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"A Prison for the Infinite": D. H. Lawrence and Bertrand Russell on the War

Luke Ferretter

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1In his recent book War Trauma and English Modernism, Carl Krockel argues that Lawrence suffered from "war trauma," throughout not only the war years but for almost the entire remainder of his life. He is right to say so. The war smashed Lawrence, as an artist and as a man, and I would disagree with Krockel's thesis only insofar as he sees the beginning of a healing process at work in the final draft of Lady Chatterley's Lover (153-4). Lawrence responded to the war in many ways at the time – the "philosophy" that we have in the forms of the Study of Thomas Hardy and "The Crown," and which went through subsequent, now lost, drafts; the nihilism of Women in Love; the serious interest in theosophy, which lasted for many years after the war; the plans for Rananim, The Signature; a passionate series of letters; and many others. In this paper, I will examine one of the major ways in which Lawrence responds to the war, his dialogue with Bertrand Russell. If one counts the fictional portrayals of the philosopher in Women in Love and "The Blind Man," this dialogue spans the length of the war, although their active relationship is confined to 1915. In this paper, I will discuss the relationship between the two authors, arguing that, from Lawrence's perspective, their brief agreement and extended disagreements were primarily over the question of religion.

2Lady Ottoline Morrell introduced Lawrence and Russell in February 1915, and the two men began a correspondence and series of visits that seemed initially to promise a productive relationship. In June, when Russell visited Lawrence in Greatham, they discussed giving a series of public lectures together in response to the war. During the visit, Lawrence writes to Lady Ottoline that he and Russell seem to be "rallying to a point." He criticises what he sees to be Russell's overly practical, material ethical and political ideas: "He will [...] be so temporal, so immediate. He won't let go, he won't act in the eternal things, when it comes to men and life" (L 2: 358). Lawrence wants Russell's thought to incorporate a more transcendental element, which he describes as "Knowledge of the Absolute," "Knowledge of Eternity." "I do want him to work in" these things, Lawrence writes. Indeed, he tells Lady Ottoline that he has begun to convince Russell to think in these terms: "Now he is changing. He is coming to have a real logical belief in Eternity, and upon this he can work: a belief in the absolute, an existence in the Infinite" (L 2: 358). A week earlier Russell had written to Lady Ottoline, concerning the draft of Lawrence's philosophy that he had seen, "I can't make head or tail of Lawrence's philosophy [...] It"s not sympathetic to me" (Letters 39). The morning after his visit to Greatham, though, he writes of the plan to lecture:

We talked of a plan of lecturing in the autumn on his religion, politics in the light of religion, and so on. I believe something might be made of it. I could make a splendid course on political ideas: morality, the State, property, marriage, war, taking them to their roots in human nature, and showing how each is a prison for the infinite in us. And leading on to the hope of a happier world. (Letters 40)

3The idea of the "prison for the infinite in us" is one that Russell had been concerned with in the years prior to his meeting with Lawrence. In "The Essence of Religion" (1912), distilled from his unfinished book Prisons, he had written that "the soul of man is [...] a battle-ground of two natures, the one finite, particular, self-centred, the other universal, infinite, and impartial" (Contemplation 112). The value of religion, he argues, is that it allows the infinite part of the soul momentarily to transcend the finite part, which "builds prison-walls round the infinite part of our nature, and endeavours to restrain it from that free life in the whole which constitutes its being" (113), so that the essence of religion is the experience of "the escape from prison that gives to some moments and some thoughts a quality of infinity, like light breaking through from some greater world beyond" (113). It was this kind of thinking that allowed Russell and Lawrence to believe in Greatham in the possibility of some kind of agreement or common purpose in their views of what was needed in response to the war. Lawrence's account of their discussion, however, makes clear the way in which they would thereafter disagree. He tells Lady Ottoline:

We think to have a lecture hall in London in the autumn, and give lectures: he on Ethics, I on Immortality: also to have meetings, to establish a little society or body around a religious belief which leads to action. We must centre in the knowledge of the Infinite, of God. Then from this Centre each one of us must work to put the temporal things of our own natures and of our own circumstances in accord with the Eternal God we know. (L 2: 359)

4The way in which Lawrence can write the word "God" in apposition to the phrase "the Infinite," connoting the one by the other, marks an irreducible point of departure from Russell's thought, who never allowed such a connotation. Even in works like "The Essence of Religion," in which he seeks to salvage what is valuable in religion, what can be so salvaged must be altogether divorced from any theological dogma. As he puts it, "It has become a matter of the first importance to preserve religion without any dependence upon dogmas to which an intellectually honest assent grows daily more difficult" (Contemplation 115), among which he includes the existence of God. Not even in this period in which he is most sympathetic to religion does Russell ever suggest that the infinite which he values is equivalent to God. The same is true a fortiori of Lawrence's phrase "the Eternal God." For all that, Lawrence believes that he has persuaded Russell to a "logical belief in Eternity," there could be no question of Russell identifying that logical category with the theological one of God.

