D.H. Lawrence’s Work And Achievement As A Novelist

Lawrence‘s achievement as a great modern novelist came to be recognized long after his death in 1930. It was no other than the stormy petrel of criticism, F. R. Leavis, who with his epoch-making D. H. Lawrence: Novelist (1955) rescued Lawrence from faddists and sex -maniacs on the one hand and puritans and respectable “men of letters” on the other and fairly succeeded, virtually single-handed, in establishing him as “one of the greatest creative writers in English of our time.”

Leavis thus tried to end the era of the neglect and censure of Lawrence, or. what he called, “the shameful history of misrepresentation and abuse.” While endorsing E.M. Forster’s view that Lawrence, is “the greatest imaginative writer of the twentieth century,” Leavis included Lawrence in The Great Tradition of the English novel which, according to him, comprised apart from Lawrence, Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James, and Joseph Conrad. Leavis recognized Lawrence’s merit as a critic, a poet, and a dramatist as well, but primarily he singled out his achievement as a novelist-as the very title of his epoch-making work on Lawrence shows.

Lawrence’s Independence:
According to Middleton Murry, Lawrence belongs to no school and no tradition, except the “tradition of himself.” A fierce individualist as he was, his slogan was, not surprisingly, “Art for My Sake.” As a poet, a critic, a playwright, and as a novelist, he maintained his fierce individuality and refused to yoke his inspiration to the mechanizing discipline of any school or literary coterie. At best his fierce individualism manifests itself in his piercing insights into the predicament of man in the context of twentienth-century civilization, and, at worst, it appears in his numerous crotchets and brain-waves which have invested his personality with a pronounced aura of eccentricity.
When Lawrence started his writing career in 1911, such novelists as Bennett, Galsworthy, and Wells were occupying the scene. These novelists can all be called “conventional” both as regards the theme and the form of their novels. Love, money, and social status are their prime concern and there is not even muted experimentation with the form of the novel. Lawrence revolutionized, both the theme and the form of the novel. Once when Arnold Bennett found fault with Lawrence’s bold departure from the traditional structure of the novel, he wrote indignantly in a letter to his literary executor: “Tell Arnold Bennett thatall rules of construction hold good only for novels which are copies of other novels. A book which is not a copy of other books has its own construction, and what he calls faults, he beings an old imitator, I call characteristics.”
Lawrence criticized novelists such as Flaubert and Mann whose novels are too ”well-made” and who apply themselves all-too-assiduously to their craft. Lawrence believed in his own version of the living, organic, or emotional form, which is not external or mentally imposed but grows in response to the necessity of the embodiment of experience. Evidently, Lawrence took a cue from the latter-day romanticists who in turn looked to Coleridge and his German predecessors.
Experiments with Form:
It may be admitted that in spite of his fierce independence and radical romanticism, Lawrence did not make with the form of the novel experiments which may be described as bold. Some modern novelists, such as Joyce and Virginia Woolf, have been particularly interested in the problems of time and human consciousness. Though Lawrence radically changed the very concept of the novel, he did not much bother about these particular problems. David Daiches observes : “In his mature novels Lawrence was at least as revolutionary as Joyce in the conception of prose fiction which he was acting o’ut, but he was not involved in those problems of time and consciousness which Joyce and Virginia Woolf saw as paramount and which had such an immediately visible effect on those writers’ technique.”
Lawrence’s formal excellence rises from the diffident and rather clumsy (from the formal point of view) maiden venture The White Peacock to Women in Love, which is a tour deforce of tight symbolic architectonics in which texture and structure are in almost perfect harmony and even coalescence. In The White PeacockLawrence seems to have tried to adopt the Jamesean point-of-view technique according to which the principle of formal coherence is provided by the consciousness of one of the dramatis personae. But, obviously, he has made a mess of it, so much so that at times it becomes difficult to ascertain as to whose point of view-of a character’s or of the novelist himself-is being brought to the fore. Sons and Lovers, The Trespasser, and The Lost Girl follow more or less the conventional concept of form; the time pattern is strictly chronological, though the ebb and flow of the human consciousness as also the use of symbols impart to these novels a kind of poetry which is so peculiarly Laurentian.
Aaron’s Rod and Kangaroo are structurally the weakest of Lawrence’s novels in which he often seems to be mocking at the very notion of structure. In the former, to quote an instance, there is a chapter entitled “Talk” which contains nothing more than inconsequential conversation among some of the characters. At one point in this novel he asks the reader to give up reading his novel if he cannot brook his wayward procedure. In Kangaroo Lawrence for once builds blood­curdling atmosphere of terror and anticipation in the chapter “Willie Struthers and Kangaroo” where Kangaroo threatens Somers (the Lawrence figure) with dire consequences for refusing his love. In the next chapter “Nightmare,” however, Lawrence is so overwhelmingly taken up by his own outrageous experiences in England during the First World War that he forgets everything about the novel in hand to launch a fierce tirade against his own country where the human body is subjected to desecration.
