Tag: Reading

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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Thank Samuel Johnson for the Jane Austen Revival

Without his “Dictionary,” you probably wouldn’t be able to make sense of “Sense and Sensibility”

Do you like being able to read Jane Austen?

How about understanding the Declaration of Independence?

Do you like having a snowball’s chance in hell at getting to the meaning of Shakespeare?

Then thank the dictionary.

In particular, thank Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language (1755).


England first developed a literate population in the 1700s, when reading became fashionable and widespread. It had become so popular that the London Chronicle, at Johnson’s suggestion, started publishing a new genre of writing that would have been unheard just of a few decades earlier: the book review.

With this rise in reading came a movement to stabilize the English language, which had been undergoing fast and colossal changes over the past 200 years, making Elizabethan English much different than Georgian England’s:

Elizabethan English grew so fast, putting on muscle so swiftly and in such unforeseeable places, that it was both exciting and unpredictable . . . [T]here was no thing as ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ spelling. Everyone spelt a word in the way he thought it ought to be spelt.” John Wain, Samuel Johnson (1974), 138.

Some, like Johnathan Swift, wanted to establish a formal academy, along French lines, to stabilize and normalize the language. If the language weren’t slowed down, their beloved Shakespeare could become indecipherable in a few generations, not to mention John Milton and the King James Version of the Bible.

Others, like Johnson, opposed Swift and the government academy approach, preferring a more relaxed one. Johnson wanted English stabilized, but not constricted. Johnson knew language by its nature changes.

So: Norms, yes. Laws, no.

A group of prosperous booksellers agreed. They came together in 1746 and offered Johnson 1,575 … Read the rest

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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How I Read Now

Read Like an Easy Rider

You wouldn’t think it to see me, but I’m a lusty man. As of this writing, I am seeing five highly attractive companions, and at least ten more are begging for my attention. In the past few years, I have dumped at least a score of escorts.

I started seeing every one of them, incidentally, with the good intention of taking the relationship all the way but lost interest or found myself wooed away by other prey.

Of the five currently in my arms, I’m thinking Percy is most likely to go all the way.

Walker Percy, that is.

I am, after all, talking about books. I am currently reading Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins; an anthology of Josef Pieper’s philosophy; Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America; and two academic books, one on psychology and one on economics.

And the books I’ve dumped? They include Robert Graves’ Good-bye to All That, Adams’ The Education of Henry Adams, Alberto Manguel’s A History of Reading (there’s irony in that incompletion), Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery, Russell Kirk’s Eliot and His Age. There are many more, including some Aristotle and some Shakespeare.

They sit on the shelves, used and abused and dumped, with underlining in the first half and the hideous mark of rejection—the bookmark—sticking up from the middle. It pains me to walk by them. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned? Oh, what those fine books would say about being rejected and shelved by a nitwit like me, similar to a gorgeous model getting dumped by a bald fat man.

What is my problem?

What is this virile magnetism in me that attracts all these books? And why is the magnet combined with such incontinence?

Surely, I … Read the rest