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Did Lawrence Like or Hate the Germans?: Wartime Discourse on War and Peace in Movements in European History

Gaku Iwai

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1Movements in European History is a history textbook for adolescents written by D. H. Lawrence during, and just after, the First World War. Despite the fact that the book was written during a period of political upheaval in Europe, Lawrence’s simple prose appears to be free from wartime fervour. He selected historical events and episodes from sources such as The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, but they were reorganized in the textbook through the Lawrencian dichotomy. The main thesis of Lawrence’s text is that history has been constructed through the eternal conflict between two opposites, an idea that he had developed elsewhere, for instance in his essay “The Crown” or his short story “The Prussian Officer.” In Movements, he presented the ancient Romans and the Germanic race as opposites in terms of both physical and mental characteristics: “The great Teutonic race seemed the indomitable opposite of the Romans. These short, energetic, dark-eyed men [the Romans] looked with astonishment at the huge, naked fair limbs of the men from the northern forests, at fresh, fierce faces with their blue eyes, and at the yellow hair—or the hair dyed bright red” (43). He attached symbolic meanings of creation and destruction to these two races respectively, and argued that the conflict between them had dialectically laid the foundation for a modern Europe. The book thus gives us the impression of portraying the author’s unique view of history, one that is not dimmed by patriotic frenzy or wartime propaganda.

  • 1 In The Outline of History, H. G. Wells harshly criticizes this imperialist attitude: “With a hypocr (...)
  • 2 For more detailed analyses of this text, see Keating 170–84, Ross 38.

2This impression is all the more strengthened when the book is compared to other history books written by contemporary British authors, which are either excessively patriotic or noticeably pacifist. For instance, in 1911, A School History of England, co-authored by Rudyard Kipling and the historian C. R. L. Fletcher (who was later to reject Lawrence’s “Epilogue”), was published by Oxford University Press, the same publisher that later issued Movements. Fletcher wrote the prose section, Oxford University Press, the same publisher that later issued Movements. Fletcher wrote the prose section, and Kipling dedicated 23 poems, specially composed for this volume. Their history book had an overtly propagandist purpose; the authors intended it to be a “Tory history” that stood against modern Liberalism and Socialism, which in their eyes threatened to destroy the British Empire and obliterate its traditions. The book describes the formation of England and the development of its national character, glorifying “the English race as one people and [. . .] England as a great power in Europe” (Kipling 45). It celebrates British imperialism as “the White Man’s Burthen” and shows a complete lack of sympathy and respect for the colonized.1 Identifying Germany as Britain’s potential enemy, it also encourages readers to take up arms at any moment.2

  • 3 The fact that both of these books sold fairly well indicates the belligerent atmosphere in British (...)

3Another author, G. K. Chesterton, published A Short History of England in 1917, that is, in the middle of the war. In his Short History, his particular view of the movements of English history is presented with typical irony and cynicism. This text also served to strengthen the national propaganda during the Great War. For example, he entitled the chapter on modern Germany “The Return of the Barbarians” and urged the British people to fight against Germany, declaring that “we are back in the war with the barbarians” (Chesterton 240).3

4H. G. Wells certainly contributed to boosting wartime fervour, joining other well-known authors at Wellington House, which housed Britain’s wartime propaganda bureau, at the outbreak of war and coining the highly publicized phrase “the war to end war.” Disillusioned by the reality of war, however, he subsequently converted to pacifism. Later in his life, he admitted that his patriotic frenzy at the outbreak of the war had misled him in his thinking and clouded his sanity:

[…] I was reluctant to admit how gravely I had compromised myself by my much too forward belligerence and my rash and eager confidence in the liberalism, intelligence and good faith of our Foreign Office and War Office in the first month or so of the war. My pro-war zeal was inconsistent with my pre-war utterances and against my profounder convictions. (Autobiography 678)

5Wells confessed his realization that his “war to end war” was no better than a fantasy, that the war could not be justified—the British were fighting for “King and Country” just as their adversary was fighting for the “Kaiser and Fatherland.” Thus he endeavoured to compose his massive volume The Outline of History from a pacifist viewpoint. In the introduction, Wells argued that the

“need for a common knowledge of the general facts of human history throughout the world has become evident during the tragic happenings of the last few years.[ . . .] There can be no peace now, we realize, but a common peace in all the world. [. . .] Without such ideas to hold them together in harmonious co-operation, with nothing but narrow, selfish, and conflicting nationalist traditions, races and peoples are bound to drift towards conflict and destruction” (Outline 2).

