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Traumatized by Civilization: Lawrence’s and Pat Barker’s. Great War Characters through the Freudian Lens

Marina Ragachewskaya
p. 161-184

Texte intégral

1But civilization demands other sacrifices besides that of sexual satisfaction.
(Freud, CID 55)

2[…] this world of ours, this society which we have elaborated with so much effort, only to find ourselves elaborated to death at last.
(Lawrence, EME 15)

3A crucifixion. […] Beneath it […] Abraham’s sacrifice of his son. […] the two bloody bargains on which a civilization claims to be based.
(Barker, R 149)

4What is common to these three quotations is the view of civilization as a structure that is based on sacrifice. It can also be inferred that the main sacrifice that the western world made on the altar of the First World War was that of love.

5When Sigmund Freud summarized the sources of human suffering in his seminal work Civilization and Its Discontents, he observed that one of the forces we are threatened with and suffer from is that of “the external world, which may rage against us with overwhelming and merciless forces of destruction” (CID 24). The immensity of the tragedy of the First World War, in all its merciless force, overwhelmed the consciousness of various writers. Lawrence was among them, though, as Michael Bell points out,

[t]he sense of a larger social history and critique, […], emerges only through crises in individual lives as if, for Lawrence, it is only through the individual that such larger questions exist. This can be seen particularly in his treatment of the immediate historical circumstance of the Great War and, through that, of some deep-lying emotional structures in English culture.
(Bell xvi)

  • 1 Michael Ross, “Acts of Revision: Lawrence as Intertext in the Novels of Pat Barker,” D.H. Lawrence (...)

6Lawrence’s short-story collection England, My England and Other Stories (1922) contains the core of a fictional exploration of the suffering imposed on an individual human life by the external world. The Great War in Lawrence’s text figures as a power which impinges upon the psychic structure rather than as an issue which affects and disturbs the social order. Recent literary developments in this approach to the war theme have been marked by the emergence of a counterpart to Lawrence, in the person of Pat Barker (1943-), whose remarkable trilogy Regeneration, especially the title novel (1991) and The Ghost Road (1995), have brought about a further elaboration in a literary method which I will risk qualifying here as “fictionalized psychoanalysis.” Roughly seventy years separate the two authors, who, according to several critical studies (by Michael Ross, Carol Siegel, Peter Preston),1 are related in the same way as Lawrence and Freud, insofar as they diagnose the same disease in civilization, while offering different therapies. Their propensity to explore the theme of World War I, which takes on a deep psychological connotation in their work, draws them, along with Freud, into a fruitful “discursive dialogue.”

7Lawrence and Barker focus on the war trauma, on the hurtful impact of the oddities and perversities of civilization through the collective ordeal of the great massacre. The resulting effect on the unconscious, however, as Freud argues, is the same as when the destructive powers surge from an individual’s own psyche. As Freud characterized it, “The State has forbidden to the individual the practice of wrong-doing, not because it desires to abolish it, but because it wants to monopolize it” (Freud DW).

8I will leave aside Lawrence’s novels, where the war theme also lurks. This decision is motivated by an intention to explore other ideological concerns, and to follow Peter Preston’s guiding observation that Sons and Lovers is an intertext for Barker’s trilogy (Preston 32). I shall instead juxtapose the stories from England, My England and Barker’s two novels. Let me first point to the first eloquent similarities between Lawrence and Barker: the way the characters alternate, and the way the narrators play with the inner perspective, by way of a powerful analytical voice. Lawrence relates his stories as if they were case studies. Unlike the novels, the specific incidents of these stories are not tied to any larger comprehensive pattern of plot. Undoubtedly however, to follow a point made by Keith Cushman, “[t]hese stories are much moFre than a miscellaneous gathering […]” (Cushman 27), for they are Lawrence’s response to the war.

9Barker, while she uses the form of the novel, does not connect the lives of the war-time characters within a single knot. She scatters them like fragments in a mosaic, with their individual guilt, their frustration, repression and sublimation. This narrative strategy parallels a psychoanalytic assumption that a “psychic erosion and physical exhaustion cause[d] a fragmentation of memory” (Szykierski 947).

  • 2 This point of view is mine [M.R.]

10The Freudian lens is applicable to Lawrence’s and Barker’s texts and to their wartime middle-class and working-class men and women, whose state of unhappiness is the outcome of complex psychodynamics. The choice by both writers of foregrounding the characters pervasive class consciousness can be objectively explained by the determinants of their own biographies. Lawrence made his way into the middle class, clinging however, for support, warmth and natural spontaneity, to his connection with the common people.2 Barker, born into a working-class fatherless family, made her thorny path into the middle-class while never totally abandoning the working-class theme.

