The Interweaving of Color and Theme: Purple and Blue in the Works of D. H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf

By Gharib, Susie | Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Summer 2019 | Go to article overview

The Interweaving of Color and Theme: Purple and Blue in the Works of D. H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf


Gharib, Susie, Pennsylvania Literary Journal


In her essay "Walter Sickert", Virginia Woolfstates that "great artists are great colourists" (241). On her skill as a colorist, Jack F. Stewart notes how she uses in The Waves "unmixed colors as a painter might squeeze them from a tube straight onto the canvas" (91). D. H. Lawrence who occasionally painted asserted his own passion for the pictorial art in his essay "Making Pictures" (302). For Anais Nin, the literary Lawrence "worked like a painter" (63). Both Woolf and Lawrence are evidently painterly writers and masters in their use of color words. Many critics have studied the visual quality of their writing, but my essay aims to show their similar interweaving of color and theme. I will examine the interweaving of purple and blue with death and sex in Virginia Woolf's novel The Waves and her short story "Blue and Green" and D.H. Lawrence's short story "The Woman Who Rode Away" and his poems "Violets", "Purple Anemones", and "Bavarian Gentians".

In The Waves (1931), Virginia Woolf makes the streams of consciousness of two sexless characters, Rhoda and Louis, overlap to reinforce the close association between the colors purple and blue and the themes of sexuality and death. Rhoda associates the amorous meeting between Jinny and Percival with a savage, pagan scene, a procession of nude men armed with assegais (78). The evoked, agglomerated sounds of drumming, vigorous dancing, horns, trumpets, and blaring stags connote the wild sexual intercourse between the lovers. Whereas Rhoda describes the love cries of Jinny and Percival in terms of air instruments, drumming and dance treads, Louis refers directly to their "casual, exciting voice of action", assimilating them to hounds in pursuit of blood, referring to their unfinished sentences, since they talk "a little language such as lovers use" (78). For him, "their nerves thrill in their sides" because they have been possessed by an "imperious brute" (78), sex. These lovers are transformed in Louis' consciousness into ruthless savages, with painted faces, "leopard skins and the bleeding limbs which they have torn from the living body", circularly dancing and "flapping bladders" (78). Two colors become dominantly associated with this primitive scene, purple and blue. For Rhoda, the horns "spill blue smoke" as people "throw violets" to celebrate the primitive wedding (78). Both Rhoda and Louis, who "are conspirators, withdrawn together to lean over some cold urn" (78), are the oracles who forebode death. For them the outcome of such a mating is "downfalling" and "decay" (78). They both "note how the purple flame flows downwards" (78). Louis makes the link between death and purple more direct: "'Death is woven in with violets,' said Louis. 'Death and again death'" (78). In the minds of Rhoda and Louis, sexuality leads to death, so purple and blue are simultaneously the colors of sex and death.

Upon the death of Percival, Rhoda goes back to her image of the "purple flame" moving downwards, which is associated with the sexual intercourse between him and Jinny. Describing his death in India, she speaks of the fall of Percival off horseback as "the shadow" that "has fallen and the purple light slants downwards. The figure that was robed in beauty is now clothed in ruin" (88). Her grief for his death takes the form of a purple tribute, a bouquet of "withered" and "blackened" violets (89). The purple of violets is interwoven with the death of Percival and her own consequent death. His death inspires her with the most efficient way to die, which is mixing with the antagonistic human species that she has always dreaded. Although the "human face is hideous" for her, Rhoda now seeks "publicity and violence and to be dashed like a stone on the rocks" (88-89). She decides to walk down one of the busiest streets in London, Oxford Street, where she envisions a world ruptured by lightning with cracked oaks and houses whose unstable foundation is "to be puffed over by a breath of air", where cars are like blood-hounds, "reckless and random", hunting people to death (88). …

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