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Erotic Images and Structures of Feeling

The challenge of D. H. Lawrence
Simonetta de Filippis
p. 11-30

Notes de la rédaction

An extended version of this paper has been published in Italian in La retorica dell’eros. Figure del discorso amoroso nella letteratura europea moderna, edited by Stefano Manferlotti (Roma: Carocci Editore, 2009), 163-187.

Texte intégral

1. The book of life

1D. H.Lawrence’s name is not always easily recognised, at least outside Great Britain, unless specifically mentioned as the author of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Indeed, although Lawrence is undoubtedly one of the greatest artists and novelists of the twentieth century, his true popularity depends above all on one single novel, and not for its artistic qualities, but rather for its erotic contents. Which is certainly not what he aimed at, considering how strongly he believed in the function of the novel:

  • 2 D. H. Lawrence, “Why the Novel Matters,” in Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays, edited by Mark (...)

The novel is the one bright book of life. Books are not life. They are only tremulations on the ether. But the novel as a tremulation can make the whole man-alive tremble. Which is more than poetry, philosophy, science or any other book tremulation can do.2

2This is how Lawrence defined the novel at the end of 1925, only one year before starting the composition of his own “bright book of life,” Lady Chatterley’s Lover, in which he celebrates the centrality of the man-woman relationship, sexuality, and the harmonious relation of each individual with the universe. A novel deeply criticised, initially, as a pornographic text, later appreciated for its artistic value and its ideological depth, often indicated as a text-symbol of erotic literature in the twentieth century.

3Lady Chatterley’s Lover is certainly a novel whose social value transcends its artistic qualities if one considers the impact it has exerted on entire generations, and in particular, for its major contribution to the movement of sexual (and not only sexual) liberation in the Sixties; a novel written in 1928 but censured and published only in heavily expurgated versions, up to the famous trial against the Penguin Books publishing house which had dared to publish the original, unabridged version in 1959. The final verdict of full acquittal in 1960, marks this date as strongly symbolic, as it led to the “fabulous Sixties” with the many social and political revolutions, and which rightly considered Lawrence as one of the great prophets of those changes, which characterised the new era. It is not surprising, then, that Lawrence’s reputation and the popularity of his novel were very much connected to its erotic contents and transgressive power, rather than to its artistic qualities.

4Eroticism and literature have been a significant binomial since ancient times, though eroticism has always been a disputable element, at times too close to pornography, and the erotic contents of a book have often served to qualify it as low-brow literature. But what is generally meant by eroticism in literature? And how is it possible to distinguish artistic erotic writing, which offers its readers a significant intellectual and emotional experience, from literary products which exploit eroticism only to draw readers into an experience of voyeurism.

5An analysis of this aspect through Lawrence’s writing might possibly help us to find an answer; and we should start by asking: what value did Lawrence attribute to the man-woman relationship within his overall view of life?

6An interesting interpretation of the expression “sexual relationship” is discussed by Mark Kinkead-Weekes in his essay “Eros and Metaphor: Sexual Relationship in the Fiction of Lawrence” (1969). Before analysing Lawrence’s four major novels – Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow, Women in Love and Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Kinkead-Weekes focuses his attention on the expression “sexual relationship,” clarifying the meaning of the two terms employed: “sexual” seems to refer to an act and an experience of the body within a precise and limited time and place, an experience which reaches its climax in an orgasm; the word “relationship,” on the other hand, seems to emphasise, rather than the intensity of the moment, the continuity and extension of a process which develops through space and time till it reaches an “intimacy” of the individual with another person, with other people, with the entire world. Kinkead-Weekes also specifies that these are only emphases, as the sexual act does not exclude a form of “relationship” and, similarly, a “relationship” can also include the sexual sphere:

  • 3 This essay was first published in Twentieth Century Studies (No. 2, 1969), and later printed in a v (...)

Lawrence’s treatment of “sexual relationship” seems, however, intent on maximizing the tension between the opposite emphases. […] He is unmistakeably an erotic writer even where there is no possible offence to social conventions. Yet the characteristic language of that representation also insists that sex is a way of talking about something else, so that Eros becomes Metaphor. Sexual activity and consciousness become the vehicle for exploring wider and wider relationships, within people, between them, throughout society, and the connection of man to the universe.3

7Eros, then, is seen by Lawrence as a means of knowing oneself and others, as a great metaphor of human relations and of the sense of life.

