Janet Lewis

Janet Lewis was a novelist, poet, and short-story writer whose literary career spanned almost the entire twentieth century. The New York Times has praised her novels as “some of the 20th century’s most vividly imagined and finely wrought literature.” Born and educated in Chicago, she lived in California for most of her adult life and taught at both Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley. Her works include The Wife of Martin Guerre (1941), The Trial of Sören Qvist (1947), The Ghost of Monsieur Scarron (1959), Good-Bye, Son and Other Stories (1946), and Poems Old and New (1982).

Listed in: Poetry · Women Poets · Women Authors · Short Stories · Literary Fiction · American Literature · Fiction · Literary Studies




This is the first digital version of Cases of Circumstantial Evidence, a collection of three historical novels by noted American writer Janet Lewis.

“Reading the three novels in a line, from The Wife of Martin Guerre to The Ghost of Monsieur Scarron, is a powerful experience…. In each there is a fully and vividly realized woman who finds herself twisting helplessly in the dilemmas posed by love and duty.”

Larry McMurtry




This historical novel is the third and final book in American poet and fiction writer Janet Lewis’s Cases of Circumstantial Evidence series, based on legal case studies compiled in the nineteenth century. In The Ghost of Monsieur Scarron, Lewis returns to her beloved France, the setting of The Wife of Martin Guerre, her best-known novel and the first in the series.

“Bristles with characterization, the atmosphere of a cruel and dingy Paris, considerable suspense, and the smell of blood.”

San Francisco Chronicle




Originally published in 1947, The Trial of Sören Qvist has been praised by a number of critics for its intriguing plot and Janet Lewis’s powerful writing. And in the introduction to this new edition, Swallow Press executive editor and author Kevin Haworth calls attention to the contemporary feeling of the story—despite its having been written more than fifty years ago and set several hundred years in the past.

"The perfect novel of its genre."

New York Times




The Wife of Martin Guerre
By Janet Lewis · Introduction by Kevin Haworth · Afterword by Larry McMurtry

In this new edition of Janet Lewis’s classic short novel, The Wife of Martin Guerre, Swallow Press executive editor Kevin Haworth writes that Lewis’s story is “a short novel of astonishing depth and resonance, a sharply drawn historical tale that asks contemporary questions about identity and belonging, about men and women, and about an individual’s capacity to act within an inflexible system.”

“One of the most significant short novels in English.”

Atlantic Monthly




Since the appearance in print of her early poems over seventy-five years ago, the poetry of Janet Lewis has grown in quiet acclaim and popularity. Although she is better known as a novelist of historical fiction, her first and last writings were poems. With the publication of her selected poems, Swallow Press celebrates the distinguished career of one of its most cherished authors.

“Selected by Barth, who has also edited Winters, this welcome volume offers a new look at a careful poet with an unusually long career.… Readers of Richard Wilbur, Louise Bogan or Robert Pinsky will likely want to go out of their way to track Lewis's work down—thanks to this edition, they may not have to.”

Publishers Weekly




Good-bye, Son, Lewis’ only collection of short fiction, was originally published in 1946, but it remains as quietly haunting today as it was then. Set in small communities of the upper Midwest and northern California in the '30s and '40s, these stories focus on the imperceptible processes, or cycles, connecting youth with age, despair and hope, life and death. Through a variety of characters (mostly female) at various stages of life, we glimpse the motion of these cycles.

“[Lewis] thrusts us into the essence of a situation, startling us out of the role of complacent observer and into that of active participant. This steady movement and these brief revelations work together to give the stories a collective meaning.”

Deanna L. Kern Ludwin, Western American Literature




Against a Darkening Sky was original published in 1943. Set in a semi-rural community south of San Francisco, it is the story of an American mother of the mid-1930s and the sustaining influence she brings, through her own profound strength and faith, to the lives of her four growing children. Scottish by birth, but long a resident of America, Mary Perrault is married to a Swiss-French gardener. Their life in South Encina, though anything but lavish, is gay, serene, and friendly.

Against a Darkening Sky has the quality of a moving tone poem, with the conflict expressed through the exploration of a woman’s heart and mind. The writing has the same high quality of serenity as the splendid woman it portrays.”

The New York Times




Winner of the 1981 Commonwealth Club of California Poetry Medal

Kenneth Rexroth wrote: “Janet Lewis uses reason to veil and adorn the flesh of feeling and intuition. This is the way the greatest poetry has always been written.” The poems in this collection range over a period of 60 years. The style is spare, direct, cutting to the core of subject. Richness of intelligence and a concern for the human has also characterized every phase of Lewis’ development.

“[Lewis’s] taste, unerring both with words and with acquaintances, is timeless, and her themes so wisely chosen at the start that we find no awkward or abrupt transitions. Decades do not distinguish themselves. The channels of her thought are seamless, deep, and pure.”

Christian Herve, Christian Science Monitor Book Review




Set in 16th century France, this compelling story of Bertrande de Rols is the first of the Cases of Circumstantial Evidence.

“One of the most significant short novels in English.”

Atlantic Monthly




“Some of the twentieth century’s most vividly imagined and finely wrought literature.”

New York Times




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.

“The musty, historical episode surrounding the publication of a scurrilous pamphlet against Louis XIV and Madame de Maintenon (formerly Mme. Scarron) serves as background to this novel which brilliantly explores the excesses of the French court. Seventeenth century life is examined in terms of both the aristocracy and the working people. In fact, one of the most effective elements in the novel is the description of the daily life of a bookbinder and his family. The essential humanity of the characters dominates the sometimes grim plot which blends truth and imagination. And, as always, Janet Lewis writes with wonderful lucidity.”

Writer's Choice