restricted access The Visionary Lawrence: Beyond Philosophy and Art (review)
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Reviewed by
Robert E. Montgomery. The Visionary Lawrence: Beyond Philosophy and Art. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994. vii + 248 pp.

Philosophically speaking, Montgomery suggests, Lawrence “must find a philosophy . . . that will be religious without being Christian, scientific without being materialistic.” It seems almost inevitable that in 1908–09, he discovered Nietzsche, “a great thinker and artist living in a post-Darwinian world and articulating a new, non-Christian myth or vision intended to fulfill both man’s scientific and religious needs.” Then, going back to the early Greek philosophers, especially Heraclitus, Lawrence found a pre-Christian philosophy that was “at once scientific and religious.” Shortly after this, Lawrence read Madame Blavatsky and found her theosophical ideas “marvelously illuminating”—although Montgomery thinks that the major theosopher who most closely parallels Lawrence is Boehme. Knowledgeably contrasting idealist and materialist philosophies, Montgomery locates Lawrence in relation to Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria and Marginalia and Haeckel’s Riddle of the Universe. Citing Aldous Huxley’s characterization of Lawrence as a “mystical materialist,” Montgomery says that “Lawrence’s tradition is not . . . a novelistic one at all,” but a visionary tradition.

In four major chapters, Montgomery authoritatively traces the [End Page 870] lines that connect Lawrence with Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Heraclitus, and Boehme, emphasizing “that it is not a system of abstract ideas that these thinkers share,” but “an imaginative vision expressed primarily as symbol and myth.” Cautiously avoiding the term “indebtedness,” which assumes a “wider reading of Schopenhauer” than Lawrence’s comments on only one chapter, “The Metaphysics of Love,” bear out, Montgomery notes the striking similarities between Schopenhauer’s and Lawrence’s ideas on vitalism and polarity. Schopenhauer sums up his philosophy in the statement “my body and my will are one”; Lawrence, in this respect, is a Schopenhauerian novelist. In the unpublished foreword to Sons and Lovers, Lawrence extends “the basic opposition between ‘blood’ and ‘intellect’ into the opposition between Flesh and Word,” seeking “to overturn the traditional hierarchy” of St. John’s “The Word made Flesh.” Lawrence, however, goes beyond Schopenhauer, who, despite his claim to have established a “third” between the opposites, was actually “another in a long line of victims of Cartesianism,” with “no possibility of a synthesis or reconciliation.” Lawrence’s opposites differ from Schopenhauer’s: “they are polar opposites capable of reconciliation while Schopenhauer’s are not.” The distinction is an important one. As Montgomery uses the terms, in dualism the opposites are irreconcilable, whereas polarity is a dynamic metaphysic in which “the opposites which seem to sunder life into an irreconcilable dualism are in fact polar opposites, the two forces of a single power, like the positive and negative poles of a magnet.” That Lawrence attempts to reconcile the polar relationship between opposites in the unifying metaphors of Holy Ghost or Crown is not a new idea in Lawrence criticism, but scholars will find Montgomery’s clarification of philosophical terms and concepts useful in maintaining distinctions that are blurred in imprecise usage.

Montgomery traces Lawrence’s concept of evolution to its sources in nineteenth-century Romanticism and Nietzsche, who was also “a Schopenhauerian.” Although some critics have assumed Nietzsche’s massive influence on Lawrence’s developing “philosophy,” “[i]t is impossible to tell what, if anything, Lawrence had read of Nietzsche, and his descriptions of Nietzsche are often inaccurate.” Montgomery thinks it is neither necessary nor important to establish “direct influence”: “Nietzsche’s ideas become relevant to a study of Lawrence’s ideas not because they caused them but because, as parallels, they help us to understand them.” [End Page 871]

In Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy, “Dionysus and Apollo are direct transpositions of Schopenhauer’s will and idea”: “Dionysus rules over the imageless ‘innermost depths,’ while Apollo governs the world of images and ‘mere appearances.’ Apollo is the god of boundaries, laws, conventions—all that which creates distinct entities and forms. Dionysus is the flood that overwhelms the world of distinct, separate objects and dissolves them back into their original oneness. The Dionysian is nature, the Apollonian culture.” In the Study of Thomas Hardy, Nietzsche’s Apollo and Dionysus become Lawrence’s Law and Love.

Montgomery presents a strong argument on Lawrence’s response...