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“Apples that aren’t very appley”: the Place of the Non-Human in a New Morality

Jane Costin


In “Introduction to these paintings” and “Art and Morality,” Lawrence suggests that, when looking at visual art, our tendency to what he calls “kodak-vision” (one indicator of dominant mental consciousness), prevents our appreciation of new perspectives, leading us to condemn the art rather than change our viewpoint.

In looking at Lawrence’s response to Cézanne’s apples this paper will consider the role visual art can play in developing a greater reverence towards the non-human, and will also look at some examples of Lawrence’s prose and poetry that shows the same intent. This will lead to the suggestion that Lawrence’s ideas about the non-human can be seen as a prototype for what we now recognise as ecological thinking.

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1Lawrence’s criticism of Paul Cézanne’s paintings of apples in his late essays, “Art and Morality” (1925) and “Introduction to These Paintings” (1929), provide an important platform for Lawrence’s concerns about, what he saw as the urgent need to create a different relationship between humankind and the world it inhabits; ideas that he revisits elsewhere, including in some of his poems in Birds, Beasts and Flowers. Although written long before such concerns had a name, Lawrence’s anti-anthropocentric vision in these writings foreshadows ideas expressed, more recently, by those who are working to address the environmental crisis that is increasingly engulfing our world.

2Urgent warnings of an impending environmental apocalypse emerged with widespread conviction over half a century ago; in the literary world, Rachel Carson sowing the seeds of environmental awareness with her 1962 book Silent Spring. In 1978 William Rueckert’s ground-breaking article heralded the emergence of ecocriticism as a discipline, which offered the hope that literature could provide a beacon for change. His thinking was taken up by many others and helped to spawn an organisation, the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment (ASLE), which was formed in 1992. Greg Garrard, whose long advocacy of ecocriticism has made him one of the best known figures in that discipline, has set out the objectives of ecocriticism: “the study of the relationship of the human and non-human throughout human cultural history and entailing critical analysis of the term ‘human’ itself” (5). Another early eco-critic, Richard Kerridge, defined how to be an eco-critical reader, citing the need to “evaluate texts and ideas in terms of their coherence and usefulness to environmental crisis” (56-7).

3This all seemed fortuitous for Lawrencian studies because it provided a new and fruitful way of looking at his work. Although Lawrence did not use the terminology that eco-critics do today, analysing his texts has proved, beyond doubt, the extent of his concern for the environment and his forward thinking ideas.

4But, attentions to Lawrence’s environmental concerns have been muted. Undoubtedly, in part, this is due to the nature of ecocriticism itself, as the movement’s determination to be inclusive has proved to be a double edged sword. Cheryll Glotfelty may have been one of the first to draw attention to the potential dangers of such an all embracing philosophy, but Kerridge’s book confirmed the large spectrum of critical approaches sheltering under the ecocriticism umbrella. In trying to accommodate all views the movement has, perhaps inevitably, lacked focus; becoming loose and baggy, vital momentum has been depleted and accusations of woolly thinking have multiplied. Furthermore, whilst it is all very well to evaluate existing texts for their usefulness, and to write about the environmental crisis in order to make people aware of the problems, sadly, this is no longer enough. Time is moving on, and the environmental crisis in our world is escalating at an alarming rate.

5We were told the ice caps would melt. They are. We were told violent weather patterns would become more common. They are. Global warming is no longer a scare story, but a reality. Indeed, given all the abundant evidence we have, it is impossible to deny that human beings are having a catastrophic effect on the world in which we live. In Britain, a variety of governments have thought through the problems and introduced measures that, in a few decades, have significantly changed the appearance of our world and how we inhabit it. They have used developing technology to try and address the environmental crisis, so we have wind turbines and solar farms. We have been coerced into recycling our waste and have technologically advanced incinerators that burn rubbish to produce energy. We try to reduce plastic use, lower the heating, buy electric cars and take public transport. But, whilst every action is undoubtedly helpful, whatever we do should not immure us from our doubts. Because, deep down, intuitively, we know it is not enough. In this we are right. It can never be enough, because what needs changing is not our world, but us.

