Academic journal article D.H. Lawrence Review

Jack Stewart. Color, Space, and Creativity: Art and Ontology in Five British Writers

Academic journal article D.H. Lawrence Review

Jack Stewart. Color, Space, and Creativity: Art and Ontology in Five British Writers

Article excerpt

Jack Stewart. Color, Space, and Creativity: Art and Ontology in Five British Writers. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2008. Pp. 320. $63.50 (cloth)

The five British writers of Jack Stewart's engaging study--Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, Joyce Cary, Lawrence Durrell, and A. S. Byatt--are all "vitalist exponents of the creative process who write in painterly styles that appeal to readers' powers of visualization." Stewart's interpretation of the works of these writers is grounded in his belief that "verbal equivalents of color and space" are "means by which writers build imagined worlds and focalize characters' sensibilities." Although each of his writers "expresses a distinct sensibility, a vibrant response to the life-world of color, space, and being, through the articulations of a personal style," the "cutting edge of creativity" for all of them "lies in the integration of sensation, imagination, and expression and in the mutual illumination of the arts."

Stewart's five British writers do not receive equal treatment. No doubt that is because a good deal of the book developed out of individually published essays. Still, as Stewart asserts, his "study is effectively integrated by a continuing focus on color, space, and creativity." Four of the eleven chapters are devoted to the fiction of A. S. Byatt: The Shadow of the Sun, The Vision in the Garden, Still Life, and The Matisse Stories. Lawrence is the subject of three chapters: one on Sea and Sardinia, one on his letters, and a wide-ranging chapter on Lawrence's "ontology of art." The two Durrell chapters analyze the travel writings and The Alexandria Quartet. Two splendid chapters interpret Woolf's To the Lighthouse and Cary's The Horse's Mouth. Cary, Durrell, and Byatt seem quite comfortable in the company of Woolf and Lawrence, the two modernist powerhouses. I find it especially pleasing to discover a full-scale analysis of Joyce Cary's neglected masterpiece. For reasons of space and audience I will restrict my discussion almost entirely to Stewart's treatment of Lawrence.

Stewart makes use of an impressive array of theory: "the psychology and aesthetics of color and space, phenomenology of perception, and theory and practice of creativity." He also draws on both philosophy and art history. Color patterning plays a part in Stewart's interpretations: the sub-headings of the To the Lighthouse chapter include "Red and Blue," "Brown and Blue," "Purple, Violet, Red, Gold," "Red and Green," "Blue and Green," "Blue," "Yellow," and "Interrelations of Green, Yellow, Blue, Red, Purple." But, as his subtitle indicates, his real interest is ontological rather than iconographic.

Stewart is a superb close reader, and he writes with both clarity and lucidity. The book is filled with quotations from the various texts, but the analysis always generates an effective momentum. Stewart skillfully organizes an enormous array of detail. Sometimes his argument does feel a little repetitive. Color, Space, and Creativity includes eight color plates, including reproductions of four Van Gogh paintings and two paintings by Matisse. Stewart's scholarship has always been notable for its relentless, responsible thoroughness: his concluding chapter is followed by thirty-nine pages of footnotes.

Readers of the D. H. Lawrence Review will already be familiar with Stewart's The Vital Art of D. H. Lawrence: Vision and Expression (1999). In that book he focuses on The White Peacock, Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow, Women in Love, Kangaroo, and The Plumed Serpent, novels that he does not significantly re-visit in Color, Space, and Creativity. The earlier book relates Lawrence's evolving literary style to developments in painting: impressionism, expressionism, "primitivism," futurism. That is, the emphasis of The Vital Art is art historical whereas the emphasis of Color, Space, and Creativity is more philosophical. Van Gogh and to a lesser extent Cezanne are important figures in both books. …

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