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Law, Love and “Logic” in Study of Thomas Hardy

Kyoko Kay Kondo
p. 113-122

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1The Study of Thomas Hardy is familiar to readers of Lawrence as an important source of insight into his own thinking in the period preceding the composition of The Rainbow and also of course for the light it throws on Hardy. In both respects it has been read primarily for its content. But in this paper I want to consider rather the nature of his thinking as such for this greatly conditions the analytic claims of the essay. Indeed, Lawrence’s own title for the work, Le gai savaire, with its Nietzschean echo and its pre- modern provenance, already hints that its mode of knowledge is a pertinent aspect of its intended value.

2At a late point in the essay Lawrence sums up as follows his analysis of Sue Bridehead’s marriages to Jude and Phillotson:

Jude’s marriage with Sue was over before he knew her physically. She had, physically, nothing to give him.

  • 1 Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays, ed. Bruce Steele, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1 (...)

Which in her deepest instinct, she knew. She made no mistake in marrying Pahillotson. She acted according to the pure logic of her nature.1

3Characteristically, Lawrence seems to equate her “deepest instinct” with the “pure logic” of her nature. The word “logic” has to be understood here in some transposed or metaphorical sense, since pure logic could hardly be subject to a personal condition, and yet there is the implication of an impersonal force, or law, at work. Equally characteristic, and relevant, is his use of the word “knew” in its Biblical, physical sense followed immediately by the same word used in the sense of intellectual understanding or insight. One might say that the semantic range exploited in the word “knew” has its potential extremes in the conventionally opposed terms, instinct and logic, and thereby links them. If there is indeed a secret link between emotional instinct and what Lawrence calls “logic” it may suggest a further significance in Lawrence’s most famous statement about critical reading at the beginning of his essay on John Galsworthy. Lawrence’s primary requirement is that the critic be able to feel the emotional impact of the work, and then be honest about the response. Only in his summary sentence does he insert the further requirement of “essential logic.”

A critic must be emotionally alive in every fibre, intellectually capable and skilful in essential logic, and then morally very honest. (STH 209)

4In the “John Galsworthy” essay taken in isolation, one might think that the intellectual capacity and logic are professional conditions necessary for the articulation of the critical response, and are not directly connected to the emotional response as such. But the Hardy essay seems to suggest a more intimate and intrinsic connection: that the logical dimension may indeed be secondary to the emotional response but is not extrinsic to it. The logic, that is to say, faces not just out to the reader but into the heart of the emotion in question. I believe the Study of Thomas Hardy provides a rich field for considering the relations between emotional instinct and what Lawrence means by “logic.”

5The most striking feature of the Study is the extent to which it is devoted to the exposition of Lawrence’s own notions of Law, Love, Man, Woman, and the grand historical sweep through which he understands these. This may be understood as a series of grossly swollen digressions, irritating to some readers and fascinating to others, but when we read this text for what it reveals about Lawrence and Hardy in turn, we rarely ask how much the Lawrencean theory is necessary to the argument about Hardy. And “necessary” here may have several meanings too. It may not in the end be necessary for the reader interested in Hardy, but it may have been necessary for Lawrence in coming to his understanding of Hardy. In that sense we are being allowed into the workshop, the anterior process of speculative thought, out of which his reading of Hardy could emerge.

6It was especially necessary for Lawrence to set up his own interpretative framework in this way because Hardy had already imposed one of his own. In Lawrence’s view, Hardy had failed to see the true depth and power of his own tragic and cosmic vision because he allowed himself to understand it in essentially social terns, as if the contemporary social and moral order was the ultimate cause of the tragic situations. And the same applies with respect to Hardy’s artistry as Lawrence has to dig down to a deeper layer and see the more intrinsic conflicts and consistencies underlying the laboured coincidences and rationalisations of Hardy’s narratives. It is a familiar experience with Hardy’s fiction that episodes which seem in a youthful reading to be impossibly falsified by authorial manipulation reveal themselves to a more mature reading as profoundly charged images of a psychic condition. Tess’s letter lost beneath Angel Clare’s carpet, for example, becomes a poignant objectification of her own conflict of fear and honesty. Indeed, it was because Lawrence was so alive to this dimension of the novels that he was so quick to see through the falsities of Hardy’s art. The coarsening of Alec D’Urbeville, the vulgarising of Arabella, or the laboured pathos of Father Time are all dismissed by Lawrence as examples of Hardy’s bad art although, as he says of Father Time, you can see “what is meant” (STH 120). But Lawrence’s reading does not just exercise the hermeneutics of charity in picking out the significance beneath the failures of art, he sees a sustained and coherent significance in the fiction beyond anything to which Hardy would subscribe.

