D.H.Lawrence is one of the most important and prolific Modernist essayists. Lawrence wrote on an eclectic range of topics: aesthetics, botany, culture, education, literature, pornography, psychoanalysis, religion, sexuality, travel, and trousers. He even wrote an unconventional school textbook for Oxford University Press: Movements in European History (1921) was commissioned as a series of informal short essays, “vivid sketches of movements and people.” His numerous prefaces, introductions, and book reviews clearly demonstrate his critical and commercial versatility.
In England, Lawrence’s essay work appeared principally in the English Review and, later, the Adelphi magazine; in America, the Dial was his chief publishing outlet. The Dial’s editorial interest in primitive art and culture was particularly germane to Lawrence’s preoccupations. From 1912 Lawrence lived by his pen, and his feel for the popular journalistic market found expression in his essays for mass-circulation newspapers such as the Evening News and Sunday Dispatch. In these articles, the neglected side of Lawrence as an adaptable, professional wordsmith is evident.
In many ways, Lawrence’s career starts and finishes with the essay. His earliest completed prose work, “Art and the Individual” (1908), originally delivered as a discussion paper, and his last full-scale text Apocalypse (1931), a death-bed commentary on the symbology of the Book of Revelations, are indicative of Lawrence’s notorious tendency to preach. He adopted argumentative tactics as a distinctive stylistic means of redefining complacent literary forms. No area of Lawrence’s writing is without the stamp of essayism. His novels habitually halt in mid-narrative, delivering polemics on marriage, politics, or cultural malaise; his letters are frequently selfcontained essays or fragmentary drafts for essay projects; his later poetry is often direct commentary rather than traditional verse, indebted both to Pascal’s Pensées and Nietzsche’s use of the aphorism as guerrilla mini-essay.
As social critic, Lawrence dwells on the impact of technological change and the ways in which that change restructures “organic community,” affecting consciousness and altering the sense of the physical human self. He observes how the crises of modernity reverberate in the most intimate corners of personal relationships, especially the sexual.
Anticipating Michel Foucault, Lawrence regarded sex and power as vital codependants.
He also believed that Western Christian culture was in decline, making way for the reemergence of ancient, esoteric knowledges which would put the human body and spirit back into a “true relation” with the cosmos.
That “true relation” was formulated and developed in a number of key essays, beginning with “Study of Thomas Hardy” (1914), a “philosophicalish” work of literary criticism combined with reflections on sexual morality and the universal principle of conflicting dualities, adopted from Heraclitus. Reacting to the outbreak of World War I Lawrence wrote: “What colossal idiocy, this war. Out of sheer rage I’ve begun my book about Thomas Hardy. It will be about anything but Thomas Hardy I am afraid.”
Lawrence’s comments on his Hardy study establish two important features of his essay work. First, Lawrence always regarded the essay as historically engaged with momentous events; immediacy and combativeness color his style. He sometimes writes with the urgency of a Victorian sage—Carlyle, Ruskin, or Arnold—and his rhetoric is inflected by the prophetic language of a jeremiad. Second, Lawrence delineates his proclivity to argue laterally and vertically at the same time. A Lawrentian essay on any subject can suddenly become decentered; different knowledges multiply in the margins, unexpected propositions begin to circulate beneath the surface of the text. A good deal of Lawrence’s essay work is characterized by the dissolution of discursive boundaries.
“The Crown” (1915, revised 1925) continued the Hardy investigation, and in related essays like “The Reality of Peace” (1917), “Democracy” (1919), and “Education of the People” (1920) Lawrence reconceived the essay as a form of intervention, a directive for the social implementation of his ideas. Many of his essays in the period between 1915 and 1925 are handicapped by inconsistent terminology and abstraction, as well as a tonal shift to condescension and authoritarianism. Lawrence may have written them as a trigger for political action, literally, but their didactic overdetermination makes them somewhat remote from readerly sympathies.
