The Taming of D. H. Lawrence

Flame Into Being: The Life and Work of D. H. Lawrence

by Anthony Burgess
Arbor House, 276 pp., $15.00

D. H. Lawrence: Life into Art

by Keith Sagar
University of Georgia Press, 372 pp., $12.95 (paper)

Class, Politics and the Individual: A Study of the Major Works of D. H. Lawrence

by Peter Scheckner
Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 176 pp., $24.50

D. H. Lawrence: A Centenary Consideration

edited by Peter Balbert, edited by Phillip L. Marcus
Cornell University Press, 261 pp., $25.00

The White Peacock

by D. H. Lawrence, edited by Andrew Robertson
Viking, 416 pp., $22.50

The Prussian Officer and Other Stories

by D. H. Lawrence, edited by John Worthen
Viking, 272 pp., $18.95

Letters, Volume III

by D. H. Lawrence, edited by James T. Boulton and Andrew Robertson
Cambridge University Press, 762 pp., $49.50

D. H. Lawrence
D. H. Lawrence; drawing by David Levine

If there is one quality about D. H. Lawrence that wins the wholehearted approval of Anthony Burgess in his very readable tour through the life and works, it is Lawrence’s Englishness. Lawrence was “the most English of writers,” writes Burgess, “the sort of good Englishman I can never myself be”: a sound animal-loving man full of blunt empirical sense squarely in “a tradition of British Non-conformist decency.” If he does sometimes go on a bit about sex, “he knows in time when to leave off.”

A second feature that gets good marks from Burgess is Lawrence’s professional approach to his job. “He demand[ed] neither silence nor seclusion…. He never whined about distraction or writer’s block; he got on with his trade…. He belongs to [an] Edwardian tradition of steady application to the craft,” a tradition with which Burgess—author by now of nearly thirty novels, as well as books about Shakespeare, Hemingway, and Joyce—fully identifies himself. “It seem[s] to me, as it must have seemed to [Lawrence], reasonable to sit down at a table every morning and fulfill a minimal daily quota of a thousand words.” The blame for bringing such honest professionalism into disrepute, Burgess suggests, should be laid at the door of Lawrence’s foes, the snobs and poseurs of Bloomsbury.

As a technician of the novel, Burgess’s Lawrence went about his writing blithely unaware of the pitfalls that contemporaries like Conrad, Ford Madox Ford, and Joyce, heirs of Flaubert, saw all about them in narrative point of view. “What was good enough for Thomas Hardy, and even George Eliot, was good enough for him.” In his indifference to theory he was “very British.” “[He] seems to bypass [art] and interpose nothing between the reader and the vision…. To read him is to feel oneself in contact with a personality that has broken through form and rhetoric and confronts one in a kind of nakedness.”

Despite his down-to-earth approach and his tendency to dismiss Lawrence’s more extravagant flights in favor of his shrewder, more self-aware side (“He is never without humor or irony”), there are depth and generosity enough in Burgess’s response to Lawrence. But I wonder whether the no-nonsense treatment always serves Lawrence well. I will give one instance.

Burgess is at some pains to downplay any homoerotic element in Lawrence, particularly in his discussion of the nude wrestling scene in Women in Love and of Lawrence’s proposal of a pact of blood-brotherhood to Middleton Murry. He rejects any sexual interpretation of the latter episode, suggesting instead that “an innate power hunger…had to be exercised over some chosen man, since it did not work with the chosen woman [i.e., Frieda was too tough], and this was implausibly presented as a mere longing for fraternal love.”

But it seems to me that we would be taking Lawrence more seriously if we viewed these and other explorations of the potential…

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