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HomeNuméros43Lawrence and the Ideology of Emotion

Lawrence and the Ideology of Emotion

Nicholas Growse
p. 237-255

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1The subject of this paper concerns D. H. Lawrence’s much discussed problem with emotion, love and feeling. My question is: is there something wrong with him or is it something wrong with society? We know he had a stiflingly close relation with his mother, which may have inhibited his feeling for other women and filled him with a feeling of guilt. There has also been a lot of analysis of the constraints of Edwardian England, the debilitating influence of the class system and the increasing breakdown of traditional values under the onslaught of industrialisation. Civilisation itself, as Freud suggested in Malaise in Civilisation, may be antithetical to self-realisation. And of course there is the “battle of the sexes” angle. Sometimes, in his prologue to Sons and Lovers and his Study of Thomas Hardy, Lawrence seems on the edge of misogyny, laying the blame at the feet of women generally for emasculating men and for distorting the truth of emotion. It is this “battle of the sexes” dimension that I want to examine and particularly the notion of an ideological battle between the sexes, within which the concept of emotion has been pressed into service.

2I come at this subject of Lawrence from an oblique angle – that of gender studies. For my PhD research, which I completed in 2008, I was investigating “lad culture” in England – which on the surface appears to be a hedonistic and excessive party-going masculine culture, based on male camaraderie, fuelled by drink and, to a lesser extent, drugs and inspired by a nostalgic representation of unruly young working class masculinity. It should not be confused with the genuinely working class “lad” culture of the 1970’s described by Paul Willis in Learning to Labour. The present phenomenon transcends traditional class barriers and to avoid any confusion is more usually referred to as “new laddism” in sociology.

3Perhaps unsurprisingly, “new laddism” turns out on closer inspection to be a heady mix of social discourse, media representations and marketing strategies which are seeking to tap into the market that young men represent. The unruly behaviour of young men is, in itself, hardly new in English society, as Shakespeare’s Prince Hal or Hogarth’s Rake may show us. But on top of this, there are magazines for young men, termed “lad mags,” which have turned into a huge new publishing market; there are innumerable books in the style of Nick Hornby and Tony Parsons, generically termed “ladlit” (lad literature), usually dealing with the difficulty of young men in “growing up” and facing up to their responsibilities; there are scurrilous “celebrity” lads on television; there is alarmist media coverage, television images of the drunken and violent scenes on Saturday nights as the clubs empty, reports of masculine failure in schools (as opposed to the relative success of girls). And beneath it all there seems to be a genuine masculine resistance to social demands.

4I am not going to suggest that Lawrence was a prototype lad, but I would like to suggest there is a connection between his concerns and the phenomenon of new laddism. There is insufficient space here to give details of my research; suffice to say that it included a qualitative study of a representative sample of 60 young men - that is to say of varied social backgrounds and conditions that reflected the statistics of the 2001 Census. As far as the interviewees were concerned, I was simply eliciting their life-history and trying to build up a portrait of their lives. I was particularly interested in attitudes to violence, to relationships, to pleasure, to family, to work and the attraction of a certain working class masculine culture for men who do not necessarily belong to that culture, especially (and ironically) at a time when “traditional” industrial working class culture is disappearing.

  • 1 There was only one openly homosexual man in the sample. I felt that some had not resolved their sex (...)

