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Lawrence and the Question of Gender in our Times

Sanatan Bhowal
p. 141-160

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  • 1 Quoted in Hilary Simpson’s “Lawrence, Feminism and the War,” 94.
  • 2 Judith Butler uses the phrase “heterosexual matrix” to “designate that grid of cultural intelligib (...)

1Lawrence’s radicalism about gender has not escaped the critical gaze of contemporary Lawrence criticism. His gradually changed view of women—from a positive view, as expressed in his letter to Edward Garnett “Women becoming individual, self-responsible, taking her own initiative”1 to a later disillusioned one—has been historicized by Hilary Simpson. However Fiona Becket, in the “Lawrence and the Feminists” section of her book titled The Complete Critical Guide to D.H. Lawrence, has rightly argued that Lawrence’s positive views about women do not express his support for the feminist politics of his time, as Hilary Simpson has interpreted it. This positive view on the part of Lawrence, and his later changed view on the question, are indicative of Lawrence’s “idiosyncratic approach to the relations between men and women” (Becket 144). This “idiosyncratic approach,” supposed to be characteristic of Lawrence, is charged with suggestions for a vital correspondence between Lawrence and the feminists of the early twenty-first century who question gender identity and who view gender as fluid, as opposed to a model of a given fixity, foundation of the domination of the “heterosexual matrix,” to use Judith Butler’s term.2

2Lawrence’s ambivalence about gender has also been pointed out by Mark Spilka. In his essay entitled “On Lawrence’s Hostility to Wilful Women: The Chatterley Solution,” Spilka argues that Lawrence’s accommodation of “tenderness” and “vulnerability” as aspects of Mellor’s “maleness” is an antidote to old ideas of aggressive masculine dominance elsewhere present in his writing (Becket 148). Spilka is right. This provisional and contingent approach to gender is significant. Even more so is the fact that it is in a later novel that such an uncertainty and tenuousness of gender is fictionally posited. This aspect of Lawrence’s conception of gender has also been pointed out by Janet Barron: “In Alison Light’s phrase, this is an attempt at “ungendering” and Lawrence did consistently try to develop the female point of view, however provocative the results at times” (Brown 19). This deliberate attempt to unsettle and disrupt the established notions of gender not only justifies our study, it is something which calls for a full-length study that is beyond the scope of the present article. We agree with Fiona Becket’s observation that “gender remains the key issue for Lawrence critics” (Becket 149). We shall therefore read and review Lawrence’s “idiosyncratic” and “ambiguous” attitude towards gender in the light of the gender theory of contemporary feminists like Judith Butler, Donna Haraway, Elizabeth Grosz, Gayle Robin, Marjorie Garber, Susan Bordo, Stevi Jackson and Sheila Benhabib. Our grouping of all these feminist theorists, without pointing to the specificity of their respective approaches to gender, does not mean that all of them subscribe to a common, shared viewpoint on the main issues in gender studies. We do not wish to suggest that Lawrence shares all their concerns but he would probably have agreed on most of the central issues raised by contemporary feminists. We have already pointed out that Lawrence critics have in recent times mostly concentrated on questions of gender. But they have restricted their discussions to Lawrence’s fiction. Here we here shall explore the relation, if any, between Lawrence’s attitude to gender as formulated in his non-fictional writings and that of contemporary feminists. We shall also examine the question of the extent to which Lawrence in his non-fictional writings anticipated and approximated the central ideas in contemporary gender theory.

3Gender, as defined by Peter Brooker in A Glossary of Cultural Theory, “is a term for the social, cultural and historical construction of sexual difference” (110). Feminists from the 1960s and the 1970s had stressed the distinction between biological “sex” and socially constructed “gender.” They had argued that gender operates as a set of hierarchically arranged roles in society for men and women. Men are associated with the spheres of labour, sport and physical combat and the public sphere in general whereas women are associated with the sphere of home where they are to play twin roles as mother and as the object of male desire. This set of hierarchically arranged roles of men and women are constituted by the “heterosexual matrix” which is at work within the patriarchal culture. The feminists of the seventies and later had challenged and rejected this way of mythologizing women’s “nature” and they had formulated their own theories of gender. Lawrence had died in 1930, long before the emergence of these new theories of gender. Yet from such a historical distance, Lawrence had shown his awareness of what the central issues of contemporary gender studies are.