5In July, Russell sent Lawrence the outline of his lectures, entitled "Philosophy of Social Reconstruction," which Lawrence sent back to him covered in critical notes and marginalia. The essence of this criticism he expresses the following day to Lady Ottoline: "As yet he stands too much on the shore of this existing world. He must get into a boat and preach from out of the waters of eternity, if he is going to do any good" (L 2: 362). In his outline, Russell argues that the problem, or "disease," in contemporary society is "disintegration," and that the remedy is "cooperation not authority." He traces the forms of authority at work in contemporary institutions, arguing that "all [are] based on Power, not on Liberty and Love" and that "all want fundamental reconstruction." He looks for "new political institutions" which will allow "freedom for [the] impulse of growth and creation" and "freedom to love" (LBR 79). Lawrence's margin note above the first section in Russell's outline, "Forms of Disintegration," already implies a criticism of the latter's solution to the problem he delineates there. Russell adduces the prevention of children, "living in towns, away from [the] earth," specialism in the professions, and freedom from housework and child-rearing for women as sources of the "living for sensation" that is the essence of the disintegration of contemporary society. Lawrence writes, however, "Cause of Disintegration: The belief that we cannot know any fulfilment save what is allowed by our Civilised System. So our impulse towards truth and unanimity is prevented" (LBR 80). Like his deletions of Russell's accounts of each "source" of the problem, for which Lawrence substitutes the word "example," this note implicates Russell's solutions to the problem of contemporary society in Lawrence's view of the problem itself. Russell writes, "What is wanted is a direct interest in other people," which Lawrence vigorously deletes and writes "no – no" in the margin (Russell, "Philosophy" 3; LBR 81). In Lawrence's view, Russell's solutions are still stated at the level of the problem, an inadequate belief in the truth or value of anything less tangible than material institutions. In a longer note to Russell's paragraph about interest in others, he writes, "What is wanted is a knowledge of the true conditions we all desire in our souls, putting aside the fetish of what is" (LBR 81).

6The first institution for whose reconstruction Russell argues is the State. He criticises the State as "absurd" and "evil," because of its "geographical" nature (82). "It involves an entirely artificial division of mankind and our duties towards them: towards one group we are bound by the law, towards the rest only by the prudence of highwaymen" (83). The State, like all the institutions he criticises, is "based on Power," and he argues that, in the political institutions of the future "the relationship of human beings should be based on mutual liberty, with Love" (91). Lawrence's response can be summed up in his insertion after Russell's point, about the difference between the modern and the medieval periods, that one "can"t worship the State." Lawrence writes, "What can I worship?" (82), and this is the point of all his criticism of Russell. In a long passage in pencil beneath Russell's typed section, he writes:

We proceed to create our State according to our religious belief, our philosophical conception of life. The King represents God. The Ministers subject to the King are the Archangels subject to God.

The metaphysical belief is no longer held. Therefore our State is a falsity.

The State must represent the deepest philosophical or religious belief. (Russell, "Philosophy" 6; LBR 83-4)

7This is the basis of Lawrence's political beliefs in his dialogue with Russell, that societies are the expression of a fundamental philosophical, ultimately religious idea. For the purpose of this paper, I will use Russell's own definition of the word "religion" in the lecture outline: "By ‘religion’ I mean devotion to an end outside the individual life, and even, in some sense, outside human life – like God or truth or art" (LBR 85). Lawrence does not mark any disagreement with this definition. There is no society which is not the expression of a fundamental idea which in this sense is religious, Lawrence argues, and so the question for him is only on which religious idea will the society of the future be based. Contemporary society, he writes in Russell's section on the Churches, "all rests on the Christian metaphysic, which each man severally rejects, but to which we all subscribe as a State or Society" (85). What he wants Russell to articulate is the new metaphysic on which the better society for which they are looking will be based: "You must advance on the New State, where none of our sense of Truth is violated" (83). Lawrence makes this point over and over again in his notes on Russell's typescript. In the section on the Churches, he writes, "There is no living society possible but one which is held together by a great religious idea. We only need not be subjectively religious. But one and all we must act from a profound religious belief" (85). In the section in which Russell summarises his critique of contemporary institutions, he writes, "All these institutions are based on Power, Power of the King, of the husband, of the feudal baron, of God." Lawrence deletes the word "Power," and all the remainder of Russell's sentence, replacing it with the phrase "an obsolete metaphysic," so that he turns Russell's claim into, "All these institutions are based on an obsolete metaphysic" (91).

8One of the few passages Lawrence likes in Russell's typescript is his section on "Subjectivism," "the hardening and separation of the individual" which he believes to be the essence of the problems of contemporary society, including the cause of the war. Lawrence writes emphatically beneath this section, "I think this is best" (Russell, "Philosophy" 16; LBR 92). This is no doubt because in this section Russell broaches the kind of criticism of the world-view that underlies social formations for which Lawrence is looking. His only notes on the section are the underlining of the following text, and the margin note, written large and underlined itself, "Do develop this!" (Russell, "Philosophy" 16; LBR 92):

In the Roman Empire, fully developed in Stoicism, [subjectivism] made my virtue the end of life. Mediaeval Empire and Church swept away the individual. Luther began to revive him. In philosophy German idealism and English sensationalism did the same. (Russell, "Philosophy" 16, Lawrence's emphasis)

9This is one of only two places where Lawrence praises Russell's text, and the only place in which he encourages him to develop the ideas he expresses. It is the philosophical, which for Lawrence will ultimately be the religious, basis of social formations which he wants both to understand and to change in his response to Russell's response to the war. Above Russell's section on "Industrialism," he writes, "The key to this is the falsity of having for an aim the production of wealth. Our aim should be the establishment of Truth" (LBR 93). Russell argues for practical solutions to the spiritual evils of industrialism – "education, shorter hours, everybody have a garden," and above all his syndicalist vision of democracy within industries as well as within the political system (94). For Lawrence, though, it is a question of the ultimate concern on which industrialism is based, and of changing the system of production to one based on a different, and true, ultimate concern.

