Important Novels of D. H. Lawrence - Analysis

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      D.H. Lawrence was a prolific writer He has written poems, novels, and short stories. He is one of the first great novelists of England who makes use of the science of psychology in his novels. Obviously influenced by Dr. Sigmund Freud and his theories about the unconscious mind D.H. Lawrence is primarily a novelist of sex. He does not make any bones about the type of things he deals with that might appear unpalatable to the puritan. He appears to be somewhat morbid and perverse because we live in a century where most of us like to be snobs. He appears to be a novelist of the abnormal simply because normality has become something abnormal during the present century. Fortunately the typical Victorian attitude towards D.H. Lawrence and his novels has disappeared now and he is regarded as a great novelist not because of the fad that he deals with sex but inspite of it. It is very significant to note that one of the greatest critics of England, Dr. F.R. Leavis, assigns him a very prominent place in his book which he prefers to call The Great Tradition. It is a fact that Lawrence was a novelist of the blood and sex life and he expressed his faith in the supremacy of physical life in his Sons and Lovers in the following words:

      “My great religion is a belief in the blood, the flesh, as being wiser than the intellect. We can go wrong in our minds. But what our blood feels and believes and says is always true. The intellect is only a bit and a bridle. What do I care about knowledge? All I want is to answer to my blood, direct, without fribbling intervention of mind, or moral, or whatnot. It conceives a man’s body as a kind of flame, like candle, forever upright and yet flowing; and the intellect is just the light that is shed in on the things around.” The entire output of D.H. Lawrence as a novelist is governed by his faith in the above-quoted lines from his famous novel. He was a novelist who worked for animalism and healthy bodily life. He defined sex and devoted all his art to the communication of physical sensations. “I want men and women” he wrote, “to be able to think of sex, fully, completely, honestly and cleanly.” Lawrence’s work has only one inspiration throughout his work and that is sex. The word and its derivatives recur in his works incessantly. His preoccupation with sex and hot-life naturally gave a vitality and fervor to his work. “No other contemporary novelist was Lawrence’s equal in communicating an extraordinarily vivid sense of living things and beings.” Huxley, who had been intimate with Lawrence described him as “an upspringing fountain of vitality;” and his works are living water bubbling out of the fountain of life. He remained faithful in his work to what he once said “if you write about anything you should write about it hot.” Much that he wrote is furious with a convulsive energy and fire, though his debating style sometimes veered towards the peevish shrillness of intellectual immaturity.

      Lawrence’s first work in the field of fiction that caught attention was The White Peacock (1911). In this novel Lawrence presented the conflict between the man and woman, and brought about the unhappy human relationships existing between the two sexes. In Lawrence’s view woman was a harpy intent upon the immasculation of man. This expression of Lawrence’s view finds its first echo in this novel. It lacks depth and seriousness of his later work though it is enlivened with lyric emotion and is rich in fine descriptions. It was followed by The Trespasser (1912), a work of slight importance. Then came his famous novel Sons and Lovers (1913); which at once raised him to a high level. It is an autobiographical novel, and presents with deep insight the relationship between son and mother. This novel bears a close similarity to Samuel Butter’s The Way of All Flesh (1908) and Somerset Maugham’s of Human Bondage (1915). Here he surveyed his childhood, the love of his early manhood and his relationship with his mother. Love and haired are presented in this novel with a naked intensity, but neither of these emotions is yet magnified to the inhuman violence which found expression in his later works.