6Lawrence’s textbook differs dramatically from these other, politically infused history books. He abhorred the militant nationalism that Kipling and Chesterton preached; yet at the same time, he did not support the internationalism and world peace that Wells advocated. Lawrence argued in his essay “Democracy," written when Movements, except for its final chapter, was almost complete: “The thing to do is not to raise the idea of a Nation, or even of Internationalism, higher. The need is to take away every scrap of ideal drapery from nationalism and from internationalism [. . .]” (RDP 66). However, was Movements actually immune to discourses of patriotism or pacifism during the war? This article will investigate the way in which and also the degree to which Lawrence’s text was influenced by wartime discourses, focusing on his portrayal of the early Germanic tribes and the Huns to examine them in terms of the Germanophobia which was widespread in England during the Great War.

Did Lawrence like or hate the Germans?

7The First World War was different from previous wars in that propaganda was widely employed as one of the major weapons. Massive propaganda campaigns not only boosted patriotism, they also stirred up hatred against Britain’s arch enemy: Germany. As a patriotic sentiment swelled among the British people, antagonism towards Germany grew. Britain and Germany had in the past established a close alliance against France as their mutual potential enemy. Until the previous century, their relationship with each other had been forged through connections between the royal families, their religious ties as Protestants, numerous cultural associations and their Germanic heritage, among others. The pro-German myth of Anglo-Saxonism had been favoured by critics and scholars such as Thomas Macaulay, Thomas Carlyle and J. R. Green. Green was one of the most influential historians of his generation, who argued in his authoritative Short History of English People, which sold more than 100,000 copies, that Britain’s cultural, religious and political heritage was Germanic.

  • 4 On the British view of Germany before and during the war, see MacDougall 31–130, Kennedy 119 and 1 (...)

8However, the deterioration of Britain’s affection for the Germans began during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71. By the beginning of the First World War, Britain’s sentiment towards Germany had been negatively altered. Official and unofficial propaganda against Germany widely circulated in Britain during the Great War, and it further damaged the British people’s view of the Germans. As a result, anti-German feelings were widespread both among the common people and among intellectuals: just before the outbreak of the war, the famous historian G. M. Trevelyan wrote to his brother Charles, who was engaged in pacifist activities: “My feeling for the defence of Europe against Germany is very strong. [. . .] I support the war not merely for our own survival but because I think a German victory will probably be the worst thing for Europe [. . .]” (Moorman 127).4

9Lawrence met this historian two weeks after the above-mentioned letter and wrote in one of his letters to Edward Marsh: “I [. . .] rather hated him. He’s so God almighty serious [. . .] as if he was the schoolmaster and all the world his scholars, poor dear” (2L 211). Lawrence’s own feelings towards Germany were rather ambivalent. In his next letter to Marsh, three weeks later, while Lawrence, like Trevelyan, did not express approval of a German victory, he did however defend Britain’s enemy: “When I hear of the Germans, it breaks my heart. They must not win, I know—because also they cannot. But they are a young, only adolescent nation, and they don’t know what to do with themselves” (2L 214). However, in the following year, upon hearing the news of the sinking of the Lusitania by a German submarine, Lawrence revealed his rage in a letter he wrote to Ottoline Morrell: “Soon we in England shall go fully mad, with hate. I too hate the Germans so much, I could kill every one of them. [. . .] I am mad with rage myself. I would like to kill a million Germans—two million” (2L 340).

10The next day, an article was printed in a notoriously jingoistic journal, John Bull, written by the infamous chauvinist Horatio Bottomley. Although Lawrence’s style was much less vulgar, he shared anti-German sentiments with Bottomley, whom he detested as a demagogue. “I call for a Vendetta," Bottomley bawls, “a vendetta against every German in Britain, whether ‘naturalised’ or not. As I have said elsewhere, you cannot naturalise an unnatural beast—a human abortion—a hellish freak. But you can exterminate it. And now the time has come” (6). Bottomley goes on to vociferate that: “Remember that the German is by instinct a spy, a sneak, a murderer, a ruffian, a barbarian.[ . . .] Too long have we tolerated that beast. He has no place in the human family—to say nothing of the Anglo-Saxon branch of it” (7).