6We need to value our world more and our anthropocentric perspective needs to change. And this is precisely what Lawrence is arguing for in his 1929 essay, “Introduction to These Paintings,” through his criticism of Cézanne’s work. The ideas Lawrence advocates in this essay put forward a radical viewpoint that aims to knock the blinkers from our eyes. Alighting on Cézanne’s images of apples as a rare example of what he means, Lawrence asserts that, in order to properly appreciate Cézanne’s paintings we, as individuals, need to change. To change our perspective, to recognise other forms of consciousness, become more intuitive and change our relationship to our world. Something Lawrence called a new morality. Indeed, the art critic, Morris Shapira, recognised that this essay is “the profoundest assessment I known [sic] of the work of one man in changing human consciousness” (198).

7And it is striking how Lawrence’s calls for individual change, and for humankind to develop a new morality, were later echoed by those writing about the environmental crisis. For example, in 1968, an article by Garrett Hardin voicing concerns about overpopulation, urged humankind to develop an “ecological conscience” rather than relying on technical solutions, and called for individual change in human values and morality. In 1996, Lawrence Buell’s influential book, The Environmental Imagination, suggested that a person’s state of mind was more important than technology in saving humankind from the impending environmental catastrophe.

8But whilst Lawrence championed individual change, he also recognised the dangers of relying on the mind to effect those changes. Instead, Lawrence urged his readers to develop their latent, instinctive consciousness in what is, yet another, exploration of his ideas about the polarities of blood and mental consciousness.

  • 1 These two painters were contemporaries and both died in the early years of the twentieth century.
  • 2 Poulet & Murphy 73.

9In “Introduction,” Lawrence’s contrasts the work of two French painters, Cézanne and Henri Fantin-Latour,1 to illuminate the urgent need he saw for a radical change in human consciousness. In the second half of the nineteenth century the American artist, James Abbot McNeill Whistler, had brought back to England (where he was based) some paintings by his friend Fantin-Latour. Whistler’s plan was to try and sell these works, and in this he succeeded. Indeed, Fantin-Latour’s still-life paintings, such as Apples in a Basket and on a Table, sold so well, and became so highly sought after, that it seems “they were hardly known in France during his lifetime.”2 Although, in Paris, Fantin-Latour was friendly with the more impressionistic painters such as Whistler and also Édouard Manet, he was not influenced by their work, and continued to paint in a conservative style. Nevertheless, he was a very skilled artist, as his highly realistic still-life paintings show.

  • 3 Bell had sought to establish his new theories of significant form in his 1914 book Art. Although Ez (...)

10Looking at his paintings, the viewer can easily admire his skill, his use of colour and may talk of composition or even of significant form – all that language of art criticism which Lawrence mocked, “It’s all very well talking about decoration and illustration, significant form, or tactile values, or plastique, or movement or space-composition or colour-mass relations […] you might as well force your guest to eat the menu card at the end of the dinner” (STH 166). In “Introduction,” Lawrence singled out the art critic Clive Bell and his characteristically flowery prose, for particular ridicule; Lawrence caricatured Bell as a false revivalist prophet in the new era of art who sermonised on his theories of significant and pure form3:

Oh purify yourselves, ye who would know the aesthetic ecstasy, and be lifted up to the “white peaks of artistic inspiration.” Purify yourselves of all base hankering for a tale that is told, and of all low lust for likenesses. Purify yourselves, and know the one supreme way, the way of Significant Form. I am the revelation and the way! I am Significant Form […]. I am Form and I am Pure, behold I am Pure Form. I am the revelation of Spiritual Life, moving behind the veil. I come forth and make myself known, and I am Pure Form, behold I am Significant Form. (199)

11Having dismissed Bell’s ideas as, “another great uplift into self-importance” (200), Lawrence then turned his attention to modern French painting, contrasting Fantin-Latour’s work with that of Cézanne.

12Although Fantin-Latour’s still-life paintings are very decorative, that is all they are: a highly realistic pretty picture. Lawrence’s objection to such pseudo-photographic painting was based on his belief that, “What art has got to do, and will go on doing, is to reveal things in their different relationships” (STH 166). Fantin-Latour’s still-life paintings of apples, such as Apples in a Basket and on a Table, do not attempt to do that. They are just an attractive, ornamental object to hang on a wall. Lawrence was somewhat more uncomplimentary, “Fantin Latour’s apples are no more to you than enamelled rissoles […]. Taste the unsteady apples of Cézanne, and the nailed-down apples of Fantin Latour are apples of Sodom” (STH 167, 168).

