“Comes over one an absolute necessity to move…”

rageIn October 2016 a major cyber-attack took down high profile websites such as Paypal, Twitter and Spotify. It also took down 4 lesser known websites: Being Arthur, the Sillitoe Trail, Dawn of the Unread and Memory Theatre. These websites were all hosting digital literature projects by Paul Fillingham and I and are slowly being resuscitated.

The attacks raised an important issue regarding the future of the digital public sphere. Unless you’re a large corporation with a wealth of expert staff at your disposal, or, at the very least, a very competent and computer savvy programmer, such attacks are devastating and can completely wipe out your online presence within seconds. So much for online utopianism. So much for democracy. The more things change, the more they stay the same…

This is why this first blog post is inaccurately dated 18 February 2017. The first blog post for this D.H. Lawrence project was back around September 2015, but now we’re having to start all over again. On our official website I’m reliant on Paul Fillingham to magically restore the website so I can start blogging about our project. But as a freelancer, this is not high on his priority list. There’s the clients and the paid work. But I can’t wait any longer. Like Lawrence I’m impatient, restless, and desperate to move. So restless in fact I’m tempted to start each sentence of this blog with a verb, as Lawrence does in Sea and Sardinia. “Comes over one an absolute necessity to move. And what is more, to move in some particular direction.”

Moving we are then. At last. Not South West, as was Lawrence’s preferred direction in Twilight in Italy, nor East, when he embarked on the RMS Osterley on 26 Feb 1922 for Ceylon and the hope of “a new start.” But into the murky depths of the digital void where there is no sense of direction, no sense of beginning or end, just a kind of digital limbo. Although, technically speaking, this blog is completely fixed in time and space. It has an IPS address and so this is the first call out for visitors (or attackers) to come along.

I wonder what Lawrence would make of the hack. He was, after all, a man who preferred to throw a hand grenade into a room to see what would happen than sit down quietly in the corner. I don’t think he would appreciate the pointlessness of the hack. It would have to serve a purpose and there was no purpose served in bringing down our websites. It was too random. Undirected. But as a writer who despised the dehumanising effects of industrialisation, I think he would be appalled at our digital lives, particularly how complicit we’ve become in giving up our freedom for convenience.

The hack was successful because of our increasing reliance on the Internet of Things. Very simply this is computing devices embedded in everyday objects that are able to send and receive data via the internet. These ‘smart’ devices typically include baby monitors and thermostats, both of which can be controlled via your smartphone, down to the computer maintenance chip in your car that flashes up to tell you when you need a service. With everything increasingly being hooked up to the internet, there are more access points than ever, meaning you only need to leave one window open and boom! Game over.

No, Lawrence would have no sympathy for our plight or for anyone sucked into the glittering lights of the internet. He’d want to get as far away from the digital world as possible. “I’d wipe the machines off the face of the earth again, and end the industrial epoch absolutely, like a black mistake” he famously raged.

I hope he may forgive our “black mistake” in digitising his journey, and instead see it as another voyage of discovery, an attempt to charter unknown waters, a quest to find Rananim somewhere in the digital void before some benign force comes along and wipes us out for good.

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REVIEW: Catherine Carswell The Savage Pilgrimage (1932)

catherine-carswell-booksCatherine Carswell first encountered DHL’s work on 18 March 1911 when she reviewed his debut novel The White Peacock for the Glasgow Herald. She began writing to him in 1913 and the two would remain in constant contact throughout his short life. Carswell met DHL in person in June 1914 when he came to England to get married. She was 35 years-old at the time and an established literary critic. From the onset she had a deep and lasting affection for Lawrence: “When I first set eyes on him, the immediately distinguishing thing was his swift and flamelike quality, which was quite unlike anything suggested by even the most fascinating type of British soldier or workman. I was sensible of a fine, rare beauty in Lawrence, with his deep-set jewel-like eyes, thick dust-coloured hair, pointed under lip of notable sweetness, fine hands, and rapid but never restless movements.”

They would see each other frequently between 1914 and 1919 before he embarked on his ‘savage pilgrimage’. On his infrequent returns to England he would stay with Catherine and her husband Donald. The last time she saw him in the flesh was in the autumn 1925. Of these many encounters she writes: “I have seen Lawrence under many circumstances but I never once saw him heavy or lounging, and he was never idle, just as a bird is never idle.”

The biography is written in a straightforward style and functions as an intimate portrait of a complex and misunderstood figure from somebody who knew him very well. The two kept in constant contact throughout DHL’s short life and so is worth reading for access to these letters. Chapters are prefaced with a list of work belonging to each period to help the reader understand an approximation of composition. Given Lawrence constantly rewrote work, this is useful in helping outline where he was ‘mentally’ at distinct periods of his life.

I want to understand Lawrence with fresh eyes and so I’ve read this biography before the many others (most of which benefit from retrospective analysis) because it was written so soon after his death. Indeed, Carswell states that DHL liked 9 hours sleep a night and was not a “Shavian ‘writing machine’” but he was aware that his life would not be as long as hers and therefore he had to crack on.

There are two things that strike me about this book. Firstly, she clearly had quite a thing for Lawrence but as a married woman was not prepared to push this further. DHL was also a firm believer in marriage and so on occasion it feels a little bit like The Remains of the Day. “Being married I had now one of the chief qualifications for inclusion in the Lawrence exodus. There were to be, if possible, no single males or females in the party – as with the denizens of the Ark.” The closest they get to any kind of affection is when DHL comments she looks ‘quite saucy’ in a small black felt hat. She describes herself as feeling ‘crushed.’

Both of them may have believed in marriage but as is well known, Frieda Lawrence was a very independent and free-spirited woman. Therefore when DHL packs her off “with a malicious grin on her face” to see her mother in Germany, the implication is what is making her smile so much. Carswell is too polite and reserved to state the obvious, whereas future biographers have been more explicit.

Secondly, and most importantly, Carswell wants to correct misleading interpretations of Lawrence’s life and motivations. She’s keen to point out that she does not have an exclusive access to his mind, but then neither does anyone. There are two major culprits in this department: John Middleton Murry and Mabel Dodge Luhan (nee Sterne).

Mabel Dodge Luhan was the wealthy patron of the Arts who invited Lawrence over to Mexico in 1922. She recorded her memories in Lorenzo in Taos, published on 1 January 1932. Carswell is keen to correct misleading and incorrect facts which she deems as innocent rather than malicious. Luhan’s book is “clearly an attempt to set down with care and honesty a personal impression” but “as an objective record, however, it must be regarded with caution.” Carswell finds her “inaccurate in her facts and wrong in her conjectures” and that she “often fails also in understanding the idiom used in talk both by Lawrence and Frieda – especially Frieda.”

Likewise Carswell takes exception to Luhan’s descriptions of Lawrence when preparing to travel as “fussy” or “inefficient.” Instead she found “he always appeared to me as a model of neatness and precision, neither wasting a movement nor permitting even a temporary disorder.” If Lawrence was being “fussy” in Luhan’s presence it was perhaps because he was eager to get away from her as “Mrs Luhan wanted of him what he had made Gudrun want of Gerald in Women in Love – to use him as an instrument for the furthering of her own ideas and purposes – spiritual, political, artistic.” Nothing was more likely to put “Balaam’s Ass in my belly” than Lawrence being moulded into someone else’s vision of himself.

Carswell has no reservations in ripping apart the traitorous accounts of John Middleton Murry whom she perceives as not only completely misrepresenting and misunderstanding Lawrence but utilising him for his own purposes. This took shape in Reminiscences of D.H Lawrence which first helped to fill the pages of the Adelphi magazine Murry was editing together and then in the hagiography Son of a Woman (1931).