  • 4 James T. Boulton, ed., The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, vol. I, 1901-1913 (Cambridge: Cambridge Unive (...)
  • 5 The concept of “structures of feeling” was first adopted by Raymond Williams – in The Long Revoluti (...)

8This is certainly Lawrence’s vision of sexuality as a fundamental part of human beings, the most authentic and intuitive part, free from rationality and those mean and hypocritical aspects of social life. Indeed, Lawrence’s belief “in the blood, the flesh, as being wiser than the intellect” – as he himself vividly and convincingly explained as early as 1913 – represents a constant reference in his human and artistic itinerary.4 The structures of feeling are, in Lawrence’s view, more important than those political, economic, and social structures which tend to confine man within predetermined patterns where spontaneity and instinct are constrained, and consequently the free attitudes and behaviours, dangerous for the general order, are kept under control.5 Sex is therefore the expression of a profound freedom and intellectual independence, an ideological means for the fulfilment of man. And erotic writing becomes an artistic channel through which to communicate a way of feeling and seeing life which, above all in Lawrence’s time, stands as an absolute challenge to the values and the ideology on which western bourgeois society was firmly founded.

9Moreover, in his essays on the novel, Lawrence expresses his deep belief in the importance of literature, and of the novel in particular, as a means of capturing the most authentic meaning of life, a meaning which can be found above all in an intense and honest relationship between man and woman, and which the novel can certainly contribute to revealing and setting in its necessary central position:

The great relationship, for humanity, will always be the relation between man and woman. The relation between man and man, woman and woman, parent and child, will always be subsidiary.

And the relation between man and woman will change forever, and will forever be the new central clue to human life. It is the relation itself which is the quick and the central clue to life, not the man, nor the woman, nor the children that result from the relationship, as a contingency. […]

  • 6 D. H. Lawrence, “Morality and the Novel,” in Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays, cit., 175.

The novel is a perfect medium for revealing to us the changing rainbow of our living relationships. The novel can help us to live, as nothing else can […]6

2. From a flower to the body

10Lawrence manifests an erotic sensitivity and awareness from the very beginning of his activity as a writer. This is something vivid, delicate, palpable, exciting, which he often applies to moments apparently far-removed from situations connected to the sexuality of a physical act of love. A flower, a piece of fruit, an animal, are often chosen by Lawrence to express erotic feelings, and thus eroticism becomes an intriguing and incisive means for the vivid presentation of a view of life, a way to emphasise the importance of human wholeness, of man as a harmonious complex of body and mind, blood and soul, flesh and intellect, recovering those fundamental aspects of human existence denied by centuries of ideological constraints.

11Nature thus represents a continuous source from which Lawrence draws inspiration and suggestions for many vivid similes concerning human beings, their emotional spheres and psychological reactions. “Snap-Dragon,” an early poem written in 1907, is an excellent example in that respect:

  • 7 D. H. Lawrence, The Complete Poems, edited by Vivian De Sola Pinto and Warren Roberts, Harmondswort (...)

She laughed, she reached her hand out to the flower,
Closing its crimson throat. My own throat in her power
Strangled, my heart swelled up so full
As it would burst its wine-skin in my throat,
Choke me in my own crimson. I watched her pull
The gorge of the gaping flower, till the blood did float
Over my eyes, and I was blind –

12In these lines the young Lawrence expresses the impulse of desire: with only a few poetic touches and with audacious similes, he manages to create a vivid image of desire aroused when the pulsing of the blood flowing through the veins is so strong that the sight is blurred and the individual is overwhelmed by his own sensations, a description which renders tangible the emotion sparked off by the simple gesture of a hand stretching out to touch a flower. Eros becomes a metaphor.

