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Logic and Emotion in Lawrence’s Late Literary Criticism

Peter Preston
p. 59-74

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“The Novel and the Feelings,” STH 205


  • 1 The Chambers Dictionary. 11th edition (London: Chambers Harrap, 2008), p. 899 and 503.

1What kind of a phrase is “the logic of emotion” and how should we understand both its constituent parts and it overall meaning? Its terms appear to be oxymoronic, deriving as they do from contrasting and potentially irreconcilable areas of human experience. In the most recent edition of the Chambers Dictionary, logic is defined as “the science and art of reasoning correctly” and “the science of the necessary laws of thought,” while among the definitions of emotion are “a moving of the feelings” and “feeling as opposed to cognition or will.”1 Logic derives from the Greek noun logos, meaning speech or reason, emotion from the Latin verb emovere, to stir up. Logic implies a choice, the willed application of a means of analysis in solving a problem or reaching a decision; emotion, on the other hand, refers to the realm of the involuntary, the unwilled, unwatched response. One is an activity of the mind, while the other—although the mind is clearly involved—has more to do with the feelings and is likely to involve physical as well as mental reactions. Other ways of describing the difference may involve the mind and the heart, the learned and the instinctual, the didactic and what Lawrence refers to as the dark woods of destiny.

  • 2 The phrase occurs frequently in Williams’s work and is discussed in Drama from Ibsen to Brecht (Lon (...)

2This, of course, to describe a series of differences or oppositions, employed in such a way that as with Raymond Williams’s phrase, “the structure of feeling,” the second term comes with something of a shock, delivering a frisson of the unexpected.2 In each case we may think of the first term as rather solid, precisely, clearly articulated, and the second as more diffuse, less readily describable and certainly less verifiable. Both Lawrence and Williams collapse the usually assumed distance between the terms: feeling, like a building, may have a structure; emotion, like an algebraic equation or a problem of cause and effect, may have a logic. What may begin as a set of individual and personal responses can become negotiable in the realm of the universal and the abstract. And the fact that Lawrence and Williams use “of” to link the terms is in itself a defiant gesture, firmly locating the first term within rather than against the second. Both phrases thrive on and gain much of their potency from these built-in paradoxes. To speak of “structure and feeling” or “logic and emotion” would prompt a different set of questions and modes of enquiry.

3Lawrence himself sometimes brings the terms together but often drives them apart, as when in January 1913 he told Ernest Collings about his “belief in the blood, the flesh, as being wiser than the intellect” (2L 503). In Sons and Lovers (1913) the claims of the intellect and the feelings collide when Paul is trying to teach Miriam algebra: “‘What do you tremble your soul before it for?’ he cried. ‘You don’t learn algebra with your blessed soul. Can’t you look at it with your clear simple wits?’” (SL 189). The emotional reserve shared by Paul and his mother is evident here, but so too is a sense of appropriateness: it is a matter of which part of the self should come into play in a particular situation. This is important when we consider the context in which Lawrence explores the notion of “the logic of emotion,” in his 1927 essay, “John Galsworthy”:

  • 3 Lawrence wrote the essay early in 1927 and it was first published in Scrutinies, edited by Edgell R (...)

A critic must be able to feel the impact of a work of art in all its complexity and its force. To do so, he must be a man of force and complexity himself, which few critics are. A man with a paltry, impudent nature will never write anything but paltry, impudent criticism. And a man who is emotionally educated is as rare as a phoenix. The more scholastically educated a man is, generally, the more he is an emotional boor [...] A critic must be emotionally alive in every fibre, intellectually capable and skilful in essential logic, and then morally very honest. (STH 209)3