5I was also interested in their notions of manhood. The great majority of them, to my surprise, considered that being a man was about responsibility – 33 of them actually used the word. It was about getting a job, settling down with a girlfriend and eventually having a family. On the other hand, there was great ambivalence about this prospect. Only five out of 60 expressed any enthusiasm for the role. Work was most often seen as alienating, a waste of living (except for the few with prestigious jobs), living as a couple was seen as restrictive, children were a burden. However, the pressure to follow this path is huge and all knew that this is what they would end up doing sooner or later.1 There was “something wrong with you” if you did not conform. Having fun, in their particular perspective, was considered childish, irresponsible and unmanly. This included going out too often to the pub with your mates, playing too much sport or music, playing computer games, playing in any form, and also certain forms of humour, especially subversive, politically incorrect humour. Eventually you put aside childish things, become a man, settle down and raise a family. This struck me as being the effect of fundamental social conditioning: in the functionalist terms formulated by the post-war American sociologists Talcott Parsons and Mirra Komarovsky, a mechanism to ensure the necessary business of reproduction, without which a society can’t survive. In this view, given that we have no natural instincts of reproduction, society inculcates certain behaviour patterns, a feminine role and a masculine role. Second wave feminists of the 1970’s deconstructed gender roles using the Marxist concept of ideology, which implies hidden interests behind the dominant social discourse. In other words, according to this analysis, men and women are conditioned into gender roles which are the building blocks of patriarchy, a social system that is in men’s interest because it gives a structural advantage to men.

6Nevertheless it was clear that my interviewees often resisted in a variety of subterranean ways. Most of them did not consider themselves to be fully developed men. It struck me that this is what the “lad” phenomenon, or the tendency underlying the representation, is about: a putting off of the status and responsibilities of manhood in order to prolong the potential for pleasure in life. In this way they can continue drinking, laughing and playing for longer. There were, of course, other “solutions.” Some work hard in the week and “live for the weekend.” Some try to make money from what they enjoy, usually music, usually without financial success. Some have five- or ten-year plans: they’re going to put in the effort now and reap the reward later. Their success will give them freedom to live fully. A very few are attracted to crime. Nevertheless, resistance to settling down, whether conscious or unconscious, was the most common theme.

7More interestingly, listening to these young men talk, I was also struck by how often the opinions of mothers and girlfriends were cited. Young men it seemed didn’t often talk about personal matters among themselves and fathers were often perceived as being apart from the family, inexpressive, silent even, or speaking only when prompted by the mother. Mothers and girlfriends seemed to be frequently urging the interviewees to grow up, to give up their childish pleasures. Girlfriends militated against them “going out with the lads,” wasting time on sports or their music or games. These things were childish and impractical. Time and time again I heard how the girlfriend “keeps me on the straight and narrow,” “she tells me I’ve got to grow up,” “she says I’m like a child,” “she always knows when I’m lying.” I had the strong impression that mothers and girlfriends were the moral authority and arbiter in these interviewees’ lives. In other words, not only did women share this discourse of growing up and settling down, but they would seem to be its principle representative and spokesperson in the lives of the interviewees. It is not hard to see why this would be the case. If this was an ideology which regulates reproduction, women, already biologically and ideologically disadvantaged in the division of labour, do not want to be left in sole charge of the work that reproduction entails and will seek to find the means to share the work more equitably with their partner.

  • 2 See for example Connell xiii and Brittan 131.

8There is an initial point to be made here. It is axiomatic within feminist analysis and more generally in gender studies that dominant social discourse is masculine discourse2. And yet here – in this particular study – men seem to be resisting this discourse while women appear to be defending it. Is this the end of patriarchy or does the concept and practice of patriarchy deserve more analysis?

  • 3 R 19.

9My first thought was that this was a very recent phenomenon, one provoked perhaps by the rise of 1970’s second wave feminism, the increasing liberation and self-assertion of women in all spheres of life. And then I began to think of Lawrence and his vision of what was taking place in Edwardian England a hundred years ago. I began to see what might lie behind his (in my view) bizarre biblical preface to Sons and Lovers, in which he attributes a fundamental power to women in shaping men and society. Woman, in Lawrence’s cosmogony, is the dominant force, the “social agent,” the moral authority who defines acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, the arbiter who is more or less resisted by the man. In the opening chapter of The Rainbow, talking of the Brangwen household, he writes “in the close intimacy of the farm kitchen, the woman occupied the supreme position. The men deferred to her in the house, on all household points, on all points of morality and behaviour. The woman was the symbol of that further life which comprised religion and love and morality.”3 Lawrence depicts a similar outcome within the home of Will and Anna Brangwen:

  • 4 R 209.

