D. H. Lawrence D. H. Lawrence Long Fiction Analysis

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D. H. Lawrence Long Fiction Analysis

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

D. H. Lawrence occupies an ambiguous position with respect to James Joyce, Marcel Proust, T. S. Eliot, and the other major figures of the modernist movement. While on one hand he shared their feelings of gloom about the degeneration of modern European life and looked to ancient mythologies for prototypes of the rebirth all saw as necessary, on the other he keenly distrusted the modernists’ veneration of traditional culture and their classicist aesthetics. The modernist ideal of art as “an escape from personality,” as a finished and perfected creation sufficient unto itself, was anathema to Lawrence, who once claimed that his motto was not art for art’s sake but “art for my sake.” For him, life and art were intertwined, both expressions of the same quest: “To be alive, to be man alive, to be whole man alive: that is the point.” The novel realized its essential function best when it embodied and vitally enacted the novelist’s mercurial sensibility. His spontaneity, his limitations and imperfections, and his fleeting moments of intuition were directly transmitted to the reader, whose own “instinct for life” would be thereby quickened. Lawrence believed that at its best “the novel, and the novel supremely,” could and should perform this important task. That is why he insisted that the novel is “the one bright book of life.” One way of approaching his own novels—and the most significant, by general consensus, are Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow, Women in Love, The Plumed Serpent, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover—is to consider the extent to which the form and content of each in turn rises to this vitalist standard.

To be “whole man alive,” for Lawrence, involved first of all the realization of wholeness. The great enemy of human (and of aesthetic) wholeness, he believed, was modern life itself. Industrialization had cut man off from the past, had mechanized his daily life and transformed human relations into a power struggle to acquire material commodities, thereby alienating man from contact with the divine potency residing in both nature and other men and women. Modern Europe was therefore an accumulation of dead or dying husks, fragmented and spiritually void, whose inevitable expression was mass destruction. For Lawrence, World War I was the apotheosis of modernization.

Contemporary history provided only the end result of a long process of atomization and dispersion whose seeds lay in ancient prehistory. In Fantasia of the Unconscious (1922), Lawrence formulates a myth of origins that sheds light on his quest for wholeness in his travels among “primitive” peoples as well as in his novels. He describes a kind of golden age before the Flood, when the pagan world, both geographically and culturally, was a single, unified entity. This Ur-culture, unlike the modern fragmented age, had developed a holistic knowledge or “science in terms of life.” The primal wisdom did not differentiate among body, mind, and spirit; the objective and the subjective were one, as the reason and the passions were one; man and nature and the cosmos lived in harmonious relation with one another. Men and women all over the earth shared this knowledge. They “wandered back and forth from Atlantis to the Polynesian Continent.The interchange was complete, and knowledge, science, was universal over the earth.” Then the glaciers melted, whole continents were drowned, and the monolithic world fragmented into isolated races, each developing its own culture, its own “science.” A few refugees from the lost continents fled to the high ground of Europe, Asia, and America. There they “refused to forget, but taught the old wisdom, only in its half-forgotten, symbolic forms. More or less forgotten, as knowledge: remembered as ritual, gesture, and myth-story.”

In modern Europe, even these vestiges of the old universal knowledge had largely become extinct, and with them died what was left of the unitary being of man. First...

(The entire section is 11,362 words.)