13For Lawrence, Fantin-Latour’s still-life paintings showed the dominance of mental-consciousness, which he saw as instrumental in creating a disconnection between humankind and its world. In his painting of apples, Lawrence considers that Fantin-Latour was satisfied to merely represent the fronts of the objects; Lawrence observing “the eye only sees fronts and the mind, on the whole, is satisfied with fronts” (“Introduction,” 212). Whereas, for Lawrence, Cézanne’s great achievement was his “real attempt to let the apple exist in its own separate entity, without transfusing it with personal emotion” and to “let it live of itself” (“Introduction,” 201). Therefore, Lawrence accuses Fantin-Latour of not having painted an apple, but only the cliché of an apple.

14In his essay on Lawrence and Cézanne, John Remsbury attempts to explain Lawrence’s remarks further: “the mind is satisfied with elegantly skating across the surfaces of experience – ‘I see it’ is virtually synonymous with ‘I have seen it’ – ‘I know it’ – it is all one motion the – ‘truth’ – of cliché.” Describing the cliché as a “tissue of memories” Remsbury questions:

How man is to break free from memory, which comes to be an imprisonment? How is he to know what he sees now when the present perception is filmed over with the accretions of ready – made knowledge? He is in a sort of prison, his freedom of will is threatened by the constrictions of the past, and the tide of immanent present seems always to be pushed backwards into reminiscence and the repetition of old experience. (145-6)

15Remsbury also draws attention to how Lawrence’s statement in “Introduction” about “the reality of substantial bodies [which] can only be perceived by the imagination” (193), is “in accordance with Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s thoughts about perception, which he believes should not be conceived as a sum of visual, tactile and audible givens, but as a grasping of the unique structure of the object in a manner that speaks to all the senses at once” (original emphasis, 139). In “Introduction,” Lawrence goes on to explain his view of the imagination, its links to art, intuition, (a quality he persistently links to blood-consciousness) and its multisensory functions:

the imagination is a kindled state of consciousness in which intuitive awareness predominates. The plastic arts are all imagery, and imagery is the body of our imaginative life, and our imaginative life is a great joy and fulfilment to us, for the imagination is a more powerful and more comprehensive flow of consciousness than our ordinary flow. In the flow of true imagination we know in full, mentally and physically at once, in a greater, enkindled awareness. (193)

16It is not thought that Merleau-Ponty had read Lawrence’s “Introduction to These Paintings”, yet, as Remsbury points out, in his writing on Cézanne, the philosopher suggests that “Cézanne’s pictures offer a record of perception as it is lived by speaking to all the senses at once” (Remsbury 139), which comes close to Lawrence’s view of true imagination (quoted above) and to his description of the achievements Cézanne made in his paintings of apples.

  • 4 Kodak being a popular brand of camera.

17For Lawrence, Fantin-Latour’s paintings of apples were clichés because he just painted what his mind saw as an apple, his mind skimming over the experience he could have had of the apple. Instead of trying to know the apple with the kind of “inside-awareness” that Lawrence saw as essential and thought Cézanne painted. Fantin-Latour just viewed the apple through what Lawrence describes as “Kodak-vision.”4 Lawrence laments the “very curious habit that civilised man has been forming down the whole course of civilisation […] of seeing just as the photographic camera sees” and how man, “does not, even now, see for himself. He sees what the kodak has taught him to see” (STH 164). Whilst Lawrence recognised that humankind’s preoccupation with such visualisation was a habit so old that it had become an instinct, his disapproval of such a perspective is clear, as is his opposition to the anthropocentric attitude it encourages:

This is the habit we have formed: of visualising everything. Each man to himself is a picture. That is, he is a complete little objective reality, complete in himself, existing by himself, absolutely, in the middle of the picture. All the rest is just setting, background. To every man, to every woman, the universe is just a setting to the absolute little picture of himself, herself. (original emphasis, STH 165)

