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D.H. Lawrence's (Non)apologetic Apologia, and the Fiction of Forgiveness

Joseph Shafer

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1Conflict is integral to D.H. Lawrence's creative process, with interpersonal and intrapersonal conflict becoming developmental, if not therapeutic. Lawrence is infamous for generating combative relationships, and such conflict is made transparent and intensified by his refusals to apologize. In Fantasia of the Unconscious, Lawrence declares that one must act "without apology or explanation" (91), and "never repent" for acts of self-assertion, "whether they're 'justifiable' or not" (197). Lawrence insists on instigating his other while provoking a recurring question, does Lawrence apologize? Or, rather, is it possible for the Lawrencian subject to apologize? Since Lawrence is also admired for his sense of devotion and community, his apologetics can harbor both defensive and reconciliatory connotations, placing the vital role of forgiveness at the center of his non-apologetic positioning. In Fantasia, asking for forgiveness seems to be self-negating, thus producing the harmful state of the modern individual and modern society. And although Lawrence may appear to offer apologies in his letters, with "I am sorry" riddled throughout, such socially conditioned niceties, found in his novels as well, are not rendered truly apologetic, but are often used to reassert conflict. Thus the act of apologizing for oneself in the face of the other, or the act of forgiving oneself, appears to be a universal proscription for Lawrence.

2Yet while the first half of this article introduces the explicit aporias of forgiveness, the later half reads the implicit work of forgiveness in Lawrence, which seems to operate by a different logic. By focusing on apologies between men and women, both the spoken impossibilities of forgiveness and the gestural possibilities of forgiveness can be explored. In Lawrence's fiction, like Sons and Lovers or The Trespasser, an apologetic nature can often be unspoken. And in Lawrence's disharmonious relationships, chronicled by certain women after his death, from Jessie Chambers, Louie Burrows, Frieda, Mabel Dodge Luhan, Mansfield, H.D., and so on, such relationships are not conclusively resentful, nor are they forgiving, but exhibit an odd sort of "coming to terms," as H.D. put it. Such reconciliation is not reached through dialogue, or through speech-acts of apologizing and forgiving, but in working through the unspoken processes of writing and interpretation themselves. Lawrence's statements against apologizing and forgiving in Fantasia, the performative apologies in his fiction, and his therapeutic writing can offer different vantages of (non)apologetic argumentation that work through real fictions of forgiveness.

  • 1 Sanatan Bhowal, "Lawrence and the Question of Gender in our Times," op.cit.

3Under the aegis of forgiveness, Lawrence's theories of sexuality and religion become creatively bound. Sanatan Bhowal recently agreed with Fiona Beckett that Lawrence's evolving critique of gender remains the core issue for his critics,1 and when gendered confrontation is overlaid by Lawrence's critique of religion, under the discourse of forgiveness, the subject appears all the more combative. Lawrence's insistent exploration of sexuality is persistently rooted in conflict, as Kinkead-Weekes shows, for although Lawrence was most probably bisexual in 1915, he was convinced that such a heightened degree of split otherness could also render heterosexual relationships "more creative and transforming, if more difficult" (303). Identity, formed in sexuality, could be more present and creative when embedded within antagonisms. Such a contentious self-resurrecting is a laborious transformation, much akin to Lawrence's continual scrap with religion. Behind what Tim Wright calls Lawrence's "break with Christianity" around 1907, is a fidelity that, in Lawrence's words, "gradually" and "painfully" fights religion in order to distinguish its subjective work, "adding to it; shaping it; and one's religion is never complete and final, it seems, but must always be ongoing modification" (vol. I, 40). In Lawrence's “Introduction” to Fantasia, he professes that "the essentially religious or creative motive is the first motive for all human activity. The sexual motive comes second. And there is a great conflict between the interests of the two, at all times" (67). In Fantasia, a religious polemic is additionally joined by the divisions of sexuality, espousing a subject that is itself a "great conflict." It appears, however, that both motives must be non-apologetic, which is a similarity in difference, rendering Lawrence's subject over-determined to always already pardon its worn animosity against the concords of forgiveness.

4Quite characteristically, the first line of Fantasia opens with an apology to psychoanalysis, but does so in order to be antagonistic, since the work itself comes into existence by first repelling Freudianism. By beginning, "Let us start by making a little apology to Psychoanalysis" (66), Lawrence's “Introduction” exhibits how "little" he cares for the law of psychoanalysis or for apologies in general, except for the apology's exceptional use for creating contention. Lawrence upholds such a ructious tone, and similarly concludes in the last lines before the “Epilogue” that a subject's complete acceptance of "isms" is its death, a death like that of ideal love, the absorption of the other by the relinquishment of each; however, if our subjects have a hateful and unforgiving center, "we might live," he writes (200).

5Lawrence's contentious self is reflective of an internal struggle against that very self, and in Fantasia he sets out to provoke his own speaking self. In doing so, he confronts the reader as another other as well. The impetus for Lawrence's Fantasia, "to investigate the sources and the development of human consciousness" (59), asserts itself in the “Foreword” against others, in order to solicit the original sources of one's creativity. There, an irreducible sexuality requires the struggle of resistant writing, positioned against an other, in order to develop a subject: "Sex, whatever it is, is an utterly private affair, as private as personality, as secret as individuality. [...] He must fight it out with his own soul, alone, or with a book which is like his own self speaking, making him appeased in his aloneness" (55). Within a psychoanalytic frame, Lawrence enters the symbolic discourse of writing in order to antagonize his internal other, "his soul" or "his own self speaking," to continually re-create what is lost within that discourse, or, rather, to regain an aloneness that stands apart from his own self speaking.

