D.H. Lawrence: a Question of Stature

When your copy of the Sewanee Review arrived, we were just reading Lady Chatterley —submitting to the social necessity of having to read a book everybody talks about. Previously I had read only Sons and Lovers ; all other novels by Lawrence which I tried bored me so much that I did not finish them (I remember distinctly the Plumed Serpent among the unfinished because of boredom).

. . . .With the recent reading of Lady Chatterley still in memory, I fervently agree with your remarks on L's style, especially his femininity of expression, the tedious use of repetitive adjectives and nouns, and so forth. Especially I remember with disgust the conversation among the four gentlemen in Chapter 4—either the conversation is realistic in the sense that people with whom Lawrence was acquainted slung words like that, then certainly the raw material has not been informed by the artist and should be scrapped as not worth being preserved; or if it is not realistic (at least, I have never heard people talk as insipidly as that), then it would be Lawrence's "creation"—and if that is his creative insight into the workings of an intellectual's mind, then L. is just no good.

You see, I am still not quite convinced of L's stature either as an artist or as a diagnostician of the times. In this vein I also should like to take exception to the [remark] that Lawrence was one of the first to have sensed the destructive character of mechanization on human and social life. There are [Friedrich] Holderlin's Odes on the subject (in the 1790's I believe), as yet unsurpassed in powerful expression of this problem. And Holderlin is among the most important inspirations in Marx's romantic hatred of capitalism.

Lawrence seems in this respect to belong to the second wave of outcries against mechanization which has produced, among other things, the literature on the masses and on technology, as well as [Oswald] Spengler's Decline of the West (conceived before the First World War).

Nor does his erotology and sacramentalization of sex seem to be very profound—he certainly has never reached in these matters the clarity of understanding or strength of drama as [Frank] Wedekind in Frühlingserwachen, Lulu, or Minnehaha. (For the rest, I am holding no brief for Wedekind.) . . . .

[A]nd that brings me to a theme upon which you touch on and off in your essay: the lack of love in Lawrence. There is a deep-rooted impotence in his work . . . that lets the description of reality disliked degenerate into caricature and cliché and the opposed, preferred reality into romantic nonsense. There is lacking the strength of love that would unite the dilemmatic extremes in a convincing creation. . . .

Robert B. Heilman and Eric Voegelin
A Friendship in Letters, 1944-1984,
Hurried over the Face of the Earth ,
Letter 91, Notre Dame, January 14, 1961,

pp 209-211.