10Although Russell was upset by Lawrence's criticism (Letters 43, 44, 45), he was dismissive of its content. He sums it up to Lady Ottoline by saying that his lecture outline "is not mystical and Blake-ish enough for him" (Letters 43). His criticism of Lawrence's response to him is ultimately that the latter's views are fantasies:

He says one ought to live from the "impulse towards the truth" which he says is fundamental in all of us. It seems to me, in him, merely an impulse to mistake his imaginations for the truth [...] I find those who have a strong imagination generally read their own natures into other people, instead of getting at other people by impartial observation. (43)

11Two or three days after Lawrence had sent Russell back his lecture outline, the two met in London, after which Russell wrote to Lady Ottoline, "Lawrence is very like Shelley – just as fine, but with a similar impatience of fact" (45). In his Autobiography, Russell repeats this view, speaking of the "dream-like quality of all [Lawrence's] thinking," in which "he never let himself bump into reality" (ii, 12). Nevertheless, a reading of the differences between the lecture outline that Russell sent Lawrence and the final text of the lectures themselves, delivered from January to March 1916, suggests that Russell developed some of his ideas in response to Lawrence's criticism. In his autobiography, Russell recalls that when he first met Lawrence, "I thought that perhaps his insight into human nature was deeper than mine" (ii, 11). Although he came eventually to believe that Lawrence was a "positive force for evil," by the time Lawrence had criticised his lectures on social reconstruction, Russell still thought "perhaps that he could give me a vivifying dose of unreason." He concludes:

I did in fact acquire a certain stimulus from him, and I think the book that I wrote in spite of his blasts of denunciation was better than it would have been if I had not known him. (ii, 11)

12Michael Bentley argues, "The final product [...] has a clear Lawrencian imprint" (72). He sees this in the book's first principle, that institutions should maximise "the joy of life, the quick affection, the creative insight, by which the world may grow young and beautiful and filled with vigour" (141). Ray Monk sees the emphasis on the human instinct to fight in the essays in Justice in War-Time (1916) also to derive from Russell's discussions with Lawrence (226-7). I would suggest that the main way in which Russell has developed his ideas in Principles of Social Reconstruction in response to Lawrence's criticism is that, in the final text of the lectures, he frequently uses terms like "religion," "worship" and "gods" to describe the beliefs on which contemporary institutions and practices are based, a language absent from his lecture outline. In the lecture on "Property," he writes:

In the modern world generally, it is the decay of life which has promoted the religion of material goods, and the religion of material goods, in its turn, has hastened the decay of life on which it thrives. (Principles 78)

13Indeed, he explicitly distinguishes between love of money, which "has been denounced by moralists since the world began," and "the worship of money," which he defines as "the belief that all values may be measured in terms of money, and that money is the ultimate test of success in life" (79, italics in original). Russell had used the language of worship in "The Free Man's Worship" (1903), writing, "In this lies Man's true freedom: in determination to worship only the God created by our own love of the good" (Contemplation 68). In Principles, however, he sees social practices and institutions as products of beliefs which are comparable to more traditionally recognisable religious beliefs, in precisely the way that Lawrence had been urging him to do in the notes to his lecture outline.

14The worship of money drove the English industrial revolution and British Empire, Russell argues, and the war has been caused by Germany's relatively recent choice to imitate us in it. He writes:

Germany's religion is of great importance to the world, since Germans have a power of real belief, and have the energy to acquire the virtues and vices which their creed demands. For the sake of the world, we must hope that they will soon abandon the worship of wealth which they have unfortunately learnt from us. (82)

15Russell goes even further in this direction in analysing patriotism as a contemporary religion, which he derives specifically from the earlier Christian religion which had underlain Western social formations. He writes:

We have learned gradually to free our God from the savagery with which the primitive Israelites and the Fathers endowed Him: few of us now believe that it is His pleasure to torture most of us in an eternity of hell-fire. But we have not yet learnt to free our national ideals from the ancient taint. Devotion to the nation is perhaps the deepest and most widespread religion of the present age. (77)

16As Lawrence would throughout his work, Russell here explicitly derives the patriotism that has led to and encouraged the war from the earlier Christianity in which English society used to believe. In particular, he analyses contemporary society in precisely the terms that Lawrence asked him to in his notes on the outline for these lectures, namely to understand its practices in terms of the world view, which is ultimately a kind of religion, which underlies and governs these practices. Russell goes so far as to say, with respect to contemporary patriotism, "If the world is to be saved [...], men must first face the terrible realization that the gods before whom they have bowed down were false gods" (77). This is precisely the way in which Lawrence believes that contemporary society should be understood. For Lawrence, of course, the point of such criticism is to rebuild society on the basis of belief in the true God, faith in anything like which Russell cannot and will not accept. Nevertheless, Russell's statement of the problem in contemporary society, and indeed of the cause of the war, becomes, by the time he completes his lectures on social reconstruction, the kind of analysis of false gods which, for Lawrence, is the first step towards a solution in a true one.

