Transcendental climbing: Lawrence, Wordsworth, and romantic uplift.
Throughout his career, Lawrence's fiction was impelled by a powerful urge to integrate the human with the natural. In his essay "Aristocracy" he declares: "Man is great according as his relation to the living universe is vast and vital. Men are related to men: including women: and this, of course, is very important. But one would think it were everything" (RDP 371). In his late essay "A Propos of Lady Chatterley's Lover" he argues that purely interpersonal relations, far from being "everything," are in fact vitiated by the severing of ties with nature: "We are bleeding at the roots, because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars, and love is a grinning mockery, because, poor blossom, we plucked it from its stem on the tree of Life, and expected it to keep on blooming in our civilised vase on the table" (LCL 323). While such sentiments may have an unmistakably Lawrencian flavor, they are by no means sui generis; they have clear Romantic antecedents, with which Lawrence was from an early age intimately familiar. Especially salient are the parallels with Wordsworth, who himself, as M.H. Abrams observes, "inherited a long tradition of finding moral and theological meanings in the aesthetic qualities of the landscape" (102). These meanings were transmitted in their most impassioned form through the concept of the "sublime" in nature, that which "is vast (hence suggestive of infinity), wild, tumultuous, and awful, is associated with pain, and evokes ambivalent feelings of terror and admiration" (98). A sense of the sublime was especially apt to be produced by the contemplation of mountains, and by attempts to ascend them. As Ake Bergvall says, "Ever since Moses saw the back of God on Mount Sinai or Greek poets began invoking the Muses of Mount Helicon, mountains have been associated with oracular inspiration. Scaling the heavens, and providing visionary views of the earth below, they have long carried a heavy metaphorical and metaphysical load" (44).
To quote Abrams once again, for the Romantics the reverent apprehension of nature's grandeur "constituted a systematic theodicy of the landscape" (98). Much in Lawrence's work is driven by an urge to adumbrate a comparable theodicy. Witness his revisionist reading, in the Study of Thomas Hardy, of Hardy's "uncultivable" (as Raymond Williams calls it (211)) Egdon Heath: "The [earth] heaved with raw instinct. Egdon, whose dark soil was strong and crude and organic as the body of a beast" (25). Such a characterization enacts a Romantic reconfiguring of Hardy's bleakly anti-Romantic topography, which negates any intimation of vitality infusing the heath beyond the most meager, vegetative capacity to endure. It is no coincidence that in the novel Lawrence was composing alongside the Study, The Rainbow, both the earth and its inhabitants "heave with raw instinct" in a fashion unlike anything to be found in The Return of the Native. Rather than Hardy, it is Wordsworth, whose youthful perceptions imbued nature with a dynamism that "did make / The surface of the universal earth / With triumph and delight, with hope and fear, / Work like a sea" (Prelude I 472-75) (1), who at this critical stage of Lawrence's development serves him as a governing epistemological model.
The Rainbow is energized by a latter-day Wordsworthian apprehension of the living cosmos. Brangwen couples like Tom and Lydia and then Will and Anna are magnetized by the imperatives emanating from "the universal earth." One recalls the familiar scene in which the second pair rhythmically put up sheaves of grain, a fertility rite eventuating in Will's marriage proposal, where he "harvests" Anna as his bride. What Roger Ebbatson has called the Wordsworthian belief that "Love of Nature led axiomatically to love of mankind" (15) is operative here, but Lawrence characteristically eroticizes it, transmuting the nature-fostered fellow feeling into sexual passion. A recurrent feature of Wordsworth's writing, co-opted by Lawrence for his own purposes, is the opposition between horizontality and verticality, a motif announced in the opening lines of The Prelude, where the "gentle breeze" that fans the poet's cheek brings joy both from "the green fields" and from "yon azure sky" (I 1-4). A more notable instance of this contrast is the nocturnal scene in Book One in which the poet, as a boy, rows out in a stolen boat, only to be overawed by the sight of an admonitory mountain peak looming higher and higher as he moves over the level surface of the water (3 57-400). More often, however, in Wordsworth's work upward movement retains its expected associations of numinous promise ("Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea"; "My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky"), and it is these positive resonances that Lawrence emphasizes in The Rainbow. In the scene already mentioned between Will and Anna, verticality is imbued with this Wordworthian "uplift", but Lawrence typically gives the lifted sheaves an erotic, indeed pointedly phallic, coloration.