  • 2 Howard Booth, "D.H. Lawrence 'Black Sun': Masculinity and Melancholia in Twilight in Italy."
  • 3 The Human Condition, op.cit., 241. Murphy, op.cit. 542.

6Such a self-opposed practice could be considered melancholic, driven into writing by the loss which is found there, and it is such revulsion that seems revitalizing for Lawrence. Howard Booth has explored "masculinity and melancholia" with a Kristevean lens,2 as Lawrence's revulsion against both his own "I-voice" and its other is an abjection that tarries without an established subject or love-object. This is carried out through a self-hatred, and projection of such, rather than through ideal love or objectification. In mapping out the "plexuses, planes, and so on" in Fantasia, Lawrence finds the infant's first sensation of "I am myself, and these others are not as I am–there is a world of difference" when the mother and child first become detached, and "involuntarily it arouses a sort of hate" in both of them, "yet it is a look that comes into every child's eyes" (83-84). The numerous resistances in the child, sympathetic and voluntary, hateful and abject, generate various dynamics of love-hate. And like Kristeva's readings of Dostoyevsky and Raskolnikov, the psychical life of Lawrence's written aggression also appears unable to forgive and save itself, but must work towards the self's death to encounter a chance for a redeeming forgiveness. As Hannah Arendt and Derrida stipulated, forgiveness cannot simply intend to save or redeem itself.3 Quite fittingly, Lawrence's “Foreword” and “Introduction” brazenly attack apologies and forgiveness themselves, preemptively excusing his own pugnacity since the subject relies on a resistant ontogenesis.

7In Fantasia, Lawrence correlates modernity's decadent and warring society with modernity's apologetic and loving individual. To prevent both, each psychical and parental figure should officiously present itself, if not to nurture a resistant subject, for even "if children be too sensitive, too sympathetic, then it will do the child no harm if the father occasionally throws the cat out of the window, or kicks the dog, or raises a storm in the house. Storms there must be" (91). Since such raging storms are inherently vital, their occurrences hardly need to be apologized for, or forgiven. In Fantasia, whatever shame could possibly result from such an aggressive father is excused by developmental necessity. Lawrence continues, "And let the adult take the full responsibility, half-humorously, without apology or explanation. Let us avoid self-justification at all costs" (91). Such responsibility first recognizes its empathetic convictions, but, instead of apologizing, its convictions can be half-humorously vindicated.

8The non-apologetic oppositions between authoritative figures and the child are further supported by tensions between the parental figures themselves, which multiplies and sustains a "dynamic opposition, resistance, even antipathy" between the subject's (up to eight) internal polarities (160). Such resistances are crucial for "breaking" modernity's "vicious circle" of "self-conscious love-will," which is modernity's ideal, an ideal that represses violence instead of facing it (162). And Lawrence seeks to rear conflict, not fight it. But his fight against the written self, and the reader, must appear brash if it is to achieve its desired affects from the other. In Fantasia, Lawrence sets the father against the mother, and vice versa, to exemplify the arising convictions that their non-apologetic confrontations could yield, on the one hand, and their non-apologetic justification, on the other.

And to all her threats, her tears, her entreaties, her reproaches, her cajolements, her winsomenesses, answer nothing, but say to yourself “Shall I be implicated in this display of the love-will? Shall I be blasted by this false lightning?” And though you tremble in every fibre, and feel sick, vomit-sick with the scene, still contain yourself, and say “My soul is my own. It shall not be violated.” And learn, learn, learn the one and only lesson worth learning at last. Learn to walk in the sweetness of the possession of your own soul. And whether your wife weeps as she takes off her amber beads at night [...] say to yourself: “My soul is my own. My soul is with myself, and beyond implication.” [...] never give in, but be alone, and utterly alone with your own soul, in the stillness and sweet possession of your own soul. And don't be angry. And never be sad. Why should you? It's not your affair. (164-165)

9It is not one's affair to subjugate oneself to regret, not to live with an apologetic soul among the others, for it is at the cost of individual and social development. His hostility against the "love-will" here centralizes his efforts not to disavow violence, but to harness it. Lawrence continues,

Instead of the leprous forbearance which we are taught to practise in our intimate relationships, there should be the most intense open antagonism. [...] Never mind about being justified. If you hate anything she does, turn on her in a fury [...] Don't silently hate her, or silently forbear. It is such a dirty trick, so mean and ungenerous. If you feel a burning rage, turn on her and give it her, even if you have to fetch her a hit at the side of the head, do it, and never repent. It'll probably hurt you much more than it hurts her. But never repent for your real hot rages, whether they're 'justifiable' or not. (197)

10Such passages can instigate criticism against Lawrence's non-apologetic and abrasive discourse, but, for Lawrence, to not write such fractious discourse and to apologize is to submit before a repressive, self-negating forgiveness that also seems exceedingly malignant and untenable.

11Lawrence's non-apologetic stance is most critical of the abiding Law, and his anarchistic subjectivity seems to grant a law unto his self while enacting disparate laws for others: "For me there is only one law: I am I," writes Lawrence in Fantasia (35). Such a world not only condones difference but seeks to create it, often defying the normalized roles of apologies and forgiveness.

  • 4 Jacques Derrida, On Forgiveness, op.cit., 29.

12As Derrida himself wrote, "Forgiveness is not, it should not be, normal, normative, normalising,"4 and in Fantasia, the subject is strictly guided by a profound enmity towards universals or customary fashion, as the most telling imperative in Lawrence's above quote on domestic violence–"never repent"–is most directed against what "we are taught." An antagonism thus surfaces against the normalization of social relations, albeit concerning the politics of psychical relations.