11The two writers bring their observations about the changing class structure of English society into their fiction. The Great War, despite or because of its traumatic effect, was also a great equalizer. This idea comes up in Kangaroo, highlighting at a certain moment Lawrence’s depiction of the Australian “Diggers”: men of all classes who have come back from the war. In Barker’s Regeneration Dr Rivers points out:

And things’ll be freer after the war. If only because hundreds of thousands of young men have been thrown into contact with the working classes in a way they’ve never been before. That has to have some impact.

12Freud did not seem to lay emphasis on social class as an explanation of a pathology. It is in this respect therefore that the two writers of fiction elaborate on and flesh out the more abstract scientific theories of the psyche.

13Barker, through the voice of an analyst, comments on this development:

One of the paradoxes of the war—one of the many—was that this most brutal of conflicts should set up a relationship between officers and men that was… domestic. Caring. As Layard would undoubtedly have said, maternal.
(R 107)

14In his story “Monkey Nuts”, Lawrence underlines the same paradoxical quality, whereby the relations between the corporal and the younger soldier Joe are warm and affectionate: “Albert, a real good pal, what life could be better! After Flanders it was heaven itself” (MN 64).

15Lawrence and Barker’s strategy for the examination of the war trauma involves their attention to way in which their characters reenact civilization’s most severe repressions, its demands and taboos, as they endeavor to balance their quest for individual happiness against that of the whole society. Freud stated the dilemma through the idiom of psychoanalysis:

[…] the development of the individual seems to us to be a product of the interaction between two urges, the urge towards happiness, which we usually call “egoistic,” and the urge towards union with others in the community, which we call “altruistic.” […] In the process of individual development, as we have said, the main accent falls mostly on the egoistic urge (or the urge towards happiness); while the other urge, which may be described as a “cultural” one, is usually content with the role of imposing restrictions. But in the process of civilization things are different.
(CID 87)

16I will focus on the way Lawrence and Freud, working through what are very different discursive modes, point to the same truth: that people become neurotic (“nuts”) because of the frustration which society imposes on them in the service of its imbecile ideology. While Barker’s message can be read in much the same key, her relationship to Freud’s discourse is a more direct one. The narrative voice of her novels belongs partially to Doctor W.H.R. Rivers, the British psychiatrist, who also appears as a character in Barker’s trilogy.

17In a book chapter entitled “Lawrence’s Quarrel with Freud,” Frederick J. Hoffman speaks of the concerns which are common to Freud and Lawrence, while pointing to the differing discourses they resort to:

His [Lawrence’s] critical, philosophical works all refer at one time or another to psychoanalytic terms—the unconscious, the Oedipus complex, repression, sublimation, etc.
(Hoffman 161)

18He rightly notes that “Lawrence replaced Freud’s sober definition of the unconscious with a poetic, mystic affirmation” (Hoffman 163).

19In the England, My England short story collection, Lawrence probes the subconscious level of his protagonists, who appear deeply affected by the outrages inflected by civilization, and who both suffer from and are existentially fashioned out of the frustration emanating from a force that is beyond their immediate grasp and awareness. Freud called this force civilization. In order to provide for the well-being of the collective mass, it severely represses the basic instincts of each individual. The psychic condition of Lawrence’s heroes is the reflection of civilization’s own mechanism of suppression which has gone astray—as evident in the gathering clouds of militarism—or which has catastrophically run amok—as evident in the disastrous and direct impact of war. Lawrence, to use Freud’s phrase, probes the Ego inwards.

  • 3 “Thoughts for the Time on War and Death” and “Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego.”

20Several of the Freudian premises are devised in order to lay bare the nature of human psychology. This involves acknowledgement of the way the individual psyche parallels that of the composite, group psyche, the psyche of civilization. Freud’s “writings on war and group psychology”3 postulate intriguing speculative answers to questions about the herd instinct in human beings, the origin of the outbreaks of organized violence, and the distinctively human ability to identify oneself with an immaterial ideal such as a nation or a cause, to the point of “being willing to fight and die for it” (Thurschwell 95). The latter speculative answer is often embodied in the form of a Father figure, an important aspect which Lawrence and Barker share with Freud. The Father figure may manifest itself as an image, imago and Super-ego. “What began in relation to the father is completed in relation to the group” (CID 80), writes Freud.

  • 4 “England, My England,” “Tickets, Please,” “The Blind Man,” “Monkey Nuts,” “Wintry Peacock,” “You T (...)

21Most of Lawrence’s stories that I will analyze4 include an image or symbol of the Father who, according to Freud, exercises “the arbitrary will” (CID 47). At the level of the individual psyche, this image is therefore constitutive of the law of a micro-community, a law that is susceptible of being extended to the extended to the dimensions of civilization, if it is projected outward. A father’s exercise of power within a family frequently transcends criticism or doubt. Egbert, in “England, My England,” is portrayed as a soldier even in his own household, where all the power belongs to the father of the “old English type,” the “fatherhood that had even the right to sacrifice the child to God, like Isaac. Fatherhood that had life-and-death authority over the children” (EME 16). And even his name is Godfrey.