4Lawrence’s concept of gender is less identifiable with that of Freud or Lacan than with the feminist object relations theory of Melanie Klein and Nancy Chordrow or with that of Butler and others who have emphasized the constructedness of gender. Lawrence’s concept of gender is something contingent, provisional and performative. The “fluidity” of gender in Lawrence’s schema opens up an immense scope of study. For Freud, the “polymorphously perverse” child of both sexes, with its unstructured libido, is one with the mother. The child enters the gendered space when it separates itself from its mother, with the result that its sexual desire is thus formed. In Freud’s view, the male child forms a strict and strong super-ego by repressing his desire for the mother. It is this super-ego which gives him greater access to culture. The girl however takes a different route. She first identifies herself with the mother and her drives are focused on the “clitoris,” the penis substitute. Subsequently she develops self-hate and resentment towards the mother when she discovers that she has no penis. She develops penis envy and replaces the erotic zone of the clitoris with the female vagina, thus shifting from sexual pleasure to reproduction. Women, for Freud, do not experience castration anxiety that develops the super-ego and they therefore have limited participation in culture.

5Freud’s biological determinism was to be challenged by the feminists and by Lawrence. Although Lawrence viewed man and woman in terms of their inescapable duality in matters of sex, his conception of gender defies Freudian determinism. For Freud, gender is constructed once and for all. For Lawrence, it is more a role than an inescapable “given.” Freud viewed gender as a fixed identity. Lawrence opposes this approach, constantly shifting his emphasis from one gender to another. He does not emphasize the separation of the child from its mother in order to become a gendered male/female in a patriarchal society. Rather he points to the leakiness of the watertight compartments of the male and the female. For Lawrence, a child is born sexed, it acquires maleness or femaleness after puberty and receives the standard of gender from the culture in which he/she lives. In this schema, gender is more performative than a fixed identity. Lawrence, in his critique of culture, is against all kinds of fixed norms, and the norms of gender are no exception. In Fantasia of the Unconscious. addressing the question of the standard body of man, he writes: “There is no such thing as an actual norm, a living norm. A norm is merely an abstraction, not a reality” (47). This contention is also applicable to Lawrence’s concept of gender, as his argument on the same page confirms:

Some men must be too spiritual, some must be too sensual. Some must be too sympathetic, some must be too proud. We have no desire to say what men ought to be. We only wish to say there are all kinds of ways of being, and there is no such thing as human perfection. (47, my italics)

6Lawrence’s ambiguity about maleness is pronounced here. Elsewhere, in “Cocksure Women and Hensure Men,” Lawrence deplores the fact that men, against the grain of their “nature,” have become “sympathetic,” leaving their “role” to be performed by women who have become “cocksure.” In the extract quoted above from Fantasia, Lawrence speaks about the possibility of men’s becoming “sympathetic” in the case of some individual males. But what is more important for us is the contention that “there are all kinds of ways of being.” This polymorphous concept of gender is the central proposition that is common to almost all the feminist theorists of gender.

7Nor does Lawrence share the Lacanian concept of gender. For Lacan, gender is a part of a linguistic network which precedes and structures the formation of the linguistic subject. He insists that the subject itself is formed through its subjection to sexual difference. The distinction between the sexes is significant in Lacanian theory. Lacan illustrated his concept of sex and gender by two drawings in his essay “The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious,” collected in Ecrits: A Selection. One is of the word “Tree” over a picture of a tree and the other is of two identical doors. Over each door there is a different word: one says “Ladies” and the other says “Gentlemen.” Lacan explains:

A train arrives at a station. A little boy and a little girl, brother and sister, are seated in a compartment face to face next to the window through which the buildings along the station platform can be seen passing as the train pulls to a stop. “Look,” says the brother, “We’re at Ladies!”; “Idiot” replies his sister, “Can’t you see we’re at Gentlemen.”
(Ecrits 167)

