Gothic Modernisms

By Andrew Smith; Jeff Wallace | Go to book overview

9
Vampirism, Masculinity and
Degeneracy: D. H. Lawrence's
Modernist Gothic
Andrew Smith

To link D. H. Lawrence to a modernist anda Gothic discourse would appear to be an improbable task. That it is possible to do so is due to the links which Lawrence's fascination with the body has to both a Gothic language of otherness and a modernist discourse of subjectivity. This Gothic dimension to his writings can be explored through an analysis of pseudo-scientific ideas about degeneration which were popular at the time. Such ideas, admittedly, are not usually regarded as underpinning modernism, but, as we shall see, Lawrence's specific deployment of such ideas is a response to the perceived physical and mental harm posed by modernist aesthetics.

What is at issue here is a covert presence in Lawrence's writing. My specific argument is that Lawrence in Sons and Lovers (1913) uses a range of Gothic images which can be linked to late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century theories of degeneracy. 1 Lawrence's position on these theories is ambiguous. He provides a critical response to such theories whilst simultaneously following and developing their ideas. This is all implicit in the novel as a subtext which can only be discerned in its shadowy forms. It is, however, an analysis of these forms which makes possible a materialist reading that links him to these debates about degeneracy. Before developing this argument I want to first outline Judith Wilt's important reading of Lawrence, because although my analysis departs from hers, I acknowledge that the links which she makes between Lawrence and the Gothic are significant for any account which tries to explain Lawrence's use of a Gothic idiom.

It was Wilt's influential study, Ghosts of the Gothic (1980) which provided an important reassessment of writers not, at that time, readily

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