There are so many instances of this that it will have to be in a separate blog, but this exchange from the infamous last supper at The Café Royal pretty much captures the feelings between the two. Murry walks over to Lawrence and plonks a smacker on his lips. He then turns to the other guests and says, “Women can’t understand this. This is an affair between men. Women can have no part or place in it.” To which Carswell replies, “Maybe. But anyhow it wasn’t a woman who betrayed Jesus with a kiss.” Ouch!

But perhaps her most prescient skill is to invert Murry’s criticisms by changing a few expressions to create “one of the most important things about Lawrence that can be said.” I’ve highlighted the main changes in red.

Murry’s criticism 

“In practice Lawrence’s belief seemed to mean pretending a harmony between impulses which were verily contradictory; to mean denying the spiritual consciousness and asserting it, to mean loving the world and hating it at the same moment, to mean nailing the flag of civilised consciousness to the mast and hauling it down in a single operation.”

Carswell’s adaption

If replaced with a few expressions, “we have In practice Lawrence’s belief established a harmony between impulses which hitherto have seemed verily contradictory; he has enabled us to deny the spiritual consciousness and to assert it in the same breath, to love the world and hate it at the same moment, to nail the flag of the civilised consciousness to the mast and to haul it down in a single operation.

If you want to save yourself from reading 292 pages then read the following letter which appeared in Time and Tide on 16 March 1930. It can be seen as not only a precursor to the book but an inherited ‘rage’ at unsympathetic and scandalous obituaries that tended to focus on controversy rather than the literary merits of her very close friend. It reads:

“The picture of D.H Lawrence suggested by the obituary notices of ‘competent critics’ is of a man morose, frustrated, tortured, even a sinister failure. Perhaps this is because any other view of him would make his critics look rather silly…Lawrence was as little morose as an open clematis flower, as little tortured or sinister, or hysterical as a humming bird. Gay, skilful, clever at everything, furious when he felt like it but never grieved or upset, intensely amusing, without sentimentality or affection, almost always right in his touch for the content of things or persons, he was at once the most harmonious and the most vital person I ever saw.

As to frustration, consider his achievement. In the face of formidable initial disadvantages and lifelong delicacy, poverty that lasted for three quarters of his life and hostility that survives his death, he did nothing that he did not really want to do, and all that he most wanted to do he did. He went all over the world, he owned a ranch, he lived in the most beautiful corners of Europe, and met whom he wanted to meet and told them that they were wrong and he was right.

He painted and made things, and sang, and rode. He wrote something like three dozen books, of which even the worst page dances with life that could be mistaken for no other man’s, while the best are admitted, even by those who hate him, to be unsurpassed.

Without vices, with most human virtues, the husband of one wife, scrupulously honest, this estimable citizen yet managed to keep free from the shackles of civilisation and the cant of literary cliques. He would have laughed lightly and cursed venomously in passing at the solemn owls – each one secretly chained by the leg – who now conduct the inquest. To do his work and lead his life in spite of them took some doing, but he did it, and long after they are forgotten, sensitive and innocent people – if any are left – will turn Lawrence’s pages and will know from them what sort of a rare man Lawrence was.”

Catherine Carswell (1932) The Savage Pilgrimage. Chatto and Windus. Reissued in 1981 with a memoir by John Carswell (1981) by Cambridge University Press.

A Savage Friendship: Catherine Carswell and John Middleton Murry

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When it comes to literary spats, Catherine Carswell and John Middleton Murry’s squabble over D.H. Lawrence takes some beating. So incensed was Carswell at Murry’s misrepresentation of Lawrence that she quickly responded with The Savage Pilgrimage (1932). At first glance it looks like a biography, an intimate portrait fleshed out from personal letters and experiences, but its primary function is as a corrective to everything Murry stood for.

They began bickering in private shortly after Lawrence’s death in 1930. This became public when Carswell wrote letters to the Adelphi magazine in response to Murry’s Reminiscences of D.H. Lawrence which would eventually materialise into the hagiography Son of Woman (1931).

Murry founded The Adelphi magazine in 1923. It was modernist in outlook and originally aimed to promote Lawrence’s work but it ended up as the mouthpiece for Murry’s own literary and aesthetic values. Murry was establishing himself as a radical Christian literary critic and had already gained editorial experience on Rhythm, Athenaeum and The Signature – the latter a short lived magazine produced in collaboration with Lawrence.   

In The Savage Pilgrimage (1932), Carswell takes Murry to task about his reminiscences to such an extent that he served her with a writ on account of ‘slurs’ contained in the final 10 pages of her biography. These were eventually toned down and the book was reissued in 1933 by Secker. But, as is perhaps befitting of Murry’s vanity, he would go on to publish most of the ‘slurs’ he’d complained about so that he could respond to them in detail in the book publication of Reminiscences of D.H Lawrence (1933).

Carswell’s attacks on Murry come as early as page 19 when it becomes clear her dislike of him had been simmering way before Lawrence’s death. She recalls the story of Murry telling Lawrence his agent had received an advance of £300 for a new novel, The Rainbow (1915), based on the reception of Sons and Lovers (1913). The money was in fact to be paid on publication which could be a very slow process. Neither would this be the full amount once other factors had been taken into consideration (proof corrections, agent fees, etc). This lack of attention to detail infuriated Carswell as she was well aware that Lawrence was fastidious about money and lived a large part of his life in poverty. Fortunately Lawrence’s agent Pinker, a kind man who supported young experimental writers, was on hand to advance £45 out of his own pocket. Shortly afterwards the Royal Literary Fund made a grant of £50.

Murry and his wife Katherine Mansfield were witnesses at the Lawrence’s marriage in 1914. But the two men really began to bond at Greatham, Sussex where Lawrence was living during the first six months of 1915. Katherine Mansfield had gone to Paris and wasn’t well due to influenza and things were tense with Frieda on account of her restricted access to her three children. Murry’s timing was perfect as Lawrence had someone with whom he could share his philosophy of life with which involved a ‘withdrawal from the world’. The bromance was born and Carswell states Lawrence saw in Murry “a colleague and successor who would build up the temple when he, Lawrence, had cut out the ground.”

The Hebrew idea of Rananim had been raised by Koteliansky at a gathering in 1914 and Lawrence was struck by this utopian idea of sharing space with like-minded people. The Murry’s became the first to test this out when they moved in with the Lawrence’s at Zennor, Cornwall, but it didn’t work out. The Lawrence’s were eventually evicted from their cottage on 12 October 1917 after a visit from the military. A series of bizarre events – which included the sinking of a coal boat on the nearby rocks below Tregerthen and the fact that Frieda Lawrence was German – created suspicion that they may be spies. Although they weren’t formally charged they were clearly undesirables. The incident would sharpen Lawrence’s need to leave England and the desire to take his nearest and dearest with him.

The Lawrence’s were forced to live a nomadic existence, being put up by various friends. Money was incredibly tight and Carswell suggests that Murry, then the editor of Athenaeum, could have done more to help him out by commissioning work. He did accept Lawrence’s first contribution, The Whistling of Birds (written under the pseudonym of Grantorto) but rejected his next. Murry claimed he never got sent any more articles, which is contradicted by both Frieda and Koteliansky.

I find this criticism of Murry hard to accept. As an editor he has to select what is right for his readership and Lawrence is certainly not someone who would abide nepotism. But Carswell suggests that his lack of support may have been more malevolent. She argues Murry had already slithered out of reviewing The Rainbow (Carswell review of The Rainbow cost her her job of ten years on the Glasgow Herald) and that “now that he had some standing, we find not only that he could risk nothing to give Lawrence a hand, but that as time went on he lost no opportunity of disparaging Lawrence in public. Murry believed that Lawrence was finished, and he had his own growing reputation as a critic to safeguard. Carswell argues this is why every book by Lawrence that was reviewed was persistently slighted or attacked in the Athenaeum.

