- Rethinking Lawrence, and: Metaphor and Meaning in D. H. Lawrence's Later Novels, and: The Language of D. H. Lawrence, and: Pictures and Fictions: Visual Modernism and the Pre-War Novels of D. H. Lawrence, and: D. H. Lawrence and the Trembling Balance
A staple of Lawrence criticism—the assumption that Lawrence's work neither accommodates nor benefits from poststructuralist critical methodologies—is reconsidered at least implicitly in each of the books here under review, with predictably varying results. Many critics continue to focus on the moral earnestness that engaged Lawrence's earliest readers, most notably F. R. Leavis, but others consider whether Lawrence's texts might incorporate self-conscious word play, demonstrating that the relationship between Lawrence and Modernism may not be as problematic as earlier argued. Such differences in attitude are not unique to these five books but instead reflect an important division that exists in current Lawrence scholarship. At the D. H. Lawrence International Conference in Montpellier, France, in the summer of 1990, a number of established Lawrence scholars provided a passionate challenge to the relevance of poststructuralism for Lawrence studies; at the same time some of the conference's liveliest papers used post-structuralist approaches. The discussion is by no means over.
As a collection of essays, Rethinking Lawrence reflects this division. While Paul Eggert, one of the contributors, acknowledges the importance of poststructuralist approaches (Eggert having used these approaches profitably in his own fine studies), [End Page 781] he also argues that it is too early to judge their effect. However, Keith Brown, the collection's editor, makes a strong case that many poststructuralist perspectives have already changed our understanding of Lawrence. Brown rightly argues that these carefully chosen essays provide a "map of current styles of approach to Lawrence's work." Although a number of the essays are reprints or close reworkings of articles already published, the collection includes several not readily available. Considered together, they provide rich insights into Lawrence.
The collection is diverse, but the influence of Bakhtin is pervasive, with two of its finest essays—those by David Lodge and Avrom Fleishman—drawing heavily on Bakhtin. Lodge's discussion of Mr Noon is particularly good; Fleishman, acknowledging the earlier work done by Lodge, considers the less obviously dialogical Women in Love. Roger Fowler also uses Bakhtin to argue that The Lost Girl (unlike Women in Love , for example) is a polyvocal text.
In other considerations of Lawrence and Modernism, Christopher Pollnitz argues that reading Lawrence's poetry in the context of Modernist poetry reveals "the extent of the antagonism between Lawrence's individual talent and any preceding tradition"; his comparison of Lawrence and H. D. is a stimulating one. While Pollnitz claims at the outset that he will use only "classically derived prosody," he concludes (with echoes of Bakhtin) that Lawrence's poetry must be read dialogically: "Any voice apparently speaking with authorial conviction will have its authority challenged a few lines, or a few poems, later."
Many of the other essays, including those that do not draw on recent critical approaches, come to similarly interesting conclusions. For example, John Bayley argues that all of Lawrence's best novels tend to be deliberately funny; for Janet Barron, feminist criticism is not yet quite right on Lawrence; for Paul Eggert, Lawrence's compositional theory was many-layered; for Jeremy Hawthorn, Lawrence is a writer "supremely conscious of class"; for Malcolm Pittock, Lawrence is emotionally dishonest in incorporating autobiography into his fiction (for example, Sons and Lovers ), mixing fiction and life in ways that are aesthetically weak. Rick Rylance...