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The “Theory” of the Marchese in Aaron's Rod, XVII, a Proof of Lawrence's Misogyny?

Benjamin Bouche

Texte intégral

  • 1 Aaron's Rod (AR), 299

1The brief chapter XVII of Aaron's Rod contains some of the speculative reflections that serve as a basis for the great final discussion of chapter XXI, which describes and legitimizes a singular mode of domination ("the deep, fathomless submission to the heroic soul in a greater man”1). To begin, we shall briefly recall the context of the discussion: Aaron, Lilly and Argyle are on a terrace overlooking the city of Florence, presented as a model of human historical, spiritual and sensual achievement. A curious and foolish conversation then begins, dominated by Argyle and his imprecations. Lilly then notices the Marchese Del Torre in the street and gestures for him to join them. The discussion becomes more serious, the Marchese confessing his difficulties with his wife, exposing a general theory of desire, a theory that leads to a dead end. Lilly then introduces an alternative intended to overcome this aporia, proposing to de-absolutize the relationship, elevating the mode of individual existence to the status of a new absolute. It is paradoxically on the condition that individual isolation be absolutized that a satisfactory relationship, here conceived as a relationship of domination, can occur. The hypothesis will then be reiterated and elaborated on in Chapter XXI.

The unity of the novel and the question of desire

  • 2 In the Cambridge edition the confession ranges from 242-1 to 246-18.
  • 3 During the Marchese's confession, the information that is afforded outside the content of the dialo (...)
  • 4 AR, 241..

2At the heart of this chapter is the confession of the Marchese Del Torre.2 Although he is married and loves his wife, although he does not want to leave her, the Marchese finds within himself a sort of internal violence, a disorder linked to desire. The tone changes from the lightness of the previous pages. Descriptive commentaries virtually disappear, leaving only (something that is rare enough in Lawrence’s work to be worth noticing) the content of the conversation, punctuated by some brief remarks about the features and the look of the Marchese.3 Hardly anything is said of the tone of his voice or his attitudes. The enunciative markers, on the other hand, are very present and are of particular importance, functioning both as indices of a singular subjectivity (as what can be qualified as "subjectivèmes," notations affording information on the state of mind and the modalities of existence specific to the enunciator). From there, they function as a factor of relativization of what is actually said. This is because what is stated during the confession is the enunciation of the Marchese in a particular context. It is therefore impossible to take the substance of the argument that is developed in this confession as a series of general “theses,” a fortiori as theses attributable to Lawrence. It is not so much the elaboration of a theory as the expression of a particular way of considering a general problem. The Marchese prefaces his confession with a rhetorical remark which aims to intensify its interest, insisting as it does on its seriousness: it will not, he points out, be a question of speaking in public. On the contrary, "now we try to speak of that which we have in our center of our hearts.”4 The frame of discussion is thus intimate. And it is the straining for intimacy that will characterize the whole confession. The Marchese speaks of what makes him suffer, which is something that people usually do not talk about.

  • 5 AR, 247 (l.29-30) : ''A miss is as good as a mile,'' laughed Lilly, rising and picking up his chair (...)

3While this seriousness does not, as we shall see, exclude a certain ironic distance, the whole passage nevertheless keeps up a feverish intensity, which disappears only when Lilly laughs, leaving the terrace and returning inside with his chair.5

4The question that precedes confession is this: can a happy marriage suffice to make life satisfying, to the point where the person so enraptured will not seek anything else? To this the Marchese opposes the testimony of an agitation within his own marriage, of a socially concealed suffering, which he describes as follows:

  • 6 AR, 242.

5We have unrest. We have another need. We have something that hurts and eats us, yes, eats us inside (…) It is not even happiness. No, I do not ask to be happy. Why should I ? It is childish – But there is for both of us, I know it, something which bites us, which eats us within, and drives us, drives us, somewhere, we don't know where. But it drives us, and eats away the life – and yet we love each other, and we must not be separate.6

  • 7 Among other hypotheses, the unity of the book, it is argued, is to be found in the hero’s search fo (...)
  • 8 John Worthen writes in The Life of an Outsider, p.242, that "the book has become a kind of journal (...)
  • 9 Begun in the fall of 1917 and completed in the fall of 1921.
  • 10 One may wonder to what extent Lawrence's renewed interest in politics at this time is a consequence (...)
  • 11 Lawrence himself makes the distinction, for example in The Virgin and the Gypsy (ch.7 :”’I think,' (...)
  • 12 AR, 233.
  • 13 Chapter XVII of Aaron's Rod dates from 1921. Freud's text, Beyond the Pleasure Principle (Jenseits (...)
  • 14 Jacques Lacan, S7, 256 : « Freud nous montre quelque chose, cet accident si l'on peut dire, qui rés (...)
  • 15 According to a Brewster testimony, cited in the introduction to the Cambridge edition, p.xxvii. The (...)
  • 16 AR, 25: « Fair, wise, even benevolent words: always the human good speaking, and always underneath, (...)
  • 17 Lacan, S7, 270: « la dimension du bien dresse une muraille puissante sur la voie de notre désir».
  • 18 AR, 147.
  • 19 In this sense, Lacan's proposal, which requires of the tragic hero that he"[should] not give in to (...)

