D. H. Lawrence's World Vision of Cultural Regeneration in Lady Chatterley's Lover

By Koh, Jae-Kyung | The Midwest Quarterly, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

D. H. Lawrence's World Vision of Cultural Regeneration in Lady Chatterley's Lover


Koh, Jae-Kyung, The Midwest Quarterly


THE GREAT WAR brought about fundamental changes in postwar British and European society. Apart from massive destruction of life and property, it had profound effects on attitudes, encouraging disillusionment, cynicism, and political, social, and moral disturbance. Traditional Christian values, and traditional political and social hierarchies, were weakened, and the world that had existed before the war disappeared. The death toil was enormous. The ruling class was particularly badly hit, but the exceptional scale and range of British losses did serious damage to the established socio-cultural systems at every level in the society. It also created bitter anger at, and savage contempt for, the rigid social rules and class barriers of the pre-war years. In Britain in the Century of Total War Arthur Marwick observes that, as a result of the war "society in the Twenties and Thirties exhibited all the signs of having suffered a deep mental wound, to which the agony and the bloodshed, as well as the more generalised revulsion at the destruction of an older civilization and its ways contributed" (62).

It was from this bleak postwar perspective--amid the fragmentation and collapse of the established socio-cultural systems--that D. H. Lawrence set out to explore the idea of cultural regeneration. His prophetic vision of the future was built upon a cyclical view of history, in which psychological forces were seen as the causes of historical change. In any particular phase of human history, a particular conception of the human prevails; as a result, a particular group of human impulses is dominant, while others are ignored or even repressed: after a time, the elements in the psyche which have been denied expression force their way to the surface, and with this "return of the repressed" comes the beginning of a contrasting historical phase. Throughout the Christian era, the emphasis had been on altruism and self-restraint rather than self-assertion, and--historically speaking--the long dominance of that tradition had made possible the establishment of the inhuman mechanical discipline of modern industrialism. In Lawrence's cyclical theory, historical change is driven by the struggle of the repressed to return: the result is a psycho-historical conflict which finds expression in a dialectic of "destruction" and "re-creation." For Lawrence, the war was both a symptom of the final decline of the Christian era and also an indication that a new historical phase wits beginning; so, despite the cynicism and pessimism of the age, his vision of postwar society is a tentatively hopeful one, looking forward to the birth of a society which will be the antithesis of the present mechanised and dehumanized one. The coming of the era will bring to an end both the social divisions of present-day society and also the psychic divisions which threaten human creativity.

In Lady Chatterley's Lover, Chatterley is a representative of the inhuman mechanical determinism of the post-war period, in which a new type of human relationship between the industrial magnates and their workers is established. The bodies and minds of the latter become docile and mechanized, and they are reduced to being instruments, cogs in the colossal machine of the productive system. Chatterley's wound in the war symbolizes not only psychic death and the paralysis of the extra-rational dynamic forces of the psyche but also the inexorable destructive forces of industrialism itself. It is his psychic barrenness, and his devotion to the mechanical principle, rather than his physical impotence, which frustrates the deepest desires of his wife Connie. Lawrence shows her changing fundamentally through her encounters with Mellors, her husband's gamekeeper, of a physical awareness and "tenderness" which is totally different from her previous mental life. Mellors is an example of a recurrent figure in Lawrence's fiction: the man who resists and struggles against a repressive reality dominated by industrialism, and who seeks to find not only a new basis for human relationships based upon "tenderness" between human beings, but also to make it the basis for social renewal. …

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