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Criticism of Society in the English Novel between the Wars

Hena Maes-Jelinek

D.H. Lawrence

Texte intégral

  • 1 D.H. Lawrence, Phœnix, The Posthumous Papers of D.H. Lawrence, London, 1961, p. 408.

The final aim of every living thing, creature, or being is the full achievement of itself.1

  • 2 Lionel Trilling, “Manners, Morals, and the Novel,” in Forms of Modern Fiction, ed. by William Van (...)

1Criticism of society is a major theme in Lawrence’s work. Yet his purpose is not, as Lionel Trilling put it, “the investigation of reality beginning in the social field.”2 True, Lawrence’s novels reveal his awareness and understanding of the nature of society. He has left some remarkable portraits of the English and the cosmopolitan intelligentsia, with whom he was acquainted during and after the First World War. Such chapters as “Crème de Menthe” or “Gudrun in the Pompadour” in Women in Love expose the vulgarity, pettiness and amorality of artistic coteries. Some of the aimless and disenchanted characters in. Aaron’s Rod would not have been out of place in Huxley’s or Waugh’s satires. The social gatherings described in Women in Love and in Aaron’s Rod are ferocious sketches of the futility of country-house life while the realistic description of life in a small provincial town in The Lost Girl and the impossibility for the heroine to come to terms with her environment testify to Lawrence’s awareness of social conditions in any milieu. But however true and significant these descriptions of the social scene and its protagonists, they are not the essential aspect of Lawrence’s criticism of society. Nor is the social field the context in relation to which individual behaviour is interpreted.

2Lawrence’s view of society is subordinate to his conception of man as one of the many manifestations of life, a fragment of the living universe. He criticizes all that thwarts the “sheer, instinctive life” of the individual. His novels create a new and original pattern of the highlights of existence, which closely follows the rhythm of life itself with its alternate moments of unfulfilment and self-realization. This intense life outside the pale of society brings out by contrast the futility of existing as a mere “social being.” Lawrence’s “heroes” do not seek fulfilment in harmony with society but by drawing away from it. The experience which gives rise to the significant moments of life is the man-woman relationship. For Lawrence, the nature of these relations deter-mines the character of civilization, and he probes into those trends in modern society which mould the essential being of men and women and influence their attitude towards one another. Though he wrote several novels in the Twenties, a period when he became increasingly preoccupied with his responsibility towards his fellow-men and with reforming society, his best novels, The Rainbow and Women in Love, were published during the War. These works bring to light the changes that were taking place in English society and point with prophetic insight to later developments. The collapse of traditional attitudes and ways of life after the First World War and the breakdown of values were not the immediate result of people’s experience in the War. Rather, this experience made people aware of the changes which had been preparing for a very long time: the shock of the War precipitated a revolution already simmering in the nineteenth century. It is extraordinary that while the change was only beginning to be felt, Lawrence should have been tracing its effects and exploring its consequences, not in limited areas but in all fields of human experience. He is the first modern English writer to have analysed with such perspicacity the deeper trends of contemporary civilization.

  • 3 D.H. Lawrence, The Trespasser, Penguin Books, 1960, p. 46.

3The theme of Lawrence’s art is Life: Life as a powerful urge pervading the universe, a dark, unknown force stirring every part of the physical creation; Life in its manifold aspects, immanent, spontaneous, irresistible, the prime mover of the natural world, the vital stream which cannot be thwarted without tragical effects. Man must remain in touch with the living cosmos and fulfil himself in harmony with it. From his very first novels Lawrence expressed this connection of man with the universe and defined him as one natural phenomenon among others. In The White Peacock Annable, a “whole man,” forsakes society in order to live “naturally,” like an animal. In The Trespasser “amidst the journeying of oceans and clouds and the circling flight of heavy spheres, lost to sight in the sky, Sigmund and Helena, two grains of life in the vast movement, were travelling a moment side by side.”3 The often quoted passage at the beginning of The Rainbow is a wonderful rendering of the connexion of the Brangwen men with the earth. Tom Brangwen is particularly alive to it:

  • 4 D.H. Lawrence, The Rainbow, London, 1934, p. 33.

He must admit that he was only fragmentary, something incomplete and subject. There were the stars in the dark heaven travelling, the whole host passing by on some eternal voyage. So he sat small and submissive to the greater ordering.4

4Birkin expresses the same view in Women in Love; though he sounds more didactic, he is seeking his own way and at the same time trying to convince Gerald, who is utterly hostile to his “theories”:

  • 5 D.H. Lawrence, Women in Love, London, 1930, p. 60.

After all, what is mankind but just one expression of the incomprehensible. And if mankind passes away, it will only mean that this particular expression is completed and done.5

  • 6 D.H. Lawrence, Aaron’s Rod, London, 1929, p. 277.
  • 7 D.H. Lawrence, The Plumed Serpent, London, 1930, p. 130.

5Birkin also wants to be carried along with the flux of life: in a fit of disgust at the mental sterility of the people with whom he is spending the week-end, he rolls naked on the earth; then, he lies amid the flowers to purify himself from these people’s deadening influence, and he responds to the contact with the living earth. Similarly, Gudrun experiences a moment of ecstasy when her dance in the field connects her with nature. Aaron also “perceives in clairvoyance that our own life is only a fragment of the shell of life.”6 In Mexico Kate, the heroine of The Plumed Serpent, feels the powerful and mysterious impact of the earth. The men whom she sees dancing in the square look like “burning flames of life,” and their rituals serve to vivify their union with the physical world. “She was attracted, almost fascinated by the strange nuclear power of the men in the circle. It was like a dark glowing, vivid nucleus of new life.”7

6If man is only one manifestation among others of the vast stream of life, then his ultimate being, that part of him which is one with the essential principle of life, is impersonal. Man is thus necessarily dethroned from his prominent position as the reasonable being who dominates the living creation. This does not mean that he is reduced to a mere animal but that, as a living being, his place in the universe is relative to that of other living phenomena. It does not mean either that man has no individuality, for in their ways of expressing the vital principle all men are different just as all flowers and trees are different, and men are different from women in their essential being—“separate,” “other” are the words Lawrence uses—yet partake of the same life and grow from the same centre. The individual who remains true to his own nature, to his own separate self, realizes himself either in communion with another individual or with a group of men. But it is mainly through physical love that man can merge in the greater flow of life: perfect balance between man and woman, who are like two poles attracting and repulsing each other like two stars in the firmament, is the path to communion with the vital world. In The Rainbow Tom and Lydia Brangwen achieve such a union:

There on the farm with her, he lived through a mystery of life and death and creation, strange profound ecstasies and incommunicable satisfactions, of which the rest of the world knew nothing, (p. 95)

7Anna and Will also commune with the living universe at the beginning of their marriage, when neither of them tries to dominate the other:

As they lay close together, complete and beyond the touch of time or change, it was as if they were at the very centre of all the slow wheeling of space and the rapid agitation of life, deep, deep inside them all, at the centre where there is utter radiance, and eternal being, and the silence absorbed in praise: the steady core of all movements, the unawakened sleep of all wakefulness, (p. 135)

8This fulfilment is denied their daughter Ursula, at least in her affair with Strebensky, whom she destroys as a man. But she knows that one day she will come to life, and the novel ends on the vision of her awakening:

And again came the vivid reality of acorns in February lying on the floor of a wood with their shell burst and discarded and the kernel issued naked to put itself forth. She was the naked, clear kernel thrusting forth the clear, powerful shoot, and the world was a bygone winter, discarded, (p. 466)

  • 8 Lawrence distinguishes between personality and individuality. Personality is “that which is transm (...)

9Since the infinite is impersonal, love and the sexual marriage which are a threshold to it must necessarily take place on an impersonal level, transcend personality, thrive beyond it8 This is most clearly expressed in Women in Love when Birkin tries to convince Ursula that in the creative marriage he wants to achieve with her they should meet in the impersonal flow of life:

There is a final me which is stark and impersonal and beyond responsibility. So there is a final you. And it is there I would want to meet you—not in the emotional, loving plane—but there beyond, where there is no speech, and no terms of agreement. There we are two stark, unknown beings, two utterly strange creatures, I would want to approach you and you me. And there could be no obligation, because there is no standard for action there, because no understanding has been reaped from that plane. It is quite inhuman,—so there is no calling to book, in any form whatsoever—because one is outside the pale of all that is accepted, and nothing known applies. One can only follow the impulse, taking that which lies in front, and responsible for nothing, asked for nothing, giving nothing, only each taking according to the primal desire, (p. 151)

10Birkin insists that this coming together must be spontaneous, impulsive:

I want us to be together without bothering about ourselves—to be really together because we are together, as if it were a phenomenon, not a thing we have to maintain by our own effort, (p. 262)

11When Ursula and Birkin at last achieve this union, it is a

perfect passing away for both of them, and at the same time the most intolerable accession into being, the marvellous fullness of immediate gratification, overwhelming, outflooding from the source of the deepest life-force, the darkest, deepest, strangest life-source of the human body. (p. 331)

12It is clear, then, that love is not an end in itself, not a fulfilment but a means to it, a “functional process.” Like everything that partakes of life, love is only a constituent, not a whole:

  • 9 D.H. Lawrence, Kangaroo, Penguin Books, 1960, p. 361.

Love is perhaps an eternal part of life. But it is only a part. And when it is treated as if it were a whole, it becomes a disease, a vast white strangling octopus. All things are relative, and have their sacredness in their true relation to all other things.9

  • 10 “There must be marriage of body in body, and of spirit in spirit, and Two-in-One. And the marriage (...)
  • 11 D.H. Lawrence, The Rainbow, p. 87.
  • 12 D.H. Lawrence, Women in Love, p. 81.

13However important as a generator of life, the sexual marriage is not the only reality.10 Lawrence insists on its value because he believes in its power to regenerate life and because it is so often despised. According to him, the physical union generates a blood-knowledge which, in human relationships at least, is far superior to mind-knowledge. So Tom Brangwen, who did not understand his wife’s foreign nature, “knew her, he knew her meaning without understanding.”11 But again physical consciousness is not every-thing. If it is paramount or an end in itself, it becomes degrading. Looking at an African statuette which to Birkin is “pure culture in sensation, culture in the physical consciousness, really ultimate physical consciousness, mindless, utterly sensual,”12 Gerald is repelled, while Birkin himself is forced to agree that sensuality alone cannot fulfil man.

14The notion of balance is central in Lawrence’s vision of the cosmos. Life is a fight in which destructive and creative forces preponderate by turns, but ultimately counterbalance each other in the greater flux of life. Lawrence describes the difficult struggle which leads to moments of union between opposite forces; he explores situations at all levels of human experience in which balance is either attained or fails to be realized. There must be balance between male and female in man’s own nature as there must be balance in him between the two forms of consciousness:

  • 13 D.H. Lawrence, Assorted Articles, London, 1932, pp. 205-6.

Let us accept our destiny. Man can’t live by instinct because he’s got a mind…. Man has a mind; and ideas, so it is just puerile to sigh for innocence and naïve spontaneity…. You’ve got to marry the pair of them [emotions and the mind]. Apart, they are no good.13

  • 14 D.H. Lawrence, Phoenix, p. 419.

15In the same way, balance is, or rather should be, the essence of all human relationships and of life in society. It is, in fact, the touchstone of Lawrence’s criticism of society, for, ultimately, the root of all evil lies in man’s failure to achieve balance. Harmony, the natural polarity of complementary elements, such are the properties of life in all its aspects. It is therefore understandable that Lawrence should revolt against any way of life that breaks the harmony of the natural world. The importance he grants to the physical universe makes him reject any form of behaviour that derives exclusively from reason. Moreover, his conception of the universe and the relative place he assigns in it to man necessarily upset traditional standards of conduct and the generally accepted ideal of happiness. As we shall see, Lawrence’s novels question, then reject, the contemporary way of life because it is contrary to what he calls “the vast, unexplored morality of life itself.”14

16The White Peacock (1911) is mainly an attempt to capture the beauty of the natural world and the warmth of personal relations. Man and nature partake of the same source of vital energy, though man, preoccupied with his own fate, is often unaware of it and denies the true life in him. We may wonder to what extent Lawrence was conscious that he was giving expression to the philosophy of life which was to become the essence of his artistic achievement, namely that man, a manifestation of life, must commune with the natural universe while fulfilling himself as a human being. He did not yet illustrate it in complex human attitudes, for Annable’s simple motto “be a good animal” could hardly lead to fulfilment. But man’s communion with nature appears nowhere so spontaneous, so instinctive, so natural as in The White Peacock and in Sons and Lovers. One of its most beautiful expressions is the elegy for the death of Annable, the man who had returned to nature. The novel is full of the magic which the country held for the young Lawrence, who was to describe it repeatedly in his work. The mines are already an integral part of the landscape, though the old ways of life and work subsist. Industrialism is only beginning to loom large; it has not yet superseded agriculture and marred the English country-side. Lawrence does not criticize it yet; on the contrary, he takes the pits as a natural part of his surroundings:

  • 15 D.H. Lawrence, The White Peacock. Penguin Books, 1954, p. 25.

As you walk past Selsby, the pit stands up against the West, with beautiful tapering chimneys marked in black against the swim of sunset, and the headstocks etched with tall significance on the brightness. Then the houses are squat in rows of shadow at the foot of these high monu-ments.15

17Some critics consider The White Peacock mainly as a picture of English provincial life at the beginning of this century. But it is more than that: Lawrence tackles the themes he was to develop later, though these are not fully worked out, which may account for a certain confusion in the purpose of the novel. This is particularly true of his treatment of the growing ascendency of woman in the family and in society, and of the destruction of a man by a woman who refuses to take him as he is and tries to make him “better.” The main theme of the novel is that of personal relationships in a declining agricultural community. When the book opens, man and nature are still perfectly integrated in the same flow of life, although the valley is losing its former vitality. Mr. Saxton is the unquestioned master of the farm; he is full of vigour and of human warmth, and he comforts Cyril when the latter escapes from the frustrating gentility of his own home. However, even at Strelley Mill the joy and comfort of life indulged in by the men is sometimes thwarted by the excessive religiousness of the women. Moreover, their way of life is threatened and cannot be preserved much longer. The farms are being gnawed away, and agricultural England is disintegrating. Industry is not responsible: the gentry have not yet become industrial magnates, but they have lost reverence for the traditional work of the land, and it is they who eventually drive out the farmers. The latter lose faith in agriculture as it is practised in England. Besides the men in the Saxton family are beginning to feel the oppressiveness of traditions which have become conventionalized and hamper the renewal of life. That is why the father is glad to emigrate to Canada, to a young country where life is still full of promise. George is tempted to go with him, but life on a farm no longer gratifies him; he has lost the blind contentment he used to derive from his work. It even seems that having been knocked out by the gamekeeper makes him lose confidence in his physical self. At the same time Lettie awakens dissatisfaction in him:

“Here you can’t live as you like—in any way or circum-stance. You’re like a bit out of those coloured marble mosaics in the hall, you have to fit in your own set, fit into your own pattern, because you’re put there from the first. But you don’t want to be like a bit fixed of a mosaic—you want to fuse into life, and melt and mix with the rest of folk, to have some things burned out of you.” (p. 92)

18At the beginning of the novel George is arrogantly self-satisfied, a young man enjoying the full force of his body. Work and comfort seem enough for him. Lettie admires his body, the life it radiates, but she calls him a primitive man, a “fine animal.” He is in love with her, and she makes him vaguely aware of a higher and more refined existence. She tempts him with her refinement and her culture, then leaves him for another man. Much is made of Lettie’s beauty, of her intelligence and her charm. She is a capricious and tempting woman whom men find it difficult to resist. But she is afraid of life, and though she likes to think she is unconventional, she is always checking her spontaneity, particularly when she feels it might give the impression that she is yielding a part of herself. She attracts George by “vending him visions” of an exquisite life, in which pictures, music and dancing the minuet are all-important. Her indulgence in “culture” is often futile, the more so as she uses it as an easy means to impress George or to appeal to his sentimentality. In fact, George is capable of responding to the real thing, to what appears to him to have some relation to life, but he refuses to be impressed by a form of refinement which is often a mere token of conventionality and respectability. In this respect, Lettie is strongly influenced by her mother, who regards life in terms of what is allowed and what is forbidden. She enforces in her home the kind of respectability of which the piano is the unfailing symbol. Significantly, the novel starts with Cyril leaving the free and genial atmosphere of the farm to come home and find his mother playing a Victorian melody on the piano. She is the first example in Lawrence’s fiction of the self-righteous woman who cannot take her husband as he is and destroys him morally. The father, “a frivolous, rather vulgar character, but plausible, having a good deal of charm,” (p. 52) is the first of many men whose vitality is thwarted by their wives.

19Lettie’s respect for social conventions determines her fate. Though she seems to be very self-confident and tries to assert herself by assuming an independent attitude, she is rather unstable. She doesn’t know what she wants: she isn’t deeply in love with either George or Leslie, but she is at least physically attracted to George and at the same time afraid of the power he would have over her if she responded to him. Cyril is right when he tells him (too late): “she’d have been glad if you’d done as you wanted with her.” (p. 256) But George lacks confidence; he is awkward in his effort to win Lettie and, what is more important, he denies the life in him because he is unable to give it purpose. When Lettie makes him lose his self-complacency, he becomes aware that physical consciousness is not enough. He rejects the form of culture Lettie offers him, but he is incapable as yet of realizing himself by other means or even of conceiving clearly what self-realization involves. Yet he knows that this would give him assurance, the will to win Lettie and the possibility to overcome her reticences. When he does become conscious of himself and gains assurance, he has an inkling of the way to completeness through physical and mental consciousness. But this also makes him aware of the mess he has made of his life, and this under-standing leads to his downfall.

20Opposed to George is Leslie Tempest, the mine-owner, a rather pale forerunner of Gerald Crich. He has no life in him, only manners and a puerile sensitiveness. Characteristically, when Lettie accepts him, he tells her: “You’ll make a fine wife, Lettie, able to entertain, and all that.” (p. 119) When Lettie chooses him, she knows that she is rejecting life for the “world,” for a brilliant and refined but shallow existence. Yet the choice is not between life and non-life but between non-life and life-to-berealized provided she could bring George to it. Neither he nor Leslie offers her the security of a manly attitude. She keeps hesitating even after she is engaged to Leslie, who wins her in the end not through his strength but through his weakness after an accident. By leaving her the initiative, both men deny their manhood and encourage her to dominate them. They are at least partly responsible for the ascendency Lettie gains over them.

21The rejection of George by Lettie is the turning point in the novel. George marries Meg, and for a short time he is fairly happy with her. He prospers financially and acquires an ease which makes him quite acceptable in any social circle. But his marriage soon breaks down, for Meg is warm but uneducated and apparently unteachable, and George, who after his break with Lettie had renounced the life of the mind, becomes increasingly dissatisfied. Lawrence makes it clear that for someone who has had a glimpse of another kind of fulfilment, the life of the senses is not enough: Annable, with whom the senses take precedence of the mind, is also profoundly unhappy. As soon as Meg becomes a mother, she turns to her children and starts despising George; he becomes aware of the aimlessness of his life and takes to drink:

Meg was secure in her high maternity; she was mistress and sole authority. George, as father, was first servant; as an indifferent father, she humiliated him and was hostile to his wishes, (p. 354)

22George tries to give his life some purpose by devoting himself to socialism, but he soon realizes that socialism cannot be a substitute for real living. He loses interest and becomes more aimless than ever. Meanwhile, he has kept in touch with Lettie, who insists on interfering in his life. Lettie’s marriage has not fulfilled her either. From the very beginning, she asserts herself as the mother-figure. Leslie loses his self-confidence and becomes unquestioningly submitted to her. Unconsciously perhaps, she enjoys making a show of his submission, and he is rather pathetic in his appeal to her tenderness. Marriage has transformed Lettie into an all-powerful character, a brilliant and fascinating female who, like the peacock described by Annable as the symbol of woman’s vanity, enjoys dominating man. Both George and Leslie are under her spell:

As she turned laughing to the two men, she let her cloak slide over her white shoulder and fall with silk splendour of a peacock’s gorgeous blue over the arm of the large settee. There she stood, with her white hand upon the peacock of her cloak, where it tumbled against her dull orange dress. She knew her own splendour, and she drew up her throat laughing and brilliant with triumph, (pp. 330-1)

23Yet, because she is herself dissatisfied, Lettie still wants something from George. She has apparently learned little from experience: she wishes to enjoy pleasant social relations with brilliant talk and music to cover her inner failure, but George cannot accept this alternative to a real relationship.

  • 16 D.H. Lawrence, Fantasia of the Unconscious, London, 1961, p. 106.

24Ten years after they have gone their own ways it is obvious that none of the young people (except Emily) is going to be fulfilled. When George loses Lettie, he also loses what Lawrence calls later “a deep sense of purposive, creative activity.”16 Leslie is successful as an industrial magnate, the first advocate in Lawrence’s novels of “machinery which will do the work of men” (p. 381) and the first agent of a transformation that will bring death in the valley. But emotionally, he is a child who willingly accepts and even rejoices in the domination of his wife. So that both George, who was full of life and virility, and Leslie, who has always been effeminate and emotionally dependent, fail to fulfil themselves. Their wives find relief in self-abnegation for their children and rely on them alone for their emotional life. However, Meg never forgives George for not yielding to her, while Lettie realizes that her independence from her husband, her activities as a modern woman and her indulgence in culture do not make up for her lack of a rich emotional life.