6What we are dealing with here, this non-rest, this other need that bites and drives to destroy the life force itself, can probably be identified as desire. It is desire which the Marchese speaks about in his confession, desire which in a sense creates the unity of the book.7 If the unity is problematic, unstable, it is because in Aaron's Rod the themes intersect, the places proliferate and the whole seems fragmentary or even improvised.8 This impression probably owes something to the conditions in which the work was written, the manuscript having been left aside several times, to be worked on in fits and starts over a period of nearly four years.9 Perhaps the question of unity simply does not have to be asked in relation to what, in terms of its objects and themes, is such a patently plural text. But the notion of desire makes it possible to posit a link between the numerous scenes and reflections on the couple, on the one hand, and the more openly political passages that run through the book on the other hand.10 For desire, as soon as one ceases to confuse it with need or appetite,11 is indeed that embarrassing reality which disturbs both domestic life and political organization. The problem of human fulfillment, mentioned at the beginning of the chapter, before the monuments of Florence (“I reckon here men for a moment were themselves, as a plant in flowers is for the moment completely itself”12 ) is one that is impossible to resolve, whether one abides by the ideal of the stable and happy couple or one aspires to the illusion of a rational political balance, aimed at the maximization of the satisfaction of human needs. Desire imposes itself, it bursts through and carries man beyond his needs. It even functions as a last resort, as Freud was asserting at the same time, "beyond the pleasure principle,”13 beyond good and its specific, limited, economy. It thrusts itself into the order of existence in the manner of a spoilsport and game-changer, by way of its transgressive and threatening character. It is this disturbing force of desire as a forgotten reality, necessary for a possible human accomplishment,14 desire that includes destruction and aims beyond good, which gives unity to Aaron's Rod ("Aaron had to go to destruction to find his way through”15). The benevolence most ostensibly exhibited only conceals and intensifies the thirst for destruction.16 If as Lacan asserts “the dimension of good builds a mighty wall on the path of our desire,”17 we understand how Aaron's family, or the bourgeois couple who welcome him to Italy, can only rage. Verbal benevolence exasperates him, because he sees it as a way of trapping or intimidating his desire. "Why are you so wrong, so wrong in your behavior,” Lady Franks asks,18 somewhat reproachfully, with the arrogant certainty that the feeling of being on the side of the good confers. Aaron is unable to answer. Nor does he know what it is makes him leave his wife or what he is looking for in Italy. But he knows, at least, that good and love are only false pretenses, masks that conceal what he does not want to give up: his desire.19

The antifeminism of the Marchese Del Torre

7Aaron's difficulty is in a sense to know what desire wants and what trouble it causes. It is to this problem that the little Marchese Del Torre brings a kind of answer in Chapter XVII. A foolish answer in a sense, and that is largely inadequate in every sense, but which can easily prove alluring to those confronted with such dilemmas. The reactionary and anti-feminist position of the Marchese appears in the text as both tempting and ridiculous. The reader wants to subscribe to it, even while knowing that it is not true. It is this mixture of acceptance and rejection, of belief and ironic distancing, which makes the passage interesting in terms of Lawrence's relationship with the thinking process. This allurement, that is also denied, is part of the singular power of this passage, like a fantasy that acknowledges itself to be a fantasy, even as it unfolds. We have here a mode of exposition of thought processes, a type of modalization to be distinguished from the demonstration of a hypothesis one seeks to constitute in the exposition of a thesis.

8In itself, the Marchese's "theory" is fairly commonplace: the problem of desire within the couple, it is claimed, derives from the disappearance of a type of traditional education, where sex roles were clearly defined. From the point of view of desire, in particular, "modern women" do not respond appropriately to the legitimate desires of their husbands. Or they simply refuse to countenance the requests of the latter ('' they put me off ''), either by imposing a delay or by accepting in such a way that the request is refused, when it seems to be accepted. For it is indeed possible to agree to give what is asked, while at the same time subtly denying the request itself. Indeed there is more in a request than obtaining what is asked for, more in the desire than the satisfaction of a need. This is why the Marchese can say: "What is a woman who allows me, and who has no answer?”

9The women disturb the masculine desire by frustrating it, affirms the Marchese, imposing delays and procrastinations, before eventually asking the man at the wrong time, without respecting his particular rhythm. Relations of desire between men and women are relations of power and rhythm. As such they involve the power to impose a pace, to take the initiative. But this initiative, according to the Marchese, is always that of women. At the level of desire, curiously, men are thus to be defended against women, not only for the good of men, but also that of women, who also suffer from the domination they unconsciously seek.