17When Lawrence and Russell met in London in early July 1915, Russell lent Lawrence John Burnet's Early Greek Philosophy. The following week Lawrence writes, "I have been wrong, much too Christian, in my philosophy. These early Greeks have clarified my soul. I must drop all about God" (L 2: 364). He asserts, "I am rid of all my christian religiosity" (365), and a few days later he tells Lady Ottoline, "I shall write all my philosophy again. Last time I came out of the Christian Camp. This time I must come out of these early Greek philosophers" (L 2: 367). The influence of Burnet's book on "The Crown" has been well documented (Kalnins; Montgomery 132-67; Schneider 101-4). I would add to this discussion that Lawrence was impressed by the series of Heraclitus' aristocratic fragments (110-18), two of which he copies out in his letter to Russell, and by Heraclitus' condemnation of popular religion, a fragment (129) on which he also copies out. He tells Russell:

18There must be an aristocracy of people who have wisdom, and there must be a Ruler: a Kaiser: no Presidents and democracies. I shall write out Herakleitos, on tablets of bronze.

"And it is law, too, to obey the counsel of one."

"For what thought or wisdom have they? They follow the poets and take the crowd as their teacher, knowing not that there are many bad and few good[...]"

"They vainly purify themselves by defiling themselves with blood." (L 2: 364-5)

19Wisdom is a term Heraclitus associates closely with the divine. Fragment 65 reads, "The wise is one only. It is willing and unwilling to be called by the name of Zeus"; fragment 96, "The way of man has no wisdom, but that of God has" (Burnet 151, 154). Burnet comments, "With certain reservations, Herakleitos was prepared to call the one Wisdom by the name of Zeus [...] It is not, of course, to be pictured in the form of a man [...] This ‘god,’ if it is to be called so, is one [...] The one Wisdom ought to be worshipped in its integrity" (189). When Lawrence tells Russell, "You must drop all your democracy [...] It must be a case of Wisdom, or Truth" (L 2: 364), it is Heraclitus' theology, to the extent that such a concept is admissible, on which he is looking to base his aristocratic politics, as he has found suggested in Burnet that Heraclitus himself does. Commenting on fragments of the kind that Lawrence copies out to Russell, Burnet writes, "Heraclitus looks down [...] on the mass of men [...]. He believed himself to have attained insight into some truth not hitherto recognised, though it was, as it were, staring men in the face" (157-8). Russell himself associated Lawrence's aristocratic politics with his reading of Heraclitus, saying in 1937 that "Lawrence is one of a long line of people, beginning with Heraclitus and ending with Hitler, whose ruling motive is hatred derived from megalomania" (Letters 344).

20Burnet repeatedly emphasises the non-theological nature of pre-Socratic thought. He writes, "The philosophers [...] departed altogether from the received usage of the word θεός [god, "primarily an object of worship"]. Empedokles called the Sphere and the Elements gods, though it is not to be supposed that he regarded them as objects of worship, and in the same way [...] Diogenes of Apollonia spoke of Air as a god [...]. It was just this way of speaking that got philosophers the name of being ἄθεοι [godless]." For Xenophanes, "the god or gods he spoke of meant just the world or worlds" (74-5). It is in the light of such passages that Lawrence tells Russell, "I have been wrong, much too Christian, in my philosophy [...]. I must drop all about God" (L 2: 364). The most striking thing about this statement, however, is the extent to which Lawrence does not in fact do what he says he will, "drop all about God" and get "rid of all [his] christian religiosity." In the very letter in which he makes these statements, for example, he is also able to say, "I am sure that, unless the new spirit comes, we shall be irrecoverably beaten" in the war and, "It is no longer a case for satire or gibe or criticism. It is for a new truth, a further belief" (L 2: 365). The concept of the "new spirit," which governs all Lawrence's thinking, before and after reading the pre-Socratics, on how to respond to the war, is a profoundly non-pre-Socratic one. Burnet writes, "There is no room for an immortal soul in any philosophy of this period" (91). Lawrence's apposition of "truth" with "belief" here is similarly non-pre-Socratic, suggesting as it does that the truth, as if divine, were an object of faith rather than of the kind of empirical investigation which Burnet argues characterises pre-Socratic thought.