8These are the doors, with their gender distinctions, through which each child must pass in order to enter into the Symbolic realm. In Lacan’s view, each child can only see the signifier of the other gender; each child constructs its world view, its understanding of the relation between signifier and signified in naming locations, as the consequence of seeing an “other.” Sex and gender are therefore fixed identities. In Lacan’s version of Oedipus, both men and women are deprived of the Phallus. Both have lost the sense of plenitude experienced in the early symbiosis with the mother. The child enters the Symbolic order with its specific gender distinction. The Lacanian concept of gender lacks fluidity and therefore leaves almost no scope for any change or modification of gender. Sexual difference, which is synonymous with gender difference in Lacan, appears to constitute the very matrix which gives rise to the subject itself. For Lawrence, the formation of the subject is never complete and sexual difference does not influence subject formation in any significant way. In Lacan’s scheme of things, gender comes first, as it is associated with “culture” and the Symbolic order, whereas “nature” or the Real always remains elusive. Both men and women mistake the other for the Other. For Lawrence, the maternal plenitude is not lost for ever. Men and women have an access to it through the sympathetic centre of consciousness, the solar plexus.

9Lawrence’s concept of gender has greater affinity with the feminist “object relations theory” which emphasizes socialization and the internalization of norms. For theorists of “object relations” such as Klein and Chodrow, children consolidate their gender identity in the first two years of life, before the time the Freudian Oedipus complex sets in (Cranny-Francis 54). Maternal identification is the initial orientation for children of both sexes. The girls sustain the primary identification with the mother, while the boy repudiates it (Cranny-Francis 54). For these theorists:

[…] gender is a set of roles and cultural meanings acquired in the course of ego formation within family structures, and the significant changes in child-rearing practices and kinship organization can alter the meaning of gender and close the hierarchical gap between the genders of man and woman.
(Cranny-Francis 3–4)

10Lawrence is in agreement with these theorists regarding the identification of the sexed-but-not–gendered child’s identification with the mother and also about the cultural construction of sex as gender. But he also differs from them in his view that it is the child’s identification as much with the mother as with the father that helps ensure the balanced growth of the child. Unlike them, Lawrence did not envisage a social reconstruction of gender. Lawrence’s interest is in destabilizing the “heterosexual matrix” that dictates some fixed roles to men and women in the name of gender. He is thus not very far from the agenda of Klein and Chodrow.

11Lawrence’s concept of gender as fluid and provisional aligns him with Judith Butler, who argues that gender is a process of repeated performance of the acts of gendering. In this respect Lawrence displays a further correspondence with Elizabeth Grosz. Grosz suggests a Lawrencian fluidity in her notion of gender when she contends that “Women’s corporeality is inscribed as a mode of seepage” (1994: 203). Lawrence of course did not associate women’s fluid corporeality with gender. He did however posit that gender is nothing more than a “role” to be played by men and women—a notion that underlines the fluidity of gender. In Fantasia of the Unconscious, Lawrence says, “the man is male, the woman is female. Only they are playing one another’s parts, as they must in certain periods” (97). Freud’s later definition of the lesbian as the subject who is suffering from penis-envy (Price 115) shows an attitude to gender which is totally different from that of Lawrence. For Lawrence, it is as natural for a woman to desire a woman as it is for a man to desire a woman. For Freud, by contrast, it is a negative desire.

12The closest parallelism that Lawrence’s concept of gender has is with Butler’s theory of the performativity of gender. Butler’s theory is based on Foucault’s conception of the discursive construction of the body. Foucault makes it clear that sexuality in post-Enlightenment thought is the overloaded focus of the discursive strategies of power and knowledge. Women’s bodies, he asserts, are saturated with sex (Price 79). In her essay “Bodily Inscriptions, Performative Subversions,” Butler explains how the deployments of the body through reiterated acts and gestures of gendered sexuality are productive of discursive identity. For Butler, neither gender nor sex are inherent biological features. Heterosexuality is thus a term that constructs rather than simply classifies human sexuality and the gendering of individual subjects. She says that “gender is not a fact, the various acts of gender create the idea of gender and without these acts, there would be no gender at all” (Price 420). For Lawrence, gender is discursive, though not sex. In Fantasia of the Unconscious, Lawrence says, “A child is born with one sex only, and remains always single in his sex. There is no intermingling, only a great change of roles is possible. But man in the female role is still male” (102, my italics). Lawrence destabilizes his apparent biological determinism by speaking of the possibility of “a great change of roles,” of men and women as the bearers of two cosmic principles which he sees as the cause of creation. His concept of duality in man-woman relationship is to be understood as “morphological imaginary”: “Man and woman, each is a flow, a flowing of life” (“We Need One Another,” Phoenix 192). It is this notion that compels the feminist psychologist Luce Irigaray to dwell on “difference.” For the same reason, Lawrence has to keep the purity of sex (not gender) intact:

