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Exploring The Works Of D.H. Lawrence

1852 words - 7 pages


Sometimes man makes more sense to man when he looks like an animal-or another man, or a woman, or just anything other than himself. The human being is the strangest of all animals, because of the phenomenon called thought. Reaching beyond our personal capsule of life might make us completely free. Such is the manic truth, the reflection of himself, that D.H. Lawrence thrusts forward in the collections of essays entitled "Phoenix" and "Phoenix II." The processes of his mind invite inquiry. To Lawrence, conversation with a person is seldom the best way to know that person. Rather, we come to know a person more fully by a process of reading him-absorbing the subtleties of his life, and extrapolating these into a portrait of his mind. In his writing, Lawrence grants the opportunity for us to read him, in the very literal way, so that we might come to know his own mind more fully.

In "On Coming Home," we see a rare instance of Lawrence practicing something near autobiography, recounting a personal experience. On the deck of a ship, near landing on the shore of England, he feels the famous words of Sir Walter Scott "explode into his chest" (II 250): "Breathes there a man with soul so dead/ Who never to himself hath said/ This is my own, my native land" (250). Without, it seems, a moment of reflection, and cutting off Scott's words in his own mind, Lawrence exclaims: "With a vengeance!" We begin, quite confused, anticipating the impetus for such a startling reaction. Lawrence does not disappoint. At the moment the British arrive on deck to land the ship, his senses register a subtle but important atmospheric shift: "All is strangely still. . . England is on board . . . curiously quiet and withheld-everything has fallen silent" (251). As we move forward in "On Coming Home," that silence swells into a scathing indictment of what Lawrence sees as the defining English way: the "shut-in-edness" of an "unnatural conceit" (253).

Lawrence's movement of ideas-from dulled English voices to bursting English egos-reveals within him a power of perception that pervades all of his essays, a power that manifests itself in an endless parade of what I will call his "assertions." In the traditional way of discerning things, people reach conclusions based on observations bolstered by damning evidence. Lawrence often leaves the terrain of this last stipulation-the damning evidence-totally untraveled. In "Germans and English," we see him in Florence, struck by the strange presence of the Wandervogels, the irreverent young German tourists. He becomes positively engaged at the mere sight of these strangers; they spawn within him an intricate dialogue that encompasses the spheres of the German, the Italian, and the English alike. Engagements such as this one signal a trend in Lawrence's writing: they make the essays, in large part, snapshots of D. H. Lawrence watching others-watching mainly their idiosyncrasies, their vices-and bringing quick, sweeping indictments of...

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