4The first point to note is that the logic/ emotion connection arises in relation to the work of the literary critic and concerns what Lawrence conceives of as the qualities required of the properly equipped critic. In this respect, the final sentence, which links emotion, intellect, logic and morality, is especially significant. Conventional qualifications, in the form of a scholastic education, are demoted in favour of the critic’s intellectual, emotional and moral alertness to the life in the text. This includes being “skilful in essential logic,” and a great deal depends upon what Lawrence means here by “essential”: not simply logic, or a power of reasoning absolutely essential—fundamentally necessary—for the analysis of the text; but also an understanding of what is essential, of the essence, both in life and in the work of art being discussed. This includes the capacity to discern and describe the necessary forms that works of art adopt and which determine the terms in which they may be discussed. It also refers to a clarity of thought that depends on the critic’s openness and responsiveness, the capacity “to feel the impact of a work of art in all its complexity and its force.” Scholastic education is not entirely dismissed, but its primacy is questioned since it may prevent the critic from appreciating a work of art in its full “complexity and force.”

5Lawrence’s following discussion of The Forsyte Saga demonstrates this approach in action with an analysis of Galsworthy’s fiction that is carefully and clearly argued as well as passionately engaged. In some senses Lawrence approaches Galsworthy as if he were a literary critic with the Forsyte clan as the text he is discussing. In the early part of The Man of Property (1906), the first novel in the sequence, Galsworthy applies both logic and emotion in his “new and sincere and amazingly profound satire […] the ultimate satire on modern humanity, and done from the inside, with really consummate skill and sincere creative passion” (STH 212). Once this satire is achieved, however, less appropriate impulses begin to dominate the text, with the sympathetic treatment of the Irene/ Bossiney relationship and the increasingly indulgent portrait of Old Jolyon. Satire, the outcome of a rigorous, clear-sighted and engaged process, gives way to a diffused and damaging emotiveness: Galsworthy’s feelings for Irene and Old Jolyon are so strong that his intellectual capacity becomes fatally damaged and in the remaining Forsyte novels he loses all sense of criticality and detachment.

  • 4 Published in D. H. Lawrence Studies (Korea), 10.2.13, 2002, 181-199.

6In an earlier paper, “The Novel and the Nail: Metaphor and Form in Lawrence’s Essays on the Novel,”4 I argued that in Lawrence’s hands the literary essay becomes explosive and polyphonic; it shifts rapidly from one linguistic register to another, incorporating quotations from or allusions to a bewildering variety of sources; and its argument refuses to remain orderly and uni-directional, but fizzes and shoots off along unexpected routes. It proceeds less by the conscientious pursuit of a series of points than by a succession of images and metaphors, each generated by its predecessor. Lawrence’s essays on fiction from the mid-1920s physicalise and dramatise thought-processes. Any attempt on the part of a critic to place a novel within a restrictive ideological category is seen as the act of nailing it down and thus killing it, while the novel’s strength of purpose and resistance to such treatment enable it to run away with the nail. If it is the novelist who wields the hammer then the novel does all it can to stay faithful to its imaginative truth, usually by kicking the author up the arse. The author is dethroned and disempowered: all the spirit and life resides in the text.

7My point of departure for that earlier paper was a passage from Lawrence’s Preface to his translation of Verga’s Cavalleria Rusticana, written in September 1927, which I make no apology for repeating here:

Now the emotional mind, if we may be allowed to say so, is not logical. It is a psychological fact, that when we are thinking emotionally or passionately, thinking and feeling at the same time, we do not think rationally: and therefore, and therefore, and therefore. Instead, the mind makes swoops and circles. It touches the point of pain or interest, then sweeps away again in a cycle, coils round and approaches again the point of pain or interest. There is a curious spiral rhythm, and the mind approaches again and again the point of concern, repeats itself, goes back, destroys the time-sequence entirely, so that time ceases to exist, as the mind stoops to the quarry, then leaves it without striking, soars, hovers, turns, swoops, stoops again, still does not strike, yet is nearer, nearer, reels away again, wheels off into the air, even forgets, quite forgets, yet again turns, bends, circles slowly, swoops and stoops again, until at last there is the closing-in, and the clutch of a decision, or a resolve (IR 172).

