D.H. Lawrence Society of North America

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Book Review Essay on World Reception

D. H. Lawrence Review 31 (2001)

Takeo Iida, ed. The Reception of D.H. Lawrence Around the World. Fukuoka: Kyushu UP. 1999. Pp. xviii + 303. Y7200.

This book opens a series of windows on different times and places in Lawrence's global reception and is guaranteed to offer surprises to even the most informed readers. Consisting of 14 chapters representing as many countries, it showcases Lawrence's multiplicity as never before, catching it at a number of vantage points: here we see Lawrence as critic, there as rebel, as "Yogi," as exegete, as Westminster Abbey poet. The effect is much like that of the International Lawrence Conferences from which the book developed. The well-chosen writers are editor Takeo Iida, author of the informative introduction and of an essay on the reception in Japan; Peter Preston, on Great Britain; Ginette Katz-Roy, France; Simonetta de Filippis, Italy; Christa Jansohn and Dieter Mehl, Germany; Fiona Becket, Poland; Anja Viinikka, Finland; Keith Cushman, the United States; Arnold Odio, Mexico; John Nause, Canada; Paul Eggert, Australia; Jungmai Kim, Korea; Xianzhi Liu, China; and Sheila Lahiri Choudhury, India. Unfortunately (or not), the essays are difficult to compare because they do not take parallel approaches to their material. A majority of them feature tight-knit surveys of scholarship, and readers will be impressed by the magnitude of the tasks undertaken in these. For example, Lawrence studies in the United States, set into well-drawn cultural contexts, fit into 30 pages; British reception runs to even greater length in an essay interspersed with useful, detailed timelines. Several pieces are confined to particular aspects of Lawrence's reception, and others deal with countries having shorter Lawrence traditions but posing problems of their own. Becket, for example, found some Polish printed material had vanished, apparently in hitherto unnoticed suppression; and Viinikka, too, frequently dealt with scarce sources.

Lawrence emerges as "a philosopher's poet" in France, where Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Gaston Bachelard, Jean Wahl, and Gabriel Marcel have all engaged with him. In Italy, too, "Lawrence the thinker" is often studied, as also in Korea and elsewhere. (Surprisingly, the "discursive" or "speculative" Lawrence seems less admired in Japan, particularly in poetry, despite the frequently close ties between the Japanese and Korean scholarly traditions.) In Poland, Lawrence the poet has appealed to a "very strong poetic tradition," as also in India, whereas the short fictions, including St. Mawr and The Man Who Died, have gained more acclaim in Finland. Performing arts based on Lawrence's works have flourished in England in various forms--for stage, screen, TV, and radio--especially since a 1967-8 Royal Court season of his "colliery plays." The dramas have attracted interest, too, in Italy, where class struggles, in the "comedies" and elsewhere, are favorite themes and where de Filippis suggests a fruitful comparison between Lawrence's working-class plays and Bertolt Brecht's expressionist theater. These essays are greatly enlivened by the panorama of world history that appears in the background--or foreground. The stereotype of an authoritarian Lawrence, while not wholly absent, is largely stood on its head, as Lawrence the liberator emerges in essay after essay. In India, for example, where an anxiety of hegemonic forces may affect him less than some of the more institutional English writers, Lawrence was hailed in Bengali poetry of the 1940s as a kind of freedom-fighter, the Englishman who strove with his own country's strictures for personal liberty, a herald of the wind blowing a "new direction" (quoted by poet Budhadev Bose from "Song of a Man Who Has Come Through"). This reading coincides, notes Lahiri Choudhury, with India's approach to its own independence from Great Britain (1947). Similarly, as Finland resisted Russian domination in the '20s, Lawrence attracted the movement "Torch Bearers" with its watchword "Windows open to Europe!" In China, where the "open door" policy followed a repressive so-called "cultural revolution," a "Lawrence-rush" began in the '80s, attuned to his liberating voice.