In the long run he learned to submit to Anna. She forced him to the spirit of her laws whilst leaving him the letter of his. 4

  • 5 R 208.

In the house, he served his wife and the little matriarchy. […] But his abandoning of claims, his living isolated upon his own interest, made him seem unreal, unimportant. 5

  • 6 Kermode 8.

10And then, in Sons and Lovers, there is Morel the collier, largely inspired by Lawrence’s father, who clung to his pleasures, continued to go out drinking with his friends and generally did not act as Mrs Morel felt a husband and a father should act. As a result, she undercuts his authority, his status and his place in the home, so that he becomes an outsider within the family. It is interesting that Mrs Morel uses the expression “acting like a man” approvingly on several occasions in the novel. In other words, whatever she thought of men (and it wasn’t much), she had an ideal of responsible and self-disciplined manhood and she held men to that patriarchal ideal. Although Mrs Morel represents a certain extreme (and her struggle is linked to class and education), Lawrence seems to have seen this as a growing tendency among women. Frank Kermode notes that in a brief autobiographical fragment Lawrence laments the taming of colliers in the generation after his father’s death. He speaks wistfully of the “unbrokenness” of the former colliers, and despises the next generation who had succumbed to their mothers and become “sober, industrious and decent […] the men of my generation […] have been got under and made good.”6 He is suggesting that there has been a power shift in gender relations.

  • 7 Brunsdon 25.
  • 8 See Bosanquet Rich and Poor (1896) and The Family (1906). Helen Bosanquet was a leading light of th (...)
  • 9 According to Nicholas Abercrombie and Alan Warde privatisation is “a process [...] manifested in a (...)

11First of all, we have here a strong impression that the private space of the home is a feminine space. This in itself is hardly surprising. I was recently struck by a contribution by Charlotte Brunsdon to a 1970’s Birmingham feminist study group, called in a spirit of irony “Women are Inclined by Nature to be Somewhat Personal,” which argued that, since women are not able to accede to the public sphere, they made the private sphere their own space, which they run not only practically but also emotionally.7 The interesting thing here is that, in Lawrence’s view, men seem to have been integrated into that private space, which is run both practically and emotionally by the mother/wife. Although gender studies are a recent discipline, sociology would perhaps confirm this shift in working class masculine behaviour over the course of the century. Helen Bosanquet, researching working class families in Shoreditch, East London at the end of the 19th century, asserts that the husband/father’s normal behaviour was abusive8 (Rich and Poor and The Family). To summarise, he kept most of the money to himself, he was callous in sex, he was harsh with the children and he was violent when drunk and fortunately he was hardly ever there. This contrasts with the picture painted by Young and Wilmot in their famous study of families in neighbouring Bethnal Green in the 1950’s, Family and Kinship in East London, in which they show the father to be an integral part of the family, but in a secondary, even subordinate role next to the dominant figure of the mother. Particularly they note a tendency which came to be called “privatisation,” 9 by which men spent less time out in the pubs with workmates or other male friends and more time with their families. Pub landlords apparently lamented the loss of custom. It seems that this phenomenon has been consistently visible during the 20th century at least. Privatisation means that men have been increasingly spending time within the feminine space of the home. We can assume that to a certain extent this also means submitting to feminine management or ideology even, of the home.

12In my own study, I obviously cannot predict what will happen to my interviewees but I was very struck by the way my interviewees talked about their fathers. Admittedly it is hard to judge, as in 27 out of the 60 cases the father had left, leaving the mother to bring the family up on her own. In almost all these cases of separation, the father was practically a stranger to the children and his departure had most frequently been felt as a relief or at least not as a great loss. In the remaining 33 cases, although the father was usually the main breadwinner of the family, the mother was in the great majority considered to be the dominant force of the family and the home, the one that “wore the trousers,” hers was the final word. Fathers tended to be seen as either subordinate or else detached, or both. The sons more often felt it difficult to talk to their fathers, unless they shared some activity together. Even when they felt they had a good relationship with their father, it was not as easy or as intimate as with the mother. In almost all the cases where the father was considered to be dominant, a minority, he inspired fear and tended towards violence, usually verbal, but sometimes physical. Only two fathers out of 60 were considered to be close, loving and equal powers in the home. Some admittedly found their mothers emotionally stifling. But it is interesting that none found their fathers emotionally stifling and none found their mothers to be distant.