8The passage is very arresting for the way in which it embodies, or rather enacts, the process it is describing: it circles, swoops, stoops and finally clutches as it reaches a conclusion. The shapes and movements it describes—circle, coil, spiral, soar, hover, stoop, turn—are not those of a straight-line, uni-directional logical process: “and therefore, and therefore, and therefore.” Logic and sequence may be deduced retrospectively but in the act of “thinking emotionally or passionately, thinking and feeling at the same time,” no such orderly process is visible. Nor, in Lawrence’s view is it desirable or necessary in this very particular and distinctive act of thinking and feeling simultaneously: this is emotion’s logic, logic’s emotion. Later in the Verga introduction he writes of Verga’s “recoil from the sophisticated world,” his hatred of “the tyranny of a persistently logical sequence” and his attempt to follow “the workings of the unsophisticated mind” (IR 172). Verga’s method, therefore, aims at “the same muddled swift effect of the emotional mind in its movements [...] its own rhythm, its own commas and colon and full-stops” ( IR 173). Fundamental to these conclusions is Lawrence’s conception of a mind that is emotional as well as intellectual or logical.


9In the last two or three years of his life Lawrence undertook a good deal of literary criticism, and he wrote almost half of his short pieces about books—reviews, prefaces and introductions—after January 1927. In the remainder of this article I am going to concentrate on two of these pieces, which, apart from the “Introduction” to Frederick Carter’s The Dragon of the Apocalypse and the review of Eric Gill’s Art Nonsense are the last things of this kind that he wrote. They are the review of Rozanov’s Fallen Leaves and the introduction to Dostoevksy’s The Grand Inquisitor. I shall be attempting to apply Lawrence’s ideas about logic and emotion in terms of what he finds in these books and how he discusses them.

  • 5 The review appeared in Calendar in 1927. See IR 315-9.

10Lawrence’s essay on V. V. Rozanov’s Fallen Leaves was not a commissioned book review. He wrote it in order to help boost sales for his friend S. S. Koteliansky who had translated Rozanov’s novel for an English readership, following his translation in 1927 of Solitaria, which Lawrence also reviewed.5 P. R. Stephensen, who published the novel, sent it to Lawrence in Bandol on 31 October 1929; the review was ready by 7 November and it appeared in Everyman on 23 January 1930. Lawrence approaches Rozanov as “the last of the Russians,” a member of the final literary generation before the revolution of 1917. As the husband of Dostoevsky’s former mistress, “his literary spirit,” Lawrence suggests “showed the same kind of connection: a Dostoevskian flicker” (IR 347); and his description of Rozanov’s book shows that he found in it a method that is close to a logic of the emotions, and that his description of that method has something in common with what he says about Verga in the Preface to Cavalleria Rusticana:

The Fallen Leaves are just fragments of thought jotted down anywhere and anyhow. As to the importance of the where or how, perhaps it is important to keep throwing the reader out into the world, by means of the: At night: At work: In the tram: In the W.C.—which is sometimes printed after the reflections. Perhaps, to avoid any appearance of systemisation, or even of philosophic abstraction, these little addenda are useful. Anyhow it is Russian, and deliberate, done with the intention of keeping the reader—or Rozanov himself, in contact with the moment, the actual time and place. Rozanov said that with Solitaria he introduced a new tone into literature, the tone of manuscript, a manuscript, being unique and personal, coming from the individual alone, direct to the reader (IR 347).

11The importance of this passage is that it explicitly refers to the relationship between the author and the reader and tries to assess the effect of Rozanov’s distinctive style. In Solitaria there is a mode of writing that removes barriers or filters, and its claim to be a manuscript, a step back from the process of publication and distribution, enables it to reach the reader in a peculiarly unmediated manner. In Fallen Leaves, the effect is different, with its series of brief reflections preventing readers from settling into the narrative, and repeatedly “throwing [them] out into the world.” Thus the text constantly reminds its readers of its status as text and of both their and the author’s situation in “the moment, the actual time and place.” Rozanov writes on the tram or in the W.C: but when and where are they reading what he writes?

