Poet Becky Cullen on Miriam Leivers

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Sons and Lovers has been a massive influence on poet Becky Cullen ever since she came across it at college in 1983-5. But she’s never been happy with the way that Lawrence drew Miriam Leivers. In this guest blog Becky explains how a Creative Writing exercise gave her the chance to tell Miriam’s side of the story

 

Miriam

For Stephen

 

My brothers whooped like savages when they saw you coming up the hill:

romping round the farm with sticks and snares, you boys had a grand time.

I set the tea and waited; later, in our almost private minutes,

you went too far, pushing the swing too high, leaving too late for the train.

 

Which you knew would drive your mother to distraction, bristling,

what’s that Leivers girl got that’s so fascinating? Well, for a start,

I had you, my own exotic mushroom, watching you paint, stopping

myself from smoothing the loose lock of hair behind your pretty ear.

 

I know your mother quaintly warned you not to spoon and do,

but it wasn’t me you took bare-faced, bare-shouldered to the theatre.

In the end, the red carnations you spat out did me a favour.

Now you’re galavanting somewhere hot with someone’s wife called Frieda.

 

This poem was written during my MA in Creative Writing at NTU – our task was to write something using quatrains, a stanza or 4 lines. So it is interesting to me that in trying to produce something with a shape I fell back on Sons and Lovers, a book that shaped my experience of reading so much that it has filtered into my writing.

I read Sons and Lovers for ‘A’ level at Bilborough College in 1983-5, taught by the formidable English and Drama specialist Gilly Archer. It’s no surprise then that my recollections of Sons and Lovers are of the drama of the novel, the tensions between the characters, and Lawrence’s attempts to let the reader know exactly what is simmering under the surface.

This poem deals with the figure of Miriam Leivers, and her relationship with Paul Morel, the novel’s protagonist. Paul visits the family farm I draw into the poem, playing with Miriam’s sturdy brothers. Alone, Paul instigates intense conversations about their relationship, in which Paul criticises Miriam for being too spiritual in her approach. They have an on-off relationship for 7 years, in which time Paul becomes friends with Clara Dawes, taking her out to the theatre, and eventually having a physical relationship with her. Neither of these women please Mrs Morel, Paul’s greatest love, who is disgusted that Paul might ‘spoon and do’ with anyone. So there are details from the novel I’ve drawn on in this poem.

Sons and Lovers is a semi-autobiographical novel, which is another way of saying it’s based on Lawrence’s relationship with Jessie Chambers, a girl from a local farming family who first submitted his work for publication. Fiction is fiction, but tensions still run so high about the representation of Miriam/Jessie, that the Chambers family have allowed no access to their land for Lawrence-related filming and so on. This poem finishes with a similar blend of fictional and factual detail in the final line, a reference to Lawrence’s elopement with Frieda von Richthofen, the wife of his university lecturer.

I always felt that the character of Miriam was drawn rather unfairly. She comes across as being a bit drippy, and Paul is quite cruel to her on occasions – I suppose this poem is an attempt to allow her to voice her side of the story. I recently re-read the novel, which was fascinating, developing a new empathy, as mother of a son myself now, for Mrs. Morel.

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Image from http://www.dawnoftheunread.com

Sons and Lovers is so enmeshed in my literary influences that I cannot smell flowers in moonlight without thinking ‘the beauty of the night made her want to shout’, or look down on the lights of Goose Fair without thinking of Paul Morel doing exactly the same thing in the final paragraphs of Sons and Lovers. The novel feels like part of my writing heritage.

Finally, this poem is dedicated to Stephen Lowe, the Nottingham playwright whose play Empty Bed Blues draws on Lawrence’s life and work. Stephen encouraged me to do a Creative Writing MA, and to write every day. His encouragement has been a great gift, so it was appropriate to send him this poem as a birthday present one year. I like the idea that the poem brings together three Nottingham writers in this way, so there is a continuing dialogue in the present, between writers both on and off the page.

Further Reading 

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In Search of Joseph Conrad

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Image adapted from Dawn of the Unread

Joseph Conrad (3 December 1857 – 3 August 1924) and DH Lawrence (11 September 1885 – 2 March 1930) lived relatively short lives around the same time. But they weren’t fans of each other. Conrad once said of Lawrence that he “had started well, but had gone wrong. Filth. Nothing but obscenities.” He died before the publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but it doesn’t take much to imagine what he would have made of it. Conrad, like Lawrence, had an acerbic tongue, claiming Herman Melville “knew nothing of the seas” to which Lawrence retorted Melville’s “vision is . . . far sounder than Joseph Conrad’s, because Melville doesn’t sentimentalize the ocean and the sea’s unfortunates. Snivel in a wet handy like Lord Jim.” Then just to rub it in a bit, added that pessimism “pervades all Conrad and such folks—the Writers among the Ruins. I can’t forgive Conrad for being so sad and giving in.”

Both writers were subject to glowing accolades from F.R Leavis and are acknowledged for their contribution to modernism. Whereas Conrad highlighted the similarities between London and darkest Africa in Heart of Darkness, the consistently restless Lawrence couldn’t get far enough away from the metropolis, crossing the globe in order to reconnect through primitive cultures.

It is with this in mind we welcome this guest blog from author Ben Zabulis, who, like us here at the digital pilgrimage, is retracing the steps of a literary figure. The following is Ben’s account of Gavin Young’s book on Joseph Conrad.

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‘I remember my youth and the feeling that will never come back any more – the feeling that I could last for ever, outlast the sea, the earth, and all men; the deceitful feeling that lures us on to joys, to perils, to love, to vain effort – to death; the triumphant conviction of strength , the heat of life in the handful of dust, the glow in the heart that with every year grows dim, grows cold, grows small, and expires, too soon, too soon – before life itself.’

So lamented Joseph Conrad (Polish-British writer) in the short-story Youth and a passage which deeply impressed a 15-year old Gavin Young: ‘Who was this unknown author telling us to wake up and start living?’ G. Young certainly did, becoming a successful writer (Return to the Marshes, Slow Boats to China) after years as a war reporter and foreign correspondent for the Observer.  ‘Conrad had taught me,’ he reasoned, ‘that there was really no question of choice when a romantically inclined young man is faced with adventure and life on the one hand and a battened-down existence on the other.’ In fact, Conrad’s influence was certainly deep-rooted, Young senior bore The Mirror of the Sea as a talisman during WW2, whilst Young junior, not surprisingly, selected Youth when covering more recent upheavals: ‘a reminder that my hectic life was probably on the right track.’

It was the tiresomeness of war which pushed Gavin Young in to writing books, culminating some years later in a little hero worship and a ‘pilgrimage’ through parts of Southeast Asia: ‘a search for scenes and ghosts known to that heavily accented foreigner from Eastern Europe.’ The result, In Search of Conrad, was published in 1991; winner of the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award.

To me, In search of Conrad is a book which works on three levels: firstly, a hugely entertaining travel book in its own right as the journey directs us from Bangkok to Singapore to Indonesia; secondly, an absorbing anecdotal layer of Conrad’s maritime meanderings and, thirdly, a fascinating correlation between people Conrad encountered or had heard of during those years and their subsequent literary reincarnations. ‘Part mariner’s log and part detective story’ reckoned JG Ballard, and so it is.

All the while Gavin Young’s love of Southeast Asia resonates throughout, evidenced by colourful and romantic descriptions of landscape, folk, flora and fauna. With humour he recounts the tackling of surly bureaucracy, dodgy hotels and a number of uncomfortable trips aboard ferries and yachts, island hopping between Java, Borneo and Celebes; exotic out of the way places enriched by well-defined route maps and Salim’s superbly sketched illustrations.

One doesn’t need to be a student of Conrad’s work to enjoy this book. A Dramatis Personae introduces the cast while Gavin Young scours the region skilfully interweaving fact and fiction as to how, when and where Austin Williams became Jim (Lord Jim), while Charles Olmeijer became Kasper Almayer, Syed Abdullah Al Joofree became Syed Abdullah and Captain William Lingard became Captain Tom Lingard (Almayer’s Folly, An Outcast of the Islands and The Rescue). Anguished characters all, rivalry, ruin, love and loneliness; shortcomings in some way relevant to their real-life counterparts. And what of them? What happened next? With library research and the tracking down of surviving descendants we get to know. Immortality? Or a long forgotten resting place in a far off land? – read it and find out!

Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski (1857-1924), Gavin Young (1928-2001): ‘It was strange. I had set out to follow Conrad from his first escape from death as Second Officer Korzeniowski – I could hear Captain Henry Ellis: “Polish? Russian? God knows” – in the Bangka Strait, to malarial Borneo where he had found Almayer, and to the Gulf of Siam where he had become master of the Otago. There had been storms and cholera and pirates on the way, but in the end it had come to this – a peaceful grave in a sunny cemetery in Canterbury in Kent.’

FURTHER READING

DH Lawrence and Arnold Bennett – Men from the North?

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This guest blog is an excerpt from Stephen Bailey’s talk to the DH Lawrence Society on 12 October 2016. 