11It might also be argued that Lawrence’s Germanophobia influenced his relationship with his wife, Frieda, the daughter of a Prussian officer, Baron Friedrich von Richthofen. Several weeks after the sinking of the Lusitania, Lawrence wrote to E. M. Forster: “We [Lawrence and Frieda] should be in town probably in a fortnight. Mrs Lawrence is up there looking for her flat—unless a bomb has dropped on her—killed by her own countrymen—it is the kind of fate she is cut out for” (2L 351).

12Nevertheless, Lawrence maintained some sympathy towards Germany. In November 1915, five months after writing the letter mentioned above, he wrote to Cynthia Asquith, arguing that it was England and the Allies that had driven Germany into madness and that they were therefore responsible for settling the problem:

Besides, Germany, Prussia, is not evil through and through. Her mood is now evil. But we reap what we have sowed. It is as with a child: if with a sullen, evil soul one provokes an evil mood in the child, there is destruction. But no child is all evil. And Germany is the child of Europe: and senile Europe, with her conventions and arbitrary rules of conduct and life and very being, has provoked Germany into a purely destructive mood” (2L 425).

Amid the storm of Germanophobia among the British, Lawrence’s feelings towards Germany were complex and ambivalent.

The Germans

  • 5 Lawrence’s manuscript fragment “The Germans, Goths, and Vandals”, D. H. Lawrence Collection, Univer (...)

13In Movements, Lawrence dedicated three chapters to the early Germanic tribes (chapter 4: The Germans; chapter 5: The Goths and Vandals; chapter 8: The Franks and Charlemagne), favourably portraying them as a race that had contributed to the birth of European civilisation. For instance, Lawrence writes: “Where the Germans stayed, they settled, and out of their rooting in the new lands rose in time the perfected civilisations of our history” (64). However this approving portrayal is in striking contrast to his sources or to other histories written in the early 20th century. In these sources, the Germans are not necessarily presented as a race that laid the foundation of European civilisation. In writing the chapters on the Germans, Lawrence mainly relied on Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, along with The Gallic War by Caesar and Germania by Tacitus. It is true that Gibbon states that “The most civilized nations of modern Europe issued from the woods of Germany; and in the rude institutions of those barbarians we may still distinguish the original principles of our present laws and manners” (DFRE 1: 208). However, in contrast to Movements, in which this assertion is expanded and allowed to flourish in the narrative, the statement in Decline and Fall is much less favourable. In Gibbon’s text, the Germanic tribes, the Iranian Scythians and the Huns are classified as barbarians who threatened the Roman Empire and precipitated its decline: “In the disastrous period of the fall of the Roman empire [. . .] the happiness and security of each individual were personally attacked; and the arts and labours of ages were rudely defaced by the Barbarians of Scythia and Germany” (3: 2). Lawrence’s portrayal of the Germans in the first draft of Movements largely relied on his sources, in contrast to the final version of the book. In the first draft, the Germans were not introduced as a race which had played any decisive role in the founding of European civilization. They were, on the contrary, frequently designated as “barbarians”: “The naked bodies of the barbarians could do little against the walled steel of the legions. Once they were repulsed, they were defeated, for they could not gather into order again. And yet these fearless barbarians were the limit, really, to Roman power." The aim of Roman policy was furthermore “to set the Germans to destroy one another and for every barbarians destroyed was one enemy less to Rome.5 Through the revisions, however, Lawrence’s Germans managed to achieve a certain status as a significant race. The final draft of Movements describes how a relationship developed between the Teutonic race and the Romans, how their bloods were mixed after the decline of the Empire and how, as a result, a higher civilisation was dialectically created. Lawrence’s text argues that it was the fusion of the Germans and Romans that led to the establishment of European civilisation:

The spirit of German independence and individual liberty had combined with the old Roman ideal of social unity, and the first signs of real European life appeared. […]

Churches also were built, and fine abbeys, in a new style, in which the Roman manner was modified by the German spirit. Everywhere the German spirit was pervading old forms, to give birth to a new world. (94-95)

14In another chapter, the importance of the Germanic element in modern Europe is again emphasized:

These barbarians [from Germany, Russia and Asia] settled down at last, and, mingling or not mingling with the natives of the lands they occupied, formed the base of the great modern nations: English, French, Spanish, Lombard, Swiss, Bulgarian, and so on. All these are formed from a wild mixture of races, in which [. . .] the Germanic element was dominant during the Dark Ages. (63)

15Thus, in Movements in European History, the Germanic tribes are presented as a race indispensable for the birth of modern Europe.