12Rozanov had a lively and eventful youth, but settled down and became more conservative in his later years, observing with despair the approach of the Revolution (he died in 1919). For Lawrence, his works marked the end of a period of great literary achievement, beginning with Pushkin, brought about by the impact of Western ideas on the “healthy barbarians” and “hot and undeveloped consciousness” of Russia, which “worked like wild yeast” (IR 349). Eventually, however, this yeast acted “as if they had taken too violent a drug, or been injected with too strong a vaccine.” And then, Lawrence goes on:

The effective and affective centres collapsed, the control went all wrong. The energy died down in a rush, the nation fell, for the time being completely ruined. Too sudden civilisation always kills. It kills the South Sea Islanders: it killed the Russians, more slowly, and perhaps even more effectually. Once the idea and the ideal become too strong for the spontaneous emotion in the individual, the civilising influence ceases to be civilising and becomes very harmful, like powerful drugs which ruin the balance and destroy the control of the organism (IR 349-50).

  • 6 See Peter Preston, “Roman Power: Politics in Sketches of Etruscan Places,Etudes lawrenciennes, 40 (...)

13Emotion is here referred to in relation to spontaneity, and Lawrence’s evocation of the mixture of barbarism and civilisation suggests that the balance between them has been disturbed, with one dominating the other and destroying its integrity. This is very similar to the argument of Sketches of Etruscan Places (1932), where Lawrence argues that the Roman mania for order and control ruined the spontaneity and joy in life depicted on the walls of Etruscan tombs. Indeed, he considers that the tomb-paintings themselves declined in freshness and quality as Roman systemisation and repression took hold until there was almost nothing left of the old Etruscan spirit.6 The machine, education, civilisation and logic if untempered by feeling, will always, for Lawrence, produce this deadly outcome, as the concluding sentence of his review makes clear:

Rozanov is modern, terribly modern. And if he does not put the fear of God into us, he puts a real fear of destiny, or of doom: and of “civilisation” which does not come from within, but which is poured over the mind, by “education” (IR 351).

14Civilisation becomes the engine of the anti-emotional, while education is its instrument, the means by which the dominance of the purely logical is achieved.


  • 7 The review was completed by the end of February 1930, only a few days before Lawrence’s death on 2 (...)

15Lawrence’s Introduction to Koteliansky’s translation of Dostoevsky’s The Grand Inquisitor was, like the Fallen Leaves review, written very quickly: and it was, like the earlier essay, written in the hope that his name on the cover of his friend’s book would encourage sales. Lawrence received a copy of The Grand Inquisitor by 15 January and had finished the piece by 20 January—4000 words in four or five days, in the intervals of correcting the proofs of Apocalypse. It could easily have been his last literary composition, because once it was finished he acceded to Dr Andrew Morland’s instructions to give up writing, only beginning again on 6 February, to write his final review, of Eric Gill’s Art Nonsense.7

16Lawrence’s places his comments in the context of revisiting a novel, The Brothers Karamazov, which he first read in 1913: “It is a strange experience,” he begins, “to examine one’s reaction to a book over a period of years.” He recalls how that first reading left him “fascinated yet unconvinced” by what he saw as “a display of cynical-satanical pose which was simply irritating” (IR 127). Subsequent re-readings have confirmed that impression, and each time the novel has seemed to Lawrence “more depressing because, alas, more drearily true to life” (IR 127). His most recent reading of what many readers see as the most important section of the novel still depresses him, but he registers the power and truth in the text:

I still see a trifle of cynical-satanical showing-off. But under that, I hear the final and unanswerable criticism of Christ. And it is a deadly, devastating summing-up, unanswerable because borne out by the long experience of humanity. It is reality versus illusion, and the illusion was Jesus’, while time itself retorts with the reality (IR 127).