Indeed, the fiftieth anniversary of Lawrence's death (1980) and the centenary of his birth (1985) occasioned a more general Lawrence "boom," as recorded in these essays. In that decade an International Lawrence Symposium convened at the University of Nottingham, and a memorial plaque was dedicated to Lawrence in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey (near Tennyson); an International Lawrence Conference took place at Tufts (Boston); a research group formed at the University of Paris-X, where the journal Études lawrenciennes was launched; Italy's "year of the Etruscans" celebrated not just Lawrence's birth but also his long engagement with Etruria; an International Lawrence Conference occurred in Shanghai, and the Lawrence Society of China organized. In both Asia and Europe, societies had been founded even earlier. Iida points out that the pioneering D. H. Lawrence Society of Japan has met continuously since 1970 (founded in 1969) and that a Kyoto study group has published collections of essays about Lawrence's novels since 1977. Korea, too, has a large, well-established society, and another thrives in Australia. The society based in Eastwood formed in 1974 and the D. H. Lawrence Society of North America in the following year (an outgrowth of years of previous national MLA seminars). All of these organizations and other Lawrence groups, though individual entities, form the powerful network that makes a collection like this one possible. While these chapters are uneven at recording such details, a reader can piece most (not all) of them together; Iida's introduction is helpful in this respect, creating a sense of increased uniformity by giving (for example) a concise list of the seven numbered international conferences that predated the book's press deadline: Tufts (1985), Shanghai (1988), Montpellier (1990), Paris (1992), Ottawa (1993), Nottingham (1996), and Taos (1998). (Outside the volume's time frame, of course, the eighth was held in Naples in June, 2001, and the next is scheduled for Kyoto.)

Several of the essays gain from the fact that Lawrence had traveled and lived in their respective countries. Understandably, the travel books--all but one about Italian places--are popular in Italy, especially Sketches of Etruscan Places. Referring to this book (the newly-established Cambridge text, which she edited), de Filippis tells conclusively how far Lawrence was from admiring Italian fascism, which he pointedly condemns in "Volterra" and elsewhere. Like de Filippis, Katz-Roy presents a comprehensive essay, examining Lawrence's relation to France as well as his literary reception there. Odio, with the most thematic of all the essays, deals only with The Plumed Serpent and Mornings in Mexico but achieves a completely new perspective on them. He shows that their innovative departure from Eurocentric norms has been recognized, though largely outside the English language. The new reading is based firmly on the subsequent rise in Spanish America of the "magical realism" anticipated by Lawrence's novel. (Carlos Fuentes, for one, acknowledged Lawrence's direct influence.) Similarly limiting their topics, Jansohn and Mehl, and Eggert, gain fine scholarly detail instead of composite breadth.

While critics have often wrangled over other aspects of Lawrence's achievement, literary artists all over the world have embraced his essential creativity. Comparisons between him and related English-language fiction writers are perhaps too well-known to rehearse, but to that group can be added others in whom influence and/or affinity has been asserted: Sei Ito (Japan), Zhang Xianliang (China), Lee Hyo-suk (Korea), Nobel Prize-winner Frans Emil Sillanpää (Finland), Fuentes (Mexico), and more. Even more striking, perhaps, is Lawrence's presence in poetry. In Korea, where his fiction is said to be preferred, the first Lawrence published was a poem ("Giorno dei Morti") quoted in translation by poet Yi Hayoon (1930). In Poland, the poet and Nobel Laureate Czeslaw Milosz was one of Lawrence's translators; in Italy, Piero Nardi; in France, Lorand Gaspar; in Finland, Katri Vala. His poetry was adapted in India to local concerns by poets like Premendra Mitra, who in the 1940s placed the Hindu gods in his translation of "Give Us Gods." And Lawrence emerges as a major inspiration to poets Dorothy Livesay, Al Purdy, Irving Layton, and Alden Nowlan in Canada. Much the same kind of influence could be shown in the United States, where poets from H. D. to Sylvia Plath, from the young Robert Frost through Theodore Roethke, the "Beats," and the Black Mountain Poets have all acknowledged Lawrence's impact.

Whereas many of the essays touch upon Lawrence as "exile," England appears as the center of the "high" Lawrence tradition without which the others could not stand alone. This tradition includes F. R. Leavis's landmark book, D.H. Lawrence: Novelist (1955, 1965), situating Lawrence in the "great tradition" as a guardian of culture--"the great writer of our own phase of civilization," as Leavis calls him. Not Lawrence's rebellion but his "life-enhancing" commitment to society is in focus here. This "classic" line of criticism intersected with modern cultural studies in England--through Raymond Williams and Richard Hoggart--as with the Lawrence-related work of writers as diverse as Mario Praz in Italy and Harry T. Moore in America. As Cushman points out, today's definitive Cambridge Edition of the Letters and Works of D.H. Lawrence is, like the Leavis tradition, Cambridge-centered but international, with James T. Boulton (English) and the late Warren Roberts (American) as general editors (1979-present). (Its international character is demonstrated by the four Cambridge editors who are contributors to this book--none of them either English or American but German, Italian, and Australian. Preston impartially recounts both praise and blame of the edition, concluding that its enormous impact will continue to unfold in futurity. Another Cambridge triumph, mentioned by several writers, is the authoritative three-volume biography by John Worthen, Mark Kinkead-Weekes, and David Ellis (1991-8), surpassing all others in composite length (including even the massive three-volume Japanese biography [1992-4] by Yoshio Inoeu). The University of Nottingham's D.H. Lawrence Centre and D.H. Lawrence Professorship (held by Worthen) take their place at the heart of Lawrence studies, as does, in the United States, the D.H. Lawrence Review (founded in 1968 by James C. Cowan). If Preston introduces an institutional Lawrence tradition, he is also alive to the popular, even doing justice to Eastwood tourism and festivals. From him, for example, we learn that the number of visitors to the birthplace museum first exceeded 10,000 a year in 1990-91.

