Student Essay: D.H. Lawrence – Pornographic pervert or libertarian?

In this visual essay, Josh Whitehead explores Lawrence’s reputation as a controversial author and his fascination with blood and mental consciousness. This was created as part of his English literature dissertation at Nottingham Trent University in the module ENGL30512.

“My great religion is a belief in the blood, as the flesh being wiser than the intellect. We can go wrong in our minds but what our blood feels and believes and says, is always true.”

The sexual energy of D H Lawrence’s works, from Lady Chatterley’s Lover to his controversial nude paintings, were inspired by his belief in the equal importance of body and mind. This caused controversy, which matched his personal life.

Lawrence convinced German aristocrat Frieda Weekley to leave her husband and three children to become his wife. They married in 1914, just before the outbreak of World War 1. They attempted to settle down in Cornwall but were forced to leave due to suspicions that they were German spies due to Frieda’s heritage and their reclusive lifestyle. Angered and frustrated, they left Britain and traveled together to Italy, New Mexico and Australia, never staying anywhere for more than two years.

Lawrence believed in the primal connection of energies between two people, effectively displayed in monogamy. Frieda had other ideas and was frequently unfaithful. Her affair with Angelo Ravagli, the man she would marry after Lawrence died, inspired his final major novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover. At the time, critics were disgusted by the sexual acts detailed in the novel, such as sodomy. Although they were equally disgusted to read that a Lady of wealth might be attracted to someone of from the lower order.

In writing freely about sexual relationships was Lawrence attempting to free the chains of censorship? Was he a pornographic pervert? Or was he a free-thinking libertarian who helped usher in the permissive society?

Similar to Freud, Lawrence is commonly accused of finding the sexual in practically everything. However, this common misconception is due to Lawrence’s focus on the primal self, similar to the Romantics belief of having a natural connection to all living things. This living transmission, although occasionally expressed through sexual action, is more to do with the connection of two people as opposed to the pleasures associated with sexual intercourse.

In reference to the Biblical fall of man, Lawrence asks: “Do you imagine Adam had never had intercourse with Eve before that apple episode? Many a time. As a wild animal with his mate. It didn’t become ‘sin’ till the Knowledge-poison entered. That apple of Sodom. We are divided in ourselves, against ourselves.”

The apple is frequently used as an image of temptation and sin, Lawrence used it metaphorically to depict the imbalance between the mental consciousness and the primal; splitting both the mind and the body from one another. This separation, according to Lawrence, becomes the blood and mental consciousness; the view of blood being a sensual connection with the environment and against following the herd; Mechanical thinking leads to war.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover was published privately in Florence in 1928 to avoid the censor.  The story consists of a cross-class relationship involving a Lady and her gamekeeper; challenging the establishment “to think of sex fully, completely, honestly, and cleanly”. Lawrence wrote three versions of the novel, the second was called Tenderness, suggesting there was more to their relationship than lust. In the novel, Lady Chatterley is prepared to give up wealth and status to pursue a relationship with her true love.

Lawrence experienced censorship throughout his life but he refused to be silenced. When the critics banned his novels or seized his paintings, he simply ridiculed their prudishness in pithy poems, such as ‘13,000 people’ that I decided to read aloud on the D.H. Lawrence tram in Nottingham as part of my visual essay.

13,000 people

Thirteen thousand people came to see
my pictures, eager as the honey bee

for the flowers; and I’ll tell you what
all eyes sought the same old spot

in every picture, every time,
and gazed and gloated without rhyme

or reason, where the leaf should be
the fig-leaf that was not, woe is me!

And they blushed, they giggled, they sniggered, they leered,
or they boiled and they fumed, in fury they sneered

and said: Oh boy! I tell you what,
look at that one there, that’s pretty hot! —

And they stared and they stared, the half-witted lot
at the spot where the fig-leaf just was not!

But why, I ask you? Oh tell me why?
Aren’t they made quite the same, then, as you and I?

Can it be they’ve been trimmed, so they’ve never seen
the innocent member that a fig-leaf will screen?

What’s the matter with them? aren’t they women and men?
or is something missing? or what’s wrong with them then?

that they stared and leered at the single spot
where a fig-leaf might have been, and was not.