Although Arnold Bennett was not an exact contemporary of Lawrence (born 1867, he was of the previous generation) it’s interesting to compare the two writers. Firstly, there are remarkable similarities in their careers, for example, despite using them repeatedly as settings for fiction, both came to hate their home towns, and rarely returned. Furthermore, Bennett’s career gives insight into and perspective on the literary world that Lawrence entered around 1910, when Bennett was well established.

Family life

Bennett’s upbringing was more middle-class than Lawrence’s, his father being a solicitor, having worked his way up, by great effort, via pawnbroking, from being a potter. Also, Bennett was the eldest of six children, which gave him a strong sense of responsibility. His mother was not the dominant partner in the marriage, and Bennett was far more influenced by his domineering father, who expected him to become a solicitor too. Lawrence was of course heavily influenced by his mother, who passed on her strong ethical code. Was this a crucial difference between the two writers’ development?

Religion

Although both were brought up in a nonconformist atmosphere, there was an important distinction between Lawrence’s Congregationalism and Bennett’ s Methodism. While the young Lawrence appears to have enjoyed attending chapel and relished the theological discussion, Bennett saw nothing but hypocrisy in the chapel, even as a schoolboy. This may be partly explained by the differences between the sects, but was also due to Lawrence’s character, searching for the ideal country, society or community (which he called Ramanin). He is often described as a ‘religious’ writer.

Bennett, by contrast, was essentially a Fabian, aware of the drawbacks of Edwardian England but intent on a programme of steady improvement. But it is notable that both wrote fictional accounts of church and chapel going that heavily satirised the ceremonies, as in Lawrence’s Fanny and Annie, or chapters of The Old Wives’ Tale. There was a world of difference between the emotionalism and sentimentality of Wesleyan Methodism and the harder, more intellectual and tougher culture of Congregationalism.

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Early careers

Lawrence and Bennett followed an early career path that has become well-trodden: fleeing the provinces for the potentialities of London, moving from the non-literary world into writing short stories/ journalism, and then attaining the status of novelist with a largely autobiographical first novel. Bennett was 31 at this point, Lawrence, always more precocious, only 25.

Worth mentioning that Lawrence seems to have had his first sexual experience at this time, in 1910, whereas Bennett appears to have waited till he was about 35, when living in Paris. One suggestion is that Bennett’s strict Methodist upbringing led him to sublimate all his energies into writing, while Lawrence, although quite puritanical, was more sexually adventurous.

Bennett worked initially in a London law office, but started writing and quite soon became editor of a magazine called Woman, as well as writing serials, short stories and assorted journalism. This was in some respects a golden period for young writers, with a wide variety of periodicals buying articles and stories for the newly-literate masses. His work rate was remarkable, as evidenced by his summary for 1899:

‘This year I have written 335,340 words, grand total. 228 articles and stories have actually been published. My total earnings were £592 …’

He became prosperous, renting a large house in Fulham, and providing for several members of his family. He was well aware of the attractions of the middlebrow market, contrasting the difficulty of producing his first serious novel with the rewards of writing a popular handbook (Journalism for Women):

‘How different the reception of this book from the frigid welcome given to A Man from the North! The latter, a serious and laborious work, has waited, after acceptance, nearly two years for publication. Journalism for Women, thrown off in about eight weeks, is to be printed and published in less than a month.’

Both Bennett and Lawrence worked in various genres, producing plays, short stories, reviews, non-fiction articles and textbooks as well as novels. Edwardian writers specialised less than their modern counterparts (Bennett also wrote poetry, but even fans like Margaret Drabble find it terrible).

But Bennett wasn’t purely interested in producing potboilers. Like Lawrence he was well-read in continental literature, admiring Zola, Maupassant and Chekhov. He saw his serious writing helping to establish his reputation, thereby inflating his wider earnings, and went on to produce Anna of the Five Towns, and then his masterpiece, The Old Wives’ Tale (1908).

There are obvious similarities between this and Women in Love; both are concerned with the fortunes of a pair of sisters, although with Bennett’s book we follow their whole adult lives – lengthy time-scapes are a Bennett speciality. It is notable how both writers seem to be able to present a rounded and complex picture of their female characters, yet, unlike Lawrence, Bennett inhabited a highly masculine, clubby world for the first half of his life.

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Gudrun Brangwen (Glenda Jackson) and Ursula Brangwen (Jennie Linden) from Women in Love

The glaring difference between the two is, of course, financial. Lawrence led a hand-to-mouth existence for most of his life, living in friends’ country cottages or cheaply abroad, at times relying on handouts from friends and family. By contrast, Bennett was one of the most successful writers of an era when taxes were low and luxuries cheap. His Rolls, his yacht and his country house made him an easy target as a ‘champagne socialist’. At the time when Lawrence was publishing his first novel Bennett was earning, in modern money, over £1m per year. Oddly, other successful writers of the period – HG Wells, for instance, or Kipling, were not attacked in the same way. Possibly Bennett’s denigrators were jealous of his sales figures?

Notable that both writers make continued use of their hometowns, long after having moved away and despite the dislike they express for these places. Expatriate experience is used in a similar way, so that Bennett’s Sophia lives in Paris (The Old Wives’ Tale), as he had, while Lawrence’s Alvina (The Lost Girl) and Aaron in Aaron’s Rod move from Eastwood to Italy (as he had).

Lawrence and Bennett

They never met, but were clearly aware of each other’s work and had friends, as well as an agent, in common.

During WW1 Bennett, Wells and Galsworthy protested against the banning of The Rainbow in 1915. In 1918 Bennett worked for the Ministry of Information and Lawrence unsuccessfully applied to him for a job.

Bennett had a generally positive view of L’s work – but it was not reciprocated.

In 1913 Lawrence wrote from Italy:

‘I hate England and its hopelessness. I hate Bennett’s resignation. Tragedy ought really to be a great kick at misery. But Anna of the Five Towns seems like an acceptance – so does all the modern stuff since Flaubert. I hate it.’

Lawrence felt the same about the sisters in The Old Wives’ Tale and apparently wrote The Lost Girl to show that there was an alternative course for women ie marry an Italian and live in rural squalor. But how many modern readers would see this as preferable?

Lawrence seems to have disliked urban life and mainly lived in country (partly for economy). Bennett had a country house but is a distinctly urban writer. Notable that most of Lawrence’s time abroad was spent in rural areas, whereas Bennett lived mainly in Paris.

In December 1915, Lawrence wrote to Pinker (presumably about The Rainbow):

‘Tell AB that all rules of construction hold good only for novels that are copies of other novels. A book which is not a copy of other books has its own construction, and what he calls faults, he being an old imitator, I call characteristics … Still, I think he is generous.’

It was unusual for Lawrence to express gratitude (for defence of his book). Of course, some of Lawrence’s comments can be seen as the younger generation taking a kick at the older – fair game. Professional jealousy seems natural for writers!

Several entries in Bennett’s Journals show that he read Lawrence and had a high opinion of him. Bennett wrote in an Evening Standard review of 1930, just after Lawrence’s death:

‘Lawrence was a novelist, a dramatist, a poet, a critic, a descriptive writer and often first-rate in every branch. And he was a first class journalist too. He chose his subjects well. He handled them well – clearly, succinctly, picturesquely, beautifully. He didn’t flourish his pen before beginning, and when he had finished he knew he had finished, and stopped. Not a word wasted. The subjects chosen were important, elemental, fundamental, and he struck at once deep down into the core of them.’

Stephen Bailey is the author of Heartlands: A Guide to DH Lawrence’s Midland Roots (Troubador, £9.99)

RELATED READING

Viola Meynell and a Presentation copy of The Rainbow

In this guest blog Derek Aram attempts to uncover the origins of his presentation copy of The Rainbow, a literary adventure that leads him to Greatham and Viola Meynell’s Rackham Cottage…  

The Rainbow presentation copyI read with interest Jonathan Long’s piece on the known presentation copies of The Rainbow and the possibility of there being others unaccounted for; (‘The Rainbow: A Miscellany’: Jonathan Long: Journal of D.H.Lawrence Studies: Vol 4, No 4). His article caused me to take a closer look at my first edition copy, which I added to my D.H.L. collection a few years ago, since my copy purports to have once belonged to Viola Meynell and indeed is stamped ‘Presentation Copy’ over the Methuen Publisher Address at the bottom of the Title Page.

Regrettably there is no inscription by Lawrence or indeed by Meynell herself – unless they were obliterated by the pasted insertion of a contemporary (1915) newspaper article about the book’s banning, which covers the whole of both sides of the first front endpaper. See illustration 2 and Appendix 2

Of additional relevance to the history of this copy are an inscription in pencil on the inside of the front pastedown by a J A Gatehouse (see illustration 2 and Appendix 1) stating the volume to be a ‘Review Copy’, given to him by Viola Meynell possibly in 1945; and two loose inserts (see illustration 3), one being a contemporary (c 1910) photograph of ‘Miss Viola Meynell’ cut out from a magazine or newspaper and the other a photograph without inscription of a family group in what looks like 1950s dress around a central figure potentially resembling Viola Meynell herself.

The Rainbow presentation copy 2

Illustration 2: New Statesman Article of November 20 1915 and inscription by J A Gatehouse.