22Egbert, who is handsome and delicate, “a born rose” (EME 7), marries Winifred, a robustly sensitive and loving woman, only to face the colossus of his father-in-law whose will-to-power, money and authority loom above his whole life till his willed death in Flanders. “He was too wise to make laws and to dominate in the abstract, but he had kept, and all honour to him, a certain primitive dominion over the souls of his children, the old, almost magic prestige of paternity” (EME 16). This stance accounts for the implacable law of suppression. The ejection of the weaker Egbert, first, out of his wife’s contentment with her family circle, leads to his eventual extermination in the war, “the best thing [he] could do” (EME 29), with the father’s approval.

23In “You Touched Me,” the bitterly ironic imago of the dying father represents a sardonic parallel to Freud’s belief in the controlling power of Eros, including the aggressive instinct, which is its representative or delegate, as Freud puts it, and which “shares world dominion with it” (CID 69). The father detects an unmistakable libido drive in his adopted son Hadrian towards his eldest daughter, who is much older than him. He incorporates what is an almost sadistic provision in his will, conditioning his daughter’s inheritance on the satisfaction of the object desire. When extended to the general scope of a civilization, such a proviso constitutes the discontent, the impediment to the manifest and intentional programme of civilization, inasmuch as it represents the process of internalization of the father’s own guilt, a defense against unpleasure by intoxication (the father is drinking himself to death, with an ever-increasing tenacity of purpose), a fatality conducive to the release of the aggressive instinct through a mechanism of object prosecution. “He seemed to have a strange desire, quite unreasonable, for revenge upon the women who had surrounded him for so long, and served him so carefully” (YTM 104).

24When, according to Freud, “The place of the father […] is taken by the larger human community” (CID 71), the same social repression and sadism are committed by the powerful minority whose authority to repress and to tame Lawrence epitomizes through a single word—war: “At last, however, the war came” (YTM 94). This “at last” expresses the limits to which the internalization of guilt and aggression eventually leads, only to explode into mass neuroses.

25Lawrence’s narrative actually comes to the conclusion that the domineering position of the “Bullying Father” is accountable for individual misery. In “The Wintry Peacock,” this is the predicament of the metaphorical “ineffective” father—a married British soldier—of a baby born out of wedlock, whose mother is a young Belgian woman. A reading of the manifest content of the story throws up the mere surface subject matter emerging from the pervasive war-time reality: the pervasive disturbance and confusion in marital and sexual ties intensified by the war. To quote Cushman on this point, “nearly all the love relationships in the book are battles” (Cushman 29). On an allegorical level, when viewed merely as case exemplifying a general condition, the story can be read as a figuring of civilization’s discontent and trauma: such “fathering” is a sign of disruption, the point at which the sons, according to Freud, are destined to overpower their father (CID 47).

26Lawrence presents this ineffectiveness by way of the recurrent image of a “man with his hands in front of him, half stuck in his breeches pockets” (WP 88–89). These hidden hands, idle and ominous (ready to strike), belonging to a soldier and a father, are the metaphor of civilization which is encapsulated in the sardonic posture of a displaced father, himself sent by the authority above him to be consumed as cannon fodder. However before the sons can dethrone this father, the routine and unquestioning submission to authority continues to pervert civilization. Lawrence’s characters never opposes the will of the omnipotent father figure: Winifred does not doubt the wisdom of her father’s decisions, Matilda displays her tacit consent, despite her enduring and silent frustration. As Wilfred R. Bion (a Freudian psychoanalyst who survived and recorded his First World War experiences) puts it,

Looking back now it amazes me that I do not remember any occasion when it occurred to me or any of my friends to debate the military wisdom of our procedures. It is the more surprising that a critical attitude was common enough but never took a constructive form.
(Bion LWE 268)

27In the presentation of the childhood of her heroes in the trilogy, Barker inevitably connects the persistent state of guilt, the pervasive sense of doom, and the inevitability of suffering as a retribution for guilt exacted by the towering punitive power of the threatening father. “He was a great believer in the war, my father” (R 171)—the phrase proves to be true of almost all father figures in the texts examined. Billy Prior’s father is the person who continues to upset Billy, and he is never really accepted. Dr Rivers’s haunting childhood memory is of his father slapping him sharply and prohibiting any sound from a terrified child when his hair is being cut in the barber’s shop. The scattered references to the father’s potency, even in his absence, evoke the never-ending psychoanalytic discourse whereby they are connected with the main conflict: hatred of the war as a form of paternalistic authority, duty, while loving it in a way, because war is a manifestation of the power of the Father.