25The cause of this sterility and waste of life is made clear in a chapter in which Annable and Cyril bring out the meaning of the novel by using the white peacock as the symbol of woman’s pride and vanity. Annable is a Cambridge-educated man who became a curate and married Lady Crystabel. She was in love with him physically until she grew tired of him and “got souly.” He was humiliated by her, and when he left her, he returned to nature to live as a good animal. Annable seeing a peacock on a stone angel in the graveyard exclaims:

‘The proud fool!—look at it! Perched on an angel too, as if it were a pedestal for vanity. That’s the soul of a woman—or it’s the devil.’
‘A woman to the end, I tell you, all vanity and screech and defilement.’ (p. 198)

26However, after many years of bitterness at the humiliation he suffered from her, he laments when he hears that Lady Crystabel is dead and acknowledges that she wasn’t entirely to blame. That is why Cyril suggests they call her a white peacock. Most men in the novel suffer from the humiliation imposed on them by women who despise their virility, sometimes because they are afraid of it. All of them, except Leslie, are deeply connected with the earth and resist the will of women to impose on them an “idealism” which kills life. The women are attached to religion as men are attached to the earth. They act according to principles which have their source in a religious and cultural tradition that used to be vital but has been gradually severed from life. Mrs. Saxton kills all joy of living, and she brings up her children to believe that the slightest event in their life is a trial to their soul, by which she destroys their self-confidence. Cyril, like Paul in Sons and Lovers, recoils from Emily’s soul-worship:

‘You have always your soul in your eyes, such an earnest, troublesome soul’. … Troublesome shadows are always crowding across your eyes, and you cherish them. You think the flesh of the apple is nothing, nothing. You only care for the eternal pips. Why don’t you snatch your apple and eat it, and throw the core away?’ (p. 97)

27Mrs. Beardsall and Lettie are less concerned with the soul but they are equally influenced by the Christian idealism which characterizes society. They associate the Church with an ideal of culture and sophistication which alienates them increasingly from the vitality of nature, whose manifestation in man they consider as vulgar. Hence the conflict in Lettie when she is attracted by life and love, for while denying them she longs for them. Culture, that is intellectual and artistic achievement, is often considered by the female characters as an alternative to real life and, as such, rejected by Lawrence. He criticizes the role of religion, more particularly of the Christian ideal, which has raised woman on a pedestal through exaggerated reverence for maternity. The supremacy of woman in the home deprives man of his natural authority and woman of her belief in man. Even Emily, who has found happiness away from the “torture of strange, complex modern life,” is the mistress, “quiet and self-assured, [Tom] her rejoiced husband and servant.” Mrs. Beardsall, Lettie, Meg, and Gertie are “white peacocks” just as much as Lady Crystabel. They illustrate the growing ascendency of woman in modern society as a result of the humiliation they have inflicted on man by despising his manhood, but also as a result of man’s incapacity or unwillingness to resist the violation. Long after he wrote The White Peacock, Lawrence explained this process in a passage of Fantasia of the Unconscious, which is an appropriate comment on Lettie and Leslie’s relationship:

Now in what we call the natural mode, man has his positivity in the volitional centres, and woman in the sympathetic. In fulfilling the Christian love ideal, however, men have reversed this. Man has assumed the gentle, all-sympathetic role, and woman has become the energetic party, with the authority in her hands. The male is the sensitive, sympathetic nature, the woman the active, effective, authoritative. … The woman is now the initiator, man the responder. … And in certain periods, such as the present, the majority of men concur in regarding woman as the source of life, the first term in creation: woman the mother, the prime being. And the whole polarity shifts over. Man still remains the doer and thinker. But he is also in the service of emotional and procreative woman, (pp. 94-95)

28In a way, George’s downfall and degradation through drink is a refusal to yield to the Christian love ideal and to submit to Meg or Lettie. He is confused, degraded, but as he drifts towards death, he also drifts beyond the reach of woman’s influence and out of a situation which he never fully understood. He rightly tells Cyril,

‘I am born a generation too soon—I wasn’t ripe enough when I came. I wanted something I hadn’t got. I’m something short. … I came too soon; or I wanted something that would ha’ made me grow fierce.’ (p. 371)

29George lacks the mental consciousness which, if linked with physical consciousness, would have made him a complete being, capable of fully assuming his responsibilities and of asserting himself. In Lawrence’s first novel the hero fails for want of understanding and of mind-consciousness, whereas in his later work, he is destroyed by an excess of both either in himself or in his partner.

30George’s downfall is a misleading conclusion, the more so as it might be interpreted as a consequence of his refusal to give in to Christian idealism. In fact, it follows from Lettie’s rejection and results mainly from his incapacity to answer a need which he cannot even clearly define. Lawrence had evidently been struck by the degeneracy of man through drink; such disintegration is exemplified twice in the story. But whereas he seems to sympathize with Lettie and Cyril’s father and stresses the responsibility of their mother, he arouses little sympathy for George. The latter’s downfall is the more humiliating as he is not a man for whom drink is the only answer. He does try to understand what he lacks, he does try to find a purpose, and after rejecting what Lawrence himself criticizes, he is left with no other way out but drink. However, this flaw in the novel does not obscure Lawrence’s vision, his passion for all that partakes of life, whether in nature or in human beings, which he opposes to non-life, idealism and a will-to-power which kills the free expression of man. The White Peacock forebodes man’s complete alienation from nature and the development of a matriarchal society in England.

31In Sons and Lovers (1913) nature takes on a new significance: it is a responsive environment in which man perceives an echo of his moral state. Once during a quarrel Morel locks his wife out in the garden. After the first moment of revolt Mrs. Morel, who is pregnant, finds peace in the quietness of the evening:

  • 17 D.H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers, Penguin Books, 1961, p. 35.

Mrs. Morel leaned on the garden gate, looking out, and she lost herself awhile. She did not know what she thought. Except for a slight feeling of sickness, and her consciousness in the child, herself melted out like scent into the shiny, pale air. After a time the child, too, melted with her in the mixing-pot of moonlight, and she rested with the hills and lilies and houses, all swum together in a kind of swoon.17

32This immersion with her child in the darkness is a source of comfort to her, whereas when he sleeps in an open field Morel feels queer and shrinks physically as he shrinks morally. Flowers are the major natural element in the novel; they are an important witness in all the love scenes between Paul and his mother, Miriam, or Clara. It even seems that the characters’ attitude to flowers is the same as their attitude to people. Miriam worships them as she worships Paul. Paul and his mother take them for what they are and derive much joy from them. Clara refuses to pick them because she says it kills them, but after her love-making with Paul she is glad to accept them as a tribute to her womanhood. In their passionate love-making Paul and Clara commune with nature, are lost in the Infinite, gaining a strength which establishes them firmly in their own separateness and in the belief in life which ultimately saves them:

After such an evening they were both very still, having known the immensity of passion. … It was for each of them an initiation and a satisfaction. To know their own nothing-ness, to know the tremendous living flood which carried them always, gave them rest within themselves. If so great a magnificent power could overwhelm them, identify them altogether with itself, so that they knew they were only grains in the tremendous heave that lifted every grass-blade its little height, and every tree, and living thing, then why fret about themselves? They could let themselves be carried by life, and they felt a sort of peace each in the other. There was a verification, which they had had together. Nothing could nullify it, nothing could take it away; it was almost their belief in life. (pp. 430-1)

33When Paul is fulfilled through passion, he never feels alone with Clara, but they are swept along with the whole universe in a great flame of life. On the other hand, when his mother dies, Paul is alienated from nature as he is from life.

34Willey Farm and the home of the Morels are both typical of the changing economic structure of England. Willey Farm is pleasant, warm and brimming with life, but it is unprofitable and overrun by rabbits, a sign of the decay of agricultural England. The Morel home illustrates the living conditions created by the invasion of industrialism. But the mining community is still rural, and if any criticism of industrialism is implied in Sons and Lovers, it is obviously not intended as a deliberate condemnation of the system. Lawrence does not criticize the kind of work the miners do. Rather the contrary! The only reference to industrialism is when Paul Morel-Lawrence feels threatened by it:

Already he was a prisoner of industrialism. Large sunflowers stared over the old red wall of the garden opposite, looking in their jolly way down on the women who were hurrying with something for dinner. The valley was full of corn, brightening in the sun. Two collieries, among the fields, waved their small white plumes of steam. Far off on the hills were the woods of Annesley, dark and fascinating. Already his heart went down. He was being taken into bondage. His freedom in the beloved home valley was going now. (p. 114)

35Lawrence merely expresses here the fear of an extremely sensitive boy, forced to look for a job when he has no particular qualifications, and his reluctance to enter the cold, efficient world of business. These feelings are due to the lack of confidence, the humiliation and the uncertainty which the search for a job induces in an adolescent. Lawrence did not yet bear industrialism any definite grudge, for once his hatred was aroused, he was sharp enough in his denunciation. Compare with the following scene Ursula’s impression in The Rainbow of a small mining town as a “formless, squalid mass” and of its colliery as “the great machine which has taken us all captives”:

‘What a pity there is a coal-pit where it is so pretty!’ said Clara.
‘Do you think so?’ he answered. ‘You see, I am so used to it I should miss it. No; and I like the pits here and there. I like the rows of trucks, and the headstocks, and the steam in the daytime, and the lights at night. When I was a boy, I always thought a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night was a pit, with its steam, and its lights, and the burning bank—and I thought the Lord was always at the pit-top.’ (p. 389)

36The first part of Sons and Lovers throws light on the richness of religion and tradition as sources of fulfilment but also on their oppressive influence on the community. The conflict which arises between Paul Morel’s parents very soon after their marriage and degenerates into a lifelong struggle does not merely result from the incompatibility of their characters; it originates in the collision of two forces deeply rooted in English communal life: its vitality and its puritanism. Mrs. Morel had been attracted by the warmth and the pleasantness of her husband. He was a miner ignorant of the life of the mind but full of gaiety and joy of living, while she “loved ideas and was considered intellectual”:

She was a puritan, like her father, high-minded, and really stern. Therefore the dusky, golden softness of this man’s sensuous flame of life, that flowed off his flesh like the flame from a candle, not baffled and gripped into incandescence by thought and spirit as her life was, seemed to her something wonderful, beyond her. (p. 18)

37After a few months of marriage, Mrs. Morel realizes that she has been deceived by her husband about what he owns, and she cannot forgive him the lie. Gradually, she comes to despise him, and he starts neglecting her. She no longer thinks him noble but shallow, as if he were all pleasantness and joy of living but had no backbone:

There began a battle between husband and wife—a fearful, bloody battle that ended only with the death of one. She fought to make him undertake his own responsibilities, to make him fulfil his obligations. But he was too different from her. His nature was purely sensuous, and she strove to make him moral, religious. She tried to force him to face things. He could not endure it—it drove him out of his mind. (p. 23)

38Instead of asserting his authority in the house through sheer common sense and acceptance of his responsibilities, Morel takes refuge in the pub and withdraws from the family life, while she ceases to care for him:

Nevertheless, she still continued to strive with him. She still had her high moral sense, inherited from generations of Puritans. It was now a religious instinct, and she was almost a fanatic with him, because she loved him, or had loved him. If he sinned, she tortured him. If he drank, and lied, was often a poltroon, sometimes a knave, she wielded the lash unmercifully. … She could not be content with the little he might be; she would have him the much that he ought to be. So, in seeking to make him nobler than he could be, she destroyed him. (p. 25)

39Paul Morel was born at a time when his parents had already started to quarrel. As a child, he seems to feel the discord between his parents and to be aware of his mother’s suffering. The chapters dealing with Paul Morel’s childhood are unparalleled for their psychological insight into a child’s feelings and for their penetration into the causes which bring about the deterioration of a husband-wife relationship, but also as a social document. This is because Lawrence treats seriously the child’s feelings and the circumstances which prompted them. He does not dismiss them as adults so often do when they have outgrown a particular situation. The emotional life of the Morels was exceptional because, as a miner’s wife, Mrs. Morel was probably exceptional. But their living conditions were similar to those of any miner’s family: the smallness of the house, in which privacy is hardly possible, makes co-existence more difficult. On the other hand, when all is well, an atmosphere of warmth and closeness makes it very congenial.

40The period while the children are growing up is on the whole a period of suffering for the mother. Yet, she never forgets her grudge against the father, she never forgives him, never has a kind or tender impulse towards him. She cannot help hardening against him when she is offended; his vulgar manners, which she can never ignore, irritate her and destroy her feeling for him as surely as a serious failing:

Immediately he had finished tea he rose with alacrity to go out. It was this alacrity, this haste to be gone which so sickened Mrs. Morel. As she heard him sousing heartily in cold water, heard the eager scratch of the steel comb on the side of the bowl, as he wetted his hair, she closed her eyes in disgust. As he bent over, lacing his boots, there was a certain vulgar gusto in his movement that divided him from the reserved, watchful rest of the family. He always ran away from the battle with himself. Even in his own heart’s privacy, he excused himself. (p. 57)

41In spite of Lawrence’s bias towards his mother, Mrs. Morel appears as a hard, unbending woman who leaves her husband no chance. Morel is humiliated, and he is ashamed of the pain he inflicts. It is true that he is afraid of his wife, rather a coward, perhaps because her superiority makes him take it for granted that he is no match for her. He refuses to acknowledge his faults because he has the impression that she is indifferent to what he feels, and he is mortified by the fact that she always proves the stronger of the two. That is why he tries to mask his weakness and to assert his authority brutally when he knows he is wrong. On the other hand, the kind of community they live in has nothing to offer except hard work and the pub. To a woman, it offers nothing but the chapel.

42According to some critics, Lawrence attempted in Sons and Lovers to make up for The White Peacock, in which, they say, the mother is presented unfavourably. Actually, Lawrence’s attitude is ambivalent in both novels. Sons and Lovers is a homage to his mother; yet, judging by his own standards, her portrait in the novel is not wholly favourable. The hero sympathizes with her, but the pathetic casting off of the father from the family circle shows to what extent and how early as an adult Lawrence had fathomed the nature of the conflict between his parents. Mrs. Morel is both admirable and life-destroying, breaking her husband’s spirit and inflicting a psychological wound on her sons. For when she is finally disappointed in Morel, she turns to her children with eagerness, and her love is at the same time deep and terribly exacting. By turning to her children for love, Mrs. Morel compels them to share in her sufferings, not intentionally, but inevitably. They cannot help noticing their father’s alineation. The extraordinary intensity of her love and their natural response make them acutely conscious of whatever she feels. Years after writing Sons and Lovers Lawrence criticized that attitude in Fantasia of the Unconscious:

It is despicable for any one parent to accept a child’s sympathy against the other parent. And the one who receives the sympathy is always more contemptible than the one who is hated. (p. 93)

43In the Morel family the children’s sympathy for their mother makes them extremely sensitive and mature at an untimely age. On the other hand, Mrs. Morel imparts to them her vitality and strength. She experiences with her sons an intimacy at once enriching and frustrating for the boys. William’s death is a terrible blow to her, and for a few months she becomes indifferent to the rest of the family until Paul himself becomes dangerously ill:

He grew worse and the crisis approached. One night he tossed into consciousness in the ghastly, sickly feeling of dissolution, when all the cells in the body seem in intense irritability to be breaking down, and consciousness makes a last flare of struggle, like madness.
‘I s’il die, mother!’, he cried, heaving for breath on the pillow.
She lifted him up, crying in a small voice:
‘Oh, my son—my son!’
That brought him to. He realised her. His whole will rose up and arrested him. He put his head on her breast, and took ease of her for love. (p. 175)

44This scene has often been interpreted as a typical manifestation of oedipal love. John Middleton-Murry writes:

  • 18 John Middleton-Mukry, Son of Woman, London, 1932, p. 30.

It is terribly poignant, and terribly wrong. Almost better that a boy should die than have such an effort forced upon him by such means.18

45What means can one expect a mother to use in such circumstances except her love? Isn’t it perfectly natural for a mother who has just lost a son and is on the point of losing another, to appeal desperately to the latter’s love for her, which, she feels, is her ultimate resort to make him will to live. Paul is indeed young to be appealed to in that way, but they are already so intimate, so conscious of each other’s feelings, so attentive to each other’s joys and sufferings, that this is merely an extreme manifestation of their love in a moment of crisis. The appeal is to her child, whether boy or girl; there is nothing incestuous in it. The incest motive is present in Sons and Lovers and very important, but it seems to me that it is usually absent from the scenes of great dramatic intensity, precisely because the poignancy of such scenes divests them of any ambiguity and makes them stand out in all innocence. The incest motive develops later and is a source of conflict between Paul and his mother when he falls in love with Miriam. Yet, the real cause of this conflict is not merely his incapacity to love a girl because of his mother. The conflict arises because Miriam cannot love him unreservedly, just as she cannot have normal relations with other people. The confusion she arouses in the young man’s soul, added to the emotional entanglement produced by the intensity of his love for his mother and to the latter’s disapproval of Miriam, makes him relate the two problems, but to say that Mrs. Morel prevents him from loving Miriam is to oversimplify.

46Miriam and Paul are about fifteen when they meet. The boy is struck at once by her romanticism, her passionate nature, the earnestness with which everything in her life is made a source of fulfilment or a trial to the soul. Miriam is constantly reminded by her mother of the religious significance of the smallest action or event. She sometimes resents her mother’s meekness and doctrine of “the other cheek,” but she allows herself to be moulded by them. Paul likes to work on Willey Farm with the boys. He soon discovers their over-sensitiveness and gentleness under their apparent coarseness. At first, the religious intensity which prevails in their home and fascinates him counterbalances happily the influence of his mother, particularly in his work. For Mrs. Morel is not really interested in his painting but in himself and in what he will achieve. She makes him “quietly determined, patient, dogged, unwearied,” whereas Mrs. Leivers and her children “make him glow to his work.” As he becomes more intimate with Miriam, Paul is both stimulated by her deep emotional nature and repelled by the eagerness with which she drives the most ordinary feeling up to an emotional pitch. He is the more thankful then for the wholesome nature of his mother.

47In her record of D.H. Lawrence’s early life Jessie Chambers, “E.T.,” the original of Miriam, has given a very interesting account of their activities during their adolescent years. Their life centered around the Congregational chapel and the literary society so that religion was the source of intellectual and spiritual accomplishment. It remained so even after Lawrence started to question the orthodox creed: religion and the excellent sermons they heard at the Congregational chapel were always favourite subjects of discussion with Miriam and the other members of her family. However, whereas E.T. stresses the influence of religion on their intellectual training, Lawrence shows its cramping influence on Miriam. She cannot enjoy life because she cannot take it as it is but always raises it to an abstract plane, whether intellectual or spiritual, and Paul resents her earnest, joyless ecstasies: “‘I’m so damned spiritual with you always!’” (p. 232) A significant passage in the novel shows how Miriam, denying the physical aspect of life, subtly distorts the simplicity and openness of their relationship:

Miriam was exceedingly sensitive, as her mother had always been. The slightest grossness made her recoil almost in anguish. Her brothers were brutal, but never coarse in speech. The men did all the discussing of farm matters outside. But, perhaps, because of the continual business of birth and begetting which goes on upon every farm, Miriam was the more hypersensitive to the matter, and her blood was chastened almost to disgust of the faintest suggestion of such intercourse. Paul took his pitch from her, and their intimacy went on in an utterly blanched and chaste fashion. It could never be mentioned that the mare was in foal. (p. 201)

  • 19 Mrs. Morel says herself: “If he had made up his mind, nothing on earth could alter him.” (p. 342) (...)

48When they can no longer deny even to themselves that they are falling in love, Miriam is full of shame at the idea of wanting Paul, while he, taking his clue from her, is always abstract with her and starts to recoil from her physically. Paul hates her for making him despise himself and lose his ease and naturalness. He is also humiliated, for it is evident from the beginning that Miriam considers any physical relation with Paul as a “sacrifice” on her part. Here is the real source of the conflict between Paul and Miriam and not in Mrs. Morel’s intervention. Mrs. Morel is jealous because “Miriam is one of those who will want to suck a man’s soul till he has none of his own left.” (p. 237) She realizes that her son is tormented, and she cannot forgive Miriam for making him suffer. It could be objected to this that Paul is incapable of arousing physical desire in Miriam because of his immoderate love for his mother. Yet, it is clear that his affair with Clara is wholly successful. One therefore gets the impression that if he had met a woman who could have gratified him both physically and spiritually, his mother couldn’t have stopped him.19 When Miriam eventually accepts to make love, “she submits religiously to the sacrifice.” (p. 347) They seldom reach the “impersonality of passion” in their love-making; Paul is always left with a sense of failure and death. He is right when he says that her purity is more like nullity, for she is neither ignorant of sex nor innocent. Once she tells Paul: “All my life Mother said to me, ‘there is one thing in marriage that is always dreadful, but you have to bear it.’ And I believed it.” (p. 355) Miriam confesses here the true reason of her frigidity or of her distorted attitude towards physical love, and, in a way, she acknowledges her failure, though she attributes it to her religious upbringing and the influence of her mother. Paul’s mother is also a Puritan, but she has known physical passion and remembers it proudly even after her husband has become a complete stranger to her.