16The uniqueness of the Germanic race as it is portrayed in Movements is all the more noteworthy when placed in the context of the early 20th century, when the popularity of the Germanic tribes had diminished among the British. A School History of England, for instance, opens with Kipling’s poem “The River’s Tale,” in which the River Thames recounts its own history from ancient times:

‘And Norseman and Negro and Gaul and Greek
Drank with the Britons in Barking Creek,
And life was gay, and the world was new,
And I was a mile across at Kew!
But the Roman came with a heavy hand,
And bridged and roaded and ruled the land,
And the Roman left and the Danes blew in—
And that’s where your history books begin!’ (Kipling and Fletcher 10)

17All the races which immigrated to Britain before the Norman Conquest are enumerated here, with the exception of the Anglo-Saxons, who arrived in Britain between the 5th and 6th centuries, before the Danes. Does the narrator wish to shut his eyes to the unpalatable fact that Britain shares a common ancestor with its arch enemy? In the second chapter of this history, the Saxons, one of the Germanic tribes, are discussed, and a Saxon man is described as “a truth-teller, a brave, patient, and cool-headed fellow," but at the same time “remorseless and destructive” and “a savage, with the vices and cruelties of an overgrown boy; a drunkard and a gambler, and very stupid” (Kipling 27, 28).

18Chesterton is not pleased that the English originated from the Germanic race. In his book, he repeatedly criticizes Green for his idealization of Teutonic society. To Chesterton, it is not the Germans but the Romans who are the spiritual heritage and foundation of the British people: “The important thing about France and England is not that they have Roman remains. They are Roman remains. In truth they are not so much remains as relics; for they are still working miracles” (Chesterton 9). Thus, both Kipling and Chesterton attempted to subvert the idea that Britain and Germany shared a common ancestor, an idea which had been dominant until late in the previous century.

19As shown above, these jingoistic histories make a striking contrast to Lawrence’s Movements. However the difference between their views on the English race does not lie merely in the degree to which the authors place importance on the Germans. Another difference is that while the conservatives assert the purity of their own race, Lawrence espouses the idea of hybridity. Kipling and Fletcher thus stick to the pure origins of the English race:

The Saxons brought [to Britain] their wives and children with them, though it is difficult to believe that they were so stupid as to kill all the Britons instead of enslaving them and marrying their wives. Yet, if they had not done this, surely there would have been some traces left of Latin or Celtic speech, law and religion. But there were practically none. [. . .] [W]e find that England has become a purely English country, with a purely English [. . .] system of law, and a purely English language. (Kipling 28)

20However Lawrence repeatedly propounds the idea that races of human beings, to say nothing of the English, have been produced through intermarriage: “the Saxons, Danes, and Normans were all of Germanic blood, and the fusion of these tribes with the native Briton has resulted in our modern English race” (64). In the late 1910s, Lawrence was not alone in advocating the idea of hybridity. In his Outline of History, Wells also insisted that people had essentially mixed and mingled with each other and that the nationalism which contrived to divide people into certain groups was merely a political fabrication:

[O]ur story [. . .] has demonstrated the mingling of races and peoples, the instability of human divisions, the swirling variety of human groups. [. . .] The “nationality” [. . .] is really no more than the romantic and emotional exaggeration of the stresses produced by the discord of the natural political map with unsuitable political arrangements. (Outline 666)

21The early chapters of Movements share more with Wells’s history than merely the idea of the intermingling of the races. They also subscribe to Wells’s pacifist framework, the overriding structure of the work which he wrote continuously, beginning in October 1918—a few months after Lawrence had begun his own history. In the early chapters of his book, Lawrence repeatedly portrays people as suffering from the devastation of war. He observes that in the 5th and the 6th centuries, “some men were weary to death of fighting, robbing, burning, thieving, snatching, they wanted peace and the stillness of the soul above all things” (87). Also, in the Roman Empire, “in a world weary of strife and excitement, and clogged with slavery, the thought of peace and innocent love, and of a life of still, gentle, everlasting happiness, was most beautiful” (30). The emphasis placed by Lawrence and by Wells on the fusion and mixing of the different races was a reaction against the period in which they composed their works, when European nations were devoting their energy to waging futile battles against each other:

[T]he German races mingled and mixed with the dark-eyed races [the Romans], and it is from this intermingling of the two opposite spirits, two different and opposite streams of blood, that modern Europe has arisen. The fusion of the two opposites brought us the greatness of modern days: just as the hostility of the two brings disaster, now as in the old past. (Movements 52; emphasis mine)