13In an explicit battle against the lifeless state, Lawrence must be bold, for in Fantasia's “Foreword: an Answer to Some Critics,” Lawrence defends himself against critics of Fantasia's non-apologetically inflated, if not inflammatory, remarks, but he prefaces them quite opportunely in “Foreword: an Answer to Some Critics” by exemplifying the necessity for such exaggeration: to startle society's dehumanization. He writes,

What I wish to escape from, and to see society escape from, is the automatism which proceeds from within the individual, the automatism which derives from the fixing of all impulse according to certain set principles or motives or aspirations. In its essential character, our present morality seems to me to offer no very serious obstacle to our living: our moral standards need brightening up a little, not shattering. But we do need to form a new conception of our own nature and being. (60)

14His coltish "brightening up a little, not shattering" resists the complete destruction of modern culture, yet from the following "But" Lawrence postulates the dire need to re-form modern ways of being. Within Lawrence's textual resistance, where he "must fight it out [...] or with a book which is like his own self speaking," Lawrence non-apologetically confronts an other, that is, he confronts a self and a reader, yet the former antagonism further excuses him from the latter's (or does so by equating them), as Lawrence makes each opposition reflexive of an internalizing conflict, concluding in the “Foreword,” "But remember, dear reader, please, that there is not the slightest need for you to believe me, or even read me. Remember, it's just your own affair. Don't implicate me" (78). However, by directly addressing the "dear reader" for the purpose of excusing himself, thereby excusing the relationship of the reader as well, Lawrence is quite literally striking the reader into a written conflict with his speaking self that must then be excused, if not forgiven. The author, by separating himself, cannot be implicated and yet insists on engaging, thereby making a psychical conflict a physical one on the surface, provoking a host of others. Thus an identity's signature is found that resists within and against the author's writing, unapologetically so, rendering conflict itself the main subject at hand.

  • 5 Michael Black, op.cit., 381.

15With conflict at the core of Lawrence's writing, the act of forgiving its conflicted essence seems to be the only unforgivable act. Such a position is prevalent in “The Crown,” another manifesto of psychical life, where between "the king of beasts and the beast of purity," writes Lawrence, "there is no rest, no cessation from the conflict" (368), for it "is a greater thing to have an enemy than to have an object" (365). In “The Crown,” the raging oppositions fight within psychical life while the ideal crown sits above them and one's being, the Holy Ghost, stirs below. "This is the incalculable and intangible Holy Ghost each time–each individual his own Holy Ghost," writes Lawrence in Fantasia (146). And, in “The Crown,” to kill the "new emergence into creative being: a glimpse of the Holy Ghost" (396), is to commit "the unforgiveable blasphemy" (373). Such a crime occurs when the "static ego, with its will-to-persist, neutralizes both life and death, and utterly defies The Holy Ghost," writes Lawrence, this is "The unpardonable sin."5 The ego will try to forgive the Holy Ghost in neutralizing their conflict, but instead the ego establishes its own sovereignty by defying one's being and becoming. For Lawrence, to sacrifice one's "new emergence into creative bring" is an unforgivable act. Thus there is a running theme, where a non-apologetic and unforgiving subjectivity, which maintains resisting the desires of the other, is always already pardoned, while a politically empowered forgiveness from the other is unforgivable.

16Surprisingly, Lawrence does apologize exceedingly in his Letters, but the question arises whether saying "I'm sorry" is always a real apology? One of Lawrence's most sincere apologies comes after damaging Grace Crawford's copy of Gerhardt Hauptmann's Elga,

Dear Miss Crawford,

I am ashamed to return Elga. [...] I am sorry: I ought at least to have sent the book back. I am sorry, too, it is so much battered. I have read it out of doors a good deal: it has been much in my pocket: now I am the more ashamed at its condition. Truly, I am a fool, very much flawed even in folly. It is partly shyness– confusion, but chiefly an unnecessary sort of pride. Perhaps you will understand, and not be offended. (vol. I, 164-165)

A most sincere apology initially appears, but Lawrence's supplemental gestures of "shyness," "confusion" and "pride" obscure apologetic transparency. Apologizing for one's own nature is a sleek way of not apologizing at all, although he apologizes repeatedly. In his Letters, the exhausted social etiquette of apologizing, which British society had deemed so proper, frustrates Lawrence's asocial tendencies, for while he casually offers apologies with one hand, he simultaneously withdraws them with the other.

17Lawrence's frequent apologies to women in his letters are more often than not followed by an excuse or insinuation, or are driven by social etiquette, and thus are not actual apologies. The more conventional "I'm sorry" is more weaponous as a result, as one can elude being apologetic while signifying a different meaning altogether. Therefore, Nietzsche's warning in Human, All-too Human, “The Art of Apologizing,” is relevant: "When anyone apologizes to us he has to do it very expertly: otherwise we might easily come to see ourselves as the guilty party and experience unpleasant feelings" (370). Apologies tend to render their recipients guilty. This can be seen in a long slew of letters to women throughout Lawrence's years. To Blanche Jennings in 1908, Lawrence writes,

I am sorry you don't like men, they are interesting, more solid than women. I am sorry, but I fear you are rather lonely, and don't feel rich in the possession of your own soul. Could you not make it so that your soul is a delicious companion of delight to you? [...] This is very rough and stale. I cry your pardon. (vol. I, 28)

18We see three ostensive apologies here, sandwiching a rather insulting critique of the recipient. The final apology, "I cry your pardon," which apologizes for being so rough, is rather the last bow for wrapping up Lawrence's non-apologetic gift.

