Andrew F. Humphries. D.H. Lawrence, Transport and Cultural Transition: 'A Great Sense of Journeying'.
Andrew F. Humphries finds significant patterns in D.H. Lawrence's use of transport vehicles (and in the meanings of "transport") in his five most important novels, from Sons and Lovers through The Rainbow, Women in Love, The Plumed Serpent, and Lady Chatterley's Lover. He calls attention to facts that the reader may miss while reading these novels. Who knew, for instance, that Women in Love depicts "eleven car journeys, ten by train, four by boat, two by tram and six other transport moments"? These frequent trips in the fiction not only mirror modern reality but reveal a populace that is often restlessly bustling around, no longer "centred" and "rooted" like the early Brangwens at the Marsh Farm before the arrival of a canal and then a railroad, forerunners of the machine age but also of new horizons. The novels reflect a conflict that also appears in some of Lawrence's non-fiction, as in his life, between being "rooted" and being mobile. He presents perpetual "tension between freedom and restraint."
The vehicles provide a history of transportation as it contributed increasingly to the industrial complex, greatly proliferating during and after the First World War. Humphries, co-editor of the book Transport in British Fiction: Technologies of Movement 1840-1940 (2015) as well as of Childhood in Edwardian Fiction (2009), uses a "techno-historical" approach at times, giving details about the growing craze for motoring in the early twentieth century and the advances in war mechanisms, such as deadly submarines and terrorizing airborne zeppelins. He draws a contrast between "framing" and "enframing." The former suggests stasis (or, alternatively, a building process). But the "moments of epiphany" are often "enframed" by the transport context. In the course of his chapters, Humphries works easily with a variety of critical approaches, including feminist, postcolonial, modernist, posthumanist, and disability theory. He refers to influences such as Heidegger and Bergson and theorists such as Gilles Deleuze and Edward Said.
In his transport theme, Lawrence is clearly modernist, acutely conscious of the revolution in transportation and impacted as well by artistic movements like Marinetti's futurism that show how machines can generate exciting but non-human energies; Lawrence holds that, however inorganic, they affect human life, even turning people into virtual cyborgs. The interaction of the organic and inorganic takes unusual forms in the novels. Lawrence's examples may sometimes seem to contradict each other in meaning, but he is working with the paradox that inorganic transport may be used for human good or ill. Humphries, following Lawrence, draws a crucial distinction between transport that is simply mechanical and outward and another kind of "transport" that accompanies inward questing. When the two can coalesce, the goal may even be numinous though necessarily making use of transport vehicles, and in such moments Lawrence conducts "ontological dialogues with the world."
In Sons and Lovers, while the railroad generally represents an aggressive patriarchal world of industry, it also fosters Mrs. Morel's dreams for her sons to escape a limiting mining milieu. Even the inoffensive bicycle (as one may have thought it) is involved in the battle of the sexes. For example, Paul Morel, riding his bicycle home from a frustrating encounter with Miriam, careens recklessly down a dangerous hill, interpreting this deadly action as "a man's revenge on his woman," wishing to "deprive" her. As the novel progresses, transport further exemplifies men's thrusting drive to control the environment (and personal life) through mechanized power.
The Rainbow reverses this gendered character of transport, for Ursula is the novel's great traveler, and her development often depends on her moving from place to place in the "man's world" and elsewhere. Here transportation often accommodates the theme of female autonomy and empowerment. With its wide historical sweep, this novel depicts the full revolution from horse travel to modern journeys by train, tram, boat, and automobile. Ursula may seem to arrive at something of a "still point," or a "centred" place, at the novel's end, yet her journey to self-knowledge and further freedom continues in the next book, Women in Love, with its worsening real-world conditions.
Women in Love represents a culmination of the transport theme in destructive contexts, hinting at the technological violence of the First World War that is only felt (but powerfully so) throughout the novel. Birkin is on a train to London when he makes his apocalyptic observations about the ends of civilizations throughout time. He feels "doomed" while the train nears industrialized London, sensing "the end of the world." Another eschatological moment comes when the pleasure-launch boat of "Water Party" leads to a drowning and Gerald, diving into the water, feels there is "room" for multitudes in that underworld, like an infinite stretch of cold hell. And yet Women in Love contains the transformative love scene between Birkin and Ursula in a motor car and their similarly redemptive sea voyage to Europe. Indeed, mobility is essential to their survival as they must escape the frozen impasse in the Alps to find their own refuge in the south. The truly paradoxical potential of transport is perhaps most evident in this novel.
Humphries includes The Plumed Serpent among the major novels to show global and cultural implications of the century's expansion in travel. (On somewhat similar grounds, even Kangaroo might have been more broadly explored though it is mentioned in cogent contexts.) Means of transport carry Kate Leslie from weary post-war Europe to a "new world" in Mexico and an encounter there with the "other" as a renovatory contact for herself and perhaps for an entire culture. Especially noteworthy are her boat trips on native craft in Sayula, contrasting with the congested traffic of Mexico City. Humphries does not ignore the complications of this novel, for transport is shown to have been part of the damaging growth of European and American industrial colonization of the country. Of course, Kate's attraction to the revolutionary general Cipriano presents all Lawrence critics with a dilemma. This critic adds to the collective protest at the general's violent role by showing that it is very much Cipriano's powerful motor car that helps to seduce Kate, "almost unbelievably." (One may remember that even Birkin exuded a strange Pharaonic power when behind the wheel.) But Humphries might have noted that this same Cipriano is also a natural horseman whose body seems to Kate to be one with his horse. The complexity of this character is usually elided in criticism, but Humphries is right to see him combining "primitive" qualities with some modernist adherence to technology.
Lady Chatterley's Lover offers a nearly unrelenting pessimism about transport, as about machinery in general, since both Mellors and Connie (to a great extent) are committed to the organic world represented by the Wragby woodland despite its partial desecration for war materials. In this respect, the novel resembles some of Lawrence's late poetry, like the Nettles, that decry machinery broadside. Clifford's motorized chair, seen as the very emblem of disability (allying Clifford to the part-machine cyborg), is also a ravaging device, mowing down the vulnerable woodland flowers in its path. In fact, the earth itself is shown to be disabled, and even human sexuality and propagation are almost obliterated in impersonal new attitudes despising the human body and the earth's body as well. Yet even this novel includes an enlightening tour d 'horizon in Connie's view of the countryside while traveling in a car to Uthwaite; this journey alters Clifford's pretentious big automobile from a mere machine to a vehicle for "enframing" the reviving woman's empathic insights. This novel, says Humphries, places "the fertile and mobile woman at its core of hope"; yet Connie's sister, Hilda, like Clifford, maintains a preference for the motorized world itself. The novel's somewhat indeterminate conclusion expresses uncertainties of Lawrence's time about the future of human or posthuman life.
In Etruscan Places and Last Poems, journeys often have a transcendent meaning, as in "The Ship of Death," showing death as "the final transport." Throughout his canon, Lawrence portrays life as a journey, flowing ever onward in a world of dynamic flux. How could he be other than fascinated with transport vehicles, especially when they may "enframe" spiritual aspects of quest, allowing a combination of both physical and spiritual sides of his protagonists' travels? Humphries brings this combination forcefully and coherently before scholars and other readers in detailed and illuminating examples.
Washington State University
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|Publication:||D.H. Lawrence Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2017|
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