The great thing is to keep the sexes pure. And by pure we don’t mean an ideal, sterile innocence of similarity between boy and girl. We mean pure maleness in a man, pure femaleness in a woman […]. Women and men are dynamically different in everything.
(Fantasia 188)

13This notion of “purity” of sex is not however emphasized in the case of gender. Like Butler, Lawrence suggests that gender is not a fact but is inherently performative.

  • 3 Adrienne Rich’s term. See her “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence’,” in Adrienne Ric (...)

14For Butler, the performativity of “sex” and “gender” is not a singular or deliberate “act,” but is “the reiterative and citational practice by which discourse produces the effects that it names” (Price 236). In her view, sex is “an ideal construct which is forcibly materialized through time” (Price 236) and the construction of sex itself a “temporal process” which operates through the reiterations of norms (Price 239). Performativity, in Butler’s view, “conceals or dissimulates the conventions of which it is a repetition” (Price 241). This act-like status of gender performativity is anticipated by Lawrence. In his essay “We Need One Another” (Phoenix), Lawrence explains how through the reiterative act of various models women are forced to play their gender roles by “compulsory heterosexuality.”3

There are many popular dodges for killing every possibility of true contact: like sticking a woman on a pedestal, or the reverse, sticking her beneath notice; or making a “model” house-wife of her, or a “model” mother, or a model help-meet. All mere devices for avoiding any contact with her. A woman is not a model of anything. (191)

15The Deleuzian concept of woman that Lawrence formulates here conforms to Elizabeth Grosz’s emphasis on the corporeal fluidity of women which we have pointed out earlier. The compulsory heterosexual imperative has it that women are to conform to models, a conception to which Lawrence is opposed. Lawrence’s argument here shows his awareness of the “reiteration” and “citational practice” through which individuals are brought to act according to the discourse or model given to them. In the same essay, Lawrence elaborates on this act of role-playing and denounces the “fixity” that it imposes on women.

We only know a few crude forms—mistress, wife, mother, sweet-heart. The woman is like an idol, or a marionette, always forced to play one role or the other: sweet-heart, mistress, wife, mother. If only we could break up this fixity, and release the unsizable reality of real woman: the woman is a flow, a river of life, quite different from man’s river of life.
(“We Need One Another,” Phoenix 194)

16Lawrence here seeks to disrupt the fixity of gender, as Butler does, but not of sex. Sex, in Lawrence’s schema, is given, whereas in Butler’s schema it is constructed.

17Butler’s notion of performativity implies that there is no preexisting self who performs. Such a notion is a reflection of the fundamental lack of any foundational ground of truth. For Butler, performing the body fabricates identity in all sorts of ways, of which gender is one important component. She argues “That the gender is performative suggests that it has no ontological status” (Price 417). She also denies the existence of any “gendered core.” She elaborates on her concept of gender:

[…] acts and gestures, articulated and enacted desires create illusion of an interior or organizing gender core, an illusion discursively maintained for the purpose of the regulation of sexuality within the obligatory frame of reproductive heterosexuality.
(Price 417)

18Lawrence is opposed to the concept of fixed self or identity. He also distrusts “the interior and organizing gender core” (Price 417) as Butler does. This distrust is implied in his argument against the various roles assigned to women by the “heterosexual matrix.” Lawrence’s disbelief in any fixed identity is reiterated in his Apocalypse where he says, “We become, alas, what we think we are” (71). The idea of the constructedness of self is deeply related to Lawrence’s concept of the constructedness of gender. His concept of the unconscious as the ground of all our identity also focuses on the constructedness of identity. In his view, the unconscious is

[…] beyond all law of cause and effect in its totality, yet in its processes of self-realization it follows the laws of cause and effect. The processes of cause and effect are indeed part of the working out of this incomprehensible self-realization of the individual unconscious.
(Fantasia 216)

  • 4 Lacan’s proposition is, “The unconscious is constituted by the efforts of speech on the subject, i (...)

