restricted access The Dialectic of Space in D.H.Lawrence's Sons and Lovers
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The Dialectic of Space in D.H.Lawrence's Sons and Lovers

Nothing opens but that which is closed tighter.

—Maurice Blanchot. The Space of Literature.

Novelistic space is conventionally conceived of as a product of literal language. Spatial representations of the world of the text are constructed through the close bondings of words to their referents. Such a bonding projects a solid and concrete universe, grounded in stable meaning-relations. Figurative language, by contrast, disrupts this stable bonding. In its transfers and transformations, metaphor especially breaks with literal sense, creating "new aspects, new dimensions, new horizons of meaning" (Ricoeur 250). Rather than just describing the world, metaphor redescribes it.1

This simple dichotomy between literal and figurative language has special relevance for Lawrence's Sons and Lovers. As a traditional realistic novel, it exploits to the full the close bondings of literal language to create a space of confinement, where these bondings signify the "bondage" of the characters to the real world the novel describes. Space connotes containment, curtailment—diminishing and diminished horizons. But Sons and Lovers is also [End Page 327] a strongly metaphorical novel, whose figurative uses of language generate a new practice of representation. Put differently, in Sons and Lovers metaphor works to subvert the closed spatial relations which its literal language entails. Metaphor opens up space, delimits boundaries, creating new "dangerous" freedoms of expression and action.2 Such derestriction is itself a product of the activity of metaphor in its power to liberate meanings.

But the situation in Sons and Lovers is more complicated, for this dichotomy also contributes to the constitution of the main characters, who are themselves a function of the rhetoric of space in the novel. The dialectic of confinement and liberation in the rhetoric of the narrative maps the main relations between the characters in the text: tropes enacf the dialectic that governs these relations. Through close readings of some of the central scenes, the present essay unfolds these designs in Sons and Lovers.

I

One of the oddest episodes in Sons and Lovers—one that at first sight seems cut off from the text's larger preoccupations—occurs as Miriam, Clara and Paul are walking in the countryside near Strelley Mill farm. Coming to a wood, edged with bluebells, Paul remarks to Clara that they make him "think of the wild men of the woods, how terrified they would be when they got breast to breast with the open space"—an evocation of agoraphobic panic, the effect of their breaking out from a constricted enclosure (296). Paul at once poses a distinction between states of extreme apprehension, induced either by open or closed situations. Which was "more frightened," he conjectures, "those (old tribes) bursting out of their darkness of woods upon all the space of light, or those from the open tiptoeing into the forests"—into the space of claustrophobic confinement from which the first tribe had fled? He then develops a primitive characterology, predicated on a simple distinction: if Clara seems "like one of the open space sort, trying to force (herself) into the dark," he, by implication, is a "closed space sort" trying to force himself into the light. The exchange breaks off abruptly ("The conversation ended there"), as if the narrator too feared a loss of direction through pursuing this diversion too far. The episode concludes with the enactment as scenic event of the open/closed dialectic worked through in the dialogue. Transformed into a paroramic arena, the landscape now stages the oscillation between open and closed. As the evening closes in, "deepening over the earth," [End Page 328] throwing all into shadow, a vast recess opens up, a space without limits. Stretching away into the distance, the darkness now pinpoints "the light of home right across," then "the ridge of the hill," extending to where "the colliery village touched the sky" (296-297).

Far from being a random digression, however, this vignette represents an embedded figure, a micro-configuration of the text's spatial and rhetorical organization.3 The novel insistently oscillates between claustrophobic, protective enclosures and unlimited vistas, "black holes" in the text that induce agoraphobic apprehension and dread. Part One, for...


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