After 1919, Lawrence livcd more or less permanently outside England, distanced geographically and ideologically from the centers of literary production and uncertain of his audience. His two psychoanalytic pamphlets, for example, are important lay responses to Freud; but Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious (1921) and Fantasia of the Unconscious (1922) also suggest Lawrence’s embittered abdication of a public speaking position. The foreword to Fantasia unmasks Lawrence the coterie-essayist, assuming the role of explorer in difficult intellectual terrain, dismissive of the common reader who cannot follow: “I don’t intend my books for the generality of readers. I count it a mistake of our mistaken democracy that every man who can read print is allowed to believe that he can read all that is printed.” The foreword further avers that his speculative essays, “pollyanalytics,” are “inferences made afterwards” from the “pure passionate experience” of his holistic creative moments. This is misleading, obscuring the extent to which Lawrence used the essay form to gloss his own oeuvre, to deploy the mythology of late Romanticism in imposing a false coherence upon the diversity of his writing. Lawrence needed the essay to explain himself and, indeed, to map his future moves.
In his literary criticism, Lawrence is consistently concerned with deconstructing the authority of the Logos. The essays collected as Studies in Classic American Literature (1923) were pioneering readings of mainstream American authors, critically observing the unstable, dialogic nature of the literary text that forever slips away from an author’s conscious intentions. The Studies is prefaced with Lawrence’s famous injunction: “Never trust the artist. Trust the tale. The proper function of a critic is to save the tale from the artist who created it.” Lawrence’s critical essays unseal subtexts which themselves are provisional to other proliferating knowledges. The reading process is complicated by the unstable subjectivity of the critic: for Lawrence, critical engagement with a text is always interactive, involving the simultaneous unraveling of the Word and a performance of the critic’s deferred, divided self.
Lawrence wrote four book-length travel studies—Twilight in Italy (1916), Sea and Sardinia (1921), Mornings in Mexico (1927), and Etruscan Places (1932)—and several occasional sketches; they are major contributions to an essay form which had a special significance between the wars. The travel essays were aimed at a general reader, encouraging Lawrence to give material, experiential form to his beliefs within an established genre that was historically conditioned by the notion of “pleasurable instruction” and a demand for “the real.” Travel writing allowed Lawrence to resolve the formal problems of essayism. Thematically, his fetishizations of the primitive, the organic, the agrarian, and “the spirit of place” are plausibly contextualized in narratives of crosscultural encounter. Structurally, the journey narrative, with defined points of departure and terminus, modulated Lawrence’s lateral and vertical intellectual tendencies with a degree of accessible linearity. Tonally, Lawrence’s oscillation between language registers—from the prophetic to the conversational, the waspish to the confessional— appears as a mobile response to changing psychic geographies. Lawrence could alternately represent himself as a popular interlocutor or a deracinated Arnoldian cultural remnant; as traveling, tale-telling essayist he indulged in both at once.
David Herbert Lawrence. Born 11 September 1885 in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire.
Studied at Nottingham High School, 1898–1901; University College, Nottingham (now University of Nottingham), 1906–08, teacher’s certificate, 1908. Taught at Davidson Road School, Croydon, Surrey, 1908–12. Eloped with Frieda von Richthofen Weekley, 1912, and married, 1914. Lived in Germany, Italy, and Switzerland, 1912–14, then in England, 1914–19. Prosecuted for obscenity for the novel The Rainbow, 1915.
Contributor to various journals and newspapers, including Adelphi, the Dial, the English Review, the Evening News, and the Sunday Dispatch; founder, with Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry, Signature magazine, 1916. Lived in Italy, 1919–22, the United States and Mexico, 1922–23, England, France, and Germany, 1924, New Mexico and Mexico, 1924–25, Italy, 1925–28, and France, 1928–30. Died (of tuberculosis) in Vence, southern France, 2 March 1930.
