- Reviewed by
The last two decades have battered Lawrence's reputation. Take, for example, his treatment of women and male/female sexual relations. After Katherine Ann Porter (in "A Wreath for the Gamekeeper" 1959) and Simone de Beauvoir (The Second Sex, English translation 1961) led the way for feminists critical of Lawrence, Kate Millett (Sexual Politics 1970) dealt a devastating blow from which Lawrence's reputation has never recovered. However distorted her analyses or unfair her tactics, Millett's blistering attack nevertheless revealed a core of male chauvinism—perhaps even misogyny—in Lawrence's thought. As a result, the man regarded as an impassioned sexual prophet by an earlier age now looks to many current readers like a sexual reactionary.
Lawrence's ideas on race, democracy, and homosexuality have also provoked enduring resentment. Wayne Booth puts the case in his contribution to The Challenge of D. H. Lawrence: "Whole classes of people are often simply wiped out by contemptuous reference: Jews, old people . . . and certain kinds of women." One consequence of Lawrence's injured reputation is that he is taught less frequently of late, with less enthusiasm. Likewise, Lawrence specialists find themselves justifying their interest in Lawrence more often than before. Whereas a Lawrentian might formerly have been regarded as a bohemian with advanced ideas about sexuality, the natural world, and the place of the senses within a unified self, nowadays a Lawrentian is apt to be regarded as a political reactionary who affirms patriarchal values. In these days of rejected "phallocentrism," a Lawrence scholar may be perceived as a footsoldier in Lawrence's "fight for the phallic reality," as Lawrence himself described his mission.
Curiously, Lawrence's fallen stocks have not caused a noticeable slump in the "Lawrence industry." Books and articles continue to pour from the presses, subjecting Lawrence's work and (increasingly) his life to the most detailed scrutiny. Since Lawrence's centenary year (1985), for example, more than forty full-length books devoted to Lawrence have been published in English. Recent years have also yielded numerous books in foreign languages, several special issues of journals, new films of Kangaroo and The Rainbow, three major international conferences devoted to Lawrence, and several volumes of the massive Cambridge Edition of the Works of D. H. Lawrence.
Nor has the general decline in Lawrence's reputation within the academy elicited from Lawrence specialists a surge of investigations into, or defenses of, Lawrence's attitudes and ideas. For the most part, Lawrentians blithely keep their [End Page 604] faith and pursue their rather antiquarian investigations. Meanwhile, their disenchanted colleagues ignore Lawrence and go on to other concerns, perhaps suspecting that Lawrentians are becoming a cultish band of enthusiasts, reminiscent of the old "Browning Societies." Of course, Lawrence has always provoked and polarized his readers, who have tended either to adulate him or to shake their heads in dismay at his perversities. These divisions persist, albeit in disguised form, within the modern academic context of institutionally coerced scholarly production and its natural concomitant, individual careerism.
Such are the cultural and historical matrices within which it is useful to situate the four books examined here. The first two volumes—the Cambridge Letters and Worthen's quasi-biography—are predominantly commercial products, although of very high quality. With them, the "Lawrence industry" ceases to be a metaphor. The second two volumes—edited by Squires and Cushman, and by Preston and Hoare—are collections of essays by Lawrence specialists cultivating their gardens, although they yield some lovely blossoms and nutritious fruit.
In the spring of 1973, Cambridge University Press announced a monumental editorial venture: The Cambridge Edition...