The Rainbow presentation copy 3 Viola Meynell

Illustration 3: Loose inserts in volume: Contemporary photograph of Viola Meynell and later unascribed family photograph with strong resemblance to Viola Meynell 2 from R back row.

Like many an enthusiast I love my Lawrence acquisitions to have a ‘story’, be it quirky or historic or whatever; just something that gives that special cachet, that links me in to the man and his time. I have Lawrence works or works about him, which once belonged to E M Forster, Stephen Spender, Moira Shearer, Louie Burrows and even Exhibit No 4 at a certain Central Crown Court trial Regina v Penguin Books; and a couple of summers ago I made a short journey which was to bring some of that cachet, plus a degree of corroboration to the volume under current consideration.

Returning from a visit with grandchildren to the Amberley Chalk Pits Museum near Arundel and realising we were quite near to Greatham I took a short detour to try to locate the cottage loaned to Lawrence and Frieda by Viola Meynell during the first half of 1915, where ‘The Rainbow’ was completed. With the help of the West Sussex A to Z and the photograph of ‘Shed Hall’ in Volume 1 of Edward Nehls’ ‘D H Lawrence- A Composite Biography’ (I knew it would come in handy one day!), my grandson Byron soon spotted the house in question by the configuration of its chimneys. I pulled in to the verge and approached the gate of ‘Rackham Cottage’.

A family group was sitting at a garden bench table enjoying the fine weather; I came to them with some trepidation and apologising for the intrusion asked if they knew anything about the writer D H Lawrence having stayed there in 1915. A lady introduced herself as ‘Hannah’ and confirmed that Lawrence and Frieda had indeed stayed there in the long low building end on to the road, which they called ‘the Shed’.

Delighted to have this confirmation and feeling I owed them some explanation for my invasion I told them of my acquisition of the book and the details including its ownership by Viola Meynell, who had also lived there. ‘Yes’ said Hannah, ‘we knew Viola Meynell’ – she corrected my pronunciation, saying it was ‘Mennell’ not ‘Maynell’ – she was our grandmother!’ I heard these words with not a little frisson of delight accompanied by a favourite saying of my mam passing silently through my head: ‘Well, I’ll gu ta Trent!’

Hannah called her brother Oliver over and recounted my interest, especially in J A Gatehouse’s assertion that Viola Meynell had given him the book in 1945. Oliver thereupon went into his study and brought out his grandmother’s Visits Book from which he was able to demonstrate that Mr Gatehouse had indeed visited in 1945.

So; Meynells (or Dallyns) still occupied Rackham Cottage; the link with that critical time in Lawrence’s career was forged and the mysterious Mr Gatehouse was real and had visited Viola. But my sense of delighted discovery was now being assailed by pressures from two sides; I was acutely aware that my family were still in the car, chafing to go and it was likely I had long overstayed my welcome, so I left with profuse thanks, a couple of photographs, Hannah’s e-mail address and a promise to send her the images of the book, included in this piece.

This I duly did and offered to send the hard copy of the family photograph if they indeed confirmed it to include Viola. Sadly I received no reply, although the message was delivered and a retry a month later similarly elicited no response, so I have had to conclude that the family’s privacy has to be respected (and I didn’t even mention ‘England My England’!). So many further questions will have to wait…

The jury must be out on whether Lawrence physically gave this book to Viola; it is presumably still a possibility it was a Review Copy, although I have never read of a review by Viola; certainly according to Methuen it is a presentation copy and I guess it is possible it escaped the judicial flames by being sent to Viola directly on Lawrence’s instruction.

Whether my volume fills one of the two unaccounted holes referred to in Jonathan’s piece or not I leave up to you but this account may at least provide an interesting slant and a tiny addition to the Lawrence record. Whatever it be, it holds a place of delight in my long appreciation of D H L’s work and life.

Rackham Cottage Greatham

                               illustration 4 ‘The Shed’ Rackham Cottage Greatham

The International D. H. Lawrence Conference: The Relative and the Absolute in D. H. Lawrence’s Work

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In this guest blog Fiona Fleming reports back on the International D. H. Lawrence Conference: The Relative and the Absolute in D. H. Lawrence’s Work which was held at Paris Nanterre University, 30 March-1 April 2017

Now in its thirty-first year of existence, the Paris conference has become a beloved annual rendez-vous for Lawrence scholars around the world, not only, as Ginette Roy reminded us, for what Lawrence called the “splendours” of the “monumental and handsome” city, but also for the friendly, “informal” atmosphere which characterises the three-day event. This year’s edition was somewhat marked by novelty however, the university having once more changed its name, to Paris Nanterre, and the conference taking place in the brand-new research building, named after German sociologist and philosopher Max Weber, which was rather fitting for this year’s distinctly philosophical topic of “The Relative and the Absolute”. Despite many participants’ slight apprehension of the subject, the twenty-one scholars from Belarus, the UK, Australia, Sweden, the USA, Norway, Lebanon, Italy and France, skilfully rose to the challenge and, to quote Ginette again: “it wasn’t so difficult”.

The papers presented and the enlightening discussions which invariably followed repeatedly highlighted Lawrence’s struggle with the notions of individualism and connectedness, and the ways in which his novels, short stories, poems and essays establish the dual necessity for an isolated absolute self and vital relationships with others.

Marina Ragachewskaya’s opening study of “The Ladybird” linked the relativity of absolute love to Hegelian philosophy and Christian dogmas, to foreground Lawrence’s idea that the absolute is to be felt through human contact. Fiona Fleming focused on the theme of regenerative interconnectedness between the human and the non-human in “The Princess”, Sun and Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Joe Shafer’s comparative approach of Lawrence’s devastating attack on Whitman’s universalising discourse emphasised Lawrence’s struggle with the American poet’s views on sexual difference and the absolute self. Howard Booth’s paper on the 1941 radio adaptation of “The Rocking-Horse Winner” showed how W. H. Auden accentuated the child’s disturbing relationships with the world through the use of voice and subject-object relationships with the furniture.

Women in Love was thoroughly examined in four papers which considered the chiasmus of the relationship and conflict between Birkin and Gerald in the light of the relative and the absolute. Jacqueline Gouirand discussed Lawrence’s exploration of the possibilities of relationships between men and women through the character of Birkin, the prophet-like proclaimer of absolute truths who fails to establish his new ethic of human relationships. Following this analysis, Brigitte Macadré’s close reading of Birkin’s countless aphorisms and the ironical distance created by the other characters’ response to them, suggested that Birkin may be a false prophet, despite his efforts to smash clichés and established truths. Tony Voss argued that while Gerald embodies the absolute as the god of the machine, absolutely committed to his system, and Birkin achieves a kind of relativity by defending the relativism of living, the relativism of the latter is not opposite to the absolutism of the former, but completely other. Taking a more linguistic approach to the matter, Maria Trejling pinpointed Women in Love’s exposition of the limitations of human concepts and the slipperiness of language, revealed by the unstable meaning of the word “inhuman” and Derrida’s neologism “l’animot”.

Élise Brault-Dreux and Theresa Mae Thompson once again delighted us with their meticulous study of Lawrence’s poems: Élise engaged with several poems from Look! We Have Come Through to outline the poetic incarnation of human relativity and the virtues of communion in separateness which they extol. Theresa then demonstrated how the poem “Fish” constructs the (possibly sexual) connection between the fish and the water, while celebrating the elusive oneness of the fish.

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Lawrence’s views on fiction and the novel also received significant attention, from both Jonathan Long, who presented a beautiful photocopy of the Kangaroo dust jacket from Seltzer’s 1923 edition, as well as a useful survey of all the essays which, when put together, give a theory of the novel according to Lawrence; and from Michael Bell, who argued that the novel provides an arena in which the relative and the absolute can find a modus vivendi, and demonstrated how Cervantes and Lawrence parodied or thematised the relativity of life and the absolutism of the human mind.

Many scholars alluded to Lawrence’s stance towards the religious absolute and highlighted the gradual change in his opinions towards religion. Mélanie Lebreton spoke of the “nauseating fixity” of religion which impelled Lawrence to track down the absolute all over the world in a quest to shape his own religious views and rewrite biblical symbolism. Peter Fjågesund explained that Lawrence sought alternatives to religion in art, where man and woman are reconciled in a dialectical relationship. Paul Poplawski retraced Lawrence’s move from the absolute crucified Christ in the Tyrol essays of Twilight in Italy, through the philosophised Christ opposed to God the Father in “The Crown”, to the resurrected Christ in The Man Who Died, who reawakens to the world and becomes relative, dependent on relationships. This late work by Lawrence also underwent close scrutiny by Jane Costin, who illustrated the importance of touch as a way for the soul to live on after death by referring to Sketches of Etruscan Places and the beautiful engravings by John Farleigh in the 1935 edition of The Man Who Died.