28Civilization appears to be capable of arousing a latent sense of guilt that is importunate and, according to Freudian concepts, traumatic. This is how Barker expresses it: “If they didn’t send him back he was going to be awfully lonely, marooned among civilians with their glib talk” (GR 13). Regeneration includes a curious episode reminding the reader of counter-transference, when Dr Rivers achieves an important insight from the questionnaire he has devised for the Melanesian missionary study:

He looked up at the blue empty sky, and realized that their view of his society was neither more nor less valid than his of theirs. No bearded elderly white man looked down on them, endorsing one set of values and condemning the other. And with that realization, the whole frame of social and moral rules that keeps individuals imprisoned—and sane—collapsed, and for a moment he was in the same position as these drifting, dispossessed people. A condition of absolute free-fall.
(GR 119–120)

29This reads as a symbolic release for Dr Rivers from the constrictions of Western civilization, the coup of one individual psyche.

30Barker seems to pick up where Lawrence left off. As Dennis Brown writes, by making of Dr Rivers, a Christ-like figure, a substitute for the ineffectual parents of Billy Prior and Sassoon, she has the same Biblical references as Lawrence—Abraham and Isaac: “His job is to make them fit to return to the murderous front” (Brown 191). Barker weaves the exposure of the fathers of civilization into an ever larger fabric, with the help of Sassoon’s “Declaration”:

I am making this statement as an act of willful defiance of military authority, because I believe the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.
(R 3)

31This might also read as a Freudian metaphorical attempt to appropriate the father’s power. The soldier’s Declaration, “Finished with the War,” is a conscious denunciation of that “aggression,” “deception” and “callous complacence” which constitute the war. Barker also highlights the complex relation “between unthinking group behaviour and the thinking individual” (Szykierski 944).

32Another underlying discontent caused by civilization-imposed restrictions on human sexuality, brought to the surface during the war, results in the desperate struggle of men to assert their masculine potentiality and validity (whether at the frontline or in the civilian wartime milieu). This situation is set against the characters’ past experiences and against the protocols of memory itself which might otherwise, in therapeutic terms, manage to provide a healthy discharge of suppressed reminiscences and heal the psychic wound. Thus Egbert struggles against the memory of his own rejection:

There had been life. There had been Winifred and his children. But the frail death-agony effort to catch at straws of memory, straws of life from the past, brought on too great a nausea. No, No! No Winifred, no children. No world, no people. Better the agony of dissolution ahead than the nausea of the effort backwards. Better the terrible work should go forward, the dissolving into the black sea of death, in the extremity of dissolution, than that there should be any reaching back towards life. To forget! To forget! Utterly, utterly to forget, in the great forgetting of death.
(EME 33)

33Maurice Pervin’s blanked out consciousness is figured by the author through the visible mark of a scar and the veil of a total darkness. We don’t discover much about his past. Instead, Lawrence creates the shield of Maurice’s blindness which blots out the memory of the war. “Psychic erosion and physical exhaustion caused fragmentation of memory” (Szykierski 947).

34Barker’s presents the reader with a remarkable set of pathetically damaged officers who strive to forget. “The typical patient, arriving at Craiglockhart, had usually been devoting considerable energy to the task of forgetting whatever traumatic events had precipitated his neurosis.” (26) Rivers is somewhat different, insofar as he tries with all his might to make the mind “happily wipe itself clean of the effort to forget” (GR 145). He believes in the healing power of reliving (through the compulsion to return to) the traumatic experience.

35Lawrence and Barker set into motion a therapeutic process aimed at the transformation of trauma into memory, emotional experience into verbal thought, albeit through differing strategies, Barker professing Freudian therapy, Lawrence preaching for a remembrance of another sort, the memory of the old and bygone civilizations, lamenting the exodus of contemporary men from the realm of the primitive, which Lawrence expresses through Egbert’s sensation: “Curious that the sense of permanency in the past had such a hold over him, whilst in the present he was all amateurish and sketchy” (EME 9). Egbert’s preoccupation with the past connects with Lawrence’s “metaphysic”:

His heart went back to the savage old spirit of the place: the desire for old gods, old, lost passions, the passion of the cold-blooded, darting snakes that hissed and shot away from him, the mystery of blood-sacrifices, all the lost, intense sensations of the primeval people of the place, whose passions seethed in the air still, from those long days before the Romans came. The seethe of a lost, dark passion in the air. The presence of unseen snakes.
(EME 24-25)

36But can this kind of memory cure civilization? Barker proposes a striking analogy between the civilization of the Melanesians and that of Europe during the war. Both exemplify the idea that a civilization of any kind is based on sacrifice, be it Abraham and Isaac or an old Melanesian sacrificial ritual where a bastard son is killed by his adoptive father. Both civilizations employ the “head hunting” process in order to survive.

