The Literary Criticism of D. H. Lawrence

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Last updated: February 1, 2019

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http://www. jstor. org THE LITERARY CRITICISM OF D. H. LAWRENCE REN? WELLEK is an extreme irrationalist.He wants to Lawrence “release us from the horrid grip of the evil-smelling DH. old Logos”; he detests abstract philosophy, the particularly to “blood-conscious he constantly Kant”; “beastly appeals to the “solar to the consciousness,” ness,” “phallic plexus,” for the instinctive, the sub “dark gods”? so many metaphors intuitive. and the utterly conscious, Literary spontaneous criticism seems to have no chance whatever, rence was a radical and intelligent critic of industrial civiliza tion, traditional sexual morality, and human relationships in general.

though Law Still, in 1937, F. R.Leavis could call him “the finest lit erary critic of our time? a great literary critic if ever there one. ” The one book of was lished during his lifetime, Studies in Classic American Lit in 1943 as erature (1923), was praised by Edmund Wilson “one of the “now few first-rate books admired not power “Literary do that have ever been written literary criticism Lawrence pub on the subject”; and in the late 1950s Lionel Trilling Studies, outrageous intellect, universally It will book. ” and creed.

than and understood,” to underrate called “a great, Lawrence’s shrewdness, of pungent formulation. Actually ment “can of an be is concept age-old of literary criticism a harsh attack is a good restate he the tells us in criticism,” account of Phoenix, introducing no more be on John Galsworthy, feeling pro a reasoned duced upon the critic by the book he is criticizing. can never science a science: The it is, in the first touchstone place, much not Criticism too per sonal, and in the second, ignores. it is concerned is emotion, with values reason. that We a work of art by its effect on our sincere and vital judge emotion, and nothing else. ” “A critic must be able to feel the a art in all its complexity and its force. impact of work of REN?WELLEK 599 ..

. A critic must lectually morally capable very be emotionally alive in every fibre, intel and skilful in essential logic, and then Sainte-Beuve remains to him a great honest. ” critic who has “the courage to admit what he feels, as well as ex the flexibility to know what he feels. ” Here Lawrence plicitly recognizes the role of the intellect and even of logic while still reserving first place for an instinctive taste or in voiced his opinions vividly, sometimes truculently but often In Our Time the short reviews of Hemingway’s perceptively: and of Dos Passos’s Manhattan Transfer, the introductions to sight.In many contexts, in letters and in reviews, Lawrence Bottom translations of Verga and to Edward Dahlberg’s on H.

G. Wells’s World and even the demolition Dogs, jobs (all collected in of William Clissold and on John Galsworthy are good traditional criticism. The World of Wil Phoenix) liam Clissold “is all chewed-up newspaper, and chewed-up scientific reports, like a mouse’s nest. ” Lawrence and retells with comic indignation, for instance, “The Apple Tree” vulgar to show sentimen “The tele I con bits up Galsworthy’s talism. Lawrence novel scope pher, class-bound snobbery view has a grand of the novelist’s mission.

s a great far greater than Galileo’s discovery: or a novelist, else’s wireless. ” somebody “Being sider myself and here superior to the saint, the scientist, who are all great masters the philoso of man the alive, but never the poet, of different get the whole hog. ” “Whole hog” means total man? soul, and body? from which mind, or should so that he can cause creates create . . . The on the ether.

as a tremulation “tremulations novel man can make can the whole alive tremble. ” “The novel help us to live, as it reveals else can”: all art, (as does nothing man “the relation between and his circumam presumably) at the is the moment. “The novel bient universe, living high est of subtle inter-relatedness that man has discov example reasons Lawrence the relation ered. ” For obvious pondered novelist to morality and specifically to pornography.

He of overt moralizing. “Morality is that delicate, disapproved for ever trembling and changing balance between me and my of the novel 600 circumambient LITERARY CRITICISM while OF D. H. LAWRENCE universe”; as if “the novelist put his thumb in the scale, to ? is pull down the balance to his own predilection”? and that is for Lawrence immorality.

He admits that “the novel is not, as a oralizing? tendentiousness rule, immoral because the novelist has any dominant idea, or purpose. The immorality lies in the novelist’s helpless, un conscious predilection,” blood-and-thunder novels, in sentimental in smart cynical “sweet” novels, novels, in any in art that falsifies reality and real relationships. He agrees that “every work of art adheres to some system of morality. But if it be really a work of art, it must contain the essential criticism on the morality to which it adheres. ” Lawrence was understandably much concerned with freeing the novel from prudish restraints in sexual matters.We all know of his post humous victory in England.

The trial, in 1960, of Lady Chat a terleys Lover broke the taboo on four-letter words with vengeance, but Lawrence himself in “Pornography and Ob scenity” and in his spirited defense “A propos Lady Chat terleys sor Lover9 was eager to make a distinction . . . it,” he between pornography and frank depiction of sex. “Even I would Pornography remarks, cen is the genuine rigorously. pornography, to insult sex, to do dirt on attempt whereas (he argues) his own fiction does away with tality and obscenity. Lawrence professes no interest in the both “critical sentimen widdle twaddle about style and form,” and he ridiculed Clive Bell’s term significant form. He disapproved of the “craving for form” in the novel after Flaubert and singled out Thomas Mann as “the last sick sufferer from the complaint of Flau identifies Aschenbach, bert.

” Oddly enough Lawrence aged in Mann’s Death in Venice, with Thomas Mann fifty-three and sees Mann as “old” and superannuated, though he was in 1913. “Even Madame Bovary seems thirty-eight years old tome dead in respect to the living rhythm of the whole work. ” The maxim “nothing outside of the definite line of the book” seems to him stultifying: the uman mind cannot “fix abso a living being. ” He thus lutely any definite line of action for defends a loose organic form: “We need an apparent form REN? WELLEK definite saying form that is mechanical. ” every work of art He has 601 sounds almost its own form, lessness, Crocean, which “has no relationship with any other form” and which the “admits the existence of no other form. ” He defended of

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