The confrontation between the horizontal and the vertical recurs in other key sites of The Rainbow, a novel whose very title is Wordsworthian. The keynote is sounded in the opening paragraph, where the Brangwen men's quotidian labor in the fields of their Marsh Farm is counterpointed against the lofty outline of a church-tower: "Whenever one of the Brangwens in the fields lifted his head from his work, he saw the church-tower at Ilkeston in the empty sky. So that as he turned again to the horizontal land, he was aware of something standing above him and beyond him in the distance" (R 9). The looming "something" signifies the outer world of "progress," of "upward mobility," a connection subsequently reinforced by the stacks of the colliery that rise up near the farm. As Williams comments on this phase of the book, "[T]he farming life is already a metaphor, but a metaphor given historical standing, for a particular kind of being: active, physical, unconscious: the body as opposed to the mind, inseparable from the processes of nature" (265). Williams identifies the dominant motif, linked with the physical, unconscious life, as "male sexual imagery" (265), and yet the contrasting, intellectual dimension emblematized by the church-tower, towards which the female members of the Brangwen household wistfully gaze, is likewise coded male; it embodies "what man had done in fighting outwards to knowledge" (R 11, emphasis added). It is, of course, a hallmark of Lawrence's writing to complicate and trouble gender identifications.
It seems fitting, then, that the leading figure in The Rainbow identified with upward striving for a place in the world of men should be a young woman, Ursula Brangwen. As a novice teacher, in the chapter expressly titled "The Man's World," she writes on the board a (slightly misquoted) extract from one of Wordsworth's "Lucy" poems "because it pleased her": "'She shall be sportive as a fawn / That wild with glee across the lawn / Or up the mountain springs'" (R 380) (2). Obviously, the lines "please" Ursula by mirroring her own sportive self-image; yet later, when she surveys the actual course of her upward trajectory, she experiences not the exhilaration that accompanies springing up a mountain but rather a Sisyphus-like sense of relentless disappointment: "Always the shining doorway ahead: and then, upon approach, always the shining doorway was a gate into another ugly yard, dirty and active and dead. Always the crest of the hill gleaming ahead under heaven: and then, from the top of the hill, only another sordid valley full of amorphous, squalid activity" (R 404). Much as Ursula may wish to consider herself, like Wordsworth's iconic Lucy, a foster-child of nature, what fostering she receives seems only to propel her on an upward trudge to frustration.
Ursula's chronic disillusionment suggests the vein of caustic skepticism towards Wordsworthian afflatus that one repeatedly encounters in Lawrence, existing alongside his equally genuine reverence. In part, his resistance stems from his unwillingness to embrace what Ebbatson calls "the highest intuition of Romanticism ... an awareness of monistic unity" (11). Inveterately dualistic as his sensibility was, Lawrence mistrusted monism as a cravenly facile solution to issues of relatedness. As he says in his essay "Climbing Down Pisgah," "The moment you attain that sense of Oneness and Wholeness, you become cold, dehumanized, mechanical, and monstrous. The greatest of all illusions is the Infinite of the Spirit" (RDP 225). Elsewhere, in his essay, "Pan in America," he chides Walt Whitman for his monopolistic self-identification with the cosmos: "All Walt is Pan, but all Pan is not Walt" (P 24). In a similar spirit, Lawrence pays tribute to the chthonic potency of Pan as untamed nature deity, but demurs at embracing Wordsworth's singlehearted pantheism: "Lucy Gray, alas, was the form that William Wordsworth thought fit
to give to the Great God Pan" (P 23). In "Lucy Gray, or Solitude," Wordsworth commemorates a child so enthralled by her natural surroundings that she gravitates away from her prosaically human parents, tumbling from a bridge into an icy stream while wandering in a snowstorm. In recompense for this abstraction from mortal communion, Lucy lives on among her native hills as a petite nature divinity, a mystic presence haunting her childhood surroundings. Such a union-in-spirit with the All, at the expense of full-blooded, individual relationship, did not captivate Lawrence's imagination. The various Pan-figures in his fiction, despite their vivid, quasi-Wordsworthian bonds with nature, tend to be more robustly incarnated; they resist sacrificing their individuality on the altar of cosmic merger.
