Student essay – D.H. Lawrence: A Lifestyle Guide

The above visual essay was created by Will Ryan as part of his final dissertation at Nottingham Trent University. Will and other students on the module have also been helping us to design and create our memory theatre.  

D.H. Lawrence, like many 20th century authors, produced a large amount of literature during his writing career.  Permeating through many of these works is a spiritual life philosophy concerned with living life to the fullest, and utilising individual uniqueness to live a life for and only for themselves.

Through looking at Lawrence’s poetry it becomes clear there is a recurring theme of energy, best described in his poem Dreams Old and Nascent in which the men are described as ‘vibrating in ecstasy’ and there is ‘an impulse of life.’  I assume that he also speaks of this energy in his poem Non-Existence with the line ‘We don’t exist unless we are deeply and sensually in touch with that which can be touched but not known,’ and to Lawrence this energy is an essential ingredient for fully experiencing life.  What this energy is could initially be seen as a mixture of happiness and enthusiasm but after reading the poem We Are Transmitters I noticed that to Lawrence this energy is something spiritual, describing sex as ‘A flow onwards,’ and saying ‘Sexless people transmit nothing.’  So far, it seems that harnessing this energy is the key to living a fulfilling life, but simply hearing this information is useless without knowing how to do so.

The methodology for getting in touch with a person’s internal energy can be found again through Lawrence’s poetry, and can be summarised with two words: discipline and individuality.  Ironically in the poem Discipline I will demonstrate Lawrence’s emphasis on the latter.  He states ‘the fight is not for existence, the fight is to burn at last into blossom of being, each one his own flower outflung,’ and this burning desire to seize and accept one’s true personality is what Lawrence sees as the proper way of living and experiencing life’s energy.  Challenging this viewpoint would lead Lawrence to respond very defensively, as displayed by the line ‘whoever would pluck apart my flower would burn their hands,’ and this emphasises the importance he places on individuality.

After first dealing with the inward self Lawrence then demonstrates how to interact with the outside world, believing that to discipline oneself into consistent maximum effort in all aspects of life allows for a rewarding flow of energy that maintains spirit ‘if, as we work. we can transmit life into our work […] we ripple with life throughout the day,’ and this method of thoroughness is an invaluable element of character to Lawrence, avoiding the wasting of days ‘I never saw a wild thing feel sorry for itself,’ and embracing one’s full potential.

Unfortunately, many of the great writers had a fatal flaw. Ezra Pound was a fascist, H.P Lovecraft a racist. Lawrence, too, divides critics as to his true intentions.  His religious upbringing, and the culture of the time, meant he believed strongly in gender roles, a belief steeped in control which can easily blur over into misogyny.  In the poem Figs Lawrence lays out rules for women and how they use their bodies ‘The female should always be secret,’ and by  metaphorically comparing sexually active females to ripe fruit ‘They forget, ripe figs won’t keep,’ he patronisingly segments this pursuit of energy displayed in his works as a gendered journey; men should embrace everything unique about them without any stated restraints yet women should realise their predetermined place in society. But Lawrence is difficult to pin down as one type of person, and later in the poem is critical of society as ‘they have saved you from yourself, from your own body, saved you from living your own life.’