13Lawrence’s writing is all pervaded by erotic moments emphasising the centrality of sex and instinct in his ideology, in contrast with the dominant morality of the times. It is interesting to identify these elements in the various phases of his narrative production, starting with Sons and Lovers, rightly considered as Lawrence’s first great novel, a formation novel which can be placed between the great tradition of the nineteenth century novel, as an expression of an economically and politically stable and self-assured society, and the new strategies of the modernist novel at the beginning of the twentieth century, which intended to convey the sense of frailty of a society irretrievably unsettled and devastated by the war. Whereas the first part of the novel develops along the line of a family history, following a horizontal movement in the typical style of the Victorian novel, covering the span of a few decades, in the second par, the narration suddenly comes to a turning point and proceeds vertically, penetrating into the mind of the protagonist, Paul Morel, in order to investigate his psychological dimension through a number of epiphanies which reveal his maturing along the span of only a few years. The author accompanies his character through a series of fundamental experiences within his family and the social environment; but it is above all through the discovery of his sexuality, his complex and varied relations with women, which make Paul achieve a full awareness of his own individuality and his deep emotions.

14The two parts also appear to differ as regards the treatment of physical contact between man and woman. In the first part, the attraction between Walter Morel and Gertrude Coppard is described in a language devoid of any allusive or symbolic power; on the contrary, erotic metaphors are largely present in the second part of the novel, when the author has to face the psychological frailties of a young man in search of his own individuality – and here Lawrence’s writing becomes delicate, full of blurred images, unspoken words, sensations only hinted at, so that the reader can experience a free reaction, can fill the gaps deliberately left by the author with his/her own imagination and the awareness of his/her own experience.

  • 8 D. H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers. Edited by Helen Baron and Carl Baron (Cambridge: Cambridge Univers (...)

15From the very first meeting with Walter, Gertrude feels attracted to the young miner, so elegant when dancing and glowing with warmth and vitality. Indeed, when he asks her to dance, “A warmth radiated through her as if she had drunk wine”8; and yet, in spite of this slight reference to the stirring of the blood and to Gertrude’s momentary bewilderment, the girl refuses to dance and the two young people simply sit next to each other, expressing in the words of a rather conventional conversation what their bodies tightly linked in the dance could also have said. Lawrence, then, chooses to avoid lingering on sexuality and does not describe physical and sexually exciting elements, but, in a surprisingly dry style, simply informs the readers, only a few lines below, that “The next Christmas they were married” (SL 19); since their first meeting, the choice of communication between the two young characters on the plane of speech rather than on that of feeling is an essential premise for the following narration of the difficulties in their marriage and the presentation of the fundamental distance between them due to their differences in class and education.

16Lawrence’s writing drastically changes in the second part of the novel, when he needs to describe the emotional turbulence of Paul’s puberty. Here the author chooses strongly allusive language and, touching delicately on the erotic, uses metaphors and audacious similes in order to convey feelings and sensations otherwise too abstract, thus inducing an emotional reaction in the reader. Among the many examples, there is one particularly vivid passage in the chapter entitled “Passion,” in which Paul and Clara go to a secluded place to make love. The final moment is, however, delayed by a series of preparatory actions, creating a vivid expectation in the characters and in the readers. Paul sits next to Clara on the tram taking them towards the place they have chosen for the realisation of their desire; he soon feels a powerful drive towards her and a strong impulse to kiss her, but he has to refrain from doing so because of the presence of other people. When they get off the tram and take the path along the river, his fingers feel “the rocking of her breast,” while his eyes linger on her throat. Only when they finally kiss passionately does the tension loosen:

She turned to him with a splendid regal movement. Her mouth was offered him, and her throat, her eyes were half shut, her breast was tilted as if it asked for him. He flashed with a small laugh, shut his eyes, and met her in a long, whole kiss. Her mouth fused with his, their bodies were sealed and annealed. (SL 353)

17The reader gets such a vivid and sensual description of the arousing of Paul’s desire that it is difficult to remain emotionally indifferent, and to read only with the mind rather than with the “flesh and blood” too. When the two protagonists reach a sufficiently secluded place – “Everything was perfectly still. There was nothing in the afternoon but themselves” – the reader sees that Paul has “sunk his mouth on her throat, where he felt her heavy pulse beat under his lips.” Nothing else is said. Only at the end, can the confirmation of what has passed between the two lovers be read through an image of nature and flowers:

When she arose, he, looking on the ground all the time, saw suddenly sprinkled on the black wet beech roots many scarlet carnation petals, like splashed drops of blood. And red, small splashes fell from her bosom streaming down her dress to her feet. (SL 355)

18The flowers on the ground and on Clara’s dress are enough to suggest the act of love between two bodies tightly embracing on the naked ground, while the description of the red petals as drops of blood hints at the loss of virginity in a first sexual intercourse which, in this specific case, refers to the emotional rather than to the physical sphere. With delicate touches, the narrator creates a scene showing the outcome of something which has just happened; the readers are thus left with the task of “writing” the missing scene according to their own feelings, imagining details that the narrator has left unspoken. Another fifteen years passed before Lawrence, in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, could make the unsaid explicit, describing in detail the sexual encounters of Connie and Mellors, never falling into the gratuitous vulgarity of particulars, but transposing every sensation, every erotic effect, onto a higher ideological plane concerning a view of life and a philosophy of feeling:

And he went in to her softly, feeling the stream of tenderness flowing in release from his bowels to hers, the bowels of compassion kindled between them.

  • 9 D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Edited by Michael Squire (Cambridge: Cambridge University (...)

And he realised as he went in to her that this was the thing he had to do, to come into tender touch, without losing his pride or his dignity or his integrity as a man.9

19As Sons and Lovers is undoubtedly an autobiographical novel, it is possible to imagine that Lawrence, through Paul’s sentimental education, reaches a full awareness and a precise definition of his own vision; an awareness and fullness that he achieves in real life through his vital relationship with Frieda von Richthofen, met during the composition of this novel. This conjecture is further suggested by the consideration that, after Sons and Lovers, female characters rather than male characters are set at the centre of formation processes, leading them to the awareness of their own deep truth and giving them a sense of completeness through a significant love relationship. Ursula in The Rainbow, Alvina in The Lost Girl, the “Princess” in The Princess, Yvette in The Virgin and the Gipsy, the “Woman” in The Woman Who Rode Away, Kate in The Plumed Serpent, Lou in St. Mawr, Juliet in Sun, Connie in Lady Chatterley’s Lover: all these heroines in Lawrence’s artistic universe set out courageously in quest of new social spaces, authentic feelings, their own true self, putting their reputations if not their own lives at risk, showing an interior strength often lacking in the male characters, becoming the bearers of vital beliefs and establishing alternative models both for men and women in our “out of joint” time. If Lawrence’s ambiguity about the man-woman relationship cannot be denied and if some of the many feminist critics have often justifiably underlined his male-chauvinist position, it is equally indisputable that, maybe even beyond the author’s intention, Lawrence’s women characters come to life with a depth and a positive significance that cannot be questioned.

Eroticism in The Virgin and the Gipsy

20In Lawrence’s narrative production, short stories and short novels, given their more compact format, often become a more convincing and incisive vehicle for rendering his view of life through pregnant images and conveying his ideological perspective more effectively. Erotic images are particularly significant, in this kind of writing, for the presentation of characters and their relationships, and for the objectification of Lawrence’s views and ideas.

21The Virgin and the Gipsy is an interesting example from this perspective, particularly considering that it was written in 1926, just a few months before the composition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Lawrence’s most complete erotic narrative, therefore in a period in which the author was exploring the possible forms of writing which could best express the emotional and sexual sphere of man’s life.

22Inherent in the very title of this short novel is an erotic power based on an open contrast – indeed, a virgin and a gipsy clearly represent a sharp difference as to sexual gender, age, social class, lifestyle and values – and it foregrounds the expectation of their growing close and realising a love relationship. An expectation which is skilfully prepared, delayed, suspended, and at the end only partially realised, through a symbolic, delicate, suggestive style which leaves the conclusion open to various conjectures.

23The text opens with the reference to a past scandal, so as to increase the expectation of an erotic piece of writing: the vicar’s wife had run off with a penniless young man, leaving her two little girls behind; at the beginning of the story, the girls, who had been sent to excellent schools, return to their father’s house and to the provincial environment of the vicarage, having become two young ladies, a little arrogant and “terribly English,” a definition which very effectively conveys Lawrence’s attitude towards England as a culture dominated by hypocrisy, and in which all vital drives and authentic values have been lost.