18In her work, Anne Odenbring Ehlert draws attention to how Lawrence’s anti-anthropocentric belief foreshadows “several elements of modern ecological thinking” (14). She also highlights the striking similarities between Lawrence’s thinking and that of Luc Ferry, an ecological philosopher, who identified a string of causes, reaching far back into history, which he believes has significantly contributed to humankind’s, delusional, anthropocentric stance:

The “Judeo-Christian tradition” because it places the spirit and its law above nature, and Platonic dualism, for the same reason; the technical concept of science that triumphed in Europe beginning in the seventeenth century with Bacon and Descartes, for it reduces the universe to a warehouse of objects to serve man; and the entire modern industrial world, which gives priority to the economy over all other considerations. (Luc Ferry “The New Ecological Order” (1995) quoted in Ehlert, 46)

19Garrard also points out that deep ecologists see this separation of humans from nature, as promoted by Western philosophy and culture, as the origin of the present environmental crisis (21). The deep ecologist, Del Ivan Janik, goes further, arguing that the environmental damage humankind has inflicted on its world can only be remedied by a radical shift in individual human consciousness. In what could be seen as an echo of Lawrence’s thinking, Janik advocates the urgent need for humankind to change their perspective, which Janik believes would then enable us to address the environmental devastation we have created (Deep Ecology 89).

20Therefore if, like Lawrence, we now begin to see Fantin-Latour’s still-life paintings not as just pretty pictures, but as representing the dangerous disconnection between human beings and their world, this might also help us to better understand Lawrence’s admiration for Cézanne’s paintings of apples.

21In “Art and Morality” Lawrence describes a Cézanne painting that has “a water-pitcher and six insecure apples on a crumpled tablecloth” (STH 163). But it is possible that Lawrence misremembered this, or described a compilation of more than one painting because, whilst Cézanne made many paintings of apples, none of them exactly matches Lawrence’s description. Nevertheless, the circumstantial evidence surrounding one particular work, Le Compotier, suggests this might be the painting Lawrence is talking about.

22In December 1928 Lawrence asked Samuel Koteliansky to send him Roger Fry’s book Cézanne so that he could “write a good peppery foreword against all that significant form piffle” (7L 82). In January 1929 Lawrence reported to Kot that he had “written the introduction – about 10,000 words – slain Clive Bell […] What a fool Clive Bell is!” (7L 125). Thus Lawrence had clearly read Fry’s book on Cézanne before he turned his attention to writing “Introduction to These Paintings.” In his book, Fry pays particular attention to Le Compotier, discussing it on 9 of the 88 pages in the book and he also includes a full-page illustration of the painting. Although Le Compotier has a water glass rather than the water pitcher Lawrence described, it does have the six apples on a crumpled cloth he mentions – and the apples do look as if they could go rolling off the table. Fry describes this specific painting as “rare perfection” and as representing “one of the culminating points of material quality in painting” (44). Moreover, Jonathan Long drew my attention to Maggie Humm’s recent book on Virginia Woolf which, whilst describing Fry’s focus on Cézanne in his 1910 Post-Impressionist Exhibition and Woolf’s delight at Fry’s “intoxication” with Cézanne, also states that Woolf thought Fry’s book was “solid in structure and bathed in light”. Furthermore, it suggests that in her diaries Woolf “adopted Cézanne’s phrases” and also mentions how she “revelled in a Bloomsbury analysis” speaking of: “6 apples in the Cézanne picture. What can 6 apples not be” (4). We cannot be certain this was Le Compotier, but the number of apples is the same and the prominence of this specific painting in Fry’s book leads to an increased possibility that it was. If so, then this particular painting made a significant impact on Bloomsbury, so it may well have made a similar impression on Lawrence. This is even more likely if, as Anne Fernihough argues in her book D.H. Lawrence Aesthetics and Ideology, Lawrence was actually much closer to the aesthetics of Bloomsbury than is generally recognised – a view that is endorsed in the introduction of The Edinburgh Companion to D.H. Lawrence and the Arts (2020): “[Jeff] Wallace reaffirms Anne Fernihough’s argument that Lawrence had far more in common with the aesthetics of Clive Bell and Roger Fry, particularly through their shared endorsement of the significance of Cézanne, than has been assumed.”