A case in point from Women in Love--"a sequel to The Rainbow, though quite unlike it" (2L 606)--is Rupert Birkin, whose identification with Pan is intimated by caprices like his impromptu dance before Ursula in the chapter "Water-Party": "And in another second, he was singing softly to himself, and dancing a grotesque step-dance in front of her, his limbs and body shaking loose, his face flickering palely, a constant thing, while his feet beat a rapid mocking tattoo, and his body seemed to hang all loose and quaking in between, like a shadow" (WL 168-69). Birkin's antics enable him to perform his own earthy physicality while gesturing at a larger, elusive, Pan-like dimension, in the process drawing Ursula further into a sexual relationship. Birkin himself, however, is still emerging from an emotional impasse, the collapse of his tormented affair with Hermione Roddice, who has signaled her displeasure by braining him with an elegant lapis-lazuli paperweight. Birkin famously responds to this compacted emotional and physical trauma by rolling naked in vegetation: "What did Hermione matter, what did people matter altogether? There was this perfect cool loneliness, so lovely and fresh and unexplored. Really, what a mistake he had made, thinking he wanted people, thinking he wanted a woman" (107). Here, Birkin's pantheistic act of informal worship involves him in a bonding with his natural surroundings that, at first blush, looks as irreversible as Lucy Gray's, meanwhile distancing him altogether from personal, not to mention sexual, relationships. But this stance, of course, does not represent Birkin's life-terminus; instead, it is only a way-station. Birkin's nude gamboling amid the splendor in the Wordsworthian grass enacts a peremptory ritual of purgation; immersion in nature is his means of shedding the soilure of self-conscious sexuality and lethal artificiality embodied by Hermione and her precious paperweight. It clears the way for a more authentic version of intimacy, proleptically announced by his whimsical Pan-dance before Ursula.
Birkin's close friend and antagonist, Gerald Crich, personifies a sharply different mode of being-in-nature: a mode not primarily of absorption but of domination. (Birkin's stoning of the reflection of the moon in "Moony" appears to Ursula an act of hostility toward a natural object--"'Why should you hate the moon?'"--but Birkin's rhetorical question, "'Was it hate?'" (248), makes the necessary point: the stoning was not a gesture of aggression, but rather a symbolic mode of reconciling acute psychic tensions. Romantic mountain-top, swallowed up, like Lucy Gray, by a natural scene that is a mere tabula rasa of ice and snow. the Alpine setting that witnesses the crisis of Gerald's love affair with Gudrun Brangwen is a "retreat" in more ways than one; it is also the locus of his definitive withdrawal from relationship and from life itself: "Gerald's eyes became hard and strange, and as he went by on his skis he was more like some powerful, fateful sigh than a man, his muscles elastic in a perfect, soaring trajectory, his body projected in pure flight, mindless, soulless, whirling along one perfect line of force" (411). Far from reveling in physicality, like Birkin with his slack-twisted dance, Gerald through his soaring Alpine performance mutates into a perfect machine, matching those he oversees in his role as captain of industry. His lofty athleticism serves him as a mere dodge for suppressing his own humanity, blinding him to the failure of his culminating love-opportunity.
After his conclusive, violent confrontation with Gudrun and her new paramour, the sinister sculptor Loerke, Gerald is left with no alternative except one last spasmodic upward trek to oblivion: "Gerald stumbled on up the slope of snow, in the bluish darkness, always climbing, always unconsciously climbing, weary though he was. On his left was a steep slope with black rocks and fallen masses of rock and veins of snow slashing in and about the blackness of rock, veins of snow slashing vaguely in and about the blackness of rock" (472). This relentlessly upward assertion of his conquering ego against an intimidating natural surround does not allow him to reconfirm his human identity, but rather obliterates it.
Paradoxically, our last image of Gerald, transmitted through Birkin's eyes, presents him as merely a petrified fragment of the nature he has spent his life attempting to subdue (3): "It was the frozen carcase of a dead male. Birkin remembered a rabbit which he had once found frozen like a board on the snow. It had been rigid like a dried board when he picked it up. And now this was Gerald, stiff as a board, curled up as it for sleep, yet with the horrible hardness somehow evident" (WL 477). Both Birkin's and Gerald's relationships with nature could be called quasi-Romantic avenues of approach, but their consequences are diametrically opposed. Birkin's horizontal immersion in the vegetation, like Gerald's vertical lift-off into the Alpine snow, permits him to turn his back on a failed love entanglement, but it is deliberate rather than desperate, and provisional rather than definitive. It therefore provides him with emotional freedom, not sterile bondage.
