D H Lawrence: Contribution as British Novelist
D H Lawrence Contribution as British Novelist : Of all the novelists of the century it is David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930) who is “the most impassioned and persistent writer that seeks to diagnose the psychic dangers that beset the generation and to point his fingers at the potential sources of strength by which it can be combated.” All his novels present souls in turmoil caused by the unrest of the times and their rebellion against the accepted ideas and morals. In this respect Lawrence has the greatest affinity with the elder novelist Thomas Hardy. Both are concerned with the basic problems of life, of man’s relation with man and with the universe.
D H Lawrence Contribution as British Novelist
Like Hardy, D. H. Lawrence too, has a theory about the purpose of the novel as a work of art. To him “tragedy ought really to be a great kick at misery”. And his attitude is not one of acceptance or resignation but revolt. The son of a Nottinghamshire miner, turned a school teacher and novelist, Lawrence like Hardy was preoccupied with a rural world in decline and transformed by modern industry and urbanisation that came in the wake of the First World War. The frontiers between the rural and urban areas has become thin and almost non-existent.
In Lawrence first novel, Sons and Lovers (1913), which is mainly auto-biographical, he has given vivid and almost idyllic pictures of a miner’s family, which was Lawrence’s own. Mr. and Mrs. Morel represent the novelist’s parents, Paul is a dramatised representation of Lawrence himself and Miriam is his early love. The characters and the atmosphere of the novel are very close to normality and are frankly realistic. The texture of everyday life presented here contributes to the reality of the picture.
Here the people earn their living by hard labour and live a domestic life of a mining village. But the novel also contains germ of ideas which in Lawrence’s more mature and later novels took a definite shape and practically dominated them. The relation between husband and wife between son and mother, between lovers, – these are the problems, which already hinted at in the first book become the staple of the later novels.
H. Lawrence as a novelist is preoccupied with the problem of the relations between men and women, which to quote his own words, “is, after all, the problem of today, the establishment of a new relation, or the adjustment of the old one, between men and women.” And he does that in a challenging, disturbing and often repelling manner, because of his insistence on set and sex-life. His novels are all set against the background of the industrialised rural society and by this device he finds enough scope to deal with the psychic tensions of the modern rising generation of intellectuals.
The world of the second novel, The Rainbow (1915), is the typical Lawrence world. Here the limited village circle of the first novel is enlarged and developed. The Brangwen circle which is the subject of The Rainbow is no longer confined to the traditional farmer’s or miner’s life. They go to local high school, to London to shop in a big shop or to study art, to a working class town school, to a Teachers’ Training College, where folk-song and morris dance appear in the curriculum, to ‘a fairly large house in the new, red-brick park of Beldover…. villa built by the widow of the late colliery manager’.
This world, with its characters is continued in the other great novel Women in Love (1920) which was originally planned to be a complement to the first and the two novels together were to form one book, to be called The Sisters. Birkin, Gerald the two young men, Ursula and Gudrun – the two girls are specimens of new young men and young girls. The Aaron’s Rod published in 1922 is a mature work of great stylistic quality. It is a semi-autobiographical novel with English and Italian backgrounds.
The Kangaroo resulted from his experiences during the war and his visit to Australia. In this novel the marriage question is again connected with relation between man and man. Relationship with women is found unsatisfactory as in Aaron’s Rod because of their desire for mastery; that with men because of their lack of emotional response. The Plumed Serpent (1926) is another of Lawrence’s discussion novels and it stresses the values of the primitive as opposed to the civilised.
Lawrence’s grip over his subject is deeper now and through the plotting and characterisation his favourite themes are vividly and dramatically expressed. Birkin, the hero of the Women in Love is virtually a self-portraiture of Lawrence and is a mouthpiece of the novelist’s doctrine of the relations of men and women. Gerald Crich, the modern ‘industrial magnate’ and the intellect ‘whose centres of feeling are drying up and who felt, with faint, small but final sterile horror, that his mystic reason was breaking’ represents the modern intellectual, who is also partly Lawrence. Their conversations throw light on the characteristic questions which have exercised the new generation, without finding any solution. They are – what is the aim and object of your life?