7For Lawrence, Hardy’s major characters are diverse human types who are almost all compelling and admirable because of the way in which they seek at any cost to fulfil their own natures. In the Lawrencean sense of the word, Tess is indeed an aristocrat, and so even is Arabella. The tragic situations arise because their needs are not symmetrically matched. There is something true and important that Jude needs from Sue, for example, and she from him, yet they also frustrate and damage each other. This is where the “logical” perception begins. Although the initial brief from the publisher had been to discuss Hardy’s characters, his attention goes on to the impersonal process that is working itself out through them. The word “logic” as used of Sue highlights both the tragic contradiction and the impersonality with which it is understood. If Jude and Sue remind us of Will and Anna Brangwen it is because of Lawrence’s seeing beyond moral culpability of individuals to the process in which they are mutually caught up.

  • 2 I know Bertrand Russell, seeing he is such a featherhead, must be wrong about everything, but as I (...)

8In this respect, the Study also answers to the model of the Galsworthy essay in that the logical understanding seems significantly to follow the emotional response. For this reader at least, Lawrence’s account of the characters’ psychology feels intuited from, rather than imposed on, their words and actions. Once again, this is important because Hardy’s own more rationalised understanding does seem precisely to be imposed within the narrative. As Lawrence says: “[…] every novel must have the background or the structural skeleton of a theory of being, some metaphysic. But the metaphysic must always subserve the artistic purpose beyond the artist’s conscious aim. Otherwise the novel becomes a treatise”(STH 91). Hardy’s metaphysic is not only too self-conscious, it distorts his true theory of being. In this respect he is like Tolstoy of whom Lawrence says: “He had a marvellous sensuous understanding, and very little clarity of mind” (STH 92). One might phrase the same critique by saying he had too much clarity of mind, but of the wrong kind; just as W. B. Yeats said of Bertrand Russell that he was a “featherhead.”2 This is not the conventional view of Russell, joint author of Principia Mathematica, but for Lawrence and Yeats he was indeed muddled in the area of the emotions. It was precisely to that domain that Lawrence wished to bring a clarity of mind for which logic was the compelling symbol, if not the actual means.

9If logic is a compelling metaphor for the desired clarity and impersonality, as well as the tragically intrinsic contradiction, in the emotional understanding, then there may be an essentially metaphorical, not quite literal, status to the whole discourse through which Lawrence interprets Hardy. For in the area of emotion even apparently propositional statements may perform rhetorical, perspectival, imaginative functions. Since Lawrence draws on the example of Tolstoy, one might, for example, wonder about the opening sentence of Anna Karenina. It is quite common for readers to disagree with the famous claim that happy families are more alike than unhappy ones, and this may indeed be an example of the author’s not possessing clarity of mind. But maybe the function of the sentence is rather different. It is really there to strike on opening note of universality; to pitch the attention at the level of general laws; to affirm a sense of the family as a vital human norm. Of course, Tolstoy himself, at the time of writing, may well have believed in the propositional truth of his sentence although then again that “belief” may have been an effect rather than a cause of his artistic instinct in beginning the novel in this fashion. The sentence creates a moral vantage-point irrespective of its propositional truth value which the novel itself rather overrides.

10The form of Tolstoy’s famous sentence is historically revealing in that it recalls a certain kind of eighteenth-century prose such as is exemplified in English by Fielding or Dr Johnson. It is a style which creates large generalisations through essentially logical contrasts. All experience falls within or outside the given categories as when Fielding opens Tom Jones with the image of the book as feast which is either bought or charitable. It is a powerful form which in the hands of Samuel Johnson, for example, can carry a convincing weight of experience not despite but precisely because of the overt formality of the order it brings to the material. We might say that Tolstoy’s sentence is in this rhetorical tradition even as its epistemological basis seems to be slipping away. The difficulty of assessing the precise intention or effect of the sentence is an index of its transitional moment in the onset of modernity and Nietzsche was the figure who most strikingly identified a newly perspectival attitude to truth. It is not just that different individuals or groups have contrary beliefs and convictions which have to live together without privileged status but that this recognition also colours the internal relation to the individual’s own convictions.

11Something of this spirit seems to characterise Lawrence’s relation to his Joachite theories of Law and Love in the Study. He begins the final chapter under the hypothetical sign of “it seems.”

It seems as if the history of humanity were divided into two epochs: the Epoch of Law and the Epoch of Love. It seems as though humanity, during the time of its activity on earth, has made two great efforts: the effort to appreciate the Law and the effort to overcome the Law in Love. (STH 123)

12Although the rest of the argument soon drops the “it seems,” the opening insistence on this note of hypothesis does crucially colour the status of the whole. Like Tolstoy’s sentence, it establishes the generality and impersonality of the perspective, in Lawrence’s case, indeed, extending beyond any individual purview, while explicitly reserving commitment as to the propositional claim. At an earlier point Lawrence has made this perspectival awareness explicit. He speaks at length of the illusory aspects of rest and motion. Like rest and motion, Lawrence’s own primary terms, Male and Female, are also creations: “[…] the division into Male and Female is arbitrary, for the purpose of thought” (STH 60). “For the purpose of thought”: this phrase catches the spirit of what is at stake. On the one hand, it is impossible not to think. As he says earlier,

It seems as if the great aim and purpose in human life were to bring all life into human consciousness. And this is the final meaning of work: the extension of human consciousness.

