Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Mexico. Country in which the novel is set. Lawrence visited Mexico shortly before writing the novel looking, simultaneously, for a climate to help his failing health, an escape from the censorship he faced in England for his political views and for the overt sexuality of his novels, and, perhaps most important, an alternative to what he saw as the dead, “mechanistic” quality of European life.

The title The Plumed Serpent refers to the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, who functions in the novel as, among other things, a symbol for Mexico itself. Lawrence describes Mexico as embodying the qualities of both the reptile and the bird. On one hand, Mexico and its people appear as primitive and somewhat sinister; Lawrence repeatedly uses the word “reptilian” to describe them. On the other hand, Mexico offers the protagonist, Kate Leslie, a spiritual transformation akin to soaring. Her transformation occurs through her sexual union with the Mexican general Cipriano Viedma, whose pure Indian blood is undiluted by European corruption. “Plumed serpent” describes not only Cipriano’s country but also his penis. The equation of Mexico with powerful male sexuality helps explain the country’s appeal for Lawrence.

Lawrence contrasts Mexico with both Europe and the United States. Europe kills the soul and sometimes even the body. Kate’s former husband, an Irish revolutionary, ruined his health and died fighting for his own country’s freedom. The United States represents...

(The entire section is 624 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Clark, L. D. Dark Night of the Body: D. H. Lawrence’s “The Plumed Serpent.” Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964. Includes biographical and bibliographic materials. Noteworthy for the strong focus on Kate.

Draper, R. P., ed. D. H. Lawrence: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970. Reflects the mixture of criticism and praise with which Lawrence’s contemporaries reacted to his work. Responses by W. B. Yeats, Virginia Woolf, and T. S. Eliot (on The Plumed Serpent) are included.

Leavis, F. R. D. H. Lawrence: Novelist. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1956. Leavis’ appraisal of the artist is a must-read, although the critic does not care for The Plumed Serpent.

Parmenter, Ross. Lawrence in Oaxaca: A Quest for the Novelist in Mexico. Salt Lake City, Utah: Peregrine Smith Books, 1984. Reveals the depth of the novelist’s fascination with Mexico. An extensive chapter on how Lawrence’s time in Oaxaca affected the composition of The Plumed Serpent.

Scheckner, Peter. Class, Politics, and the Individual: A Study of the Major Works of D. H. Lawrence. London: Associated University Presses, 1985. Focuses on the impact of Lawrence’s sensitivity to the English class system.