Men in Love
- Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence, edited by David Farmer, Lindeth Vasey and John Worthen
Cambridge, 633 pp, £40.00, May 1987, ISBN 0 521 23565 0
- The Letters of D.H. Lawrence: Vol. IV, 1921-24 edited by Warren Roberts, James Boulton and Elizabeth Mansfield
Cambridge, 627 pp, £35.00, May 1987, ISBN 0 521 23113 2
Lawrence’s maxim ‘we shed our sicknesses in books’ is usually applied to Sons and Lovers, where he disposed of his nearly fatal over-attachment to his mother. But Women in Love is a cathartic novel too, though here the sickness is less easy to cure. The sickness itself is obvious enough: it is misanthropy, a continuous rage at almost everyone around. If Lawrence did not manage to shed it he at least made his most strenuous attempt in Women in Love to probe, and to judge, the ‘indignant temperament’ that has tarnished his reputation since the Great War.
Early in the novel its hero, Rupert Birkin, rides into London on a train feeling ‘like a man condemned to death’, and the narrator tells us that ‘his dislike of mankind, of the mass of mankind, amounted almost to an illness.’ What the narrator does not tell us – what needs the whole book for an answer – is how that illness should be judged. Is it just a flaw within Birkin, or does the infection come from without, from a pestilent civilisation? Is Birkin spiteful and morbid, like a Dostoevskian hero; or is he a tunnel canary, warning a complacent world that a poisonous element is spreading through its foundations?
Lawrence goes far to stack the dice against Birkin and make him a hero who is hard to like. He surrounds Birkin with intimates – Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen, Hermione Roddice, Gerald Crich – who keep telling him that he is a crackpot preacher who should face up to his own unhappy consciousness. Further, Lawrence excludes from the novel the Great War – the adequate cause of his own despair and potentially of Birkin’s too. The book was mostly written between the Somme and Passchendaele, but Lawrence asked only that ‘the bitterness of the war may be taken for granted in the characters.’
Birkin enraged by ‘the disgrace of outspread London’ is not the same as his creator enraged by the disgrace of the Western Front. Lawrence’s point, of course, was that London and the Western Front were part of the same civilisation, which Birkin feels as a ‘real death’. Flanders may have been, indeed, only a blank slate on which London, Paris and Berlin were expressing their wills: but from the Café Pompadour to Passchendaele is a very long step. Some might say that the war was so futile and destructive that it could only have happened by accident: because they did say it, Lawrence devotes large chunks of Women in Love to arguing that there is no such thing as an accident. Gerald ‘accidentally’ killed his brother, but Ursula doesn’t believe it was an accident, and Lawrence underlines the point by giving Gerald a version of the Kaiser’s line about the war: Ich habe es nicht gewollt.
Lawrence’s project is to justify Birkin’s misanthropy from first principles, as it were, and in a social context where those around him are content to carry on ‘business as usual’. His three intimates, Gerald, Ursula and Gudrun, are at least willing to admit that they are in a personal cul de sac, and to follow Birkin to a clear space above civilisation, in the Alps. The world might be well lost, they concede, if one could only achieve a few pure relationships and leave the masses to writhe in their own dirt. But the marriage through which one can be saved is an esoteric one: husband and wife must keep a fixed space between themselves, and the husband must add to the love of his wife a programmatic intimacy with a male comrade. The novel thus proposes both that the world as we know it is on its last legs, and that ‘triangular’ marriage is the only refuge from the coming apocalypse.
The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.
Vol. 9 No. 20 · 12 November 1987
SIR: Paul Delany’s review of the new Cambridge University Press Women in Love (LRB, 3 September), of which I am a co-editor, has just reached me. Some errors need correcting, and Delany’s misunderstanding of the nature of the publication needs pointing out. Delany is not really interested in texts or in textual derivation. This is a handicap, because the Cambridge edition is is primarily important as a new edition of the text. He has not bothered to understand the derivation of the text: i.e. from the heavily corrected second typescript of the novel, which was retyped by a typist employed by the American publisher Thomas Seltzer. Delany has been misled by the extensively corrupt Penguin edition, which does indeed reprint the American edition (along with many of its disastrous misreadings). Furthermore, TSII is not only emended from manuscript, but from two previous typescripts, both heavily revised. Delany’s simple statement is both wrong and misleading. He also comments that Secker’s English edition’s authorial revisions (done at Secker’s request) ‘are relevant to the history of censorship and libel’ but ‘not at all to literary criticism of the novel’. Editors don’t just choose what interests them, or what is relevant to their own literary-critical purposes. The revisions in question were made by Lawrence himself, and no textual edition can ignore them.
When Delany tells his readers what ‘the major editorial crux of Women in Love’ is, he comes up with this: ‘Did Lawrence’s feelings about homoeroticism change from 1916 to 1919, so that the Prologue became out of date and he freely discarded it? Or did he see that the truth revealed in the Prologue would destroy his career, so that he had to settle for a slanted and diluted version of the story he really wanted to tell?’ This is quite extraordinary. By no even extended stretch of the imagination could this be said to be ‘the major editorial crux of Women in Love’. Editorial cruxes are about choices of text, about the validity of certain readings. The Prologue in question was rejected by Lawrence no later than July 1916, and possibly as early as April; the facts are stated quite plainly in the edition. There is no crux, editorially, about it. Of course, what Delany believes is that Lawrence was running away from his own homo-eroticism: slanting and diluting it. He is not discussing editing or text; he is telling us what he believes the novel is about.
When Delany does turn to textual matters it becomes clear that what he wants is a variorum edition of the novel: of all states of the text, and of all deleted readings. In fact, only photographic reproduction of all the textual artifacts could satisfy him – together with an extensive commentary. It’s a splendid idea: thousands of pages of reproduced manuscript and typescript pages. (Does Delany have any idea of what that would cost?) But it has nothing to do with the edition he is reviewing. The Cambridge edition of Women in Love prints Lawrence’s developed and final text. Isn’t this publication of the first accurate text of the novel rather a cause for celebration, than for an insistent demand for material such an edition cannot provide? It’s not Women in Love that Delany wants to read: it is the novel that satisfies his theories about it; and poor Lawrence’s novel goes on being rejected, seventy and more years after its first rejection.
Oberhausen, West Germany
Vol. 9 No. 22 · 10 December 1987
SIR: John Worthen (Letters, 12 November) says that the revisions to the first English edition of Women in Love ‘were made by Lawrence himself, and no textual edition can ignore them.’ My point is simply that this rule should apply to the revisions preceding the first printed edition as much as to the ones following it. Indeed, there is far too much material to reproduce in a single volume – which requires the editors to have a clear sense of priorities (based on literary values) and to provide a coherent summary of materials they can’t print in full. This is what Charles Ross’s book does and the Cambridge edition doesn’t.
With regard to the ‘editorial crux’ of Lawrence’s discarded homoerotic Prologue: the OED defines ‘crux’ as ‘a difficulty which it torments or troubles one greatly to interpret’. My review does not say that Lawrence was ‘running away from his own homoeroticism’: it says that in the novel’s development there was a complex mixture of self-censorship and spontaneous emotional evolution – and that the editors should have done more to help Lawrence’s readers understand how Women in Love was shaped by this struggle.
Simon Fraser University, British Columbia