  • 20 Mark Spilka, The Love Ethic of D.H. Lawrence, Bloomington, 1957, p. 68. My interpretation of the p (...)

49All through the ups and downs of their relationship and even after their final parting Miriam is confident that in the end Paul will come back to her and will gladly resume their soul intimacy. She despises the man in him and always refers to his virility as to the child in him. Paul is terribly hurt when he realizes that she has always thought so while she showed him such reverence. Because she has the key to his soul and because she is the only one who really understands his work, she believes that the spirituality of her love is her surest warrant, that what she calls “the best in him” will triumph. Mark Spilka makes a very interesting point when he compares Miriam to Hermione Rodice. He sees in her “a decided forerunner of those feminine creatures of intellect and will whom Lawrence would later deplore as spiritual vampires.”20 It is indeed the abstract nature of her love for Paul and her belief that their love must be primarily spiritual and idealistic which leads Miriam to discomfiture; it leads to her sexual failure, and in the end that failure entails a spiritual defeat as well. Lawrence asserts implicitly but clearly the interdependence between physical and spiritual fulfilment.

50Mrs. Morel accepts more easily Paul’s relationship with Clara, because Paul goes to her for passion only. From the start, she realizes that Clara is not big enough for her son, and she feels sorry for her. Clara, with her grudge against men and her desire to be independent, is a wounded woman who has never known real passion with her husband and whose aggressiveness towards men is self-protective. But again, if Paul and Clara fail to achieve a successful relationship, it is not at bottom because of Mrs. Morel. Their passion is purely sensual; it cannot last because he wants her to be something that she cannot be, and she is soon dissatisfied because she realizes that she has no hold over the vital part in him. She does not even know what this vital part is, which proves her own shortcoming. So their love disintegrates, but she has at least gained assurance from her experience with Paul. She goes back to her husband, mollified, for after all she has failed to make Paul really love her.

51As Paul and Clara’s passion subsides, Paul comes back to his mother. When he hears that she suffers from an incurable disease, he gives free course to the obsessive quality of his love for her. To insist on Miriam’s and Clara’s responsibility for their own failure with Paul is not to deny the exceptional nature of his love for his mother. It is to recognize that neither Miriam nor Clara can outdo Mrs. Morel because she is superior to them. Indeed, when Paul says that he can never really love another woman while she lives, it is partly because of the abnormal intensity of his love for her, but also because he has never met a woman who could match her. When the children are young, they all share their life with her, do things for her, tell her everything, look up to her as to the remarkable woman she is. She has none of the cramping spirituality of Miriam, and she is frankly enthusiastic about life and man’s participation in it. On their way home from Willey Farm, she is struck by Mr. Leivers’s vitality and by Mrs. Leivers’s plaintive gentleness, and exclaims:

‘Now wouldn’t I help that man! Wouldn’t I see to the fowls and the young stock! And I’d learn to milk, and I’d talk with him, and I’d plan with him, my word, if I were his wife, the farm would be run, I know!’ (p. 160)

52However, after the death of William, her life “roots itself in Paul”; the excess of her love for him, their dependence on each other for life and the emptiness of her existence without him, make him dote on his mother with the attentiveness of a lover rather than a son’s, and this makes conflict inevitable when he is drawn to another woman. Once Mrs. Morel gets particularly worked up against Miriam, and when Paul tells her that he doesn’t love Miriam but merely likes to talk with her, Mrs. Morel asks him what they share that she couldn’t share as well:

‘You’re old, Mother, and we’re young.’
He only meant that the interests of her age were not the interests of his. But he realized the moment he had spoken that he had said the wrong thing.
‘Yes, I know it well—I am old. And therefore I may stand aside; I have nothing more to do with you. You only want me to wait on you—the rest is for Miriam.’
He could not bear it. Instinctively he realized that he was life to her. And, after all, she was the chief thing to him, the only supreme thing.
‘You know it isn’t, Mother, you know it isn’t!’
She was moved to pity by his cry.
‘It looks a great deal like it,’ she said, half putting aside her despair.
‘No, Mother—I really don’t love her. I talk to her, but I want to come home to you.’
He had taken off his collar and tie, and rose, bare-throated, to go to bed. As he stooped to kiss his mother, she threw her arms round his neck, hid her face on his shoulder, and cried, in a whimpering voice, so unlike her own that he writhed in agony:
‘I can’t bear it. I could let another woman—but not her. She’d leave me no room, not a bit of room--’
And immediately he hated Miriam bitterly.
‘And I’ve never—you know, Paul—I’ve never had a husband—not really— —’
He stroked his mother’s hair, and his mouth was on her throat.
‘And she exults so in taking you from me—she’s not like ordinary girls.’
‘Well, I don’t love her, Mother,’ he murmured, bowing his head and hiding his eyes on her shoulder in misery. His mother kissed him a long, fervent kiss.
‘My boy!’ she said, in a voice trembling with passionate love. Without knowing, he gently stroked her face.
‘There,’ said his mother, now go to bed. You’ll be so tired in the morning.’ As she was speaking she heard her husband coming. ‘There’s your father—now go.’ Suddenly she looked at him almost as if in fear. ‘Perhaps I’m selfish. If you want her, take her, my boy.’
His mother looked so strange. Paul kissed her, trembling,
‘Ha—Mother!’ he said softly.

Morel came in, walking unevenly. His hat was over one corner of his eye. He balanced in the doorway.
‘At your mischief again?’ he said venomously.
Mrs. Morel’s emotion turned into sudden hate of the drunkard who had come in thus upon her. (pp. 261-2)

53Here Mrs. Morel’s jealousy and the extravagance of her love are manifestly oedipal; the scene suggests, as Lawrence explains later in Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious, that the incest-motive has its origin in the dissatisfaction of a parent unsuccessfully married. As we have suggested earlier, the failure of Paul’s relationship with Miriam is not due to Mrs. Morel. Yet there is something incestuous in the mother-son relationship: Mrs. Morel obviously expects Paul to compensate for her unhappy marriage, and, therefore, Miriam becomes the enemy. Henceforward, Paul’s love for his mother becomes a source of annihilation, the “quick of the trouble,” because she is made the ideal to which his own life is sacrificed. During the last months of her life he really behaves like a lover to her, and he feels that he is drifting towards spiritual death as she drifts towards physical death. Yet the harrowing situation, made more tragic yet by her unfailing will to hold on to life, invests their relationship with a new innocence and a dramatic intensity which culminates in her death. Though he does not want to die, Paul is pulled towards death by his overpowering, obsessive, destructive love for his mother:

His mother had really supported his life. He had loved her; they two had, in fact, faced the world together. Now she was gone, and for ever behind him was the gap in life, the tear in the veil, through which his life seemed to drift slowly as if he were drawn towards death. He wanted someone of their own free initiative to help him. The lesser things began to let go from him, for fear of this big thing, the lapse towards death, following in the wake of his beloved. (p. 495)

54For weeks he is prostrate, overwhelmed with despair. He stands completely alone, having finally parted with Clara and Miriam, but he does not follow his mother into the night, he turns to life:

But no, he would not give in. Turning sharply, he walked towards the city’s phosphorescence. His fists were shut, his mouth set fast. He would not take that direction, to the darkness, to follow her. He walked towards the faintly humming, glowing town quickly. (p. 511)

  • 21 Lawrence explains that by keeping the soul of her sons, the mother provokes a split in them. Lette (...)

55Paul’s will to live, his implicit assertion of his belief in life derive from his experience with his mother and with Clara. If his mother has had a sterilizing influence because of her excessive love, she has also imparted to him her wonderful vitality. From Clara he has received the baptism of life which made a man of him. These combined influences eventually give him the strength to resist death and to start life as a full-grown man. Paul has known three forms of love which in their different ways have contributed to his making. But all three of them are unsatisfactory: they lead ultimately to a cleavage in man’s sensibility and can be a source of weakening for his manhood. In their own ways, Miriam, Clara, and above all Mrs. Morel, point to the female characters in Lawrence’s later novels whose possessive love is a source of destruction and disintegration in society. My opinion that Miriam and Clara share with Mrs. Morel the responsibility for the inner split in Paul, may seem to contradict Lawrence’s own explanation of the novel to Garnett,21 which is often taken literally by critics and is their main guide to interpretation. One should remember Lawrence’s advice: “Never trust the artist, trust the tale.” Indeed, Sons and Lovers gives ample evidence of an artistic exploration deeper than Lawrence’s understanding of his own situation as expressed to Garnett at the time. Moreover, there is no real contradiction but rather a qualification since the mother does not fight against a woman who could make her son happy but against a woman who offers an incomplete and distorted relationship.

56Sons and Lovers contains implicitly the major problems and attitudes that Lawrence explores more fully in his later novels. The influence of women on Paul’s life and Mrs. Morel’s destruction of her husband as well as her powerful impact on her sons show to what extent women interfere in the direction of man’s existence:

Now she had two sons in the world. She could think of two places, great centres of industry, and feel that she had put a man in each of them, that these men would work out what she wanted. (p. 127)

  • 22 In his essay “Nottingham and the Mining Country-side” Lawrence explains that in his childhood the (...)

57As in The White Peacock, Lawrence describes the part played by religion in the annihilation of the human personality. On the other hand, religion is presented here also as a factor of intellectual fulfilment and spiritual richness. Even Mrs. Leivers’ and Miriam’s intense spirituality are in a way beneficial. If in real life Lawrence became an agnostic, he did not lose his religious intensity: it characterizes most of his work. Lawrence’s first two novels exemplify the twofold influence of the Puritan tradition. In some of its aspects this tradition goes back to the early days of puritanism, when the Puritans developed a strong individualism and an unrelenting preoccupation with morals as a result of their sense of personal responsibility towards God. This is constantly felt in the attitude of Mrs. Beardsall, Mrs. Leivers and particularly Mrs. Morel, who fights obstinately to make her husband “better.” A man like Walter Morel, who is a product of another tradition in English life, namely of the vitality which comes from a constant participation in the life of the community, but who lacks the self-control, the self-reliance and the self-righteousness characteristic of the Puritan middle class, is made to lose faith in himself and destroyed as a human being. Miriam’s habit of spiritualizing or idealizing the most natural human impulses while ignoring the life of the body also has its source in puritanism. The emphasis on morals in the Puritan way of life had received a new impetus in the nineteenth century. But morality also came to be associated with prosperity, which was a convenient way of accounting for material success and gave the individual an additional reason for wanting to improve himself in order to achieve financial independence. It is to this aspect of the Puritan tradition that Lawrence attributes the materialism of the lower middle class and the individual’s ambition to rise in the world, which destroyed community life in England.22

58The greatest achievement in Sons and Lovers is the exploration of a complex emotional situation. It stresses the importance of the mother-figure, its destructiveness as well as the sterility of woman’s idealism. Yet, she is not finally responsible for her partner’s loss of manhood. If Walter Morel is destroyed, he is as guilty as his wife because he is a coward who would not stand by what he is. Woman asserts her supremacy, but man is free to accept it or reject it. Women take the lead because men are not strong enough morally, yet they secretly desire to keep faith in men. This may not be true of Miriam, who wants to be the mistress of Paul’s soul, but Clara is glad in the end to submit to her husband and to serve him. Even Mrs. Morel, who is undeniably the moral authority in the household, acknowledges very subtly the man in Morel in the way she serves him, and the family is expected to do the same. Mrs. Morel is also glad to serve her sons because they are men. Woman is gaining ascendency, but she does not yet take her supremacy for granted.

59In The Rainbow (1915) the desire of women to turn to the world “where men moved dominant and creative” (p. 2) is a much more deeply felt ambition. Lawrence describes the relation-ships between husband and wife over three generations and unmistakably associates the accession of women to a new kind of freedom with the collapse of community life. Witness the chasm between Lydia and her grand-daughter Ursula and the consequences of their attitude on the people around them. The introduction to the Brangwen family portraying the men “facing inwards to the teeming life of creation” (p. 3) conveys a feeling of permanency and social stability through the men’s attachment to the earth. They have no desire to change, and their contentment is the surest warrant of the stability of their way of life. It is true that while the husband “looked out at the back at sky and harvest and beast and land,” his wife

looked from the front of her house towards the activity of man in the world at large, she strained her eyes to see what man had done in fighting outwards to knowledge, she strained to hear how he uttered himself in his conquest, her deepest desire hung on the battle that she heard, far off being waged on the edge of the unknown. She also wanted to know, and to be of the fighting host. (p. 3)

60Such desires were still too inarticulate and too vague to arouse restlessness or any kind of action. The continuity in the Brangwen family is further preserved by Lydia Lensky. She makes her husband conscious of what he is, gives him confidence and brings their marriage to its full consummation: “She waited for him to meet her, not to bow before her and serve her. She wanted his active participation, not his submission.” (p. 86) When they find each other after a period of hesitation and difficulty and are transfigured by their love, their child Anna feels the strength and security of their union and is at peace between them.

She looked from one to the other, and she saw them established for her safety, and she was free. She played between the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud in confidence, having the assurance on her right hand and the assurance on her left. (p. 88)

61Though life at the Marsh is obviously a factor of social well-being and safety, Tom and Lydia find their fulfilment in each other alone, and their relations with the community is not explored or even shown in the novel.

62The second generation of Brangwens is unable to preserve the peaceful security of Tom and Lydia. As a girl, Anna wants to escape the potent intimacy of her parents, but when she mixes with other people, she cannot stand their “thinness” and comes home “diminished,” “belittled.” She wants some sort of ratification of the spirit, and this, of course, her parents cannot give her:

She tried to discuss people, she wanted to know what was meant. But her father became uneasy. He did not want to have things dragged into consciousness. (p. 96)

63She is momentarily appeased by her passion for her cousin Will, but after the first raptures of her union with him she returns to the outside world, fiercer in her determination to escape the dark power of the blood. Will has the obscure, passionate soul of the Brangwens and prefers “things he cannot understand with the mind.” (p. 154) She resists his dark power and jeers at his inclination for the mysterious, the unknown:

He did not care about himself as a human being. He did not attach any vital importance to his life in the drafting office, or his life among men. The verity was his connection with Anna and his connection with the Church, his real being lay in dark, emotional experience of the Infinite, the Absolute. (p. 148)

64This exasperates Anna for whom thought is more important than this dark, instinctive intuition of the world, and she is furious with Will for his total neglect of the mind. Their life together alternates between love and conflict, fierce battles and periods of perfect bliss. In no other novel has Lawrence embodied so successfully his conception of the dual nature of marriage. Anna emerges victorious, as it seems woman usually does, except in the case of Birkin and Ursula or Constance Chatterley and Mellors. Neither Will nor Anna develops harmoniously or reaches the kind of perfection symbolized by the rainbow, the harmonious fusion of the seen and the unseen: in spirit Will is “uncreated”; he is aware of his limitations, of “some folded centres of darkness which would never develop and unfold whilst he was alive in the body.” (p. 223) Anna’s soul finds no utterance. Yet, in time they achieve some kind of fulfilment. Their love becomes mere sensuality “violent and extreme as death,” and their intense physical communion allows them to find themselves. Anna is enriched by her successive pregnancies. As to Will,

his intimate life was so violently active, that it set another man free in him. And this new man turned with interest to public life, to see what part he could take in it. This would give him scope for new activity, activity of a kind for which he was now created and released. He wanted to be unanimous with the whole of purposive mankind. (p. 223)

65Obviously, Lawrence thinks that physical gratification can be a source of creative energy and stimulate man to activities that will establish his position among other men. The second generation find their way through many joys and sufferings, but their achievement, valuable as it is in itself, is necessarily more limited than that of the first generation or of Ursula in the third. If Tom Brangwen missed some kind of spiritual fulfilment, he was not aware of it and was content for most of his life with his marriage to Lydia. He comes to a crisis when Anna gets married, because he cannot bear losing her; he wants the “further, the creative life” with the girl. But this is the sudden realization by a middle-aged man, married to a wife older than himself and tired, that youth escapes him and that there is no return. He shows no regret for the way his life has been spent, and the main impression remains that he and his wife were fully gratified and that their existence together was a lasting achievement. It is not so with Will Brangwen, who in spite of his social advancement and the satisfaction he and his wife have known, is seen by Birkin in Women in Love as a

strange, inexplicable, almost patternless collection of passions and desires and suppressions and traditions and mechanical ideas, all cast unfused and disunited into the slender, bright-faced man of nearly fifty, who was as unresolved now as he was at twenty, and as uncreated. (p. 268)

66This failure to reach harmony in middle age is due to his and his wife’s incapacity to unite body and soul. They are not alone responsible for it. Tom Brangwen had a natural support in his connection with the land and in the tradition of an agricultural community in which he and his wife were integrated. It is not so with Will Brangwen, who finds no pleasure in the work he does at the office and must discover other sources of joy and satisfaction—in his wood-carving and his night-school venture. At the same time he contends with a wife who wants to assert herself, although her aspirations are somewhat ill-defined. She does not try to meet him on equal terms as her mother had done with her husband; she asserts her will and denies him as master of the household. Actually, she stands half-way between Lydia and Ursula; her life marks a transition which points to woman’s emancipation and her supremacy in society. Moreover, other traditional values lose their significance. Will Brangwen is also deprived of the support of the Church. The Cathedral had been to him a means of reaching the Absolute. But this is another illusion which Anna destroys, drawing his attention to life outside the church. He still loves it but “for what it tried to represent rather than for that which it did represent.” In the same way, his daughter Ursula, who from childhood responds to him subtly “out of her conscious darkness” and is sensitive to the sensual power of the Brangwens, craves as a girl for “some spirituality and stateliness.” Her passionate nature finds an outlet in a mystic and visionary religion and in her love for a remote, non-human Christ, but the impact of every-day life is too strong, and she fails to reconcile the two. “The confusing of the spirit world with the material world, in her own soul, degraded her.” (p. 270)

67Ursula is freer and much more articulate than her mother. As a child, she loves her father passionately. The conflict which at moments tears her parents does not escape her; she never experiences the sense of security which Anna had felt between Tom and Lydia, so that very early she wishes to escape from home, a feeling which in spite of her aspirations Anna never experienced. The latter’s repeated maternities are distasteful to Ursula, who soon learns to despise motherhood as a form of fulfilment. Since she goes to school in Nottingham, she rises above the level of village life and achieves the old dream of the Brangwen women to belong to the world of knowledge and creative activity. Thus the process of emancipation is accomplished. But the new consciousness of women is not only a coming to life. Something else has died that she might live, and her freedom is also the outcome of a slow disintegration. Ursula learns at her own expense that the world she so much craves to enter is far colder and more cruel than the warm and, to her, enchanting atmosphere of the past in her grandmother’s home. She insists on taking a job as a teacher much against her father’s will and immediately comes into contact with a hard reality. The school is a prison in which she must renounce her individuality. Moreover, she is disappointed in her experience of college, from which she had expected so much. At first, learning is a source of joy, but when the glamour has worn off, she realizes that “the professors are no priests initiated into the deep mysteries of life and know-ledge.” College becomes

a second-hand dealer’s shop, and one bought an equipment for an examination. This was only a little side-show to the factories of the town. Gradually the perception stole into her. This was no religious retreat, no seclusion of pure learning. It was a little apprentice-shop where one was further equipped for making money. The college itself was a little, slovenly laboratory for the factory. … All the while it was a sham store, a sham warehouse, with a single motive of material gain, and no productivity. It pretended to exist by the religious virtue of knowledge. But the religious virtue of knowledge was become a flunkey to the god of material success. (pp. 410-11)

68Ursula’s passionate youth is spent in repeated endeavours to find herself and to discover some mystery in life, to reach some kind of fulfilment not clearly defined to herself until the end of the novel. She is too one-sided, giving expression now to the spiritual now to the sensual in her. She feels she must take her place in the working world, but she is appalled at its callousness, repelled by the stress on material life so different from the contempt in which it was held in her own home. “Everything went to produce vulgar things, to encumber material life.” (p. 411) She has received from the Brangwens that impetus towards a fuller life which marks them all. But the world which makes the emancipation of woman possible is ugly and cold; its sterility suggests death rather than life. The industrial town Ursula visits “has no meeting place, no centre, no artery, no organic formation.” (p. 326) The men who live in such a place cannot give it life because they are themselves enslaved by the machine. Winifred, who submits to the machine deliberately, almost cynically, is aware of its power:

It is the same everywhere. It is the office, or the shop or the business that gets the man, the woman gets the bit the shop can’t digest. What is he at home, a man? He is a meaningless lump—a standing machine, a machine out of work. (p. 329)

69Ursula realizes the full impact of industrialism and becomes utterly repelled by it:

She looked out of the window and saw the proud, demon-like colliery with her wheels twinkling in the heavens, the formless, squalid mass of the town lying aside. It was the squalid heap of side-shows. The pit was the main show, the raison d’être of all.
How terrible it was! There was a horrible fascination in it—human bodies and lives subjected in slavery to that symmetric monster of the colliery. (p. 329)

70The Rainbow is the first novel in which Lawrence overtly criticizes industrialism by stressing its dehumanizing and deadening influence as well as its share of responsibility in the breakdown of the community and the degradation of the individual. The disintegration is not sudden. We have been made to expect it through the gradual disappearance of stable elements to which the individual can look for support. Already at the beginning of the novel, we have an inkling of what is coming when we realize that Tom Brangwen finds little around him to satisfy him: “He wanted something to get hold of, to pull himself out, but there was nothing.” (p. 19) He finds relief in drink until he meets Lydia, on whose foreignness Lawrence insists as on an element of regeneration. But though Tom would not have “the reality of Cossethay and Ilkeston,” he does not protest either against the community as it is or against the invasion of the country by the mines, rather the contrary:

