D. H. Lawrence's Nightmare (Magill's Literary Annual 1980)
Recently, a veritable industry has arisen chronicling the life of literary England at the beginning of the twentieth century. The number of books about the Bloomsbury circle—its members and their interlocking relationships—has reached epidemic proportions. In the last year or so, the focus has shifted to the years of World War I, that nightmare which so clearly marks the emergence of a distinctively modern consciousness in the arts. The acknowledged masterpiece in this field is Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory, a splendid piece of literary and social history. Fussell’s concern in that book is with the impact of the war on the imaginations of English writers, especially those who participated in the war and who, if they survived, found their perceptions of history and mankind irrevocably altered. Paul Delany’s painstaking account of D. H. Lawrence’s experiences during the war years, as its title suggests, is intended to be another chapter in that story. His starting point is the fact that Lawrence, whose feelings toward his native country were mixed at best, came to England in 1914 only intending to stay for a brief time. Instead, while he was there, the war began, and Lawrence was effectively trapped, finding himself unable to leave the country until the cessation of hostilities. As a result, he was plunged into a profound personal crisis, one which he almost did not survive.
Delany’s chief undertaking in this book, therefore, is to chronicle Lawrence’s wartime experiences in England. These included the banning of his recently completed novel, The Rainbow, an event which meant, among other things, that Lawrence would face financial difficulties as well as public suspicion and scorn throughout the war years. The fact that he was married to a woman of German extraction and opposed the English war effort added little to his welcome among his own countrymen. As a result, Lawrence spent the majority of the war years living in a succession of small cottages in rural England which appealed to him primarily because they were cheap to rent and kept him out of the public eye. Delany’s account of Lawrence’s wanderings, heightened by the inclusion of photographs of each cottage and refuge, makes for a vivid and moving story.
Delany’s second objective in this book, which he also achieves admirably, is to chronicle Lawrence’s psychological ups and downs during his years of entrapment throughout the war. His skillful interweaving of excerpts from letters and diaries, coupled with quotations from Lawrence’s works which transformed many of these events into fiction or philosophical reflection, presents a graphic picture of a deeply troubled, lonely, yet angry and embittered man who was systematically...
(The entire section is 1130 words.)
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