In Dreams Nascent Lawrence touches on various themes such as modernisation and identity, and these themes are explored through the concept of dreams.  Within the poem’s first stanza, Lawrence speaks of ‘old, ineffectual lives linger[ing] blurred and warm,’ and this depicts a world of aged people living life at an unsatisfactory pace.  The word ‘blurred,’ signifies a light grip on life, a lack of control almost and in the previous line he describes his world as ‘a painted fresco,’ the combination of the two lines implying we are all part of one orchestrated painting.  Again, this signifies missing autonomy, and in the next line, Lawrence speaks of the past weaving a tapestry that is ‘compelling his soul to conform.’  This is reminiscent of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, in which Thoreau attempts to distance himself from societally imposed frameworks and instead think independently.  Lawrence speaks of the past having ‘woven drapes/ [in] The halls of [his] life,’ and this evokes a claustrophobic trapping of himself within society’s routines and rules, emphasising the need to escape this and live for himself.  In the fourth stanza, Lawrence introduces a conflict in thought; depicting the men as ‘vibrating in ecstasy,’ as they work, implying a positive flow of energy that can be seen to permeate his works.  However, at the end of this line he describes the men’s flesh as ‘rounded,’ as if it has been mechanically altered by their labour.  This reference is Lawrence’s commentary on the effects of modernisation, it can almost be seen as turning man into machine, and the poem concludes with the line ‘fall back exhausted into the unconscious molten life,’ a double entendré that speaks of natural death but also in relation to the mechanical content of the text, an unnatural one; the men are almost swallowed up by the machines they create.  This point can be further emphasised by the line ‘old dreams reflected on the molten metal of dreams,’ the natural dreams personal to individuals are contrasted with the unnatural, the dreams of money earned through labour.  Lawrence also uses language to subvert traditional descriptions of a creator: ‘The power of the melting, fusing Force – heat, light, all in one,’ using mechanical lexis to speak how modernisation is akin to a false idol, worshipped, compared blasphemously to God in order to demonstrate what he believes is an unhealthy focus on modernisation in his contemporary era.

In this poem Lawrence sees society as detrimental to the process of following individual dreams.  The past holds constricting frameworks and the presents holds labour that ultimately cripples dreams.  Analysing this poem in relation to his other literature, these societal binds can be broken through what can best be described in Non-Existence, with the line ‘We don’t exist unless we are deeply and sensually in touch with that which can be touched but not known.’  A deeper spiritual connection with one’s true self is to Lawrence liberating and a way to enforce both happiness and autonomy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13,000 people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Student essay: The Rocking Horse Winner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Student Essay: Lawrence as an eco-critical writer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Student essay: Censorship: Challenging Sexual Norms

In 2019, Paul Fillingham and I hope to embark on a digital pilgrimage that will recreate Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage via a memory theatre. Until then, my every waking hour is spent reading and researching this prolific writer. As part of this research I’ve created a 3rd year ‘alternative to the dissertation’ module at Nottingham Trent University in which students have the opportunity to help us think about the aesthetics and functionality of our proposed memory theatre. As part of the module, students create a photo essay about an element of Lawrence’s work or life. The above video (and words below) are by Rebecca Provines. This is her first ever attempt at recording audio and producing a photo essay.   

Welcome to the mind of D H Lawrence, a controversial poet, playwright, painter, essayist and literary critic from Eastwood in Nottingham. His birth home stands at 8a Victoria Street and is now home to the Birthplace Museum, where his story began.

An upper-class woman having an affair with a working class game keeper!

Lesbian lovers frolicking in the sea.

Naked men wrestling!

Lawrence’s writing tended to cause a stir, as he often wrote about intimacy and connection. Prudish people everywhere campaigned to have his works banned and his descriptions of the people back in Eastwood turned their families against him.

Life for Lawrence was never easy.

Lawrence’s most famous novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover was published in 1928. He was so desperate for it to get out there that he paid for it be printed privately, circulating subscription copies amongst friends. But it wasn’t until 1960, when Penguin Books were acquitted of obscenity at the Old Bailey, that we were finally able to get our hands on it!

Yaaaaaaay.

So what was all the fuss about?

Well firstly, there were three versions of the book. My favourite is version two which was originally titled John Thomas and Lady Jane, ahem. Then it became Tenderness, ahh. By the time we get to the final version, the novel is notorious for its emotional [and mainly physical] relationship between Constance Reid and Oliver Mellors, which contains the (then-unprintable) explicit descriptions of their sexual relations. There’s lots of F’s. So much in fact that a lawyer in the court case counted them out!!!