19John Worthen describes Lawrence's letters to Blanche Jennings, Jessie Chambers, and others at this time as exemplary of Lawrence's current writing phase, and also, I think, of Lawrence's playfully spun apologies therein. Worthen writes, "The figure of the writer in Lawrence's letters, too, is subject to some most uneasy humour, particularly in the letters he wrote to Blanche Jennings [...] between 1908 and 1910. The writer there is presented as absurd, foppish, the work he does ridiculous," and "The artificiality of Lawrence's manner here is oddly appropriate to his problem of writing about writing: his style becomes facetious, allusive, self-conscious, defensive" (144-145). Likewise, Lawrence's apologies are excused by his own facetious, allusive, self-conscious, and defensive manner.

20His apologetic absurdity continues with Jessie Chambers. For when Lawrence told Jessie that he would suddenly marry Lou Burrows, he offered a foppish self-justification in place of an actual apology. In December of 1910, he writes,

I was in the train with Louie [Burrows] on Saturday and I suddenly asked her to marry me. I never meant to. But she accepted me and I shall stick to it. I've written to her father [...] I'll go over the old ground again, if you like, and explain. Do you want me to say little, or nothing, or much? I'll say anything you like, only I can't help it, I'm made this way. (vol. I, 71)

21Lawrence is like a puppet here, simply "made this way," and puppets need not apologize. An iconic apology also takes place a year earlier, for while Lawrence was juggling Jessie Chambers and Lou Burrows, he raised the awkwardness of a ménage à trois forming from their conflict. Writing to Lou in 1909,

My dear Louise,

You do not want me to come so urgently, do you, ma mie? For you know; – out of a host of difficulties, I will give you two:

I am short of money and worse than that: do you think J[essie], you, and I make a happy triangle? I have a large spicing of devilry and perversity in me; it is more flagrant since I left home; somebody has a bad time when we three meet. Do you not feel it? It gets between my teeth. You understand, do you not? I am sorry I have said it – but – but – – – (vol. I, 112)

22This confession is naturally followed by a straightforward apology, "I am sorry I have said it," but it is then immediately followed by an exceptional, punny clause: two buts and three hyphens. Lawrence's need to apologize, in such cases, is a consequence of the social norms Lawrence began to battle, and he routinely apologizes before justifying a resistant nature.

23The White Peacock was composed during the above letters and begins with the semi-autobiographical protagonist, Cyril, apologizing for not bringing Emily his poetry (Emily, of course, represents Jessie Chambers and their studious intimacy). Cyril apologizes, “I'm so sorry – I've forgotten them again. As a matter of fact, I've sent them away”

“But you promised me.” [said Emily]
“You know what my promises are. I'm as irresponsible as a puff of wind.” (18)

24Apologies appear as social conventions, and are negated by the rationale that it is merely one's natural state, and so it cannot be apologetic nor can it be forgiven since there is nothing to forgive. It can be seen that both remorse, which is so essential for an apology's affective validity, and responsibility, which is pivotal for an apology's insurance, are gone with the wind.

25The conditions that constitute forgiveness are what supplant its secured possibility. Such conditional apologies plague the dialogues of Women in Love, where apologies are alarmingly frequent, yet are often followed by excuses that negate them. At the outset, Birkin and Gerald go to make the acquaintance of Ursula and Gudrun, but they are late: "'I'm sorry we are late," says Birkin, "We couldn't find a button-hook, so it took us a long time to button our boots." "We are usually on time," says Gerald, "'And I'm always late,' said Birkin. 'But today I was really punctual, only accidentally not so. I'm sorry'" (20). The apology acts as a social gesture which merely prefaces a defense based on events, chance, or individualism. More significantly, Lawrence's fiction can tease out the ridiculousness of apologetic significations, as when Birkin scares Ursula, and she staggers to catch her breath, but "He laughed, saying he was sorry. She wondered why it amused him" (35). And when Birkin is explaining to Ursula why he does not want a physically attractive woman, but rather a woman he does not see, Ursula replies, "'I'm sorry I can't oblige you by being invisible,' she laughed" (147).

26Apologies are further unveiled in Lawrence's fiction as signifying the opposite of their overt meaning. When Hermione, in Women in Love, is determined to embarrass Gudrun in front of Gerald out of jealousy, she drops Gudrun's paintings in the water. "'There!' sang Hermione, with a strange ring of malevolent victory. 'I'm so sorry, so awfully sorry. Can't you get it, Gerald?' This last was said in a note of anxious sneering that made Gerald's veins tingle with fine hate for her" (121). Such an apology brandishes playful signification most poignantly, delivering and bolstering its truer hatred. Similarly, in The Plumed Serpent, when Kate is speaking to her servant Teresa, there is the explicit confession that an apology means its opposite,

“'I am sorry if I was rude,” [Teresa] said.
“No,”said Kate. “Apparently it is I who am wrong,”
“Yes, I think you are,” said Teresa. (409)

27Teresa apologizes because she knows it is practical, although not justified. In fact, because the apology is both normal and yet incongruous, the apology acts as an ironizing weapon. In other words, apologies are fiercely pragmatic for engaging in conflict. Such typical apologies are all the more non-apologetic and cannot qualify for forgiveness.