23Nevertheless, for Lawrence, the crucial difference between Fantin-Latour and Cézanne was that Cézanne tried to free his imagination from the prison of memories that his mind had constructed. He struggled to make that individual shift in consciousness and to really know the apples, intuitively, inside as well as outside, and to paint what he truly saw, their “appleyness.” And if, to us, Cézanne’s apples aren’t very appley, Lawrence would say it is because we are only seeing them through our clichéd mental vision, that we need to change our perspective.

24Whilst Lawrence primarily admired Cézanne’s paintings of apples, he did extend his appreciation to a portrait Cézanne painted of his wife. Lawrence considered that this work demonstrated the same intuitive awareness of the subject that he had recognised in Cézanne’s paintings of apples, as Lawrence explains in this often admired and quoted piece of art-criticism:

It is the appleyness of the portrait of Cézanne’s wife that makes it so permanently interesting: the appleyness which carries with it also the feeling of knowing the other side as well, the side you don’t see, the hidden side of the moon. For the intuitive apperception of the apple is so tangibly aware of the apple that it is aware of it all round, not only just of the front. The eye sees only fronts, and the mind, on the whole, is satisfied with fronts. But intuition needs all-aroundness, and instinct needs insideness. The true imagination is forever curving round to the other side, to the back of presented appearance. (original emphasis, “Introduction”, 212)

25Thus, by setting intuition and instinct in opposition to the mind, Lawrence again makes a reference to his ideas about the polarities he saw between mental and blood-consciousness.

  • 5 See 1L 544 letter to Arthur McLeod in which Lawrence claims to have been bored by Bergson and that (...)

26It is also tempting to speculate that, in April 1913, rather than either Laughter or The Philosophy of Change by Henri Bergson, which the editors of Lawrence’s letters mistakenly identify as the only English translations available to him, Lawrence may have read Bergson’s Creative Evolution, which was translated into English in 1911 and was a “phenomenal success.”5 For, in Creative Evolution, Bergson expressed ideas that are close to Lawrence’s statements about Cézanne’s “appleyness.” Jeff Wallace points out that in Creative Evolution Bergson was concerned with “other forms of consciousness” suggesting that “there are other modes of knowledge to which the brain does not give conscious access – modes which we signify with terms such as intuition, instinct, habit and the unconscious.” Wallace also goes on to observe that Bergson implies that “our definitions of knowledge have been too human, too fixated on the sovereignty of intellect” (13-14).

27In Creative Evolution Bergson also acknowledged his huge debt to Plotinus, whose thinking about the arts going “behind the visible to the principles of its nature,” as Remsbury notes, “resembles Lawrence’s notion of Cézanne’s wish to paint ‘more true to life’.” Remsbury also considers that “Lawrence agrees with Plotinus that the ‘visible’ – the world of cliché – is by no means the most real part of our knowledge, and that the truths of art come closer to what is central and permanent in human experience” (135). So whereas Fantin-Latour’s consciousness was imprisoned by his mind, Remsbury observes that Cézanne’s paintings, “remind us that there are two modes of knowledge” (136). Cézanne wanted us to see not just the front of the apple, the part that our mind sees and that Fantin-Latour painted, but to allow our intuition to try and perceive all around the apple and our instinct to try and know the insideness of the apple. Thus, in order to appreciate Cézanne’s work, Lawrence suggests, we must change our perspective and change how we look at art. By extension, he is also advocating that we must change how we look at our world.

28Therefore, it would seem to follow that if we are serious about trying to save our world, we must see our world differently. We, as individuals, must change, change our perspective, change our relationship to our world, abandon our damaging anthropocentric tendencies and value the non-human as well as the human; we must forge that new relationship with our world that Lawrence describes as a “new morality” and that he goes on to explain in relation to Cézanne’s apples:

Let Cézanne’s apples go rolling off the table for ever. They live by their own laws in their own ambiente, and not by the law of the kodak – or of man. They are casually related to man. But to those apples, man is by no means the absolute.

