- Strange Bedfellows
ALTHOUGH THE TITLE—Modernists at Odds—suggests that the essays in this collection will underscore the dissimilarities between the works of two icons of modernism, James Joyce and D. H. Lawrence, the contributors strive mightily to demonstrate how closely related the two writers are. One might thus expect to find much attention being paid to the authors’ obviously similar works, Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers. Yet not a single essay comparing these two Künstlerromans is included. Rather, Ulysses and Lady Chatterley’s Lover are reconciled while “The Dead” proves comparable to “The Man Who Died.” I am reminded of Samuel Johnson’s assessment of John Donne’s metaphysical poetry wherein “the most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together.” Nevertheless, there is bound to be evidence of kinship in texts produced in the same historical moment, within concurrent discursive contexts, artistic genres, and cultural milieus. Accordingly the essays here demonstrate and clarify affinities between and among Joyce’s and Lawrence’s roughly contemporaneous works. From the introduction, which is preceded by adjacent chronologies of the two writers, to the final essay, however, the editors and contributors begin by pointing out that Joyce and Lawrence have long been “treated as polar opposites.” More often than not, the essayists quote the authors’ few remarks about each other. Lawrence found Joyce “too mental,” his writing filled with “deliberate, journalistic dirty-mindedness.” For his part, Joyce dubbed Lawrence a propagandist whose work was full of “sloppy English.” Having thus set up the two antagonists, the contributors proceed to reveal intertextual relationships [End Page 427] between them that belie such incompatibilities.
The first essay, “Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Ulysses,” by the late and much lamented Zack Bowen, originally appeared in a collection reassessing Lawrence’s controversial novel. Published in 1985, Bowen’s essay indicates that affinities between the two writers have been recognized for longer than one might expect. Positing that, despite their dissimilar writing styles and ideologies, the two works are not so different, Bowen notes the various trials to which each novel was subjected because of its candid treatment of sex. Bowen contends that the two writers represent sex as “a manifestation of the natural order of things.” It is in this recognition that their works coincide. Bowen then demonstrates how their mutual understanding of sexuality influences their similar linguistic strategies as well as their uses of geographic tropes. Molly Bloom and Oliver Mellors, the most basic characters in the two texts, “frequently employ four letter vernacular words.” Both writers employ dialect, Lawrence to emphasize class, Joyce to produce a comic effect. Both use geography to enhance the sexual charge of a scene. For Lawrence complete sexual fulfillment invariably occurs in the country. For Joyce, the city provides the ambiguity inevitably involved in sexual encounters. On balance, Bowen’s is as much a study in contrasts as in comparisons.
Margot Norris also focuses on Joyce’s and Lawrence’s most infamous works in her essay “Love, Bodies, and Nature in Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Ulysses.” Norris observes the ways the two authors employ nature images to convey notions of love and sexuality. In her ecocritical reading, she finds Joyce and Lawrence sharing “a vision of nature and landscape” integral to the ways individuals live and love. In both novels, Norris finds, “the most satisfying experiences of love and making love occur in a vital connection with the outdoors.” Flower and animal imagery reinforce the sexually charged relationships of Bloom and Molly, as well as Connie and Mellors, such that the very bodies of the characters experience deep, intense, powerful connections with each other and the environment.
Earl G. Ingersoll examines the kinship between the two male protagonists in “‘The Odd Couple,’ Constructing ‘The New Man’: Bloom and Mellors in Ulysses and Lady Chatterley’s Lover.” Revisiting Bowen’s essay, Ingersoll expands on Bowen’s “brief gender assessment” of the two characters, arguing that the early...