Shifting the focus to the question of “absolute music”, Sue Reid considered the contrasting views of Wagner, Haweis, Hanslick, Beethoven and Lawrence on how music relates to life, nature and man. Papers and discussions recurrently revolved around Lawrence’s theory of polarity in duality, which Nick Ceramella described in his comparative study of Lawrence and Blake. Benjamin Bouche explored the meanings of “absolute”, “existence” and “being” to demonstrate that Lawrence understood the absolute to mean completion, the realisation of each individual’s own nature, through vital relationships, not separateness. Soha El Samad linked Einstein’s principle of light with Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome to show that Lawrentian characters, like the rhizome, grow amidst relationships and follow the light to blossom and reach completion. Stefania Michelucci concluded the three-day programme with a reflection on the relationships between the human and non-human characters in The Fox and the complexity which surrounds Banford’s death.

Besides the large variety of topics and the stimulating complexity of the philosophical considerations they entailed, which once again treated us to Cornelius Crowley’s extraordinary gift for association (including a much appreciated connection between Aeolian harps and G-strings), this year’s conference will remain memorable for the exceptionally warm weather which Ginette must have divined as she arranged for our delicious meal in the appropriately named, Provençal-themed restaurant Le Sud. Interdependence and vital relationships are indeed the sure paths to the absolute of fulfilment for thankful Lawrentian friends who were delighted with Ginette’s announcement of next year’s topic: “Resisting tragedy” – for further details please contact Ginette Roy (ginette.katz.roy@gmail.com) and Cornelius Crowley (crowley@u-paris10.fr).

RELATED READING

The Long Read: Messiah and Apostle? Messianic Consciousness as Response to World War, in Lawrence, and Leavis

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Heward Wilkinson is a member of the F.R. Leavis Society. He has a special interest in the interface between religion, philosophy, the arts, and psychotherapy. This is the last of three thought provoking guest blogs he has kindly shared with us.  

‘Zwei Jahrtausende beinahe und nicht ein einziger neuer Gott!’

‘Nearly 2000 years and not a solitary new god.’

Thus Nietzsche in The AntiChrist, §19, duly blaming Christianity in the process ­ ‘this pitiful god of Christian monotono-­theism!’. In The Will to Power, in his invocation of nihilism, he hints that it is to do with the rise of science: ‘Since Copernicus man has been rolling from the center toward X.’ In the more complex analysis in The Genealogy of Morality he argues that science indeed arose from the truth­ seeking drive of Christianity. Complex ­ as usual with Nietzsche.

The Post-­Copernican Dimension

This, post-­Copernican vision of a world succumbed to science, is the background to the post­Sons and Lovers works of Lawrence, particularly the post-­war novels, Aaron’s Rod, Kangaroo, The Plumed Serpent, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover. And it takes the form, gradually, of reclaiming the Old Gods, most centrally in The Plumed Serpent, in Messianic or Shamanic mode. What he does in The Plumed Serpent is almost unique, except, perhaps, in Science Fiction, which has less inhibitions than classically trained novelists do, yet without the primal creativity of the classically trained novelist. Tentative and delicate in Quetzalcoatl, almost arrogant in The Plumed Serpent, not even Joseph and his Brethren, amazing historical Re­-Creation as it is, has the God-­Creating impetus of The Plumed Serpent. The versions of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (together with A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover) are just as Messianic in a very different way. The Messianic had come to stay, right up to the work on which he was working at the end, Apocalypse.

Historicity

Later on I shall suggest that the source of the Messianic impulse in these works of Lawrence lies in historicity, in living, not antiquarian, history, that Leavis, despite his Apostolic stance in relation to Lawrence, also possesses, in his profound grasp of historicity, a version of the Messianic insight. Historicity might be, over­ simplifyingly, defined as: that in a moment of history which defines its irreversible uniqueness, inherently in communicative relation to past and future. But this Leavis could never quite lay hold of, because of his ambivalence about creative novelty, (however massively he celebrates it theoretically), as opposed to his preoccupation with creating a canon of achieved works. It is apparently a paradox that the supreme exponent of the canonical achieved work, Leavis, should have so celebrated ­ yet in this very way distorted! ­ the supreme master of the improvisatory novel, and short rhapsodic novel, Lawrence.

But once one realises the links between historicity and the Messianic impulse, one is then entirely free to recognise the wider Messianic impulse in most of the works of Modernism and Post­-Modernism ­ think of, for instance: The Wasteland, The Rainbow, A la recherche du temps perdu, Being and Time, Interpretation of Dreams, Process and Reality, Philosophical Investigations, Of Grammatology, The Wheel of Fire, Ulysses, Nostromo, The Magic Mountain, The Glass Bead Game, The Golden Bough, The Goddess of Complete Being (Ted Hughes), Commentary on Romans (Barth), History of the Synoptic Tradition (Bultmann).

SheedGLawrence1
Garry Shead, Lawrence and Kangaroo, DH Lawrence Series 1993.

The Account of the War in Kangaroo

Most of these are written either after War or under the lurking shadow of inevitable War to Come. That is almost what defines them as modern works, or as the precursors, such as Nietzsche. And the link is made in an absolutely paradigmatic way in Kangaroo, in the chapters, The Nightmare, and the following chapter, Revenge Timotheus Cries, which prepare the way for The Plumed Serpent. In The Nightmare chapter, Lawrence relates, with meticulous fidelity, his experience of the transition from the gentlemanly world of the Asquith Premiership up till 1916, and then the Lloyd George and Horatio Bottomley years and the death of the gentlemanly pre­war world in favour of a kind of, as he evokes, indirect mob rule and mentality, and his and Frieda’s and their friends’ increasing humiliation and loss of privacy and autonomy at its hands, which had come near the point of destroying them, when the war ended. In Revenge Timotheus Cries he recognises both 1. the profound collective impulse of revenge, to be enacted on the grand scale in WW2:

‘One thing he realized, however: that if the fire had suddenly erupted in his own belly, it would erupt one day in the bellies of all men. Because there it had accumulated, like a great horrible lava pool, deep in the unconscious bowels of all men. All who were not dead. And even the dead were many of them raging in the invisible, with gnashing of teeth. But the living dead, these he could not reckon with: they with poisonous teeth like hyaenas.’

and, 2. the desire, Messianic or Shamanic, to delve into the realms older and deeper beneath modern consciousness and its wounds and need to retaliate:

‘Humanity could do as it liked: he did not care. So long as he could get his own soul clear. For he believed in the inward soul, in the profound unconscious of man. Not an ideal God. The ideal God is a proposition of the mental consciousness, all­too­limitedly human. “No,” he said to himself. “There IS God. But forever dark, forever unrealisable: forever and forever. The unutterable name, because it can never have a name. The great living darkness which we represent by the glyph, God.”

There is this ever-­present, living darkness inexhaustible and unknowable. It IS. And it is all the God and the gods.

And every LIVING human soul is a well­head to this darkness of the living unutterable. Into every living soul wells up the darkness, the unutterable. And then there is travail of the visible with the invisible. Man is in travail with his own soul, while ever his soul lives. Into his unconscious surges a new flood of the God­-darkness, the living unutterable. And this unutterable is like a germ, a foetus with which he must travail, bringing it at last into utterance, into action, into BEING.’

And this is then realised, primarily, in The Plumed Serpent. This vision comes to fruition in The Plumed Serpent.

Leavis’s recoil?

Leavis recoils from the actuality of The Plumed Serpent with, it seems to me, something near to contempt. Leavis’s final words on it in Thought Words and Creativity are:

‘But Mexico was not isolated or insulated; Ramon couldn’t realistically count on its remaining for long immune from outside interference.

I will say no more on this head; I will merely add to my adverse criticism this general observation: ‘important’, used by Lawrence in the way in the way he uses it in his evaluative placing of The Plumed Serpent, is a betraying word. It means that even Lawrence can be in a sense a victim of the absence of any sharp boundary between his discursive thought and his fully creative art.’

Leavis dismisses such a passage as the following:

‘Only from the flowers there is commingling. And the flowers of every race are the natural aristocrats of that race. And the spirit of the world can fly from flower to flower, like a humming­bird, and slowly fertilize the great trees in their blossoms. Only the Natural Aristocrats can rise above their nation; and even then they do not rise beyond their race. Only the Natural Aristocrats of the World can be international, or cosmopolitan, or cosmic. It has always been so. The peoples are no more capable of it than the leaves of the mango­tree are capable of attaching themselves to the pine.­­So if I want Mexicans to learn the name of Quetzalcoatl, it is because I want them to speak with the tongues of their own blood. I wish the Teutonic world would once more think in terms of Thor and Wotan, and the tree Igdrasil. And I wish the Druidic world would see, honestly, that in the mistletoe is their mystery, and that they themselves are the Tuatha De Danaan, alive, but submerged. And a new Hermes should come back to the Mediterranean, and a new Ashtaroth to Tunis; and Mithras again to Persia, and Brahma unbroken to India, and the oldest of dragons to China. Then I, Cipriano, I, First Man of Quetzalcoatl, with you, First Man of Huitzilopochtli, and perhaps your wife, First Woman of Itzpapalotl, could we not meet, with sure souls, the other great aristocrats of the world, the First Man of Wotan and the First Woman of Freya, First Lord of Hermes, and the Lady of Astarte, the Best­Born of Brahma, and the Son of the Greatest Dragon? I tell you, Cipriano, then the earth might rejoice, when the First Lords of the West met the First Lords of South and East, in the Valley of the Soul. Ah, the earth has Valleys of the Soul, that are not cities of commerce and industry. And the mystery is one mystery, but men must see it differently.’