Birkin and Gerald represent two opposed modes of male self-definition vis-a-vis nature. For all his doctrinaire insistence on male predominance, Lawrence was never a crude exponent of machismo; he was, indeed, scathing in his indictment of stock, dominative masculine assertiveness of Gerald's type. The reductio ad absurdum of such posturing occurs in the short essay "Man Is a Hunter," in which Lawrence satirizes the "tame asses" who "shoot over [his] head" in Tuscany: "Man is a hunter! L 'uomo e cacciatore! The Italians are rather fond of saying it. It sounds so virile" (SEP 219). It turns out, ludicrously, that the "game" procured by the virile hunters consists of diminutive birds: "There, in a little heap on the table, three robins, two finches, four hedge-sparrows, and two starlings, in a fluffy, coloured, feathery little heap, all the small heads rolling limp" (P 33). The concluding, quintessentially Lawrencian detail of the limp heads neatly punctures male triumphalism over nature. The age-old conception of masculine "heroism" as defined by swaggering aggression is the chief target of Lawrence's irony here: "Perhaps even he [the hunter] is a Hector [...]. Anyhow, he's going to be the death of something or somebody, if only he can shoot straight" (P 33). In a different register of dramatic seriousness, the desperate Gerald, determined at the end "to be the death of something or somebody," similarly betrays the hollowness of such parodic constructions of male prowess. Loerke, the initial victim of Gerald's brutality, cries with apt sarcasm "'Vive le heros'" before "in a black flash Gerald's fist came upon him, banged into the other side of his head, and sent him aside like a broken straw" (471). Gerald's ongoing psychodrama produces a sardonic reversal of the Wordsworthian paradigm; here, instead of love of nature leading to love of man, a pattern of violence inflicted on nature issues in violence against man.
While such overt instances of violence are absent from The Captain's Doll, a provocative focus on male assertiveness persists in that novella, which is notable for its ambivalent, seriocomic treatment of Wordsworthian motifs. The eponymous doll is an effigy of the protagonist, Captain Alexander Hepburn, cunningly crafted by his lover, Countess Hannele, as an act at once of homage and dismissal. It highlights Hepburn's maleness, even down to anatomical details (because of the "tight-fitting tartan trews"), while at the same time diminishing it (it is a "mannikin") (Fox 75). Hepburn himself later registers it as perplexingly ambiguous: it is "such a real little man [...]. Poor devil, stuck so incongruously in the world. And yet losing none of his masculinity. A male little devil, for all his forlornness" (Fox 116, emphasis in original).
Although it is true, as Jeff Wallace argues, that Hannele's doll represents the "perilous commodification of love" (239), the emphasis in the story falls on cognitive rather than on social or economic issues. The "perceptual confusion and ambivalence" which, according to Raymond Williams, "Wordsworth made explicit" (216) resurface in Lawrence's story, centered on the wavering male identity of the protagonist. What Hannele's doll signifies above all is a confining, literalist mode of perception: a mode eloquently disavowed by Wordsworth in The Prelude, where he admonishes "ye who are fed / By the dead letter, not the spirit of things, / Whose truth is not a motion or a shape / Instinct with vital functions, but a block / Or waxen image which yourselves have made, / And ye adore" (VIII, 431-36). As Paul Hamilton comments, "In The Prelude, a thing takes on meaning as it draws out the imaginative resources of the percipient, and so quickens with metaphorical life" (95). The Captain's Doll traces the maturing of Hannele's perceptual style, her salutary shift away from imagining her lover in terms of the "block or waxen image" she has made of him, her learning instead to quicken his image so as to draw out its full metaphorical--and erotic--life.
At the same time, Hepburn's perceptions of himself as a fully living male must grow beyond the limiting dimensions of Hannele's doll. In the course of the narrative, as Peter Balbert has argued, "Hepburn must manifest the courage to recover his manly pride so he can convince himself and Hannele of the winning authority of his message of male primacy on love and marriage" (232). Hepburn presents a contradictory double image of himself: on the one hand, like Birkin, a potential Pan figure, allied with natural vitality, but on the other, a conventional British officer, gentleman, and husband. Although Hepburn's telescope-gazing may initially seem to distance him from his fellow human beings, his obsession with astronomy aligns him with vitalizing forces of the nonhuman universe, the "above and beyond" of Wordsworth's theodicy; as Balbert says, it allows him to glimpse "the Lawrencian version of the transcendent unknown" (236).