The Huns

22As we have shown, Movements does in some passages present a striking contrast to the jingoistic histories that contributed to boosting patriotic fervour during the Great War. And yet the text does demonstrate a susceptibility to permeation by belligerent atmosphere, especially the anti-German feeling, that was rife during the war. In fact Lawrence’s anti-German perspective can be found in some of his other worksfor instance, Women in Love, a novel he continuously revised during the Great War. Among the main characters, Gerald Crich is obviously an embodiment of the Germanic race. Not only his name, Gerald, but also his physical characteristics—“his clear northern flesh and his fair hair” (WL 14)—reminds readers of the Germanic race in Movements, described in terms of the “fair limbs of the men from the northern forests” and “the yellow hair” (MEH 43). This industrial magnate is associated with Cain in the Bible, because he accidentally shot his brother in his childhood, an act which also suggests his association with the Germans, who were dubbed "the modern Cain" by the contemporary media. This obvious embodiment of the Germans is rather cruelly treated in the novel—Crich returns to the northern mountain and dies miserably in the end.

23Movements also offers passages which are characterized by their Germanophobia. The portrayal of the Huns is an instance of this. In contrast to contemporary historians such as A. J. Grant and G. W. Kitchin, who allocated only one page to the Huns in their History of Europe and History of France respectively (both were Lawrence’s sources), Lawrence dedicated a whole chapter to them, following Gibbon, who gave a comprehensive account of the Huns as a threat to the Western Roman Empire. A comparison between Lawrence’s Huns and those of Gibbon, in the context of the Great War, illustrates an unexpected connection between Movements and the anti-German discourse which was popular during the war.

24From the first reference to them in chapter five of Movements, the Huns are presented as a continual threat to civilization:

The year 375 is marked as an epoch in the world’s history, for it was the year in which the Huns, coming out of the vast unknown Asia, crossed the Volga on their way to Europe.[…]

Suddenly, as a volcano bursts and the lava pours down on a doomed people, the Huns burst out of Asia and came down in their black myriads upon the Goths. The Huns were hideous little people on horseback, savage, terribly fierce, and numerous like clouds of locusts. (56; emphasis mine)

25The sixth chapter, “The Huns,” accentuates the emphasis which is placed on the race as the destroyers of civilization:

“Thus we see that from the distribution of German tribes among native nations [. . .] the modern nations of Europe have arisen. There is one great barbarian race, however [. . ]. and this is the race whose name rang terror through the whole ancient world. [. . .] The Hunnish force [. . .] did nothing towards building up a new world. The Germanic races entered in and formed the basis of a new Europe. The Hunnish force rolled away like a thunder-cloud that has burst and struck the land” (64-65).

26The Huns were born destroyers who not only devastated the land of Europe but also “brought ruin on the beautiful, civilised empire of China” (65). As the passages quoted above suggest, the destruction brought about by the Huns was not something that was necessary to achieve a higher level of dialectic creation, which Lawrence often advocated, but rather a sterile demolition which led to nothing. The Huns were aliens who came from outside of Europe (from “the vast unknown Asia”), and they were associated with beasts and small creatures. They are “more like baboons than men," living in black tents “like a bee-hive [. . .] darting here and there over the plain like clouds of flies” (56, 65). Thus, the text emphasizes their otherness and their inhumane cruelty by overlaying them with images of apes and small creatures, which Gibbon did not employ.

27The portrayal of Attila, who led a band of these untameable barbarians, added to the gruesome portrait of the Huns. This ugly-looking king guided them with an exuberant vitality:

Attila is the greatest of the Huns. He was a squat, broad-backed man with a large head and a flat face. But his little eyes sparkled with tremendous passions, his body had great nervous energy. A haughty little creature, he had a prancing way of walking, and he rolled his eyes fiercely, filling the onlookers with terror, and enjoying the terror he inspired. (69)

28This passage is copied almost faithfully from the first half of Gibbon’s portrait of Attila. However Lawrence omitted the latter part, in which Gibbon stresses Attila’s ability as a leader:

[…] and he had a custom of fiercely rolling his eyes, as if he wished to enjoy the terror which he inspired. Yet this savage hero was not inaccessible to pity; his suppliant enemies might confide in the assurance of peace or pardon; and Attila was considered by his subjects as a just and indulgent master. He delighted in war; but, after he had ascended the throne in a mature age, his head, rather than his hand, achieved the conquest of the North; and the fame of an adventurous soldier was usefully exchanged for that of a prudent and successful general. The effects of personal valour are so inconsiderable […] that victory, even among Barbarians, must depend on the degree of skill with which the passions of the multitude are combined and guided for the service of a single man. (3: 346)