Wherein does life centre for you? What is the right relation between man and man, between man and woman, between blood and brain? etc The answers give the clue to these modern problems and their solutions, as Lawrence wants to suggest. “I find that one needs someone really pure single activity; lt doesn’t centre at all. It is artificially held together by the social mechanism”; “there remains only his perfect union with a woman – a sort of ultimate marriage and there is not anything else”; “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 believes, feels and says is always true” – these are the respective answers to the questions already posed.
As his answer to these questions Lawrence “evolved a kind of modern Pagan religion to free men from the sterility, from the monotonous boredom and mechanical slavery of the machine age. It was all a rebellion, religious in spirit, against contemporary materialism. For Christianity, in its organised form he had no use. For such Christian virtues as humility, pity, good-will he from time to time expressed a contempt. Even for Jesus he felt at once an attraction and repulsion.
In his The Man Who, Died, he depicts Jesus coming alive from the tomb and falling in love with a young Pagan priestess” (Collins). Here in a nutshell we find Lawrence’s philosophy of life. In Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1929), he gives complete expression to his views on sex and its religious significance to him. The emotional and physical experiences of Mellors, the lover of Lady Chatterley, whose husband has been crippled by war have been described with a compelling mastery. The novelist shows how man can realise a richer and fuller life by abandoning intellect and letting himself be guided by his instinct.
Like Birkin, Lawrence finds no general practical cure for the social disease, but seeks only for a personal way or salvation, at least for himself. Politics and religion do not help him. He wants to live by “a relationship between ‘fulfilled’ individuals, who remain individuals without merging into others and each achieves through the other some contacts with a hitherto unknown, non-human and trans-human power. One lover is to be the ‘door’ of the other to this unknown power, the life-source, to which Christianity and still more modern humanitarianism and democracy have no excess” (Robson): This is Lawrence’s attitude to love and if in its treatment he descends to obscenity and vulgarity he can not help it. The charge of obscenity has been brought against him.
Lawrence Lady Chatterley’s Lover had been tried at the Old Bailey court and prescribed as immoral pornography. He had been a whipping boy for the moralists. But he always maintained that he is ‘amoral’. In the retrial of the book in 1960 it was acquitted of the charge after an array of witnesses testified to its literary merit and even its moral and spiritual value. The sale of the book after its trial rose 35,00,000 copies in three yearsa glowing testimony to the popularity of the book. Thus Lawrence, persecuted in his lifetime was elevated to a hero in the estimation of the present generation.
As to the artistic qualities of his novels, it may be said that plots in the conventional sense do not exist in them, nor does characterisation. Like Shaws dramas, these are novels of ideas and discussions. His plot is simply the line of movement of the: elemental life-force – a sinuous, rapid, shifting, wave-like movement. He uses the impressionistic technique for narration and character delineation. Even in Sons and Lovers which is a traditional work, the narration does not follow the traditional chronological sequence but moves freely backward and forward in time.
He is impressionist because he is not concerned with the dramatic shape of the thing, but with the living feel of it. His novels are lyrical novels. He uses similes and metaphors and suggestive symbols “rich with overtones of feeling and hidden correspondences of thought”. He wants to convey “the shimmerirness of life”, or in the words of Walter Allen, “the moment of life itself”. Lawrence is an original powerful genius who has made significant contribution to the development of the English novel.
Lawrence is also a powerful writer of verse. His collections include Love Poems and Others (1913), Amores (1916), New Poems (1918), Birds, Beasts and Flowers (1923), Collected Poems (1928), Last Poems (1933). His poems are characterised by overwhelming spontaneity and direct simplicity of utterance. His passionate belief in the primitive and elemental impulses are the major themes of his verse. His animal poems are remarkable for his acute sensitivity and exploration of the instinctive life of the animals. An ironic contrast between instinct and education makes his otherwise simple poem, The Snake profoundly philosophical.
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