Carswell takes exception to various aspects of Murry’s reviews, not least his dismissing of Lawrence’s career as over by 1921. She cities Murry’s ‘The Decay of Mr. D.H Lawrence’ (Dec 17 1920 Athenaeum) as applying the terms ‘tortured’ and ‘neurotic’ to Lawrence’s work for the first time and his review of The Lost Girl (1920) pushing this further through dismissive language such as ‘sub human’, ‘quack terminology’ and ‘corrupt mysticism’. Carswell sees this as a malicious attempt to further his own reputation, declaring: “It was a carefully executed attempt of the very kind which best demonstrated the horror Lawrence believed to be inveterate in ‘Christian love.’ Under the pretence of ‘intellectual sincerity’ it was an effort to annihilate.” Ouch!

Given her intense personal relationship with Lawrence, it is fair to presume that Carswell knew him better than most. Her biggest gripe with Murry is his failure to recognise Lawrence as an experimental artist, for whom “a careless joie de vivre…was as native to him as his anger” and it was stuffy England that deprived him of the joy while feeding the anger.

To illustrate this Carswell analyses the play Touch and Go (1920) where Lawrence “makes the sculptress Anabel incapable of modelling more birds and animals, though she possesses genius, simply because she has lost that joy of life which had once enabled her to render in stone the thistledown lightness of a kitten. Until her joy returns, she will produce nothing lively. Lawrence knew so well what it was to feel inspired, that he could not fail to recognise the lack of inspiration in himself or in others.”

Escaping England became synonymous with survival. Rather than being “a morbid restlessness” Carswell suggests “may it not with quite as much justice be called sanity and courage? Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage was savage on account of his poor health and his determination, via self-medication, to find a climate that would temper his tuberculosis.”

But for Murry, the only savageness was Lawrence’s rebuke to return back to England and help support his new venture, the literary journal the Adelphi. The first issue was published in June 1923, five months after the death of his wife Katherine Mansfield, who too succumbed to tuberculosis. To make matters worse, Lawrence’s letters were critical of the opening issues. What perplexed Murry further was he saw in Aaron’s Rod (1922) and Fantasia of the Unconscious (1922) a cry for another man to help Lawrence create a new world. This world, for Murry, was contained within the pages of the Adelphi. He was obsessed by it, leaving Lawrence to compare him “like a moth, determined to whirl round and round the candle till he had either burnt his wings or understood the nature of light.”

Although extracts from Fantasia were published in the Adelphi, they only served to outrage the readership, with one reader questioning why Murry should want to publish an author who “spat in the face of Jesus”. This of course was the perfect reaction to Lawrence who believed the Adelphi “should attack everything, everything; and explode in one blaze of denunciation.”

Their already strained relationship was not helped when a homesick Frieda returned to England in August 1923 and Lawrence decided at the last minute to stay in Mexico and work on The Plumed Serpent (1926). When he finally made it over he was quick to notice the ‘chumminess’ that had developed between Frieda and Murry. There are numerous reasons for the development of this ‘chumminess’. Frieda was an independent spirit and required no encouragement when it came to developing friendships with men, whereas Murry may very well have seen her as a means of convincing Lawrence to return to England and support his own artistic endeavours. Whatever the reason, Lawrence was furious and Carswell states the attitude of the husband in the short story Jimmy and the Desperate Woman is expressive of his feelings at the time.

In 1926, after his trip around Mexico and back again, Lawrence gave Murry an ultimatum. He either had to stand by him or the Adelphi. Naturally Murry chose the latter. Lawrence’s last contribution to the Adelphi would be Said the Fisherman, printed in January 1927. Carswell believes that this story was a ‘hold-over’ as Lawrence wanted nothing to do with Murry’s vanity project any more.

According to Carswell Murry presents a distorted picture of Lawrence as a man with “a long thin chain round his ankle” unable to fully run away. But in this ‘cheap’ analysis she argues that Murry has omitted two fundamentally important reasons for Lawrence’s need to travel: art and his illness. Lawrence was the first to admit his first trip around the world was a form of running away. “But he needed absolutely to run from the world he knew and to see the world he did not know” most importantly with his own eyes. Carswell believed that Lawrence would eventually have settled down. If this had have been the case, one thing is for certain. She would not have been able to share this space with Murry.

See our previous blog review of Carswell’s The Savage Pilgrimage for more of this feuding.

Further Reading/Sources

  • D .H. Lawrence (1930) John Middleton Murry
  • Son of Woman: The Story of D. H. Lawrence (1931) John Middleton Murry
  • Reminiscences of D.H. Lawrence (1933) John Middleton Murry
  • The Savage Pilgrimage (1932) Catherine Carswell

The Long Essay: Leavis and Lady Chatterley’s Lover

leavis

The following long essay is a transcript of a talk given by Bob Hayward at the D.H Lawrence Society on 9 March 2016. It was also presented at the 2016 Lawrence/Leavis Conference.

There are many, many ways of seeing the trial of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’. Certainly one is: that it was Lawrence’s posthumous revenge on a Ruling Class that slandered and persecuted him for most of his writing life. He called the book ‘a bit of a revolution in itself, a bit of a bomb’ but he could never have imagined the radical impact of its delayed action thirty years after his death. It probably marked the beginning of a real revolutionary change in Britain. “I feel as if a window has been opened and fresh air has blown right through England “ was his step-daughter’s reaction.

By no means optimistic, Leavis acknowledged that a change in society had been registered by the trial but, as he chose to see it, in the defence of a bad novel. The Establishment, in the other hand, knew that it had ridiculously exposed itself by going after the book of a widely accepted great writer in order to continue its crusade against the pornography under the new Obscene Publications Act. Leavis saw the change in terms of emancipated sexual mores rather than the political implications. He would have us believe that the Prosecution was ‘defeated by its realization that it was confronted by a new and confident orthodoxy of enlightenment — that the world had changed since the virginal pure policemen came and hid their faces for very shame’. He was forgetting that Conversions on the road to Damascus have no standing in English courts. The Prosecution failed because it was confronted by the new Obscene Publication Act which was designed to protect literature from philistine censorship. The Prosecution failed because its senior counsel, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, apart from being wedded to a class-ridden mind-set anticipated in the pages of the offending novel, had insufficient literary sophistication even to read Lawrence, let alone assess the novel as a whole, as was now required to do under the new act. The Prosecution could not find one witness to argue for suppression, whereas the Defence had the luxury of vetting plenty for its cause. The so-called Orthodoxy of Enlightenment was more a figment of Leavis’s ironic scorn than a reality and the idea that Mervyn Griffith-Jones had the faculties to recognize any kind of enlightenment rather than just the exasperating line of highly coached witnesses for the Defence, still less to allow it to affect his adversarial duties is just whimsical thinking. Even in his closing speech to the jury he was still all-guns-blazing, reading out four-letter-word passages and lyrical sexual descriptions (which he could see only as pornography), including seven of the eight paragraphs of the ‘night of sensual passion’ which extols an act of intimate complicity punishable at the time of the trial by up to life-imprisonment for both lovers, thus making it the perfect crime. Perhaps some members of the jury had got away with it because not all of them were visibly shocked by the last-ditch innuendoes being lobbed by Griffith-Jones, who either would not, or more probably, could not, be explicit about the passage. Had he done so, would the Judge have directed the jury to find for the Prosecution? Now there is a conundrum to set against the ascendency of the Orthodoxy of Enlightenment!

