#MondayBlogs 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

Review – Pie and Peas with DH Lawrence at The Grand Pavilion.

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After being booted out of Cornwall in 1917, DH Lawrence was reliant on the generosity of friends to put him up while he got back on his feet. By 1918 he was in such dire poverty that Arnold Bennett secretly gave his agent Pinker £25 as a crisis fund, knowing Lawrence hated charity. It was these circumstances that led Lawrence and his wife Frieda to take residence of Mountain Cottage, Middleton-by-Wirksworth from 2 May 1918. This was the first time the Lawrences had settled in the Midlands for six years, affording him the opportunity to reconnect with family and old neighbours. He lasted one year.

Lawrence’s time in the Midlands is the main focus of Pie and Peas with DH Lawrence, an amateur dramatic performance that sketches out key elements of his life. As you would expect from a production by the Wirksworth Community Theatre, space is given to Lawrence’s time in the surrounding area. Therefore the performance includes the reading of three of his letters to Katherine Mansfield during the brutal winter of 1918. Mansfield was married to the writer and critic John Middleton Murry. The two couples had briefly lived near each other in Cornwall during the war in an early attempt at Rananim, but it didn’t work out. By 1919 Murry was editing the Athenaeum which featured many of the Bloomsbury Group. This should have been an opportunity to rebuild their friendship while, more importantly, generating a bit of income for Lawrence through commissions. Unfortunately it didn’t work out and it would lead to a simmering mistrust between the two that would intensify over time. This wasn’t touched on in the play because it would have over complicated the narrative. Instead we are reminded that Lawrence was a prolific letter writer and who his circle of friends were at the time.

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Lawrence’s Wintry Peacock was inspired by his time spent in Derbyshire and is partly performed, whereby a suspicious wife asks a man who can speak French to translate the contents of a letter to her husband. This places the man in an awkward situation as he has to decide whether to tell her the truth or spare her feelings. Given the audience were privy to the contents of the letter, this worked very well on stage.

We were also treated to both the reading of War Baby and the song War Baby by Carol Fieldhouse. This poem, which was originally published in the English Review, coincided with the birth of Catherine Carswell’s son, John, on 30 May 1918. Lawrence dedicated the poem to Carswell’s new offspring.

It was during a brief stay in Ripley that Lawrence wrote two short stories about childhood pets, Rex (dog) and Adolf (rabbit). Adolf is the tale of a mischievous pet rabbit that causes chaos in a family home, leaving droppings on saucers while helping himself to the sugar pot. In performing this, the producers celebrated Lawrence’s love of nature and wildlife and led nicely onto a reading of Snake. It also helped touch on another theme that had been explored in the opening half an hour, Lawrence’s parents.

Lawrence had an indifferent relationship with his father, depicting him as an ignorant brute in his third novel Sons and Lovers (1913). He was very much influenced by his overbearing mother who aspired for more and didn’t want her kids going down the pit. Arthur Lawrence may have been down the pit since he was seven but he was also a very charismatic and caring individual. This is perfectly drawn out in Adolf when the father finds one surviving rabbit from a family of dead rabbits. He brings the one surviving (but unmoving) rabbit home in order to nurture it back to life. Whereas Lydia Lawrence is aghast at the havoc the rabbit causes, Arthur prioritises life. Lawrence realised years later that he’d been overly harsh in his portrayals of his father and this is noted in the play when a young Lawrence announces if he’d written Sons and Lovers when he was older the father would have been presented differently. Thankfully he didn’t.

In addition to life in “the country of my heart” the play also explores the Lady C trial, censorship of his paintings, and his relationship with his German wife Frieda. This means that other elements, such as his savage pilgrimage, are omitted. But this works very well, providing a brief sketch of his life and works that are performed through song, poetry, short stories, plays, comedy, letters, court case recitals, and piano ballads. The cast also take on multiple parts, meaning we have different people playing Lawrence and other key figures. This brings out the ethos of ‘community’ theatre as everybody is effectively the star performer.

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Frieda Lawrence (Marie Paurin)

However, there are a few standout performances that deserve mentioning. Getting Frieda Lawrence to read out Lawrence’s damning poem The English Are So Nice was a masterstroke. It’s delivered with the right balance of sarcasm and perfectly weighted in delivery to enable the humour to come through:  The English are so nice/so awfully nice/they are the nicest people in the world./And what’s more, they’re very nice about being nice/ about your being nice as well!

