Academic journal article D.H. Lawrence Review

"Falling out of a Picture": The Australian Landscape in D.H. Lawrence's Kangaroo

Academic journal article D.H. Lawrence Review

"Falling out of a Picture": The Australian Landscape in D.H. Lawrence's Kangaroo

Article excerpt

"[T]he mind and the terrain shape each other: every landscape is a landscape of desire to some degree, if not always for its inhabitants" Rebecca Solnit (Landscapes 9).

Modernist writers, captivated by the work of mapping the complex terrain of desire, present a variety of encounters with, studies on, and reinventions of the landscape. Although critical attention has focused on the flaneur in the cityscape, a focus on pastoral and hybrid (suburban) landscapes can reveal the way modernism engages with these terrains in order to "make it new" in aesthetics (the mythical method T.S. Eliot identified with James Joyce's Ulysses) and critique the "new" of modernity (mass culture and globalization). Novels and poetry from the year 1922, which Michael North has read as a defining moment in mapping modernism, evidence a multifarious and wide-ranging engagement with the landscape, including Eliot's The Wasteland, Joyce's Ulysses, Rebecca West's The Judge and Virginia Woolf's Jacob's Room. In each, characters' interactions with pastoral, hybrid, and metropolitan landscapes frame central questions about identity in modernity. Landscape likewise plays a crucial role in framing questions of national and gender identity in D.H. Lawrence's 1922-1923 novel Kangaroo, a novel, however, ill at ease with the modernist response to modernity.

In many ways, the Australian landscape may seem beside the point in Lawrence's much disparaged Kangaroo, as the author and protagonist's concerns are those of a metaphysical expedition--the figure obscuring the ground to such a degree, indeed, as to irk the viewer. (1) The landscape of Australia is the ground for Lawrence's figuring of a modernist paradox about postwar national and gendered identity. Specifically, Lawrence's protagonist Richard Lovatt Somers embodies, first, the paradox of an artist's desire to cut free from all old forms, a release that engenders revulsion at the stark consequences--silence; and, second, the desire of the "thought-adventurer" to reveal the futility of all absolutes, a revelation which uncovers a radical relativity that compels him to establish the self (relative, contingent) as an absolute (K 212). The landscape itself also functions as an analogue for Lawrence's drama: Lawrence, an antimodernist, finds himself writing a modernist novel, and his protagonist Somers, an exile of English imperialism, finds himself fundamentally at odds with the utopic alternative Australia's landscapes present. (2) Lawrence's novels from the early 1920s are narratives thematically and structurally contingent upon the spaces he traveled--from Sicily, to Sardinia, Ceylon, Australia, New Mexico, and Mexico (Roberts 183). In contrast to these, however, Kangaroo captures a singular ambivalence toward the landscape on the part of author and character. The novel evokes the conventions and conclusions of traditional travel and nature writing but puts them into question by utilizing modernist and feminist standpoints--standpoints that Lawrence felt deeply ambivalent about and, ultimately, must abandon. Wittingly or not, in making Australia the fundament of this particular modernist thought-adventure, Lawrence created a novel that reveals the historical and cultural tensions of a significant moment within postwar, colonial British modernism. The context of Australia made these tensions particularly prominent given its "antimodernist" disposition. (3)

Kangaroo, a modernist anti-hero's narrative of exile and odyssey, shares with other 1922 novels a recursive spiral into the trauma of the recent past. After being hounded and humiliated in Cornwall during the war, Richard Lovatt Somers has exiled himself with his wife Harriett to New South Wales, where he learns from his neighbor, the working man and ex-soldier Jack Callcott, of a struggle for political power between Jack's Diggers, ex-soldiers organized in a secret society led by the charismatic Benjamin Cooley (known as Kangaroo), and the socialists, who are led by the pragmatic Willie Struthers, backed by Jack's brother-in-law William James (known as Jaz). …

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