Like the potently male American aboriginals in "Pan in America," whom Lawrence pictures as "faintly smiling the inscrutable Pan-smile" (P 26), Hepburn is a cryptic smiler. The captain reassures Hannele "in a curious, very melodious Scottish voice. But it was the incomprehensible smile on his face that convinced and frightened her. It was almost a gargoyle smile, a strange, lurking, changeless-seeming grin" (Fox 81). Though his voice may be seductive, speech itself seems antithetical to Hepburn's inner essence. As Lawrence says, "Speech is the death of Pan, who can but laugh and sound the reed-flute" (P 27). Hepburn's rival for Hannele's affections, the Austrian Regierungsrat, who "seemed as if he had no legs, save to sit with" (Fox 120), is, as Ronald Granofsky says, "a personification of the Will-to-Inertia, while Hepburn represents the Will-to-Motion, thus his fine legs" (70). (True, the novella informs us that "[w]hen he was on his legs [the Regierungsrat] walked nimbly, briskly, and his coat-bottoms always flew" (Fox 121), but this flapping locomotion is not the dominant image transmitted of him.) Of the two men, Hepburn is the one who has the brio to emulate Wordsworth's "fawn / That wild with glee across the lawn / Or up the mountain springs." But the pair are distinguished equally by another bodily part: the mouth. Hannele is "attracted to [the Regierungsrat] by his talk" (Fox 119), and in fact the elderly dignitary never seems to cease talking. The boundless verbal flow is inseparable from the inertia: "It was as if he would never rise again, but would remain sitting forever, and talking" (Fox 120). By contrast, the captain, though he has his share of speeches, even lengthy ones, is most eloquent in his Pan-like silences. These baffle and even annoy Hannele--"There he was, a continuous blank silence in front of her" (Fox 83), she reflects early in the novella--but she later recognizes his taciturnity as a source of his uncanny allure: "He seemed to have so much silent male passion in him" (Fox 105). And, unlike his sedate Austrian opposite number, he does literally "rise again," by scaling a mountain.
But the most conspicuous foil to the silent Hepburn is not the static, chattering Austrian. Mary Jacobus has claimed that in The Prelude Wordsworth, taking his cue from Milton's Samson Agonistes, associates "words themselves [...] with weakness and with the talking woman," so that, metaphorically at least, they "must be cast out" (221). For Jacobus, as John Williams summarizes her argument, Wordsworth thus "genders the divide" between silence (male) and speech (female) (Williams 157). Here again Lawrence follows in Wordsworth's footsteps. For the most egregious "talker" in The Captain's Doll is in fact a woman: Hepburn's wife, Evangeline, whose defining trait is her rambling loquacity--most of her speeches are long, chirping strings of cliched inanities. She and the German functionary (himself a feminized figure) compose a pair; they are the novella's garrulous, twinned anti-Pans, set off to good dramatic effect against the laconic, pointedly masculine captain.
As the hero of a largely comic narrative, one Lawrence deemed "a very funny long story" (4L 109), Captain Hepburn has both his serious and his laughable sides; divinities, even the Great God Pan, can easily seem comic amid the underbrush of prose fiction, where the sublunary tends to be normative. As his cherished telescope suggests, Hepburn is capable of magnification, but he is also, as Hannele's doll testifies, vulnerable to miniaturization. Even more demeaning is the mental image Hannele receives from Mrs. Hepburn's rapturous, maudlin vignette of their wedding night, when the captain went down on his knees before his bride and vowed to make her happy. The picture thus evoked threatens to scuttle the uncanny aura of silence and self-possession that Hannele finds so compelling in Hepburn.
Later, however, the captain's stature is even more ludicrously reduced by another work of art incorporating Hannele's miniature: the avant-garde painter Theodor Worpswede's still-life "containing an entertaining group of a doll, two sun-flowers in a glass jar, and a poached egg on toast" (Fox 118). By having his effigy absorbed into what is significantly designated a still-life, the vigorous Hepburn is in effect paralyzed, bereft of his signature dynamism. Moreover, he is figuratively placed in a context that insulates him from contact with the circumambient natural universe, associating him instead with markers of the most routine, salt-box domesticity: the poached egg, the sun-flowers plucked and relegated to a jar. This positioning looks ahead to Lawrence's assertion, already cited, from "A Propos of Lady Chatterley's Lover" that love is a "grinning mockery" because "we plucked it from its stem on the tree of Life, and expected it to keep on blooming in our civilized vase on the table." Hepburn, whose marital love has been little more than a grinning mockery, confronts in Worpswede's collage an unwittingly assembled but devastating tableau of his past, stultifying emotional life. No wonder he finds "[t]his new version of himself [...] rather frightening" (Fox 118).