Leavis’s judgements of the novel, as expressed in his Rolph-review, would have seriously embarrassed the defence because he denied the artistic integrity of the book as a whole work, implied an inadvertent pornographic element and suggested that the four-letter-words and sexual descriptions got past Lawrence only because he was not himself. It is doubtful whether the Defence, for all its testifying talent, would have easily rebutted these criticisms from Lawrence’s greatest advocate, argued, as they seem to be, with all his convinced authority and knowledge. These criticisms were calculated, after the trial, to discredit the expert witnesses. They did immeasurable damage to the book’s reputation, and, as far as I know, remain unchallenged, not least because the style of the review spins the reader around in confusing circles of thought.

Let us consider Leavis’s claims. First, Lawrence was in ‘an abnormal state’ when he wrote this novel. Second, there is ‘a disrupted integration in the artist’, ‘something gone radically wrong’. Third, there is ‘a passionate drive of willed purpose’ rather than directed creativity. So we have: abnormal state, disrupted integrity, willed purpose. In other words, we have some pathological condition plus some cloyingly defined split integrity but does the split integrity explain the willed purpose or is it to be inferred from it? Is the abnormal state to be inferred from the willed purpose? Why does the greatest literary critic not simply rely on literary criticism? Why the need to postulate disorders beyond his expertise or certainty – for he never met Lawrence?

Does Leavis give any proof for these extra-literary critical diagnoses? He offers in effect: ‘At this moment in his life…..he was ill – in fact, for all his incredible vitality, slowly dying – and inflamed with rage an disgust at the thought of the virginal pure policemen’. This would appear to be suggesting a cause for the ‘abnormal state’ or split integrity to both if they can be distinguished. ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’, however, was written three times over fourteen months (Frieda said two years but she was never entirely reliable) and was finished in January 1928. Lawrence would have to have been certifiably abnormal if ha had raged for fourteen months at ‘virginal pure policemen’, especially without any grounds, because those authorized prudes never seized his paintings until July 1929, eighteen months after he had finished the novel. What was Leavis thinking?

Lawrence’s protracted dying seems to have affected other people’s judgements more than his own (and still does: see Melvyn Bragg’s introduction to the Cambridge edition of ‘The Plumed Serpent’ for sheer sentimentality in place of facts). Slowly dying is not inconsistent with being an artist, as Leavis himself affirmed in his last book in 1976 in which he wrote: ‘But Lawrence couldn’t but go on manifesting the Laurentian genius till the day of his death in 1930’. This would make his aberrational fourteen months on ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ even more mysterious and raises the possibility that the inconsistency is Leavis’s rather than Lawrence’s. Of course Lawrence had tuberculosis, probably from childhood, but his immune system tended to keep on top of it. It showed itself in his illness in 1911 when he was told to give up teaching. It was diagnosed again in 1916 when he was classified as unfit for military service. Early in 1925 he nearly died in Mexico from typhoid and malaria (he thought he would die) and then, in the American military hospital in Mexico City, he was bluntly told in front of Frieda that indeed he had tuberculosis. This was a shock to her – and to him but only because he never wanted it to be brought out into the open. A doctor later took Frieda aside and advised her to get him back to New Mexico because he had tuberculosis ‘in the third degree’ and no more than one or two years to live. Frieda is the only source for this story, much repeated in biographies. The trouble with it is that there is no such thing as tuberculosis ‘in the third degree’ and Lawrence lived for more than five years. He managed his tuberculosis as well as anybody could: he knew there was no cure, so he put it to the back of his mind and got on with living and writing, even after haemorrhages more often reminded him that he was carrying the disease that was shortening his life.

Leavis considered Lawrence to be a creative writer of the greatest kind. During the last five years of his life, his technique as a writer was at its most accomplished. Just before ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ he had written ‘The Virgin and the Gipsy’ and between the second and final version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ he wrote ‘The Escaped Cock’ in which, drawing on his own sense of resurrection after his near death experience in Mexico, he imagines Christ slipping half dead out of the tomb and slowly coming back to life to find ‘the phenomenal world’, as Lawrence calls it, much more marvellous than ideas of heaven to salvation. This mundane resurrection of the son of man is just about the most perfect vehicle for turning the Laurentian credo into his felicitous art. Writing this story after visiting the Etruscan tombs, whose wall-paintings, he realized, could envisage no after-life better than this one, persuaded him to modify his style for the final version of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ by eliminating all religious vocabulary: no sacreds or holys or godlikes or divines. The discipline of keeping, more or less, to only this-world language and perception gives the writing its revelations of the profane enchantment of experience. Others might describe it differently or better. One critic wrote: ‘But so beautifully poised and sure is the art that there is a danger of mistaking the nature of its success. The success, I have implied, is conditioned by a narrowing down: criticism must take the form of the question: How comprehensive or generally valid is this solution?’ This was Leavis before he came into his wisdom on Lawrence but he would not, I think, have had too much insight into the paganised inspiration of the style.

I want to say something of the novel itself before turning to Leavis’s literary criticisms of it. In her introduction to ‘The First Lady Chatterley’, which survived its prosecution in America in 1944, Frieda reveals that Lawrence told her that he wanted to write ‘a romantic novel – a picaresque novel’ which she was unable to relate to the gamekeeper-character. Few people bother to notice that it was a revolutionary novel, revolutionary in the political sense. It was a revolutionary time. Between 1917 and 1927 fifteen monarchies fell across Europe, to say nothing of principalities. The class-struggle was to the fore in most societies. Lawrence’s contribution was explicitly non-violent by trying to unify with his art the lives of a high-born woman and a low-born man. The working-class gamekeeper can speak only in the dialect. The class-divisions between him and the lady are confronted with such unsqueamish honesty that at times Lawrence moves towards parody to assuage the obscenities of the historical and social injustice. Communism is prevalent in the book and by the end Parking, no longer gamekeeping, thinks that the problem of Connie’s social superiority being carried over into their marriage might be solves if she supported him in his work as secretary of the local Communist League. This idea excited him but presumably not Lawrence.

The book is finally revolutionary in a multitude of ways. I am emphasising the political because it has been ignored. Obviously if a lady turns her back on an aristocratic life for a relationship with a working man, and the writer endorses the choice, some criticism of the aristocratic lifestyle might be implied, in this case more than implied, and subsequently inferred by receptive or unformed minds. The artistic problem for this revolutionary intent is to make the relationship plausible. Lawrence tried a second version. The gamekeeper again speaks only in the dialect, with which the lady becomes infatuated, though he can string together a more standard English sentence if he makes the effort; this is so rare that she notices when he does it. In the interests of the plausibility, Lawrence elaborates more on their intimacies. This is the original reason for extensively describing the elusive moments of love-making but, as a writer, he must have relished the challenge. There are affirmations of divinity to be found in the man’s body by the lady, going so far as to tell her sister that she sees his penis as a little god. ‘It was as if she had touched god and been restored to life’ is one of the author’s more mystagogic submissions. Does he think that giving the relationship a religious provenance is enough to compensate for the social imbalance between the lovers?

Well, he put the work aside for months and when he wrote the final version, he had, as he said and as I have indicated, ‘dropped the god-symbol from his writing’. He later thought that doing so was probably a mistake (obviously, for male philosophers, desacralizing the penis or phallus was not just a solecism but an epistemological mistake). Although the new gamekeeper has the same working-class origins, Lawrence, no doubt compromising his original romantic ideas as we all do, gives him a cultural dimension and social versatility that his two previous incumbents did not have, thus mitigating the problems of inferiority. The natural world and the lovers’ intimacies are now described under the poetic of his new luminary-pagan style. In court, Helen Gardner maintained that Lawrence succeeded in putting into words experiences that are very difficult to verbalize, rather as mystics try to do. This is more constructive than Leavis could ever be about the sexual descriptions.