19The processes of “cause and effect” that partly work out the self-realization of the unconscious, thus bear out the famous Lacanian proposition that the unconscious is structured like a language.4 For Lawrence, the individual is a unit of the unconscious and, as such, this cause and effect process has a vital role in identity formation, including that of gender. This process of “cause and effect” is central to Foucault’s and Butler’s concept of “sex” and “gender” as constructs. As Butler says:

The category of “sex” is, from the start, normative; it is what Foucault has called a “regulatory ideal.” In this sense, then, sex not only functions as a norm, but as part of regulatory practice that produces the bodies it governs, that is whose regulatory force is made clear as a kind of productive power, the power to produce—demarcate, circulate, differentiate—the bodies it controls.
(Price 235)

20The unconscious of Lawrence may be seen as a site for the “regulatory ideal” where deployments may take place. The self-realization of the unconscious depends on the process of cause and effect, whereas the materialization of sex, in Butler’s view, depends on deployments. In both cases, that of the materialization of sex and of the self-realization of the unconscious, the process is never complete. For Lawrence, the unconscious is never fully accessible to consciousness, while for Butler, as she argues, “That this reiteration is necessary is a sign that materialization is never complete.” (Price 236)

21The sense of fluidity in Butler’s concept of identity, a fabricated identity lacking in “ontological status,” is similar to Lawrence’s. In “The Crown,” Lawrence posits his concept of fluid identity: “If I say I am, this is false and evil. I am not […] Our readymade individuality, our identity is no more than an accidental cohesion in the flux of time” (Phoenix II 384).

22Again, in his Foreword to Fantasia of the Unconscious, Lawrence writes, “Men live and see according to some gradually developing and gradually withering vision” (15–16). The influence of the pre-Socratic philosophy on Lawrence, especially of Heraclitus’ concept of flux, is well known and seems to be active here. In fact his philosophy of love and existence is built on it. This profound influence of Heraclitus points to and emphasizes the provisionality and contingency of human identity in Lawrence’s scheme of things. His destabilization of gender identity is thus an essential part of his philosophy. In “Cocksure Women and Hensure Men,” Lawrence’s focus is again on the confusion of gender roles. The natural (heterosexual) mode of gender is described by Lawrence in his own terms in Fantasia, “in what we call the natural mode, man has his positivity in the volitional centres, a woman in the sympathetic” (Fantasia 97). Lawrence focuses on the confusion of the “natural mode” and says that in “the vast human farmyard”:

[…] nowadays all the cocks are cackling and pretending to lay eggs, and all the hens are crowing and pretending to call the sun out of bed. […] Men are timid, tremulous, rather soft and submissive. […] The tragedy about cocksure women is that they are more cocky, in their assurance, than the cock himself.
(Selected Essays 33–34)

23Lawrence the critic of culture argues for the disruption of the fixed parameters of gender. Although he sometimes deplores the assumption of male roles by female, as in the lines quoted above, his emphasis on the reorientation of male-female roles is insistent in his criticism of culture. He denounces the emphasis on the male principle in Judeo-Christian culture. Like him, Luce Irigaray also addresses the task of exploring a positive model of femininity that may help “establish the condition necessary for the production of new kinds of discourse, new forms of knowledge and the new modes of practice” (Price 225).

24Contemporary feminists of gender study have focused on the “constructedness of gender” and have called into question the eternally unchanging, asocial and trans-historical nature of sex. Theorists like Donna Haraway have argued that the body of the late twentieth century and beyond is determined neither by biological givens nor by discursive regimes of power on a Foucauldian model, and have contended that it constitutes a field of conflicting and unstable flows that partake of the revolution in informatics (Price 11). Haraway contributes to a non-hierarchical and non-binary construction of gendered subjectivity. In the field of cyber feminism, the dispersal of the normative body is taken for granted, and the distinctions between human and machine, between male and female, actual and virtual, lose currency. This specified project of queering what counts as natural, and the more recent Queer theory, are deliberately transgressive and unsettling for the stability of gender norms.

