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  • D. H. Lawrence’s Language of Sacred Experience: The Transfiguration of the Reader
  • Matthew Leone
Burack, Charles Michael. D. H. Lawrence’s Language of Sacred Experience: The Transfiguration of the Reader. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005. 206 pp. $65.00.

Charles Burack’s D. H. Lawrence’s Language of Sacred Experience is an ambitious and rewarding work of scholarship. He takes Lawrence’s religiosity seriously, most often to good effect. Lawrence was by his own admission a “passionately religious man” (Letters, 22 April 1914). Perhaps no artist since Blake has been so driven by his quest for the transcendent other or for what Burack prefers to term the “numinous” (2). To Lawrence’s earnest, undogmatic seeking, Burack brings expertise in modes of religious exploration: he is, in addition to his scholarly work, a professional guide in meditation and in the pursuit of “inner peace” (see No doubt Burack is precisely the sort of counselor from whom Frieda’s embattled husband would have profited immensely (it is common knowledge that Frieda could and did take care of herself). Lawrence the man surely would have gained from Burack’s expertise, but do his novels?

For the most part, they do. By providing a Kabbalistic frame of reference for The Rainbow (1915) and one of yogic discourse for Women in Love (1920), by teasing out some of the more arcane allusions of The Plumed Serpent (1926), and by turning an expert eye to what he calls the “hierophantic patterns” (9) of destruction and creation in Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928), Burack provides a knowledgeable perspective upon four major works.

But at bottom, how “hierophantic” or arcane are Lawrence’s novels or, for that matter, his religion? They are less so than Burack would have us think. While Lawrence rigorously absolved himself of allegiance to Church (and to State, for that matter), he was explicit about his indebtedness to the earliest shaping influences of his spiritual life. In “Hymns in a Man’s Life,” Lawrence recollects that “Sun of my soul, thou Saviour dear,” apart from “the didacticism and the sentimentalism,” makes him feel “eternally grateful for the wonder with which it filled my childhood.” Lawrence would never describe his own religiosity as given to hierophancy, or, for that matter, as fancy or fanciful in the least: “when all comes to all,” he insists, wonder, plainly and simply, is “the most precious element in life” (“Hymns,” Phoenix II 598).

Indeed, Burack over-emphasizes the spicy Lawrence, the world-trotting seeker drawn to mystery and magic, and he does so necessarily at the expense of the more familiar hymn-humming native of Eastwood. It is not that Burack favors the arcane Lawrence in any egregiously disqualifying way. Indeed, Burack is particularly informative in his examination of the synergistic effects of destructive and revitalizing phases in Lady Chatterley’s Lover. As Burack aptly notes, Lawrence increasingly turned his destructive and ultimately “revitalizing” aspirations toward Western civilization itself, in which he could see nothing but destructive impulses and a culture utterly averse to affirmative wonder (and how could he not, writing as he did in the midst and aftermath of the First World War?). For him, Western civilization was hostile not only to truly religious seeking but was also “hostile to experience” itself, particularly of the bodily or erotic sort. He scorned a culture wedded to sterile sorts of autocratic “knowledge” (“Hymns,” Phoenix II 598).

Burack perceptively identifies episodes, particularly sexual encounters, in which a novel directs its critical (or “destructive”) attention upon culturally-received mind-body dichotomies, ones that occasion mechanistic, logocentric, or “scopophilic” effects (24). As he does so, Burack appositely emphasizes Lawrence’s salubrious–albeit at times sermonizing–message: much is to be learned from the body, especially when it is conjoined to another–not only “others” of the numinous or wondrous sort; [End Page 368] indeed, for Lawrence, wonder is simultaneously both bodily and transcendent (and how could it not be for the century’s most notorious “Priest of Love”?). As Burack emphasizes, Lawrence sweepingly condemns patriarchal hegemonies large and small, and to that extent he is an affirmative forerunner of feminism. That he is so is one...


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