37At another level, the two authors display a curious similarity in their imagery. In “England, My England” Egbert and Winifred own a cottage in a snake-infested place. One particular episode, its content like that of a dream, cries out for interpretation:

One day Winifred heard the strangest scream from the flower-bed under the low window of the living room: ah, the strangest scream, like the very soul of the dark past crying aloud. She ran out, and saw a long brown snake on the flower-bed, and in its flat mouth the one hind leg of a frog was striving to escape, and screaming its strange, tiny, bellowing scream. She looked at the snake, and from its sullen flat head it looked at her, obstinately. She gave a cry, and it released the frog and slid angrily away.
(EME 8)

38We shall postpone the examination of the latent content of this paragraph and refer to Captain Anderson’s dream (from Regeneration):

I started to run and I was running through bushes. I was being chased by my father-in-law and two orderlies. Eventually they got me cornered and my father-in-law came towards me, waving a big stick. It had a snake wound round it. He was using it as a kind of flail, and the snake was hissing. I backed away, but they got hold of me and tied me up.
(R 28)

39The snake represents “the most frightening thing about the dream” (R 29). And in Rivers’s childhood there was also a wood full of snakes and a memory of his father killing one. “Evidently, snakes had lost the right to be simply snakes” (GR 22).

40Common to these two descriptions, there is, in both texts, the incurable suffering endured in the human body: each episode is followed by a dramatic/tragic event. There is little Joyce, in Lawrence’s story, with her cut knee locked stiff. And soon afterwards there is Egbert himself, dying against a vision of the world that is all blood. In Barker’s text, there is the bleeding French soldier, whose principal wound, unnoticed by the military doctor Anderson, takes him to his agonizing death. It is as if, in both texts, the snake were the symbol of a lost power: for Lawrence, the power of the primitive knowledge to administer the natural order, for Barker, the power of modern medicine to heal the wounds of the war.

41The visual images in both texts capture the landscape, the houses, the weather, with the devastating impact of the war on the land. They express the anguish of witnessing human “failing, falling, bleeding, or vanishing without a trace within spaces without witnesses” (Szykiersky 938). In this landscape, human behavior expresses the sense of imminent danger. As Lawrence wrote in Kangaroo, “The city in some way, perished from being a heart of the world, and became a vortex of broken passions, lusts, hopes, fears and horrors” (K 240).

42Freud says that one can only defend oneself against the external world by turning away from it or else by becoming a member of the community. Men, in these texts we are examining, struggle to defend their Ego. Both writers explore the extent to which male characters manage to resolve this contradiction between the world and self. The male characters in Lawrence’s stories balance on the brink between an asserted manliness and an implied femininity. Egbert, poetic and impervious to any en bloc hatred of the Germans, the young soldier Joe in “Monkey Nuts,” quiet and tender, Maurice Pervin, with his uncanny sensitivity of touch: they are all lacking in men’s presumed force, power, strong will, and resolution. Their manliness is presented by Lawrence in terms of a different sort of courage, the courage of true self, like Egbert’s power that “lay in the abnegation of power” (EME 16). An echo of this is present in Billy Prior’s remark that “it takes courage to be a pacifist” (ED 111). Or indeed a psychoanalyst: “For the first time it occurs to me that Rivers’s job also requires courage” (GR 200).

43Arguably, the unhappiness of Lawrence’s wartime male characters can be understood in Freudian terms as a figuring of the condition of men, who are “predominantly erotic” or “narcissistic,” insofar as they “will give first preference to [their] emotional relationships to other people” (CID 30) or are inclined to be self-sufficient and seek satisfaction “in [their] internal mental processes” (CID 30). Egbert’s psychological portrayal best fits this profile: “But he had no desire to give himself to the world, and still less had he any desire to fight his way in the world” (EME 10). “Yes, even he himself had to lock up his own vivid life inside himself” (EME 14).

44Barker is conscious of the same workings of depth psychology. As Brown observes, “To ‘be a man’ ultimately involves a notion of courage in extremis—one that total war tests to the full” (Brown 193). We find this idea in the words of Mac, one of Barker’s characters, who says: “Men fight” (ED 111). The dominant view of civilization and its immanent ideology is that physical courage is essential to the sense of masculinity. Those lacking it are termed “degenerates, the loonies, the lead-swingers, the cowards” (ED 269). Barker’s men, however, prove themselves to be “men of action” who “will never give up the external world on which [they] can try out [their] strength” (CID 30). The greater the failure, the more traumatic the impact seems to be, because Barker strips away the illusion concerning courage. Those male characters who stay alive after combat become haunted by the guilt of the survivor. This extra-human test of masculinity produces a traumatic body-mind hysteria in the texts of both writers, for neither Lawrence nor Barker present the naturalistic detail of an agonized body for the sake of its own sensual suffering. Anguished bodies in Lawrence’s texts transcend the limits of the corporeal, the point of physical pain. Thus Egbert’s wound brings about a displacement of his consciousness from the realization that he has been hit in the head and the perception of the blood issuing from the lesion—to the world of “all blood,” with the “soul like the tiniest little light out on a dark sea, the sea of blood” (EME 33).