13But, as he goes on to say:

[…] the bringing of life into human consciousness is not an aim in itself, it is only a necessary condition of the progress of life itself. Man is himself the vivid body of life, rolling glimmering against the void. In his fullest living he does not know what he does, his mind, his consciousness, unacquaint, hovers behind, full of extraneous gleams and glances, and altogether devoid of knowledge. (STH 41)

14Here is one of those Lawrencean moments in which we glimpse the Schopenhauerian illusion that underlies the Nietzschean affirmation. Human thinking is necessary and unavoidable but always as a secondary, epiphenomenal illusion, and most truthful when most aware of this, when its function is to act as an antenna responding blindly, yet sensitively, to the noumenal flow of life. Hence, there is not only the falsity of a superficial thinking such as Hardy imposes on his novels, or that Clym Yeobright imposes with his maps, even Lawrence’s deeper perception of emotional process remains under a sign of internal scepticism. And this is not just on the negative grounds of its possible untruth, but out of a positive respect for the glimmering unknowable of which it speaks.

15This awareness of the secondary status of thought as such in relation to the emotional intuition of living process is manifest in the lability of Lawrence’s thinking. The whole structure of emotional logic he constructs for the reading of Hardy has something like the status I have proposed in Tolstoy’s famous opening sentence. Although he does not make the attribution, his epochs of Law and Love are borrowed quite recognisably from Joachim of Flore so that the introductory phrase “it seems” has a doubly distancing effect. Rather than an interpretation drawn at first hand from human history, Lawrence picks up a ready-made model which he can use in a spirit of bricolage. In this respect, given the continuities between the Study and The Rainbow, it is interesting that there are also reversals of the grand schemes. In the Study he associates the Woman with the rooted continuity of Law while the Man seeks expansion and difference through Love. There are echoes of this in the way the earlier Brangwen men, Tom’s ancestors, respect their women as the axis of their lives. But when Lawrence offers an apparently anticipatory, programmatic distinction between the men and women, it is the men who are satisfied with the eternal round of the seasons and days while the women look to education and the larger world beyond.

Then the men sat by the fire in the house where the women moved with surety, and the limbs and the body of the men were impregnated with the day, cattle and earth and vegetation and the sky, the men sat by the fire and their brains were inert, as their blood flowed heavy with the accumulation from the living day.

  • 3 The Rainbow, ed. Mark Kinkead-Weekes, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 10.

16The women were different. On them too was the drowse of blood-intimacy, calves sucking and hens running together in droves and young geese palpitating in the hand while the food was pushed down their throttle. But the women looked out from the the heated, blind intercourse of farm-life, to the spoken world beyond.3

17Moreover, apart from the reversal here of the gender model in the Study, it quickly transpires that this generalisation gives little guidance for the behaviour of male and female characters in the novel. The effect of the passage is rather to suggest an internal dynamic, as primordial as sexuality, in all the major characters by which they must both maintain a rooted continuity and expand their horizons. Among the many other differences from Hardy, therefore, was Lawrence’s sense of internal relativity in relation to systems of thought. That may be why, although his novels have far more authorial philosophising within them, and are undoubtedly weighed down by this, they don’t actually feel constricted by it. The highly abstract image of logic reflects how Lawrence brought to the understanding of the emotional realm two opposite recognitions. On the one hand all thought is an illusory order created by the human mind and yet the processes of life, to which we have access almost entirely through the emotions, have an impersonal lawfulness which we must constantly seek to intuit if not to understand.

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1 Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays, ed. Bruce Steele, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 113. Hereafter STH.

2 I know Bertrand Russell, seeing he is such a featherhead, must be wrong about everything, but as I have no mathematics I can’t prove it.” Quoted in Frank Tuohy, Yeats (London: Macmillan, 1976), 178.

3 The Rainbow, ed. Mark Kinkead-Weekes, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 10.

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Kyoko Kay Kondo, « Law, Love and “Logic” in Study of Thomas Hardy »Études Lawrenciennes, 42 | 2011, 113-122.

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Kyoko Kay Kondo, « Law, Love and “Logic” in Study of Thomas Hardy »Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 42 | 2011, mis en ligne le 17 janvier 2014, consulté le 28 mai 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Kyoko Kay Kondo

Chiba University of Commerce, Japan

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