Student Essay: Lawrence as an eco-critical writer.

Tayla-Sam Malyon is an English student at Nottingham Trent University. As part of her dissertation she was asked to create a visual essay that explored one aspect of Lawrence’s work. She decided to explore Lawrence as an ecocritical writer through the poem Snake. You can see this and other visual essays created by students at our YouTube channel: D.H.Lawrence: A Digital Pilgrimage.  

Written whilst Lawrence was in Sicily in 1923, Birds Beast and Flowers is a collection of poems that encapsulates not only Lawrence’s adoration for nature but his growing consciousness of the implications of humans on wildlife. Snake is probably the most famous poem in the collection and captures the moment a man encounters a snake at a water trough.

The narrator is in two minds about the snake, in some parts of the poem he seems to be admiring the snake referring to him as a “king” and “god”, and in others “the voice of [his] education [is saying to him] He must be killed”. In Reversing The Fall: The sense of place in D.H Lawrence, John Middleton Murray claims, “man has two distinct fields of consciousness, two living minds” he likens one to our human nature, a primary mind and one as the secondary mind, which is all that we are taught by society. We can see Lawrence representing both these ‘minds’ or states of consciousness through the admiration yet fear of the snake. According to Lawrence Buell, a pioneer of ecocriticism, the four characteristics that make a text environmentally aware are as follows:

  1. The nonhuman environment is present not merely as a framing device but as a presence that begins to suggest that human history is implicated in natural history.
  2. The human interest is not understood to be the only legitimate interest.
  3. Human accountability to the environment is part of the [preferred] text’s ethical orientation.
  4. Some sense of the environment as a process rather than as a constant or a given is at least implicit in the text.

There is a sense of the above-mentioned biocentrism here as Lawrence genders the snake ‘him’ while also referring to it as ‘someone’. When he waits for it to finish drinking, it gives the impression there’s an equality between them. At first he shows the snake respect, “someone was before me at my water trough, And I, like a second-comer, waiting”. However, as the poem progresses, seemingly out of nowhere, the narrator becomes aggressive and throws a log to scare the snake away. He goes on to scorn his “human education” for making him commit such a “mean act”. This shows the human accountability Buell mentions when characterising environmental texts. Furthermore, we get a sense that Lawrence is aware the cracks in the earth serve as a home for the snake and not a known place he can describe as a ‘framing device’, “out the dark door of the secret earth”.

Poorani claims “The ecocritical interpretation manifests the destructive tendency and loss of humanitarianism towards the benevolent nature”. Looking at Snake through an eco-critical lens, Lawrence appears to be highlighting the disturbed balance between nature and humans, condemning how we have come into their habitat yet are taught to scare them out of it instead of living harmoniously.

dhl-trunk GREENTo see more visual essays and other interpretations of Lawrence’s work please see our YouTube channel: D.H.Lawrence: A Digital Pilgrimage.  We also post one minute films of Lawrence’s writing on our instagram account: dhldigitalpilgrimage In 2019 we will be begin building our memory theatre. You can submit artefacts here.  

Indecision from an ‘island no bigger than a back garden’

It’s fair to say that British culture is defined by indecision. Presently, this is most evident with Brexit. On June 23, 2016 17.4 million voters (51.9 percent of the votes cast), backed leaving the EU while 16.1 million voters (48.1 percent of votes cast), favoured staying. The referendum proved one thing: the country was completely split. Nobody was entirely sure what they wanted. And so that split continues now, with talk of a second referendum and the countless permutations of possible exits. This has led the Tory party to implode as they squabble over who should be the next non-elected PM. We shouldn’t be surprised, though. This indecision was prevalent during the Civil War. In 1649 we executed Charles I for treason; had a very puritanical republic for eleven years under Oliver Cromwell; then restored Charles II to the throne in 1660.

As a nation, we oscillate with ease between seemingly binary opposites. We switch positions like musical chairs, and when the chairs have gone, we sit on the floor. I mention this because English PEN have launched a crowdfunding campaign to keep an annotated copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the UK. The copy was annotated by Lady Dorothy Byrne, wife of the Hon. Sir Laurence Byrne, the presiding judge of the 1960 obscenity trial against Penguin books.

The Arts minister, Michael Ellis, has determined that the book should stay in the UK and not be exported abroad. It is now deemed a national treasure, part of our literary heritage. The irony is not wasted on Lawrence scholars, given that the British government did everything it could to keep the novel out of print for so long. Lawrence was of regular interest to the censor. Other novels, poetry collections and a set of thirteen painting were all deemed unfit for public purpose, with copies of The Rainbow burned and the paintings locked up in a prison cell. It is little wonder that Lawrence dedicated so much energy towards getting out of England as quickly as he could and as far away as he could – travelling across Europe, Australia, and the Americas.

Philippe Sands QC, President of English PEN, said:

“DH Lawrence was an active member of English PEN and unique in the annals of English literary history. Lady Chatterley’s Lover was at the heart of the struggle for freedom of expression, in the courts and beyond. This rare copy of the book, used and marked up by the judge, must remain in the UK, accessible to the British public to help understand what is lost without freedom of expression. This unique text belongs here, a symbol of the continuing struggle to protect the rights of writers and readers at home and abroad.”

The copy was recently sold at auction to an overseas bidder for £56,250. English PEN have created a ‘Go Fund Me’ page to match the bid and keep it in Blightly. It is with this in mind that we have produced another short film for you that addresses parochialism and Lawrence’s views of the British. Written in 1924, Lawrence was infuriated that “an island no bigger than a back garden” should have such an inflated sense of grandeur. How true that sentiment remains today.

Lady C

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts to try to understand this complex writer. How do we represent the Lady Chatterley Trial? How do we determine what is obscene and what should be censored?  In 2019 we begin building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact get involved and submit ideas here