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D. H. Lawrence (11 September 1885 – 2 March 1930)

According to F R Leavis, who dominated literary criticism for many years in England, the only modern writer fitting into the great tradition of English fiction was D H Lawrence. This view had been expressed many years ago, but it was absorbed by Ludowyke and so stuck in Sri Lanka for many decades. Until relatively recently, all the academics who taught English Literature in our universities, and our Training Colleges too, were products of the even greater tradition associated with that splendid scholar. So, given the practice of sticking to previously studied texts, ‘The Odour of Chrysanthemums’ and  ‘The Rocking Horse Winner’ continue on many syllabuses, as does ‘Snake’, sometimes explained to unsuspecting minds solely in terms of phallic symbolism.

I suspect the open – for that time at least – accounts of sexuality had something to do with Lawrence’s exalted reputation in those distant days. This was strengthened in the sixties with some powerful films, stressing aspects of personal relations that were fashionable then, though Lawrence himself seems to have been much less explicit in the first decades of this century, when simple sexuality was circus enough.

Thus ‘The Fox’ was presented in celluloid as being unmistakably about lesbians, two young ladies trying to live alone in the woods but distracted by a sterlingly laconic Keir Dullea, reawakening what Lawrence thought were more natural instincts in one of them. ‘Women in Love’ conversely seemed homoerotic, though it was dominated by a vintage performance by Glenda Jackson, whose most memorable moment was when she chased a herd of cows, an experience that seems to have stood her in good stead when she became a Member of Parliament for the Labour Party.   

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Rajiva Wijesinha

May 2010
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