25Lawrence cannot be said to share this deliberately transgressive aspect of gender theory. Yet Lawrence’s awareness of the possibility of going against the “nature” of sex through the intense upper excitement of the body—back to its polymorphous state—is very much an awareness of the cyborg: “Introduce any trick, any idea, any mental element you can into sex, but make it an affair of the upper consciousness, the mind and eyes and mouth and fingers” (Fantasia 123). The sense of fluidity in gender, emphasized in the radical and Queer Theory, is also implied in Lawrence. The primacy of fluidity over fixity is a Lawrencian priority. Lawrence the thinker and the critic of culture is committed to a certain inconclusiveness that gives priority to fluidity as against fixity. In Phoenix, Lawrence says: “There must be the rapid momentous association of things which meet and pass on the forever incalculable journey of creation: rapid, everything left in its own fluid relationship with the rest of things” (220, italics mine).

26Lawrence the critic of culture has also criticized the Judeo-Christian ethics which claimed that sex was meant for procreation. The sexual act, in Lawrence’s view, is not for the “depositing of the seed,” but for “leaping off into the unknown” (“Study of T.H.”Phoenix 441). In Fantasia of the Unconscious, Lawrence exalted pleasure over procreation: “after all our experience and all our poetry and novels, we know that the procreative purpose of sex is, to the individual man and woman, just a side show” (106). This primacy of pleasure over procreation is a strong point that Lawrence shares with the contemporary feminists: “It is no primary need of the begetting of children” (Study of T.H.” Phoenix 442).

27Lawrence also destabilizes the strict heterosexual parameters of gender role by advocating the coexistence of heterosexuality and homosexuality. Apart from the Birkin-Gerald relationship in Women in Love, Lawrence speaks in favour of a space for homosexuality within an heterosexual matrix in his non-fictional writings. Foucault has the same emphasis on homosexuality. In “Polemics, Politics and Problematizations: an Interview with Michel Foucault,” he says, “The problem is not to discover in oneself the truth of one’s sex, but rather, to use one’s sexuality henceforth to arrive at a multiplicity of relationships. And no doubt, that’s the real reason why homosexuality is not a form of desire but something desirable” (Ethics 135–136). In Phoenix, Lawrence reiterates:

Marriage and deathless friendship, both should be inviolable and sacred, two great creative passions, separate, apart, but complementary: the one pivotal, the other adventurous; the one marriage, the centre of human life; the other, the leap ahead.
(“Education of the People” 665)

28The “deathless friendship” spoken of here is undoubtedly between man and man, as Lawrence himself says a few lines back in the same essay, “Let there be again the old passion of deathless friendship between man and man” (“Education of the People” 665). This issue of bi-sexuality is taken up by Marjorie Garber, the contemporary feminist. In her book Vice-Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life (1995), she says that bisexuality is “a sexuality that undoes sexual orientation as a category, a sexuality that threatens and challenges the easy binaries of straight and gay, queer and ‘het,’ and even through its biological and physiological meanings the gender categories of male and female” (1995: 65).

29Bisexuals, who have sex with both the same sex and opposite sex partners, have found themselves excluded by both homosexual and heterosexual society. Long before the formulation of the theory of bisexuality, Lawrence had expressed his distrust for the heterosexual rigid parameters because of their inadequacy.

30Contemporary gender theorists have extended their study to the analysis of emotions and feelings in a historical perspective. Stevi Jackson, for example, stresses the need to analyze “love” as a culturally constructed emotion. She says, “Love is not a fixed, unchanging emotion, and […] its stifling meanings are the outcome of gendered struggles” (52). She shows how the notion of romance is implicated in maintaining a cultural definition of love that is detrimental to women (Cranny-Francies 231). Lawrence’s strong dislike of love as fixed emotion aligns him with Stevi Jackson:

The bond of love! What worst bondage can we conceive than the bond of love? It is an attempt to wall in the tide; it is a will to arrest the spring, never to let May dissolve into June, never to let the hawthorn petal fall for the berrying.
(“Love,” Phoenix 151–152)

31Lawrence’s view of love is free from all notions of fixity, such as “romance.” This is how he defines love: “The love between man and woman is the perfect heart-beat of life, systole, diastole” (“Love,” Phoenix 153). He is critical of the Christian doctrine of universal love, encapsulated in “Love thy neighbour as thyself,” points out that such insistence on the part of Judeo-Christian love is inherently faulty: “if you insist on loving humanity, then you insist that it shall be lovable: which half the time it is not […] If you insist that they shall be, this imposes a tyranny over them, and they become less lovable” (“Nobody Loves Me,” Phoenix 206). For Lawrence, Christianity’s concept of brotherly love is thus a culturally constructed emotion. He could have agreed with Jackson’s contention that the various notions of love have proved detrimental to women.