21Throughout August 1915, Lawrence continues to express his beliefs in the "spirit" (L 2: 379), the "living spirit," "the spirit of truth," and the "faith" which moves mountains (381), as the way in which he and others must respond to the war. By September, he has returned to the heterodox Biblical language of The Rainbow, telling Ottoline Morrell, "There must be a new heaven and a new earth" (390) and telling Cynthia Asquith, with respect to The Signature, "The light is beginning to shine for a new creation" (397) and that the periodical will constitute "the beginning of a new religious era" (399). In October, again in a thoroughly non-pre-Socratic manner, he writes, "One must [...] work only from the invisible world. The visible world is not true. The invisible world is true and real" (405). In a letter to Eleanor Farjeon, he resumes the kind of heterodox meditation on Christian theology which had characterised the Study of Thomas Hardy and the "Foreword" to Sons and Lovers (407-8). At the end of October, he tells Lady Cynthia, "The fact of resurrection, in this life, is all to me now [...]. If we could bring our souls through, to life" (420). The following month he tells her, "There must be a resurrection – resurrection: a resurrection with sound hands and feet and a whole body and a new soul: above all a new soul, a resurrection[...]. There must be a new heaven and a new earth, and a new heart and soul: all new: a pure resurrection" (454-5). Lawrence has by no means got "rid of all [his] christian religiosity," as he tells Russell that he has after reading Burnet, nor does he "drop all about God" as he tells Russell he will. From the very letter in which he makes these claims onwards, he continues to think about the war in his letters in the ultimately religious, often heterodox Christian, terms in which he had been thinking before his encounter with pre-Socratic philosophy.

22Even in his letters to Russell which, after reading Burnet, focus primarily on the theory of the State, what Lawrence calls his Christian religiosity is not entirely absent. In the striking letter of 16 July 1915, for example, in which he underlines the word "must," in the phrase "you must work out the idea of a new state," fifteen times, he criticises Russell both for being inadequately critical of contemporary democracy and for focusing too completely on criticism of the contemporary State. He posits the kind of natural aristocracy he wants to see in place of contemporary democratic institutions and concludes, "The highest aim of the government is the highest good of the soul of the individual, the fulfilment in the Infinite, in the Absolute" (L 2: 366). In the original letter, the fifteen underlinings in "You must work out the idea of a new state, not go on criticising the old one" dominate the page, as the next three lines are reduced to half lines. The final phrase, quoted above, on the highest aim of the government, is squeezed in small handwriting into the space at the bottom of the page which is not sufficient for handwriting of the size Lawrence uses in the rest of the letter. The words "of the individual" in the phrase "the soul of the individual" are an afterthought, added above the text after the sentence was finished without them (Letter to Bertrand Russell). Nevertheless, what Lawrence calls his "christian religiosity" is not only not absent from his criticism of Russell's lecture on the State but, even though it emerges only at the end of the letter, remains the basis of that criticism.

23Lawrence became increasingly angry with Russell in the late summer and early autumn of 1915. He tells Lady Ottoline on July 29, "Bertie's letter chagrined me. Are we never going to unite in one idea and one purpose?" (L 2: 372). By August 16, he is angry to the point of misanthropy, writing to Lady Cynthia: "Russell and I were to do something together. He was to give a real course on political reconstruction ideas. But it is no good. He sent me a synopsis of the lectures, and I can only think them pernicious" (378). He goes on:

Bertie Russell talks about democratic control and the educating of the artizan, and all this, all this goodness is just a warm and cosy cloak for a bad spirit. They all want the same thing: a continuing in this state of disintegration wherein each separate little ego is an independent little principality by itself. (378)

24He continues the theological vein of his criticism of Russell's arguments in this ad hominem criticism, arguing that what Russell wants is to maintain the autonomy of his ego, without any kind of submission or merging with the souls either of others or of God, as Lawrence was looking for in his proposed wartime community of Rananim:

Russell [...] wants to keep his own little established ego, his finite and ready-defined self intact, free from contact and connection [...] That's what they all want, ultimately [...] they want an outward system of nullity, which they call peace and goodwill, so that in their own souls they can be independent little gods, referred nowhere and to nothing: little mortal Absolutes, secure from question. (378)

25Whether in the "sort of communism" he first envisaged for his community of Rananim (L 2: 259) or in the aristocratic politics he begins to articulate after reading Burnet, Lawrence is looking for a kind of submission of the ego, either to the idea on which the community of Rananim is based or to the natural leaders, the "Lords of the Spirit" as he describes them to Lady Cynthia, of a new, spiritual aristocracy, who will teach this idea (380). He takes Russell's consistently practical proposals for reform of current democratic institutions as a refusal to be part of the right kind of society in this way, and therefore as an insistence on remaining part of the problem of contemporary society rather than contributing to its solution. It is in this sense that he calls Russell and Lady Ottoline "traitors," who "betray the real truth" (380).

