Characteristics of of D. H. Lawrence Novels

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D.H. Lawrence - as a Genius.

      D.H. Lawrence can rightly be described as one of the most disputed geniuses in the history of the modern English novel. His thinking was characteristic of his originality and uninhibitedness for he followed no established veins of thought and recognized no customary modes of expression. He has often been criticized as a sex-maniac and his novels are condemned for being formless. The controversy raised because of the proscription of The Rainbow and Lady Chatterley's Lover on grounds of immorality has come in the way of a fair and impartial assessment of his worth as a novelist. T.S. Eliot attacked him as an uncultured man insensitive to ‘ordinary social morality’. On the other hand, E.M. Forster and F.R. Leavis devoutly defend him against charges of immorality and obscenity and have done much to rehabilitate his reputation. According to F.R. Leavis, he is a great novelist, “one of the very greatest” while E.M. Forster eulogizes him as being “the greatest imaginative novelist of our generation”.

The Autobiographical Note.

      Lawrence writes with such spontaneity of feeling and thought that the reader inevitably feels that the novelist is being moved by some inner compulsion. His novels are an outcome of a number of feelings that he experienced during his life-time of anguish, joy, fear and doubt. An autobiographical note runs through almost all of his novels. Sons and Lovers depicts the autobiographical element with utmost reality. Lawrence is said to have been making a cathartic-effort while writing this novel. To quote Middleton Murry: “Lawrence was a tortured soul for full forty-five years of his life, and his writings are an expression of his inner suffering, frustration and emotional complexes. They are all in the nature of personal revelations, some more, some less, but the autobiographical note runs through them all.” E. Albert feels that “The most striking feature of Lawrence’s characters is the resemblance they bear to their creator.”

A Psycho-Analyst.

      A Psycho-analytical novel makes a study of particular psychological theories with reference to particular characters. Sons and Lovers is a psycho-analytical novel for it studies the ‘Oedipus Complex’ or the mother-fixation theory of Freud. Like it has been depicted in the case of Paul in Sons and Lovers Lawrence also had an abnormally intense love for his mother. In fact his love for her was so strong that it made him confess to Jessie Chambers, once, that he had almost loved her like a lover. He believed that there was a bond between them of pre-natal origin which could not be broken. This strong mother-fixation in him rendered him incapable of striking a normal and healthy relationships with other women. Though Lawrence had not learned anything about Freud’s theories while writing Sons and Lovers, hence it is unlikely that he could have been influenced by it. However, Freud’s theories certainly set a seal on a situation that had been thoroughly explored in actuality and thus Lawrence achieved the status of writing the first psycho-analytical novel in the English language. In this connection, J.W. Bcach states that Lawrence’s books are shown all over, “with psychological truths - revealing attitudes, situations, emotional states - so rich and convincing that he makes most writers of his time look trifling and almost childish by comparison.”

Relationship between Men and Women.

      Lawrence had himself once written, “I can only write what I feel strongly about: and, that at present, is the relation between men and women. After all, it is the problem of today. The establishment of new relations, or the adjustment of old ones, between men and women.” He wished to reach at the root of this conflict and wished to understand the reason for its cause and a reasonable solution to it. That is why sex-conflict assumes such a gigantic part in his novels. The over-possessive love of his mothers imposes an abnormal strain on the emotions of the adolescent and hence in his works he counters with hysterical violence any threatened domination by women.

An anti-feminist.

      The early experience of Lawrence made him anti-feminist. The possessive love of his mother crippled him psychologically making him incapable of striking a healthy relation with other women. This was the only durable attachment Lawrence had experienced and this sustained him during the period of great emotional crisis he went through. The emotional burden of his mother’s love for him made him strongly hostile to it. D. Neill explains it thus: “Resentful himself of being absorbed by a woman’s tenderness, he thought that the contemporary struggle of women for mastery was responsible for all human unhappiness. He even went so far as to trace the misery occasioned by economic disequilibrium to the violation of male supremacy.”