29In The Decline and Fall, Attila is repeatedly praised as “a king, who had often fought and conquered at their head” (3: 389), as a hero who delivered a fatal blow to the declining Roman Empire. In contrast, in Movements, he is merely a despot who displays an excessive vigour in his capacity to lead a band of savage tribes. In Movements, these barbarian hordes led by Attila unleash a storm of terror among the peoples of Europe and destroy civilization:

These untamable people were like animals. They were very swift and sudden in their movements, and the first hordes seem to have been almost without human feelings. When they came down on the Goths they slaughtered indiscriminately, opening their wide mouths and slashing and slaying anything that was alive and was not Hunnish. They spoke with shrill, high voices, calling shrilly, using strange, savage gestures. And when they had finished killing, they collected all the booty they wanted, for they were very greedy, and then they set fire to all that would burn, and that they did not want.

No wonder the fleeing Goths were horrified. They felt that behind these fearful faces there was no human spirit. They felt that no human speech could reach these creatures. The Hunnish speech seemed like the shrill, neighing communication of animals. And the Huns were avaricious as demons. (67)

30The text persistently portrays the Huns as beasts and devils, emphasizing their inhumanity. A salient point here is that these representations of the Huns must have reminded contemporary readers of the brutality of the Germans.

31“The Hun” was an insulting epithet designating German soldiers, frequently used in anti-German propaganda during the First World War. For instance, The Times printed an article entitled “The March of the Huns” only three weeks after the outbreak of war. The article unashamedly sought to boost patriotic fervour by condemning “an atrocious act” by German soldiers, who were dubbed “ruthless barbarians” and it was accompanied by an image of the Huns: “Such is the character of the warfare of the modern Huns. They seek to strike terror into the hearts of their foes by methods which belong to the days of the old barbaric hosts, who were thought to have vanished from the world for ever” (9). In the article, the German Kaiser is called “The modern ATTILA," and it is predicted that “the Monarch who unblushingly aspires to be regarded as ATTILA’s successor” will suffer the same fate as the former lord of the Huns (9). Thus the idea that the Germans were as savage and cruel as the barbarous Huns was one which was widely circulated from the beginning of the war.

32On 13 September 1914, one month after the onset of the war, Frieda wrote a letter to Marsh arguing that these projected images of the Germans were simply an exaggerated evil representation, that always recurred during wartime:

And this abstract hate of a fairytale German ogre (they used of Napoleon to say that he ate little children for breakfast,) it’s mostly an artificial thing—Also in the Boer war they used to my horror tell ghastly stories of British cruelty in Germany—Of course in war all madnesses come out in a man, that is the fault of war not of a man or a nation. […] (2L 214)

33However, the widespread anti-German discourse was officially certified as “truth” when, in May 1915, the so-called Bryce Report was published, in which atrocious acts claimed to have been committed by German soldiers were documented. Published five days after the sinking of the Lusitania, the Report enumerated the brutality of the German army in Belgium. The land which the German troops had invaded was littered with the corpses of children and pregnant women who had been shot and bayonetted, and with charred bodies. Houses were looted and burnt down; a whole town was reduced to ashes:

Though the cause of the massacre is in dispute, the results are known with certainty. . . . [M]any inhabitants were burnt alive in their houses, their efforts to escape being prevented by rifle fire. Twenty people were shot, while trying to escape. […] The fire burnt on through the night and the murders continued on the following day, the 21st [August 1914]. Thirty-two civilians were killed on that day in the Place de l'Université alone, and a witness states that this was followed by the rape in open day of 15 or 20 women on tables in the square itself.

[…] “Hardly were we there [Belgian border] when we had a horrible sight. Houses were burnt down, the inhabitants chased away and some of them shot. Not one of the hundreds of houses were spared. Everything was plundered and burnt.[ . . .] We then arrived at the town of Wandre. Here the houses were spared, but everything was examined. At last we were out of the town and everything went in ruins. In one house a whole collection of weapons was found. The inhabitants without exception were brought out and shot. This shooting was heart-breaking as they all knelt down and prayed, but that was no ground for mercy.” (12-13)

