Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

Pan and the Appleyness of Landscape: Dread of the Procreative Body in "The Princess"

Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

Pan and the Appleyness of Landscape: Dread of the Procreative Body in "The Princess"

Article excerpt

"So much depends on one's attitude."--D. H. Lawrence, "Pan in America"

I

Characteristic praise for "The Princess" fails to acknowledge the integrative context of its excellence within the Lawrencian canon. This lengthy tale remains impressive for the seamless way that it connects Lawrence's developing stylistic notions on writing and painting with his doctrinal beliefs about Pan mythology during the last six years of his life. Yet for most critics, the versatile achievement of "The Princess" is related variously to the detailed evocation of the New Mexico landscape, to the fluid changes in a narrative tone that moves from satiric to lyric to somber, to the imaginative adaptation of a vignette Lawrence originally heard from Catherine Carswell, and to the violent and credible inevitability of the tale's conclusion. (1) While such critical perspectives provide relevant entrances into dimensions of the work's success, the story recalls a short essay, "Pan in America," that Lawrence wrote a few months before "The Princess," and anticipates, with unusual depth and precision, a major essay, "Introduction to These Paintings," written nearly five years later, an extensive piece that Lawrence described as "one of the best things I've ever done" (Letters VII 125). It is this brilliant and risky polemic on painting, written in January, 1929 as an introduction for the Mandrake Press edition of his paintings, that I wish to turn to first. (2)

In this essay, Lawrence is less interested in the technique or evaluation of his own skill as a painter than he is in outlining a scathing criticism of the quality of English painting through the centuries. He repeatedly insists with undiplomatic wit and subjective fervor--his signature rhetorical qualities as a critic--that the alleged failure of his country to produce great visual art involves fundamental issues of sexual self-definition and cultural taboo inherited by the English people for nearly five hundred years. His eclectic argument attempts to bridge the traditional boundaries between genres of literary art, different forms of artistic expression, and categories in his own life of artistic creativity, impinging biography, and encompassing doctrine. Such a sweep of synthesis in "Introduction to These Paintings" is all in the service of some stern conclusions about national character, medical trauma, and conditioned fear. It must be stated that Lawrence's argument involves unsubstantiated judgments that even today are teasingly difficult to confirm or disprove. His general tactic is to rely on the force and conviction of his assertions to quiet the concerns of those historians, art critics, epidemiologists, and psychologists who must notice the scant evidence he provides for his provocative opinions.

Lawrence first declares, as his adamant but unsupported premise, that England has produced relatively few great painters. He finds the cause of such under-achievement in a lack of "instinctive, intuitional" ("Introduction to These Paintings" 558) consciousness that dates back to the Renaissance, and this insufficiency prevents the English from manifesting what he denotes as a sense of physical, "true awareness" (556) so crucial to painting. As Lawrence often suggested in less embattled ways earlier in his career, he now maintains that the Anglo-Saxons remain the most prominent victims of the historic movement from the physical to the ideal mental initiated by the Greeks and then, buttressed through the ages by the sacrificial symbology and flesh-denying didacticism of Christianity. It is in this essay by Lawrence, and for the first time in such sustained form, that he probes more deeply into the precise causes of such inadequacy in the English character. Certainly part of his motivation must be his accumulated anger over the intolerable (and intolerant) treatment of his own work by British authorities, a blindness by those "censor-morons" (3) that shortly would reach another level of conflict with the legalized confiscation of his own paintings. …

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