Free and Frank treatment of Sex.

      Nothing is more modern in Lawrence than his free and frank treatment of sex. Lawrence does not imbibe in himself any of the inhibitions of the Victorians. Lawrence’s attitude towards life is deeply rooted in sexual mysticism. Lawrence believed that deepest mysteries of life can be known through sex, and so sex is organic and fundamental to an organic and complete life. Lawrence felt that sexual harmony was an essential condition for the attainment of happiness in life. To him sex was a great spiritual passion which could lead one even to the realization of God. And so it is seen in his treatment of the physical relationship of his characters. Baker thus expresses it: “To him, not only was sex the way woman fulfills her being and man, one of his chief creative functions for which reason he always extolled marriage, but the sexual experience was a door to new realms of consciousness, and initiation into divine mysteries, the mystery of the other world that is close behind us.”

Lawrence’s Religion of Blood.

      Lawrence believed that the tragedy of the modem age was because of the rising intellectualization of human beings. Reason is becoming more and more important with impulse being pushed to the background. This has in turn destroyed man’s spontaneous, instinctive response to life. He believes that abstract intellectualism can be the cause for the destruction of the thrill, gaiety and vitality of life. Impulses should not be over-powered by reason. His affirmation in the superiority of impulses over reason is brought out clearly from the excerpt of this letter. Written to his friend Ernest Collings:

My own religion is the belief in the blood, the flesh as being wiser than the intellect. We can go wrong in our minds. But whatever blood feels and says is always true. The intellect is only a bit and bridle. What do I care about knowledge? All I want is to answer to my blood, direct, without fribbling intervention of mind, on moral or what not.

      From these lines Lawrence seems to be attaching a certain sanctity to the sexual demands of a person. Lawrence may appear to be a strong advocate of his religion of blood but what he infact tries to preach is a proper synthesis of the flesh and the spirit, the impulse and the reason.

An Anti-materialist.

      Bonamy Dobree writes about Lawrence’s philosophy in the words: “Throughout his career he had been anti-materialistic, since materialism for him blunts sensibility, he is for shearing away the relics of dead faiths, of philosophies that clog the free play of the impulses and he rejects Christianity and platonism with equal scorn.” Lawrence believed that the disengagement of one’s intellect from one’s emotions is what has led humanity to a materialistic approach towards life. Lawrence sought an escape from the deadness of this material civilization by escaping to Mexico, Australia and Italy, lands beautiful for the preservation and adoration of instincts and nature.

Lyrical Elements or As a Poet.

      Lawrence had himself expressed the view that he had used the novel form to reveal the most secret places of life “the passional secret places of life”. A lyric is basically a “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”, and the novels of Lawrence are generally pervaded with passion and emotion. Lawrence treats both personal relationships and their background with a lyrical intensity and spontaneity. This poetic style of Lawrence is apparent when Lawrence is concerned with nature and with sex. According to Bonamy Dobree, Lawrence comes in the great tradition of the poetic novelists of England, and says his novels must be judged by poetic standards: “He is primarily a poet, it is as a poet that he must be not only judged, but tested and enjoyed.”

As a Naturalist.

      Despite the rapid industrialization of the mining town, Lawrence being a village boy, kept an intense awareness of the natural objects, among which his boyhood had strayed. Lawrence’s early intimacy reveals itself in the accuracy of his observation. He describes the various objects of nature in different scenes very precisely and minutely. The various plants and flowers are refined to by their names. He gives an accurate information with a vivid and minute description. Lawrence peculiarly expresses human emotions in terms of natural objects. With reference to Sons and Lovers. G. Hanson writes: “Throughout the novel, flowers and growing things are used to suggest the naturalness of growth, and the power of life. They are images of vitality and spontaneity, having their source in some great source of being. That is why they are important as a statement or a comment on the relationship between Paul and Miriam. By comparison with things of the natural order, that relationship, which should have been equally a part of nature is seen as becoming increasingly unnatural and sterile. Miriam’s attitude to them, one of intense, reverent adoration, is a reflection of her attitude to Paul, unrealistic and over spiritualized.”