As they drove home from town, the farmers of the land met the blackened colliers trooping from the pit-mouth. As they gathered the harvest, the west wind brought a faint, sulphu-reous smell of pit-refuse burning. As they pulled the turnips in November, the sharp clink-clink-clink-clink of empty trucks shunting on the line, vibrated in their hearts with the fact of other activity going on beyond them. (p. 7)

71When industrialism first set in, there was a sort of communion between the farmers and the miners, until gradually men became mechanized and lost their grip on life. By a sort of reciprocity man, who felt great in his discovery of the machine, could no longer do without it and became the instrument of the encroaching monster. Thus after two generations Ursula finds herself in a much more complex environment than Tom, and her attempt to fit in happily is the more difficult to carry out. However, she knows it is her individual self that matters, and she is aware that the plenitude of her own life will bring her nearer to the greater plenitude of the Infinite. So that when she asks Strebensky: “‘What do you do for yourself?’” and he answers: “‘I belong to the nation and must do my duty by the nation,’” she is struck by the futility of his life, by his nullity as an individual. “‘It seems to me as if you weren’t anybody—as if there weren’t anybody there where you are. Are you anybody really? You seem like nothing to me.’” (pp. 292-3) This is after all no insult to Strebensky because, for him, there is no individual self to be realized:

At the bottom of his heart, his self, the soul that aspired and had true hope of self-effectuation lay as dead, stillborn, a dead weight in his womb. What was he, to hold important his personal connection? What did a man matter personally? He was just a brick in the whole great social fabric, the nation, the modern humanity. His personal movements were small, and entirely subsidiary. The whole form must be ensured, not ruptured for any personal reason whatsoever, since no personal reason could justify such a breaking. What did personal intimacy matter? One had to fill one’s place in the whole, the great scheme of man’s elaborate civilization, that was all. The Whole mattered—but the unit, the person, had no importance, except as he represented the Whole. …
To his own intrinsic life, he was dead. And he could not rise from the dead. His soul lay in the tomb. His life lay in the established order of things. He had his five senses too. They were to be gratified. Apart from this, he represented the great, established, extant Idea of life, and as this he was important and beyond question. (p. 308)

72This complete abdication of the self to society or to the nation entails a further dislocation of the group, which becomes a mere aggregate of people not held together by any vital link; the community is no longer an organic whole, and its purposive justification has been swallowed by the new god, the machine. Strebensky’s attitude might have been acceptable two hundred years ago, when serving the group could still give meaning to the life of individuals. By clinging to an ideal which has lost its significance, he can only ruin his own self. That is why he becomes so utterly helpless:

He could not see, it was not born in him to see that the highest good of the community as it stands is no longer the highest good of even the average individual. (p. 308)

73By the highest good modern society means material prosperity. Man now serves the community by contributing to its material welfare, for the latter prevails over everything else, and in a humanitarian society it is assumed that everybody has the same rights to it. This entails equality on a money basis, which Ursula vehemently rejects:

I hate it that anybody is my equal who has the same amount of money as I have. I know I am better than all of them. I hate them. They are not my equals. I hate equality on a money basis. It is the equality of dirt. (p. 435)

74This is an important point in Lawrence’s attitude towards democracy in contemporary society. According to him, the notion of equality is irrelevant since all men are different in their individuality. Strebensky feels righteous and noble because he believes in the equality of men, but he takes no account of the intrinsic being of man and he is unable to buttress up his convictions. This convinces Ursula that he is shallow and lacks manliness. She destroys him as a man in the sexual union because through this she eventually seeks “to be one with the Infinite, to enter the mystery of the Unknown,” and this is a quest in which he is unable to meet her and to satisfy her.

75At the beginning of her relationship with Strebensky Ursula has not yet received the intimation of a communion with the Infinite and merely wants “to assert her indomitable gorgeous self,” whereas he tries to assert himself as a male:

It was a magnificent self-assertion on the part of both of them, he asserted himself before her, he felt himself infinitely male and infinitely irresistible. She asserted herself before him, she knew herself infinitely desirable and hence infinitely strong. And after all what could either of them get from such a passion but a sense of his or her own maximum self, in contradistinction to all the rest of life? Wherein was something finite and sad, for the human soul at its maximum wants a sense of the Infinite. (pp. 284-5)

76Thus, instead of fusing with the greater flux of life and losing herself in the Infinite, Ursula, like Strebensky, isolates herself from the rest of life. In the contest which opposes them Ursula wins because, as she very well knows, there is nothing but deadness and sterility behind Strebensky’s pleasant appearance. She tests him a first time and destroys him in a strange communion with the moon. Some time later in college she has an intimation of the real purpose of life:

Suddenly in her mind the world gleamed strangely, with an intense light, like the nucleus of the creature under the microscope. Suddenly she had passed away into an intensely-gleaming light of knowledge. She could not understand what it all was. She only knew that it was not limited mechanical energy, nor mere purpose of self-preservation and self-assertion. It was a consummation, a being infinite. Self was a oneness with the infinite. To be oneself was a supreme, gleaming triumph of infinity. (pp. 416-17)

77She does not experience this with Strebensky, although with him she knows the extreme ecstasy of passion. Her momentary fulfilment is opposed to the utter lack of significance of the society in which they live. Even Strebensky realizes that their union is only possible outside the ordinary social sphere:

To make public their connection would be to put it in range with all the things that nullified him, and from which he was for the moment entirely dissociated. (p. 427)

78In Rouen the absoluteness of the Cathedral, its permanency, make her aware of the failure of her relationship with Strebensky, and she longs again for self-realization in the Infinite. From that moment, their affair deteriorates. Strebensky is once more put to the test and utterly destroyed in a fantastic moonlight scene. Ursula understands that both Strebensky and herself are respon-sible for their failure: she realizes that her will, which made her want a man “according to her own desire,” destroyed the man who depended on her for life but had no real self to resist her when she attempted to dominate and to triumph over him. Their experience is fairly similar to that of Gudrun and Gerald in Women in Love. However, Ursula emerges a new woman from the experience; she is purified, ready for a new life, feeling that ugliness and corruption will be replaced by “a world built up in a living fabric of Truth, fitting to the over-arching heaven.” (p. 467) The novel shows the ugliness of industrialism, its disintegrating action and the annihilation of the man who serves it. But the rainbow, uniting the visible reality with the unknown, the seen and the unseen, also becomes a symbol of hope in the possibility of transcending the corruption of the world by remaining true to life itself.

79Lawrence’s vision in The Rainbow embraces a long period of development in the history of English society. In Sons and Lovers he threw light on the cultural environment from which he sprang and criticized its stifling character. In The Rainbow he is more detached and can afford to be more sympathetic. He has gone far beyond the English rural community, which he now tries to understand and to view in a much larger perspective. He discovers society through men-women relationships because these are to him the nucleus of civilization. They are based on the sexual union, which Lawrence regards as a very important source either of social harmony or of disintegration. For the first generation of Brangwens it is definitely regenerating, for they still live in close connection and in harmony with the natural, non-human world. They are still secure in their traditional way of life and unaware of the latent revolution in their community, though at the beginning of his life as an adult and just before he dies Tom is dissatisfied with an environment which shows signs of tiredness and uneasiness. Still, he takes it for granted and does not question its essential values. The conflict starts with the second generation, who no longer take as a matter of course traditionally sure institutions like religion and work: they question their significance or cease to believe in them altogether. Through the severance of man from the living cosmos, through the loss of security incurred by the negation of religious faith, through the mechanization of work in which man can no longer realize himself, Lawrence shows the collapse of community life into chaos and the subsequent loss for man of any valuable support. Man is now faced with very complex problems which he finds it the more difficult to solve as his divorce from life provokes a split in himself. He is torn between the demands made on him by the mechanized “idealistic” world and that part of him which still wants the old connection with the universe. Lawrence condemns the new generation, personified in Strebensky, who sacrifice their individuality to the mass and serve society in order to fill the gap left by the absence of real life. Their annihilation by the group can only generate death-in-life.

80Since the community no longer conduces to a life-giving integrated existence, man must find in himself the means to self-realization. To Lawrence the only salvation lies in the individual, who is responsible for his own being and can re-establish the connection with the natural world through personal relationships, more particularly through sexual passion. Yet personal relation-ships are now also modified by the emancipation of women and by their growing ambition to be the equals of men or even to “possess” men instead of being their natural complement. The coming to consciousness of women leads to their complete freedom. However, when they gain freedom, they find themselves in the same position as men, in the same cold, inhuman world, and must face the same difficulties to realize themselves. In The Rainbow Lawrence stresses the responsibility of women for the imposition of thought and ideal in all fields of experience, and he shows that this has led both men and women to a predicament which now requires that they rebuild their relationships on a new, harmonious basis. This will be the more difficult as women have not tried to assert their individuality in conjunction with men, but in separateness, through disengagement from their dependence on them. So that instead of working out a relationship on a basis of equality and interdependence, their meeting is a duel in which one tries to dominate the other. Throughout his work Lawrence describes marriage as a contest in which the victory of woman breaks the natural balance which should exist between her and her husband. Only rarely do they achieve a harmonious union: in Women in Love Birkin and Ursula attain that perfect, though very precarious, balance, a pure equilibrium like two stars.

81If The Rainbow is the chronicle of a civilization, Women in Love (1920) draws a picture of society at a definite point in the course of its development. Whereas The Rainbow was the story of a world in revolution, Women in Love records the consequences of the change, describes what society has become, and seeks a way out of its sterilizing grip. It renders the individual’s lonely struggle towards salvation as an effort to infuse a new meaning into personal and social relationships.

  • 23 Cf. Gudrun: “‘I get no feeling whatever from the thought of bearing children.’” p. 9.

82The novel starts with a discussion about marriage between Ursula and Gudrun. A significant gap separates the sisters from the previous generation at the same age. When Anna was young, she had hardly any alternative to marriage and children. But an emancipated woman need not marry, and when she does, marriage is not an end but an experience which, she hopes, will change her life and enrich it. Ursula and Gudrun rather despise marriage, particularly as a means to social position and stability. On the other hand, they are frightened at their own independence, though they would never acknowledge it. They are highly expectant of some kind of fulfilment, which for all their emancipation they cannot get by themselves. Here then are two modern girls, bold and exacting, not afraid to reject traditionally accepted attitudes about which they do not genuinely feel,23 yet inwardly unsure of them-selves. Even Hermione Roddice, “a woman of the new school,” rich, apparently self-confident, associated with “all that [is] highest, whether in society or in thought or in public action, or even in art,” even she is extremely vulnerable, much more so than Gudrun and Ursula, because she has no natural self-sufficiency and hides the void in her with her “aesthetic knowledge, and culture and world-visions and disinterestedness.” (p. 17) None of the characters in Women in Love, not even those who belong to a social class which has kept its privileges and a relative stability, are able to give meaning to their life in their social milieu. Most of them feel isolated, dissatisfied with what their environment can offer. Except for Birkin and later Ursula, they all represent a negative attitude which frustrates them and destroys them. The early scenes depict the characters in a few masterly strokes: Ursula’s extreme sensitiveness, Gudrun’s fiery assertiveness, the ease and impressive fitness of Gerald and Hermione as public figures who yet reveal some inward shortcoming.

83Gerald’s and Birkin’s reactions towards the bride and bride-groom’s race around the church introduce the reader to the conflicting views of life illustrated in the novel. Gerald is shocked at what he considers a breach of the accepted standards of behaviour, whereas Birkin approves and even thinks it a masterpiece of good form because the young people have acted spontaneously: “I should like [people] to like the purely individual thing in themselves, which makes them act in singleness. And they only like to do the collective thing.” (p. 34) In the class-room scene Lawrence sketches with remarkable vigour Birkin’s quick response to life, his fierce opposition to Hermione’s intellectualisai, and Ursula’s genuine effort to find her way. Hermione, who advocates spontaneity, is rebuked by Birkin, who has been her lover for some years and knows that she rates mental knowledge above everything: “‘To know, that is your all, that is your life. You have only this, this knowledge.’” (p. 41) Lawrence has pictured in Hermione the modern woman who is eager to assert herself as an emancipated self-sufficient person and is not content to limit her intellectual capacity to the activity of the mind, but tries to control all the aspects of her life through her intellect. The supremacy of the mind over the body brings a complete break between the two, so that the body, which is constantly ruled by the sterilizing mind-consciousness, becomes incapable of impulsiveness and instinctive living. This reduction of all life and all natural functions to a process of thought is bitterly attacked by Birkin:

Knowledge means everything to you. Even your animalism, you want it in your head. You dont’t want to be an animal, you want to observe your own animal functions, to get a mental thrill out of them. It is all purely secondary—and more decadent than the most hide-bound intellectualism. What is it but the worst and last form of intellectualism, this love of yours for passion and the animal instincts? Passion and the instincts—you want them hard enough, but through your head—in your consciousness. It all takes place in your head, under that skull of yours. Only you won’t be conscious of what actually is. (p. 43)

84For Lawrence, however, the annihilation of instinctive life is not due so much to an excess as to a distortion of the function of the mind: “Not because they have too much mind, but too little.” (p. 45) It is due to a limited, false vision which concentrates people’s attention on one or two elements only while neglecting all the others. That is why Birkin cannot believe that Hermione is sincere when she insists on the value of passion without being passionate:

‘Your passion is a lie. … It isn’t passion at all, it is your will. It’s your bullying will. You want to clutch things and have them in your power. And why? Because you haven’t got any real body, any dark sensual body of life. You have no sensuality. You have only your will and your conceit of consciousness, and your lust for power, to know.’ (p. 43)

85Lawrence hardly does justice to Hermione, and his condemnation appears the more arbitrary as he does not really show Hermione’s failure to respond to life; we are simply asked to accept the truth of Birkin’s denunciations. By criticizing Hermione’s lust for power, he condemns the Anglo-Saxon type of society, in which woman dominates and tries to maintain her ascendency. In Gudrun also there is “a body of cold power”; she is seen by Gerald as “a dangerous, hostile spirit, that could stand undiminished and unabated.” (p. 126) This insistent female wilt is not peculiar to emancipated or intellectual women; all Anglo-Saxon women exert it because their men have yielded to the ideal of the mother-figure though they resent it. In Aaron’s Rod Lottie also thinks it is her divine right that her husband should yield to her. So does Carlota in The Plumed Serpent, who associates matrimonial love to the Christian ideal of love and charity and is tragically defeated. Though they are mostly unaware of it, these women use love as a pretext for blackmailing their husbands into submission.

  • 24 “Democracy,” in Selected Essays, p. 94.

86The dominance of will and idea, which Lawrence embodies in Hermione, is not merely a factor of destruction in men-women relationships. By controlling all human activities, the mind directs life and thus destroys its spontaneous flow. Ideas and ideals become the fixed principles of man’s existence: “Men have reached the point where, in further fulfilling their ideals, they break down the living integrity of their being and fall into sheer mechanical materialism. They become automatic units entirely determined by mechanical law.”24 This process finds its ultimate meaning in the destruction of Gerald; it gathers deeper significance as it is contrasted with Birkin’s and Ursula’s efforts to escape from its deadly influence. When in the class-room scene Birkin tells Ursula that he wants knowledge in the blood “when the mind and the known world is drowned in darkness,” (p. 44) he is still uncertain himself of what he wants. His affair with Hermione is at a dead end, but he cannot break away from her definitely because he does not yet know how to give expression in his every-day life to his belief in the blood. Lawrence creates the impression that Birkin is groping for his way, gradually rejecting what seems to him meaningless until he distinctly perceives the kind of union he wants with Ursula. The author himself seems to be finding his way along with the character. It is through Birkin’s progress towards salvation that Lawrence conveys most eloquently his conception of life as a perpetual fight and reveals life’s potentialities, its capacity for self-renewal. In his communion with nature after Hermione has tried to kill him, Birkin feels weary of the old ethic, of human beings and of humanity as a whole. Mankind is a dead tree, and most people have no significance, “their insides are full of bitter, corrupt ash.” (p. 130)

  • 25 D. Jacobson, “D.H. Lawrence and Modern Society,” Journal of Contení’ porary History, II, 2 (1967), (...)

87Critics have remarked on Lawrence’s hatred of humanity. Dan Jacobson,25 for instance, writes that this hatred springs from motives which Lawrence does not understand and is unable to make effective in his art, particularly in Women in Love. As a matter of fact, Birkin’s feelings for humanity are fairly representative of Lawrence’s own ambivalence. His hatred of humanity is, more than anything, an expression of despair. It seldom goes without a desire to save men, which is itself a confession of love. It seems to me that it was precisely Lawrence’s tragedy as an artist that he could not leave men alone but must try to save them from themselves, a fact which accounts for the partial failure of his “didactic” novels. This contradictory attitude is a salient feature of Women in Love, in which even before he is quite sure of the success of his relationship with Ursula, Birkin craves for a man-to-man relationship that would serve as a basis for a new society. But the first step towards renewal is to acknowledge frankly that “the old ideals are dead.” Birkin sees no hope of fulfilment except in his union with a woman. After breaking with Hermione, he escapes death-in-life through his marriage with Ursula:

The passion of gratitude with which he received her into his soul, the extreme, unthinkable gladness of knowing himself living and fit to unite with her, he, who was so nearly dead, who was so near to being gone with the rest of his race down the slope of mechanical death, could never be understood by her. He worshipped her as age worships youth, he gloried in her, because in his one grain of faith, he was young as she, he was her proper mate. This marriage with her was his resurrection and his life, (pp. 200-201)

88Their sexual marriage is a life-enhancing experience which saves them both from despair, a rebirth after their experience of death-in-life. There is nothing final about their coming together; the harmony between them is obviously fragile, but it is based on their openness to life, on their determination to hope and to explore new modes of being.

89The kind of union Birkin and Ursula achieve is impossible between Gerald and Gudrun. The latter is too assertive, self-conscious, and unwilling to give herself, and Gerald is incapable of any deep and real relationship:

He would not make any pure relationship with any other soul. He could not. Marriage was not the committing of himself into a relationship with Gudrun. It was a committing of himself in acceptance of the established world, he would accept the established order, in which he did not livingly believe, and he would retreat to the underworld for his life. (p. 373)

90Neither can Gerald accept the “Blutbrüderschaft” that Birkin so much wants to establish between them. While his father is dying, he absolutely refuses to sympathize with him; his fear of death makes him reject any connection with the old man. Gerald has no inner reserves, and his fear to face his own emptiness makes him shun the reality of death as well as the reality of life. At difficult moments he is convinced that by keeping to conventions, by remaining resolutely faithful to the accepted outward forms of life, he can be master of his own destiny. But when Birkin asks him “‘Wherein does life centre for you?’” he answers:

‘I don’t know—that’s what I want somebody to tell me. As far as I can make out, it doesn’t centre at all. It is artificially held together by the social mechanism.’ (p. 59)

91Ursula says of him:

‘He’ll have to die soon, when he’s made every possible improvement, and there will be nothing more to improve. He’s got go anyhow.’
‘Where does his go go to?’ Gudrun asks.
‘It goes in applying the latest appliances.’ (pp. 49-50)

92Gerald, the energetic, enterprising, socially successful young man, whose life “just doesn’t centre,” is summed up in the episode in which Ursula and Gudrun see him impose his will on a young Arab mare full of untamed life. She is terrified by the noise of a locomotive at a railway crossing, but Gerald forces her to face the passing trucks. The mare is wounded and Gudrun faints when she sees Gerald pressing his spurs in the very wound. When she recovers and Gerald rides away, she is

as if numbed in her mind by the sense of indomitable, soft weight of the man, bearing down into the living body of the horse: the strong indomitable thighs of the blond man clenching the palpitating body of the mare into pure control; a sort of soft white magnetic domination from the loins and thighs and calves, enclosing, and encompassing the mare heavily into unutterable subordination, soft blood-subordination, terrible. (pp. 116-17)

93Gerald subdues the animal with his strong will-to-power and his cruelty; he reduces the life in her to make her serve him, and because he masters life, he believes in his efficiency and purposive-ness. Yet he cannot deal with life, he can only kill it. He himself admits: “‘We’re all of us [the Criches] curiously bad at living. We can do things—but we can’t get on with life at all.’” (p. 214) Why this incapacity, this inner void, this lack of independence in emotional matters? Gerald is the masculine counterpart of Hermione, but whereas Hermione exerts her power on individuals, Gerald transforms it into an executive capacity which affects people indirectly and on a much wider scale. Gerald has gradually taken command of his father’s business and has reorganized it on a new basis of efficiency meant to replace the humanitarianism of his father. His purpose is

to extend over the earth a great and perfect system in which the will of man ran smooth and unthwarted, timeless, a Godhead in process. (p. 239)

94Gerald is determined to subject matter, to reduce it to his will, and in order to do so, he needs instruments, a “godlike medium,” a great and perfect machine. That is why he insists on the pure instrumentality of mankind, his own included:

The sufferings and feelings of individuals did not matter in the least. They were mere conditions like the weather. What mattered was the pure instrumentality of the individual. As a man as of a knife: does it cut well? Nothing else mattered. (p. 233)

95As Birkin puts it, he “conducts his business successfully ignoring the demands of the soul.” (p. 211) Whether men are high or low in the social organization is meaningless provided they are in their appropriate, useful place:

He knew that position and authority were the right thing in the world, and it was useless to cant about it. They were the right thing for the simple reason that they were functionally necessary. They were not the be-all and the end-all. It was like being part of a machine. He himself happened to be a controlling central part, the masses of men were the parts variously controlled. This was merely as it happened. (p. 238)

96So Gerald attempts to bring harmony in industry and in society, by which he means practical organization, a process to which the miners submit. They are gradually destroyed as they become more mechanized, but they are glad to belong to such a powerful system:

There was a new world, a new order, strict, terrible, inhuman, but satisfying in its very destructiveness…. Gerald was just ahead of them in giving them what they wanted, this participation in a great and perfect system that subjected life to pure mathematical principles. This was a sort of freedom, the sort they really wanted. It was the first step in undoing, the first great phase of chaos, the substitution of the mechanical principle for the organic, the destruction of the organic purpose, the organic unity, and the subordination of every organic unit to the great mechanical purpose. It was pure organic disintegration and pure mechanical organisation. This is the first and finest state of chaos. (p. 242)

97If the workers are satisfied with Gerald’s instrumentalism, it is not merely because the efficiency of his system appeals to them. In any case, they can no longer stand his father’s humanitarianism. They prefer the frank indifference of the son and his admission of their social difference to the necessarily false benevolence of the father, who wished to maintain the illusion that he was one with the men and that they were all equal. As a matter of fact, Lawrence criticizes the father as much as the son, because Thomas Crich’s love, charity, and pity merely serve to mask his failure to give his life a real meaning. He too wanted to impose his will, but he would not admit it frankly, and he tried to compensate for it with lofty feelings; he did not care whether people were deceived or not by his apparent goodness so long as they gratified his need to prove to himself that he led a purposeful existence. He even abstained from clarifying his feelings towards his wife and thought of her all his life as a wonderful snow-flower, though he was compelled to transform his hostility towards her into pity to be able to consider her as the ideal wife. Like Gerald, his father triumphed in the world, but his vitality was destroyed, “bled from within.” To seek refuge in love and charity or in any form of idealism conceals an actual void and lack of organic life and is even more distasteful to Lawrence than the mechanization of man. Indeed, any form of idealism whatsoever is a form of mechanization since it springs from the intellect and the will, not from the soul.

