restricted access A "Strange Sapience": The Creative Imagination of D. H. Lawrence, and: D. H. Lawrence and the Devouring Mother: The Search for a Patriarchal Ideal of Leadership, and: The Development of D. H. Lawrence's Prose Themes, 1906-1915 (review)
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Reviewed by
Daniel Dervin. A "Strange Sapience": The Creative Imagination of D. H. Lawrence. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1984. 242 pp. $23.50.
Judith Ruderman. D. H. Lawrence and the Devouring Mother: The Search for a Patriarchal Ideal of Leadership. Durham: Duke UP, 1984. 211 pp. $35.75.
Berend Klaas van der Veen. The Development of D. H. Lawrence's Prose Themes, 1906-1915. Groningen, Netherlands: Rijksuniversiteit te Groningen, 1983. 231 pp. Hfl 50.00.

These three books all focus on psychological issues but differ markedly in approach. For the young Dutch scholar van der Veen, the key to Lawrence's work lies in his shifting attitudes toward the "intellectual" and "loving" sensibilities, attitudes that amount to an implicit psychology. In effect, therefore, van der Veen's book describes how Lawrence's own psychological ideas developed in early adulthood. By contrast, the two American scholars align themselves with psychoanalysis, so that Lawrence's response to unconscious processes dating from early childhood becomes the crux. Ruderman and Dervin, however, want to revise the classic Freudian view of Lawrence, best argued by Daniel Weiss in Oedipus in Nottingham (1962). Following recent psychoanalytic trends, they refer primarily to the pre-Oedipal period of individuation and developing object relations, the so-called "dyadic sphere" in which the infant comes to terms with separation from the mother.

Of the books, Dervin's A "Strange Sapience" is the most ambitious in scope but also the most speculative. Dervin has written two previous psychological studies of film and drama and turns to Lawrence as the test case for a psychoanalytical account of the creative process. His basic purpose is thus theoretical rather than critical. By drawing on recent post-Freudians, but also on Jung, Melanie Klein, Anton Ehrenzweig, and Freud himself, he wants to do justice to artistic creativity, which Freud treated so inadequately in his essay on creative writers and daydreaming. As Dervin maneuvers among these varied psychoanalytic positions, his method is frankly speculative; indeed, so many "perhapes" sprinkle his prose that this reader sometimes wished the ground were more solid. [End Page 354] Still, the accounts of psychoanalytic theory are clear and provocative, and humanists will welcome Dervin's conclusions. Art cannot be dismissed as mere wish-fulfillment, but occupies the crucial cultural realm of the "relatively real" where the subject reaches beyond itself in a dialectic that produces "personal visions of truth, tinged with illusion."

Along with its contributions to psychoanalytic theory, A "Strange Sapience" does illuminate Lawrence's fiction in various ways. Emphasis on him in a defense of art testifies to his importance, and Dervin's concern with reality—even if it is mainly psychoanalytic reality—reminds us that Lawrence matters because he expressed so much vivid experience. For Dervin, Lawrence's great achievement was the elusive Freudian goal of genital primacy, as shown by his ability to speak human sexuality in his art. He interprets Lawrence's career as a "path winding through the mystical centers of the body, awakening the dark gods, and finally out into the open daylight of phallic reality," where Lady Chatterley's Lover and The Man Who Died represent the triumphant culmination. The author neglects nonpsychological factors that also contributed to Lawrence's hesitancy to speak the sexual, such as the conventions of British fiction or his difficulties in publishing The Rainbow. But Dervin does freely acknowledge the fragility, even the ambiguity of the triumph he posits for Lawrence. His discussion of Lady Chatterley ends with a telling question: "Is this delusional, phallic narcissism, misguided mysticism, or a development of genital primacy out of the primeval waters of primary love?"

More narrowly, Dervin's book gives thoughtful psychological interpretations of broad issues in Lawrence's fiction such as the gender shifts in protagonists from work to work, the continuities among the composite symbols (rainbow, phoenix, plumed serpent), the mystique of Egypt, and the plot motif of a woman who rides away. Dervin avoids explicating single works, but as a close reader he can be so resourceful that one wishes he analyzed a greater variety of passages. His best chapter is probably the one on play. Beginning with Winnicott's work on...


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