”

That was it! Evidently that could be none other than Miss
 Ansell, to whom he had been supposed to go after Yarmouth Place.
 He had got into the wrong studio. Horace was not to blame! He 
did not look back but hastened away from this monstrous colony.

Wyndham Lewis. 1882-1957.  Apes of God. 1930

Author: jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s