To flourish emotionally, the captain must live down this image of inadequacy, must break out of the picture-frame of imprisoning conventionalities and, to cite once again Lawrence's phrase, ensure that "his relation to the living universe is vast and vital," that it answers to the compelling spirit of Wordsworth's vision. To do so, he must manage a decisive inward shift from diffidence to self-assertion. Early in the novella, in a tense dialogue, Hannele challenges him: "'But I'm not as important as you am I?'" to which he replies evasively, "'Why bless you, I'm not important a bit. I'm not important a bit!'" (Fox 82). Hannele's tacit reaction is understandably skeptical--"What did he really mean?"--and yet the captain, while in some ways egocentric, does seem curiously loath to make ordinary claims for himself. The unfolding of the subsequent narrative hinges largely on questions of what deserves to be considered "important." Evangeline Hepburn, whose arrival on the scene at first appears to pose an important if not insuperable obstacle to the union between Hepburn and Hannele, suddenly becomes negligible when Lawrence, through an insouciant twist of plot, has her drop out a window to her death. But later, in a remarkable volte-face, Hepburn shows himself willing to exalt his own importance above that of the towering, "sublime" Austrian mountains amid which he and Hannele are climbing. When Hannele, bridling at his sudden shift from diffidence to arrogance, upbraids him--"'You must be a little mad ... to talk like that about the mountains. They are so much bigger than you'" (Fox 137)--he answers boldly: "'They are not bigger than me. [...] Any more than you are bigger than me if you stand on a ladder. They are not bigger than me. They are less than me'" (Fox 138). His braggadocio, on the face of it, seems outrageous, all the more so because his analogy contains a thinly-veiled claim to superiority over his female companion. Little wonder that Hannele replies, "'You must suffer from megalomania.'" All the same, Hepburn's megalomania, if such it is, seems healthier at least than his earlier, self-demeaning denial of the legitimate claims of his own ego.
As one would expect from Lawrence's general position on such matters, the turn-about in Hepburn's stance vis-a-vis non-human nature has a crucial bearing on his human relationships. During his marriage, the captain's astronomy has been for him an avenue of escape, as he candidly acknowledges to Hannele: "'It's been an immense relief to me, watching the moon instead of looking inside the cage, as I did at my bird [his childhood pet] or at her [his wife]--I look right out--into freedom-into freedom--'" (Fox 113). The moon, which is of course an age-old symbol of femininity, represents a luminous alternative to the affectedly "feminine" Evangeline, but it necessarily embodies a remote, hypothetical representation of freedom; it is not, as Hepburn assures Hannele, a thing to be jealous of. Later, however, as transpires during his trek up to the glacier with the Countess, nature has undergone in his mind a metamorphosis from a site of escape to an arena of confrontation. Hepburn's new readiness to impose his own ego takes the form of belligerence toward the mountain they ascend, a resistance that echoes the "silent hostility" between the two lovers: "'Wonderful! Wonderful!' she cried, taking great breaths in her splendid chest. 'Yes--And horrible. Detestable,' he said, as if lurking among it all and trying to retain a certain invisibility" (Fox 130). As they continue their ascent, however, Hepburn is at length enticed to emerge from his cloak of invisibility. His mixed feelings toward the mountain in fact match precisely the concept of the "sublime," as defined by Abrams: "that which ... evokes ambivalent feelings of terror and admiration." Gazing across the valley at the glacier, he is grudgingly prompted to second Hannele's enthusiasm: "'Ah, it is wonderful!' he said, as if to himself. And she looked quickly at his face, saw the queer, blank, sphinx-look with which he gazed out beyond himself" (Fox 132). His transport, taking him beyond his own limited personal space, recalls the freedom he had once obtained from moon-watching, but with a telling difference: now it is shared. In this text where so much hinges on modalities of perception, what matters is that two pairs of eyes are united in awe before the transcendent natural scene, instead of a single eye peering in solitude through a lens.
Still, as I have noted, Hepburn's dominant response to the spectacle is not awed submission but antagonism to conventional Romantic raptures. He may concur with Hannele in admiring the mountains, but he insists that he detests "'[t]heir loftiness and their uplift. [...] I hate people prancing on mountain-tops and feeling exalted'" (Fox 137). While the captain names no names, the most celebrated instance of such exaltation is provided, once again, by Wordsworth. Among those passages of The Prelude in which the poet recollects in tranquility memorable journeys, the culminating site occurs in the final book: the ascent of Snowdon. In it, Wordsworth testifies to the spiritually exalting sway of natural grandeur--of the sublime:
The power, which all Acknowledge when thus moved, which Nature thus To bodily sense exhibits, is the express Resemblance of that glorious faculty That higher minds bear with them as their own. This is the very spirit in which they deal With the whole compass of the universe: They from their native selves can send abroad Kindred mutations; for themselves create A like existence, and whene'er it dawns Created for them, catch it, or are caught By its inevitable mastery, Like angels stopped upon the wing by sound Of harmony from Heaven's remotest spheres. (XIV 86-99)
In this much-quoted passage Wordsworth posits a reciprocity between nature and self, in which each answers to the other, and in which the human imagination locates its supernal, cosmic analogue. According to Geoffrey Hartman, "Snowdon occasions a unique rather than characteristic Wordsworthian moment, and seems to naturalize the supernaturalistic imagination of a Milton. It remains an unparalleled success in Wordsworth's canon, and discloses a poetry greater than his staple" (255) (4). Unique though the moment may be, however, such "natural supernaturalism" in fact represents, as Abrams has shown, a pervasive tendency in Wordsworth and in much other Romantic writing. But in the post-Romantic space occupied by Hepburn, and by the artist who invented him, such a coalescence between the terrestrial and the cosmic can no longer be contemplated without grave reservations. As the narrator says of the nouveau riche Alpine tourists he embarrassingly calls "Jews of the wrong sort": "And yet even they imparted a wholesome breath of sanity, disillusion, unsentimentality to the excited 'Bergheil' atmosphere. Their dark-eyed, sardonic presence seemed to say to the maidenly-necked mountain youths, 'Don't sprout wings of the spirit too much, my dears.'" Where the glacier gives Hannele "a sense of ecstasy," "Hepburn it just filled with terror" (Fox 140).