98In spite of Gerald’s repudiation of his father’s principles, the latter still represents a certain tradition, an established order which he, Gerald, cannot inherit since he has revolutionized it. He has denied the principles of his father, which were real, notwithstanding the spuriousness of their motives. When his father dies, he feels that he is losing ground, that he is not ready to assume his role as a leading member of the community, because he has nothing to offer as a uniting principle:

The whole unifying idea of mankind seemed to be dying with his father, the centralizing force that had held the whole together seemed to collapse with his father, the parts seemed ready to go asunder in terrible disintegration. Gerald was as if left on board of a ship that was going asunder beneath his feet, he was in charge of a vessel whose timbers were all coming apart. (p. 231)

99Gerald’s realization that the social order disintegrates coincides with a period in his life when he has reached his aim and feels purposeless. Having finally succeeded, he is horrified at his own emptiness. He has destroyed organic life by submitting it to mechanization, and now the void in him makes him aware of the consequences: “He knew that all his life he had been wrenching at the frame of life to break it apart. And now, with something of the terror of a destructive child, he saw himself on the point of inheriting his own destruction.” (p. 232) When Gerald is no longer convinced that he is playing a useful part in organized society, he loses everything, the very meaning of his life, as his father would have lost his “raison d’être” if he had been denied the opportunity of being charitable. The organization of industry, which has made Gerald a superior “functional” being, becomes an instrument of destruction: Gerald destroys himself consciously, serving the god he has helped to create.

100When he first becomes aware of the meaninglessness of his life, Gerald seeks refuge in work, in intellectual activity, in his friendship with Birkin, and in women. But these forms of escape fail to redeem him, so that his association with a woman like Gudrun seems to offer a way out towards salvation. From the first their relationship is a kind of contest; although there is something fatal about their meeting and mutual attraction, Gudrun knows that they will never be together. She is soon dissatisfied because she realizes that Gerald only wants sensual gratification. Yet, she is hardly capable of giving him anything else, because she is always on the defensive, afraid to betray herself, unwilling to give herself whole, meeting him only as the victim or the victor in moments of great physical passion. They fail to come together because they both refuse to face life responsibly. Since work, marriage, and friendship have become meaningless, they acknowledge the prevailing nothingness and turn with a vengeance to their own self-destruction, rather than attempt, like Birkin and Ursula, to test the value of a new faith. Yet both Gerald and Birkin start from a dead end; they both feel let down, disappointed and free to engage in a new course of life.

‘What am I to do at all, then?’ came Gerald’s voice.
‘What you like. What am I to do myself?’ …
‘I can’t tell you—I can’t find my own way, let alone yours. …’
Birkin replied. (p. 108)

101In spite of his pessimism, Birkin is determined to find a way out. He never gives up hope, never ceases to question or to explore the possibilities of life. In comparison, Gerald’s attitude is entirely negative; he refuses to commit himself either to friendship or to real love because this would require from him an effort to achieve self-knowledge, which he dreads above everything else. Both he and Gudrun prefer to ignore the potential richness of marriage. In the conflict between them Gudrun is the strongest; Gerald has come to depend too heavily on her (like Strebensky on Ursula) to be able to subdue her. This dependency dates from the first time he went to her after his father’s death and was comforted, but

a strange rent had been torn in him; like a victim that is torn open and given to the heavens, so he had been torn apart and given to Gudrun. (p. 471)

102A third party stimulates their opposition and precipitates the crisis: Loerke, the Austrian sculptor, who exists as a “pure unconnected will” and for whom there is only work, i.e., the serving of industry, of the machine, through art. For Gudrun, who has reached a blind alley with Gerald, life offers no other discoveries: there are no more men only creatures like Loerke, and it is with him that she wants to go further and know “unthinkable subtleties of sensation.” She is thus apparently doomed to go on forever unsatisfied because she has made love and physical passion ends in themselves. As to Gerald, the white wonderful demon from the north, he walks to his death in the snow, a death by perfect cold, “a symbol of the universal dissolution into whiteness and snow.” (p. 267) The process of disintegration and dissolution which has been going on all along reaches its climax in his death. His “ice-destruction” is the pendant to the sun-destruction symbolized by the small African statuette at Halliday’s. This is what the complete separation between body and mind, mind-consciousness on the one hand and mindless sensuality on the other, leads to:

The white races, having the arctic north behind them, the vast abstraction of ice and snow, would fulfil a mystery of ice-destructive knowledge, snow-abstract annihilation. (p. 266)

103In Gerald Lawrence has exemplified the incapacity of modern man to lead a purposeful life and form real human relationships. His tragedy is the tragedy of contemporary society. Birkin, who voices Lawrence’s own conception of happiness, moves tentatively towards a fuller life as Gerald drifts towards death. But this death is a bitter thing to Birkin. He despairs because Gerald’s death is meaningless like his life. “Those who die, and dying still can love, still believe, do not die.” There is no sign, however, that Gerald has entered the deep mystery of death and will live further in it. There is nothing left of him except “the frozen carcase of a dead male.” Above all, with Gerald vanishes Birkin’s hope of ever forming a deep friendship with a man:

‘Did you need Gerald?’ Ursula asked one evening.
‘Yes,’ he said.
‘Aren’t I enough for you?’ she asked.
‘No,’ he said. ‘You are enough for me, as far as a woman is concerned. You are all women to me. But I wanted a man friend, as eternal as you and I are eternal.’ (p. 507)

104The novel ends with Birkin’s asserting his need for a relationship with a man and a connection with the world of men, a theme which Lawrence explores more thoroughly in Aaron’s Rod and in Kan-garoo. In Women in Love the theme is secondary to the presentation of men-women relationships, though the fact that Lawrence starts exploring it makes it clear that fulfilment does not lie in happiness as such but in continued investigation of the possibilities of life. Birkin is aware that the union he has successfully achieved with Ursula frees them as individuals but puts them outside the ordinary sphere of society: they have already left it symbolically by resigning from work immediately after their coming together, and they reject conventional marriage to meet on a much higher plane.

‘But we want other people with us, don’t we?’
‘Why should we?’ she asked
‘Does it end with just our two selves?’ he asked, …
‘You see,’ … ‘I always imagine our being really happy with some few other people—a little freedom with people.’
‘Yes, one does want that. But it must happen. You can’t do anything for it with your will. You always seem to think you can force the flowers to come out. People must love us because they love us—you can’t make them.’ (p. 383)

  • 26 Eliseo Vivas, The Failure and the Triumph of Art, London, 1961, p. 268.

105This scene foreshadows many others of the same kind, though more cruel and reproachful, between Lilly and his wife, Somers and Harriet. However fulfilled a man may feel in his bond with a woman and however close with the universe, if he is segregated from his fellow-men, he is cut off from an essential part of life. Lawrence is led to acknowledge that the individual cannot live isolated from society or at least from a group, however small. Birkin’s desire for brotherhood with Gerald is the beginning of his attempt to complement a man-woman relationship with a masculine friendship which must in its turn lead the individual to reintegration into a selected group. Eliseo Vivas concludes from this “that the religion of love failed to satisfy Birkin.”26 However, Birkin is not dissatisfied with what he has, he only wants something more. Having made clear man’s predicament and shown how he could resist destruction, Lawrence could not fail to explore new developments in human relations. The very inconclusiveness of the novel is an illustration of his conception of life as “creative change.”

106An important aspect of Women in Love is the portrayal of the contemporary scene. Characteristically, the novel starts with the assertion of woman’s complete freedom and emancipation and of her contempt for traditional institutions. Woman’s idealism and intellectualism applied to the simplest and most natural matters of life, her insistent will-to-power and her ascendency are the starting points of Lawrence’s investigation because they are the key-note of personal and social relations. The two couples presented in Women in Love exemplify man’s destiny in contemporary society. He can be destroyed as Gerald is destroyed by being forced to acknowledge his own emptiness. He can also wander like Gudrun, forever divided and frustrated because of her incapacity to reconcile her intense sensuality with her sharp mind-consciousness, because also of her insatiable and destructive will-to-power. By contrast, the other couple seems the more successful. Yet, it would be erroneous to suppose that Birkin’s attitude to life is presented by Lawrence as the only way in which society can be regenerated. “There isn’t only one road,” Birkin says. (p. 311) At this stage at least Lawrence is more concerned with exploring than with teaching, though the prophet is in sight. What matters here is not so much Birkin’s fulfilment as his search for his own self, which makes this fulfilment possible. Lawrence presents man’s predicament and suggests a way out, but salvation is necessarily a matter of individual response.

107Through the experience of Gerald and Gudrun, of Birkin and Ursula, Lawrence explores the cultural trends which have contrib-uted to transform English society from an organic whole reflecting the “Natural Order” in which all living beings stood in relation to God, into an organization which denies man the right to be himself and makes him a mere cog in the social machinery.

  • 27 R.H. Tawney, The Acquisitive Society, quoted by Raymond Williams in Culture and Society, 1780-1950(...)

The conception of men as united to each other, and of all mankind as united to God, by mutual obligations arising from their relation to a common end, ceased to be impressed upon men’s minds.27

  • 28 Phoenix, p. 406.

108The living relationship alluded to by Tawney is shown dying at the beginning of The Rainbow, when Tom Brangwen becomes estranged from the community in which he lives. The old hierarchical order is first replaced by paternalism, a system in which the pretence of a relationship is being substituted for a real bond between men. That the benevolent master does not really love nor wield power is obvious from the dissatisfaction of both master and workers in Women in Love. The master attempts to ignore his inner emptiness, and the workers, who despise him, lose the sense of obligation inherent in a real mutual relationship. Remembering that Gerald’s father is a contemporary of Anna and Will Brangwen, one can discern in all three of them a desire to find an outlet for those aspirations which are frustrated by the absence of a real communion with other men and with the earth. Their children find themselves in a society in which all bonds between men have been loosened or distorted. This is the society which men like Gerald transform into a “game of chess,” where men have become mere pawns with a particular function to fulfil. It is from this inhuman society that Birkin wants to escape. He alone is aware of the process which has destroyed the hierarchical order and replaced it by a society which denies men the freedom to be themselves. He alone understands that “the malady lies at the heart of man.”28 His disappointment in Gerald foreshadows Lawrence’s own bitterness as it is illustrated in Lilly and Somers.

109Lawrence had so far explored the individual’s predicament in a society which failed to provide men with a stable and meaningful frame of life. But he could not rest satisfied with individual salvation out of a social context. Ursula says of Birkin: “He would always want to save the world,” and this is what Lawrence himself felt compelled to do. His departure from England after the First World War marks the beginning of a new phase in his work; he started to explore other forms of human experience in which, so he hoped, the individual’s self-realization might be related to a larger purpose shared by a community of men. The brotherhood to which Birkin aspired simply acknowledged each man’s individuality and was to develop on terms of equality. In Lawrence’s following novels it is modified into a leader-follower relationship and examined as a possible basis for a new type of society. Birkin had already asserted the inequality of men, i.e., their inequality in spirit, their otherness. In Aaron’s Rod (1922) Lawrence insists even more on the intrinsic and central aloneness of man. By conventional standards, Aaron’s foresaking of his wife is a callous desertion, and his refusal to submit to the mother of his children may be considered as evil. But when he realizes that his first duty is to keep his inner self intact, Aaron struggles to live according to a new apprehension of good and evil. The chapter in Aaron’s Rod entitled “More Pillar of Salt,” which records his last conversation with Lottie, is one of the best confrontations between two human beings who can never understand each other because one of them, at least, is animated with a blind negative will to oppose. This scene is better than similar confrontations between Birkin and Hermione or Somers and Harriet, because neither Aaron nor his wife can give a rational explanation of their attitude. With a rare insight into the feminine temperament Lawrence shows Lottie trying to exact submission from Aaron in accordance with her ideal of marriage. Aaron obeys an inner compulsion which he is as yet unable to define. But he has discovered the first truth: “to be alone, to be oneself, not to be driven or violated into something which is not oneself.” (p. 136) He considers his marriage with Lottie as eternal, but he wants to be “life-rooted,” “life-central,” “life-living like the much-mooted Lily.” It is not by accident that Lawrence’s mouthpiece in the novel is called Lilly.

110Lilly insists on the necessity for man to find himself and to stand alone before uniting with another being:

Everybody ought to stand by themselves in the first place—men and women as well. They can come together in the second place if they like. But nothing is any good unless each one stands alone intrinsically. (p. 96)

111As if to confirm this, each time Aaron yields to a woman or gives himself away, he feels violated and becomes sick, or he is actually robbed, as in Italy, and feels that it is his own fault because he did not keep to himself. This insistence on man’s singleness as a state of fulfilment implies a recognition of the spiritual difference of individuals. From the notion of difference one is naturally led to the notion of inequality. Birkin had explained to Hermione that men could not be compared:

  • 29 Women in Love, pp. 106-7.

But I, myself, who am myself, what have I to do with equality with any other man or woman? In the spirit I am as separate as one star is from another, as different in quality or quantity. Establish a state on that. One man isn’t any better than another, not because they are equal, but because they are intrinsically other, there is no term of comparison. The minute you begin to compare, one man is seen to be far better than another, all the inequality you can imagine is there by nature.29

112Yet Lilly does compare when he tells Aaron that he has something that he, Aaron, hasn’t got, and he is obviously convinced of his own superiority, like Somers, who, in Kangaroo, proclaims the innate difference between people, and advocates “an awakening of the old recognition of the aristocratic principle.” Of course, this superiority of certain beings bears no relation to the conventional class-divisions, though ultimately it does lead to some kind of class-division on a spiritual basis. Like Birkin, Lilly is always ready to save people, and he usually gets snubbed for it. When Aaron falls ill, Lilly nurses him and takes good care of him, although they are almost strangers. From then on, there is between them a strange relationship that is always being questioned by one or the other, mainly because Aaron refuses to submit, though he would rather give in to Lilly, to the individual man, than to any social ideal or institution. Lilly says he wants him to be free, but he would receive no gift of friendship in equality, and he admits that he wants to have some power over Aaron:

Tanny says I want some power over them. What if I do? They don’t care how much power the mob has over them, the nation, Lloyd George and Northcliffe and the police and money. They’ll yield themselves up to that sort of power quickly enough, and immolate themselves pro bono publico by the million. And what’s the bonum publicum but a mob power. Why can’t they submit to a bit of healthy individual authority? (p. 102)

113Lilly’s wish to establish a relationship on the assumption of his natural authority derives from Lawrence’s recognition of another deep urge besides love, the power-urge:

I told you there were two urges—two great life-urges, didn’t I? There may be more. But it comes to me so strongly now that there are two: love and power. And we’ve been trying to work ourselves, at least as individuals, from the love-urge exclusively, hating the power-urge and repressing it. And now I find we’ve got to accept the very thing we’ve hated…. We’ve got to accept the power-motive, accept it in deep responsibility. It is a great life-motive. … It is a vast dark source of life and strength in us now, waiting either to issue into true action, or to burst into cataclysm. Power—the power-urge. The will-to-power—but not in Nietzsche’s sense. Not intellectual power. Not mental power. Not conscious will-power. Not even wisdom. But dark, living, fructifying power. … And of course there must be one who urges, and one who is impelled. Just as in love there is a beloved and a lover: the man is supposed to be the lover, the woman the beloved. Now in the urge of power, it is the reverse. The woman must submit, but deeply, deeply submit. Not to any foolish fixed authority, not to any foolish and arbitrary will. But to something deep, deeper. To the soul in its dark motion of power and pride. (pp. 310-11)

114When we come to think of it, there is, in practice, little difference between Thomas Crich, who for a time had the colliers in his power because he loved them and was kind to them, and Lilly, who is kind to Jim Bricknell and Aaron because he wants power over them. Of course, Thomas Crich reveres the “idea” of love, whereas Lilly’s power is supposed to be an expression of life and natural strength. That Lilly is referring to something different from the love of Thomas Crich for his men is made clear by what Lawrence says about such relationships in Aaron’s Rod and elsewhere, but his presentation in the novel is not very convincing because Lilly’s attempt to work out a new relationship with men is discussed instead of being presented directly. The same is true of Somers in Kangaroo, who talks about his aspirations but is reluctant to act up to them. The theme of Aaron’s Rod, namely man’s escape from the possessiveness and influence of woman in order to form a man-to-man relationship and to establish the nucleus of a new society, does not grow from a necessity inherent in the characters to work out their destiny. Moreover, Lilly is described, he is very seldom revealed dramatically as Birkin was. He does not substantiate his assumption that his soul is superior to Aaron’s, which would justify the latter’s submission and his own claim to leadership. This failure seems due to Lawrence’s own lack of conviction, which prevented him from visualizing a situation in which Lilly’s natural power to lead could be made manifest. Lilly is too uncertain and apparently too respectful of other people’s freedom to transform his ideas into a definite workable programme. The tentativeness of his position is also emphasized by the presentation of contradictory view-points. This is a technique often used by Lawrence, which testifies to his honesty in exploring attitudes and to the understanding with which as an artist he presents opinions of which he personally disappproves. He is also quick to perceive the flaw which in the standpoint he upholds might give rise to mockery or criticism. Lilly’s attempts to exert power over people entail some sharp reactions: Jim Bricknell nearly knocks him out and both Aaron and Tanny resist him.

115There is a contradiction between Lilly’s conviction that he is fit to exercise authority and his refusal to assume responsibility for another man’s life. Significantly, the last chapter, in which Aaron is prepared to yield to him, is entitled “Words,” which suggests that the leader-follower relationship is easier to conceive and talk about than to put into practice. Lilly can only advise Aaron, at most be an example for him, for Aaron perceives in Lilly a “satisfying sense of centrality,” a self-sufficiency which he, Aaron, lacks. Yet no more than Aaron has Lilly found the new quality of life he hoped to discover in Italy:

The verbal and the ostensible, the accursed mechanical ideal gains day by day over the spontaneous life-dynamic, so that Italy becomes as idea-bound and as automatic as England: just a business proposition, (p. 162)

116In the casual unions and separations between the members of a London coterie Lilly sees “the world coming to pieces bit by bit.” (p. 63) In Italy social disintegration is part of the general climate of violence which renders social intercourse even more futile. In England violence is “released into the general air” or it is talked about irresponsibly by artists and intellectuals who look forward to a “bloody revolution.” In Italy Aaron faces actual violence in various forms until it forces him to a final break with his old self and with the old way of life. A bomb thrown by anarchists in a café destroys his flute: “The loss was for him symbolic. It chimed with something in his soul: the bomb, the smashed flute, the end … that which was slowly breaking away had finally shattered at last.” (pp. 297-300) Aaron must start anew and discover the centre of his life alone. When he asks Lilly: “‘Whom shall I submit to?’” the latter answers: “‘Your soul will tell you.’” This answer is evasive, but it reasserts the one positive element which Lawrence makes real in the novel: “The only goal is the fulfilling of your own soul’s active desire and suggestion.” (p. 309)

  • 30 “Democracy,” in Selected Essays, p. 76.