32Contemporary theory and practice of gender is extraordinarily diverse. Issues like transexuality, transvetism, bisexuality have added a new dimension to the feminists’ attempt at destabilizing the norms of gender. Queer Theory, through its objective of destroying the homo-hetero binary, has an essential point of affinity with Lawrence’s concept of gender. Annamarie Jagose notes, “queer marks a suspension of identity as something fixed, coherent and natural” (1996: 98). She quotes Rosemary Hennessy’s argument that the queer project is:

[…] an effort to speak from and to the differences and silences that have been suppressed by the homo-hetero binary, an effort to unpack the monolithic identities “lesbian” and “gay” including the intricate ways lesbian and gay sexualities are inflected by heterosexuality, race, gender and ethnicity.
(Cranny-Francis 76)

33Such a project is implied in Lawrence’s view of gender. Lawrence also shows a certain awareness of “transvestism,” the practice of dressing in the clothes of the opposite sex. Marjorie Garber notes in her Vested Interests: Cross Dressing and Cultural Anxiety, “Transvestism is a space of possibility, structuring and confounding culture.”

  • 5 I have mentioned Alison Light’s comment on the playful treatment of things relating to gender and (...)

34Lawrence explores this “space” of the possibility of confounding culture in the tale entitled “The Fox.” There Banford and Marsh are women living together as friends and enjoying wartime independence. The independence of Marsh’s “transvestism” is cut short by the intrusion of her lover into the scene and she is brought back from her role as an androgynous farmhand to that of a properly dressed woman in skirt and blouse. The gender ambiguities, alternating between male and female perspectives, including “transvestism,” reveal Lawrence’s adventurous, playful attitude towards gender. This exploration of the possible space where the fixed notions of gender can be confounded is an attempt at “ungendering,” to use Alison Light’s words.5 Yet Lawrence did not treat “transvestism” separately as a conscious project to confound gender binaries. His awareness of the disruptive power of transvestism can therefore only be partly identified with the contemporary cultural practice and theory.

35One last point to be stressed regarding Lawrence’s view of gender is that gender is constructed by culture. The duality of gender is destabilized in Lawrence’s schema but the duality of sex is kept inviolable and pure. Sexual difference, involved as it is in gender study, remains embedded and necessarily untranscended in Lawrence’s concept of gender. Recent feminists such as Luce Irigiray and Cixous clearly share this perception. For them, as for Lawrence, the destruction of sexual difference would amount to the undesirable destruction of desire.

Works Cited

36Barron, Janet. “Equality Puzzle: Lawrence and Feminism,” in Rethinking Lawrence. Keith Brown, ed. Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1990, 12–22.

37Becket, Fiona. The Complete Critical Guide to D.H. Lawrence. London/New York: Routledge, 2002.

38Brooker, Peter. A Glossary of Cultural Theory. 2nd ed. London: Arnold, 2002.

39Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1990.

40Butler, Judith. “Bodily Inscriptions, Performative Subversions,” in Feminist Theory and the Body: A Reader. Janet Price and Margrit Shildrick, eds. New York: Routledge, 1999, 416–422 (Reprinted from Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge, 1990).

41Butler, Judith. “Bodies that Matter,” in Feminist Theory and the Body: A Reader. Janet Price and Margrit Shildrick, eds. New York: Routledge, 1999, 236–245 (Reprinted from Bodies that Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993).

42Cranny-Francis, Anne et al. Gender Studies: Terms and Debates. New York: Palgrave, 2003.

43Foucault, Michael. Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth. (Vol. 1). London: Penguin Books, 2000.

44Garber, Marjorie. Vested Interests, Cross-dressing and Cultural Anxiety. London: Penguin, 1992.

45Garber, Marjorie. Vice-Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

46Grosz, Elizabeth. Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.