But even if Hepburn on the mountain fails to be "stopped upon the wing by sound / Of harmony from Heaven's remotest spheres," he does nevertheless experience an "excitement that was ordeal or mystic battle rather than the Bergheil ecstasy" (Fox 141). Instead of impassively contemplating heavenly bodies like the moon, he is now impelled to pit himself stalwartly--even if comically--against objects in nature like the ferocious glacier: "It was his one desire: to stand upon it" (Fox 141). Rather than a Wordsworthian coalescence of the human and the natural, the captain achieves, or at least attempts, a conquest of the natural by the human. He is farcically reduced to scrambling on the ice on all fours, yet he does at last manage triumphantly to get on top. Such a performance may appear to replicate Gerald Crich's terminal contest with Alpine snow and ice, but the resemblance is misleading. Unlike Gerald's single-minded, isolating obsession with his masculine prowess in overcoming natural obstacles, Hepburn's display is provisional and spontaneous; his response to the challenge of the natural setting tacitly acknowledges his vital relatedness to it. Throughout Lawrence's work, conflict always figures as a constitutive part of any living relationship, and the same Lawrencian principle holds good for Hepburn's agon with the glacier. The captain is compelled to recognize the otherness of the non-human universe, but the recognition itself is stirring: "The wonder, the terror, and the bitterness of it. Never a warm leaf to unfold, never a gesture of life to give off. A world sufficient unto itself in lifelessness, all this ice" (Fox 143). And, while contending against the non-human, Hepburn, unlike Gerald, only reinforces his vital ties to the human. After his wife's death, the captain has gone through a phase of withering detachment from his fellow men and women; his strenuous bout with nature acts as a Wordsworthian catalyst in overcoming his isolation. The experience rekindles the flame of feeling between the two lovers; they return to their hotel "[p] ondering, rather thrilled" (Fox 144); a separate world, sufficient unto itself in warmth.
By purist Romantic standards, Lawrence's latter-day, wayward Great God Pan would have to be called a Wordsworthian of the wrong sort. He responds richly to the majesty of nature, yet he stubbornly persists in asserting his individual human separateness from it. To Hannele's ebullient declaration, "'But one day [...]I should love to go with a guide right up, high, right into the glacier,'" he responds tersely, "'No [...] I've been far enough" (Fox 144). As their ensuing dialogue reveals, his words "I've been far enough" apply to the dizzying heights of romantic love as aptly as to the tops of glaciers. Much critical (and often indignant) comment has been expended on what Balbert calls "the spirited war of the sexes that has been enacted by the lovers during the excursion" (256). In a sense, it is as though, by his act of ascending the glacier, Hepburn has gained the psychological upper hand over Hannele, and now, in his marriage proposal, presses his advantage home. Summing up the widespread consensus on the novella's ideological charge, Balbert speaks of "the largely unqualified extent of Lawrence's own masculinist emphasis in the work" (229, emphasis in original). Still, unqualified as the emphasis may be, and assertively male as Hepburn may have become, one hardly finishes the story with a sense that the sturdily independent Hannele is about to turn slavishly deferential.