Leavis asks: ‘Why does Lawrence make the lover working class?’ Even to ask this question means that he is overlooking the revolutionary purpose, which seems to the elephant in the room for most critics. His answer to the question, which I am not sure anyone ever asked, is that Lawrence does not make the gamekeeper working class. He is ‘irretrievably and securely a gentleman’, according to Leavis. He is educated, owns some books, held a commission in the army and could pass himself off as a gentleman. Leavis ignores the little matter of his having neither the means nor the desire to be a gentleman and forgets that one truly irretrievable gentleman calls him ‘scum’ and ‘a bumptious lout’. There is little point in troubling over Leavis’s specious definition of a gentleman. It seems at best contrarian. No other serious reader has ever characterized Mellors, once a blacksmith, as a gentleman but it enables Leavis to ask his next question: ‘Why does Lawrence make him drop into the dialect – drop so much and on those occasions?’ In fact, Mellors speaks mostly in the dialect and to would be more accurate to say that he drops into the King’s English when he feels it appropriate. He speaks the dialect because he is not ashamed of his origins any more than he is ashamed of his manhood, though he recognizes that society would have him be ashamed of both. The dialect is part of his identity and this gamekeeper has the option of making it complicit with this manhood, whereas for the other two it was integral. In opting for the dialect, there is a spirit of anti-genteel defiance, catching the mood of the times, and there is also an erotic polarization in using it with a lady who accepts it and so endears herself. Mellors uses it, as Lawrence knew it could be used, for expressing all emotions because it comes from the tongues of people who have experienced all emotions. It can also be used to armour his susceptible humanity, when necessary.

Leavis answers the question, which only he has ever asked: ‘Why does Lawrence make the keeper drop into the dialect – and on those occasions?’ with what he says is a simple and, he imagines, generally acceptable answer, namely, ‘as a way of putting over the four-letter words – of trying to make the idea of their being redeemed for non-obscene and undefiant or “normal” use, look less desperate.’ This then is his explanation for the use of the dialect. It is more shallow than the one I give and I think it is obviously and significantly wrong. Leavis is so sure he knows why Lawrence deploys the four-letter words that he talks emphatically of his ‘hygienic purpose’ with them. If Lawrence imagined that a few pages of a novel could cleanse the four-letter words of centuries of taboo (one of the words goes back to the Romans and possibly to the Ancient Greeks), he would have suffered from delusions of authorial grandeur off the scale. So we have the bizarre idea of a man in an ‘abnormal state’ being criticized for a hygienic purpose that no English writer could ever have been insane enough to have.

Leavis claims that ‘Lawrence would have had a resistance to overcome in himself uttering the four-letter words with the ease and freedom with which the gamekeeper and Tommy Dukes use them’. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant. Leavis is not adducing artistic principle here. If writers were forbidden from putting into the mouths of their characters language which they could not easily and freely utter themselves, Shakespeare’s plays would never have been written. Lawrence uses the words in art-speech (which I think is the third realm) and even Leavis endorses his maxim: ‘Art-speech is the only speech’.
Four-letter words do not need redemption. They have a complete felicity without it. If versatility is any guide to frequency of use, they are among the most frequently used words in the language. They would appear to be our friends; they are certainly on the tips of most tongues. There are some general rules for them: the more public a situation, the less appropriate they are likely to be. The more private the situation, the opposite can be the case. Tommy Dukes uses four-letter words sparingly in little house-parties of friends and guests. ‘And naughty words scream like sirens, when uttered in the wrong environs.’ We know this happens. Do they scream like sirens in Sir Clifford’s drawing room? Perhaps, but we might ask whether Lawrence or Leavis would be more accustomed to such gathering of motley types as are presented there. Mellors’s use of the words with Connie could not be more private, that is, in their most intimate moments when there are no barriers. Leavis refers to the gamekeeper’s ‘treatment’ of Connie ‘on those occasions’ and he thinks that, because of some dormant class-resentment and ‘failure of wholeness’ and so on in the creative Lawrence, he does not realize how the gamekeeper (and therefore the author himself) is demeaning the lady. This is my inference form cutting through the Gordian Knot of tortuousness in the fourth from last paragraph. (When any prosecution pressed the idea of depraving and corrupting in obscenity cases in the 1960s and 70s, the jury always threw it out.) It must be said that Connie herself has no sense of being like a high-caste victim of an untouchable and by the end of the novel the reader sees her more fulfilled femininity has turned her into a woman who knows what she wants from life and who can be deflected by neither her disapproving sister, her apoplectic husband nor her demurring father, who is secretly proud of her (‘I hope you had a real man at last’.) because she is now the radiant daughter of his loins that he would want her to be.

Frieda said that Lawrence was scared when he wrote ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’. He saw that his art was becoming more daring as it progressed through the three versions. He knew intuitively that the sexual description and four-letter words were justified and would be original in serious literature. The finished work is so rich in themes that I doubt whether he have could been explicit about them all. They are for readers to appreciate. The text, however, is explicit about one vindication of the four-letter words, and that is as the language of acceptance, more specifically acceptance of the body. This is of course one of the ways in which the words can be used. The body was for him an important concept for which he argued against the centuries of undervaluing it by the great religions, concerned, as they are, with things otherworldly and eternal. Lawrence’s faith was in the accessible wonders of bodily experience and he invoked their moral power to transcend society’s prejudices and of course the taboos of language. This faith is not too far removes from Leavis’s ineffable ‘well-head through which life and creativity bubble up from the unknown’.

Leavis believed that ‘the insistent renderings of sexual experience’ a phrase that would have improved the pleading of the senior prosecuting counsel, also represent a hygienic purpose. He even concedes that they ‘engage the creative art of the creative writer’ but he finds ‘a great deal in them strongly distasteful’. This begs the questions as to how he detects their hygienic purpose. How does he get this idea when the passages have the effect of deepening the intensity between the lovers in order to justify Connie’s leaving aristocracy for a better life? If readers cannot be inward with the descriptions of the acts of love-making, they cannot assess the novel. They are rather like Shakespeare’s nurse who cannot appreciate Juliet’s love for Romeo.

There is another extra-literary critical concept that Leavis fastens on Lawrence. He says (and the Prosecution would have welcomed this): ‘In the way of those frequent and insistent offers to evoke sexual experience in pondered, dwelling immediacy, there was a deep-seated pudeur going back to a finely civilized upbringing in a Victorian, working-class home’, a home that, by the way, contained a hard-drinking father and a jealous, quasi-incestuous mother but there is no need to cavil at Leavis’s evaluation of Lawrence’s home, though we might include the wider working-class community and its institutions, as well as Lawrence’s reading, in the formation of his sensibilities. I wonder when a working-class boy comes into full possession of his pudeur? I doubt if it would be a word bandied about in his home, or any home. Leavis seems to have plucked it from the margins of English usage. It is not to be found in many English dictionaries. It is in the 1981 Supplement of my old fifteen volume Oxford Dictionary in which Leavis’s ‘deep-seated pudeur’ is among the examples, all of which, except his, give it a negative nuance. He is the only one to make a virtue of it, not least by opposing it to his equally idiolectic use of ‘emancipation’ which throughout history has rarely had a pejorative meaning, except perhaps for closed minds offended by it. So with ‘pudeur’, Leavis is ascribing a positive sense to a negatively used word. You can use words however you like but, if you alter their connotation too far, there is a danger of seeming tendentious, or, if you are the greatest critic, confounding common sense.

