Apocalypse Essay - Critical Context

D. H. Lawrence

Critical Context

Lawrence first conceived the idea of Apocalypse in October, 1929, and the manuscript was “roughly finished” by December 15 of the same year. It was to be Lawrence’s last book; when he wrote it he was already suffering from the disease which would kill him less than three months later. Apocalypse continues Lawrence’s lifelong concern with exploring and delineating fresh states of human consciousness, beyond the ordinary run of daily experience and perception. One of its principal themes, the reinterpretation of the Christian understanding of death and resurrection, is present in much of Lawrence’s work in his last years. In the short novel The Man Who Died (1931), for example, the resurrected Jesus is no longer a teacher or a savior. Instead, he enjoys the newly discovered holy life of the flesh; he is finally in touch with his own physical being and with the marvels of the created universe. The pagan element is present also; in his journeying, Jesus encounters a priestess of Isis. “The Risen Lord,” an essay written in July, 1929, and published in Everyman in October, 1929, continues the same theme.

Lawrence is frequently compared to William Blake, a poet whom he greatly admired. Yet the differences between the two men can be clearly seen in their attitudes to Revelation. Both were strongly affected by it, but Blake revered Revelation as a sacred, visionary text, while Lawrence detested and reviled it (apart from its pagan elements, that is). Whereas Lawrence expressed contempt for the penultimate chapter—in which a new heaven and a new earth replace those that have been destroyed—and focused only on the power lust of the early Christians and their urge to destroy, Blake saw this event as a revelation of a pure, eternal world which had formerly been hidden within the fallen, time-space sense world. This reveals a difference in emphasis. Lawrence valued the sense world more highly than did Blake, and Blake, particularly late in his life, would perhaps have censured Lawrence for the same reason he condemned William Wordsworth—for being a worshiper of nature, not of the eternal reality which is revealed through nature but does not belong to it.