45Barker’s description of the neuroses of different war traumas which the officers in Craiglockhart Hospital in Scotland are suffering from is quite remarkable. Burns had

[…] been thrown into the air by the explosion of a shell and had landed, head-first, on a German corpse, whose gas-filled belly had ruptured on impact. Before Burns lost consciousness, he’d had time to realize that what filled his nose and mouth was decomposing human flesh. Now whenever he tried to eat, that taste and smell recurred.
(R 19)

46Anderson, himself a physician, after seeing a dying soldier who was bleeding profusely, is unable to stand the sight of blood and has nightmares. Second-Lieutenant Prior has gone mute after losing almost all his men in a bombing. The men suffer bodily dysfunctions, with or without a physical injury.

47“Arguably, the whole phenomenon of hysteria (the name has stuck)—speech loss, inability to walk, fantasies of castration, to name a few manifestations—constitutes a dysfunction of communication of one kind or another” (Brown 194). Applying a broader interpretation, it can be observed that starting from the speech-related body functions—breathing, voice, stammer, suffocation—all of which point to the actual loss of communicative abilities in men—Barker goes on from there to a consideration of the conditions of the lower body (spine and legs) as a displaced manifestation of repressed sexuality. Barker’s men, having been deceived by the predominant ideology of national pride, with its radical demarcation from and hostility to the putative national enemy, subsequently struggle to restore their manhood by way of their espousal of this political illusion.

48Lawrence’s range of corporeal signs of trauma is more intricately evocative: there is the disabled leg of a little girl, Maurice Pervin’s blindness, the bruised body of John Thomas, old Ted Rockley’s dropsy, not forgetting the injured peacock. On the basis of such an array of bodily stigmata we may suggest that there is no direct clue pointing to any straightforward psychoanalytic interpretation. Lawrence in fact vehemently denied such a hypothesis. The indications point rather to the enduring operation of a pervasively uncanny trauma, as it works its way inextricably and as it betrays its effects in both the body of the Other and also in one’s own.

49Both writers suggest that suffering bodies result from and are the manifestation of suffering souls. This point can be aptly summarized through the comment of a psychoanalyst: there is no difference between being “mobilized as one of millions thrown out to be killed in trench warfare and […] being demobilized and thrown back into a society” (Szykiersky 947). Nor is there any difference either between the living and the ghosts: “Ghosts everywhere. Even the living were only ghosts in the making” (GR 46).

50Deceptively simple descriptions, veiled and symbolically charged imagery easily lead to the Freudian unraveling of the body-psyche knot of the traumatized consciousness of struggling men and desperately resisting women. In Lawrence’s stories the delicate and complex mother images (Winifred, whose heart cries out for death over her daughter’s agony, Isabel, a sensitive, caring would-be mother, the poor Belgian cuckoo-mother who expresses her soulful tenderness over her illegitimate newborn) are replaced by the figures of recalcitrant, resistant womanhood, figures whom Freud describes in the following way:

Furthermore, women soon come into opposition to civilization and display their retarding and restraining influence—those very women who, in the beginning, laid the foundations of civilization by the claims of their love. Women represent the interests of the family and of sexual life. The work of civilization has become increasingly the business of men, it confronts them with ever more difficult tasks and compels them to carry out instinctual sublimations of which women are little capable.
(CID 50)

51Lawrence’s women in these stories embody this opposition. As Bell puts it, they possess the “collective emotionalism [that] leads to violence” (Bell xvii). Lawrence closely associates the “recklessness and emotional independence” with the war. With the “sad decline in brilliance and luxury” (TP 37) and with “the darkness and lawlessness of war-time” (TP 40), there arises an unnatural picture of tram girls in uniforms, fearless, reckless, pushing, horrifying “strange, wild creatures” (TP 43) taking their much too cruel revenge on the unscrupulous womanizer John Thomas.

52Even more poignant and salient is the question of motherhood, and of women’s resistance to its demands, in Barker’s novels. Several cases, in which Barker evokes the figure of the mother, are marked by a sense of underlying hopelessness. Billy Prior’s mother is at the heart of the family’s conflict over the question of Billy’s progress: whether upwards to the middle class by his becoming an officer, or his merging with the “common” men like his father. In certain episodes there is nothing to suggest that the characters bear having been raised by mothers: “Rivers didn’t believe Broadbent’s mother was ill. He didn’t believe Broadbent had a mother. He thought it entirely possible that Broadbent had been hatched” (59). Sassoon’s and Owen’s imagos of their mothers are bitter. As Sassoon says, “I believe the thought of my insanity is one of her few consolations” (81). Sarah Lumb’s mother is terribly common, a strange mixture of piety and vulgarity. She believes intensely in the Bible and the Church, but she also scrutinizes intensely men’s private parts; she keeps her house in order while choosing not to wear undergarments, in order to facilitate certain natural needs, etc. Barker presents her as a typical malcontent of the civilization of which she is a member, for whose ideals her might-be son-in-law died.