17Lawrence immediately establishes the central binary opposition of his essay: illusion versus reality; but he reverses the usual terms of that opposition: Christ, who claimed he was the way, the truth, and the life is seen as the purveyor of illusion; it is life and experience that deliver reality. The terms in which Lawrence describes the power and unanswerability of Dostoevsky’s argument about Christ—“deadly, devastating” and drawing on “long experience of humanity”—suggest a combination of reason and feeling, logic and emotion, with the power of a lived reality lending force to his argument.

18Lawrence then proceeds, in a strikingly ordered and well-argued manner, to explicate the nature of the debate between Christ and the Grand Inquisitor. He takes, for instance, the Inquisitor’s three demands that human beings make of life and that prevent them from being free: miracle, mystery and authority. The Inquisitor’s recognition of these “weaknesses” means that he is able to love mankind “for what it is, with all its limitations” while Jesus loved it “for what it ought to be, free and limitless” (IR 129). Lawrence applies the demands of miracle, mystery, and authority to the circumstances of twentieth-century life and shows how they are met by new phenomena: science, medicine, biology and despotism. All these phenomena are in some sense mechanical and tend to rationalise miracle, uncover mystery and render authority secular and lacking in spiritual power. Characteristically—it is a feature of much of his critical writing—Lawrence here inhabits the text he is discussing: he adopts its terminology and mode of thinking and applies them to the contemporary world. At the same time he argues that the terms used by the Grand Inquisitor have been reinterpreted and their power thus diminished. Miracle, for instance, is reduced from the bringing of heavenly bread, which Lawrence defines as “life […] contact […] consciousness” (IR 132), to earthly bread, which, Lawrence argues “while it is being reaped and grown […] is life.”But, he goes on, “once it is harvested and stored, it become a commodity, it becomes riches” (IR 133), and as a result of this reductive process it becomes an object of desire, linked to possession, power and the denial of life. “For men think, if they only possessed the hoard, they need not work: which means, really, they need not live. And that is the real blasphemy. For while we live, we must live, we must not wither or rot inert” (IR 133). Miracle is then shown to be inextricably linked to authority, for once the commodity becomes owned and distributed, it reacquires its miraculous quality, but in a deeply compromised form:

So that ultimately men bow down to the man or group of men who can and dare take over the hoard, the store of bread, the riches, to distribute it among the people again. The lords, the givers of bread. How profound Dostoevsky is when he says that the people will forget that is their own bread which is being given back to them. While they keep their own bread, it is not much better than stone to them—inert possessions. But given back to them by the great Giver, it is divine once more, it has the quality of miracle to make it taste well in the mouth and the belly (IR 133).

19I have quite deliberately quoted a great deal from Lawrence in tracing his explication of the debate and its consequences, because I think it is the best way of understanding his approach to Dostoevsky’s text. It is not so much that comment or criticism is superfluous—we may or may not agree with Lawrence’s arguments about leadership, despotism and the mystery of the elect. What is more significant is the application of the three terms of logic, emotion and morality. It is a kind of literary criticism that brings the resources of the whole personality to the exploration of a work of art; an approach that is open to all the implications of the text, and that does not content itself with simply saying what the text says, making a few judgements and leaving it at that: a retrospective process that leaves the text inert and lifeless. Lawrence’s is a much more active and dynamic method, which adopts the text’s own terms and allows them a continuing life that remains relevant in the present and the future and frees it from imprisonment in the past and in the pages of the book.


