Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

In terms of D. H. Lawrence’s literary development, Aaron’s Rod lies somewhere between the English romances of his early career, such as Sons and Lovers (1913) and The Rainbow (1915), and the far-flung settings of some of his later ventures. It takes place after World War I, and it expresses throughout both a sense of horror and disillusionment and further concerns about the stability of the postwar world. There are passages in Aaron’s Rod in which it is suggested that political and national warfare represent on another level a continuation of the struggle between men and women, and as in the political realm, relations between the sexes have undergone an upheaval that has upset prevailing conventions without establishing a new equilibrium. Aaron’s Rod also marks a departure from the familial concerns of earlier works. Though neither particularly provocative nor notably suggestive, the work’s handling of Aaron’s adultery foreshadows Lawrence’s later concern with problematic marriages and affairs of the heart.

Although Lawrence spent about four years working on Aaron’s Rod, the novel is not remarkable for its structure or style; some unkind critics have been too harsh, however, in dismissing it as merely a first draft that Lawrence sent off when he had finished it. Many of the hallmarks of his work—direct vivid description and penetrating evocation of qualities of feeling—may be found in it, and it can be argued that the novel has its own specific virtues and its own curious appeal. The novel is important, in any event, as an intermediate production, which, in addition to its own merits, is indicative of the direction Lawrence’s muse was taking during the years immediately following the world conflict.