I thought it was a commonplace
that a man or a woman in a state of grace

in puris naturalibus, don’t you see,
had normal pudenda, like you and me.

But it can’t be so, for they behaved
like lunatics looking, they bubbled and raved

or gloated or peeped at the simple spot
where a fig-leaf might have been, but was not.

I tell you, there must be something wrong
with my fellow-countrymen; or else I don’t belong.

dhl-trunk garterTo 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.  

Student essay: The Rocking Horse Winner

In this visual essay, created by Sophie Thompson as part of her dissertation at Nottingham Trent University, she applies a psychoanalytic reading to Lawrence’s short story ‘The Rocking Horse Winner’.

D.H. Lawrence’s ‘The Rocking Horse Winner’ is an exploration of the effect that money has upon the lives of those who allow it to control the way they live one’s life. The protagonist, Paul, lives in a house that is haunted by the phrase “There must be more money!”, despite nobody speaking it. This can be understood as a metaphor for the desire for wealth in his mother being so loud that it echoes throughout the entire home. When Paul decides to ask his mother why they don’t have money, she assigns blame to Paul’s father on account of the fact he “has no luck”; to which Paul is quick to insist upon the opposite, asserting, “I’m a lucky person”, and thereby indicating to his mother that he possesses something his father does not.

In this way a Freudian psychoanalytic reading can be applied, specifically with regard to the Oedipus complex. This is with irony as Lawrence himself spoke negatively of psychoanalysis, describing Freud in Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious as “the psychiatric quack who vehemently demonstrated the serpent of sex coiled round the root of all our actions”. The Oedipus Complex is first introduced by Freud within his 1899 text The Interpretation of Dreams, and is said to occur during the latency stage of psychosexual development which spans age six through to puberty. Freud recognises the complex as the experience of an unconscious sexual desire for the parent of the opposite sex, which in turn causes us to compete for the affection of this desired parent with the parent of the same sex; deriving from an unexpected observation of the “part played by [the] father in the earliest sexual impulses of female patients”. The oedipal undertones in this scene in particular are enhanced by Lawrence admitting that “He didn’t even know why he had said it”, reflecting the unconscious desires voicing themselves without Paul being able to account for them.

As the narrative progresses, the oedipal complex within Paul grows more evident. After the interaction with his mother, Paul mounts his rocking horse and orders: “Now! […] Now take me to where there is luck! Now take me!” The mounting of the horse itself possesses an inherently sexual innuendo, but his commands can both be seen as asserting control over something to compensate for the lack of control he has in achieving the sexual interest he desires from his mother; but also the repeating of the word ‘now’ accentuates how desperate he is to obtain it. It is perhaps noteworthy that we do not meet the father within the narrative, and this desire for ‘now’ may therefore be Paul’s anxiety that at any moment his father may return, the prospect of which carries the castration complex. This complex, according to Freud, refers to the fear within the child that they face castration at the hands of the father in response to learning of their desires for the opposing parent, in order to prevent the child from pursuing their sexual interest. In this context, then, Paul is desperate to acquire the luck that his father does not have in order to win the affection of the mother whilst he is out of the picture.

rock
‘The Rocking Horse Winner’ was broadcast as a film in 1949.

When uncle Oscar learns of Paul’s success, Paul tells him: “I shouldn’t like mother to know I was lucky”, explaining that she’d stop him if she knew. One might apply a Freudian reading to this and infer that Paul’s belief that his mother would stop his luck derives from his unconscious recognition that he must ‘become’ his father in order to win the sexual affection of his mother. To achieve this, he would have to adopt his father’s unluckiness, also. In this way we see these supposedly unconscious human desires conflict with Lawrence’s attitude toward money: Paul’s complex once a domineering force in his life is now secondary to the obsession he has developed to winning money.

This attitude is made even more explicit within the end of the narrative, which sees Paul die after becoming overwhelmed at the news of winning eighty thousand pounds. Leading up to which Paul, who was once haunted by house’s cries for money, is incredibly reluctant to leave. His mother asks: “Why, you curious child, what makes you care about this house so much, suddenly? I never knew you loved it”, illustrating that he now understands the desire to earn money and is, so to speak, ‘deaf’ to the voices, as the ones in his head that now utter the same phrase are far louder.

dhl-trunkTo 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.