13The parents then were hardly an encouraging domestic model for the interviewees. This might explain why there was such ambivalence towards having a serious girlfriend. Many seemed happy to do without. The great majority had never gone out looking for a girlfriend or even chatted up girls. It just happened. It seems, in fact, that girls tend to be the ones that initiate relationships after the age of 16, letting their attraction be known, even making the first contact. Although “first base” (a kiss or an embrace) is the boy’s job, as one of my interviewees said “it was as if I had no choice.” The girl invariably was the first to talk of love, the boy followed suite, perhaps not out of politeness, but certainly without too much introspection. I was reminded of the scene in The Horse-Dealer’s Daughter, after Doctor Ferguson has saved Mabel from drowning; she says to him, “you love me” and he follows her lead. It seemed that not only the home but also the relationship itself was a feminine space. It was my impression that this dynamic created a peculiar tension between the sexes. The interviewees tended either to submit to the girlfriend’s authority and became in effect, like so many of the fathers they described, a secondary and subordinate presence in the relationship, “under the thumb” being an expression I often heard; or they go out a lot with the lads to create a distinctive masculine space in which they can assert themselves; or they arrange an “unofficial” girlfriend, by which they sleep together but are not “going out.” Frequently these “strategies” are combined. It seemed to me that on some level they were afraid of the dating process, which demanded a lot from them.

14This brings me onto the subject of emotion, which in my interviews I had not been specifically researching, but which emerged – for me – as the most striking aspect of the study and the most striking correlation between the interviewees. I soon noticed that the very mention of the word emotion tended to provoke a negative reaction, guilt, confusion and sometimes defiant anger. Emotion was seen as a problem. I should note first of all that working in French made me realise that the English words “emotion” and “emotional” are used to cover a wide range of meanings which in French tend to be specified as émotion, émoi, sentiment, affectivité, sens relationnel etc. To my interviewees it seems to evoke specifically the notion of empathic response to other people. As all but six of my interviewees saw it, there was a lack of emotional response in themselves, that they found troubling to a greater or lesser degree. It seemed to pose a particular problem in their relationships with women. Women were usually perceived as being more or too emotional. The subject often emerged as anger about feminine emotion, how they were “always getting upset by things that didn’t concern them,” or about “little things that don’t matter” or about feminine emotional demands. In the interviews it seems that emotion and indeed intimate relationships generally are considered the domain of women. If I asked whether the interviewee considered himself to be an emotional person, I noticed that he frequently referred to the opinion of the mother or the girlfriend: “My mother says I’m this,” or “my girlfriend says I’m that.” Very frequently the prevalent view was that they “bottled up” their emotion which they accepted although when asked what they might be bottling up they were non-plussed. Some just felt it was “a bloke thing” (“men aren’t so emotional, right?”). Others felt that there was something wrong with them, they were missing something on the emotional level – one likened it to the blind spot in a car that he knew was there but simply couldn’t see. Some of the interviewees were actively doing things to try to develop their emotional lives. Romantic love was something that perplexed them. They knew it was “out there” somewhere, but just didn’t seem to be able to find the right woman. Some thought that perhaps it would come naturally when they finally “grew up.” Relationships in general perplexed them. About half of the sample preferred to be with a masculine group of friends whose relationship was based on drinking, “having a laugh,” heated discussions and an absence of intimate confidences. Finally, it is worth noting that of the six who claimed to be emotional, three were conscious that they seemed cold and reserved to other people.