The dictionary definition of pudeur is: ‘a sense of shame or embarrassment, particularly with regard to matters of a sexual nature’. Apart from the word ‘Victorian’, Leavis offers nothing that in fact points to Lawrence’s pudeur. Lawrence wrote more about sex than any other creative writer. His inspired preoccupation with the subject is inconsistent with a sense of shame or embarrassment about it. In ‘The Rainbow’ Will and Anna renew their marital desire by exploring intimacies in defiance of shame, which becomes part of the thrill. Ursula in ‘Women in Love’ loses her physical shames by sharing in the full range of Birkin’s amatory practices. And ‘The Night of Sensual Passion’ reads like a rhapsody on the anti-pudeur ethic. Pudeur could be regarded as a mildly neurotic frailty and it is pretty near disingenuous semantics to represent it, as Leavis does, as the essential source of Lawrence’s ‘exquisitively sensitive human delicacy’ when it is more likely to be associated with prudish or even sanctimonious tendencies. Pudeur can become a virtue only if it is apprehended and turned into something else, say, heroic acceptance of the body even when your own is emaciated or about to fail you as absolutely as possible.

When Leavis finds the gamekeepers ‘uninhibited talk’ with Connie ‘on those occasions’ ‘insufferable’, when he finds ‘something hateful conveyed in the intention of the dialect itself’, when he finds so much of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ ‘repellent’, is that because of his ‘still unvanquished pudeur’, in the sense in which everybody except him uses and understands the word, though not many people do use it? I have no way of knowing but I doubt it.

‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ is a complex, ambitious and thoroughly rewarding work of art. It was written, as it were, out of Lawrence’s moral concern for civilization. It is a unique novel. I cannot agree with any of the literary critical judgements that Leavis makes about it in his Rolph-review, not one, not a single one. His extra-literary critical judgements, so far as I can tell, are factitious. I suspect that he has created an orthodoxy of enlightenment about ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ and it will be a long time before the novel is rehabilitated. Leavis returned it to its insalubrious reputation with a vengeance.

The Long Essay: LITERATURE AND SOCIOCULTURAL CRITICISM: The value of Lawrence and Leavis to a sociologist

leavissssThe following talk by Paul Filmer, an Honorary Research Fellow in Sociology at Goldsmiths University of London, was presented at the Leavis/Lawrence Conference in 2016. 

Leavis offers a succinct account of why a sociologist should want to look at literature as a resource for sociological inquiry:

Without the sensitizing familiarity with the subtleties of language, and the insight into the relations between abstract or generalizing thought and the concrete of human experience, that the trained frequentation of literature alone can bring, the thinking that attends social and political studies will not have the edge and force it should (Leavis, 1962:194)

This recommendation of literature as socially relevant is characteristic of Leavis’s criticism, and is echoed in a later assertion that “it is the great novelists above all who give us our social history; compared with what is done in their work – their creative work – the histories of the professional social historian seem empty and unenlightening” (1972:81-2).

Both statements offer a clear justification for treating literary texts as an important source of sociological information but neither recommends the sociological analysis of literature.  They seem to imply, rather, that the novelist or poet might be better equipped to do the work of social history than the historian, and that social and political studies require a training also in the study of literature and that that training should come from literary criticism – an implication not without foundation, given some of the problems of reductive, sociocultural determinism characteristic of normative approaches in the sociology of literature (Filmer, 1969, 1998a; Hall, 1979). These approaches characteristically treat the context of literary production as more significant than the literary text. One consequence of this is a lack of attention to the language of the text and the range of its possible meanings, in favour of referring to it, if at all, as a source of illustrative material about the society in which it is produced or to which it refers.

Leavis criticised these approaches in his essays on ‘Literature and Society’ and ‘Sociology and Literature’ as well as in his critiques of Marxist approaches to literature, notably the essay ‘Under Which King Bezonian’. His criticisms there are well-formulated and for the most part valid, pointing as they did to characteristics of most established methodologies of social research and schools of sociological theory until almost the middle of the twentieth century, when socio-linguistic and neo-Marxian structuralist methods began to require attention to the relations between language and social structure as constitutive features of all texts – not only literature (Culler, 1975; Eagleton, 1976, 1983, 1989; Filmer, 1978, 1998b; Macherey, 1978; Williams, 1973, 1977, 1980).  This change of approach was grounded in the analysis of the reflexive character of the structures of relations within and between the linguistic contents of the text and the social conditions to which they refer. It is in undertaking this approach to critical literary study and analysis that a sociologist will benefit from attending to Leavis’s criticism – a criticism which is itself couched in the quintessentially social terms of a collaborative creative relationship with the literature to which it attends (Filmer, 1977).

A contrast to dominant normative sociological approaches to literature occurred in the 20th century, more or less concurrently with Leavis’s early work, in the German critical tradition of Literaturwissenschaft, concerned with knowledge that is available for study both in and about literature. One of its major scholars, Leo Loewenthal (1961:xv), defined the “essential task” of the sociology of literature as being

to find that core of meaning which, through artistic images, expresses the many facets of thought and feeling…permitting us to develop an image of a given society in terms of the individuals who composed it…  what the individual felt about it, what he could hope from it, and how he thought he could change it or escape from it…The social meanings of this inner life of the individual are related to the central problems of social change.

He insists, further (1989:15-16), that it:

should interpret what seems most removed from society as the most valid key to the understanding of society and especially of its defects…Of particular importance…is the…analysis of the social ambience of the intimate and the private, the revealing of the sociological determination of such phenomena as love, friendship, the relationship to nature, self-image, and the like…Literature teaches us to understand the success or failure of the socialization of individuals in concrete historical moments and situations.

It is this focus on individuals as constitutive of society, on analysis through the study of literature, in the concrete particulars of specific historical situations, of their feelings, hopes, the adequacy of their socialisation, the social meanings of their inner lives and their relations to social change, that seem to me to come close to Leavis’s contention that literature can give to social and political studies the edge and force that they need. How these specific and apparently private features of human experience are to be interpreted and analyzed sociologically through literature is what I understand to have been asked to discuss in this paper: a concern, that is, with the reflexive character of the structures of relations within and between the linguistic contents of the text and the social conditions to which they refer.

The question ‘How’ predicates issues of method. From a sociological perspective, it is only in terms of their generalisability that the insights and explications, their implications and more explicit consequences of any specific analysis of a literary or sociocultural text can be evaluated for their significance.  And this requires a replicable method that can be applied by others to cognate phenomena in order to demonstrate their comparability.  Until the recent burgeoning of literary theory, with its roots in radical political philosophy, European linguistic and cultural theory and the eclecticism of what passes for much of postmodern literary aesthetics, literary critics seem to have been unsympathetic to attempts to engage them on issues of method.  Leavis’s (1962:212-22) response to Wellek’s invitation to discuss his method for analysing poetry is exemplary of this tendency.  But there is to be found in his work a sense of method nevertheless, which is implicit in the systematic character of the analyses that it offers of the texts which he addresses, though he went no further, in his reply to Wellek, than conceding that he sought to engage a critical response to his analyses (which, he was at pains to point out, were not attempts at what he had termed ‘murdering to dissect’ a text) in the form of qualified agreement that would contribute to developing interpretative debate.

One formulation of how his approach can be seen as differing from Loewenthal’s recommendation of seeking in literature the social determination of intimate and private phenomena can be seen in his quotation of the passage from Chapter 9 of Lady Chatterleys Lover:

It is the way our sympathy flows and recoils that really determines our lives. And here lies the importance of the novel, properly handled. It can inform and lead into new places the flow of our sympathetic consciousness, and it can lead our sympathy away in recoil from things gone dead. Therefore the novel, properly handled, can reveal the most secret places of life –for it is in the passional secret places of life, above all, that the tide of sensitive awareness needs to ebb and flow, cleansing and refreshing.

