Anne Fernihough’s D. H. Lawrence: Aesthetics and Ideology, is a dense, penetrating, and intriguingly innovative study of major thematic motifs [End Page 888] and dialectical patterns in a relatively unexamined area of Lawrence’s accomplishment. She boldly argues that Lawrence’s well-advertised aversion to several “idealist” inclinations in art theory does not obviate the more resonant significance of his own complex aesthetics that he reiterates and refines throughout his career and within a variety of genres and art forms. In this regard, Fernihough’s finest criticism—on interrelated discussions of Lawrence’s crucial consideration of Cezanne and on the emblematic importance of “art themes” in Women in Love—variously demonstrates how and why Lawrence embodies his own aesthetic belief that “matter actually exists” and that the most illuminating art “stubbornly elude[s] the dematerializing effects of an aesthetics of transcendence.” Thus the book often fruitfully combines a concern for theories of art with epistemological emphases on knowledge, perception, and forms of belief; one of the major purposes of her study is to explain how and why Lawrencean aesthetics cannot be fully understood apart from the specifically German philosophical tradition in which he was immersed before and after he met Frieda.
By intelligently focusing much of her book on a thorough and revisionist consideration of Lawrence’s relation to Bloomsbury attitudes and theories about art, culture, and transcendence, Fernihough reveals the striking paradox “that Lawrence, in so many ways a stridently masculinist thinker, attempts to restore those aspects of the aethestic (viscosity, bodiliness) traditionally regarded as ‘feminine.”‘ Indeed, even such an overheated use by Fernihough of that term “stridently” need not worry those watchdogs for signs of ideological dismissals of Lawrence in 1994; she generally offers a reasonably balanced and just treatment of Lawrence’s “palimpsestic” sexual politics as part of a modulated sub-theme in her study.
An important aspect of Fernihough’s achievement is her persuasive revelation that Lawrence’s pluralistic aesthetics often contrast with his frequently authoritarian politics embodied in his fiction between 1920 and 1925. She shows how his achievements as a writer undercut the assumptions today amid reigning theoretical camps of an easy link between organicism and idealism; Fernihough cogently maintains that in Lawrence the “organic metaphors underlying more positive ideologies of green and ecological thinking” place Lawrence in surprising alignment with various thinkers on the deconstructionist and post-modernist side of contemporary criticism. It is unfortunate that in this context of underlying [End Page 889] meanings and sub-textual implication, perhaps Fernihough slides too easily (and frequently) from Lawrence’s fiction to his essays and back again; despite her denials of this danger in her methodology, Lawrence’s rhetorical patterns of organic images require in-depth discussion within the artistic imperatives of the individual genre that frames and (to some extent) stipulates his techniques. Still, such abruptly interweaving discussions by Fernihough remain a minor distraction in an otherwise superbly organized work. She also relates her emphasis on linguistic patternings to several analyses about the shifting contexts and concerns of the “natural” and the “constructed” aspects of Lawrence’s artistic theory and practice.
Fernihough’s first chapter incisively refutes Bertrand Rusell’s charge against Lawrence that Lawrence’s views “led straight to Auschwitz”—as she describes Lawrence’s unfascistic connection to volkisch ideologies prevalent in Germany in the 1910s and 1920s. While Fernihough carefully absolves Lawrence of any direct blame for the doctrinal biases of the Germanic tyranny of the 1930s, she acknowledges how and why Lawrence’s characteristic imagery of disintegration and decomposition would later be appropriated in the services of Nazism. In her second chapter she analyzes Lawrence’s aesthetic critiques of mimetic language, and she remains convincingly up-to-date in her discussion about how Lawrence “foregrounds polyvalence in his work and undermines the idea of an essential link between signifier and signified.” Such an emphasis on voice and text permits Fernihough to move Lawrence into comfortable proximity to contemporary French feminist theory, and her study is especially invigorating in its integrated emphasis on Lacan, Kristeva, poetic language, and the art theories...