Plot and Character.

      Lawrence used the novel form for catharsis of his inner emotions. Lawrence shed off plot and character in the traditional sense of the word. However, it would be wrong to condemn him of formlessness because a work of art cannot exist without a form. However, it is true that in writing his novels, Lawrence never cared for the laws and rules of fiction. The form of a novel is not imposed from without; it is to a large extent determined by the structure of the emotional experience that the novel embodies. Lawrence himself, once wrote to his literary agent, asking him to tell Arnold Benett, “that all rules of construction hold good only for novels that are copies of other novels. A novel which is not a copy of other books has its own construction, and what he calls faults, he being an imitator, is what I call characteristics.” J.W. Beach defines his technique as: “He is forever passing back and forth between subjective and objective, within the chapter, within the paragraph, within the sentence.” By following the sinuous trial of the elemental life-force, the novelist is able to cover vaster and more varied ground than is consistent with the dramatic ideal of the novel.” In contrast to the conventional style, there is nothing sensational, 'thrilling or melodramatic. There are mysteries but these mysteries are largely psychological, there is conflict but it is internal rather than external, there are incidents but they take place largely within the soul.

Stream of Consciousness.

      The stream of consciousness novel marks an epoch in the history of the English novel. The phrase stream of consciousness, was first used by William James in his Principles of Psychology, in 1890, to denote the chaotic flow of impressions and sensations through the human consciousness. H.J. Muller describes the stream of consciousness novel as : “a withdrawal from external phenomena in the flickering half shades of the author’s private world.” The aim of the modern psychological novelist is to render the soul as “psyche” truthfully and realistically, and with this end in view he uses the stream of consciousness technique. Beach is of the opinion that: “Our consciousness, which is a small part of our soul, does not proceed logically or coherently, except for certain times and for certain periods under the pressure of some urgent practical need. The new writers are as much concerned as the old ones with the psyche as the focus of life experience. Only, with their modern conception of the psyche, they grow more and more impatient of the quaint little patterns into which the old psychological novelists had tried to force this protean creature, and their disposition to ignore all sorts of things that go to make up human personality. And the new writers have felt the need to break up by these conventional patterns. They have wanted new technical devices, new procedures, for rendering the psyche.” In Lawrence’s novels both the traditional and new elements are to be seen and gradually the emphasis shifts from the traditional to the new.

Law of Polarity.

      Happiness according to Lawrence can be achieved through polarisation of two characters who come in contact with each other. Domination and possessiveness should be shed off to create a harmonious togetherness of the two. In order to establish a successful relationship, the divine otherness of the other has to be respected. The identity of a partner would be lost if he or she is over dominated by his or her other partner. This may result in the poisoning of the mutual relationship and it becomes difficult to save such a relationship from total destruction. Lawrence himself describes it thus: “where conflict is transcended, a state of still tension, life-sustaining, life-creating, forbidding forever the merging of opposites, maintaining both in a state of mutual complementary balance.”

His Style.

      Lawrence is generally vigorous and forceful in his style which is well suited to his purpose. He indulges in scathing satirical flashes in tirades against women. He uses the style of a poet - poetic similes and metaphors arc in much abundance in his novels and some of them are quite new and startling. When he is unable to express himself with his vast reservoir of language, he extensively uses suggestive symbols which are “rich with over-tones of feelings” and hidden correspondences of thought. In The Trespasser, the description of the sunny, salty landscape in the Isle of light is fascinatingly poetical. Aaron's Rod vividly portrays pictures of life in Florence and Sicily. In Sons and Lovers, Lawrence faithfully indulges in a description of the mining activity in the village of Bestwood. Lawrence also successfully handles the coarse dialect of the mining community.

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