The issue of method here is raised in the phrase ‘properly handled’ in relation to the novel, and it seems to imply a proper handling in which both the author and the critical analyst collaborate: the author through the adequacy of the representations of and reflections on society in their writings; the critic in undertaking the responsibility of recognising and evaluating those representations and reflections. This reflexive approach seeks to analyse the sociological knowledge to be found within literary texts.  The normative approach, by contrast, tends to use methods which have been developed in terms of the view that, because literature is produced in a societal context, it is determined by society and so can be treated as a reflection of the social conditions of its production and communication – a mirror of social life which presents society with some image of itself.  Literature can be analyzed and explained in these terms, as an institutional feature of social structure, through sociologies of authorship and readership, of literary production and distribution, and of normative institutional sociologies of literary and artistic occupations.  A major problem with this approach is that it pays relatively little attention to the literary text, except as a resource for illustrating social conditions:  the nineteenth century novel, for example, as a source of illustrations of urbanisation and industrialisation.  As an approach it is criticised both by sociologists and by literary critics.  Sociologists argue that literature offers an unrepresentative account of society because its authors are unrepresentative of typical social positions and experiences and from a sociological point of view are therefore an unreliable guide to the reality of the social life that they write about (Filmer, 1969). Literary critics argue that to treat the contents of literature as illustrations of social life is to misrepresent both literature and its relation to language.  Literature is about the subjective consciousnesses of the individual characters imaginatively created by the writer – as Loewenthal notes. Moreover, a work of literature is open to a range of possible literary critical interpretations because the language that is used to construct the text is chosen by the writer to connote possible meanings for, rather than simply to illustrate the specific features of what it describes.  From both the literary critical and a reflexive sociological perspective, the relations between literature and society are much more complex and subtle than can be conveyed by the idea of straightforward, mirror-like reflection.

A reflexive approach operates quite differently on the grounds that literature is a reflexive feature of the society in which it is produced, engaging with it through critical reflection on social practices.  It argues from the structure of the literary text to parallel structures in the society in which the text is produced, or which it is written about, or in which it is being read.  None of these three formulations of society are necessarily empirically the same, and each of them is seen as being constituted critically and reflexively by and in the literary work – a process with which the critical reader collaborates. The texts may be in part imaginary, but they are constructed to bear a critically reflexive relation to the realities of these formulations of society.  A reflexive methodological perspective, thus, is designed to prevent normative reduction of literary representations to illustration.

I described this creative collaboration between critical reader and writer, as Leavis formulates it, as quintessentially social because it is in being read that the literary text is realised, made actual as a meaningful, critical, imaginative reflection on experience. Lawrence endorses this in his rejection of any critical privileging of authorial intention with his admonition not to trust the writer but the tale itself. And it is by two of his tales that I want to topicalise the concept through which I propose beginning to explore the relevance for sociology and cognate disciplines of Lawrence’s literature and Leavis’s literary critical analysis – that of class.

In his posthumously published Autobiographical Sketch Lawrence prefaces a disquisition on the shallowness and passionlessness of the middle classes with the assertion: ‘Class makes a gulf across which all the best human flow is lost’. One sense of ‘proper handling’ by the novel, or literature in general, is surely in realising such a general, rather abstract contention through the concrete particulars of a specific interactional situation, one example of which Lawrence offers at an important juncture in the narrative of  The Captains Doll. The two principal characters, Hepburn and Hannele are being driven into the mountains:

At a house on a knoll the driver sounded his horn, and out rushed children crying Papa! Papa!-then a woman with a basket. A few brief words from the weaselish man, who smiled with warm, manly blue eyes at his children, then the car leaped forward. The whole bearing of the man was so different, when he was looking at his own family. He could not even say thank-you when Hepburn opened the gates. He hated and even despised his human cargo of middle-class people. Deep, deep is class-hatred, and it begins to swallow all human feeling in its abyss. So, stiff, silent, thin, capable, and neuter towards his fares sat the little driver with the flaps over his ears, and his thin nose cold. (2006:128)

The concrete particulars of the gulf between classes across which human flow are lost are clearly delineated here. The contrast between the hate, even despisal of the ‘weaselish’ driver for the depersonalised ‘human cargo of middle-class people’ that comprise his passengers, and the (anything but weaselish) whole ‘warm, manly smiling… bearing of the man…looking at his own family’. He says just ‘a few brief words’ to them, but to his passengers is silent and ‘could not even say thank-you when Hepburn opened the gates’.

Despite its obvious relevance, it is not in critical analysis of this tale, however, that Leavis chose to discuss at length Lawrence’s “consciousness of class-distinctions”, but rather in the chapter in D.H.Lawrence: Novelist which is focussed on The Daughters of the Vicar.  The consciousness expressed there, Leavis says,

is precisely a consciousness that we have to define as wholly incompatible with snobbery or any related form of class-feeling. Lawrence registers them as facts that play an important part in human life. The part they play in the given tale is a sinister one, and the theme is their defeat – the triumph of them over life. (1964:75)

“Class”, he continues, is

the villain of the drama…The pride of class-superiority…appears as the enemy of life, starving and thwarting and denying, and breeding in consequence hate and ugliness…The superiority that exacts this terrible price is shown to us in all its nothingness. The ugliness bred in the clinging to it appear repellently for what they are. The unbeautiful pride places itself as hateful in its manifestations and as essentially destructive of all fineness and nobility. And yet it appears as having something heroic about it – something almost tragic. That is, the attitude implicit in the presentation of the drama is not one that goes with contemptuous exposure or satiric condemnation; it is more subtle and poised – it is one that is incompatible with complacency or cruelty in any form. (1964:76-7)

For Lawrence, Leavis insists,

class is an important human fact, and he is an incomparable master of it over the whole range of its manifestations. But – or therefore – no writer is more wholly without class-feeling in the ordinary sense of the term. When he presents working-class people or milieu, he doesn’t write up or down; the people are first and last just human beings; his interest in them is an interest in them purely as such. The fact they are working class doesn’t affect them or his attitude towards them.

Again, though class-feeling shows itself in the Lindley parents in most hateful ways, the hatefulness of which is exposed in all its nakedness, there is no animus in the presentment. Class is a major factor in the case presented, but attention focusses on the essential humanity this fact conditions, and the interest informing the attention remains pure and undeflected. And always in Lawrence, whatever the circumstances of class or nationality or race that mark the drama in view, the interest he turns on it is incompatible with condescension, animus, or egotistic deflection of any kind; it has a quality that one has to call fundamental reverence, ‘reverence’ here being something that recommends itself no more to sentimentalists than to cynics…(1964:88-9)

An example of this last point, in relation to race rather than class, is cited by Leavis (1964:226) from The Captains Doll. Hepburn and Hanele have taken shelter from a rainstorm in the uppermost hotel on their trip into the mountains, where they

sat in the restaurant drinking hot coffee and milk, and watching the maidens in cotton frocks and aprons and bare arms, and the fair youths with maidenly necks and huge voracious boots, and the many Jews of the wrong sort and the wrong shape. These Jews were all being very Austrian, in Tyrol costume that didn’t sit on them, assuming the whole gesture and intonation of aristocratic Austria, so that you might think they were Austrian aristocrats, if you weren’t properly listening, or if you didn’t look twice. Certainly they were lords of the Alps, or at least lords of the Alpine hotels this summer, let prejudice be what it might. Jews of the wrong sort. And yet even they imparted a wholesome breath of sanity, disillusion, unsentimentality to the excited “Bergheil” atmosphere. Their dark-eyed, sardonic presence seemed to say to the maidenly-necked youths: “Don’t sprout wings of the spirit too much, my dears.” (2006:140)