  • 10 Pleck and Sawyer 4.
  • 11 Tolson 135.
  • 12 Firestone 121.
  • 13 The most unashamedly essentialist work on the subject is a scientific study popularised in a book c (...)
  • 14 See for example Cornwall and Lindisfarne 7.

15It is dangerous to generalise about men and women. Indeed the word masculinity is now always pronounced in the plural to indicate that there are many different ways of being a man. What is more, it is counter-cultural within gender studies to lay emphasis on gender difference as, in this way, one is perhaps unwittingly contributing and maintaining gender ideology. It is true that the men I interviewed were extremely varied in many ways, but how could I explain this common thread in the life-history of over ninety percent of a representative sample of young English men? I should add that this finding is not new. Feminists and the first masculine writers on the subject of masculinity, which emerged in the 1970’s, concur that there is a masculine problem with emotion, at least within Anglophone cultures. Joseph Pleck and Jack Sawyer, in their introduction to Men and Masculinity, announce that “we men are less aware of our own emotional life, disclose ourselves less to others, and find difficulty in loving and being loved.”10 Andrew Tolson, talking of his experience in a “men’s group,” says that “we began to discover that we had no language of emotion.”11 Radical feminists are more brutal. Shulamith Firestone, in The Dialectic of Sex, says that “women traditionally expect and accept an emotional invalidism in men that they would find intolerable in a woman.”12 Nowadays, such views are often considered to be essentialist,13 and therefore, as I have suggested, to be avoided. More recent studies of men still mention this “emotional distance” but qualify it as “contingent” that is to say, not essential to masculinity.14 What is perhaps more interesting and significant is that dominant discourse on emotion does not seem – or no longer seems – to be a specifically masculine discourse, contingent or otherwise. Whereas in Victorian and Edwardian culture inexpressive silence and self-control was a point of masculine pride, and the expression of emotion was problematised as “feminine hysteria,” now it is lack of emotion that is problematised, notably amongst men.

  • 15 Wilson 249.

16We can, of course, object that it is nonsense to say that men tend to be emotionally deficient. How can we call men collectively deficient in emotion when they are responsible for the great majority of the world’s art, poetry and literature? Surely the masculine artist isn’t emotionally deficient? This, however, can be qualified. Whatever one may think of Colin Wilson’s The Outsider, its main point is that the (male) “outsider” artist feels emotionally distanced from social values and considers these values to be a lie. My interviewees clearly had an emotional life; simply it did not fit with the prevailing discourse on emotion. In other words, it is not so much that they do not have a “language of emotion” (to use Andrew Tolson’s phrase); it is rather that the language does not correspond to their experience. To go further, emotional values may be perceived as coercive. As long as these emotional values are seen to be feminine, masculine resistance to social coercive forces may translate as feelings of misogyny. This emerges in Colin Wilson’s The Outsider, particularly in his treatment of William Blake’s poem Europe, which contains the line “Go tell the human race that woman’s love is sin.”15 He comments approvingly that Blake “uses woman as a symbol of imprisonment.”

17This is also, to a certain extent, Lawrence’s feeling. We remember the growing sense of claustrophobia in the relationship between Paul Morel and Myriam in Sons and Lovers, which turns to resentment on his part. There is his poem which specifically targets women and is entitled To Women As Far As I am Concerned.

The feelings I don’t have, I don’t have
The feelings I don’t have, I won’t say I have
The feelings you say you have, you don’t have
The feelings we would like us both to have, we neither of us have
The feelings people ought to have, they never have
If people say they have feelings, you may be pretty sure they haven’t got them
So if you want either of us to have any feelings at all
You had better abandon any ideas of feelings whatsoever.

We find the same notion expressed in Women in Love, for example in this exchange between Birkin and Ursula:

  • 16 WL 172.

“There is” he said, in a voice of pure abstraction, “a final me which is stark and impersonal and beyond responsibility. So there is a final you. And it is there I would want to meet you – not in the emotional loving plane – but there beyond, where there is no speech and no terms of agreement.
“It is just purely selfish”, she said.