28Conditional apologies seek their own ends, as Derrida reminds us, "The language of forgiveness, at the service of determined finalities, was anything but pure and disinterested. As always in the field of politics" (31). Conditional apologies or conventional forgiveness merely seek their own ends. Such pragmatic apologizing can carry the dialogue between Clifford and Lady Chatterley with finesse, as Clifford apologizes perpetually to re-affirm their social contract, while Constance continually apologizes to Clifford in order to excuse her already condoned affair with Mellors. A keen example of conditional forgiveness is in The White Peacock, when Leslie, who is often unsympathetic and cold, finally apologizes with great sincerity for his inappropriate behavior towards Lettie, but Lettie finds out at the end of the chapter (205), upon Leslie's confession, that he only apologized to make Lettie feel better about marrying him. Lettie is of course disturbed by his trickery, but ultimately forgives him because, after all, she must marry him, and marry up. The religious and moral invocations in Leslie's apology and Lettie's forgiveness are neither religious nor moral, but are rather social manipulations for capital gain.

  • 6 Vladimir Jankélévitch, Forgiveness, op.cit., 118-119.
  • 7 Ethan Kleinberg, "To Atone and To Forgive," op.cit., 146.

29Therefore, in Lawrence, explicated apologies appear all the more perfunctory, if not non-apologetic. However, unspoken apologies seem to work through a different logic. In “How to Avoid Speaking: Denials,” Derrida proposes that true forgiveness is undone when spoken but is preserved in silence. Ethan Kleinberg, in reading Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamazov under Jankélévitch and Derrida's schemas of forgiveness, proposes that only silent, unspoken acts can work through forgiveness. Jankélévitch states, "if one were to speak, instead of silently giving the kiss of peace, it would be in order to roll out objections against forgiveness, to prove the entire responsibility of the guilty person. [...] [F]or we speak in order to accuse [. . .] In short, only forgiveness of the guilty person has nothing to say."6 Kleinberg invokes Derrida's stress on the impossibilities of forgiveness, due to its political conditions, when introducing Jankélévitch's emphasis that forgiveness may be an event that has never occurred. In continuing to weave Derrida's political context into a literary one, Kleinberg asks, "Does this mean [forgiveness] can only be a goal or a fantasy, a dream or a delusion or can we move from the realm of the literary to try to pin it down?"7 It is in Kristeva's own psychoanalytic readings of Dostoyevsky that the non-symbolic suffering and silent mediation of writing can work through a healing forgiveness, through the transference and counter-transference of the other whom the subject resists.

30In Lawrence's personal and semi-autobiographical work, there are signs that convey Lawrence's suffering, his exhaustion from resistance, and his possible work towards a form of forgiveness. Although his oft-quoted poem “Self-Pity” states that he "never saw a wild thing sorry for itself," his own self-pity can emerge at times, questioning his pursuit of conflict. After finishing Sons and Lovers and running off with Frieda, Lawrence writes to Garnett in 1912, "But, by the Lord, I'm dead tired inside – fit to drop. It's just the strain of resisting, of seven months of resistance. I feel as if I canna [sic] do no more – the rest's got to come" (vol. I, 489). Lawrence begins to feel sorry for himself, knowing he must still convince Frieda to marry him and fight for his livelihood, and so "It seems there's nothing to do but to go on, like a candle guttering and clinging in a draught. I'm sorry for myself just now. It's rather comforting" (ibid). The comforting thought of self-pity is a re-surfacing sign of Lawrence's desire to forgive his resistance, to forgive Frieda's own resistance towards him, and the suffering of his work, expressed here in his epistolary writing. It is because of the perceived resistance towards the other within Lawrence's discourse that signs can appear to interrupt such discourse, in seeking a therapeutic pardon from such resistance as well.

31In Lawrence's fiction, the unspoken and affective forms of mediation are used more effectively for reconciliation than verbal dialogue. And it is difficult to find a more guilty character in Lawrence's fiction than Siegmund from The Trespasser, who is trapped between a family he must cheat on and a young love whom he cannot take. When Siegmund grows depressed upon leaving Helena on the Isle of Wight, Helena notices when "Siegmund darkened and frowned. Here was the pain revived again. 'No,' he said gently; 'I think we had better not.' Almost for the first time he did not make apologetic explanation" (144-145). This passage stands out because Helena notices that this is "the first time" in which Siegmund "did not make an apologetic explanation," yet Siegmund never apologizes to anyone throughout the novel – not to the family he cheats on, nor to the love he cannot consummate; nevertheless, Siegmund is often "apologetic." His apologies, what Helena had incessantly read, were loudly implicit, affected, gestural, and non-verbal.

32A (non)apologetic apologia is perhaps best read in Sons and Lovers, where the conflicts between Mr and Mrs Morel ebb and flow while so much goes unsaid. After their harshest battles, Morel attempts to sustain his assertive individualism while simultaneously feeling apologetic. For example, when Walter is angry and throws the kitchen drawer at Mrs. Morel, the drawer cutting her head and causing blood to drip on the baby, Walter is again caught between an apologetic and a non-apologetic defense. The following morning, conveying sentiments later found in Fantasia, Walter's crimes supposedly hurt him more than his wife, and so he attempts to forgive himself, yet, as in Fantasia, this is hardly achievable. "He lay and suffered like a sulking dog. He had hurt himself most; and he was the more damaged because he would never say a word to her, or express his sorrow. He tried to wriggle out of it. 'It was her own fault,' he said to himself. Nothing, however, could prevent his inner consciousness inflicting on him the punishment which ate into his spirit like rust, and which he could only alleviate by drinking" (40-41). Like Walter's drinking, perhaps Lawrence's own convictions could only be alleviated by the indirect catharsis of writing, but, unlike Walter, it was the very writing process itself wherein Lawrence could act out his apologetics. In both cases, there is the non-symbolic work of a conflicted apologetic, though Lawrence's is even more conflicted because it illustrates such otherness while engaging the reader, and is implicitly fighting it out against his self through such writing.