117In order to understand the social implications of the power-urge as defined by Lawrence, we must turn to his views on Western democracy. Lawrence always stresses the fact that he is not interested in politics, that he has a deep horror of them; they are no more to him than a country’s housekeeping. He deliberately turns his back on the “politicization” of contemporary life, not ignoring it but rejecting democracy and socialism on the ground that they are dead ideals, “contrivances for the supplying of the lowest material needs of a people.”30 Democracy is based on the law of the “average,” but, he says, the Average Man doesn’t exist, it is a pure abstraction. It is true that all men have the same basic physical needs, and “the Average Man is the standard of material need in the human being,” (p. 75) but there the equality stops. It seems that Lawrence deliberately misinterprets the democratic assertion that all men are equal, which does not mean that they are identical in their individual selves but that they should have the same rights and should be given the same opportunities. If Lawrence refuses to consider this aspect of democracy, it is because to him democracy as we know it standardizes man, denies his separateness and makes him a servant of the machine. This is the evil he senses in contemporary society, and he foresees the utter annihilation of all individual life, to which the present cult of sameness will inevitably lead. He did recognize that society should give every man the same means of gratifying his basic material needs and that thus far the “common unit” or the “average” must be taken into account by the state. But thus far only. For at a time when social and political theories were laying so much stress on the paramount importance of satisfying these basic needs, he feared the ultimate levelling in which concern with the necessities of life might result. Lawrence’s insistence that men are fundamentally different from each other is a protest against a conception of democracy which tends to ignore man’s essential nature. His keen sense of the sufferings entailed by a social or industrial organization that barely keeps people alive, and his sympathy for the hardships endured by the miners, for instance, sufficiently testify to his awareness that basic needs must be satisfied.

For Society or Democracy or any political State or Community exists not for the sake of the individual nor should ever exist for the sake of the individual, but simply to establish the Average, in order to make living together possible: that is, to make proper facilities for every man’s clothing, feeding, housing himself, working, sleeping, mating, playing, according to his necessity as a common unit, an average. Everything beyond that common necessity depends on himself alone. (p. 76)

118It is significant that among the prime necessities of life he does nor include education. Nor does he believe, as we shall see, that general education as we conceive it can conduce to men’s happiness or lead to fullness of living. He believes that true democracy will arise when men’s material needs being satisfied, they realize that property is to be used, not to be possessed, and can free themselves from the load of possession and turn their attention to “everything” beyond the necessities of the Average Man. The life-purpose to which he exhorts the individual is

to come to his fullness of being by trusting his desire and his impulse, resisting the temptation to fall from spontaneous, single, pure being into materialism or automatism or mechanism. (p. 91)

119As Lawrence himself admits, very few people are capable of achieving a high degree of human consciousness, of living dynamically from the Great Source. That is why he criticizes present systems of education which appeal to the mind only and ignore the deeper source in which all knowledge is rooted:

  • 31 Fantasia of the Unconscious, pp. 72-73.

Education means leading out the individual nature in each man and woman to its true fullness. You can’t do that by stimulating the mind. To pump education into the mind is fatal. That which sublimates from the dynamic conscious-ness into the mental consciousness has alone any value. This, in most individuals, is very little indeed. So that most individuals, under a wise government, would be most carefully protected from all vicious attempts to inject extraneous ideas into them. Every extraneous idea, which has no root in the dynamic consciousness, is as dangerous as a nail driven into a young tree. For the mass of people, knowledge must be symbolical, mythical, dynamic. This means, you must have a higher, responsible conscious class: and then in varying degrees the lower classes, varying in their degree of consciousness. Symbols must be true from top to bottom. But the interpretation of the symbols must rest, degree after degree, in the higher, responsible, conscious classes.31

120This passage indicates clearly enough that Lawrence’s democracy is, in fact, an oligarchy based on the inequality of men as human beings and on the assumption that a few are naturally destined to rule. Lawrence objected to mass-education “through the mind” because he foresaw its consequences: it cuts people off from richer sources of culture and imposes an average pseudo-culture which is mainly information about facts. In The Uses of Literacy Richard Hoggart has described the process by which working-class culture is being debased and transformed into a poorer, classless culture. The popular writers, publicists and journalists who provide culture and entertainment for the masses, play more and more on the idea of equality, on the necessity to conform, and overwhelm the “common man” with their grotesque and dangerous flattery in order to sell their cheap literature. Any kind of authority is derided in order to soothe the sense of inferiority of the “little man.” From the enormous amount of mass-publications to which they have access, the working classes derive bits of information which do not help them to use their judgment on important issues and which conceal the actual emptiness of such publications. Richard Hoggart criticizes this encouragement to uniformity and the appeal to a false sense of freedom, which are often mere claims to mediocrity and depreciate the intellectual gifts and self-discipline that contribute to the improvement of the individual’s social position.

  • 32 Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy, Penguin Books, 1960, p. 159.

If tolerance is good, if to share the views of the group is good. … If, in addition, all men are free and equal, and life is constantly changing and progressing, then there must eventually follow a loss of a sense of order, of value, and of limits…. We arrive at a world of monstrous and swirling undifferentiation. This kind of undifferentiation can lead … to a world in which every kind of activity is finally made meaningless by being reduced to a counting of heads.32

121This is exactly what Lawrence had foreseen, and in his concluding chapter Hoggart writes:

  • 33 Ibid., p. 282.

Most mass-entertainments are in the end what D.H. Lawrence described as ‘anti-life’ … they tend towards a view of the world in which progress is conceived as a seeking of material possessions, equality as moral levelling, and freedom as the ground for endless irresponsible pleasure.33

122None the less, some of Lawrence’s characters who act more or less as his mouthpieces envisage a situation in which “inferior beings” must renounce responsibility and commit their lives to the care of “superior beings.” In a conversation with friends Lilly tells them:

  • 34 Aaron’s Rod, p. 294.

‘You’ve got to have a sort of slavery again…. I mean a real committal of the life-issue of inferior beings to the responsibility of a superior being … a voluntary acceptance. But once made it must be held fast by genuine power.34

123Pressed to say whether he is speaking seriously, Lilly answers that he could have said the very opposite with just as much fervour. Obviously, Lawrence did not want to commit himself, but the idea appealed to him and he must have felt that its social and political implications were worth considering.

124Some critics have pointed out that the thought-adventure in Kangaroo (1923) is more or less independent of the richly evoked spirit of place peculiar to the Australian continent and bears no resemblance to the real political situation in Australia. It is true that the rivalry between socialists and fascists, which serves as a background to Lawrence’s analysis of contemporary political ideologies, was a feature of European, rather than Australian, political life. But we should remember that Lawrence saw all Western civilization threatened with the same evil spirit and therefore subject to the same corruption. He presents the Australian way of life as completely dissociated from the spirit of the place: the Australians are afraid of their continent and have not been able to invest their life with significance in harmony with the earth. Their life-mode originated in Europe but is now cut off from its traditions and has become meaningless, “a substitute for the real thing,” like Sydney which “[is] all London without being London.” (p. 25) Somers has come to Australia convinced that he is one of the responsible members of society; the distinction between “responsible” and “irresponsible,” which is rooted in the European consciousness, is to him a distinction “in the very being.” But the aristocratic principle is unknown in Australia. There is no real authority, no distinction between men: “nobody felt better than anyone else, or higher; only better-off.” (p. 27) So that no one in particular feels responsible. All responsibility lies with the people; the “will of the people” is undisputed. Clearly then, the Australian fondness for the average appears as a very likely source of the mass-spirit on which both Kangaroo and Struthers count to carry out their revolution and which manifests itself with such violence in the mob-state described in the novel. Another feature of Australian life appears to Somers as a possible incentive to political adventure: the terrifying vacancy of its freedom. There is “no inner life, no high command, no interest in anything, finally.” (p. 33) There is no “consecutive thread” in the life of the continent; it is all in bits like the life of its inhabitants, “just a series of disconnected, isolated moments.” (p. 67) Such emptiness must eventually bring forth some kind of violent reaction. “‘You can’t face emptiness long,’” Jaz explains to Somers. “‘You have to come back and do something to keep from being frightened at your own emptiness…. That’s why most Australians have to fuss about something—politics, or horse-racing, or football.’” (pp. 226-7) However, the most important motive for political action illustrated in the novel is the transformation of love into an absolute, which is a consequence of Christian idealism and therefore as plausible a phenomenon in Australia as in Europe. The different themes developed in Kangaroo are not incongruous. The most serious objections to the novel are that the main characters hardly exist in their own right and that the issues it presents remain largely theoretical; yet, as we shall see, these issues are a necessary and logical part of Somers’s analysis of Australian life.

125Somers is presented at a period in his life when he feels he must reconsider his position in the world of men and his relations with them. He believes that the same urge might inform his own life as well as his relationships with his wife and with other men; he calls this urge “the mystery of lordship … the mystic recognition of difference and innate priority.” (p. 120) Somers definitely rejects the blood-brotherhood which Birkin longed for; he does not want “mates and equality and mingling,” and he examines more seriously than Lilly did the possibility of actualizing the power-urge in his life. However, as with Lilly, his effort to enter into a new relationship with other men is undermined by his own contradictory feelings. These result partly from his unwillingness to commit himself, partly from other people’s misunderstanding of what he wants. The contradiction is apparent from the beginning of the novel. Somers has come to Australia feeling that he

must fight out something with mankind yet … [that] he [must] send out a new shoot in the life of mankind…. ‘I want to do something with living people somewhere, somehow, while I live on earth. I write, but I write alone. And I live alone. Without any connection whatever with the rest of men.’ (pp. 77-79)

126Yet he resents having neighbours, and, through most of the novel, we see him at once anxious to be united with other men in a common purpose and rejecting their many offers of friendship and common action. Harriet is quick to point out the contradiction to him: “‘You don’t like people. You always turn away from them and hate them.’” (p. 77) But it is not until he has been shocked into recognizing in Kangaroo the dangerous power of absolute love that he becomes aware of the gap between his dream and reality and that he relinquishes all desire “to save humanity or to help humanity or to have anything to do with humanity.” (p. 293)

127In spite of the development in Lawrence’s thought, each stage of which is illustrated in a novel, the essential fact in human experience remains for him the union between man and woman. After Ursula, all the women in Lawrence’s novels, except Connie Chatterley, ask: “‘Why aren’t I enough?’” Birkin needed Gerald; Lilly and Somers want to experience a new life-mode. But all are ultimately sure of one thing only: the reality and significance of their marriage, which is also the touchstone of their self-realization as individuals and of the nature of society. The central chapters in Kangaroo analyse—unfortunately in theoretical form—the marriage between Harriet and Somers. She not only refuses to submit to him but also to believe in him as a world-saviour. In the end, by refusing to be ignored as a person and by forcing him to recognize that he depends on her, she makes him acknowledge his responsibility in failing to actualize the power-urge in personal relations while she also compels him unconsciously to define the first requirement of the religious mode of life to which he aspires:

He did not yet submit to the fact which he half knew: that before mankind would accept any man for a king, and before Harriet would ever accept him, Richard Lovat, as lord and master, he, the self-same Richard who was so strong on kingship, must open the doors of his soul and let in a dark Lord and Master for himself, the dark God he had sensed outside the door … let himself once admit a Master, the unspeakable god: and the rest would happen. (p. 196)

128In Kangaroo Lawrence analyses the social motives which underlie the political movements of the Twenties. Although Somers is interested in the possibility of creating a new community of men on the basis of such movements, he makes it quite clear that he will never commit himself politically. And this is the source of the misunderstanding between himself and Callcott or Kangaroo, for these two never understand what is important in Somers’s philosophy of life, nor that his quest is primarily religious. When Kangaroo expounds Somers’s ideas and demands his approval, the latter feels compelled to acquiesce, though he is desperate when he realizes that his “ideas” are going to be exploited for political purposes. Moreover, Kangaroo distorts Somer’s philosophy in such a way that it is bound to conduce to death instead of life. Somers refuses to collaborate with him or with Struthers, the socialist leader, because both make love an end in itself: to Kangaroo, love is the one source of inspiration of all creative activity; Struthers makes solidarity, i.e. the new sacred social bond, an absolute. Kangaroo, who insists on the power of love, and Struthers, for whom communism is the logical outcome of love, represent the aspirations of modern man to a better life. But love as they see it is much too general and indiscriminate to be a spontaneous, creative emotion. It manifests itself in a desire to ensure the material well-being of the masses and contributes to make money the only god, whereas Somers wants men to have a real passion for living and not for having. Moreover, although love is to Somers “the greatest thing between human beings, … when it is love, when it happens,” (p. 220) it is also a relative thing; it cannot be an absolute “because of the inevitable necessity of each individual to react away from any other individual.” (p. 220) Somers alludes here to the necessity of letting hate, also a natural phenomenon, express itself as freely as love. Lawrence had already shown that a mixture of hate and love is inherent in any human relationship: Birkin and Gerald, or even Birkin and Ursula, Lilly and Aaron, or Lilly and Tanny, experience that natural recoil from each other almost as often as they meet through love or friendship. This inevitable duality of feelings entails the constant renewal of a relationship: fulfilment is a dynamic process; it is never achieved once and for all. However, most men deny this recoil from the love-urge. They think love is the only urge or rather their only purpose, which once reached will automatically procure happiness for all. When people so insist on loving humanity, they come to hate everybody because to force any feeling is to kill it and to substitute for it some sort of opposite. To Lawrence, love of humanity is only a form of self-assertion, self-importance and malevolent bullying; as he explained in Aaron’s Rod, the prime motive of political leaders is a dead ideal:

  • 35 Aaron’s Rod, p. 293.

The ideal of love, the ideal that it is better to give than to receive, the ideal of liberty, the ideal of the brotherhood of man, the ideal of the sanctity of human life, the ideal of what we call goodness, charity, benevolence, public spirited-ness, the ideal of sacrifice for a cause, the ideal of unity and unanimity—all the lot—all the whole beehive of ideals—has all got the modern bee-disease, and gone putrid, stinking.35

129On the point of being trapped by Kangaroo, Somers experiences a fear that reminds him of the fear he had felt at being bullied during the War. Like Lilly, who keeps away from the crowd and gets himself “out of their horrible heap,” Somers flies in horror from Kangaroo’s attempt to blackmail him into love. The shock of recognizing that fear makes him recall his experiences in England at the hand of those who tried “to break the independent soul in any man who would not hunt with the criminal mob.” (p. 235) Actually, the chapter entitled “The Nightmare” is a recollection of Lawrence’s own experience during the War. He explains how love of humanity led England to participate in the War because of men’s wish to interfere and to sacrifice themselves to the ideal of love. It was a time when industrialism and commercialism in England became identified with patriotism and democracy. The English soul went under in the War; as a conscious, proud, adventurous, self-responsible soul, it was lost. “We all lost the war,” says Lawrence, “perhaps Germany least.” (p. 246) He explains that the spirit of the old London collapsed; the city ceased to be the heart of the world and debasement began, “the unspeakable baseness of the press and the public voice, the reign of that bloated ignominy John Bull.” Individuals lost their integrity, and the world lost its manhood, though not for lack of courage to face death. As Lilly explains to Aaron, they always had death-courage, but not life-courage. It was easier to sacrifice oneself than to face one’s own isolated soul and abide by its decision, because no man in possession of himself would want to fight and kill as they were forced to do. But having been compelled to serve a dead ideal, men realized that it was a dead ideal, and they felt they had been sold; they were humiliated. This is for Lawrence the origin of disillusionment, which characterized the Twenties, an attitude often described but rarely explained with such perspicacity. The younger generation realizing that love of humanity is not all love, but that it carries a good deal of bitterness under its mask, recoil from sympathy and would rather be frankly egoists. Unfortunately, they seem to go to the other extreme and reject all sympathy and deep emotion. Hence a feeling of emptiness even in the amusement they seek, which makes them uneasy and slightly frightens them. Now the older generation having been humiliated by being compelled to serve a dead ideal, they want some kind of revenge, and Somers sees Kangaroo, Struthers, and their political parties as representatives of the vengeful mob, which shows a recklessness comparable to that of the Russians and of the Irish at the time. According to Lawrence, the masses degenerate into mobs when the balance between the two great controlling influences—power and love—is broken. “All great mass uprisings are really acts of vengeance against the dominant consciousness of the day.” (p. 331) In Kangaroo the vengeful mass-spirit breaks loose in a violent row between “diggers” and socialists. Kangaroo is wounded and dies a victim of his own ideology.

130As the political theme develops and Somers, increasingly aware of the “politicization” of life, rejects offers of personal friendship and of collaboration with Kangaroo, he is brought to define what he stands for. It is not “the tuppenny social world of present mankind” that attracts him, but “the genuine world, full of life and eternal creative surprises, including of course destructive surprises: since destruction is part of creation.” (p. 167)

Somers did want the world. He did want to take it away from all the teeming human ants, human slaves, and all the successful, empty careerists. He wanted little that the present society can give. But the lovely other world that is in spite of the social man to-day: that he wanted, to clear it, to free it. Freedom! Not for this subnormal slavish humanity of democratic antics. But for the world itself, and the Mutigen. (p. 167)

131And who are the “Mutigen,” the manly? They are the men “who must of their own choice and will listen only to the living life that is a rising tide in their own being … listen for the injunctions, and give heed and know and speak and obey all they can… no matter what the rest of the world does.” (p. 172) Somers himself is often weary of the fight in which his soul “buries its way to the intense knowledge of the dark god”; he shrinks from making clear to others what the dark god is. But when he has finally rejected Kangaroo, he formulates his credo more distinctly. “There is God. But forever dark, forever unrealisable. … The God who is many gods to many men: all things to all men. The source of passions and strange motives.” (pp. 294-5) Here again Somers asserts the dual character of life: “to be pure in heart, man must listen to the dark gods as to the white gods, to the call to blood-sacrifice as well as to the eucharist.” (p. 296) In fact, Somers’s belief in the god “that gives a man passion … blood-tenderness … and blood-pride” and to whom man must refer the sensual passion of love, is a reassertion of the faith in instinctive life professed by all Lawrentian characters. When he says that “man at his highest, is an individual, single, isolate, alone, in direct soul-communication with the unknown God, which prompts within him,” (p. 332) he expresses the same conception of man as Birkin. Nor is Lawrence’s vision of the salvation of man different from what it was in Women in Love:

It is the individual alone who can save humanity alive. But the greatest of great individuals must have deep, throbbing roots down in the dark red soil of the living flesh of humanity. (p.332)

132What is new in Kangaroo is Lawrence’s affirmation of the power-urge as the possible foundation of a new creed. But it should be noted that it is always asserted in contradistinction to what he is rejecting and that it often betrays weariness, as if this were the only possibility open to men in the circumstances:

What Richard wanted was some sort of a new show: a new recognition of the life-mystery, a departure from the dreariness of money-making, money-having, and money-spending. … It meant a new recognition of difference, … of one man meet for service and another man clean with glory, having the innate majesty of the purest individual, not the strongest intrument, like Napoleon.... The single soul that stands naked between the dark God and the dark-blooded masses of men. (p. 334)

133We should also remember that for all his glorifying of the “dark god,” Somers refuses “to give up the flag of our real civilized consciousness.”: “‘I’ll give up the ideals. But not the aware, self-responsible, deep consciousness that we’ve gained.... I’m the enemy of this machine-civilization and this ideal civilization. But I’m not the enemy of the deep, self-responsible consciousness in man, which is what I mean by civilization.’” (p. 383)

134Lawrence must have perceived very early that Australia, or rather that the Australians were uncongenial to the expression of his vision of life. At night Somers feels the glamour of the continent, “a kind of virgin sensual aloofness.” Yet in the day-time “the profound Australian indifference” which is really “the disintegration of the social mankind back to its elements” makes the people uninteresting to him. It is only in the short period before his departure that he experiences strong feelings towards Australia, first of revulsion, then of love when he and Harriet delight in the Australian spring. But he still doesn’t like the people. From the beginning it is clear that Somers, like Lilly, is above all concerned to find his own way, possibly to save individuals, but not to save a large group of men, precisely because the group or the mass are to him horrible and soulless. Somers’s refusal to commit himself implies a definite repudiation by Lawrence of the means offered to modern man to save himself. Kangaroo is hardly disguised autobiography. It describes Lawrence’s attempt to relate the power-urge to the historical context of the Twenties. But the man who in the twentieth century wishes to actualize his urge for power and become a leader of men cannot be a leader of individuals, he is a leader of the mass, and this is inconsistent with Lawrence’s belief in individual regeneration. Still, his idea of reconciling the urge for power with the political context of the time was far from inconsistent. His desire to find a solution in keeping with the terms offered to men, i.e., fascism or socialism, indicates the shrewdness of his insight into the contemporary social and political situation. Lawrence had a keen understanding of the disease of society: of the disillusion at having been forced to serve a meaningless ideal, and of the desire for revenge and for change which found an outlet in political ideologies.

  • 36 Raymond Williams, op. cit., p. 288.