In his biography of Lawrence, Worthen (2006:430) has noted that Lawrence “used the words ‘Jew’ and ‘Jewess’ perfectly unselfconsciously, according to the conventions of the time, and without bigotry or contempt”. The potential to offend of the reiterated reference here to ‘Jews of the wrong sort’ is clearly  subverted still further by Lawrence’s conversational address to his readers that they (or anyone) ‘might think they were Austrian aristocrats, if you weren’t properly listening, or if you didn’t look twice’. This conversational intimacy between writer and reader has already been set up in the preceding passage when, whilst walking through the storm, Hepburn and Hannele are engaged in an argument central to the narrative. At its conclusion, they continue in silence, Hannele reflecting on how best to act, Lawrence goes on (2006:138), “as they walked in the rain. The rain, by the way, was abating.”  That ‘by the way’, of course, does not refer to the way in the sense of the path the characters are taking! It is the confident interjection of a writer at the height of his powers, showing his readers with a most engaging attention that he is aware that part of the compelling character of his text is that their background attention may still be contemplating the severity of the weather. And Lawrence is attending to it, as a narrative pause, by saying, effectively, ‘in case you were wondering, because I know the tale I am telling is quite compelling in all its particulars, even the weather, and the weather is part of that compellingness as the dramatic background in a dramatic setting to a dramatic moment, the weather is improving’. This does anything but patronise the readers. Rather it shares with them a sense of humorous reflection both that the narrative is a fiction, but of the best, that is to say the most relevant and absorbing kind. It is, in every sense, being brought to life through the collaborative reading of a carefully and thoughtfully written work of literature, reflecting consummately on the real existential dilemmas of life as it is being experienced in and through all the detail of the present particularities of the text.

This intratextual device is sustained as Hepburn and Hanele await the motor car at the conclusion of their expedition,

watching the tourists and the trippers and the motor-car men. There were three Jews from Vienna: and the girl had a huge white woolly dog, as big as a calf, and white and woolly and silly and amiable as a toy. The men of course came patting it and admiring it, just as men always do, in life and in novels. And the girl, holding the leash, posed and leaned backwards in the attitudes of heroines on novel-covers. She said the white woolly monster was a Siberian steppe-dog. Alexander wondered what the steppes made of such a wuffer. And the three Jews pretended they were elegant Austrians out of popular romances. (2006:144-5)

The collusive/contrastive relation between writer and reader, fiction and reality is again invoked playfully here as a series of commonplace behavioural poses and pretences which are both resourced by and reflect fictional representations of them: the men’s patting and admiring of the dog; the girl’s backward leaning, emulatory poses; the Jews pretending to be ‘elegant Austrians’; even Hepburn’s reference to the dog as a ‘wuffer’.

I have deliberately sought to develop, through the selection of these passages from Lawrence and Leavis, not just the proper handling of literature in their collaborative/creative, critical reflections on the concrete particulars of the experiences of social differentiation through class and race/ethnicity. I have suggested also that in Lawrence’s reflective representations, in the example of The Captains Doll, there is a collusive, reflexive engagement with readers, intended to sensitise them to the experience and responsibilities of their own creative roles as readers. This sensitising parallels the rather different, but comparable sensitising in the critic’s discourse that evaluates the representational adequacies of the text to show why the text is worth reading. Both ways of sensitising are also proper handlings of the text in requiring critical reflection on it through, and as representation of, the concrete, particular experiences of class.

This critical reflection on and analysis of the representation of individual and collective experience is key to what social scientists can gain from Lawrence’s work and its critical explication by Leavis. I want to demonstrate this by drawing on the work of Raymond Williams whose reflexive formulations of class seem to me clearly to resonate with the literary and literary critical instances I have given. He is concerned to represent the meaning of the experience of class as the basis for its sense and critical adequacy as an analytical concept, and in doing so to reject tendencies in normative social scientific analyses of class to subsume stratifying practices in social interaction within a priori concepts.

Williams (1968:313) writes of class as particular, historically changing language practices in such modes of speech as literature, criticism and politics. He formulates this sense of class as

A collective mode (of being, feeling, acting) of that part of a group of people, similarly circumstanced, which has become conscious of its own position and of its own attitude to this position. (my italics)

It is a group conscious not only of its specific, particular shared circumstances but conscious also of its sense of these circumstances. This shared consciousness is made possible by what he describes (1968:13) as

A general pattern of change (in) a number of words, which are now of capital importance (and which) came for the first time into common  English use (in the late 18th century), or, where they had already been generally used…acquired new and important meanings. (The changes) bear witness to a general change in our characteristic ways of thinking about our common life: about our social, political and economic institutions; about the purposes which these institutions are designed to embody; and about the relations to these institutions and purposes of our activities in learning, education, and the arts.

Williams’s (1968:18) way of examining the meanings and changes in meanings of words is “not only to distinguish meanings but to relate them to their sources and effects”. This stems from his commitment “to the study of actual language: that is to say, to the words and sequences which particular men and women have used in trying to give meaning to their experience”. His method is to study “actual individual statements and contributions”; its purpose is to ‘understand and value’ these statements. These are the terms of literary critical practice and bear a strong resemblance to Leavis’s own terminology – not surprisingly as Williams was one of Leavis’s students. But the critical practice is committed here, not to literature but to the ‘actual language’ used in trying to give meaning to experience. Understanding is made possible through the commonness of language, a shared understanding of ‘the words and sequences of words’ – the sense in which Leavis insists that a language is a life. The uses to which the shared language(s) are put provide the grounds for understandability, for the communicable sense they make. Further, in seeking to value shared language and the changing meanings of its constitutive sequences of words, Williams invokes tradition as the location of the general patterns of change in the use and meaning of words like class. The valuations of these general patterns of change provide ‘a special kind of map by which it is possible to look again at the wider changes in life and thought to which the changes in language evidently refer’. One word in particular encapsulates and organizes class and all other key words (amongst which it is itself included): the word culture. In its meaning are concentrated

questions directly raised by the great historical changes which the changes in industry, democracy, and class, in their own way, represent, and to which the changes in art are a closely related response. (It)…is a record of…important and continuing reactions to…changes in…social, economic, and political life…(I)n its structure of meanings, is a wide and general movement in thought and feeling (exemplified in the) complex and radical response…to the new problems of social class. (1968:16)

Whereas, for Williams, both the sense of structural cohesion and shared consciousness of each class is provided for by its culture, ‘the body of intellectual and imaginative work which each generation receives as its traditional culture is always, and necessarily, something more than the product of a single class’. And this is so, not only on historical grounds, but also because

Even within a society in which a particular class is dominant, it is evidently possible both for members of other classes to contribute to the common stock, and for such contributions to be unaffected by or be in opposition to the ideas and values of the dominant class The area of a culture, it would seem, is usually proportionate to the area of a language rather than to the area of a class…(people) who share a common language share the inheritance of an intellectual and literary tradition which is necessarily and constantly revalued with every shift in experience. (1968:308)

The particularity of these experiential shifts are in a reflexive relation with tradition which is mediated through language, and eventually produces changes in the institutional structures of social order. Williams both formulates and makes possible detailed analysis of these generative processes of social change through his concept of structures of feeling (Filmer, 2003). But in the outline of his initial analysis of class that I have given here can be seen the possibility of recovering, from within critically reflexive linguistic and literary textual representations of historically particular experiences, viable discursive accounts of its sociological significance modelled clearly on a sense of literature and language that is, in Lawrence’s sense, properly handled.

 

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