33The Lawrencian fiction of forgiveness is painful work, and I find Lawrence's apologetic aporias burden his dialogue while confirming his commiseration. Like Garcia from The Plumed Serpent, who is the young scholar from the University, active in politics and art, Lawrence could also not find the words to apologize for his frustration, yet he shows signs of wanting to. Garcia is caught between hating and only having the symbolic discourse to express it, with only "symbols in the weary script of socialism and anarchy," notes Kate when disagreeing with the normalizing frescos and language which Garcia defended (44). After Kate and Garcia argue and the conversation ends abruptly, Garcia seeks to apologize to Kate but is further trapped by his symbolic discourse when forced to talk it out with Kate. "So we must hate them," explains Garcia,

“Yes, we must. But I, too, I don't like it” [he continues].
He held his hat in his two hands, and twisted his shoulders in a conflict of feelings.
Kate suddenly laughed, and he laughed too, with a certain pain and confusion in his laughter.
“That's awfully nice of you to come and say so,” she said, warming to him.
“No, not nice,” he said, frowning. “But I don't know what to do. Perhaps you think I am – different – I am not the thing that I am. And I don't want it.” (45)

34Garcia is caught between hating the political world he lives in, and hating the fact that that world may only be in conflict against a projected self. Garcia's self-hate, therefore, suddenly behooves him to be apologetic towards that hated world, but he does not have the words.

“I hate them because I must, no? But also, I am sorry – I am sorry I have to hate so much. Yes, I think I am sorry. I think so.” [...] Kate could see he wasn't really sorry. Only the two moods, of natural gay flow and of heavy resentment and hate, alternated inside him like shadow and shine on a cloudy day, in swift, unavoidable succession. What was nice about him was his simplicity, in spite of the complication of his feelings, and the fact that his resentments were not personal, but beyond persons, even beyond himself. (45-46)

  • 8 Julia Kristeva, Black Sun, op.cit., 181.

35Garcia's inner hatred does not express itself strictly in an apology, but in a (non)apologetic defense to Kate that tries to describe, what Kristeva calls, "a suffering that precedes hate," but which can work through a literalizing forgiveness, when the "inordinate but checked violence opens onto the execution of the self by itself in order that the subject be born."8 And when Garcia's self-interrupted speech seeks to appease Kate, his transference and, more significantly, Kate's counter-transference work through their own conflicts in an unspoken manner that does not speak forgiveness but can at least realize its work.

  • 9 Julia Kristeva, Black Sun, op.cit., 24.

36Transference through writing may perform a similar, apologetic work, for after some of Lawrence and Mabel Dodge Luhan's harshest words to each other, Lawrence encouraged her writing and her book, Intimate Memories. He then tutored her on how to release it while promoting it himself back in Europe. This form of apology, through the joint creation of writing itself, is similar to how Paul Morel apologizes to Miriam (Jessie Chambers) after sore episodes in Sons and Lovers. Paul makes up to Miriam by tutoring and encouraging her journal writing (her written French). In Mabel Dodge Luhan's Lorenzo in Taos, Mabel is bitter with Lawrence, but she knows that it is within his writing that Lawrence often works out their conflicts, rather than in dialogue. Mabel writes, "It occurred to me that had Frieda let him write [‘The Snake Dance’] with me, he would have attempted by that means to annihilate the strong creature whose will was so evil in his eyes, [...] the dominating American woman," for it was through the "struggling" of Lawrence's "magic pen rather than the reiterated blows he gave" that they would be reconciled (245). The "magic," therapeutic truth of both her and Lawrence's written "work" was, at the time, suggested by her psychoanalyst, Dr. Abraham Brill (ibid). The internal conflicts that remain enmeshed within Lawrence's writing are worked-through without explication. In Kristeva's words, Dodge attests to Lawrence's "aesthetic and particularly literary creation, and also religious discourse and imaginary, fictional essence [...] that comes closer to catharsis than elaboration."9

37Kristeva's working through forgiveness in literary creation, rather than in speech acts, is pivotal for Jill Scotts' A Poetics of Forgiveness, which also reads "poetic forgiveness" as an unspoken but literal process that can be described as "a mode of being in the world with others" (1). Although Scott mostly focuses on literary forms of metaphor and ambiguity, she sees Derrida, Kristeva and Kelly Oliver facilitating a poetic forgiveness that "arises as the product of human creative communication. Instead of constructing forgiveness through a promise or speech act – ‘I forgive you’ – this forgiveness constructs us. It speaks us as we speak in creative ways" (3). Scott builds her argument off from Julie McGonegal's work, which relies more on Kelly Oliver's postcolonial and feminist appropriations of Kristeva, yet McGonegal introduces a mediating forgiveness within literary interpretation.

38What forgiveness and literary activity share, then, is an act of submission, an act of risk-taking insofar as one opens oneself up to the possibilities brought into existence by the fact of contact with another person. For just as in writing, where the author must relinquish the desire to predetermine the reader's comprehension in any definitive way, so too in giving and offering forgiveness, participants must make themselves vulnerable to the interpreting activity of the other. (11)

  • 10 J.A. Bramley, "D.H. Lawrence and 'Miriam," op.cit.