34The following year furthermore say the publication of the book German Atrocities: An Official Investigation, which professed to be “a postscript to the Bryce Report” (2). Somewhat different from the style of the Bryce Report, which had evenly but persistently claimed to recount the “truth”, German Atrocities was, in its aggressive and sensational tone, the epitome of crude propaganda. This book, which sold over 1.5 million copies, contained typical representations of anti-German propaganda. The author, J. H. Morgan, a professor at London University, argued that, unlike other Europeans, the Germans were in a state of “mental degeneration,” and suggested that they were descended from the savage Asians and that the British did not share common ancestors with them: “It is not in their ignorance but in their turpitude that the clue to these barbarities is to be found. [. . .] [A]nd there may be force in the contention of those who believe that the Prussian is not a member of the Teutonic family at all, but a ‘throw-back’ to some Tartar stock” (42). The author went on to insist that the Germans “retain the instincts of Asia or rather of some pre-Asiatic horde," noting that “the progress of German troops is like a plague of locusts over the land” (45, 84). Through various media such as pamphlets, posters and newspaper articles, the Germans’ “atrocious acts”—including the invasion of Belgium, the use of poison gas in Ypres, the bombing of the Zeppelin and the use of torpedoes by U-boats—were exaggerated, strengthening the link between the Germans and the savage Huns. Thus, it was as a matter of course that in her diary Cynthia Asquith called Frieda “the exuberant Hun” (37). It is significant that a series of images which Lawrence adopted to portray the Huns was actually used to describe the Germans in anti-German propaganda—savagery, atavism, Asia and small creatures.

35In The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbon does depict the atrocious acts of the Huns, who invaded the land of the Gauls across the Rhine:

But as the greatest part of the cities were alike destitute of saints and soldiers, they were besieged and stormed by the Huns, who practised, in the example of Metz, their customary maxims of war. They involved in a promiscuous massacre the priests who served at the altar and the infants who, in the hour of danger, had been providently baptised by the bishop; the flourishing city was delivered to the flames, and a solitary chapel of St. Stephen marked the place where it formerly stood. (3: 385)

36Yet compared to the Huns in Gibbon’s description, Lawrence’s portrayal is cruder, emphasizing their ferocity and ruthlessness. Movements enumerates their inhumane acts so vividly and roughly that Gibbon’s depiction seems rather plain and simple by comparison. The passage by Gibbon that is quoted above was expanded upon by Lawrence as follows:

In a sudden unexpected rush the Huns would be on the town. Grinning with war-excitement, the little men swarmed and slashed, killing every inhabitant in their glee of slaughter. They found priests and bishops hastily baptising the infants, lest death should overtake the unchristened babies and their helpless souls be lost. This sight made the savage little Huns grin wider. Swiftly the priests and bishops were cut down, the babies tossed on spears. [. . .} Then the town was thoroughly pillaged, food and wine consumed. After the revel, when all was stripped, the retreating Huns fired the towns, and far-off Gauls knew by the redness of the sky what was happening. Cities burned to a blackened ruin. […]

Such was the fate of beautiful Roman cities like Metz and Trèves, and many others. The Huns advanced into Gaul, leaving the earth like a cinder behind them, strewn with the charred remains of men and women. (70)

37People are mercilessly slaughtered, towns are utterly plundered and burnt down, heaps of charred corpses are scattered after their invasion – in the portrayal of the Huns invading westwards can be heard an ominous echo of the Germans advancing towards the west.

38It is the Battle in Châlons, in north-east France, that is depicted in Movements as Attila’s biggest battle, in which the Romans defeated this lord of the savage tribe. In this battle, which Lawrence describes in terms of its “unspeakable hand to hand murder” and “roaring bloody carnage” (71), Attila’s army was beaten by the Romans under Aëtius and driven out of the land of the Western Roman Empire: "At last suddenly Attila broke up his camp, and retreated east. Aëtius followed. Attila moved northwards and re-crossed the Rhine. Gaul breathed free, and Europe was saved. For if, in 451, Attila had won this great battle of Châlons, on the Catalaunian plain beside the Marne, Europe would have fallen under Tartar sway.[…]" (71).

