Tag: D.H. Lawrence

D.H. Lawrence Taught Me a Lot about America Today

“What,” I wondered, “does that British pornographer have to say about American literature?”

In his Student’s Guide to U.S. History, Wilfred M. McClay assembled a list of 26 books and called them “An American Canon.” I was acquainted with most of them (Democracy in AmericaThe FederalistMoby Dick, etc.), but four were new to me, including D.H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature.

“What,” I wondered, does that British pornographer have to say about American literature?”

For decades I’ve subscribed to the doctrine of connaturality: distorted living creates distorted thinking. If a person’s life is ruled by passion, his of her thinking will be distorted by passion. For the sexually illicit, for instance, sex is king . . . or at least a queen (and maybe bishop, if you’re Episcopalian). The sexually-illicit don’t think clearly about sex because they’re ruled by sex.

So I didn’t think the Chatterley dude would have a whole lot to say about the United States, especially since he was from Britain.

I was wrong. His book is strong, filled with wise and novel (and funny . . . bonus) observations, like this: But to try to know any living being is to try to suck the life out of that being. . . It is the temptation of a vampire fiend.”

He says some stupid things, too, but he makes many observations about American life that rank with de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, Chesterton’s What I Saw in America, and Santayana’s Character and Opinion in the United States.

Sample:

When America set out to destroy Kings and Lords and Masters, and the whole paraphernalia of European superiority, it pushed a pin right through its own body, and on that pin it still flaps

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Proto-Kerouac

D.H. Lawrence, writing in the early 1920s, about the poetry of Walt Whitman (1819-1892).

“The Open Road. The great home of the Soul is the open road. Not heaven, not paradise. Not ‘above’. Not even ‘within’. The soul is neither ‘above’ nor ‘within’. It is a wayfarer down the open road. . . . Not through charity. Not through sacrifice. Not even through love. Not through good works. Not through these does the soul accomplish herself. Only through the journey down the open road.” p. 181.

D. H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature (Penguin, 1977).
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