26This is the context in which he responds to Russell's essay "The Danger to Civilisation," which the latter sends him as a contribution to The Signature. Russell's essay, which he later published in Justice in War-Time, is unrecognisable from the accusations Lawrence levelled at him in response to it. Russell himself says that in it "I objected to war because of the suffering that it causes" (Autobiography ii, 14), which is an adequate summary. As the title indicates, Russell examines a series of ways in which the war is causing the ways in which Western Europe has led human civilization to cease to exist. The nature of the fighting, wartime propaganda and the length of the war have generated a habit of hatred in the surviving soldiers, which, given that there will not be room in the labour market for them when they all return, will have a "disastrous and profound" effect upon national life (Justice 113), exacerbated by the fact the government has acquired in its turn autocratic and repressive habits during the prosecution of the war. If the war ends, as seems likely to be the case, only as a result of exhaustion, "any revival of energy may lead to its renewal" (115). The deadening effects of the fighting and the death in it of the majority of able young teachers mean that "the mental calibre of the next generation is almost certain to be considerably lower than that of generations educated before the war" (115-16), and Russell criticises the danger to the economy, art and science of the continuation of war. He concludes, "If the war does not come to an end soon, it is to be feared that we are the end of a great epoch, and that the future of Europe will not be on a level with its past" (120-1). He asks, "Is there any conceivable gain from the continuation of the war to be set against this loss?" and answers in the negative (121).

27The essay is sane, rational and expresses a well-founded and often prescient series of moral and social concerns. It is only in the context of the developing relationship between the two men and their ideas that Lawrence's apparently unjustifiable response to it can be explained. He tells Russell:

Your basic desire is the maximum of war, you are really the super-war-spirit [...] It isn't in the least true that you, in your basic self, want ultimate peace. You are satisfying in an indirect, false way your lust to jab and strike [...]. You are simply full of repressed desires, which have become savage and anti-social [...]. It is not the hatred of falsehood which inspires you. It is the hatred of people, of flesh and blood. It is a perverted, mental blood-lust. (L 2: 392)

28Ray Monk argues that this response can in part be understood in light of the fact that, in the essay, "Russell seems to argue precisely for the repression [of bodily life in favour of mental life] that Lawrence takes to be the cause of the trouble" (236), but this is an overly charitable explanation. No hermeneutic of suspicion can justify Lawrence's response. The conclusions he draws cannot be read out of Russell's essay. Perhaps the most revealing fact about the context in which Lawrence was able to make them is Russell's later account of the "devastating effect" they had upon him: "I was inclined to believe that he had some insight denied to me, and when he said that my pacifism was rooted in blood-lust I supposed he must be right. For twenty-four hours I thought that I was not fit to live and contemplated suicide" (Autobiography ii, 14). In the six pages of his autobiography in which he recounts his relationship with Lawrence, Russell mentions three times that he felt that Lawrence was possessed of a kind of insight into human nature deeper than his own logical mind would allow. This seems to indicate that there was an aspect of their relationship in which Russell encouraged Lawrence to articulate "a vivifying dose of unreason," "an insight into human nature [...] deeper than mine" (15, 11), which may account for the freedom with which Lawrence employs so strong a hermeneutic of suspicion in finally breaking with Russell's ideas. Ultimately, however, the meaning of Lawrence's response must be understood in terms of his increasingly angry expressions of disagreement with Russell in the weeks leading up to this break. Russell's practical proposals to reform democratic institutions were, for Lawrence, an ultimately unforgivable refusal in Russell to move beyond democracy, and the Christian world-view which underlies it, which brought about the war in the first place. In Kangaroo, Richard Somers, reflecting back on the war, thinks:

When the idea is really dead, and still man persists in following it, then he is the unwilling man whom the Fates destroy, like Kaiser Wilhelm or President Wilson, or, today, the world at large (K 263).

29The war was fought, Somers reflects, for the ultimately Christian "idea, or ideal of Love, Self-Sacrifice, Humanity united in love, in brotherhood, in peace" (291), and this idea is "dead," in the sense that it no longer expresses most people's thoughts or emotions or instincts. Lawrence sees Russell to be a man like Kaiser Wilhelm or President Wilson, a man who persists in arguing for dead ideals, in Russell's case as in President Wilson's the ultimately Christian ideals on which contemporary democratic institutions are based. His thought, therefore, can only continue to harm, rather than to help, as he claims, a society which those very ideals have lead to war.

30Lawrence's next word in his dialogue with Russell is his portrayal of Sir Joshua Malleson in Women in Love. Sir Joshua is an integral part of the dead and destructive thinking, conversation and relationships that characterise the Breadalby circle in the novel. He is "learned" and "dry," and he is the only member of the circle who seems to enjoy the party's kind of conversation, which has a "sententiousness that was only emphasised by the continual crackling of a witticism [...] designed to give a tone of flippancy to a stream of conversation that was all critical and general" (84). In Lawrence's fine metaphor, it is "a canal of a conversation rather than a stream," artificial and constrained rather than living. The attitude is "mental and rather wearying," and "only the elderly sociologist, whose mental fibre was so tough as to be insentient, seemed to be thoroughly happy" (84). The character based on Russell is a sociologist, which may indicate that it is his theory of society in particular whose nature Lawrence wishes to portray in fictional form. When the conversation becomes "political or sociological," it is, to Ursula, "interesting, curiously anarchistic," but above all "destructive" and "cruelly exhausting," the product of a "powerful, consuming, destructive mentality" (90).