This, of course, is none other than the doctrine Lawrence articulates in his magnificent review of Dostoievski’s parable, Ivan Karamazov’s parable. of The Grand Inquisitor , in which he defends the Inquisitor’s position, of affirming, (against what he sees as the too humanly demanding doctrine of freedom of the Gospel Christ), Miracle, Mystery, and Authority. Leavis never deals with this, and he also only occasionally refers to Dostoievski’s admirer, and paralleler, Nietzsche. Did he find this all too outlandish in a rather basic sense? In certain ways, despite himself, he remains within the ambit of the Whig Interpretation of History.

What is the recoil about?

So, does he, then, also recoil from the very possibility Lawrence is exploring? Does his viscerally Englightenment mind actually recoil from the essence itself of what Lawrence is trying to do, the summoning up of the old Gods of Mexico ­ or of anywhere, back behind Christianity? Countering Leavis, in this context, one is tempted to apply Dr Johnson’s dictum about women preaching to what Lawrence is doing in The Plumed Serpent: “Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.” Who else even came anywhere near this possibility? For instance, Nietzsche’s prophetic utterance in the face of the Copernican dilemma is an utterance which is undoubtedly in the full lineage of Messianic or Shamanic evocation: for instance, in the articulation of the Eternal Return in the section entitled The Vision and the Riddle.

Past Based Knowledge, Apprehension of the Future: Illustrations of the Messianic

If, in a very brief shorthand, ­ but following the Birkin of Women in Love, responding to the fictional Sir Joshua Matheson, the Bertrand Russell figure, ­ I were to argue that scientific knowledge essentially deals with the past, in patterned and law­-governed repetition of principles based on past data (a concept confirmed by Hume’s puzzles about causality and related matters, the black hole of empiricism), then, unless we radically review our conception of science, a direction in which Quantum Physics may be pushing us, to be sure, science contrasts with historicity, in that historicity deals in the unique and indeterminate in situations, which gives them their historicity, and which is connected with the reality that, for us, the future remains open, not totally, but still always in intrinsically unforeseeable ways, and that this is, as Lawrence always emphasises, at the core of our sense of life.

In the light of this, what happens in The Vision and the Riddle is revealing indeed. Nietzsche assumes as premise ­ as the dwarf with whom Zarathustra is contesting takes for granted! ­ that the cycle of existence is totally determinate, totally constrained by what has already happened, as deterministic as Spinoza. And then he precedes to attribute it to himself, as a volitional decision:

‘Must not whatever CAN run its course of all things, have already run along that lane? Must not whatever CAN happen of all things have already happened, resulted, and gone by?

And if everything have already existed, what thinkest thou, dwarf, of This Moment? Must not this gateway also—have already existed?

And are not all things closely bound together in such wise that This Moment draweth all coming things after it? CONSEQUENTLY—itself also? [my italic]’

‘With one mighty bound he was free’, as an episode of Flash Gordon, doomed in some ghastly situation in the previous episode, once began! In effect, Nietzsche is saying that, by an act of will, we actually turn the past into the future. And, of course, into our own unique subjectivity inthe process. It is the possession of a future which is the criterion.

Similarly, in The Future of Hegel, Catherine Malabou argues that, far from embodying the fixed finality of knowledge of which Heidegger accuses him, at the heart of Hegel is a plasticity which enables him to be open to a future ­ and philosophically therefore to have a future! -­ which is both, in a sense, absolute, yet indeterminate. And that this is what gives him his Messianic fascination for those who, in every epoch since he wrote, have found him hugely compelling and all-­influential. And in Spectres of Marx Derrida extracts from the political defeat of Marxism a Messianic promise, since now our relation with Marx has become open once more, and therefore full of seeds for the future. In the masterly The Goddess of Complete Being, Ted Hughes even finds in Shakespeare himself a creative and self-­transforming, a plastic, open-­ended patterning of transformations, which is Messianic, and directed at the profoundest and most paradigmatic faultlines of the epoch to which Shakespeare is writing in relation.

In them all, it is the reclaiming of a future which is, fatefully, at stake.

Leavis’s Canon as also historicity: Apostle into Messiah

But I end with the surprising, or, in light of historicity, not so surprising, recognition that, in this sense, Leavis himself becomes more than Apostolic in relation to Lawrence; he becomes, in his own right, Messianic. No one has a stronger sense of historicity than Leavis. His reshaping of the canon, in the footsteps of TS Eliot’s dissociation of sensibility, as such is dominated by historicity, and it is his legacy. It is not, in Nietzsche’s terms, an antiquarian legacy of historicity; it is a monumental one, in Nietzsche’s jargon; it is directed towards constituting an assured reservoir out of which the future may be forged. Whatever disagreements we may have with Leavis, this concept is of massive importance; that the concept of the possibility of a canon be taken forward to the future. Without a canon, there is no foundation of historical awareness and reflexivity from which even the dark Gods may emerge.

It is not an either/or. The canon is the opening from which a future may emerge, and, whilst Leavis and Lawrence, ­ or any of us, ­ may have different emphases regarding the nature of a canon, the minimum condition of a Leavisite dialogue with Lawrence is that we continue to claim the existence of a canon. The canon is foundational, in a Kantian transcendental sense. With the conception of a canon, we gather to ourselves once more a living conception of historicity as our creative source. This is the recognition implicit in Leavis’s work, especially his later work; even though, once the conception of historicity has dawned upon us, it opens up to Nietzschean or Hegelian or Lawrentian magnitudes, it is the Leavisian concept which remains ever potent, the more creatively its plasticity and historicity is released into life and force.

In The Plumed Serpent Lawrence uniquely dared to imagine a dialogue with historicity and primal history. Without this element in his creative imagination, he is domesticated, even neutered, and, whatever Leavis was, leaping towards life out of historicity, he too was neither domesticated nor neutered.

RELATED READING

 

The Long Read: A little Lawrence is a dangerous thing – Leavis on Lawrence on Shakespeare

Heward Wilkinson is a member of the F.R. Leavis Society. He has a special interest in the interface between religion, philosophy, the arts, and psychotherapy. This is the first of three thought provoking guest blogs he has kindly shared with us.  

The title of Lawrence’s, ostensibly counter-Nordic, Twilight in Italy (TW) is nevertheless Germanic, derived from Wagner, Twilight of the Gods, or Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, or both. The extended reflections on Shakespeare, and Shakespeare’s Hamlet, in the Theatre chapter, like A Study of Thomas Hardy, and The Rainbow, are also one of those parts of Lawrence’s writing indirectly most influenced by Jung, channelled by Otto Gross and Frieda. And, like so many others then, including TS Eliot, Freud and Jung, he was also buried in the depths of JG Frazer’s crypto-Casaubon-ish Key to All Mythologies, Also Known As The Golden Bough. There is, accordingly, a dialectical spaciousness, and a capacity to live with contradiction – as Keats and Whitman recommend – in all this, and in contemporary writings, such as A Study of Thomas Hardy – something which returns in full measure in the final work, Apocalypse, and other late non-fictional writings.

This (TW) is the work which then Leavis picked up and used in English Literature in Our Time and The University (ELU). I believe – if we put on one side the post-Richmond Lecture politicking – this is his critically most quintessentially perfect book after Revaluation. In it he comments compellingly on this chapter of Lawrence’s. Following his extraordinary and masterful account of TS Eliot’s significance as poet and critic, and his defence of Eliot’s highly relevant, and indeed parallel, concept of ‘dissociation of sensibility’, he then suggestively juxtaposes – or opposes! – Eliot with Lawrence in terms of their accounts of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  This juxtaposition/opposition, as so often with Leavis, the master of critical epitome, is potently elegant and coercively compelling. For a long time, I felt that it resolved the critical issues. But now I am asking myself, what if, for powerful and indeed intractable reasons, it actually simply holds them, masterfully, at bay? This is the dilemma I now find in this dialectic. If this is true, what are the reasons for it, and in what way might they, in a manner, be valid? And what does he, in some sense, miss about (or hold at bay) what Lawrence actually sees in Shakespeare?

I begin with a caveat. Leavis makes upon Lawrence the, to me, extraordinary comment (one among several significantly deprecatory, even hesitantly academic, ones in the same vein) on this chapter of Lawrence’s, that (ELU, p. 161):

The emphases are not those of criticism.

But perhaps, paradoxically, that does, however, apply to Leavis himself, in part, in the sense that this is a partly polemical and partly teaching text, where, indeed, he is not trying to give, what he says of Lawrence (ELU, p. 161):

….an essay on the play, concerned to give a balanced account of it.

So, thus cautioned, let us see what we can infer from both what he does say, and what he does not say.

Leavis takes one of Lawrence’s emphases and makes it central: the contrast between the mediaeval, divine right, ‘old’ King Hamlet, and the ‘modern’, ‘introverted’, Montaigne-influenced, ‘young’ Prince Hamlet. (And likewise, – implying, inter alia, a necessarily very deep relationship between life and work, – also the Montaigne-influenced author of Hamlet.) First he remarks:

I’m bound to add that I don’t see why it should be dismissed offhand as gratuitously Laurentian and obviously absurd. (ELU, p. 163)

Coming after all those disclaimers, do we perhaps wonder about this, with Freud, whether there may not be no ‘not’ in the unconscious? Why all this caution here, what does it mean? Perhaps! but continuons!

