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298 BOOK REVIEWS 1. LAWRENCE LETTERS, VOLUME III The Letters OfD1H1 Lawrence, Vol. Ill 1916-21. eds. James T. Boulton and Andrew Robertson. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1984. $49.95 Pissatisfied with the shibboleth "exit author" provided by the New Criticism, but unwilling to settle for naive correspondences between life and text, the more progressive strains of what I call humanistic formalism are seeking to develop an aesthetic that accommodates the authorial presence within a text. It is no longer self-evident that we commit an egregious critical faux pas—the dreaded biographical fa 1lacy--when we use letters to establish a reading or to propose an argument about the writer's themes and values. As the concept of the author is challenged in different ways by deconstruct ion and Marxism, we must seriously consider the question of how we should use literary letters. What exactly do literary letters tell us? Should letters be regarded, like the author's literary works, as psychic and moral gestures of the author? Po they have the same "textual" status as literary works? From a Marxist perspective, are letters, like literary works, the function of historical forces, or can they be regarded as more idiosyncratic and personal, and therefore less important for understanding the Zeitgeist than for understanding the author's uniqueness? Letters, I think, should be regarded as another of the author's linguistic creations, albeit an individual letter is clearly a very minor performance in comparison to a literary work. Yet often letters not only reveal something about authors' psyches, views of anterior reality, and aesthetic theories, but may dramatically enact their quest to define the themes, values, and formal principles of their art. Letters may enable us to understand the very essence of the creative process. They may give us a perspective on a personal relationship that affected the creative process, although unless the letters of both participants in a correspondence are published, the letters are more like a series of monologues—and occasionally discontinuous ones at that—than a dialogue. Within the informal confines of letters authors may work out their philosophic and aesthetic positions. If the recipient is a trusted friend, the letter gives the writer an opportunity to present an informal working paper. At times, letters also serve a therapeutic function. A letter can provide an opportunity to share—and even transfer to a sympathetic other--frustrât ions and anxieties that interfere with creativity. 299 Put in contemporary terms, a s igni fied presence is evoked by the letters; even if such a presence is never ful Iy realized, it can be approached by sustained reading and study of the works, letters, and non-fiction. While deconstruction thinks of this presence as a mirage that continually recedes as we approach it, we should think of the authorial presence as something that we continually approach but never reach; this process resembles Zeno's paradox that we can never bisect our way across the room. In the case of Lawrence, the letters have contributed to the contextual approach that has helped bring Lawrence into focus the past two decades. Beginning with H. M. Daleski's The Forked Flame (1965), Lawrence criticism has stressed that understanding the major novels requires knowledge of Lawrence 's aesthetic ideas and grammar of passions (or love ethic). Undiluted if not always transparently logical or precise statements of his positions can be found in his letters and, in particular, his non-fiction prose, most notably Study of Thomas Hardy and the diverse essays that make up both volumes of the Phoenix papers. In a major essay entitled "The Marble and the Statue: The Exploratory Imagination of D. H. Lawrence" in the invaluable collection Imagined Worlds, edited by Maynard Mack and Ian Gregor, Mark KinkeadWeekes demonstrated how The Rainbow and Women in Love reflect Lawrence's own passionate quest in his relationship with Frieda and how his personal values and his aesthetic values affected one another. There can be no doubt that the ongoing publication of the seven-volume Cambridge edition of the letters is providing an invaluable resource not only to Lawrence scholars but to students of modern English literature and culture. It is another...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 298-304
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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