      It is interesting to contrast a very conspicuously made novel like Bennett’s Old Wives Tale with Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers. Both novels cover a lifetime of family life and truthfully recreate English sentiment. Bennett feels from the outside, he puts down what he has known. He sympathizes, pities, and invents. And he condescends. In the mind’s eye the characters of any novel can be measured for height, and Bennett’s characters always seem to me small people, miniatures seen from a height as Bennett looks down upon them on the writing-table. The characters of Sons and Lovers are less complete in their detail; there is a blur in many of them so that we are not always sure of the focus; but they are life-size. They are as big as Lawrence is. He has got inside them until they have grown to normal size. We follow Constance in The Old Wives Tale; we walk with Mrs. Morel in Sons and Lovers. We are as uncertain as she is, from day today. The very middle of the narrative in this book with its puzzling time sequences, its sudden jumps backwards and forwards, gives us a sensation that is familiar and real; the sensation that life sprawls, spreads sideways, is made up of reminders and recapitulators, and sags loosely between one point of definition and the next. The Russian nobelists had this interest in the loose texture of life whose crises begin so far away from their overt moment and sometimes clean off the track of the expected drama. Not only that, they and Lawrence see what we call a crisis in human relationships as a collection of crises, a rumbling and grumbling, a gable to-ing and fro-ing of human intercourse. Rarely does a crisis come to its final decisive outburst; nothing is final; we do not boil over, we leak away. Lawrence’s sense of the life-size of people is his gift; it is also his weakness; but if we are to look for the virtues of a novelist we shall find them in those places where he is wriggling his way around his weaknesses. Lawrence is a muddling narrator, totally unskilled in construction; all right, he seems to say, let the living people drag on as best they can. They will move and compel because they live because he will make us share their life in the collier’s cottage, in the factory where Paul Morel works, on the farm where he spends his holidays. Instantaneously we shall breathe with them. And it is this power to make the reader’s chest rise and fall, as it were, with the breathing of the characters in all the the off moments, the lost hours, the indecipherable days of their life, that gives Sons and Lovers its overwhelming intimacy. There is no novel in English literature which comes so closely to the skin of life of working-class people, for it records their feelings in their own terms. The description of the older son’s death, the many scenes describing the father’s halting resentment or remorse, little moments of daily life when the children hang around the father’s chair, are beautifully done. Common English life wears, the habit of things gone wrong, of awkwardness and frustration, and Lawrence touches this quality with faithful hands. To the fidelity and the submissive spirit of the early part of Sons and Lovers he returned in only a handful of short stories of which the Odour of Chrysanthemums seems to be the most impressive. He wrote unanswerably well — and this is true of so many English novelists — “only of the environment of his childhood.”

      Sons and Lovers goes wrong when Lawrence begins telling lies, that is to say when he starts arguing, as in the Miriam episode which is often boring and obscure. English novelists are afraid and ashamed of adolescence because, later in life, to be serious about oneself is considered priggish and conceited. The young prig is taken at his own valuation in French literature and is generally admired because the French respect the gradual formation of the mature nature. They are also interested in the formation of artists. But Lawrence grew up in a community and indeed in a country where the biography of ah imagination embarrasses and is despised. I have always liked the Clara Dawes episode in Sons and Lovers, partly because it begins well, and partly for the grotesque scene where Clara’s mother sits up belligerently determined to prevent the lovers from going to bed together. There is a guilty hand-dog humor and great truth of observation in this episode, although the character of Clara Dawes is over-glorified by the sexual attraction of the author. Certainly Sons and Lovers is patchy; it was much rewritten and English novelists who write autobiographical novels seem to plunge in and have no idea where to bring their life story to an end. Lawrence cheats about the story of his adolescence; the spirit of rebellion brought with it a shame not only of his shames but of his happiness. The suppressed secret is that the pressure of Paul’s environment made him a snob. He half admits, it, but only in discussion, It is never enacted. Imagine Stendhal, the supreme portrayer of very young men in European literature, missing that. (V.S.Pritchett - The Living Novel)