39Scott adds that "McGonegal does not idealize fiction as the 'eminent expression of forgiveness and reconciliation,' but insists that literary works do invite us to imagine new possibilities in ways that judicial and other dispute resolution mechanisms cannot" (13). Lawrence's own suffering and rebirth do seem to attempt various modes of reconciliation, for example, when finishing The White Peacock, Lawrence wrote to Jessie, "I its creator–you its nurse."10 The note extends a reconciliatory gesture that is veiled within literary creation. And the conflicted role of interpreting Lawrence also offers a ground for creation, like Lawrence's own literalized contestation with his speaking self in Fantasia.

40In “Hatred and Forgiveness; or, from Abjection to Paranoia,” Kristeva introduces her case study of Pierre, from which she first theorized abjection. Since birth, Pierre's intelligent insights seemed "at war" with "people," and his "pure hatred" was in a "permanent state of war" with his wife. Although Pierre's defense mechanism prevents him from questioning the self, a conflict that Lawrence consciously questions, Pierre's own case introduces Kristeva to the psychoanalytic and literary work of forgiveness. While the projected hate of paranoia continues, it nevertheless instigates, in Kristeva, opportunities for forgiveness. She writes, "And so I say that Freud succeeded where the paranoia fails, because he set in motion the modern, endless, postmoral variant of forgiveness, which is nothing other than interpretation" (193). She calls this form of interpretation the gift of pardon, "to highlight the giving of sense to the senseless of unconscious hate. Interpretation is a pardon: a rebirth of the psychical apparatus, with and beyond the hatred that bears desire, which religion is and is not aware of and from which it defends itself" (ibid). An interpretation that enables a pardon is an ambition "to make psychical rebirth possible," where its "spiraled temporality is realized in the intersecting times of transference and counter-transference" (194). And yet, "only this pardon confronts the other side of desire–hate, [and] does so without fighting it or submitting to it but also without ceasing the deconstructive elucidation of 'love-hatred'" (ibid). Lawrence's reader, who faces a conflicted pathos between his literalized objects of love and hate, is an other who is capable of granting the subject a pardon, and allowing psychical rebirth. By consciously mitigating unconscious hatred between the self, author, and reader, as in Fantasia, Lawrence's conflicted writing may surface all the more through a transference, counter-transference, that seeks rebirth within literal temporalities of interpretation.

  • 11 Jacques Derrida, On Forgiveness, op.cit. 51.

41Lawrence's apologetic form is also reflected through Frieda's own writing, for when Lawrence is on his death bed in the chapter “Nearing the End” in Frieda's Not I, But The Wind, he does not apologize exactly, but conveys regret over their life of quarreling. Frieda acknowledges his suffering, yet cherishes their pact not to forget their quarrels, but to reconcile them as both deadening and revitalizing. She writes, "So the dreary passages in our lives were wiped out and he said to me: 'Why, oh why did we quarrel so much?' and I could see how it grieved him.[ . ..] our terrible quarrels |. . .] but I answered: 'Such as we were, violent creatures, how could we help it?'" (268). Lawrence, unable to verbally ask for forgiveness and yet grieved over its potential, appears as one of his fictional characters who, in Derrida's words, must "remain 'torn' (between a hyperbolic ethical vision of forgiveness, pure forgiveness, and the reality of a society at work in pragmatic processes of reconciliation)."11 Lawrence's grief and Frieda's reconciliation takes on a metaphorical role itself, as forgiveness is being worked through here yet only without speaking it while remaining resistant, as "the dreary passages in our lives were wiped out," but only done so when written down.

42Lastly, Lawrence's falling out with Hilda Doolittle had resulted in the two not speaking, and was not reconciled before his death, even though Lawrence was what Janice Robsinson calls H.D.'s deepest passion, her Achilles fighting for Helen (106). Freud himself later saw H.D.'s love-hatred of Lawrence as deeply repressed, though Freud could not convince H.D. to talk it out. After Lawrence's death, Stephen Guest would give a copy of The Man Who Died to H.D., saying the book was dedicated to her. In Tribute to Freud, H.D. writes, "I carefully avoided coming to terms with Lawrence, the Lawrence of Women in Love and Lady Chatterley. But there was this last Lawrence" (134), and then "Lawrence came back with The Man Who Died. Whether or not he meant me as the priestess of Isis in that book does not alter the fact that his last book reconciled me to him" (150). Finally accepting this gravely indirect form of writing, H.D. and Lawrence's non-apologetic writing and reading work through a form of forgiveness that is never spoken in discourse or bound by clear metaphor, but achieved through the work itself.

  • 12 S.K. Keltner, op.cit., 2-3.

43Lawrence's writing becomes interpretative and transformative for the other which it repels. Here Kristeva's distinction between the symbolic and the semiotic is helpful, as the symbolic discourse represents Lawrence's "law, grammar, logic, structure, and form," reflecting his non-apologetic discourse. The semiotic, on the other hand, "roughly refers to the affective, corporeal elements of language that contribute to meaning," which offer the material affects of a gift, a pardon, that exist on the threshold of the social and psychical.12 Concerning the semiotics of Dostoyevsky's written suffering and what she calls "immoral forgiveness," Kristeva writes of a process by which affect turns into the signs of an effected forgiveness: "At the boundaries of emotion and action, writing comes into being only through the moment of the negation of the affect so that the effectiveness of signs might be born" (217). While there is enmity in the symbolic discourse, the body of semiotic writing "conveys affects and does not repress them, it suggests for them a sublimatory outcome, it transposes them for another in a threefold imaginary, and symbolic bond. Because it is forgiveness, writing is transformation, transposition, translation" (ibid).