In varying degrees, the book forms a reflection on the nature of transmission and reception, as (for example) in Eggert's focused anatomy of appropriation, centered on the Australian novels. The extraordinary number of extant early reviews (138) of The Boy in the Bush (co-written with Mollie Skinner) allows the novel to be handled especially well as a "multifarious object" that was hailed for its fine realistic verisimilitude while also being despised for its unrecognizable "nightmarish country." Key to such discrepancies is the fact that Lawrence (through his protagonist) seems to turn his back on the growing "Europeanized" civilization--the "reality" and pride of English-descended readers whose standards were formed by the British Empire--and "responds far more deeply to the alienness of the landscape," a stance appealing to Australian centrism and suggesting today's considerations about what is unique to the continent. In India, where the Empire is shown to form a kind of time-barrier, the postcolonial approach distinguishes recent studies from earlier ones, casting many foreign texts into a new light; interestingly enough, however, Lawrence remains the "favorite novelist in the university syllabus" and a popular choice, too, of "the common Indian reader." In Mexico, as in Australia, Lawrence's gaze below the European/US facade of the country to an indigenous foundation may have been a shock to English-language readers, but Odio points to a more knowing response in Mexico, especially in pace with increasing Mexican Indian nationalism.

Closely related to these aspects of appropriation is the role of translation in Lawrence's reception. Delavenay complained in the '80s that some French translations were "doubtful"--"even execrable" and meaningless--and Katz-Roy shows that prefaces as well could be misleading and "not even unpolitical." Becket shows how the translation gap was overcome in Poland by the publication of a dual-language edition of selected poems (1976), but in the same country Sons and Lovers (for instance), reissued in Polish in the '80s, faces a mighty challenge just to convey the Midlands mining milieu to an audience with no cultural counterpart. Especially instructive is Jansohn and Mehl's careful examination of correspondence from and to Lawrence's chief German publisher, Anton Kippenberg of Insel-Verlag as he vigorously sought good translations, hoping to place Lawrence among world "classics" in German. But Lawrence himself complained of the German Rainbow (1922)--his first foreign-language novel--that it "wasn't me at all," with its "horrible, pompous-commonplace spirit" (see L vii 572). (This translator, Franz Franzius, proved to harbor moral biases about Lawrence's "erotic" work, feeling "nausea" at his desirous women and calling his men "asses.") Yet another translator acknowledged that he cut "extensive passages" from St. Mawr because they were "somewhat mystical," and therefore unnecessary, and objected to the attribution of "phallic properties" to a pine tree. Kippenberg's efforts ended several years after Lawrence's death, and here Jansohn and Mehl fall silent, wondering how Lawrence would have fared in Germany if the prestigious publishing house had continued to promote him as faithfully after 1933.

Of course, this date corresponds roughly with the appearance of some politicized interpretations of Lawrence by idealogues whose concern was not at all for accurate translation; in the '30s and '40s, too, came dismissals of him elsewhere for possessing "something basically Germanic" (in the words of Georges Mounin in France in 1945). One would like to see a study (as thorough and scholarly as this one and related writings by Jansohn and Mehl) on the later period when, without his own living voice and without his vigilant German publisher, Lawrence was inherited by his "admirers." (Bibliographies by Otmar Allendorf, in DHLR 4.2 [210-20], and by Jansohn herself, in DHLR 28.3 [55-74], should be pertinent.) Ideally, such a probe should reveal interconnections among reprints and re-translations in the commentaries of several languages and should be fully cognizant of the way a text can be refracted through unfamiliar lenses by translation, partial quotation, paraphrase, and association.