47Jackson, Stevi. “Women and Heterosexual Love: Complicity, Resistance and Change,” in Romance Revisited. Lynce Pearce and Jackie Stacey, eds. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1995, 49–62.

48Jagose, Annamarie. Queer Theory. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1996.

49Lacan, Jacques. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. London: Hogarth Press, 1977.

50Lawrence, D.H. Apocalypse and the Writings on Revelation. Mara Kalnins, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

51Lawrence, D.H. Fantasia of the Unconscious and Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious. First published in Penguin Books in Great Britain 1971. Reprinted 1983.

52Lawrence, D.H. Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D.H. Lawrence. E.D. McDonald, ed. New York: Viking Press, 1936.

53Lawrence, D.H. Phoenix II: Uncollected, Unpublished and Other Prose Works of D.H. Lawrence. W. Roberts and H.T. Moore, eds. London: Heinemann, 1968.

54Lawrence, D.H. Selected Essays. London: Penguin, 1950. Reprinted 1972.

55Light, Alison. “Feminism and the Literary Critic,” in Feminist Literary Theory. Mary Eagleton, ed. London: Wiley-Blackwell, 1986, 176.

56Millett, Kate. “D.H. Lawrence (Lady Chatterley’s Lover, The Plumed Serpent, “The Woman Who Rode Away”),” in D.H. Lawrence. Edited and introduction by Peter Widdowson. London/New York: Longman, 1992, 69–89. Reprinted from Millett, Kate. Sexual Politics. London: Rupert Hart-Davis, (1969) 1971.

57Price, Janet and Margrit, Shildrick, eds. Feminist Theory and the Body: A Reader. New York: Routledge, 1999.

58Spilka, Mark. “On Lawrence’s Hostility to Wilful Women: The Chatterley Solution,” in Lawrence and Women. A. Smith, ed. London: Vision, 1978.

59Simpson, Hilary. “Lawrence, Feminism and the War,” in D.H. Lawrence. Edited and introduction by Peter Widdowson. London/New York: Longman, 1992 (Reprinted from Simpson, Hilary. D.H. Lawrence and Feminism. London: Croom Helm, 1982).

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1 Quoted in Hilary Simpson’s “Lawrence, Feminism and the War,” 94.

2 Judith Butler uses the phrase “heterosexual matrix” to “designate that grid of cultural intelligibility through which bodies, genders and desires are naturalized (Butler, 1990: 151).

3 Adrienne Rich’s term. See her “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence’,” in Adrienne Rich’s Poetry and Prose. Eds. Barbara Charlesworth Gelpi and Albert Gelpi (New York: W.W. Norton, 1993): 203–223.

4 Lacan’s proposition is, “The unconscious is constituted by the efforts of speech on the subject, it is the dimension in which the subject is determined in the development of the effects of speech, consequently the unconscious is structured like a language” (1977: 147).

5 I have mentioned Alison Light’s comment on the playful treatment of things relating to gender and her calling it an act of “ungendering” earlier in this chapter.

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Bibliographical reference

Sanatan Bhowal, “Lawrence and the Question of Gender in our Times”Études Lawrenciennes, 45 | 2014, 141-160.

Electronic reference

Sanatan Bhowal, “Lawrence and the Question of Gender in our Times”Études Lawrenciennes [Online], 45 | 2014, Online since 28 February 2015, connection on 16 January 2021. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Sanatan Bhowal

Sanatan Bhowal, Associate professor in English in P. D. Women’s College, Jalpaiguri, WB, India, got his PhD award from North Bengal University in 2008 for his thesis on D.H. Lawrence’s non-fiction. In this thesis, under the title “D.H. Lawrence: the Critic of Culture,” he tries to trace the resonance of Lawrence’s ideas in contemporary theories, especially those of “gender,” “body,” “ethics and aesthetics.” His three articles published in The Atlantic Critical Review are “Lawrence and the Body” (vol. 5, no 2, April-June 2006), “Lawrence and the Question of Ethics and Aesthetics of Our Times” (vol. 7, no 2, April-June 2008), “D.H. Lawrence and Gilles Deleuze: A Close Correspondence” (vol. 7, no 4, October-December 2008).

By this author

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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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