D H Lawrence Was Wrong About Woman
He had been a student of F R Leavis at Cambridge University and unsurprisingly became devoted to the works of D H Lawrence and lectured on them. After all, had not Lawrence defined pornography as "doing dirt on sex"? Lawrence also said: "If there is one thing I do not like, it is cheap and promiscuous sex."Lawrence was a seeming ally against nihilism. In 1972, Holbrook wrote: "Perhaps only D H Lawrence among modern writers has an essentially idealistic view of human sexuality...We have changed a Lawrentian revolution to a Sadist revolution over the last ten years."
But Holbrook came to the conclusion a few decades later that there was a much darker side to Lawrence's attitude to women. Lawrence may have believed that his works promoted greater sexual equality and being true to the whole person, body and soul and thus save mankind from nihilism. He loathed mankind's pursuit of the machine and, as Holbrook observes, such men are depicted as sexually inadequate: Skrebensky, Gerald Crich and, most famously, Clifford Chatterley. However, Holbrook also notes that Lawrence is inconsistent: at the beginning of The Rainbow, the pre-industrial men are also seen as sexually inadequate and cruel.
The very title of The Rainbow might suggest some form of Christian redemption and hope. But Holbrook suggests that the heroine Ursula is not in search of any form of Christian acceptance of human mystery. The emphasis in The Rainbow is not about mutuality in marriage: "It is an attempt to vindicate a ruthless male need to satisfy an insatiable, disordered sexual appetite." So, it is about sadism. Well before Lady Chatterley's Lover, Lawrence had given up on love in marriage.
Holbrook notes that the famous sequel to The Rainbow, Women In Love, continues with the theme of the impossibility of human love: none of the characters in the book are capable of love.
The lover in Lady Chatterley's Lover is the man who brings her to complete submission, even "though her instinct was to fight him." Thus Lawrence even fails to give this unremarkable work an appropriate title: it has little to do with love but has a great deal to do with sexual domination, or "doing dirt on sex" as Lawrence would have put it.
The traveller in The Virgin And The Gypsy seduces a young girl out of loathing for the middle class. So once again, the predominant theme is of sadism and nihilism.
Holbrook notes that Lawrence was influenced by Otto Gross, a psychoanalyst who was a one time lover of his wife Frieda. Gross was a follower of Sigmund Freud and Friedrich Nietzsche and a champion of sexual liberation and hedonism. Like his colleague Wilhelm Reich, he was also insane. And he treated women exceptionally badly. So many of the male characters in the works of Lawrence resemble him.
Like Nietzsche, Lawrence thought he was waging a war against what he perceived to be Christian nihilism. He was wrong in so many ways...and he was wrong about women, as this exceptional work tells us.