24Yvette, the protagonist, is a young lady ready to open up to life, restless, unable to adjust to the provincial lifestyle, and unsatisfied with the grey environment of the vicarage, in which nobody shows any sign of vitality, spontaneity, or joy of living; only the vague memory of her mother, though still unmentionable, echoes within her from time to time as a model of real feeling and a hope for life and love.

  • 10 D. H. Lawrence, The Virgin and the Gipsy, in The Short Novels, vol. II (London: Heinemann, 1968), 2 (...)

25The narration then proceeds rather smoothly, conveying the emptiness of the vicar’s family life and the superficiality of the young people with whom the two girls spend moments of social life. The turning point in Yvette’s life comes after a chance encounter with a gipsy who manages to light in her the spark of life. She sees him all of a sudden, blocking the road with his cart, with an insolent gaze and thin black moustache; his “dark, watchful eyes […] lingered on Yvette’s young, tender face. She met his dark eyes for a second […]. She thought: ‘He is stronger than I am! […]”10 The spell of those eyes is enough to spark off new sensations in Yvette, a vivid curiosity for the man and his people so different from her bourgeois and provincial family and friends, a fatal attraction towards an unknown maleness which exercises an unusual power over her with the simple strength of look in the gipsy’s gaze:

The gipsy man at the top of the steps stood imperturbable, without any expression at all. But his bold eyes kept staring at Yvette, she could feel them on her cheek, on her neck, and she dared not to look up. (VG 22)

26A gaze which brushes her like a caress, exciting, disquieting, inducing unknown responses within her, penetrating her impudently; a gaze to which her body reacts on a totally emotional plane in spite of her attempts to resist it. Yvette gradually becomes aware that she is unable to control her deep emotions, and that there is an unknown part of herself that she had ignored up to that moment:

He looked at Yvette as he passed, staring her full in the eyes […]. Something hard inside her met his stare. But the surface of her body seemed to turn to water. […] Of all the men she had ever seen, this one was the only one who was stronger than she was […]. (VG 23)

27A number of more or less chance encounters follow, all having a strong emotional impact on the young lady who feels overpowered and deprived of her own will. It is always the man’s eyes that light Yvette’s emotions and create an erotic effect, more powerful than if there were a detailed and sensual description of sexual acts: “He looked back into her eyes for a second, with that naked suggestion of desire which acted on her like a spell, and robbed her of her will.” (VG 38) Lawrence needs only to evoke that short intense look to induce in his protagonist a series of thoughts about herself, her own deep feelings and her essential individuality, which make her aware of that “secret female self” so long ignored and gradually brought to light thanks to the gaze of a real man, a man able to understand because he is till in touch with the essential values of life.

28The expectation of a sexual encounter between the two protagonists is skilfully delayed through a number of episodes, up to the moment in which Yvette reaches the gipsy's caravan and stops there for a rest after a long bike-ride. Here Lawrence depicts a scene based on a strong erotic expectation (a scene which seems to have been written with a film version in mind). The gipsy blows on his hot coffee but, in fact, his feelings are all concentrated on that “mysterious fruit of her virginity, her perfect tenderness in the body,” while Yvette seems to let herself fall into a sleepy state, very similar to an overwhelming feeling of total loss and abandonment to her senses. As in the poem “Snap-Dragon,” written many years earlier, the comparison between female sexuality and flowers is chosen in order to move narration from a sexually explicit plane to a symbolic and metaphorical discourse, thus exerting a deeper effect on the structures of feeling:

At length he put down his coffee-cup by the fire, then looked round at her. Her hair fell across her face as she tried to sip from the hot cup. On her face was that tender look of sleep, which a nodding flower has when it is full out. Like a mysterious early flower, she was full out, like a snowdrop which spreads its three white wings in a flight into the waking sleep of its brief blossoming. The waking sleep of her full-opened virginity, entranced like a snowdrop in the sunshine, was upon her. (VG 48)