A new relationship between ourselves and the universe means a new morality […] If the status quo were paradise, it would indeed be a sin to taste the new apples. But since the status quo is much more prison than paradise, we can go ahead. (original emphasis, STH 168)

29Thus Lawrence’s revolutionary idea is that the essential new relationship he calls for, between ourselves and the universe, requires us to place the non-human on an equal footing with the human in his new morality. In 1973, Raymond Williams recognised the radical nature of Lawrence’s ideas pointing out how Lawrence called for the change to be “absolute, root and branch […] a different vision” (268). More recently, Ehlert observed: “This prophetic and sometimes revolutionary streak in Lawrence’s writings is crucial since it underscores the idea that change must come from within the individual” (39-40). The change that Lawrence encouraged was a re-evaluation of the importance of the non-human and of the relationship between the human and the non-human.

30Contemporaries of Lawrence have observed how he appeared to have achieved this individual change in perspective. For example, Jessie Chambers drew attention to how Lawrence’s different perspective enabled him to empathise with the non-human as well as the human, “He seemed able to enter into other lives, and not only human lives. With wild things, flowers and birds, a rabbit in a snare, the speckled eggs in a hole in the ground he was in primal sympathy – a living vibration passed between him and them” (223). Aldous Huxley observed something similar:

To be with Lawrence was a kind of adventure, a voyage of discovery into newness and otherness […] he inhabited a different universe from that of common men […] He seemed to know, by personal experience, what it was like to be a tree or a daisy or a breaking wave or even the mysterious moon itself. He could get inside the skin of an animal and tell you in the most convincing detail how it felt and how, dimly, inhumanly, it thought. (xxx-xxxi)

  • 6 Composed in Florence in 1921.
  • 7 Paul Delany, one of Deep Ecology’s leading advocates, endorsed Lawrence’s Deep Ecology credentials (...)

31Readers of Lawrence’s poetry will be aware that his empathy with the non-human is, perhaps, most evident in many of his poems in Birds, Beasts and Flowers. In this collection, which contains some of his best known poems including “Snake,” Lawrence imaginatively enters into the existence of a whole range of beings. However, it is one of his less well-known poems in that collection, “Fish,”6 which perhaps best demonstrates Lawrence’s anti-anthropocentric perspective; notably, a prime tenet of Deep Ecology.7 Janik regards this as the “most complex and illuminating poem in the book” (1983, 365), and attributes Lawrence with coming as close as possible to real intuitive contact with the life of another being “through an intense and original act of poetic attention” (1973, 126). For Janik, “Fish” epitomises the important message of the whole volume: “that man is not the measure of creation” (1983, 366). In this poem, Lawrence contrasts his imaginatively created viewpoint of the fish with the, initially, anthropocentric perspective of the speaker. Lawrence begins by firmly challenging a reader’s assumption of human superiority over the fish;

Fish, oh Fish,
So little matters!
Whether the waters rise and cover the earth
Or whether the waters wilt in the hollow places,
All one to you (l.1-5)

32Here, referring to the biblical flood in Genesis, Lawrence suggests that this non-human is impervious to some of the calamities that would destroy humankind. He then goes on to contrast the different viewpoints of the speaker and the fish. Initially the speaker, assuming human superiority, describes a piscatorial world in which he sees the inhabitants as isolated and out of touch:

But soundless, and out of contact.
They exchange no word, no spasm, not even anger.
Not one touch.
Many suspended together, forever apart,
Each one alone with the waters, upon one wave with the rest. (l.85- 89)

33This anthropocentric viewpoint is challenged by conflicting passages that imaginatively construct the fish’s perspective. In trying to think himself “under the skin” of the fish Lawrence describes it as “wave thrilled” and attempts to convey the sensuosity of the fish’s existence:

Your life a sluice of sensations along your sides,/A flush at the flails of your fins, down the whorl of your tail,/And water wetly on fire in the grates of your gills (l.16-18).