The murdered elder Hamlet is insistently and potently evoked as essentially the King, the ideal King and Father – worthy embodiment of the traditional idea and potency. No acceptable account of the Shakespearian significance can ignore that datum. Young Hamlet idolizes his father, but is presented, surely, as, in the qualities which make him what he is, essentially inconceivable as a second god-like Hamlet…… Shakespeare, having undertaken to rewrite the old Hamlet, could with profound imaginative force realise Hamlet the King, but he was also, as we say, a ‘modern’ – certainly not in the lag of his age. Shakespeare’s Prince Hamlet didn’t – couldn’t – ‘in his involuntary soul’ (I use Lawrence’s phrase) want to be King and Father, supreme I, Hamlet the Dane, the Danish Fortinbras. (ELU, pp. 163-4)

Pausing for a moment, we wonder, in passing, whether the device of the Ghost is not, paradoxically, part of that modernity, and whether the egotism, and unconcern about his supposed son, a callousness transferred osmotically to Hamlet, the ostensible Ghost displays, is not an essential part of Hamlet’s problem? And whether, whatever its excesses, psychoanalysis has not taught us, at least, that we are prone to idealise where, in another mode of ourselves, we hate, fear, and resent?

Leavis then reverts to his argument with TS Eliot about the reductionist concept of significance involved in the ‘objective correlative’ formulation, which is part of his diminishing of Eliot by comparison with Lawrence (ELU, p. 64):

….who today will suggest that such a significance can’t be…. in the play….?

Could this, valid as far as it goes, but not necessarily decisive enough to underpin an entire critical indictment, (especially as Eliot, as we shall see, flips the other way up by the end of his essay), be a red herring, an inadvertant displacement and distractor from something Eliot and Lawrence have in common?

To be sure, Leavis goes on (ELU, p. 164):

Of course, there is more in Hamlet, which is certainly very complex, and in such a way, that the difficulty in arriving at an account of it which satisfies one’s total sense of it, justifies one’s thinking of it as peculiarly a ‘problem’. 

– the sort of remark which indeed makes one think wistfully of Leavis’s never-to-be-written book about Shakespeare. But it makes one, as well, be cautious about what his account may, or may not, implicitly exclude. But this disclaimer does not tell us, so we must infer from other indicators.

So, earlier Leavis has, – very rightly and impressively, in my view, – appealed to Gilbert Murray’s Hamlet and Orestes British Academy address of 1914 and to Dame Bertha Philpotts’ The Elder Edda (1920), as invoking a second ritual/dramatic origin of tragedy in the North, to parallel the Greek (with JG Frazer in the background, in the process arguably implicating Shakespeare in a living knowledge of Greek drama):

Miss Philpotts’ book…. establishes that there was a second ritual origin of tragedy in the North, and that a continuity of dramatic traditions runs down through the Middle Ages to Shakespeare, who therefore is at the point of intersection – or junction – of the two lines. (ELU pp. 162/3) [my italic] 

He then says (ELU p. 163):

Now Murray is delicately and very intelligently suggestive. But the student won’t, from reading his lecture, have learnt how the significance of what he finds there can be shown to be important for the appreciation of Shakespearian tragedy – how it can enter into the understanding of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The only help towards that I know is Lawrence. No one approaching that chapter in the spirit of my suggestion will be in danger of taking it anything but critically – but the finding essential insight in work about which one has to have critical reserves is a most important order of educational experience. And there is insight, decisive prompting insight, in Lawrence’s commentary on Hamlet.             

It seems to me there is a strong suggestio falsi here, the implication that Murray is the mere academic, who does not engage with the life issues, the existential issues, the living issues. But this, prima facie, enables Leavis to by-pass something which is to be found in all four of Murray, Philpotts, Lawrence, and TS Eliot – and also in the Wagner Der Ring der Nibelungen (huge influence on Nietzsche and Jung and Lawrence) which (as Levi-Strauss recognised) profoundly redacts the Norse materials, and also again, more recently, but congruently with all these, Ted Hughes, in Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being.

This something is what Murray brings out by drawing attention to the huge difficulties both Orestes and Hamlet are portrayed as having with women, a partial and certainly ambivalent, but also itself murderous (c.f., Sonnet 129) misogyny, which is, however, also present in King Lear and Macbeth, and Othello. On all this Lawrence writes (TW) in Twilight, making it clear as he does that this in Shakespeare is not a mere external taking over of elements from the traditionary materials:

Hamlet’s father, the King, is, like Agamemnon, a warrior-king. But, unlike Agamemnon, he is blameless with regard to Gertrude. Yet Gertrude, like Clytemnestra, is the potential murderer of her husband, as Lady Macbeth is murderess, as the daughters of Lear. The women murder the supreme male, the ideal Self, the King and Father.

This is the tragic position Shakespeare must dwell upon. The woman rejects, repudiates the ideal Self which the male represents to her. The supreme representative, King and Father, is murdered by the Wife and the Daughters.

What is the reason? Hamlet goes mad in a revulsion of rage and nausea. Yet the women-murderers only represent some ultimate judgement in his own soul. At the bottom of his own soul Hamlet has decided that the Self in its supremacy, Father and King, must die. [my italic] It is a suicidal decision for his involuntary soul to have arrived at. Yet it is inevitable. The great religious, philosophic tide, which has been swelling all through the Middle Ages, had brought him there.

The question, to be or not to be, which Hamlet puts himself, does not mean, to live or not to live. It is not the simple human being who puts himself the question, it is the supreme I, King and Father. To be or not to be King, Father, in the Self supreme? And the decision is, not to be.

And again:

The King, the Father, the representative of the Consummate Self, the maximum of all life, the symbol of the consummate being, the becoming Supreme, Godlike, Infinite, he must perish and pass away. This Infinite was not infinite, this consummation was not consummated, all this was fallible, false. It was rotten, corrupt. It must go. But Shakespeare was also the thing itself. [my italic] Hence his horror, his frenzy, his self-loathing.

‘The thing itself’ – significantly taken from the kenotic, self-emptying, moment (KL, III, iv) when Edgar as poor Tom, as ‘unaccomodated man’,  is confronted by the now mad King Lear – is here, for Lawrence, not pure unaccomodated man, but the apparent reverse, mediaeval aristocracy. (But, in that kenosis, it is aristocracy, noblesse oblige, which is emptied – c.f., ‘poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are’ etc, just a moment before, – and ‘poor Tom’ is of course really Edgar.) Shakespeare is therefore by Lawrence conceived as either an aristocrat – one of the ‘wolfish earls’ themselves, – or some ‘born descendant and knower’, as Whitman puts it, concerning the History Plays, in November Boughs:

Conceiv’d out of the fullest heat and pulse of European feudalism – personifying in unparallel’d ways the mediæval aristocracy, its towering spirit of ruthless and gigantic caste, with its own peculiar air and arrogance (no mere imitation) – only one of the “wolfish earls” so plenteous in the plays themselves, or some born descendant and knower, might seem to be the true author of those amazing works – works in some respects greater than anything else in recorded literature.

Shakespeare, too, is also ‘the thing itself’. So, psychologically, was Lawrence – a ‘born descendant and knower’, – although Lawrence’s life does fit his works, in spades, as William of Stratford’s manifestly fails to.

This recoil is associated by Lawrence with the interiorisation of woman-ness as Other, as not-Self, as Thou, as alter. Indeed, we recognise certain notes in this as ones presented more personally in Women in Love, Kangaroo, and elsewhere:

This is the tragic position Shakespeare must dwell upon. The woman rejects, repudiates the ideal Self which the male represents to her. [my italic] The supreme representative, King and Father, is murdered by the Wife and the Daughters.

These are elements which are writ large by Middleton Murry in Son of Woman, and which are clearly registered by TS Eliot in his responses to Lawrence, along with the more favourable and fascinated ones, such as CE Baron (Lawrence’s Influence on Eliot, Cambridge Quarterly, Spring 1971) noted in recognising how deeply Four Quartets is pervaded by Lawrentian echoes and resonances. We may add, they are in part expressed also in After Strange Gods itself, where Fantasia of the Unconscious is recognised as a masterly critique, to be read and re-read, of the modern world. (Once more, Eliot is here again endorsing a stance Murry has taken.)

It seems to me that Lawrence is quite clearly implicating himself, in the Coleridgean mode Eliot purports to repudiate, in this dialectic, when he says:

For the soliloquies of Hamlet are as deep as the soul of man can go, in one direction, and as sincere as the Holy Spirit itself in their essence. But thank heaven, the bog into which Hamlet struggled is almost surpassed.

To be sure this is a moment of his relative optimism, as in later chapters of Women in Love, but surely ‘as deep as the soul of man can go, in one direction’ must imply that Lawrence’s own soul has been there? Without going all the way with Middleton Murry’s partly lop-sidedly bereaved and rageful analysis, we can surely go so far as to say, this complex of issues was a lifelong struggle, never fully resolved, for Lawrence?!