39Gibbon refers to the battlefield as “the plain of Châlons,” whereas Lawrence describes it as “the plain of Châlons, on the Marne” and “the Catalaunian plain beside the Marne” (70, 71). The word “Marne” can only have reverberated in the minds of Lawrence’s readers at the time, because two major battles were fought at the Marne during the Great War. In the First Battle of the Marne, which took place at the beginning of the war, the Germans were thwarted by British and French forces in their attempt to rapidly conquer Paris. During the war, whenever the battles of the Marne were discussed, the battle against Attila was invariably referred to. From the beginning of the fighting, The Times alluded to the 5th-century battle when reporting on the contemporary one:

More than fourteen hundred years ago Attila and his Huns came to Châlons on the Marne, and were forced to retreat to the Rhine after tremendous slaughter. On the same ground the forces of the Monarch who has styled himself the modern ATTILA are meeting a like fate. (“The Retreat of the New Attila," 9)

40Nearly four years later, in July 1918, several months before the armistice, the Second Battle of the Marne broke out when the Allies fought against the Germans, who were approaching Paris and were only 80 miles away. In this battle, which erupted at exactly the time when Lawrence was composing the first draft of Movements, the Germans were again forced to retreat across the Marne, an episode which thus signalled the beginning of the end of the prolonged war. In the Great War, the battles which the two sides fought at the Marne thus acquired a symbolic significance for the Allies: they were the battles that thwarted the invasion of the detestable Huns, shattering their insane ambitions. Lawrence concludes the episode with an ominous sentence: “if, in 451, Attila had won this great battle of Châlons, on the Catalaunian plain beside the Marne, Europe would have fallen under Tartar sway [. . .]” (71; emphasis mine). In Movements, it is Europe that is said to have won the battle of the Marne against the Huns, a somewhat different conclusion from that of Gibbon, who refers to it as “the last victory which was achieved in the name of the Western [Roman] empire” (3: 393). Lawrence’s portentous statement has grim echoes of a deep-seated fear of the contemporary “Huns” during the Great War. Thus, although Lawrence in Movements adopts the historical events and episodes concerning the Huns from Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, his depiction of them is infused with the anti-German discourse which was in wide circulation during the First World War.

41As shown above, Movements is not a simple chronicle of events which has been compiled from a variety of sources. It is best regarded not as a taken from some sources, but rather a text that is influenced by the contemporary discourses on war and peace. The text inadvertently reflects the author’s conflicting feelings towards the Germans. As if he were reacting against the anti-German propaganda of the time, Lawrence’s depiction of the Germanic race was uncommonly favourable, when compared to the chauvinist histories that appeared before and during the war, and it was in line with Wells’s history in terms of its pacifist predilection. However, at the same time, in his description of describing the Huns, Lawrence employs a series of horrendous atrocious images which were associated with the Germans. Although based on Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, Lawrence’s portrayal of the warlike tribe of the 5th century – his use of images, the exaggeration of their inhumane nature, the horror the savage tribe inspired among other peoples – corresponds to the widespread portrait of the contemporary “Hun.” While Movements in European History appears to be a simple, apolitical text that expresses the author’s particular unique view of the world, the reader finds that within this text are inscribed traces of the controversial issues and anxieties that had taken possession of the minds of those who as members of a national community were caught up by the epidemic insanity called the Great War.

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1 In The Outline of History, H. G. Wells harshly criticizes this imperialist attitude: “With a hypocritical pretence of reluctant benevolent effort the European mind prepared itself to take up what Mr. Rudyard Kipling called ‘the White Man’s Burthen’—that is to say, the loot and lordship of the earth” (Outline 681).

2 For more detailed analyses of this text, see Keating 170–84, Ross 38.

3 The fact that both of these books sold fairly well indicates the belligerent atmosphere in British society during that period. Kipling and Fletcher’s School History reached the top of the Daily Graphic’s monthly best-seller list, and was acclaimed as “the most popular book of the year” by the Glasgow News. See Sutcliffe 158–62. Chesterton’s Short History reached its third impression in the month following its publication.

4 On the British view of Germany before and during the war, see MacDougall 31–130, Kennedy 119 and 184–204, and Searle 248–49.

5 Lawrence’s manuscript fragment “The Germans, Goths, and Vandals”, D. H. Lawrence Collection, University of Nottingham, 6.

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Gaku Iwai, « Did Lawrence Like or Hate the Germans?: Wartime Discourse on War and Peace in Movements in European History », Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 47 | 2016, mis en ligne le 07 décembre 2016, consulté le 05 décembre 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/lawrence.273

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Gaku Iwai

Centre for General Education, Kumamoto Health Science University, Japan

Gaku IWAI is an Associate Professor at Kumamoto Health Science University in Japan.  He is a co-editor and co-translator of the Japanese version of the Collected Letters of D. H. Lawrence, and has published numerous articles on Lawrence, H. G. Wells, J. M. Barrie and J. G. Ballard.  He is also a co-author of several books on Lawrence and twentieth century British writers.

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