20This paper has attempted to see the phrase “the logic of emotion” as a proposition rather than an assertion or an authoritative statement, placing emphasis on its provisionality and its different uses in particular contexts in Lawrence’s work. To approach the idea in this way is to explore the nature of Lawrence’s work, and in particular to question the normative status that has sometime been attributed to him. How does the sense of provisionality that surrounds so central a concept affect any notion we may have of him as a religious or philosophical writer? Every example we take in testing the proposition reveals how fruitfully, creatively and flexibly Lawrence uses its terminology. This is particularly true of his fleet, daring and performative late critical essays and reviews which encourage the active participation of the reader in engaging with the texts they discuss.

21As a further example from earlier in Lawrence’s career a passage from The Rainbow (1915) offers a suitably provisional, conclusion. It occurs in the first chapter, when Tom Brangwen is preparing to ask Lydia Lensky to marry him and reflects that he is “only fragmentary, something incomplete and subject,” believing that “[u]nless she would come to him he must remain as a nothingness.” He believes in the inevitability of their relationship, in spite of the differences in their background and experience:

All these things were only words to him, the fact of her superior birth, the fact that her husband had been a brilliant doctor, the fact the he himself was her inferior in almost every way of distinction. There was an inner reality, a logic of the soul, which connected her with him (R 40).

22Facts become words, and words such as “superior,” “brilliant,” “inferior” and “distinction” become emptied of their meaning against “the inner reality” and “the logic of the soul,”, which brings them “together in an elemental embrace beyond their superficial foreignness” (R 57). While he was working on The Rainbow Lawrence told Edward Garnett “that which is physic—non-human, in humanity, is more interesting to me than the old-fashioned human element” (2L 182). It is at this deep level, at the level, as Lawrence told Garnett in the same letter, of carbon rather than diamond or coal that this most powerful logic, the logic of emotion, which obeys no human laws, draws Tom and Lydia together. At the beginning of the John Galsworthy essay, Lawrence writes that “[l]iterary criticism can be no more than a reasoned account of the feeling produced upon the critic by the book he is criticising” (STH 209). The statement is at once disarming and disingenuous, for Lawrence understood that the extraction of a “reasoned account” from what begins as a “feeling” requires the critic to undertake a strenuous response to the text, open, attentive and responsive, and produce an honest account of his reactions that remains true to the logic of his own emotions.

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The Chambers Dictionary. 11th edition. London: Chambers Harrap, 2008

Lawrence, D. H. Introductions and Reviews. Ed. N. H. Reeve and John Worthen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 205.

———-. The Letters of D. H. Lawrence Volume Two: June 1913- October 1916. Ed. George J. Zytaruk and James T. Boulton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

———-. The Rainbow. Ed. Mark Kinkead-Weekes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

———-. Sons and Lovers. Ed. Helen Baron and Carl Baron. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

———-. Study of Thomas Hardy and other essays. Ed. Bruce Steele. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Preston, Peter. “The Novel and the Nail: Metaphor and Form in Lawrence’s Essays on the Novel,” D. H. Lawrence Studies (Korea), 10.2.13, 2002, 181-199.

———-. “Roman Power: Politics in Sketches of Etruscan Places,” Etudes lawrenciennes, 40, 2009, 9-28.

Williams, Raymond. Drama from Ibsen to Brecht. London: Chatto & Windus, 1968.

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1 The Chambers Dictionary. 11th edition (London: Chambers Harrap, 2008), p. 899 and 503.

2 The phrase occurs frequently in Williams’s work and is discussed in Drama from Ibsen to Brecht (London: Chatto & Windus), 1968, 10.

3 Lawrence wrote the essay early in 1927 and it was first published in Scrutinies, edited by Edgell Rickword, in March 1928.

4 Published in D. H. Lawrence Studies (Korea), 10.2.13, 2002, 181-199.

5 The review appeared in Calendar in 1927. See IR 315-9.

6 See Peter Preston, “Roman Power: Politics in Sketches of Etruscan Places,Etudes lawrenciennes, 40, 2009, 9-28.

7 The review was completed by the end of February 1930, only a few days before Lawrence’s death on 2 March. See IR 355-9.

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Peter Preston

University of Nottingham, UK

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