D. H. Lawrence's Nightmare: The Writer and His Circle in the Years of the Great War

D. H. Lawrence's Nightmare: The Writer and His Circle in the Years of the Great War

D. H. Lawrence's Nightmare: The Writer and His Circle in the Years of the Great War

D. H. Lawrence's Nightmare: The Writer and His Circle in the Years of the Great War

Excerpt

Anyone who writes on Lawrence's life must be uncomfortably aware that the classic and probably unsurpassable biography is the collection of memoirs and letters by Edward Nehls, A Composite Biography— a book that has no coherent author, and perhaps no coherent subject either. For Lawrence combined, in an extraordinary way, both a hermetic egotism and an empathy so forceful that his intimates felt their own identities being stirred together with his; this was never an entirely comfortable sensation, and it often led to confused and violent reactions against Lawrence once his spell was broken. Even for critics who never knew Lawrence in the flesh, this uneasy complicity between the observed and the observer has persisted: one cannot write about Lawrence without in some measure writing about oneself, and insofar as all views of him remain personal and fragmentary, the ideal of a just and stable assessment of Lawrence's place in modern British culture remains elusive. To borrow one of his own phrases, you may nail him to the floor, but he gets up and walks away with the nail.

I do not claim, then, to have captured that will-o-the-wisp, a definitive estimate of Lawrence; I have attempted no more than to make a detailed and thoughtful study of four critical years in Lawrence and Frieda's life. The years are those of the Great War, when Lawrence's romantic and self-creating impulses encountered the strongest resistance from an implacable and fearsome social reality. I have no wish to argue yet again the vexed issue of the relevance of literary biography—the predominant mode of this book—to critical interpretation; but I have tried to show how frequently and easily the events of day-to-day life, as they affected Lawrence's moods, doctrines, or personal relationships, could move him to revise those artistic projects that ran parallel to his . . .

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