29When he invites her to go into the caravan, once again his penetrating and magnetic eyes have a powerful effect on Yvette and it is enough for her to give up all possible resistance; therefore, she follows him obediently, totally caught in his power: “He rose silently […]. She followed simply, followed the silent, secret, over-powering motion of his body in front of her. It cost her nothing. She was gone in his will.” (VG 48). The climax is therefore reached: the girl, accepting the gipsy’s invitation into the caravan, silently declares that she is now ready for a new, vital experience, and the physical encounter between the two protagonists of the story seems about to occur; however, using an unexpected suspension of the movement in the scene and applying once again the strategy of deferment, Lawrence suddenly interrupts the erotic enchantment of those meaningful and sensual gazes. At the bottom of the steps that she is about to climb in order to cross the caravan threshold, “she became aware of an intruding sound […]. A motor car was coming.” (VG 48). It is not by chance that the sexual encounter is prevented by the arrival of a motorcar, a significant symbol of mechanisation and money, particularly at a time in which cars were still a prerogative of a few, wealthy people. It is evident here how Lawrence’s writing moves from the erotic dimension to the plane of an ideological communication, and how a simple “intruding sound” can very well express the contrast between the mortifying values of western bourgeois society, and the drive of the individual towards a vital self-realisation.

30The readers are then required to curb their expectations diverted by Lawrence with theoretical discussions on sex between the two young sisters and the evocation of the boredom and greyness of provincial life, the dryness of lifeless characters and an existence deprived of its vital drives.

  • 11 The ritual of the unclothing in reference to The Woman Who Rode Away and The Princess is discussed (...)

31In the end, however, Lawrence disconcerts and shocks his readers by creating an event of great emotional impact touched with an unexpected element of tragedy. Indeed, as in some other pieces of short narrative belonging to the American period, namely The Woman Who Rode Away and The Princess (1924), in this story Lawrence tightly unites the power of Eros and Thanatos, by creating a very dangerous situation which implies death, and combining it with a strong sensual tension; the eroticism of the narrative is thus transposed onto a symbolic and ideological plane where Lawrence’s belief in the vital and natural cycle of life-death-rebirth finds full expression. In fact, the story proceeds towards a sudden dramatic turning point brought about by a catastrophic natural event: a flood destroys part of the vicar’s house, causing the death of Yvette’s grandmother (the most deathly and static character in the entire story), and putting the lives of Yvette and the gipsy at risk. Surprisingly, after the many moments when nothing happens, Lawrence sets the physical encounter between the two protagonists in this tragic situation, thus presenting the erotic dimension from an unusual perspective. The unclothing, which is usually one of the most thrilling moments described in erotic literature as the exciting prelude to sexual intercourse, is here presented as a necessary act to survive the cold, though the erotic tension is highly palpable.11 The gipsy first, and then Yvette, get rid of their wet clothes, but fear, cold, and the situation of great danger does not create an immediate sensual response in the two bodies. Only when the danger seems to be over, does Yvette, shaken by uncontrollable shivering, ask for the man’s warmth:

“Warm me!” she moaned, with chattering teeth. “Warm me! I shall die of shivering.” […] The gipsy nodded, and took her in his arms, and held her in a clasp like a vice, to still his own shuddering. […] The vice-like grip of his arms round her seemed to her the only stable point in her consciousness. It was a fearful relief to her heart, which was strained to bursting. And though his body, wrapped round her strange and lithe and powerful, like tentacles, rippled with shuddering as an electric current, still the rigid tension of the muscles that held her clenched steadied them both, and gradually the sickening violence of the shuddering, caused by shock, abated, in his body first, then in hers, and the warmth revived between them. And as it roused, their tortured semi-conscious minds became unconscious, they passed away into sleep. (VG 77)

32At last, then, in a situation of extreme fear and danger, the two can fall into each other’s arms, can achieve physical contact, and are able to bring about that highly expected encounter, announced in the very title, sometimes on the point of being achieved only to be suddenly suspended. Even at this moment, however, Lawrence keeps his reader in suspense, without ever letting the erotic tension falter, using the strategy of the un-said, depicting blurred images, which leave doubts as to what is really happening: are they just embracing each other in order to get warm? And does that sleepiness following the moments of tension allude to what ensues from sexual satisfaction or indeed to a natural relaxing after the averted danger? Each reader can choose his/her personal ending to give to the story. The last paragraph, moreover, does not contribute to specifying what has actually happened between the two; Yvette, after some time, receives a letter from the gipsy:

“Dear Miss, […] I hope to see you again one day […] I come that day to say good-bye! And I never said it, well, the water give no time, but I live in hopes. Your obdt. servant, Joe Boswell.”
And only then she realised that he had a name. (VG 81)

33The expressions the gipsy uses emphasise the distance between them, in social class (“Miss,” “Your obdt. Servant”) and culture (the wrong verbal tenses); at the same time his feelings, his hope for a future in which they might meet again seem to contradict that presumed distance. But this is only a conjecture. Besides, Yvette had always considered the gipsy not so much as a man with whom she could establish a true relationship, but as the symbol of a strong maleness she had never been confronted with before. Her surprise in discovering that he had a name like everybody else might suggest that the man remains a symbol for Yvette up to the end, fixed in an ideal dimension; therefore, perhaps the union of flesh and blood has remained unrealised.

34Lady Chatterley’s Lover also ends with a letter, though Mellors’s long letter to Connie is a sort of “ideological will” from Lawrence to his contemporaries, in which the provocative language used in the novel also finds its justification on an ideological plane:

I feel my inside turn to water sometimes and there you are, going to have a child by me. […] And though I’m frightened, I believe in your being with me. A man has to fend and fettle for the best, and then trust in something beyond himself. You can’t insure against the future, except by really believing in the best bit of you, and in the power beyond it. So I believe in the little flame between us. […] We fucked a flame into being. Even the flowers are fucked into being, between sun and earth. But it’s a delicate thing, and takes patience and the long pause. […] I love the chastity, which is the pause and peace of our fucking […]. We’ll really trust in the little flame, and in the unnamed god that shields it from being blown out. […] John Thomas says good night to Lady Jane, a little droopingly, but with a hopeful heart─ (LCL 300-302)

35The mixture of terms explicitly referring to the sexual act and the delicacy conveyed by Mellors’ words in expressing his own feelings reflect the sense of fullness in that life which unfolds naturally, in harmony with the natural processes producing the blossoming of a flower. One has to believe in the profound truth which lies within oneself and look for an authentic way of feeling in order to keep the flame of life burning. This vision and its connection to the function of the novel had been expressed by Lawrence in his prose writings; in 1914 in Study of Thomas Hardy he wrote:

  • 12 D. H. Lawrence, “Study of Thomas Hardy,” in Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays, cit., 128.

But when the two clasp hands, a moment, male and female, clasp hands and are one, the poppy, the gay poppy flies into flower again; and when the two fling their arms about each other, the moonlight runs and clashes against the shadow, and when the two toss back their hair, all the larks break out singing, and when they kiss on the mouth, a lovely human utterance is heard again and so it is.12

36This is a clear anticipation of what Lawrence attained in his last novel through the relationship between Connie and Mellors, when they run into the woods, fall into each other’s arms and kiss passionately, creating moments of total harmony with the surrounding natural environment, thus creating a narrative version of the ideological message that Lawrence intended to communicate to England in the first place:

  • 13 D. H. Lawrence, “A Propos of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” in LCL, op.cit., 328.

If England is to be regenerated […] it will by the arising of a new blood-contact, a new touch, and a new marriage.13

37Lawrence believes that a writer’s main function is to put the reader in contact with his own self, the other individuals, and with the entire world. The “sense of touch,” besides, is discussed in many theoretical writings and above all, it is reflected in literary images in which the aspect of sexuality and eroticism is woven together with an inner feeling and a subtle capacity of introspection; this is what makes Lawrence’s erotic writing among the most incisive in the narrative panorama of the twentieth century, supported as it is by a real ideological depth and by his unshakeable belief in the function and importance of writing and literature:

  • 14 “Le ragioni del narrare che Lawrence sentiva urgere in sé non erano più nella volontà di testimonia (...)