34Janik draws attention to how the speaker finally becomes aware of his anthropocentric vision when in “trying to understand a ‘young cub of a pike’ in human terms” he “compares him to a street-wise Italian, ‘somebody in the know”’ (1983, 365-6) (l.101, 104). This insight then forces the speaker into a sudden, and shocking, revelation “I didn’t know his God” (l.113-4). As Janik points out, this realisation “emerges suddenly and intuitively from the encounter with a being whose life is so very different to man’s […] from a minute awareness of the implications of every detail of the creature’s form and behaviour and from direct knowledge of its palpable existence” (1973, 126). In other words, it is because the speaker performs an “act of attention” in really looking at the fish, that the human assumption of what the fish’s behaviour might be, is replaced by the beginnings of a true understanding of this creature, coupled with the highly significant recognition that “the other” is not “the inferior.” As we can see, the speaker is then forced into a revolutionary insight: that human beings are not the most important creatures in our world and that the human view is not the only valid view:

Fish are beyond me.

Other Gods
Beyond my range … gods beyond my God …

They are beyond me, are fishes.
I stand at the pale of my being
And look beyond, and see
Fish in the outerwards,
As one stands on a bank and looks in. […]

And my heart accused itself
Thinking: I am not the measure of creation.
This is beyond me, this fish.
His God stands outside of my God. (original emphasis, l.122-129 and 138-141)

35The surfeit of italics here acts to highlight the significance of what Janik acknowledges: “the ultimate admission a man can make […] that his way is not the only way; that there are other principles of life, equally valid, outside his” (1973, 126).

36At the start of the poem the speaker was looking at the fish from a human perspective, and it is inferred that this is the only valid opinion. But after carefully observing the fish, the speaker finally acknowledges the equal worth of the non-human at last accepting that humankind is only one small part of this cosmos, rather than the focus of creation. This seismic shift in perspective mirrors what Lawrence believed Cézanne had achieved in his painting of apples. Just as the speaker in this poem came to know the fish, inside and out, through careful observation and by giving equal value to its existence, so Cézanne tried to think himself into the apple and understand every aspect of it. This change in perspective can only come from engaging another form of consciousness that he equated to blood-consciousness. It was Lawrence’s recognition of the necessity to make this change in perspective, which could only come from a shift in consciousness, that provided an important impetus for the thrust of his work, in trying to change what he saw as a calamitous situation; the dominance of mental-consciousness.

37The well-known ending of one of his last writings, Apocalypse, emphasises how humankind is but a part of the great whole and urges us “to destroy our false, inorganic connections, especially those related to money, and re-establish the living organic connections, with the cosmos, the sun and earth, with mankind and nation and family” (111). Passages in an earlier, less well-known, draft, Apocalypsis II, are more explicit about the dangers of dominant mental consciousness and almost seem to anticipate the current environmental crisis:

The triumph of Mind over the cosmos progresses in small spasms: aeroplanes, radio, motor-traffic […] And alas, everything has gone wrong. The destruction of the world seems not very far off, but the happiness of mankind has never been so remote.

Man has made an enormous mistake. Mind is not a Ruler, mind is only an instrument […] these men of mind and spirit […] only succeed in spoiling the earth, spoiling life, and in the end destroying mankind […]. Man cannot destroy the cosmos: that is obvious. But it is obvious that the cosmos can destroy man. Man must inevitably destroy himself, in conflict with the cosmos. It is perhaps his fate. (171-2, 173-4)

38So we can see that Lawrence implored us to change. Nearly a century after he died, that need is even more urgent. Time is running out. Humankind’s efforts to dominate and exploit our world for its own benefit are demonstrably failing. Our world is fighting back with flood and fires and pestilence. We talk about trying to save our world, although our efforts to do so are mired down with disagreement and are limited and disorganised. But it is not our world that needs saving. As Lawrence recognised we cannot destroy our cosmos. The cosmos will survive all our attempts to destroy it. But the crucial thing is that it may not survive in a form that can sustain human life. Therefore, what needs saving is not our world but ourselves. To save ourselves from annihilation, what we need to do is to make sure that our world survives in a viable state for human habitation. And to do that we need to care for our world more; to abandon our human-centric perspective; to place an equal value on the non-human in forging a new relationship with our world and to try to establish that new morality that Lawrence spoke about. He showed us the way. He showed us how to taste Cézanne’s unsteady apples by using our intuitive consciousness. But for those dominated by mental-consciousness, Cézanne’s apples will never seem very appley.