18Birkin seems to be asking here for a relationship which is free from the normal associations of love, indeed from the ideology of feeling. In some respects, he can be seen as a precursor of the sexual revolution of the 60’s, a proponent of free love. Ursula rejects this firmly. In the feminist terms expressed by Shulamith Firestone, she would be the loser, (and indeed, Firestone, like other militant feminists, considers women to have lost out in the sixties). For Firestone the very concept of love is part of panoply of feminine inventions designed to protect women against masculine predation:

  • 17 Firestone 123.

The question that remains for every normal male is then, how do I get someone to love me without her demanding an equal commitment in return. […]The female response to such a situation of male hysteria at any prospect of mutual commitment was the development of manipulation, to force such commitment as could be forced from men. Over the centuries strategies have been devised, tested, and passed on from mother to daughter.17

The result, according to her, is men playacting at love:

  • 18 Firestone 118.

But though women know to be inauthentic this male “falling in love,” all women, in one way or another, require proof of it from men before they can allow themselves to love (genuinely in their case) in return.18

19There are two points to be made here. Firstly, I would argue that this judgement may be unfair. The point of any ideology is that people tend to believe in it. Many of my interviewees believed that they should be feeling more and considered themselves emotionally deficient or abnormal. In this respect, they can be considered as doing their best sincerely. Paul Morel in his relationship with Myriam, finds himself deficient, which we may take to be a reflection of Lawrence’s relationship with Jessie Chambers. Lawrence, like my interviewees, believed, initially at least, in the ideal of love, he clearly wanted to love and indeed may be considered to have succeeded in his relationship with Frieda. More generally, it is clear that a monogamous partnership can and does frequently provide profound and enduring satisfaction for both men and women.

  • 19 This gender analysis has been explained by several historians of the Early Modern period, including (...)
  • 20 Richard Hoggart, in the Uses of Literacy (87) notes the transformation of the behaviour of the work (...)

20Secondly, it is far from certain that the concept of conjugal love is a purely feminine creation. It can be argued that Anglo-Saxon social emphasis on the centrality of conjugal relations and the home stems from Calvinist Protestantism, and from the evangelical revival at the end of the 18th century. While women had a hand in the inception of both these movements, they were also masculine, indeed patriarchal movements. Women may well have used the potential of this religious and patriarchal ideology in their own (immediate) interest, both to limit masculine predation and to encourage a masculine sense of responsibility, by holding men (like Mrs Morel) to live up to their own patriarchal tenets,19 but it was in a situation which was not of their making. This “strategy” would have linked into other discourses and other interests, including those of State and of commerce, to form a consensus to which everyone was subject, and which came to be perceived as a civilising process. Starting with the upper echelons of society, this would have trickled down gradually to all classes.20 It may be argued that Lawrence was witnessing its impact on the working classes at the beginning of the 20th century.

21However, the main point here is that the dominant discourse that emerged during the Early Modern period was not necessarily a masculine discourse, although it is frequently about men and about masculine social success. As the historian Anthony Fletcher suggests the masculine values that emerged from Calvinist theology were very demanding:

This manhood in itself was more questionable, it is suggested, than we have realised: more problematic to achieve, more problematic to retain and exercise according to the rules that society laid down. For the core of early modern patriarchy was household order and much was expected of men in that regard. (Fletcher 202)

  • 21 Thompson 131.
  • 22 Tosh, “The New Imperialism,” in Manliness and Masculinities in Nineteenth-Century Britain, 206.
  • 23 This is the principal theme of John Tosh’s book entitled, A Man’s Place: Masculinity and the Middle (...)
  • 24 The music preferred by skinheads was the ska reggae of Jamaican “ rude boys.”
  • 25 Hebdige 47.