53Through the analytic voice of the internal monologue of Dr Rivers, Barker’s novel tries to elucidate the psychological truth about the war: “The war that promised so much in the way of ‘manly’ activity had actually delivered ‘feminine’ passivity” (108). Hence, the same reckless spirit which overcomes Barker’s women characters en masse: “Too many widows. Too many mothers looking for contact with lost sons, and this was the area where they’d all joined up together” (GR 77)—participating in séances; young girls turn into an army of yellow-skinned munitions factory workers; they are “gloriously, devastatingly, fuckably common” (GR 5); best friends’ mothers turn into prostitutes.

54Both Lawrence and Barker perceive, in the midst of the civilization’s gender confusion, that while men are mutating into the parts of a military machine, women are replacing their libido with the duties of “military body service.” Thus, in “England, My England” Winifred, though she is repeatedly characterized as someone who loves her husband, serves him with an excessive and mechanical devotion after he becomes a soldier: “Winifred waited for him in a little passion of duty and sacrifice, willing to serve the soldier, if not the man” (EME 29–30).

Winifred now had a new duty towards him: the duty of a wife towards a husband who is himself performing his duty towards the world. She loved him still. She would always love him, as far as earthly love went. But it was duty she now lived by. When he came back to her in khaki, a soldier, she submitted to him as a wife. It was her duty. But to his passion she could never again fully submit. Something prevented her, for ever: even her own deepest choice.
(EME 29)

55Billy Prior in The Ghost Road, after visiting a prostitute, knows that he’d been “Lizzie’s patriotic gesture: one of seven. Poor Lizzie, she’d been very disillusioned when five of the seven turned out not to have enlisted at all” (GR 36). Cushman’s discussion of Lawrence’s concept of “cocksure women and hen-sure men” also rings true for Barker’s novels: “the traditional sexual roles have been subverted because the men are off fighting” (Cushman 29).

56Strikingly, in Lawrence’s stories and Barker’s novels “[…] love had died. Love for anyone and anything” (Bion MF 150). Among the Lawrence stories discussed here, only “The Blind Man” asserts a love relationship formed according to a true “blood consciousness.” The other relations reveal futility and failure. Barker’s novels treat love as a desperate compensatory reflex for the trauma of loss and deprivation. There is no healthy relationship which might be set against aggression. Freud comments on this condition, referring to Galsworthy’s short story “The Apple-Tree,” which, he says, “brings home to us how the life of present-day civilized people leaves no room for the simple natural love of two human beings” (CID 52).

57A strong attraction to poetry, interpreted as the expression of a sort of defense mechanism, an opposition to war, is noticeable in both texts. In “England, My England,” Egbert is at heart a poet, or at least a pseudo-poet. In Regeneration, Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and Wilfred Owen are not only real people, they are important wartime poets who strive to address what are crude emotions, naked passions and very private sensations. Poetry struggles against the war, trying to expose civilization’s barbarism as the great “unknown” of mental catastrophe:

For you our battles shine
With triumph half-divine;
And the glory of the dead
Kindles in each proud eye.
But a curse is on my head,
That shall not be unsaid,
And the wounds in my heart are red
For I have watched them die.

  • 5 George T. Wright. W.H. Auden. Revised edition (Boston: Twayne, 1981).

58According to Eric Heller, Freud desires a world “where rational choice and self-determination are possible” (Heller 130). Freud is however pessimistic: “It’s impossible to correct reality, to re-create the world” (CID 28). Freud’s “discontents” are written into the fictions of Lawrence and Barker, whose appeal is to the power of memory and word. It is important to note that Lawrence’s and Barker’s characters are traumatized in different ways. On the one hand, as Cushman suggests about the England, My England collection, only the title story is enshrouded in an unquestionably serious and tragic aura. The other stories conjure up various kinds of satiric, parody-ridden moods. Barker would seem to be opening or re-opening, a path leading back to the theme of the Great War theme, by way of a return to the realism of psychological portrayal. On the other hand, through their working of three modes of discourse—psychoanalytic (Freud), poetic narrative (Lawrence) and “fictionalized psychoanalysis” (Barker), all three authors contribute to the diagnosis of what is the same disease: the affliction of severe trauma endured by people, severely traumatized because of the frustrations which society imposes on them in the service of its ideological illusions. W.H. Auden’s famous phrase is equally true about Lawrence and Barker: “As long as civilization remains as it is, the number of patients the psychologist can cure are very few […].”5

Works Cited

59Barker, Pat. The Eye in the Door. New York: Plume, 1995.

60Barker, Pat. The Ghost Road. New York: Plume, 1996.

61Barker, Pat. Regeneration. New York: Plume, 1993.

62Bell, Michael. “Introduction,” in Lawrence, D.H. England, My England and Other Stories. Bruce Steele, ed. London: Penguin Books, 1995, xiii–xxxiii.