Essays and Related Prose
Twilight in Italy, 1916
Sea and Sardinia, 1921
Movements in European History (as Lawrence H.Davidson), 1921
Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious (pamphlet), 1921
Fantasia of the Unconscious (pamphlet), 1922
Studies in Classic American Literature, 1923
Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays, 1925
Mornings in Mexico, 1927
Pornography and Obscenity (pamphlet), 1929
My Skirmish with Jolly Roger, 1929; revised version as A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, 1930
Assorted Articles, 1930
Etruscan Places, 1932
Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers, edited by Edward D.McDonald, 1936
Selected Essays, 1950
Phoenix II: Uncollected, Unpublished, and Other Prose Works, edited by Warren Roberts and Harry T.Moore, 1968
Selected Poetry and Non-Fictional Prose, edited by John Lucas, 1990
Other writings: several novels (including Sons and Lovers, 1913; The Rainbow, 1915;
Women in Love, 1920; Lady Chatterley’s Lover, 1928), short stories, a novella, poetry, plays, letters, and travel writing.
Collected works edition: Works (Cambridge Edition), general editors James T.Boulton and Warren Roberts, 1980– (in progress).
Cowan, James C, D.H.Lawrence: An Annotated Bibliography of Writings About Him, De Kalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2 vols., 1982–85
Philiips, Jill M., D.H.Lawrence: A Review of the Biographies and Literary Criticism, New York: Gordon Press, 1978
Roberts, Warren, A Bibliography of D.H.Lawrence, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, revised edition, 1982 (original edition, 1963)
Stoll, John E., D.H.Lawrence: A Bibliography, Troy, New York: Whitston, 1977
Andrews, W.T., “D.H.Lawrence’s Favourite Jargon,” Notes and Queries 13 (1966):97– 98
Balbert, Peter, D.H.Lawrence and the Phallic Imagination: Essays on Sexual Identity and Feminist Misreading, Basingstoke: Macmillan, and New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989
Black, Michael, D.H.Lawrence: The Early Philosophical Works, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1991; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992
Edwards, Duane, “‘Inferences made afterwards’: Lawrence and the Essay,” in Essays on the Essay: Redefining the Genre, edited by Alexander J.Butrym, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989
Eggert, Paul, “Lawrence and the Futurists: The Breakthrough in His Art,” Meridian 1 (1983):21–32
Ellis, David, “Reading Lawrence: The Case of Sea and Sardinia,” D. H.Lawrence Review 10 (1977):52–63
Ellis, David, “Lawrence and the Biological Psyche,” in D.H. Lawrence: Centenary Essays, edited by Mara Kalnins, Bristol: Bristol Classical Press, 1986
Ellis, David, and Howard Mills, D.H.Lawrence’s Non-Fiction: Art, Thought and Genre, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988
Foster, Richard, “Criticism as Rage: D.H.Lawrence,” in A D.H. Lawrence Miscellany, edited by Harry T.Moore, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1959
Gutierrez, Donald, “D.H.Lawrence’s Golden Age,” D.H. Lawrence Review 9
Herzinger, Kim A., D.H.Lawrence in His Time, 1908–1915, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania: Bucknell University Press, 1982
Holderness, Graham, D.H.Lawrence: History, Ideology, and Fiction, Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, and Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1982
Joost, Nicholas, and Alvin Sullivan, D.H.Lawrence and the Dial, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1970
Meyers, Jeffrey, editor, D.H.Lawrence and Tradition, London: Athlone Press, and Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1985
Musgrove, B.M., D.H.Lawrence’s Travel Books (dissertation), Cambridge: University of Cambridge, 1988
Schneider, Daniel J., D.H.Lawrence: The Artist as Psychologist, Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1984
Schneider, Daniel J., The Consdousness of D.H.Lawrence: An Intellectual Biography, Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1986
Simpson, Hilary, D.H.Lawrence and Feminism, De Kalb: Northern Illinois University Press, and London: Croom Helm, 1982
Williams, Raymond, “D.H.Lawrence,” in his Culture and Society, 1780–1950, London: Chatto and Windus, and New York: Columbia University Press, 1958
Worthen, John, D.H.Lawrence: A Literary Life, London: Macmillan, and New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989
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