135Ultimately, the significance of Kangaroo lies in Lawrence’s condemnation of the whole modern system of politics on the same grounds as he condemns the new structure of society. However, Lawrence s disapproval of modern politics was actually a rejection of the dominance of the mob. In Culture and Society Raymond Williams explains that fear of the masses and of the democratic system they want to establish comes from considering them as a mob displaying all the characteristics of the mob: “gullibility, fickleness, herd-prejudice, lowness of taste and habit. The masses on this evidence, formed the perpetual threat to culture. Mass-thinking, mass-suggestion, mass-prejudice would threaten to swamp considered individual thinking and feeling.”36 This is exactly Lawrence’s view, though one must remember that he equates the masses with the mob partly because during the War he was a victim of the mob-spirit and perhaps also because he was badly treated by a “democratic government.” His reactions to the mob-spirit are often excessive, but his experience of it made him foresee in what way that spirit would manifest itself once the masses gained ascendency in politics. He not only saw what extreme forms the political theories of the post-war era would take when applied by the mob, he also realized that any government dominated by the mob-spirit would turn England into a sort of mob-democracy that merely counts votes and in which individuals are swamped by the vociferous crowd. The manifestations of the mob-spirit during the War made him all the more aware of such dangers and gave him a prophetic insight into the possible consequences of “government by the people for the people,” which might easily bring about the destruction of the best men in society. This made him insist all the more on the intrinsic individuality of men, and if his protest was so loud, it is because he felt like a prophet crying in the wilderness. The shrill note which is often detected in that protest is a sign that Lawrence’s experience was never completely digested. But his diagnosis of the “evils” of democracy and his prophetic view of the consequences of those “evils” for the individual, are none the less remarkable.

  • 37 The Plumed Serpent, p. 147.

136In spite of his Australian experience Lawrence did not give up the hope of being the prophet of a regenerated community. He made another experiment in an environment where man still felt reverence for the mystery of nature and was not cut off from the earth. In Mexico he was impressed by the real bond he felt to have existed between the earth and the ancient tribes, and he was aware of a communion between the people and the spirit of the place. This made him consider the country as an adequate setting for the revival of the dark gods by which men might be brought back to life from the impasse of sterility and death in which modern civilization had landed them. “‘We must take up the old, broken impulse that will connect us with the mystery of the cosmos again, now we are at the end of our tether,’” Ramon says in The Plumed Serpent (1926).37 When Kate arrives at the Lake of Sayula, from which the new incarnation of the God Quetzalcoatl is said to have risen, she feels

the velvety dark flux from the earth, the delicate yet supreme life-breath in the inner air. Behind the fierce sun the dark eyes of a deeper sun were watching, and between the bluish ribs of the mountains a powerful heart was secretly beating, the heart of the earth. (p. 117)

137This is the place where Ramon wants to bring the old gods back to life and from where he hopes to start a religious movement that will shake the Mexicans out of their hopelessness. The first thing that strikes Kate is the irrational character of his creed:

All a confusion of contradictory gleams of meaning. Quetzalcoatl. But why not? Her Irish spirit was weary to death of definite meanings, and a God of one fixed purport. Gods should be irridescent, like the rainbow in the storm…. Gods die with men who have conceived them. But the god-stuff roars eternally, like the sea, with too vast a sound to be heard. Like the sea in storm, that beats against the rocks of living, stiffened men, slowly to destroy them. Or like the sea of the glimmering, ethereal plasm of the world, that bathes the feet and the knees of men as earthsap bathes the roots of trees. Ye must be born again. Even the gods must be born again. We must be born again. (p. 63)

138Lawrence explains here the origin and purpose of the experience described in the novel. But the experience is that of two men who represent the Mexican people, one Indian, the other almost purely Spanish with a streak of Indian blood. We should not forget that in both Kangaroo and The Plumed Serpent the political, or religious, experience is lived through by people who belong either to Australia, or to Mexico. The European seeker, who expresses Lawrence’s own reactions, is a spectator who contemplates commitment, or in the case of Kate goes so far as to actually try to take part in the experience, but finally rejects the political ideology or the kind of religious mode that is offered. However, in Kangaroo theories and political factions fail to convey the reality of Lawrence’s vision; in The Plumed Serpent Lawrence does not preach, and the characters’ creed informs their very lives. More-over, the “strange darkly-irridescent beam of wonder, of magic” which arouses Kate’s response to Mexico is substantiated by Lawrence’s ability to convey the atmosphere of the place, an indispensable and powerful element in Ramon and Cipriano’s venture.

139Kate rejects the American way of life, its cult of the dollar, its automatism. She is repelled by her American friends’ frantic activity, which they call “living,” by their systematic search for sensations: for instance, they are determined to sit through a corrida in which she, Kate, sees nothing but “human cowardice and beastliness, a smell of blood, a nauseous whiff of bursten bowels.” (p. 16) She is glad to leave Mexico city, which has been corrupted by the intrusion of while civilization. “The white men brought no salvation to Mexico. On the contrary, they find themselves at last shut in the tomb along with their dead god and the conquered race.” (p.145) Kate is struck by the helplessness, the “profound unbelief that was fatal and demonish” in the Indians of Mexico city, and she thinks that “all the liberty, all the progress, all the socialism in the world would not help.” (p. 55) By describing the squalor and corruption of Mexico City, Lawrence makes clear the failure of democracy to bring the Mexican people to conscious-ness. Socialism, born of Christian idealism, has completed the action started by the Christian conquerors: it has confirmed the Mexican Indians in their deadness instead of bringing them to life. The Indian must be brought face to face with a reality that he under-stands. As Ramon says, “Different peoples must have different Saviours, as they have different speech and different colour. But the manifestations are many.” (p. 384)

140Under the influence of Ramon and Don Cipriano Kate contemplates acceptance of the religion of Quetzalcoatl. But she does not abandon willingly her claim to homage, to feeling a queen and making her own will prevail, which are the privileges or (to Lawrence) the doom of the white woman. Her final decision to remain in Mexico indicates that she at last relinquishes her ego, that she is determined not to become a “grimalkin” like most modern women she knows, but to fulfil herself in her marriage with Cipriano. It is not submission in the ordinary sense of the word but an abandon of the self which makes her more potent in her woman-hood. As an individual, she means nothing to him. She is but

the answer to his call, the sheath for his blade, the cloud to his lightning, the earth to his rain, the fuel to his fire. Alone she was nothing. Only as the pure female corresponding to his pure male did she signify. (p. 414)

141Man and woman assume significance in relation to each other or to many other human beings, and the Morning Star which rises between them is their soul, the entrance to the innermost, the infinite. That is why their union transcends personality. Kate does not know Cipriano, she only feels instinctively what he is. This impersonal love which brings men and women into immediate contact is the core of Ramon’s religion. Carlota denies him the kind of love he wants, the sensual fulfilment of his soul, but his later marriage with Teresa marks the defeat of pity and charity and the defeat of the modern woman, who turns her love for her husband into will and never gives herself. Carlota accuses Ramon of merely wanting power, and it is true that as one of the “initiators of the Earth,” he feels he belongs to the natural aristocracy of the world. Like Somers, it isn’t political power that Ramon is after but a dark mysterious force that distinguishes among men the representative of the living god, to which other men surrender their personal selves impulsively, without understanding, as they give up their ego when they surrender to the living flow of the universe. It should be noted that although Lawrence devotes so much space to the religious quest of Ramon and Cipriano, he describes the actual revolution led by the Quetzalcoatl movement in a single page, which shows his uneasiness at imagining a real mass action.

  • 38 Keith Sagar, The Art of D.H. Lawrence, Cambridge, 1966, p. 160.

142It is not without misgivings that Kate finally decides to remain in Mexico. Her attitude throughout the novel is one of alternative acceptance and rejection. As Keith Sagar rightly remarks, “she fights her own transformation every step of the way.”38 Her hesitations are not merely due to her unwillingness to give up the prerogatives enjoyed by women in modern civilization: she questions the validity of Ramon’s religion and stays in Mexico not because she is convinced that she is going to live under a system to which she agrees, but because of the personal ties she has formed. The last scene clearly indicates that her marriage with Cipriano is the only determinant. Whatever her doubts about Ramon and Cipriano’s religious practices, Kate has finally convinced herself of one thing:

that the clue to all living and to all moving-on into new living lay in the vivid blood-relation between man and woman. A man and a woman in this togetherness were the clue to all present living and future possibility. Out of this clue of togetherness between a man and a woman, the whole of the new life arose. (p. 426)

143This is remarkably close to the theme of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Indeed the final coming together of Kate and Cipriano is softer and more tender than the stark impersonality of their early sexual relations, though here again Lawrence stresses the precariousness of harmony in a man-woman relationship. There is nothing essentially new in Ramon’s “message”; he pleads for the same return to life as Lilly and Somers advocate. What is new is the vision in which Lawrence has embodied his search for a new religion, i.e., for a new apprehension of life. He conveys so effectively the dark power of the Mexican country and the mysterious quality of living of the Indians that what the characters experience seems natural. Our grasp of that experience is intuitive rather than intellectual, for it is difficult to define exactly the elements which make it up: religion, mysticism, a deep sense of the mystery of the universe, attraction for, mixed with revulsion from, primitive people, their sensuality and their weirdness. Lawrence does not advocate a return of civilized man to primitive life. The only thing Kate shares with the Indians is the instinctive knowledge that they are all fragments of the same whole. In the end, she is confident that “a new germ, a new conception of human life … will arise from the fusion of the old blood-and-vertebrate consciousness with the white man’s present mental-spiritual consciousness. The sinking of both beings, into a new being.” (p. 444)

  • 39 Graham Hough, The Dark Sun, Pelican Books, 1961, p. 277. It must be added, however, that Graham Ho (...)

144The important meaning that emerges from The Plumed Serpent is that men can reach fulfilment by following the impulse of the soul and living in full accord with the universe. “‘All I want them to do,’” Ramon says, “‘is to find the beginnings of the way to their own manhood, their own womanhood.’” (p. 225) It is true, as some critics have pointed out, that Ramon’s religion cannot stand rational analysis, but it is precisely a violent reaction against a way of life essentially determined by reason. It does not claim consistency, it only claims impulsive life. Kate sees Ramon and Cipriano as “men face to face not with death and self-sacrifice, but with the life-issue.” (p. 71) It is often alleged that, on the contrary, Ramon’s religion glorifies death, killing and the complete subjugation of the many to a few chosen blood-aristocrats. Lawrence was accused of expressing theories which were essentially fascist. Graham Hough thinks that Lawrence was a fascist avant la lettre at a time when Mussolini was still a socialist and Hitler nothing very much in the German army.39 It must be remembered that though Lawrence died in 1930, thus eight years after Mussolini came to power, there isn’t the least trace of admiration for Mussolini or for fascism as an organized party in his work. True, already in Aaron’s Rod Lilly asserts the natural superiority of some men over others, though his position remains very ill-defined. In Kangaroo Somers’s disgust with democracy leads him to a man who tries to establish a régime de force which obviously attracts him, though he ultimately rejects Kangaroo and his ideal uncompromisingly. Admittedly, Lawrence makes a mistake in The Plumed Serpent when he lets Ramon, Cipriano and even Kate participate or acquiesce in the murder of the peons who have tried to kill Ramon. To suggest that they should not be held responsible for their actions because they belong to the natural aristocracy of the earth, is to condone a dangerous indulgence in sin against life. The point, however, is not whether they can be excused or not, but that, by Lawrence’s own standards, Kate’s acquiescence is a breach against life and against art, because it makes her marriage to Cipriano questionable. Lawrence fails to realize where such acts can lead, a failure due to his inability to vizualize the practical applications of some of his theories. Still, this one lapse from his belief in the sanctity of all life can hardly affect the character of his work as a whole. Lawrence was aware of forces in the human psyche which drove men to irrational forms of behaviour. These forces had been ignored or denied by a long tradition of rationalism, and men were now the more eager to give them expression:

They were weary of events, and weary of news and the newspapers, weary even of the things that are taught in education. Weary is the spirit of man with man’s importunity. Of all things human, and humanly invented, we have had enough, they seemed to say. (pp. 278-9)

  • 40 Quoted by Harry T. Moore, The Intelligent Heart, London, 1955, p. 341.

145In The Plumed Serpent Lawrence proclaims the failure of white civilization and its modern by-products, liberalism, democracry, and socialism, to bring man to fulfilment. He makes clear the nature of the power-urge which was to have such a dreadful influence in the following decades. That he was himself fascinated and repelled is obvious in Kate’s response to Ramon’s religion. But his interest in the possible manifestations of the power-urge seems to have been exhausted in The Plumed Serpent. It does not reappear in his fiction, and he afterwards expressed his revulsion from the primitivism with which he had associated it. “Altogether I think of Mexico with a sort of nausea: not the friends, but the country itself…. I feel I never want to see an Indian or an” aboriginee “or anything in the savage line again.”40 Lawrence acknowledged that the religious myth which is accepted by Mexican peons cannot be taken seriously and without reservation by highly conscious individuals. What remains true and valid is the theme he develops in all his novels: the need for a living relationship between man and man, man and woman, men and the universe:

  • 41 D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Penguin Books, 1961, p. 292.

‘I stand for the touch of bodily awareness between human beings and the touch of tenderness. And she is my mate. And it is a battle against the money, and the machine, and the insentient ideal of monkeyishness of the world.’41

146This is the theme of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928): the belief that the only way to escape the deadness of the industrial world is through “tenderness.” When Connie tells Mellors: “‘Shall I tell you what you have that other men don’t have, and will make the future? It’s the courage of your own tenderness,’” (p. 290) she makes him aware of his value as a human being and of the significance of his life. Lawrence’s meaning is made clear by the contrast between spiritual degeneration through love of money and the regeneration of individuals through sensual love. He is mainly concerned about England and the English; it is not by accident that he chose England for the setting of this novel, which expresses his despair and his love for his country:

England my England! But which is my England? The stately homes of England make good photographs, and create the illusion of a connection with the Elizabethans. The handsome old halls are there, from the days of Good Queen Anne and Tom Jones. But smuts fall and blacken on the drab stucco, that has long ceased to be golden. And one by one, like the stately homes, they were abandoned. Now, they are being pulled down. As for the cottages of England—there they are—great plasterings of brick dwellings on the hopeless countryside. … One England blots out another. The mines had made the halls wealthy. Now they were blotting them out, as they had already blotted out the cottages. The industrial England blots out the agricultural England. One meaning blots out another. The new England blots out the old England. And the continuity is not organic, but mechanical. (pp. 162-3)

147When describing the transformation of England, Lawrence insists on the complete servitude of men to the industrial system, on their reduction to inhuman creatures by the bitch-goddess, success or money. As Connie drives through Tevershall, she cannot help noticing that industry, promoted by man, now turns against him “with a will of its own,” offering him only an underworld and a life “with utterly no beauty in it, no intuition.”

Incarnate ugliness, and yet alive! What would become of them all? Perhaps with the passing of the coal they would disappear again, off the face of the earth. They had appeared out of nowhere in their thousands, when the coal had called for them. Perhaps they were only weird fauna of the coal-seams. Creatures of another reality, they were elementals, serving the elements of coal, as the metal-workers were elementals, serving the element of iron. Men but not men, but animas of coal and iron and clay. … Elemental creatures, weird and distorted, of the mineral world! They belonged to the coal, the iron, the clay, as fish belong to the sea and worms to dead wood. The animal of mineral disintegration! (p. 166)

  • 42 D.H. Lawrence, ‘A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Loverand Other Essays, Penguin Books, 1961, p. 124

148These are the men whom Clifford Chatterley is proud to rule, though he doesn’t call them men but objects, or animals who are responsible for the ugliness of their environment, or slaves who have been spoiled by a little education, one of the bad modern substitutes for a circus. Like Gerald Crich, Clifford denies the priority of the individual over industry or society, and asserts man’s purpose as a functioning unit. The masses are to serve industry as he Clifford Chatterley serves the aristocracy; each plays the part assigned to him by fate. Clifford attaches much importance to his responsibility as an aristocrat, a ruler. He is crippled in the lower part of his body, alive only in the mind, a man without warmth, responsible for the deadness and sterility of all who depend on him. His “cold and contactless assurance that he belongs to the ruling class” is a cold spirit of vanity which makes him pant after success. There lies precisely the irony of the situation, that such a man, who has only the appearance of strength with a hard shell and a soft inside, should be a ruler and preside over human destinies. There is no more affection or sympathy in his attitude towards his wife than towards society: “He was never really warm, nor even kind, only thoughtful, considerate, in a well-bred, cold sort of way!” (p. 74) Even before he was crippled in the War, sex was merely an accident, not really necessary to him, so that his lameness becomes a symbol of his incapacity to live fully, a symbol of “the deeper emotional or passional paralysis, of most men of his sort and class today.”42 His relationship with Connie is essentially mental. He and his wife live in their ideas and in his books, and Connie is aware that she loses touch with the substantial and vital world; yet it is not until she goes to pieces and becomes ill that she tries to react. She is really lost, for, before her marriage she was herself a modern woman, glad to enjoy her freedom; love was secondary to her and sex a sensation not worth the sacrifice of her freedom. When she loses interest in the writing of her husband, which is successful but devoid of meaning to her, she doesn’t know where to turn. Her husband’s friends are like him cold and dehumanized, believers in the mental life. Only Tommy Dukes expresses ideas akin to Lawrence’s and diagnoses the disease from which all men in the group suffer: they have severed their connection with organic life and are like “quenched apples … fallen off the tree.” But Tommy can only talk and criticize; he confesses to an incapacity to act on his ideas, so that his deliberate rejection of life is almost cynical. On the other hand, Connie’s affair with Michaelis merely strengthens her conviction that she can expect nothing from the men of her generation; it is merely another encounter with selfishness and sterility.

149What Connie feels is utterley lost on Clifford. He is not interested in her as a person, only in what she stands for. Indeed, “people can be what they like and feel what they like and do what they like, strictly privately, so long as they keep the form of life intact, and the apparatus.” (p. 187) He is not shocked at the idea of her having a child by another man; he does not even imagine that feelings might be involved. The only thing that matters is that she would bring an heir to Wragby. Yet, emotionally, Clifford depends on Connie entirely, as Gerald depended on Gudrun or Strebensky on Ursula:

‘You are the great I-am! as far as life goes. You know that, don’t you? I mean as far as I am concerned. I mean, but for you I am absolutely nothing. I live for your sake and your future. I am nothing to myself.’ (p. 115)

150Connie resents it all the more as he idealizes her at a time when they are utterly out of touch. Indeed, when Mrs. Bolton comes to nurse Clifford, the intimacy between the latter and his wife, which rested on his complete physical dependence upon her, comes to an end. At the same time, he becomes more intimate with Mrs. Bolton, an indication that human beings, whoever they are, are instruments in his life. As he is emotionally dependent on the woman who takes care of him, so, like Gerald Crich, he depends morally on industry to give meaning to his life. This moral dependence is illustrated in a small incident. His wheelchair, on which he puts an exaggerated strain, stops and will not take him further. Clifford refuses aid, but he is powerless and must accept te be pushed by Mellors. In a rage he exclaims: “‘It’s obvious I’m at everybody’s mercy.’” He has just been asserting the superiority of the ruling classes, and he feels humiliated. But it is so only because he makes the machine and not himself responsible for what happens. His dependence on industry for life is further revealed in his capacity as a business man when Connie no longer nurses him nor takes part in his literary work and he takes a new interest in the mines:

And he seemed verily to be re-born. Now life came into him! He had been gradually dying, with Connie, in the isolated private life of the artist and the conscious being…. He simply felt the rush into him out of the coal, out of the pit. The very stale air of the colliery was better than oxygen to him. It gave him a sense of power, power. (p. 112)

151When Connie leaves him for good, his keenness and business-acumen increase together with his emotional perversity. Like Gerald, he becomes a child emotionally, but a perverse child-man:

The wallowing in private emotion, the utter abasement of his manly self, seemed to lend him a second nature, cold, almost visionary, business-clever. In business he was quite inhuman. (p. 306)

152While he might claim some sympathy because he is a cripple, we are gradually led to despise him and the social system he stands for. Clifford is a degenerate being, a sinner against life. Connie and Mellors transgress conventions and bourgeois morality, but they are true to life, and as they become more intimate, tenderness and kindness, the fruits of unselfish love, lay the foundations of a stable relationship.

  • 43 Among them Katherine Ann Porter and John Sparrow in a series of articles published in Encounter in (...)
  • 44 John Sparrow, “Regina vs Penguin Books Ltd, An Undisclosed Element in the Case,” Encounter, Februa (...)