The Captain's Doll is a narrative that gives a conditional endorsement both to the thrill of engagement with nature and the thrill of sexual involvement, and the two types of excitement interfuse and enhance each other. In that limited sense, the novella could be called Wordsworthian; love of nature does indeed foster love of man--or of woman. But in a demoralized post-war Europe the original, buoyant, cliff-scaling Romantic rapture no longer seems possible, despite the tug of nostalgia, to recapture. For the Ursula Brangwen of The Rainbow, climbing figurative hills left her with "the ash of disillusion gritting under her teeth," but could still not dim the promise of the future: "No matter! Every hill-top was a little different, every valley was somehow new" (487). By contrast, in the much later (1927) sketch "Mercury" a party of Sunday holiday-makers' ascent of a literal mountain ends ominously in "an eternity of dread" (LEA 11), terrifying the tourists with a furious hailstorm and leaving two funicular attendants killed by lightning. Nature itself no longer obliges by performing the role of a consolatory alternative to a cheerless modern civilization. As Lawrence says in "Climbing Down Pisgah," "The Pisgah-top of spiritual oneness looks down upon a hopeless squalor of industrialism, the huge cemetery of human hopes. This is our Promised Land. 'There's a good time coming, boys, a good time coming.' Well, we've rung the bell, and here it is" (RDP 226). From the hill-top of the 1920s, the whole body of Romantic poetry can easily look like an earnest but outmoded Song of Innocence, superseded by modernist Songs of Experience like Lawrence's quizzical, seriocomic novella. Nevertheless, for all its deviations from the nature-theodicy memorably projected by Wordsworth, The Captain's Doll, like so much of Lawrence, is best understood when read in the shadow of that august tradition.
Abrams, M.H. Natural Supernaturalism. New York: Norton, 1971.
Balbert, Peter. "Courage at the Border-Line: Balder, Hemingway, and Lawrence's The Captain's Doll. Papers on Language and Literature 42.3, Summer 2006, 227-263.
Bergvall, Ake. "Of Mountains and Men: Visions and Memory in Wordsworth and Petrarch." sid2493255 Connotations 7.1 (1997-1998), 44-57.
Ebbatson, Roger. Lawrence and the Nature Tradition. Brighton and Atlantic Highlands: Harvester Press and Humanities Press, 1980.
Granofsky, Ronald. D.H. Lawrence and Survival. Montreal and Kingston, London, Ithaca: McGill-Queen's UP, 2003.
Hamilton, Paul. Wordsworth. Brighton: Harvester, 1986.
Hartman, Geoffrey H. Wordsworth'sPoetry 1787-1814. New Haven: Yale UP, 1965.
Jacobus, Mary. Romanticism, Writing, and Sexual Difference. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1989.
Lawrence, D.H. The Fox, The Captain's Doll, The Ladybird. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992.
--. Lady Chatterley's Lover, "A Propos of Lady Chatterley's Lover" Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993.
--. Late Essays and Articles. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004.
--. The Letters of D.H. Lawrence, Vol. II. Ed. Zytaruk, George J. and James T. Boulton. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 191.
--. The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Vol. IV. Ed. Roberts, Warren, James T. Boulton and Elizabeth Mansfield. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987.
--. Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D.H. Lawrence. Ed. Edward D. McDonald. London: Heinemann, 1936.
--. The Rainbow. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989.
--. Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988.
--. Sketches of Etruscan Places and Other Italian Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992.
--. Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985.
--. Women in Love. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987 .
Wallace, Jeff. D.H. Lawrence, Science and the Posthuman. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
Williams, John. William Wordsworth. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave, 2002.
Williams, Raymond. The Country and the City. New York: Oxford UP, 1973.
Wordsworth, William. Poetical Works. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1936.
(1.) The version of The Prelude cited in this essay is that of 1850.
(2.) The correct version runs: "She shall be sportive as the fawn," etc. ("Three Years She Grew in Sun and Shower," 13-15.)
(3.) The most directly relevant scene in the novel occurs, of course, at the beginning of the chapter "Coal-Dust," where Gerald compels his horse to stand still while a noisy colliery train passes by. Cf. also the chapter "Rabbit."
(4.) Critics of The Prelude have in fact taken a wide variety of views concerning the Snowdon passage, some of them less adulatory than Hartman's. Paul Hamilton, for example, for whom "[t]he meaning of the poem lies in the power of its descriptions to avoid being conclusive or definitive" (124), finds the passage disappointing precisely on the grounds that it attempts a culminating, unequivocal statement.
Michael L. Ross, Emeritus Professor at McMaster University, is author of books on literary imaginings in three Italian cities and on comedy and ethnicity in Modern British fiction and several articles.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||D.H. Lawrence and|
|Publication:||D.H. Lawrence Review|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2010|
|Previous Article:||Using the lens of Keirsian temperament theory to explain character and conflict in D. H. Lawrence's "The Horse Dealer's Daughter".|
|Next Article:||Hester and the homo-social order: an uncanny search for subjectivity in D. H. Lawrence's "The Rocking-Horse Winner".|