22In particular, there is a clear danger that since the family, the home and conjugal relations in general are perceived to be a feminine domain, the new masculine values implied the subjugation of men to feminine rules. Another historian of the Early Modern period, David Underdown, has gone so far as to suggest that the great number of misogynistic texts of this time are the consequence of a “masculine crisis” provoked by masculine alarm at growing feminine power. Whatever the reality of this power at this time, F.M.L. Thompson believed it was established in middle-class Victorian society, suggesting that “the father wielded the strap but most of the rules emanated from mother.”21 According to John Tosh, a historian of gender specialising in the 19th century, argues that middle-class Victorian men were conscious of feminine power in the home and that “on this view, domesticity for men meant submitting to a feminized ambience.”22 This, according to Tosh, provoked a middle-class “masculine flight” from marriage and domesticity and the creation of masculine spaces free from feminine influence.23 In The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight from Commitment the feminist writer Barbara Ehrenreich perceives a similar process arising in the United States in the 1950’s. Can we suggest that part of this “flight” took place on the emotional level? Certainly it seems that many men felt the process of settling down as a form of personal defeat and seemed to be looking for alternative “natural” models of masculinity which would accord greater freedom. Just as the gypsy and various others were held up by Lawrence as an ideal of authentic, liberated masculinity, so the black man came to be represented as an alternative masculine model, inspiring white sub-cultural movements from the Beats to the English Mods and even the racist skinheads.24 According to the sociologist Dick Hebdige, “he [the black man] escaped emasculation and the bounded existential possibilities which middle class life offered.”25 This process also sheds light on Lawrence’s later idealisation of the former generations of miners, who were not subjugated to women and, within contemporary lad culture, on a similar nostalgia for a vanished working class culture, which emerges in contemporary men’s magazines like Loaded and FHM. It struck me that masculinity itself, long thought to be a direct product of the dominant discourse is becoming more a product of counter-cultural resistance, whether conscious or unconscious, to this discourse.

  • 26 Althusser 61.

23In this context, we might consider that Lawrence’s “affective disorder” is linked to a particular gender ideology that was gaining ground in England over the course of the Modern period, starting amongst the emergent middle classes and gradually working its way through the social hierarchy. Lawrence’s social mobility gave him a unique perspective of this process. In his childhood he witnessed and experienced the first impact on the working classes of this ideology of emotion that had already become the norm within the upper and middle classes. His mother, herself of a higher class and education than his father, brought it into the family. This was the first dislocation in Lawrence’s psyche; in assimilating his mother’s ideology of love and home he found himself estranged from his own working class culture and from himself. Moving into the classes above, he found that what was new in his class was already so well-established that no-one questioned it or indeed could question it. It was already part of their mental landscape. If individuals had difficulty with this landscape, it was usually felt as a personal failure or problem. Lawrence, being an outsider in all classes and indeed within his own national culture, having seen that social norms were neither universal nor natural, was able to move beyond self-doubt and put into question the very fabric of civilised English society. To a large extent it can be said that his writing is about his attempts to make sense of this perception that nobody else could articulate. He does not use the word ideology, but he is profoundly aware of social construction. Like Louis Althusser,26 he is trying to create, beyond the all-enveloping ideology of emotion, a space in which to think and feel freely.

24I would suggest that individuals are still struggling today to make sense of emotional structures that are seen to be natural. These individual struggles can be harnessed into social tendencies like new laddism, coalesce into new masculinities and into new femininities, each responding to the other, and which form new battle-lines between the sexes. This is why Lawrence is so relevant today. I would not suggest that Lawrence has all the answers, indeed he tends often towards gender-essentialism and worse. I would suggest that through the questions he asks, he does, however, give us the space to think emotion afresh and to ask questions of ourselves and of what is happening to us.

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Pleck Joseph and Jack Sawyer (eds.). Men and Masculinity. New Jersey: Spectrum, 1974.

Thompson, F.M.L. The Rise of Respectable Society: A Social History of Victorian Britain, 1830 – 1900. London: Fontana Press, 1988.

Tolson, Andrew. The Limits of Masculinity. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977

Tosh, John. A Man’s Place: Masculinity and the Middle Class Home in Victorian Britain. Harlow, London and New York: Pearson Longman, 1999.