63Bion, Wilfred R. The Long Week-End 1897–1919: Part of a Life. Francesca Bion, ed. Abingdon: Fleetwood Press, 1982.

64Bion, Wilfred R. A Memoir of the Future. London: Karnac Books, 1990.

65Brown, Dennis. “The Regeneration Trilogy. Total War, Masculinities, Anthropology, and the Talking Cure,” in Critical Perspectives on Pat Barker. Sh. Monteith, M. Jolly, N. Yousat, ed. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2005, 187–202.

66Cushman, Keith. “The Achievement of England, My England and Other Stories,” in D.H. Lawrence: The Man Who Lived. Robert B. Partlow, Jr. and Harry T. Moore, ed. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1980, 27-39.

67Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. Edited and translated by James Strachey. New York: W.W. Norton, 1961.

68Freud, Sigmund. “Thoughts for the Times on War and Death. The Disillusionment of the War.” Accessed 23 September 2014. .

69Heller, Erich. “Observations on Psychoanalysis and Modern Literature,” in Literature and Psychoanalysis. E. Kurzweil, W. Phillips, ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.

70Hoffman, Frederick J. Freudianism and the Literary Mind. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1957.

71Lawrence, D.H. “The Blind Man,” in England, My England and Other Stories. Bruce Steele, ed. London: Penguin Books, 1995, 46–63.

72Lawrence, D.H. “England, My England,” in England, My England and Other Stories. Bruce Steele, ed. London: Penguin Books, 1995, 5–33.

73Lawrence, D.H. Kangaroo. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1963.

74Lawrence, D.H. “Monkey Nuts,” in England, My England and Other Stories. Bruce Steele, ed. London: Penguin Books, 1995, 64–76.

75Lawrence, D.H. “Tickets, Please,” in England, My England and Other Stories. Bruce Steele, ed. London: Penguin Books, 1995, 34–45.

76Lawrence, D.H. “Wintry Peacock,” in England, My England and Other Stories. Bruce Steele, ed. London: Penguin Books, 1995, 77–91.

77Lawrence, D.H. “You Touched Me,” in England, My England and Other Stories. Bruce Steele, ed. London: Penguin Books, 1995, 92–107.

78Preston, Peter. “‘I am in a Novel’: Lawrence in Recent British Fiction,” in D.H. Lawrence: New Worlds. Keith Cushman and Earl G. Ingersoll, ed. Madison, NJ.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2003, 25–49.

79Szykierski, Dorit. “The Traumatic Roots of Containment: The Evolution of Bion’s Metapsychology.” The Psychoanalytic Quarterly. LXXIX, 4 (2010): 935–968.

80Thurschwell, Pamela. Sigmund Freud. London/New York: Routledge, 2006.

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1 Michael Ross, “Acts of Revision: Lawrence as Intertext in the Novels of Pat Barker,” D.H. Lawrence Review 26 1:3 (1995): 51–63; Carol Siegel, Lawrence Among the Women: Wavering boundaries in Women’s Literary Fiction. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991); Peter Preston, “‘I am in a Novel’: Lawrence in Recent British Fiction,” D.H. Lawrence: New Worlds. Ed. by Keith Cushman and Earl G. Ingersoll (Madison, NJ.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2003): 25–49.

2 This point of view is mine [M.R.]

3 “Thoughts for the Time on War and Death” and “Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego.”

4 “England, My England,” “Tickets, Please,” “The Blind Man,” “Monkey Nuts,” “Wintry Peacock,” “You Touched Me.”

5 George T. Wright. W.H. Auden. Revised edition (Boston: Twayne, 1981).

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Marina Ragachewskaya, « Traumatized by Civilization: Lawrence’s and Pat Barker’s. Great War Characters through the Freudian Lens », Études Lawrenciennes, 45 | 2014, 161-184.

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Marina Ragachewskaya, « Traumatized by Civilization: Lawrence’s and Pat Barker’s. Great War Characters through the Freudian Lens », Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 45 | 2014, mis en ligne le 28 février 2015, consulté le 08 décembre 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/lawrence.210

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Marina Ragachewskaya

Marina Ragachewskaya is an Associate Professor at the world literature department at Minsk State Linguistics University, Belarus. She has published widely on D.H. Lawrence and contemporary British writers (around 100 articles in English, Russian and Belarussian). Her recent books are Desire for Love: The Secret Longings of the Human Heart in D.H. Lawrence’s Works (Newcastle: CSP, 2012) and Psychoanalysis in Fiction: David Herbert Lawrence—in Russian (Psikhoanaliz v khudozhestvennoĭ proze: Dėvid Gerbert Lourens. Minsk:MSLU, 2013). Dr Ragachewskaya does research into the British novel of the 20th century and studies new forms of psychological representation. Recently she has completed her Post-PhD habilitation thesis. Her academic interests include fiction interpretation, psychoanalysis, modernism and postmodernism

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