31Birkin's first criticism of Sir Joshua is an explicit version of Lawrence's criticism of Russell, that Russell is interested only in attempting to reform existing institutions. Sir Joshua, as seen through Birkin's consciousness, always has "a strong mentality working," is "always interesting," but everything he says is "always known," "everything he said known beforehand, however novel it was, and clever" (98). The conversation, indeed, is as familiar as a game of chess, with the same figures, "the same now as they were hundreds of years ago," "moving round in one of the innumerable permutations that make up the game" (99). To Birkin, the continuation of this game is "like a madness, it is so exhausted." This is the first of Lawrence's critiques of Russell in Women in Love, that he will not think in the new terms necessary to respond to the war, but rather continues to think within precisely the terms, ultimately Christian and democratic, that allowed the war in the first place.

32The discussion at Breadalby eventually turns to the subject on which Lawrence had pressed Russell throughout their dialogue in 1915, "a new state, a new world of man" (102). Sir Joshua's argument is that "the great social idea [...] [is] the social equality of man." The editors of the Cambridge edition of Women in Love cite Principles of Social Reconstruction, Chapter II, on the State, and comment, "Russell's own point of view was not that of Malleson" (543). It is true that the impulse towards natural growth on which Russell bases his politics in Principles of Social Reconstruction is absent from Sir Joshua's thought, but this sentence is surely intended by Lawrence to encapsulate what he sees to be Russell's democratic thought. In Chapter I of Principles of Social Reconstruction, Russell writes, "What is necessary, if an organic society is to grow up, is that our institutions should be so fundamentally changed as to embody that new respect for the individual and his rights which modern feeling demands" (22). It is a view like this one that Lawrence intends to embody, however simply, in Sir Joshua's statement.

33The most significant aspect of the political discussion at Breadalby is that Birkin harangues Hermione on the theory of the State in precisely the terms in which Lawrence had criticised Russell. Hermione expresses a belief in a kind of spiritual democracy: "If [...] we could only realise, that in the spirit we are all one, all equal in the spirit, all brothers there [...], there would be no more of this carping and envy and struggle for power, which destroys, only destroys" (103). Her final point recalls Russell's claim, in Principles of Social Reconstruction, that "the principal source of the harm done by the State is the fact that power is its chief end" (45). In response, Birkin articulates precisely the criticism of this view that Lawrence had been addressing to Russell, with increasing force, throughout their dialogue:

We're all the same in point of number. But spiritually, there is pure difference and neither equality nor inequality counts. It is upon these two bits of knowledge that you must found a state. Your democracy is an absolute lie – your brotherhood of man is a pure falsity, if you apply it further than the mathematical abstraction. (103)

34Hermione's response to this criticism is the emotion of which Lawrence accused Russell in rejecting "The Danger to Civilisation," namely "repressed desires which have become savage and anti-social" (L 2: 392). From Hermione, Birkin feels "dynamic hatred and loathing, coming strong and black out of the unconsciousness" (WL 104). Her next response, that evening, is to attempt to murder Birkin with a ball of lapis lazuli. Although several hours pass between Birkin's criticism of Hermione's politics and her attempt to kill him, they are narrated in just three-and-a-half lines, which essentially amplify the word "later" (104), emphasising for the reader that the latter event is a direct response to the former. In that paragraph, Birkin reflects that he has been "violent" to Hermione (WL 104), precisely the same word that Lawrence uses to describe his own attack on "The Danger to Civilisation" – "today I wrote very violently to Russell" (L 2: 393). Birkin even feels "a little compunction" (WL 104), just as Lawrence writes, "I am very sorry" about his harangue of Russell at the same time as asserting that he is "glad," "because it had to be said sometime" (L 2: 393).

35Hermione's response, in the end, to Birkin's Lawrencian critique of her democratic ideas is to try to murder him. It is going to be "her voluptuous consummation," and we hear how, "with unutterable satisfaction, she brought down the ball of jewel stone with all her force, crash on his head" (105). I take this episode to indicate, with respect to his relationship to Russell, that Lawrence remains committed to the view he expressed in his letter of 14 September 1915, breaking with the latter. However outspoken that letter may have been, Lawrence meant it at the time and continued to mean it throughout the years in which he drafted and re-drafted Women in Love. His view that Russell's reformist democratic ideas are based on a repressed violence, a hatred of any other person, or even God, who makes a claim on the autonomy of the individual's ego, is not to be explained away by the mental anguish of the autumn of 1915. The following year he says it again, in portraying Hermione responding with unconscious hatred which results in murderous violence to precisely the critique of democracy which Lawrence had levelled at Russell. Birkin ends Women in Love in the "consoling" belief in "the eternal creative mystery," in the religion of the non-human he has been articulating throughout the novel: "to have one's pulse beating direct from the mystery, this was perfection, unutterable satisfaction" (479). Lawrence's response to Russell continues to revolve around which religious beliefs an individual, and a fortiori the community, should orient their lives around. In Lawrence's view, Russell's beliefs are old, dead and ultimately Christian. What is needed, he believes, for English society to end the war and live better is nothing more nor less than a new religion.

