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Apocalypse is an interpretation of the symbolism of Revelation, the last book of the Bible. D. H. Lawrence developed an interest in apocalyptic symbolism during the last eight years of his life, as can be seen from his correspondence with the painter and mystic Frederick Carter. Apocalypse was originally intended as an introduction to Carter’s book, The Dragon of the Alchemists (1926), which Lawrence had read in manuscript in 1923. Lawrence wrote to Carter in 1929, “I want very much to put into the world again the big old pagan vision, before the idea and the concept of personality made everything so small and tight as it is now.” Lawrence’s essay turned out to be too long for the purpose, however, and he abandoned it. He then wrote a shorter essay, also on Revelation, which was published in the London Mercury in July, 1930. Lawrence never returned to the abandoned manuscript, which was published as Apocalypse in 1931.

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This short book—it is only 125 pages in length—consists of twenty-three chapters of uneven length; some are less than a page. It is unbalanced in emphasis, the first twenty-one chapters being devoted to the first half of Revelation (the first twelve chapters), the last two chapters covering the remaining ten chapters of Revelation. Lawrence deliberately intended this lack of balance, since in his view the first part of Revelation held rich echoes of the pagan universe, which he admired, and was more complex, profound, and dramatic than the second part. The latter was too allegorical and therefore too easily explained: Lawrence preferred a sense of mystery and symbolic suggestion. He also disliked what he thought was the increased moralistic tone of the second part.

Apocalypse is not a scholarly exposition or commentary. Lawrence was not interested in Christian doctrine, still less in moral edification. Although he was aware of the conclusions of biblical scholars—that Revelation was written in approximately 96 c.e., for example, and that the author was not the same man who wrote the Gospel of John—such matters were not of much interest to him. His concern was with the symbolism of the book—of sun, moon, and stars, of dragons and beasts and horses, and of numbers, particularly three, four, seven, and twelve. Much influenced by his study of the theosophy of Helena Blavatsky, Lawrence interpreted each symbol in terms of its origins in pagan mythology and its relevance for modern man.

Yet his purpose was not mere exposition. Lawrence was always alive with prophetic fire; in everything he wrote he tried to awaken men and women to his own vision of life. Disliking preachers, he was himself a preacher, proclaiming his own gospel of enlightenment: the need to recover the ancients’ instinctive, intuitive, passionate consciousness, in which they had felt themselves to be living in close communion with the entire cosmos. Thus, in Apocalypse Lawrence made no pretense at an objective, dispassionate tone. He explained in the first chapter how Revelation was deeply embedded in his consciousness and had been since as a child he had heard it expounded repeatedly, endlessly, from the pulpit; he knew it inside out even before he started to think about its meaning. Given this intense involvement with his subject, Lawrence in typical fashion says what he thinks, says it plainly and belligerently. He sneers at, he censures, he pours scorn on the Judeo-Christian tradition, the weakness of modern men and women, the bankruptcy and spiritual deadness of materialist culture. Sometimes his invective is that of the genuine prophet; sometimes it is merely that of an irritable and quarrelsome man. At their best, however, his words rise to poetic splendor.


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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 98

Aldington, Richard. Introduction to Apocalypse, 1932.

Easson, Angus. “‘My Very Knees Are Glad’: D. H. Lawrence and Apocalypse Again,” in Aligarh Journal of English Studies. X, no. 2 (1985), pp. 205-218.

Goodheart, Eugene. The Utopian Vision of D. H. Lawrence, 1963.

Gutierrez, Donald. Lapsing Out: Embodiments of Death and Rebirth in the Last Works of D. H. Lawrence, 1979.

Kuczkowski, Richard. “Lawrence Enters the Pantheon,” in Review. IV (1982), pp. 159-170.

Moore, Harry T. The Priest of Love: A Life of D. H. Lawrence, 1974 (revised edition).

Stammler, Heinrich A. “Apocalypse: V. V. Rozanov and D. H. Lawrence,” in Canadian Slavonic Papers. XVI (1974), pp. 221-244.

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