44Kristeva writes later in “Hatred and Forgiveness” of the primary event that had turned her affective interpretations of Pierre's suffering into the effective break of forgiveness:

[…] beyond the trap of the “crazy truth” into which he led me, I had the feeling I have given him something, too, through interpretation and the transferential link. And this gift, which was neither love nor hate but simply a patient interpretation of the psychical movements subjacent to his “state of war,” broke the chain of persecutions in which his psychical negativity had been stuck and inserted it into the openness of psychical time –the gift of a new way of being. That is what led to my conception of psychoanalytical interpretation as a postmodern version of forgiveness. (191)

45Drawing on Kristeva's interpretations, it can be argued that Lawrence's own psychic conflicts can integrate a forgiving element within his writing, thus rendering his resistance to psychoanalysis all the more productive.

46The responsible reader may find it difficult to allow forgiveness to play its role in Lawrence, except to spin its aporias and impossibilities. But in summarizing Derrida's "torn" situation concerning forgiveness, Ann Murphy acknowledges a space for the reader, between the impossible possibilities of conditional forgiveness and the possible impossibilities of true forgiveness:

47Such a negotiation is not experientially neutral or easy, but rather involves a passage, a test, or a challenge that one endures in the passage between conditional and unconditional forgiveness. What is at stake is the assumption of a “difficult responsibility,” an experience that is partially captured in a fairly orthodox existential vernacular that favors the themes of anguish and anxiety. Without the risk and discomfort of reckoning with incompatible injunctions, there is no responsibility. “For the responsible decision to be envisaged or taken, we have to go through pain and aporia, a situation in which I do not know what to do” (QG, 59). Derrida writes that the experience of aporia must be endured, signaling the ambiguities that persist, the abiding failure to know if one had chosen or acted rightly, the inability to know if one can ever truly forgive or ask forgiveness. (548)

48Whether in Lawrence's letters, fictionalized non-fiction, non-fictional fiction, or in his social and psychical modes of writing, the aporias within Lawrence's (non)apologetic apologia are what precisely opens up his writing to interpretations of the inability and impossibility of forgiveness. And under consideration of Derrida's conclusion, that "forgiveness only becomes possible from the moment it appears impossible" (37), Lawrence's non-apologetic writing, which situates forgiveness as a subject of conflict, may be pardoned in a rereading, if not forgiven.

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Bhowal, Sanatan. "Lawrence and the Question of Gender in our Times." Études Lawrenciennes. 45 (2014).

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Bramley, J.A. "D.H. Lawrence and 'Miriam." D.H. Lawrence: A Personal Record by E.T. Ed. J.D. Chambers. London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd., 1965.

Chambers, Jessie. D.H. Lawrence: A Personal Record by E.T. Ed. J.D. Chambers. London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd., 1965.

Derrida, Jacques. "How to Avoid Speaking: Denials." Languages of the Unsayable: The Play of Negativity in Literature and Literary Theory. Ed. Sanford Budick and Wolfang Iser. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.

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Jankélévitch, Vladimir. Forgiveness. trans. Andrew Kelley. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Keltner, S.K. "Introduction." Psychoanalysis, Aesthetics, and Politics in the Work of Julia Kristeva. Ed. Kelly Oliver. Albany: State University of New York, 2009.

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Kleinberg, Ethan. "To Atone and To Forgive: Jaspers, Jankélévitch/Derrida and the Possibility of Forgiveness." Vladimir Jankélévitch and the Question of Forgiveness. Ed. Alan Udoff. New York: Lexington Press, Rowman and Littlefield, 2013.

Kristeva, Julia. Black Sun. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.

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Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

Lawrence, D.H. Fantasia of the Unconscious. Ed. Bruce Steele. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Lawrence, D.H. Sons and Lovers. New York: Random House, 1962.

Lawrence, D.H. 'The Crown'. Phoenix II. London: William Heinemann Ltd, 1968.

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McGonegal, Julie. Imagining Justice: The Politics of Postcolonial Forgiveness and Reconciliation. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2009.

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1 Sanatan Bhowal, "Lawrence and the Question of Gender in our Times," op.cit.

2 Howard Booth, "D.H. Lawrence 'Black Sun': Masculinity and Melancholia in Twilight in Italy."

3 The Human Condition, op.cit., 241. Murphy, op.cit. 542.

4 Jacques Derrida, On Forgiveness, op.cit., 29.

5 Michael Black, op.cit., 381.

6 Vladimir Jankélévitch, Forgiveness, op.cit., 118-119.

7 Ethan Kleinberg, "To Atone and To Forgive," op.cit., 146.

8 Julia Kristeva, Black Sun, op.cit., 181.

9 Julia Kristeva, Black Sun, op.cit., 24.

10 J.A. Bramley, "D.H. Lawrence and 'Miriam," op.cit.

11 Jacques Derrida, On Forgiveness, op.cit. 51.

12 S.K. Keltner, op.cit., 2-3.

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Electronic reference

Joseph Shafer, « D.H. Lawrence's (Non)apologetic Apologia, and the Fiction of Forgiveness »Études Lawrenciennes [Online], 49 | 2019, Online since 01 April 2019, connection on 24 November 2020. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Joseph Shafer

Joseph Shafer has a Ph. from the University of Warwick. His dissertation was entitled "Appearances of Resistance: D.H. Lawrence in New American Poetry," (supervisor: Dan Katz). Joe is also the Post-doctoral graduate representative for Warwick's Centre for Research in Philosophy and Literature, and teaches Modes of Reading: Introduction to Literary Theory at Warwick, and Introduction to Literary Theory and American Literature at Southern New Hampshire University. His work continues to read D.H. Lawrence and American Literature with Psychoanalysis, Philosophy, and cultural studies of Education.

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Licence Creative Commons
Études lawrenciennes est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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