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Modern Fiction Studies 46.4 (2000) 971-978

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Psychodynamics, Seeing, and Being in D. H. Lawrence

Elizabeth M. Fox

Barbara Ann Schapiro. D. H. Lawrence and the Paradoxes of Psychic Life. Albany: SUNY P, 1999. ix + 155 pp.

Jack Stewart. The Vital Art of D. H. Lawrence: Vision and Expression. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1999. xiii + 251 pp.

One a psychoanalytic reading of Lawrence's fiction and one a comparative study of Lawrence's style and the visual arts, these two books should prove milestones in Lawrence studies. Both explore the unconscious and Lawrence's depiction of conflicting forces of psychic life: D. H. Lawrence and the Paradoxes of Psychic Life explains his stylistic successes by examining patterns of emotional needs in his works while The Vital Art of D. H. Lawrence: Vision and Expression illuminates the psychology of the novels through their relation to the visual arts. These two studies deserve attention not only from Lawrence scholars but also from those interested in psychoanalytic criticism and those studying correspondences between the visual and literary arts. That said, the two volumes place qualitatively and quantitatively different demands on readers.

Decades of criticism and Lawrence's own claim that thousands of young men suffered from the psycho-sexual malaise portrayed in Sons and Lovers attest to his works' suitability as a subject for psychoanalytic [End Page 971] theory. Barbara Schapiro's book continues her past work with contemporary "relational" theory: a study of narcissistic patterns in Romantic poetry; a co-edited collection, Narcissism and the Text; and a rich chapter on Lawrence and Virginia Woolf in her 1994 book, Literature and the Relational Self. Her new work expands on material from that chapter. In an engagingly personal introduction, Schapiro describes herself as a feminist, Jewish, psychoanalytic critic who epitomizes values her subject often attacked. She explains relational psychoanalytic theories as versions of contemporary intersubjective psychology, concentrating on the work of Jessica Benjamin for her ideas about dominance, sadomasochism, and gender and drawing on such theorists as Stephen Mitchell, Michael Eigen, and D. W. Winnicott for other issues. Her approach gathers both recognized and novel insights about Lawrence into a coherent whole, unifying findings from disparate approaches with relational theories. As a result, she shows how Lawrence's fiction depicts our fundamental and competing psychic needs for assertion and recognition, or mutuality, in relation with significant others.

Lawrence would approve of Schapiro's approaches to her subject: she writes about the moments in his fiction that move her most--those concerned with feeling fully alive, understanding vitality in bodily experience, and tolerating psychic tensions. She uses relational theories because they enable her to understand these dimensions in Lawrence's art and her own experience. To justify this approach, she cites the paradigm shift in psychoanalytic thinking from a drive-motivated to a process- and relation-oriented model. The latter refers to the relations an individual has (externally) with people and events as well as (internally) with powerful representations of them, including conflicts between these interpersonal and intrapsychic realms. The study illustrates the compatibility between this approach and Lawrence's theme of "recovering authenticity through relationship." Omission of much of the theoretical history protects informed readers from repetition, but those who are less knowledgeable may wish for more extensive discussion of relational theory or fewer references to single articles published by less-known analysts such as Michael Bader; Schapiro's aforementioned book on relational theory, Literature and the Relational Self, offers a fuller introduction to the theoretical framework. [End Page 972]

Schapiro examines the Mother-child and "self-other" interactions in the fiction, focusing especially on difficulties in attunement and recognition, which fits the novelist's attention to minute psychic shifts. Further, she examines the role of the Mother as both subject and object to explain contradictions in Lawrence's own relationships with women in life and in his texts. Not surprisingly, in biographical evidence Schapiro finds "confirming patterns" for the fictional psychodynamics she analyzes. The key to the characters' and author's struggle for mutuality as opposed to omnipotent tendencies, she argues...


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