COLUMN: The ‘forceful essayist’ side of D H Lawrence

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Readers who have experienced the profoundly pleasurable emotional uplift provided by D.H. Lawrence’s poetry of works of fiction, and are keen to know much more about the true state of mind of this most honest and forthright author, would be well advised to research the extensive body of essays which Lawrence composed throughout his writing life.

Readers who have experienced the profoundly pleasurable emotional uplift provided by D.H. Lawrence’s poetry of works of fiction, and are keen to know much more about the true state of mind of this most honest and forthright author, would be well advised to research the extensive body of essays which Lawrence composed throughout his writing life.

Enthusiasts of long-standing will no doubt possess the relevant volumes, having acquired them some years ago, when they were far more readily available in libraries and bookshops. These days, the birthplace museum or D.H. Lawrence Heritage Centre in Eastwood may helpfully assist. Otherwise, no doubt, Amazon will provide.

To find Lawrence’s prose at its supple, expressive and incisive best, his mind sharp and speaking out frankly, with a philosophical wisdom won from wars fearlessly waged, a slim volume published by Penguin in the early 1960s containing (and entitled) A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, with Pornography and Obscenity and those two other tumultuous tirades against the enemies of truth, the expansive introduction to his paintings and the short but fragrant introduction to Pansies, must come hotly recommended.

A Propos of Lady C is Lawrence’s revelatory “afterthought” to the furore aroused by his revolutionary novel. Here he throws a light on battles with the ban and the problems brought by the spate of pirated editions, providing insight into our sexual impulses, real and spurious, the nature of marriage, its inviolability and the prospects for its future. “Marriage is the clue to human life - but there is no marriage apart from the wheeling sun and nodding earth,” he insists. Marriage and sex must be inextricably linked to daytime and nighttime, to the rhythm of the year “even the straying of the planets and the magnificence of the fixed stars.”

He warns of the unhealthiness of “personal sex”, which “is a pure matter of nerves, cold and bloodless.” And he states his belief (a belief which has been both vilified and championed) in the phallus as a force for renewal of life “For the phallus is only the great old symbol of godly vitality in man, and of immediate contact.”

Lawrence argues that we have lapsed into “the mistake of living from our little needs till we have almost lost our deeper needs” and are withering away through failure to sufficiently sustain their “inward nourishment” and “fulfilment”.

Buddha, Plato and Jesus are blasted for their undue emphasis on “eternal spirit” at the expense of sheer physical joy, and thus killing the “rhythmic life” of the earth and the universe for us.

He rails against the modern cult of the individual personality, believing it leads to distrust and the prevalence of a fearful niceness.

The revered Jane Austin, Lawrence rubbishes, as “thoroughly unpleasant, English in the bad, mean, snobbish sense of the word” - she “typifies personality”, rather than “good, generous” blood-connections.

Reflecting on the comments and concerns of his readers, Lawrence considers Clifford Chatterley’s lameness to be symbolic of some “deeper emotional or passional paralysis.”

A Propos is an ever-refreshing read, throwing light on the reasoning, both conscious and unconscious, behind “a book written in defiance of convention”, and in “phallic language”. It helps to explain the crucial need for the use of those famous “taboo words” words given a new significance, new life and force, in a tender, loving, passionate context.