Selected Critical Writings

Selected Critical Writings

Selected Critical Writings

Selected Critical Writings


'A critic must be able to feel the impact of a work of art in all its complexity and force. To do so, he must be a man of force and complexity himself...' 'A critic must be emotionally alive in every fibre, intellectually capable and skilful in essential logic, and then morally very honest.' These comments by D. H. Lawrence are as close a description as any of himself as a critic. They come from his essay on fellow novelist John Galsworthy, and there are many other pieces on novels and novelists in this selection. But Lawrence's range of genres extends to poetry and plays and paintings, and his critical writing encompasses an enormous variety of subjects, from Aeschylus and the Apocalypse to symbolism and syphilis, for his nterests are philosophical , psychological, religious, moral, sociological, historical and cultural as well as literary and artistic. This selection is a treasure-trove of `thought adventures' by one of literature's liveliest critical spirits.


Lawrence is one of the greatest critics, yet none of his critical works--not even the sustained achievement of Studies in Classic American Literature (1923)--would ever have been awarded a Ph.D. His examiners would say he is too personal, too casual and colloquial and chatty, too unsystematic, injudicious, undisciplined, aggressive, abusive . . . so the list would continue. True, he is also extremely perceptive and intelligent and sensible and sensitive and wide-ranging and lively and entertaining . . . Yet the instance is instructive. For Lawrence's critical writings are not only unacademic but downright anti-academic, and his antipathy to academic critics is as forcefully expressed as that to any other of his perceived opponents:

All the critical twiddle-twaddle about style, and form, all this pseudo- scientific classifying and analysing of books in an imitation-botanical fashion, is mere impertinence, and mostly dull jargon.

That comes from the first paragraph of his hatchet-job on John Galsworthy. But the opening words of that paragraph put the positive case, what criticism can and should be about:

Literary Criticism can be no more than a reasoned account of the feeling produced upon the critic by the book he is criticising. Criticism can never be a science: it is, in the first place, much too personal, and in the second, it is concerned with values that science ignores. The touchstone is emotion, not reason. We judge a work of art by its effect on our sincere and vital emotion, and nothing else.

These words are in essence the credo of Lawrence the critic, and not only the critic of literature, for, though that is his prime concern, his critical writings deal with a great range of subjects, from art to the Apocalypse. In all these areas, he gives 'a reasoned account' in the light of 'emotion, not reason'. The contradiction is typical, and highlights the characteristic tension between intelligent comprehension and emotional apprehension in all Lawrence's work: it is, to misapply his own words, 'much too personal', yet has enormous impact as a result. It is the completely individual--and therefore often idiosyncratic and sometimes . . .

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