One might say, Leavis has a certain tendency to idealise Lawrence, and only to see the archetypal and Frazerian dimension of Lawrence – but one which, as such, is neutralised in a peculiar way I shall come to. Thus, he hesitates to follow Lawrence into his animism!! In A Study of Thomas Hardy Lawrence writes (amongst similar notes, invoking the cosmic archetypal power of Egdon Heath):

Oedipus, Hamlet, Macbeth, set themselves up against, or find themselves set up against the unfathomed moral forces of nature, and out of this unfathomed force comes their death. Whereas Anna Karenina, Tess, Sue and Jude find themselves up against the established system of human government and morality, they cannot detach themselves and are brought down.

But it is clear from such a work as Twilight – and A Study of Thomas Hardy itself – that Lawrence does not think this is in antithesis to the personal, rather that we should not merely see the personal. In parts of Fantasia of the Unconscious, and Apocalypse, Lawrence endorses a degree of animistic belief into which Leavis cannot follow him. Consequently Leavis is drawn into a degree of transmuting Lawrence into a kind of Lawrentian Humanism, to set against the Christian nihilism, as Leavis sees it, of TS Eliot (Leavis turns Bunyan, and Cecil Sharpe’s Appalachian Puritans, into Humanists also). This is more George Eliot than TS Eliot; something of Lawrence is lost or neutralised here (Nietzsche has relevant comment on George Eliot in Twilight of the Idols). And therefore Leavis’s stance has elements of a belief position, rejecting the degree of affinity between TS Eliot and Lawrence, in the Flaubertian dimension, and in the archetypal dimension, and in their conjunction. TheAeschylus/Orestes note explored in Eliot’s The Family Reunion, which picks up just where the last part of Eliot’s essay on Hamlet left off, is relevant here, and I will just refer to that ending in passing (where Eliot duly and typically clearly reverts to his own variant of the Coleridgean position, overtly repudiated at the start of the essay) before stating what I think is Leavis’s essential dilemma:

We must simply admit that here Shakespeare tackled a problem which proved too much for him. Why he attempted it at all is an insoluble puzzle; under compulsion of what experience he attempted to express the inexpressibly horrible, we cannot ever know. We need a great many facts in his biography; and we should like to know whether, and when, and after or at the same time as what personal experience, he read Montaigne, II. xii., Apologie de Raimond Sebond. We should have, finally, to know something which is by hypothesis unknowable, for we assume it to be an experience which, in the manner indicated, exceeded the facts. We should have to understand things which Shakespeare did not understand himself.      

It seems to me that this is nearer than Leavis allows to Lawrence here (the final sentence, which I emphasise, being the clearest affinity to Eliot’s struggle):

For the soliloquies of Hamlet are as deep as the soul of man can go, in one direction, and as sincere as the Holy Spirit itself in their essence. But thank heaven, the bog into which Hamlet struggled is almost surpassed. [my italic]

So now I come to Leavis’s unsolved dilemma, which I believes makes sense of both the awareness of incompleteness in this criticism, with his attempts to resolve it by polarisations, – and the extraordinary recognition of the modern dilemma which underlies it, if we pass beyond the polarisations.

As with DH Lawrence: Novelist, even here, Leavis’s Lawrence remains more Eliot – George Eliot – than Lawrence. A little Lawrence is a dangerous thing. What do I mean?

Bertrand Russell once published a book entitled: Why I am not a Christian! Is the ultimately dismissive analysis of Four Quartets in The Living Principle Leavis’s version of this?!

But, thinking next of Lawrence, one might add, in relation to Leavis’s reserve about The Plumed Serpent: Why I am not a Pagan!

Thinking of Kangaroo, and the essay on Dostoievsky’s Grand Inquisitor, also of Yeats and Heidegger, one might add: Why I am not a proto-Fascist!

Thinking of Russell himself, one can add again, emphatically: Why I am not an Enlightenment Rationalist or Empiricist!

But, then, also, one may add, against TS Eliot: Why I am not a Feudal Mediaevalist! Leavis’s contempt for ersatz mediaevalism, and all erstaz archaism, is obvious.

But the problem is: Leavis is Enlightenment Man, but he is one with a Feudal-Pagan analysis, apart from his, always superb, recognition of those supreme moments of conjunction, transcending single epochs, which make possible the greatest poetry or poetic writing, for instance, that of Donne, that of TS Eliot, the author of Portrait of a Lady, and that of Mark Twain, the author of Huckleberry Finn and Pudd’nhead Wilson. 

But, because of Leavis’s implicit doctrine of ‘enactment’, ‘realisation’, or ‘creating realities’, or however we choose to label it, Leavis is enabled to both keep many of his positions in a tacit, implied, phenomenological epoche, mode, and, secondly, not to draw the logical conclusions of certain of the things he says, and of the positions he does take up. One might call this methodology Socratic, or an expression of Negative Capability, if it were not for the fact that Leavis so often assumes his own positions are actually unassailable, and can be taken as implied, since the process further does not actually put them in question.

But there is also a genuine Socratic element, and it comes out in the ‘letting the poetry speak for itself’ of his greatest criticism – such as: Judgement and Analysis (in The Living Principle); the chapter on Little Dorrit in Dickens the Novelist; and this critique of Eliot in ELU, though not the one in The Living Principle, which certainly does have ‘an axe to grind’.  

How to look through three lenses at once, through Leavis, through Lawrence, and through Lawrence to Shakespeare?! Yet is there a connection between this enigmatic, one-part-Socratic, aspect of Leavis, which one does not always associate with him, yet is, once noticed, clearly there, – and the present attempt (which indeed mirrors his own) to see through the three lenses at once? Leavis, overtly, is associated in the popular mind with a strident opinionatedness and categorical definiteness of attitude. But what we have here, in this enigmatic half-realisedness of his expressed vision, is something intrinsically elusive, and this we would associate with Eliot, and Eliotic post-modernism, stoicism, which Leavis relates to Flaubert, rather than associating it with Lawrence. But, then, if we look at Lawrence, at least in part, through Middleton Murry’s lens – yes, for sure lop-sided indeed as being part of his mourning Lawrence’s death, his coming to terms with his relation to Lawrence, and also primarily personal, mostly disregarding, crucially, the cosmic-archetypal dimension – then the Flaubertian dimension, the dimension of the intractably creative life-flaw, applies to Lawrence also.

On the one hand, despite Leavis’s critical genius, and his brilliant ability to catch on the wing some of the most marvellous features of Lawrence’s writing, and the huge service he did for Lawrence, is there an aspect of Lawrence, the primally cosmic conjoined with the human flaw, the gothically gruesome, and uncanny, element, the ‘tentacular roots reaching down to the deepest terrors and desires’ (TS Eliot, Ben Jonson in The Sacred Wood), which, unacknowledged, is essentially alien or foreign to Leavis, something he simply cannot stomach? Is this an element of enshrining Lawrence in Leavis? Yet, on the other hand, does he, in his implicit profound critical positioning of the modern dilemma, indeed take us to a point where Moses-Leavis himself cannot follow, but yet we can see Canaan, the promised land?

Is he, in fact, more at home with  Eliot, and with Eliot’s ‘overwhelming question’? Dare I ask, if some of his animus against Eliot is a recoil from something in himself? But does he at the same time evoke the protean dilemmas Lawrence, – who plays with them all one by one! – raises in us, by enacting the questions? In coming to grips with Lawrence, and Lawrence’s Shakespeare, though Leavis’s lens, are we even driven into moving to a more post-modern, and pluralistic, Leavisian-ism?

Having just been to the Globe King Lear, when the sole previous King Lear I had been to was the great Paul Schofield/Peter Brook King Lear of, I think, 1962, at the Aldwych, I say with deep  conviction, that it is hard, in a thoroughgoingly democratic and populist epoch, to recognise the actuality of Shakespeare, or of DH Lawrence, who are, or whose vision is, in a broad sense, aristocratic.

These things have become virtually undiscussible. Perhaps this post-modern Leavis we may have glimpsed, can take us towards becoming able to discuss them again.

Heward Wilkinson’s website

 

Codnor and ‘Tickets, Please’

tickets please

Derbyshire writer Becky Deans has adapted Lawrence’s short story Tickets, Please and would love to see it performed on a tram at Crich Tramway Village. The story has particular resonance for Becky as the route it mentions goes through her home village of Codnor. Tickets, Please tells the tale of John Thomas Raynor (nicknamed Coddy) who flirts with the female conductors on Annie Stone’s line. But the women eventually turn on him and he’s forced to confront the consequences of his behaviour.

My first interest in the story Tickets, Please was the location. The tramline it describes started in Ripley, Derbyshire. The ‘last little ugly place of industry, the cold little town that shivers on the edge of the wild, gloomy countryside beyond’ is where I went to school. I was attracted by Lawrence’s love-hate relationship with the places of his youth and wanted to adapt the story for local people.

I was transfixed by a story that was set in the village that I grew up in. Codnor was on the route of the Ripley Rattler. A painter called Ruth Gray (who is based in Belper) did a whole series of pictures based on the route and I own one of the Codnor originals. She exhibited them at Durban House in 2014.