153Some critics43 have interpreted the sexual relations between Connie and Mellors as sexual perversion. John Sparrow, in particular, analyses the passage in which Lawrence describes their “night of sensual passion,” and he explains that Lawrence describes perverted sexual practices condemnable by the law. Sparrow’s article44 is distasteful and rather irrelevant because he discusses coldly, and renders much more suggestive than Lawrence does, a passage which cannot be dissociated from the book as a whole. He presents this passage as if it were an end in itself, whereas the form of sexual passion it suggests is only acceptable in art, as in life, when it is part of a process of mutual discovery and takes place between people who are also united by tenderness. John Sparrow says that in this description Lawrence fails to show his usual openness and frankness about sex, that he is covert and oblique and relies on clues and suggestions to convey his meaning, which to Sparrow indicates a “failure of integrity” and a “fundamental dishonesty.” The “sheer sensuality” alluded to by Lawrence may be shocking to some readers, but its effect also depends on the spirit in which the passage is read. The method which Sparrow criticizes for its lack of openness—though he also writes that Lawrence’s meaning is plain enough—is in fact tactful yet unreserved. Sparrow makes much of a sexual practice which Lawrence merely suggests, in spite of the fact that the emphasis in the passage under discussion is not on what takes place between Mellors and Connie, which is unimportant in itself, but on the effect their sexual relations have on Connie. Lawrence’s purpose in accumulating scenes of sexual passion is to show how Connie is gradually brought to life. The climax she and Mellors reach in their sexual relations reveals to her the intensity of her passion and unsuspected aspects of sexual experience, which help her to understand her true nature. After her “visionary experience,” when she sees Mellors washing in the backyard, Connie becomes aware of her body and of its lost vitality. At a moment when she is overwhelmed with emotion, contemplating “pure, sparky, fearless new life” in small chickens, she submits to the keeper, that is, to life and henceforth a remarkable change takes place in her. Indeed, none of Lawrence’s heroines is so completely transformed by “phallic marriage” as Connie, who seems to lose in personality what she gains in “phallic consciousness.” More than in any other novel, we have the impression that the characters are carried by forces which they cannot resist. It is the regenerating power of these forces that Lawrence wanted to assert, the conviction that tender-ness and passion could destroy the spirit of industrial civilization. By making them the criteria of a purer and richer life, he presents a new moral attitude which transcends the conventional conceptions of good and evil and rests entirely on faithfulness to life. Lawrence thought that private sexual life influenced the life of society; he illustrated this belief in Clifford’s sterility and in the deadness of the community he rules. Conversely, “phallic marriage” in relation with the living cosmos is a regenerator of society.

  • 45 Phœnix, p. 219.

154Lady Chatterley’s Lover is Lawrence’s last desperate attempt to convince the English of the beauty and greatness of sexual love and to bring them to a healthier attitude in their sexual relations. Curiously enough, it completes the search for life described in his fiction as if he knew he would not write another novel. His vision of life is still basically the same, but it must be protected from the clutches of the apostles of death. There is no going further. Lawrence’s previous novels all ended inconclusively because the end was actually the beginning of a new life, a new search. Mellors can only say “we must rescue ourselves as best we can.” (p. 299) Although his own rebirth makes him wish to teach people how to live, he is hardly prepared to do anything about it because, thinking of his union with Connie and of the coming child, he is afraid of the power of the world to kill life. Yet Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a profession of faith in life, in the “inexhaustible, forever unfolding creative spark.”45 It presents in more extreme and more concrete terms the conflicts and the rebirth which were dramatized in Women in Love, and the contrast between the two modes of life open to man is sharper: the industrial world is uglier, but the relationship between Connie and Mellors is more tender and therefore perhaps less precarious than that between Birkin and Ursula. Both Gerald and Clifford believe in the functionalism of man; in Gerald, however, this belief is a candid manifestation of his attitude to life, whereas Clifford is a cynic who despises the workers’ mediocre life. Like other men of his class, he does not sin against life in ignorance, he rejects it deliberately: “‘It’s much less complicated,’” (p. 42) one of his friends says. This lack of “life-courage” has transformed human beings into inhuman creatures. There is a sense of hopelessness and finality in the ugliness of Tevershall which makes it far worse than the mining towns evoked in Lawrence’s earlier novels. The fact that Connie forsakes the sterility of a man who produces such ugliness and wilfully “negates the gladness of life,” and that she rejects him for a rich passionate life invests the regenerating force of sexual relations with greater power. This does not prevent the sexual experience between Connie and Mellors from sometimes appearing as an end in itself; it becomes mere sensuality then, which, as Lawrence himself said, kills the beauty of the “phallic” union and deprives it of significance. This may be due to the frankness with which Lawrence describes the sexual act without relating it to the “beyond,” to the mystery of cosmic life as he does in Sons and Lovers and even more so in Women in Love. Sexual relations are described for what they are. Birkin and Ursula, we remember, resigned from their position, i.e., from society, immediately after their coming together. Mellors is more realistic; he is at once self-assured and aware that the essence of his life must find utterance in ordinary social terms: “‘I can’t be just your male concubine,’” (p. 289) he tells Connie. The programme he adumbrates in his last letter to her is simply an exhortation to reject materialism. Only reverence for the sacredness of life and of sex as a manifestation of life can restore men to wholesome living. But again, unlike Lawrence’s previous characters, Mellors is too pessimistic not to be convinced that his vision of a better world is Utopian. He is glad enough to be left in peace with Connie; in spite of everything, some people do preserve the flame of life:

All the bad times that have ever been, haven’t been able to blow the crocus out: not even the love of women. So they won’t be able to blow out my wanting you, nor the little glow there is between you and me. (p. 316)

155The splendour of the resurrection of the body experienced by Connie testifies to Lawrence’s faith in life, a faith which he expressed so poignantly at the end of Apocalypse:

  • 46 D.H. Lawrence, Apocalypse, Hamburg, 1934, p. 220.

For man, the vast marvel is to be alive. For man, as for flower and beast and bird, the supreme triumph is to be most vividly, most perfectly alive. Whatever the unborn and the dead may know, they cannot know the beauty, the marvel of being alive in the flesh. The dead may look after the afterwards. But the magnificent here and now of life in the flesh is ours, and ours alone, and ours only for a time. We ought to dance with rapture that we should be alive and in the flesh, and part of the living, incarnate cosmos.46

156We sense in these words what a marvellous thing it is merely to be alive for a man who knows he is going to die! To the very end Lawrence proclaimed his faith in the act of living. In The Man Who Died, written shortly before his death, resurrection takes on a wider significance: in contrast with many Christians who tend to think only of the death of Christ, Lawrence insisted that Christ resurrected to Life, not to Death:

  • 47 Collected Letters, pp. 778-9.

Church doctrine teaches the resurrection of the body; and if that doesn’t mean the whole man, what does it mean? And if man is whole without a woman then I’m damned.47

157Going to the wood before her “phallic marriage” to Mellors, Connie has an intuition of man’s power to resurrect to life, and she associates that power with the words of the Gospel:

  • 48 Lady Chatterley’s Lover, p. 87.

‘Ye must be born again! I believe in the resurrection of the body! Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it shall by no means bring forth. When the crocus cometh forth I too will emerge and see the sun!’48

158In The Man Who Died Christ himself becomes the advocate of a new way of life based on the vital contact:

This is the great atonement, the being in touch. The grey sea and the rain, the wet narcissus and the woman I wait for, the invisible Isis and the unseen sun are all in touch, and at one. (p. 138)

159Lawrence’s last novel ends with the glorification of the one reality that inspires his whole work: the vital impulse which animates the universe and unites man and woman in a living relationship with the cosmos.

  • 49 Phoenix, p. 527.
  • 50 Ibid., p. 420.

160One of the most outstanding features of Lawrence’s work is the homogeneity of the vision which inspires it. From The White Peacock to Lady Chatterley’s Lover the theme of his novels remained essentially the same, though he emphasized different aspects of it. “The business of art,” he wrote, “is to reveal the relation between man and his circumambient universe, at the living moment.”49 Lawrence describes the individual’s modes of being and the deeper emotions aroused in him in his association with other individuals; these emotions motivate man’s behaviour regard-less of either moral or social conventions. The individual’s failure in life is a failure to be himself instinctively and spontaneously; it is brought about by spiritual or emotional sterility. In Lawrence’s novels tragedy is not the outcome of “transgression against the social code … as though the social code worked our irrevocable fate,”50 but of transgression against life and against one’s inner being. Life itself is the relation between human beings, particularly between man and woman; it is the expression of their changing and often conflicting streams of passion. This relation outweighs all others because it has the “four-dimensional quality of eternity and perfection” by which man is made one with the living cosmos; it is the kernel of society and ultimately determines its character. Lawrence renders the uncertainty, the tentativeness, the impulses of love or hate, anger or tenderness, which characterize men-women relationships and make life a constant fight, and fulfilment a dynamic process, since balance and harmony are fragile and never final. They require courage and an unfailing belief in life. Lawrence was deeply shocked by what he called the death-courage of his contemporaries, their willingness to die, particularly in the War, which they seemed to find easier than the fight which real life demands. He attributed their death-courage to the fact that they turned love or patriotism into an ideal for which they were prepared to lay down their lives. This glorification of one emotion was in his eyes the very negation of life, one of the sources of destruction in the modern world.

  • 51 In Adventure in Consciousness, The Meaning of D.H. Lawrence’s Religious Quest, The Hague, 1964, Ge (...)
  • 52 Apocalypse, p. 211.

161Lawrence’s view of life as a dynamic process is naturally hostile to all that is static and conventional in society. Indeed, those of his characters who really live and fight their way to fulfilment ignore the claims of society. Although this is irrelevant to Lawrence’s purpose and to his art, it is worth mentioning, in view of his own insistence on individual freedom, that these characters are able to ignore the material aspect of life and that they live on the fringe of society. Those who are integrated and wish to serve society on its own terms are destroyed as human beings. Lawrence’s indifference to the demands of society borders on anarchism. There is, indeed, a streak of anarchism in his work, which stands in contradiction with his “societal impulse.” For if he inherited his individualism from his nonconformist ancestors, he also owed to them a deep sense of responsibility and a Puritan conscience, which drove him to “preach” and to tell people what to do.51 This inclination is particularly obvious in Aaron’s Rod, Kangaroo, and The Plumed Serpent, in which he examines the consequences of individual behaviour for the individual himself and for the community as a whole, and explores the possibilities of a regenerating action in conjunction with a group of men. At this stage in the course of his work Lawrence defines his conception of the power-urge as an adequate basis for an organic community, in which each individual would assume responsibility according to his degree of consciousness. This renascence of the “Chain of being” would naturally entail the submission of “inferior beings” to a highly conscious minority. “Anyone who is kind to man knows the fragmentariness of most men, and wants to arrange a society of power in which men fall naturally into a collective wholeness.”52 Yet Lawrence never made clear in his novels how his view of community life could be actualized. As Kangaroo and The Plumed Serpent clearly show, he was unable to vizualize the practical framework of his “religion of the blood.” At this stage Lawrence seems to be in an impasse, divided between his desire to reform the world and his revulsion—even in fiction—from the applications of his own theories, a fact which may account for his characters’ reluctance to commit themselves to action.

  • 53 Phoenix, p. 529.
  • 54 David J. Gordon, D.H. Lawrence as a Literary Critic, New Haven, 1966, p. 132.

162Lawrence’s insistence on the individual’s freedom to act from his deeper emotions should not blind us to the moral character of his work. Indeed, “A thing isn’t life just because somebody does it.”53 As David Gordon rightly says, “he wanted not only moral behaviour but moral feeling.”54 And moral feeling meant to Lawrence an instinctive adherence to life as well as a clear perception of what destroys it. He felt that most people were not even aware of the destructive power of the principles or ideals to which they were committed, and he exposed their confusion. The criticism implied in his first novels or explicitly stated in the later ones is not so much of social institutions or of the purposes exalted by society as of the individual’s acceptance of them and responsibility for what they are. He had a prophetic insight into the evils that entailed the disintegration of society and reduced the individual to a mere unit in the collectivity. He was not content to satirize temporary social phenomena or the outward manifestations of the prevailing state of mind at a given period; he went to the heart of modern civilization, analysed its nature, and diagnosed its disease with extraordinary lucidity.

  • 55 Phoenix, p. 138.

163In his first novels Lawrence provides a remarkable picture of the final transformation of England from an agricultural into an industrial country, and of the resulting collapse of community life. The industrialization of England had begun more than a century before. In Culture and Society Raymond Williams places Lawrence in a tradition of thinkers who, as early as the end of the eighteenth century, began to criticize industrialism and the democratic society to which it was giving rise. He points out that Lawrence condemns industrialism as a state of mind which, rather than industry as such, led to the ugliness of the industrial society. In “Nottingham and The Mining Countryside” Lawrence alludes to the influences that went to make up that state of mind: puritanism and materialism did much to prevent men from resisting mechanization. He makes women chiefly responsible for destroying instinctive life in men and for yielding to the “base forcing of all human energy into a competition of mere acquisition.”55 He shows to what extent puritanism conditions the feelings of women and moulds their attitude. They destroy the vital flame in men by compelling them to be excessively spiritual and by asserting the supremacy of the intellect over all other human faculties. They transform the religious impulse into something abstract and ideal, making an end of what was originally a means of achieving fulfilment in harmony with the universe. They also give in to the spirit of materialism, because material possessions are a token of achievement and success in life. Lawrence brings out the subtle and often ignored relation between religion and materialism. In his later work he brings to light another aspect of this relation by pointing to the influence of the Christian love ideal on the equalitarian conception of men and on the resulting sense of obligation to provide for their material welfare, which in its turn became an end in itself. He makes the love-ideal responsible for much that is evil in modern society. He sees democracy as the ultimate development of it, and he is strongly adverse to political democracy which, in his eyes, reduces all life to a grey sameness and denies the individual the right to realize himself according to his nature. From Aaron’s Rod onwards, he shows in all his novels the failure of liberal democracy and of socialism to satisfy the deeper needs of man.

  • 56 Eliseo Vivas, op. cit., p. 78.
  • 57 Assorted Articles, p. 98.

164We have seen that in his description of what institutions or trends of thought thwart the individual’s spontaneous mode of being, Lawrence makes woman largely responsible for imposing on man conventional forms of feeling and for making him lose his belief in his own vitality and manliness. He expresses his distaste for what he calls her “indomitable will-to-power” and dramatizes her struggle with man for the possession of his soul. His emphasis on the important part played by women in determining personal relations suggests that their attitude towards men is a pointer to the soundness of society at any given time. This is quite clear in The Rainbow, in which the change in women’s attitude towards men as a result of their emancipation is parallel to the change in society. Throughout his novels Lawrence shows that the man-woman relationship is the axis of civilization, and he asserts his conviction that it is that relationship which must serve as a new foundation for a regenerated community. Men have gone dead in their relation to women, they must be brought to life with them and reintegrate the universal flow of life through sexual passion. Lawrence believes that healthy sexual relations are an important factor of social renascence and that the integrity, the spontaneity, and the warmth which man is expected to show in these relations are a manifestation of the vital flame that will revive him in all fields of experience. One of his critics writes that it is irresponsible nonsense “to believe that once life has been found, all other problems that confront modern man—even the problems of the twenties, for those of our mid-century are more serious and more difficult—will solve themselves as a consequence.”56 Lawrence himself did not think that the regeneration he advocated would solve the problems of society: “As a novelist, I feel it is the change inside the individual which is my real concern. The great social change interests me and troubles me, but it is not my field. … My field is to know the feelings inside a man, and to make new feelings conscious.”57 Essentially, he believed in personal redemption and wholesome relations as a way of saving the individual from a system in which his self, his “otherness” was sacrificed to functionalism and to ideals which destroyed all instinctive life in him. He was also aware that this regeneration cut off man from the main social and political trends in contemporary life, and in his later novels he sought a way of reconciling his vision of individual salvation with a doctrine of action. His failure to do so made him reassert more forcefully than ever his faith in tender-ness and human warmth. His interpretation of the redeeming power of physical love remains the most challenging feature of his work. He was the first modern writer to describe the turmoils and the inconsistency of passion with such intensity and frankness and to disclose unsuspected or ignored aspects of the human personality. We must remember that he had published the best part of his fiction before the end of the First World War, i.e., before Virginia Woolf published her first novel and several years before Joyce published Ulysses. His novels convey a grim image of the modern world, but they also proclaim man’s ineradicable wish to live. The gamekeeper, symbolically present in his first and in his last novel, testifies to the continuity of real life even in a diseased civilization.


1 D.H. Lawrence, Phœnix, The Posthumous Papers of D.H. Lawrence, London, 1961, p. 408.

2 Lionel Trilling, “Manners, Morals, and the Novel,” in Forms of Modern Fiction, ed. by William Van O’Connor, Bloomington, 1962, p. 150.

3 D.H. Lawrence, The Trespasser, Penguin Books, 1960, p. 46.

4 D.H. Lawrence, The Rainbow, London, 1934, p. 33.

5 D.H. Lawrence, Women in Love, London, 1930, p. 60.

6 D.H. Lawrence, Aaron’s Rod, London, 1929, p. 277.

7 D.H. Lawrence, The Plumed Serpent, London, 1930, p. 130.

8 Lawrence distinguishes between personality and individuality. Personality is “that which is transmitted from the person to his audience: the transmissible effect of a man.” To Lawrence personality is detestable because it is the incarnation of an ideal: man as he wants to be and as he wants to appear to others. Individuality is the real self of man, in its “singleness” and “other-ness”: man as an incarnate, untranslatable “mystery.” See “Democracy” in Selected Essays, Penguin Books, 1960, p. 90.

9 D.H. Lawrence, Kangaroo, Penguin Books, 1960, p. 361.

10 “There must be marriage of body in body, and of spirit in spirit, and Two-in-One. And the marriage in the body must not deny the marriage in the spirit, for that is blasphemy against the Holy Ghost; and the marriage in the spirit shall not deny the marriage in the body, for that is blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. But the two must be for ever reconciled, even if they must exist on occasions apart one from the other.” (Phoenix, p. 475)

11 D.H. Lawrence, The Rainbow, p. 87.

12 D.H. Lawrence, Women in Love, p. 81.

13 D.H. Lawrence, Assorted Articles, London, 1932, pp. 205-6.

14 D.H. Lawrence, Phoenix, p. 419.

15 D.H. Lawrence, The White Peacock. Penguin Books, 1954, p. 25.

16 D.H. Lawrence, Fantasia of the Unconscious, London, 1961, p. 106.

17 D.H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers, Penguin Books, 1961, p. 35.

18 John Middleton-Mukry, Son of Woman, London, 1932, p. 30.

19 Mrs. Morel says herself: “If he had made up his mind, nothing on earth could alter him.” (p. 342) Moreover, Paul’s neglect of his mother when he is taken up with another woman makes it clear that she is not the real obstacle to his love affairs.

20 Mark Spilka, The Love Ethic of D.H. Lawrence, Bloomington, 1957, p. 68. My interpretation of the problem of love in Sons and Lovers owes much to Mark Spilka’s study.

21 Lawrence explains that by keeping the soul of her sons, the mother provokes a split in them. Letter to Edward Garnett, 14 Nov., 1912. The Letters of D.H. Lawrence, edited by Aldous Huxley, London, 1956, pp. 76-77.

22 In his essay “Nottingham and the Mining Country-side” Lawrence explains that in his childhood the miners still formed an intimate community in which “the physical, instinctive, and intuitional contact between men [was] very highly developed.” But when they came home, they had to contend with the nagging materialism of their wives. See Phoenix, p. 136.

23 Cf. Gudrun: “‘I get no feeling whatever from the thought of bearing children.’” p. 9.

24 “Democracy,” in Selected Essays, p. 94.

25 D. Jacobson, “D.H. Lawrence and Modern Society,” Journal of Contení’ porary History, II, 2 (1967), 87.

26 Eliseo Vivas, The Failure and the Triumph of Art, London, 1961, p. 268.

27 R.H. Tawney, The Acquisitive Society, quoted by Raymond Williams in Culture and Society, 1780-1950, Penguin Books, 1961, p. 215.

28 Phoenix, p. 406.

29 Women in Love, pp. 106-7.

30 “Democracy,” in Selected Essays, p. 76.

31 Fantasia of the Unconscious, pp. 72-73.

32 Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy, Penguin Books, 1960, p. 159.

33 Ibid., p. 282.

34 Aaron’s Rod, p. 294.

35 Aaron’s Rod, p. 293.

36 Raymond Williams, op. cit., p. 288.

37 The Plumed Serpent, p. 147.

38 Keith Sagar, The Art of D.H. Lawrence, Cambridge, 1966, p. 160.

39 Graham Hough, The Dark Sun, Pelican Books, 1961, p. 277. It must be added, however, that Graham Hough believes that Lawrence would have turned away from fascism in action.

40 Quoted by Harry T. Moore, The Intelligent Heart, London, 1955, p. 341.

41 D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Penguin Books, 1961, p. 292.

42 D.H. Lawrence, ‘A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Loverand Other Essays, Penguin Books, 1961, p. 124.

43 Among them Katherine Ann Porter and John Sparrow in a series of articles published in Encounter in 1960, 1961, and 1962.

44 John Sparrow, “Regina vs Penguin Books Ltd, An Undisclosed Element in the Case,” Encounter, February 1962, 35-43.

45 Phœnix, p. 219.

46 D.H. Lawrence, Apocalypse, Hamburg, 1934, p. 220.

47 Collected Letters, pp. 778-9.

48 Lady Chatterley’s Lover, p. 87.

49 Phoenix, p. 527.

50 Ibid., p. 420.

51 In Adventure in Consciousness, The Meaning of D.H. Lawrence’s Religious Quest, The Hague, 1964, George Panichas shows that Lawrence can be placed in the tradition of Puritan preaching.

52 Apocalypse, p. 211.

53 Phoenix, p. 529.

54 David J. Gordon, D.H. Lawrence as a Literary Critic, New Haven, 1966, p. 132.

55 Phoenix, p. 138.

56 Eliseo Vivas, op. cit., p. 78.

57 Assorted Articles, p. 98.

© Presses universitaires de Liège, 1970

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