The reasons for narrating that Lawrence felt urgently were not dependent on his will to witness or to reflect on man’s experience but on the necessity of guiding man to the future of his existence, steering him towards a recovery of the value and the sense of his own life through the recovery of the mystery, of the silent pact between man and the cosmos.14

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2 D. H. Lawrence, “Why the Novel Matters,” in Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays, edited by Mark Kinkead-Weekes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 195.

3 This essay was first published in Twentieth Century Studies (No. 2, 1969), and later printed in a volume edited by Anne Smith, Lawrence and Women (London: Vision Press, 1978); the quotation is drawn from the latter volume (102).

4 James T. Boulton, ed., The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, vol. I, 1901-1913 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 503.

5 The concept of “structures of feeling” was first adopted by Raymond Williams – in The Long Revolution (1961), and later in Marxism and Literature (1977) – to refer to the connection between the emotional experience of art and other cultural phenomena, and the material structures of the world we live in. This concept is employed particularly to illustrate the significance of literature for the articulation of alternatives to dominant world views, and thus to the politics of social change.

6 D. H. Lawrence, “Morality and the Novel,” in Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays, cit., 175.

7 D. H. Lawrence, The Complete Poems, edited by Vivian De Sola Pinto and Warren Roberts, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books 1977, 123. “Snap-Dragon” was first published in the English Review in May 1912.

8 D. H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers. Edited by Helen Baron and Carl Baron (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 18.

9 D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Edited by Michael Squire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 279. As this novel is so explicitly connected to the subject of eroticism and has been widely studied from that perspective, my attention will be devoted to a piece of short narrative, The Virgin and the Gipsy, which is equally significant in that respect but which has been analysed to a lesser extent by critics.

10 D. H. Lawrence, The Virgin and the Gipsy, in The Short Novels, vol. II (London: Heinemann, 1968), 20.

11 The ritual of the unclothing in reference to The Woman Who Rode Away and The Princess is discussed in my study “Eros and Thanatos in D. H Lawrence’s Amerindian Tales,” in Etudes Lawrenciennes, vol. 23, 2000, pp. 7-23 (see in particular pp. 19-21).

12 D. H. Lawrence, “Study of Thomas Hardy,” in Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays, cit., 128.

13 D. H. Lawrence, “A Propos of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” in LCL, op.cit., 328.

14 “Le ragioni del narrare che Lawrence sentiva urgere in sé non erano più nella volontà di testimoniare o di riflettere sul vissuto dell’uomo ma nella necessità di guidare l’uomo nel futuro del suo esistere, di orientarlo verso una riconquista del valore e del senso della propria vita attraverso la riappropriazione del mistero, del patto silenzioso che lega l’uomo al cosmo.” (Fernando Ferrara, Romanzo e profezia. “L’amante di Lady Chatterley” di D. H. Lawrence come mito e come predicazione, Roma: Officina Edizioni, 1982, 29).

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Simonetta de Filippis, « Erotic Images and Structures of Feeling », Études Lawrenciennes, 43 | 2012, 11-30.

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Simonetta de Filippis, « Erotic Images and Structures of Feeling », Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 43 | 2012, mis en ligne le 20 décembre 2013, consulté le 18 janvier 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/lawrence.81

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Simonetta de Filippis

Simonetta De Filippis is Professor of English Literature at the Università degli Studi di Napoli “L’Orientale”. She has published on Twentieth century novelists and playwrights (V. Woolf, J. Joyce, G. B. Shaw) but her main research interests focus on D. H. Lawrence and W. Shakespeare. She is the editor of the Cambridge and the Penguin editions of Sketches of Etruscan places and Other Italian Essays (1992, 1999) and has published essays on Lawrence’s travel writing, plays and short novels in national and international publications. She is co-editor with N. Ceramella of the proceedings of the VIIIth International D. H. Lawrence Conference (Naples 2001), D. H. Lawrence and Literary Genres (Naples 2004). In the field of Shakespearean studies, she has published a book on Shakespeare’s Last Plays (Teatro come sperimentazione. Shakespeare e la scrittura romanzesca, Roma 2003) and essays on The Taming of the Shrew, Pericles and The Tempest.

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