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  • D. H. Lawrence & Australia
  • Peter Balbert
David Game. D. H. Lawrence’s Australia: Anxiety at the Edge of Empire. Burlington: Ashgate, 2015. xx + 325 pp. $134.95

IN THIS impressively comprehensive and prolifically documented study, David Game’s essential goal is to demonstrate that “Lawrence’s engagement with Australia forms an important part of both his intellectual and physical journeys in search of regeneration.” He properly uses “engagement” in its broadest sense, encompassing Lawrence’s personal contact with the country during his three-month visit, his thorough depictions of Australia in two novels, and his important references to it in short stories and letters. The volume consistently reflects Game’s sharp awareness of elements of growth, repression, and indecision informing Lawrence’s perspective on ethical, economic, and racial issues that are endemic to this massive and isolated land. Early in the work he summarizes this pattern of a “conflicted and contradictory vision of Australia” as influenced by Lawrence’s “life-long quest for ways of being which did not rely on the dominant Christian and scientific traditions of the day.”

Let me state unequivocally that the range, depth, and continuity of this volume of intellectual history, regional culture, and textual analysis remain outstanding on every level. Game ably documents how Lawrence’s “literary engagement with Australia” reflects a lifelong interest in the novelist, starting with early fiction in 1907 and concluding with poignant references just before his death in 1930. In addition to the two major novels set in Australia, there remain significant references to the country in The White Peacock, St. Mawr, Mr. Noon, The Lost Girl, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Indeed, the total number of relevant works leaves no doubt about the abiding nature of Lawrence’s preoccupation: “seven novels, one novella, two short stories, a play, a poem and a host of letters in which Australia is present.” Game conveniently establishes what he calls a prime “Australian period” in Lawrence’s writing and life between 1920 and 1924, framing six major works of fiction, starting with his initial engagement with The Lost Girl, through [End Page 417] the delayed completion of Aaron’s Rod, to the crucial composition of Kangaroo and The Boy in the Bush, and concluding with the writing of St. Mawr.

Such a period of approximately five years provides the chronology that creates the chapter sequencing in D. H. Lawrence’s Australia; the development of the book is also integrated by seminal themes that reappear with depth and variation throughout the volume. There is informative commentary on the historical and literary aspects of Darwinism, a conceptual framework Lawrence frequently ponders. Game considers the role of that movement “in shaping intellectual thought across a range of disciplines, particularly the emergence of theories of degeneration, as well as its specific influence on Lawrence’s intellectual development and regenerative vision.” It is admirable in the design of this volume how the early chapters—primarily outlining formative issues in the century about degeneration, regeneration, eugenics, and Darwinism—resonate effectively within the later chapters that focus on the two major novels.

In the first chapter, “Darwinism and Lawrence’s Quest for Regeneration,” Game demonstrates how and why Darwinian ethics and social science for Lawrence initially serve as “a cathartic and catalytic belief system which set him free of his Christian upbringing.” He ultimately rejects the movement because he contests its basic premise that “life evolved from a single distant point,” amounting to the consensus singularity about evolution as conceived in “male, uni-directional terms” that the renegade Lawrence regards as “too prescriptive and mechanistic.” My only criticism of this solid chapter is its lack of sufficient examination of Lawrence’s own conflicted Congregationalist beliefs and how such uncertainties affected his own perspectives on Darwinism.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Game’s book is chapter two, provocatively titled “Regeneration, the Rejection of Eugenics and Rananim in Australia.” It provides a wide-ranging survey of cultural and philosophical trends to describe how “the corollary to degenerationist anxiety in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was a series of countervailing reformist and rejuvenating visions, policies, and attitudes conveniently called ‘regeneration.’” Ranging through relevant themes of British imperialism, modernist psychology...


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pp. 417-423
Launched on MUSE
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Will Be Archived 2021
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