The form of Lady Chatter ley’s Lover suffers from being mechanical. Though it is largely based on the use of symbols and their interaction, the form is a little too neat and obtrusive because the symbolism is rather schematized. (Lawrence averred it was not so.) The mutually contrasting categories of this scheme of symbols, under which these symbols cohere, are life and death. Connie, Clifford, Mellors, and the wood have obvious enough referends.
The Rainbow and Women in Love, particularly the latter, do not lend themselves to such criticism. The Rainbow is in a sense a “historical” novel. But how different it is from, say, the novels of Scott! It is a long story involving three successive generations, but what it really endeavours to do is to bring out the inner history of the English psyche over about a hundred years. The cohering principle is provided by the most important of human relations-man-woman relationship or, in other words, marriage and self-fulfilment through marriage. The three generations get telescoped into each other and the problems of man-woman adjustment of one serve implicitly as a comment on and a criticism of the others.
According to Daleski, the principle of structure in Women in Love is locative : there are five important mutually connected loci in the novel representing different modes and sections oflife. To Eliseo Vivas it is the use of what he calls the “constitutive symbol” that gives this novel a subtly satisfying structure. There vare other opinions, too. It may be noted that the structure of the novel is symbolic and analogical rather than causal-in the traditional Aristotelean sense. Water and the moon, for example, are important symbols which connect mutually divergent (apparently) episodes many of which do not seem to advance the action at all.
Lawrence’s Themes: His Moral Fervour:
While Lawrence hasn’t much to show in way of formal mastery as a novelist, his achievement in the field of the novel is still tremendous. His uncompromising moral preoccupation which finds expression in all his Oeuvre along with his diagnostic insight and perspicacity/makes his novels the singular achievement that they are. The theme of all his novels is both perennial and curiously modern : the achievement of fulfilment through the right cultivation of human relationships. It may be said that all novels, for whatever they are worth, are about human relationships; but Lawrence’s forte is to trace the ever-fluctuating curve of these relationships at a very profound level where human speech gets silenced and where mind-and will-controlled gestures and actions become sheer irrelevancies. The problem that Lawrence poses in all his novels is: how can a man achieve fulfilment (presuming that there is no God) in the context of the modern, mechanical, industrial civilization which is moving fast towards pure materialism and massinsanity? And because man-woman relationship is the most important of all relationships, much of Lawrence’s exploratory imagination is employed on the depiction of this particular relationship.
It is interesting to note that from The Rainbow onwards Lawrence’s novels constitute a single series which comprehensively deals with the totality of human relationships, though the emphasis continues to fall on the most important of these relationships. The Rainbow and Women in Love (which were originally conceived as one novel) explore chiefly the man-woman relationship. But at places in Women in Love, and particularly at the end, Lawrence hints at the insufficiency of this relationship alone for man’s fulfilment and suggests in addition man-man relationship as contributory to such fulfilment. The next novel, Aaron’s Rod, takes up the thread and deals chiefly with man-man relationship. Kangaroo, while dealing with man-man relationship, also takes up the political question, that is, how best to develop a policy involving a number of people in society. The Plumed Serpent finally considers man’s relationship with “God”-to Lawrence not a “personal” authority administering the universe from above but a pantheistic power in which a man participates while fulfilling his nature. Lady Chatterley, Lawrence’s last novel, reverts to and brings into sharp focus Lawrence’s primary concern, namely, man-woman relationship.
Lawrence and Sex:
As Lawrence concentrated on man-woman relationship, it was inevitable for him to deal intimately with the theme of sex. The boldness of his treatment of this forbidden theme involved him in legal battles against what he called the “censor-morons” and the “canaile.” The Rainbow was proscribed and Lady Chatterley, with its frank use of the four-letter words and its open (though often poetic) descriptions of the sex act, raised a storm of indignation which Lawrence had -ather hopefully anticipated. Irt his-essays Pornography and Obscenity and Apropos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Lawrence tried earnestly to defend his last novel and his use of the obscene words. His plea was hat he had used these words to give the phallic reality its true phallic language. He reverenced sex as a mystery beyond the interference of the mind and as the prime mode of achieving the fruition of one’s nature. Lawrence was against the pornographer who tended to cheapen and to commercialize sex as also the puritan who shied away from its very mention as from a taboo. Lawrence, however, could not cut much ice with the people, and, ironically Lady Chatterley has become a collector’s piece for everybody fond of “porno.” Lawrence‘s conviction that there is religious mystery in sex relationship is deemed nothing more than an eccentricity today, but Lawrence is also a novelist of tomorrow. 

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