Tosh, John. Manliness and Masculinities in Nineteenth Century Britain. London and New York: Pearson Education Ltd, 2005.

Underdown, D. “The Taming of the Scold: The Enforcement of Patriarchal Authority.” In A. Fletcher and J. Stevenson (eds.). Order and Disorder in Early Modern England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Willis, Paul. Learning To Labour: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs. Brookfield and Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 1977 (1993).

Wilson Colin. The Outsider. London: Picador, 1976 (1956).

Young Michael and Peter Willmott. Family and Kinship in East London. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1957 (1962).

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1 There was only one openly homosexual man in the sample. I felt that some had not resolved their sexuality, but for reasons of tact I chose not to pry.

2 See for example Connell xiii and Brittan 131.

3 R 19.

4 R 209.

5 R 208.

6 Kermode 8.

7 Brunsdon 25.

8 See Bosanquet Rich and Poor (1896) and The Family (1906). Helen Bosanquet was a leading light of the Charity Organisation Society, and colleague of Charles Booth.

9 According to Nicholas Abercrombie and Alan Warde privatisation is “a process [...] manifested in a pattern of social life which is centred on and, indeed, largely restricted to, the home and the conjugal family.” They discuss a case-study in Luton, published in 1969, in which it emerged that the social life of manual workers was “restricted to immediate kin (parents, spouse and children). They rarely met workmates or neighbours.” Abercrombie et al. 157 – 159.

10 Pleck and Sawyer 4.

11 Tolson 135.

12 Firestone 121.

13 The most unashamedly essentialist work on the subject is a scientific study popularised in a book called The Essential Difference by Professor Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism research centre in Cambridge, who puts forward the theory that autism, including Asperger’s syndrome, is a predominantly masculine condition, dependent on the quantity of inter-uterine testosterone that the developing foetus receives. The condition is only diagnosed in extreme cases.

14 See for example Cornwall and Lindisfarne 7.

15 Wilson 249.

16 WL 172.

17 Firestone 123.

18 Firestone 118.

19 This gender analysis has been explained by several historians of the Early Modern period, including Laura Gowing, Patricia Crawford, Jacqueline Eales and Anthony Fletcher. According to Laura Gowing (127), by defining and even appropriating the terms of patriarchy and by using its institutions (for example the Church and ecclesiastical law courts), women at this time acquired “a verbal and legal authority that was at once powerful and fragile.” Jacqueline Eales (107) goes so far as to speak of the feminine role as “moral arbiter of acceptable social behaviour.”

20 Richard Hoggart, in the Uses of Literacy (87) notes the transformation of the behaviour of the working classes since the beginning of the 20th century. In particular, he suggests that violence and drinking amongst working class men became less commonplace.

21 Thompson 131.

22 Tosh, “The New Imperialism,” in Manliness and Masculinities in Nineteenth-Century Britain, 206.

23 This is the principal theme of John Tosh’s book entitled, A Man’s Place: Masculinity and the Middle Class Home in Victorian Britain.

24 The music preferred by skinheads was the ska reggae of Jamaican “ rude boys.”

25 Hebdige 47.

26 Althusser 61.

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Bibliographical reference

Nicholas Growse, « Lawrence and the Ideology of Emotion »Études Lawrenciennes, 43 | 2012, 237-255.

Electronic reference

Nicholas Growse, « Lawrence and the Ideology of Emotion »Études Lawrenciennes [Online], 43 | 2012, Online since 20 December 2013, connection on 19 September 2020. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Nicholas Growse

Nicholas Growse completed his PhD in British Civilisation at Paris 7 University in 2008 («Le phénomène du New Lad dans les magazines spécialisés pour hommes : L’état de la masculinité en Angleterre »). His professional background until now has been in the private sector of Computer Assisted Learning and the creation of multimedia English-teaching methods.

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Licence Creative Commons
Études lawrenciennes est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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