36Lawrence's final word in his dialogue with Russell is the story "The Blind Man," written in November 1918. The character in this story based on Russell, Bertie Reid, is portrayed as a man unable to live from the sensual sources of life. Bertie's "mind was much quicker than his emotions, which were not so fine" (EME 48). Maurice Pervin, the blind veteran of the story's title, is able both to live authentically with his wife and to form, in his mind at least, an authentic relationship with another man. Bertie, however, is unable to form such relationships, remaining in the grip of "his incurable weakness, which made him unable to enter into close contact of any sort" (58). In the powerful climax of the story, the blind man touches Bertie's face and body with his hands, feeling that he comes thereby into passionate relationship with the other man: "'Oh, my God,” he said, “we shall know each other now, shan't we? We shall know each other now.'" (62). Bertie, however, although he allows the touch "out of very philanthropy," is "almost annihilated," he "quivered with revulsion," at Maurice's "hot, poignant love" (61, 62) and at the end of the story, "he had one desire – to escape from this intimacy, this friendship, which had been thrust upon him [...] He was like a mollusc whose shell is broken" (63). The simile here picks up Lawrence's imagery from his first letter to Russell, of 12 February 1915, in which he writes:

There comes a point when the shell, the form of life, is a prison to the life [...]. We have to break the shell, the form, the whole frame [...]. Then, and only then, shall we able to begin living. (L 2: 285-6)

37As soon as he parts company with Russell over how to respond to the war, Lawrence sees the philosopher's ideas as part of the shell, part of the democratic, Christian form of life that has caused the war and that cannot therefore constitute a way to end it or to live better after it. In his final response to Russell, Lawrence portrays the breaking of this shell. In his letter to Russell of 8 December 1915, Lawrence writes that, having read Frazer, he has become convinced that "there is a blood-consciousness which exists in us independently of the ordinary mental consciousness." He argues:

This is very important to our living, that we should realise that we have a blood-being, a blood-consciousness, a blood-soul, complete and apart from the mental and nerve consciousness [...]. The whole of our future life depends on it. (L 2: 471)

38As in his letter, in "The Blind Man," Lawrence portrays in fiction his belief that the new religion by which English society can and must regenerate itself after the war will be a religion of the blood, based on the authentic relationship of touch between men and women and between men and men.

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The following abbreviations have been used for works by D. H. Lawrence. Unless otherwise indicated, references are to the Cambridge Edition of the Letters and Works of D. H. Lawrence:

EME: England, My England, and Other Stories. Ed. Bruce Steele, 1990.

K: Kangaroo. Ed. Bruce Steele, 1994.

L: The Letters of D. H. Lawrence. Ed. James T. Boulton et al. 8 vols., 1979-2000.

LBR: Letters to Bertrand Russell. Ed. Harry T. Moore. New York: Gotham Book Mart, 1948.

WL: Women in Love. Ed. David Farmer, Lindeth Vasey and John Worthen, 1987.

Bentley, Michael. "Lawrence's Political Thought: Some English Contexts, 1906-19." D. H. Lawrence: New Studies. Ed. Christopher Haywood. New York: St. Martin"s, 1987. 59-83.

Burnet, John. Early Greek Philosophy. 2nd edn. London: A. & C. Black, 1908.

Kalnins, Mara, "Symbolic Seeing: Lawrence and Heraclitus." D. H. Lawrence: Centenary Essays. Ed. Mara Kalnins. Bristol: Bristol Classical Press, 1986. 173-90.

Krockel, Carl. War Trauma and English Modernism: T. S. Eliot and D. H. Lawrence. London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

Lawrence, D. H. Letter to Bertrand Russell. 16 July 1915. MS. D. H. Lawrence Collection. Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin.

Monk, Ray. "The Tiger and the Machine: D. H. Lawrence and Bertrand Russell." Philosophy of the Social Sciences 26.2 (1996): 205-46.

Montgomery, Robert. The Visionary D. H. Lawrence: Beyond Philosophy and Art. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Russell, Bertrand. The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell. 3 vols. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1967-69.

---. Contemplation and Action, 1902-14. Ed. Richard A. Rempel, Andrew Brink and Margaret Moran. London and Boston: George Allen and Unwin, 1985.

---. Justice in War-Time. Chicago and London: Open Court, 1916.

---. "Philosophy of Social Reconstruction." TS. D. H. Lawrence Collection. Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin.

---. Principles of Social Reconstruction. London and New York: Routledge [1916], 1997.

---. The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell: The Public Years, 1914-1970. Ed. Nicholas Griffin. London and New York: Routledge, 2001.

Schneider, Daniel. The Consciousness of D. H. Lawrence: An Intellectual Biography. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1986.

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Luke Ferretter, « "A Prison for the Infinite": D. H. Lawrence and Bertrand Russell on the War »Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 46 | 2015, mis en ligne le 12 novembre 2015, consulté le 24 novembre 2020. URL : ; DOI :

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Luke Ferretter

Baylor University

Luke Ferretter is an Associate Professor of 20th Century British and American Literature at Baylor University. His book The Glyph and the Gramophone: D. H. Lawrence’s Religion was published in 2013 by Bloomsbury. He is also the author of Sylvia Plath’s Fiction: A Critical Study (Edinburgh UP, 2010), and of two books on literary theory, and essays on D. H. Lawrence, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Hanif Kureishi, Jacques Derrida and Julia Kristeva, amongst others.

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