A number of writers in this book note that Lawrence's works were appropriated by the sexual revolution in ways that he (and his translators and publishers) would not have chosen. He became something of a cult hero to the international "hippie" movement. In England, the United States, France, and elsewhere, films of some of his works were charged (variously) with being sensationalized and "tamed down." In Korea, during a moral crisis that attended the Korean War, Cho Kyoo-dong translated The First Lady Chatterley (1952) "to purify our sexual relationship at a high level," serving "as a sharp knife to cut off the rotten, lax part of our society." (Kim doubts that this therapeutic purpose was the only reason that the book was read during this troubled period.) Similarly, the courageous Japanese publisher (Hisajiro Oyama) intended Sei Ito's unexpurgated translation of Lady Chatterley's Lover (1950) as a moral corrective; but he was prosecuted and bankrupted by the novel's Japanese obscenity trial.

Commentary on Lady Chatterley's Lover forms almost a book-within-the-book. The famous trials--effectively acquitting the novel of "obscenity" in the United States (1959), England (1960), and Canada (1962)--were preceded by the much more protracted Japanese trial (1951-57). This one went against the book (though the ban has not recently been enforced). In Poland, Lady Chatterley's Lover was the first Lawrence novel introduced (1932) and was immediately seized by the public prosecutor. Of course, it attracted such major figures to its publication and defense that Lawrence studies ultimately profited as a result. In France, André Malraux wrote an important preface (1932) that was soon in wide translation. In Japan, novelist Ito, translator of both the expurgated novel (1935) and the unexpurgated (15 years later), gave lifelong support to Lawrence, an initiative carried on by his son Rei Ito. In Canada, notes Nause, the well-known dean-of-law and poet Frank R. Scott conducted the trial defense, and leading novelist Hugh MacLennan was an expert witness, asserting in an article that Lawrence was under attack not really for "dirtiness" but for "the challenge of his morality." Yet Lawrence is still chiefly known in some places (as in Finland) as the author of a scandalous book--one that, however, went through 15 Finnish printings before 1991.

Nothing has yet been said about feminist criticism of Lawrence, but it thrives, as attested by dozens of female Lawrence scholars (and creative artists) who appear throughout these pages, many of them with central feminist concerns. The Kate Millett variety, long recognized elsewhere for its crude scholarship, was nonetheless seriously damaging to Lawrence, especially in America; but this appears a more culture-specific phenomenon than one might have thought (Simone de Beauvoir in France was far more judicious). Sandra Gilbert, Judith Ruderman, Holly Laird, Carol Siegel, Linda Ruth Williams (in England), Jungmai Kim (in Korea), and many others have continued an informed feminist dialogue. Lawrence is studied, too, in terms of l'écriture féminine and of Lacan, Deleuze, Bakhtin, Derrida, Said, and the cultural studies which Cushman expects to gain added importance in future American work. Rare only a few years ago, such highly theorized contemporary studies are increasingly the norm, often spiraling back in some way to earlier readings of Lawrence but--as in his own theory of cyclic time--on a new level.

A "Lawrentian" touch in unexpected places affords occasional comic relief to the book's readers. One learns that a comic strip was inspired by Lawrence's life with Frieda, as reported in a 1954 French newspaper under the title "Pauvre D. H." ("Poor D. H."), and another was based on Lady Chatterley's Lover, as illustrated and written by cartoonist Mieko Kawasaki in Japan (1996). In A. S. Byatt's British novel Babel Tower (1996), a divorce lawyer traces the heroine's Lawrentian expectations of marriage and understands all: "Ah, D. H. Lawrence. . . . You felt that." And a recent Hollywood film, G. I. Jane (1997), features a Lawrence poem prominently, as shouted by no less than a U. S. military drill sergeant. Such pervasive allusiveness argues that the writer is deeply embedded in the life of various cultures and seems to belie a stated worry (by a small minority of contributors) that his standing could be poised for precipitate decline.

The fact that the essays in this book differ in kind can easily lead to rather unfair comparisons, for it can be shown that every single one has weaknesses in relation to some other. Why is Lawrence's influence in American poetry unmentioned, for example, whereas in Canadian poetry it is highlighted? Why don't all essays have the architectonic success of Cushman's or Iida's? Why don't all have the newsmaking thrust of Odio's contribution, the arresting political frame of Liu's or Lahiri Choudhury's, the inclusiveness of Preston's, or the concentration of Eggert's? Quite simply, they cannot do everything at once; but in combination, they do a great deal and should be in every university library. (Some of us may need to prod the libraries to order the book.) This would also be a good resource to keep on one's desk as a "loaner" to graduate students. Its legacy should be the increasing sophistication and internationalization of Lawrence studies--and perhaps (and paradoxically), its greater humanization, for one remembers from these essays not only the learned critics but also the general readers who "knew" no better than to love the poetry for its own sake and the crowds that thronged Eastwood and Nottingham Castle for centenary events.

(Virginia Hyde, Washington State University)