IMG_0696 ruth
Becky’s beloved Ruth Gray painting of Codnor, still in its cellophane.

I’d read Lawrence before, but to have him prowling on my doorstep, meeting and breaking the hearts of local women, was heaven. For in my eyes, Lawrence is John Thomas, even though I have also created a character called David Herbert to act as narrator within the play. I don’t think Lawrence would be upset at being two characters in a play. I have also added a new character, called George Curzon, who has the function of being the outsider, so can have things explained to him.

The tram that Lawrence describes first set off in 1913 and was retired in 1932 in favour of the trolley bus system. It was known as the Ripley Rattler and took two hours to reach Nottingham. It was the principal way to travel between the mining villages ‘from village to village the miners travel, for a change of cinema, of girl, of pub’. The story immortalises a lifestyle, culture and dialect that largely left the area when technology moved on and the mines closed, something that I wanted to preserve and recreate through a one-act play.

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15th August 1913, one of the first two trams to arrive at Ripley. Image from Midland General Omnibus.

I enjoy Lawrence’s use of dialect within the story. Dialect is something I use in my stories; I revel in the quirks of language. And if we believe the book Ey Up Me Duck, Dialect of Derbyshire and the East Midlands by Richard Scollins and John Titford, we could say it is the same in Nottinghamshire as Derbyshire. In truth there are nuances, even now.  Derby dialect is not quite the same as the Amber Valley dialect, but some of the language of miners seems to be constant. Phrases such as the deep benk seem to be fairly stable – I picked up this phrase from my grandad.

The surnames of the characters are also recognisable. The Birkins used to run the garage my grandad went to in Codnor and there are also many Burgins in the cemetery in Codnor too. I know or have known Housleys, Purdys, Baggaleys and Curzons. There are Meakins throughout the local area too.

I also relish the questions that Lawrence poses about gender and gender in wartime. Wartime allows the girls to step outside their conventional gender roles and become ‘fearless young hussies’. They outnumber and are stronger than the men they work with, who are mainly ‘men unfit for active service: cripples and hunchbacks’. In scene two Nora and Polly almost come to blows over John Thomas, reinforcing the way that wartime has brought out what may be deemed more masculine tendencies. The collectors ‘have all the sang-froid of a non-commissioned officer’: they are the front line of law on the tram and therefore their relationships are characterised by the urgency of wartime.

And wartime allows the ultimately violent conclusion.

I am now seeking a school or community group to work with to help me develop and put on this play and discuss the interesting relationships between men and women within it, as well as the changes to the language and landscape of the coalfields area.

Further Reading

 Biography

Becky Deans is a Derbyshire writer with an MA in Creative Writing from UEA. She published her first novella, Exposé, in 1999 (UEA texts series) and has short stories and poems in various publications, as well as advertisements across the UK press. As a saxophonist with a diploma in saxophone performance, she is currently exploring song writing while singing and playing in a duo and a trio in the pubs of Derbyshire. She has recently been selected for the Derbyshire Residencies: Writing Ambitions Scheme funded by Derbyshire County Council and the Arts Council, and is looking forward to taking her writing forward as she delivers creative writing sessions to a community group.

 

 

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.

 

REFERENCES

Culler, J. (1975): Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics and the Study of Literature, London, Routledge

Eagleton, T. (1976): Criticism and Ideology: A Studyin Marxist Literary Theory. New Left Books, London

Eagleton, T. (1983): Literary Theory: An Introduction, Oxford, Basil Blackwell

Eagleton, T. (1989): ‘Two Approaches in the Sociology of Literature’ in Desan, P. et al (eds): Literature and Social Practice, Chicaago and London, U. of Chicago Press

Filmer, P. (1969): ‘The Literary Imagination and the Explanation of Socio-cultural Change in Modern Britain’, European Journal of Sociology, X(2): 271-291

Filmer, P. (1975): ‘Sociology and Social Stratification: Issues of Reflexivity and Tradition’ in Sandywell, Barry et al: Problems of Reflexivity and Dialectics in Sociological Inquiry: Language Theorizing Difference, London, Routledge

Filmer, P. (1977): ‘Literary Study as Liberal Education and as Sociology in the Work of F.R.Leavis’, in Jenks, C. (ed): Rationality, Education and the Social Orgaanization of Knowledge: Papers for a Reflexive Sociology of Education, London, Routledge

Filmer, P. (1978): ‘Dickens, Pickwick and Realism’ in Laurenson, Diana (ed): The Sociology of Literature: Applied Studies: Sociological Review Monograph 26, Keele, Staffordshire, University of Keele

Filmer, P. (1998a): ‘Analysing Literary Texts’ in Seale, C. (ed.): Researching Society and Culture, London, Sage

Filmer, P. (1998b): ‘Image/Text’ in Jenks, C. (ed.): Core Sociological Dichotomies, London, Sage

Filmer, P. (2003): ‘Structures of feeling and socio-cultural formations: the significance of literature and experience to Raymond Williams’s sociology of culture’, The British Journal of Sociology, 54(2):199-219

Hall, J. (1979): The Sociology of Literature, London, Longman

Lawrence, D.H. (2006): The Fox/The Captains Doll/The Ladybird, London, Penguin Books

Leavis, F.R. (1962): The Common Pursuit, Harmondsworth, Peregrine Books

Leavis, F.R. (1964): D.H. Lawrence/Novelist, Harmondsworth, Peregrine Books

Leavis, F.R. (1972): Nor Shall My Sword: Discourses on Pluralism, Compassion and Social Hope, London, Chatto & Windus

Leavis, F.R. (1986): Valuation in Criticism and other essays (collected and edited by G. Singh), Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

Loewenthal, L. (1961): Literature, Popular Culture and Society, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall

Loewenthal, L. (1989): ‘Sociology of Literature in Retrospect’ in Desan, P. et al (eds): Literature and SocialPractice, Chicago and London, U. of Chicago Press

Macherey, P. (1978): A Theory of Literary Production (translated by G. Wall), London, Routledge

Williams, R. (1968): Culture and Society, 1780-1950, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books

Williams, R. (1973): The Country and the City, London, Chatto & Windus

Williams, R. (1977): Marxism and Literature, Oxford, Oxford University Press

Williams, R. (1980): Problems in Materialism and Culture: Selected Essays, London, Verso Editions

Worthen, J. (2006): D.H.Lawrence: The Life of an Outsider, London, Penguin Books

 

 

 

 

 

International D. H. Lawrence Conference: Madness, Excess, Vision

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In this guest blog, Sue Reid, editor of the Journal of D.H. Lawrence Studies, reports back from the International D.H. Lawrence Conference at Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense (31 March – 2 April 2016). 

Scholars from Belarus, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, UK and USA gathered recently in Paris – in defiance of acts of terrorism or even the weather – to discuss ‘Madness, excess, vision’ in the work of D. H. Lawrence. These challenging themes stimulated an exceptionally high quality of papers and debate that ranged across the oeuvre from the early poems (Holly Laird) to The Man Who Died and Apocalypse (Joseph Shafer).

We enjoyed the rare treat of a whole afternoon of papers on Lawrence’s poetry (Holly Laird, Elise Brault-Dreux, Bethan Jones, Theresa Mae Thompson, Sarah Bouttier), panels which spoke to Nietzschean resonances (Michael Bell, Adam Lecznar, Nicolas Noble), biographical conflicts (Keith Cushman, Nick Ceramella, Carl Behm) and The Plumed Serpent (Margaret Storch, Benjamin Bouche, Jane Costin), papers which re-addressed major novels, such as Women in Love (Howard Booth), Sons and Lovers (Marie-Géraldine Rademacher) and Kangaroo (Marina Ragacheskaya), and several that tackled relatively neglected areas, including the short stories ‘Tickets Please’ (Andrew Harrison, Jarica Watts) and ‘The Woman Who Rode Away’ (Fiona Fleming), The Trespasser (Susan Reid), the paintings (Brigitte Macadré-Nguyên) and presentation copies of Lawrence’s books (Jonathan Long).

Speakers returned again and again to the violence and frenzy of the First World War that marked Lawrence’s life and work so deeply and although, as Keith Cushman reminded us, Paul Delany’s D. H. Lawrence’s Nightmare (1979) remains the seminal work here, the papers presented at this conference testify that this subject is ripe for reassessment. Andrew Harrison’s re-reading of the courtship cruelty in stories from England, My England and Howard Booth’s new reading of an aesthetics of violence in Women in Love, for example, paved the way for widespread discussion of Lawrence’s increasing desire to transgress the bounds of Western civilisation, including Bethan Jones’s exploration of ‘expendable humanity’ in poems of the 1920s and a trio of papers concerning horror and Dionysian madness in The Plumed Serpent (Storch, Bouche, Costin).

All of us are deeply grateful to our hosts Cornelius Crowley and Ginette Roy, especially, since she has fed our intellectual and gastronomic appetites so magnificently for so many years. Lawrentian friends, old and new, will confer again in Paris on 29–31 March 2017 on the intriguing theme of ‘The relative and the absolute in D. H. Lawrence’s work’. For further information please contact Ginette Roy (email: ginette.katz.roy@gmail.com).

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