Haut de page


Brown, Catherine and Reid, Susan Eds. The Edinburgh Companion to D.H. Lawrence and the Arts. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020.

Buell, Lawrence. The Environmental Imagination. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.

Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962.

Chambers, Jessie. D.H. Lawrence: A Personal Record. London: Jonathan Cape, 1935.

Cork, Richard. Wild Thing. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2010.

Ehlert, Anne Odenbring. “There’s a bad time coming”: Ecological Vision in the Fiction of D.H. Lawrence. Uppsala: Uppsala University Press, 2001.

Fernihough, Anne. D.H. Lawrence Aesthetics and Ideology. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.

Fry, Roger. Cézanne. London: Hogarth Press Ltd., 1952 (first published 1927).

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1 These two painters were contemporaries and both died in the early years of the twentieth century.

2 Poulet & Murphy 73.

3 Bell had sought to establish his new theories of significant form in his 1914 book Art. Although Ezra Pound credits Jacob Epstein with being “the first person who came talking about ‘form, not the form of anything’” (Cork 119).

4 Kodak being a popular brand of camera.

5 See 1L 544 letter to Arthur McLeod in which Lawrence claims to have been bored by Bergson and that the book was “very dull.” The editors of his letters suggest that “If McLeod had sent an English translation of a work by Henri Bergson (1859-1941) two were currently available to him Laughter (1911) and The Philosophy of Change (1912).” However this is incorrect as Creative Evolution was translated into English in 1911. In his Foreword to Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution, trans. Arthur Mitchell (NY: Ramdom House, 1944) (originally 1911 and revised by Bergson), Irwin Edman notes William James’ enthusiasm for this book and how, following its publication, an industry of books about Bergson grew up and his themes and terms became commonplace in philosophical discussions around the world. P. X.

6 Composed in Florence in 1921.

7 Paul Delany, one of Deep Ecology’s leading advocates, endorsed Lawrence’s Deep Ecology credentials and also credited him with foreseeing the inherent flaws in that vision. His 1993 essay “D.H. Lawrence and Deep Ecology”, states that “within the current emergence of environmental consciousness Deep Ecology is likely to hold a marginal and even scandalous position precisely because of its resemblance to those themes of power and masculinity that have so troubled Lawrence’s later readers […] He [Lawrence] joins Walt Whitman and Robinson Jeffers in anticipating the vision of deep ecology, but more than they he also wrestles with the vision’s darker implications.”

Delany also suggests that Annable, the gamekeeper in The White Peacock is perhaps the first literary character to profess deep ecology in his entreaties to others to be a “good animal” and Delany suggests Lawrence goes on to explore the implications of Annable’s creed “that all civilisation is the painted fungus of rottenness” and that decay – the maggots at work in a dead rabbit – is inseparable from renewal (146). See also Kangaroo when such insight is presented by Somers as Celtic consciousness, “The spirit of that ancient, pre-christian world, which lingers in the truly Celtic places, he could feel it invade him in the savage dusk, making him savage too, and at the same time, strangely sensitive and subtle, understanding the mystery of blood-sacrifice: to sacrifice one’s victim, and let the blood run to the fire, there beyond the gorse upon the old grey granite: and at the same time to understand most sensitively the dark flicker of animal life about him, even in a bat, even in the writhing of a maggot in a dead rabbit. Writhe then, Life, he seemed to say to the thing—and he no longer saw its sickeningness” (237).

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Jane Costin, « “Apples that aren’t very appley”: the Place of the Non-Human in a New Morality »Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 53 | 2021, mis en ligne le 07 décembre 2021, consulté le 16 mai 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Jane Costin

Jane Costin is an independent scholar who guest edited the Journal of D.H. Lawrence Studies in 2017 and 2018, and has now taken up the role of reviews editor there. Her publications include articles in D.H. Lawrence: New Critical Perspectives and Cultural Translation (2016) and, in JDHLS, “Senses of Touch: Henry Moore, D.H. Lawrence and the First World War” (2014) and “The Legacy of D.H. Lawrence’s Time in Cornwall” (2017).

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