      After this great achievement, Lawrence produced The Rainbow (1915) in which he once again concentrated his attention on the conflict between man and woman. This book was suppressed since it was considered obscene and immoral by the high-brows of his times. It was condemned in a police court and Lawrence was shocked at its suppression. It seemed to him monstrous that “a serious and profound piece of work” like the Rainbow should meet with disfavor. The sequel to The Rainbow was Women in Love in which he expanded with greater elaboration of his views upon human life. In this book, he projected with apparently little exaggeration the queer intensity of his relations with Middleton Murry, swinging between an attraction which he wanted mystically to consecrate by a site of blood-sharing and an equally strong repulsion. In. this work there is a note of revolt against the machine age. The colliery world which Lawrence knew from his childhood days is brought out. The conflict between the owner and the miners is depicted. The owner not only lost his own soul but gave the miners an evil satisfaction which took the very hearts out of them.” In 1922 was published Aaron's Rod. It is a work exhibiting maturity of perception and flowering of stylistic qualities of the author. In this novel, the Italian atmosphere is presented with vividness and intense fervor. It is a book that shows by the grace of the narrative and the beauty of the descriptive passages the tranquilizing results of his sojourn in Italy. From his personal experience of life in Australia which he visited, Lawrence made out: two novels known as the Australian novels, namely, Kangaroo (1923) and The Boy in the Bush (1924). In these two novels Lawrence depicted the Australian background with striking vividness. Kangaroo is his closest approximation to the contemporary discussion-novel, consisting largely of long-winded talks and reveries on life and the present stage of the civilized world; a thought adventure he called it... The Boy in the Bush is a more Lawrentian book than Kangaroo, which“ is all his own. He had only to project his personality in the work or introduce the dark God which he salutes as the Holy Ghost. In the Plumed Serpent (1926) Lawrence concentrated his attention on Mexican life, and presented it with the same vividness and intensity as he did the Australian life in Kangaroo. It is a lengthy work which is sometimes boring, particularly when Lawrence strives to exalt the values of the primitive life as opposed to the modern Civilized life. In 1929 was published in Florence the much-maligned and abused novel Lady Chatter ley’s Lover, which was suppressed because of the note of offensive-sex and open use of licentious life. It is a novel in which sexual experience is handled with a wealth of physical detail and uninhibited language which have caused its suppression in this country. It is Lawrence’s last embittered fling at what he felt to be the prurience of mind which sheltered behind conventional notions of sex and he claimed that it was very truly moral.

      The writing of Sons and Lovers. As early as 1910 Lawrence was working on Sons and Lovers. At that time it was to be called Paul Morel and Lawrence wrote to the publisher in October 1910 that about one-eighth of it was written and that it was plotted out very interestingly (to me). That to me hints at the novel’s autobiographical status.

      In 1912, when Lawrence had met Frieda and eloped with her to Germany, he continued writing the novel and was able to finish it by the end of the year. However, Lawrence was almost never satisfied with his work after he had written the first draft and the book which was sent to London at the end of 1912 was a much revised version of the Paul Morel book. As late as August 1912 he set about writing the final version, first published in 1913. This demonstrates that Lawrence, although he was beginning to break away from the more traditional and well-ordered way of writing novels, did not simply pour out his feelings in a formless mass but revised carefully.

      Sons and Lovers, in its final version, was published in 1913 in London by Duckworth & Co. It was the third of Lawrence’s novels to appear. Since 1948 it has been available in a paperback edition published by Penguin Books. The hardback edition is published by William Heinemann.

      Lawrence as a Poet. Lawrence was a very prolific writer indeed. Besides his published work (at least fifty different volumes) he wrote letters constantly to all sorts of friends and acquaintances, translated works from the Italian, and at his death left some twenty partly completed works. This is not the place to discuss this work but it is essential for the reader of Sons and Lovers to have some idea of Lawrence the poet.

      His first complete volume of poetry was published in 1913, the same year as Sons and Lovers, and it was followed by nearly a dozen other volumes. His verse is direct, jerky, personal rather unpoetic. It does not have the regular rhyme and rhythm schemes of traditional verse. Lawrence preferred an irregular, almost conversational tone to the quality we associate with many of the great poets of the past. Lawrence’s verse, in fact, has some of the quality of his, prose and its concerns are very similar to those of the novels. In our case we can profitably look at the poems that correspond to the period of Lawrence’s adolescence. In these early poems the themes of Paul Morel’s development are traced in a variety of ways. One poem is even called Last Words to Miriam as though Miriam were a real person.

      As a poet Lawrence was interested in nature and in man’s physical relationships with nature and with women. He writes of flowers and animals, of fish and insects, of moments, of insights into the physical world which he always found so miraculous. There are also satirical poems and mystical religious poems which remind the reader of those elements in his novels.

      It has been said that Lawrence was more of a poet in his prose than he was in his poetry. We will see this working in the analysis of Sons and Lovers.

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