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Reviewed by:
  • Lawrence's Leadership Politics and the Turn against Women, and: The Consciousness of D. H. Lawrence: An Intellectual Biography
  • Marvin Magalaner
Cornelia Nixon. Lawrence's Leadership Politics and the Turn against Women. Berkeley: U of California P, 1986. 239 pp. No price given.
Daniel J. Schneider. The Consciousness of D. H. Lawrence: An Intellectual Biography. Lawrence: UP of Kansas, 1986. 207 pp. $25.00.

If Cornelia Nixon is right in her Lawrence's Leadership Politics and the Turn against Women, Lawrence's sexual and emotional life is tightly bound up with the directions he takes in politics and in his societal positions. Haunted by memories of a dominant, middle-class mother, and faced daily by an independent wife like Frieda, he found himself increasingly an advocate of male power in man-woman relationships and, more tentatively, a secret entertainer of homoerotic desires. These factors, so Nixon argues, convinced him that the highest human relationship would be the blood-brother bond between two men.

It is only a step from these conclusions to Lawrence's views on leadership politics. The male must lead the female, teach her, gain her submission in the marriage, nullify the independence that the modern woman feels, and bring her to sensual and psychological equilibrium with himself. Just so, in the societal, political realm must the elitist man lead other likeminded men away from the stultifying, fixed dissolution and corruption of English life, cultural, political, but especially economic, to a utopia (which he often called Rananim) where, under [End Page 663] the tutelage of the inspired Messianic leader—D. H. Lawrence himself—these "Sons of God" (and daughters) might enrich their spirits in a modern Eden. The men must march away from the women, however, to accomplish their purpose, entering into a bond of brotherhood with their fellow males that would be, ideally and actually, on a higher level than any mere man-woman union. And the men would follow this God-given leader not under duress but in love, intellectual approval, and recognition of his powers and personal attraction, a magnetism, it is hinted, bordering on the homoerotic.

To say all this in a critical study is one thing; it is quite another to demonstrate it by a detailed analysis of Lawrence's most important fictional works, The Rainbow and Women in Love, in their various versions from manuscript to publication, as well as by study of the nonfictional pieces Lawrence was writing at the same time. Professor Nixon has done an impressively convincing job of showing that Lawrence arrived slowly and deliberately at his final view of the place of women in society and the form his leadership politics would take.

The explication of these two novels, works that have been picked to pieces numerous times, is more exciting than the bare outline of conclusions to be drawn. Nixon's contrast of the imagery in both books related to sexuality, to Africa, to Egypt, to darkness, to water, and the association of this imagery with Lawrence's theme of dissolution and corruption lead to extremely meaningful arid original interpretations, as does the long section devoted to a study of Ursula's vision of the stampeding horses.

The key to Professor Nixon's argument is her chapter on Women in Love, called "The Snake's Place." Having shown how the center moves from sex in The Rainbow to "stillness" in the later novel, she sees Birkin, a surrogate for Lawrence, taking on a power beyond the phallic. This advance she sees as the beginning of Lawrence's "authoritarian" politics, induced by his fear of women's dominance through sexuality and procreation and leading, in turn, to homosexuality. Birkin teaches Ursula to shun phallic sex, which is bound to bring destruction, and to find "star-balance" as sequel to the discovery of the potency of the "anal caress" and the mysterious power of bowels and buttocks. Birkin's experience with Ursula is compared to Lawrence's with Frieda to bolster the argument. If the reader of this critical study finds difficulty in piercing the murkiness of anatomical verbiage and coming to grips with "bowels" and "loins," the fault is more Lawrence's cautious search for...


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