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Sue Watts

A Colllier’s Wife is an incredibly difficult poem to read because of the dialect but Sue Watts was brilliant. She’s like a cross between Ms. Ball-breaker and Nora Batty and delivers this, and other lines, with absolute ferocity. And finally, the gem of the show goes to Andy Miller – a member of the Nottingham Writers’ Studio – for his adapted version of a Monty Python Sketch in which Lawrence and his father switch roles. It was completely unexpected and perfect for getting across the cultural tensions faced by Eastwood’s favourite mard arse.

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And now for something completely different: Andy Miller (right) as Lawrence switches roles with his father.

The play was performed as part of the Little Bit Scruffy Festival at the Grand Pavilion Theatre in Matlock. The Theatre is the largest in the Derbyshire Dales but badly in need of repair and renovation. Lynn Allison, a Trustee, Director and Co Chairman of the charity that owns the building said the purpose of hosting the festival here was “to bring new people into the building to hear our rescue and renovation story;  to bring new drama to the area; and to break even”. The Grand Pavilion was built in 1910 but has sustained damage from water over the years. “Because of the condition of the building, we say it is ‘Open – ambitious – and Still a Little Bit Scruffy’ hence the name of the festival.”

Lawrence lived a largely nomadic existence and wasn’t one for materialism. He was renowned for his DIY skills and ‘make do and mend’ attitude, so I’m sure he would approve of his work being celebrated in such shabby, yet homely, surroundings. Just like the rabbit in his short story Adolph, a little love and tenderness is required to help resurrect this old building back to its former glory. But whereas Adolph needed a few sugar cubes, the charity needs a few million. It will be hard slog, but one you can support while being entertained at the same time.

The Little Bit Scruffy Festival runs from 28 May – 2 July and includes other performances and workshops.

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Pangbourne-on-Thames “sort of smells”

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Source: LYON & TURNBULL on BBC website.

The following guest blog is an extended version of one of Dave Brocks’ columns for the Kimberley and Eastwood Advertiser.  

The refreshing honesty characteristic of D.H. Lawrence continues to get up certain middle-class noses, almost a century on. A letter Lawrence penned to his theatre friend, “Bertie” Herbert Farjeon, whilst staying at Myrtle Cottage, Pangbourne-on-Thames, Berkshire, in the “Monstrous hot” August of 1919, with reference to this otherwise pretty place as “repulsive”, saying it “sort of smells”, due to the river, women wearing scent on their clothes and the petrol, adding “I suffer by the nose”, has recently sold at an Edinburgh auction house for a slightly less than fragrant price. . .one indicating a certain sniffiness on the part of collectors!

The lease on Lawrence’s home at Mountain Cottage, Middleton-by-Wirksworth having ended, he and Frieda began accepting hospitality where they could, at times virtually living out of suitcases. Efforts to obtain passports, permitting Frieda to visit family in Germany and Lawrence to blaze a trail to America, had been thwarted. They must wait until the Peace treaty was ratified, Thomas Cook told them.

So when a friend, since 1915, Rosalind Baynes, an enlightened free-thinker and pacifist with three children and then undergoing a messy divorce, kindly offered to loan them for a while her 18th century cottage, The Myrtles, in Pangbourne, and having other acquaintances in the area, it was there they went. Myrtle cottage had a large garden with apple and pear trees. Drawing on nature, for a display of self-deprecating humour, Lawrence’s letter records that “an old, very seedy-looking shabby old robin attends me perpetually when I work in Ros’s garden. He reminds me too much of myself.”

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Attracted by this southerly location near the Thames, Lawrence’s sisters, Emily and Ada, took the opportunity to visit, bringing the children. There were opportunities to sail, take a cruise to Reading, enjoy picnics and walks on the Downs.

Amazingly, in the midst of so much upheaval, socialising and fun, Lawrence remained focused on his literary career, exploring every outlet for his work. He came closer to finding a publisher for his great novel, Women in Love. Having written his studies of the “classics”, essays on modern American literature were begun. As a favour, he painstakingly refined his loyal friend Koteliansky’s translation of Ukrainian philosopher, Shestov, contributing an introduction to the book. Prefaces for New Poems and his play Touch and Go were produced. He revised his novella, The Fox, although it felt like an act of “mutilation” to him!

These days the good folk of Pangbourne are happy to recall how nice safe author, Kenneth Graham, of Wind in the Willows fame, one lived there, and that it is the setting for the comical Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome, thus boosting tourism. Lawrence’s stay is largely over-looked. When a Pangbourne letter hits the headlines he’s dismissed by one proud resident as a “misery-guts”. Yet, all he’s done is tell the truth – that most perfumes, and all car fumes, are offensive to the undulled senses. The collective madness of war and state opposition to his creative genius were grounds enough for Lawrence to confide in this private correspondence he was feeling “sick of mankind”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Class”, he continues, is

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

For Lawrence, Leavis insists,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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