The Rainbow is a family-based novel that features three generations of the Brangwen family. On the surface it may seem like a simple plot, but nothing is ever that simple with Lawrence. Consequently it was also banned for its treatment of sexual desire with 1,011 copies seized and burnt.

For Tom Bragwen, sex is between the paragraphs, readers may use their imagination to decode details […] For Anna and Will Brangwen, desires are described and fragments of their bodies alluded to. However it’s Will and Anna’s daughter Ursula that causes the most controversy. By the time she’s a grown woman, she dares to demand spiritual and intellectual freedom. This results in an affair with a soldier, becoming pregnant before marriage, and just to round it off, a lesbian affair with her teacher.

At the time of publication lesbian relationships were unthinkable in a male dominated society, yet Lawrence was no ordinary man and explored this identity freely…

Ursula lay still in her mistress’s arms, her forehead against the beloved, maddening breast.
“I shall put you in,’ said Winifred.
But Ursula twined her body about her mistress.

“Tell me the parts you think the publisher will decidedly object to,” Lawrence asked his friend Violet Meynell in July 1915 before its eleven-year ban in Britain. But it was declared “unfit for family-fiction”. Censorship would be a recurring problem for Lawrence in his fiction, poetry and even his paintings.

Lawrence struggled to publish Women in Love (which was the sequel to The Rainbow) for four years after he finished writing it. The novel was then still subject to a string of prosecutions. Amongst many controversial moments, one of the most remembered [and far most entertaining film scenes of all time] is when Birkin and Gerald experiment with naked Japanese wrestling, which has been interpreted by critics and prosecutors as a homosexual act, rather than as an intricate form of art

W. Charles Pilley said in John Bull magazine, “I do not claim to be a literary critic, but I know dirt when I smell it, and here is dirt in heaps—festering, putrid heaps which smell to high Heaven.”

It has been suggested that Lawrence’s fascination with the theme of homosexuality is manifested in Women in Love, and that this could be related to his own sexual orientation, however there is some speculation around these accusations. As I said previously, nothing with Lawrence is ever that simple.

The banning of books is something which doesn’t frequently happen in the UK at current, and as an aspiring-writer myself, I fail to understand on what grounds a court would find it acceptable to try and ban fiction once it has already been published.
[Warning: Lawrence channelled rant coming on] Who is it that has the authority to decide that the public would be better off if they never read the words printed between the covers? The justification behind the censorship of some literature makes me question whether freedom of expression really exists. If people talked about the ‘slew’ topics that are covered in literature then those individuals may be more comfortable with their lives, instead of society being full of depressed, middle aged people who attempt to ban literature that may influence the free expression of people of all ages. [Rant over. PHEW!]

foyles
Image taken from Dawn of the Unread issue 7: D.H.Lawrence Zombie Hunter

The general controversy of a book can sometimes end up doing the opposite, undesired effect, as people are motivated to find out what all the fuss is about. When Lady Chatterley’s Lover was finally published the demand was so great Penguin had to ration out books to shops! Foyles Bookshop sold their entire stock in the first fifteen minutes!

The printers couldn’t keep up with the demand.

Lawrence paved the way forward for the permissive society and greater freedom of expression for all. Writers like E. L. James, author of the Fifty Shades trilogy, has become a household name after writing about the kinky desires of her submissive protagonist Anastasia Steele. Ironically, I suspect Lawrence would be disgusted by E.L. James for vulgarising the bond between man and woman. Although he wrote about sex in his books he was rebelling against the over intellectualisation of culture. Lawrence was actually rather a prudish man himself, believing sex was a connection between two people which can never be reversed. He did, however, believe that a woman should be submissive, but this was nothing to do with whips and chains, rather his odd views on the power relations between the genders.

I would argue that writers like Lawrence, without meaning too, have created a platform for ‘slew’ and ‘naughty’ books, where the public want to read about the exciting and (to be quite frank) sexual relationships of those (somewhat fictional) characters who lead more ‘exciting’ lives than us.