restricted access D. H. Lawrence's "Lady": A New Look at "Lady Chatterley's Lover, and: The Letters of D. H. Lawrence. Volume 3: October 1916-June 1921 (review)
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Reviewed by
Michael Squires and Dennis Jackson, eds. D. H. Lawrence's "Lady": A New Look at "Lady Chatterley's Lover."Athens: U of Georgia P, 1985. 264 pp. $24.00.
James Boulton and Andrew Robertson, eds. The Letters of D. H. Lawrence. Volume 3: October 1916-June 1921. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984. 762 pp. $49.50.

In the thin Introduction the editors claim the "perceptive and original readings" of the "outstanding critics" in this volume demonstrate that Lady Chatterley "is indeed a major work whose artistic strength and intellectual vitality amply justify serious criticism." Malraux's pioneering essay demonstrated this premise as early as 1932. These critics are certainly not outstanding, and the volume is notable for the absence of all the leading Lawrenceans. Their readings—which either repeat what they have said before or what others have said before, or say what no one should ever have said—are not nearly as good as the essays written by Spilka, Schorer, Hough, Moynahan and Daleski between 1955 and 1965.

The dozen critics in this volume tend to write in a stodgy academic style, take a peripheral rather than direct approach to the novel, and use heterogeneous comparisons yoked together by violence. The straining for something to say leads to some peculiar and unacceptable modes of argument. Scott Sanders—who begins with a series of banalities (Clifford's "paralysis is an outward symptom of an inward condition") and ends with some preachy passages on the nuclear threat that virtually reduce Lawrence's meaning to "make love not war"—uses the three discrete and independent versions of the novel inter-changeably, [End Page 357] as if they were a single text.

T. H. Adamowski's torture-to-read-essay begins with Mailer's statement that Lady Chatterley is honorifically existential. He then makes a number of pointless comparisons with Sartre—"Lawrence offers a kind of analogue to the for-itself's desire for coincidence with its ego" (try telling that to your students)—that cast no light on Lawrence. Frederick McDowell, the one distinguished critic in this group, is more suggestive than convincing, better on Forster than on Lawrence, when comparing the two fundamentally different writers. Forster never connected, as Lawrence did, the prose with the passion, the beast with the monk. McDowell subjunctively claims "Lawrence would probably have known The Longest Journey as a result of Frieda's having read it in 1915" (you cannot argue influence this way) and compares John Thomas and Lady Jane to Maurice although "it is the one [version] that Forster could not have known." Surely Lawrence, who had spent years in Italy, would never have used Where Angels Fear to Tread as a literary model when he sat down to write The Lost Girl. And, because A Passage to India takes place before the Great War, there is no point in stating that Tommy Dukes "has been more greatly disabled spiritually by the Great War than Fielding has."

The most shameless example of specious argument (as well as jejeune art criticism) is the essay by Evelyn Hinz and John Teunissen on Lawrence's supposed use of the Ares-Aphrodite myth. (Their description of Venice as a "seaside resort," a sort of Mediterranean Margate, suggests the sophistication of this piece.) They concede Lawrence's "lifelong resistance to myth" yet claim that his "story of love, war, and industrialism is the same in kind as that told by Homer over three thousand years ago"—even though industrialism did not exist until the nineteenth century. When the myth-novel comparison crumbles into contradictions, the authors, who want it both ways, insist that the "seeming disparities serve to emphasize" the similarities, that Lawrence made a "mistake" by having Mellors identify with Hephaestus instead of with Ares: (They also use Lawrence's reference to the planet Mars in Phoenix II as evidence of the Ares myth in Lady Chatterley.) Sometimes their anfractuous argument becomes absolute nonsense, for they write: "Jan Brueghel's contribution in Venus at the Forge of Vulcan lies in his evocation of the clank and clutter that Connie experiences when she drives through the industrial Midlands." In other words, according to the authors, the...