The affinities of William Blake and D. H. Lawrence have often been noted—they are arguably the two most important of the British Romantics—but in Sons and Adversaries, Margaret Storch pursues a connection previously unexamined. Not only is Storch's focus—the treatment of women in Blake and Lawrence—unusually rewarding, but her approach, using the psychoanalytic theories of Melanie Klein, provides important new insights. She argues (quite rightly, I think) that the "response to women and to male identity is . . . the central issue for [Blake and Lawrence]" and that the ambivalent, conflicting attitudes of both writers towards women are related to their sense of maternal deprivation. For Storch, the anger that Blake and Lawrence express toward women results from their feelings of defeat by female power.
Storch pursues this argument through three major comparisons. She traces patterns of maternal loss in the Songs and The White Peacock; images of women in various works (for example, in The Book of Urizen and Sons and Lovers); and the triumph of masculinity in Milton and The Plumed Serpent. Storch does not argue that Blake influenced Lawrence but rather uses patterns of affinity to enrich our understanding of the work of boths Her approach succeeds.
Kleinian psychoanalytic theory is particularly useful in understanding the bleak, lonely landscapes in much of Blake's poetry about children. Storch's important insight is found, however, not so much in her discussion of the terrifying emptiness of many of the Songs but in her juxtaposed discussion of the suffering children and harsh parents of The White Peacock. Lawrence's descriptions of children—for example, of Anna in The Rainbow—are so often sympathetic that we forget the much different life of Sam in The White Peacock. Her argument that Klein is a more useful approach than Freud in understanding Lawrence is convincingly defended in this discussion.
The consideration of images of women shows similar parallels in Blake and Lawrence—in particular in their identification of the female with intellectualism and the Will to Power. In Blake, for example, Female Will manifests the destructive influence of "deadening abstraction" and cripples men. This association between woman and empiricism is unusual to both Blake and Lawrence, as Storch points out; in her analysis of Sons and Lovers, with which she begins her discussion of images of women in Lawrence, Storch is particularly challenging. In such key scenes as the sacrifice of Annie's doll, the burnt loaves of bread, and Gertrude Morel's death through an overdose of morphia, Storch sees destructive anger against the mother because "the son has projected into the mother the emptiness and aridity of his own near-disintegration." Storch also traces this theme in Women in Love and St. Mawr.
In the final comparison, a consideration of the triumph of masculinity in the two writers, Storch argues that "the central theme of both The Plumed Serpent [End Page 513] and Milton is the son's assimilation of strength from an ideal father, and his struggle to establish ascendancy over a powerful female." With that assimilation of strength comes some peace: Storch argues that "we find in both [the later] Blake and Lawrence a more balanced image of masculinity and a more positive feeling towards women."
Storch's use of Melanie Klein provides rich new insights into both writers, but as with any single approach to complex texts there is bound to be distortion. I question, for example, her arguments that the star equilibrium of Women in Love is a temporary phase in Lawrence and that "we are prepared to believe [in The Plumed Serpent] that the strong woman has learned to subject herself to masculine dominance." When Lawrence wrote to shed his sicknesses, when he presented healthier relationships in his fiction than he perhaps achieved in his own life, Storch is dismissive. But why not celebrate the fact that, in their work, two of our greatest modern writers were able to overcome, if only on occasion, the suffering, the destructive rage, the loneliness of their lives.