  • 20 AR, 242-243.

10You know - Supposing I go to a woman – supposing she is my wife – And I go to her, yes, with my blood all ready, because it is I who want. Then she puts me off. Then she says, not now, not now, I am tired, I am not well. I do not feel like it. She puts me off – till I am angry or sorry or whatever I am – but till my blood has gone again, you understand, and I don't want her any more. And then she puts her arms round me, and caresses me, and makes love to me – till she rouses me once more. So, and so she rouses me – and so I come to her. And I love her, it is very good, very good. But it was she who began, it was her initiative, you know. I do not think, in all my life, my wife has loved me from my initiative, you know.20

11Lawrence is adept in his fashioning of the verbal traits of the Marchese's way of talking, with his ''you know'' the mimicking of a typical English way of speaking, coupled with the suggestion of his positioning as someone who is foreign to the language. One notes the repetition of basic connectors: (''So, and so she rouses me - and so I come to her''). The reader has the impression of being a witness to a scene that calls for emphasis and tragic sighs (that what is at stake is nothing less than the failure of man to realize his humanity, and to unite lovingly enough). It is however a scene played out by an actor with a heavy foreign accent. This introduces a shift, a slight discrepancy, which is a little ironic and provocative.

12The stammering grandiloquence of the Marchese has something comical about it. Like a tragedian who is rather too insistent in his emphasis, when reciting his words. At the exact time when he wants to be taken seriously, the comical way of expressing himself undercuts the seriousness he wanted to convey. The author (Lawrence) manages to render the intensity and seriousness of the character (the Marchese), while inviting us to apprehend the effect from a certain distance.

13If the whole of chapter XVII is fascinating, it is because it moves from the serious to the comic, or it fuses the two in a mode of apparently offhand banter: by speaking lightly of what is a serious issue, a slight but interesting shift is produced. The difficulty for the reader is then that of taking the text neither too seriously (equating the seriousness of the Marchese with the putative seriousness of the author, while taking the Marchese's assumptions to be the author's opinions), nor too lightly (by acknowledging only the jester quality of the Marchese, while ignoring the substance of the issues that Lawrence does raise, through the discussions engaged in by his characters). One could say that the Marchese's misconceptions are an opportunity, within the framework of enunciation proper to literary fiction, to produce a truth effect. A more direct form of argumentative exposition, consisting in the frontal opposition between opinions (in essays, treatises or even "debates"), excludes the deployment of such a fictional regime of distancing, the condition of a plural and undecided enunciation on the part of the characters.

14The Marchese's way of speaking invites one to distance oneself from what he actually says. Lilly's difficulty in agreeing with him has the same distancing effect (''’But does it matter?' said Lilly slowly, ‘in which of you desire initiates?’''). Certainly the question is stated rather to encourage the Marchese to continue to speak than to show a real perplexity. But the irruption does allow the reader once again to establish a distance in relation to what is being said. In particular, the rupture leaves the question ''does it matter?'' hanging in the air. It introduces a suspicion regarding the value of the Marchese's seriousness. The question is asked: perhaps all this seriousness is vain, or misplaced, so that the more serious the Marchese is, (and the text regularly emphasizes that he is), the more he is, perhaps, ridiculous.

  • 21 The question of the active or passive poles in desire was already very important among the Greeks. (...)

15The question, however, is not as trivial as it may seem. And if there is something rather ridiculous in the tragic manner of the Marchese, what is at issue in the discussion is not. The question of erotic initiative is indeed an old problem, one posed in particular by the Greeks, about homosexuality21, but more generally related to the great mythical oppositions that link masculinity to activity and femininity to passivity. For the woman to become the initiator of desire, for her to acquire and to manifest the power to begin or to postpone erotic enterprises, is something that involves the disturbances of a comprehensive symbolic balance.

  • 22 The Marchese seems to gather, somewhat carelessly, under this term money makers, "the bourgeoisie, (...)
  • 23 The Marchese here takes up a common criticism levelled at the bourgeoisie, from the standpoint of v (...)
  • 24 AR, 244
  • 25 AR, 245
  • 26 In L'école des femmes (1663), Molière (who had just married Armande Béjart, a woman young enough to (...)

16For the Marchese, to lose interest in these questions of priority, as the "bourgeois”22 do, in order to focus on money matters and the protection and perpetuation of the social world rather than on the movements of desire, is to renounce virility, where precisely it is essential to preserve it23, namely in the erotic domain. But in these cases, "the bourgeois husband [...] is the horse and [his wife] the driver.”24 For men who refuse to resign themselves, for those men who still care about Erôs (those, Argyle says, who have ''real spunk”25), there only remains to find substitutes, for example girls that the age gap and the lack of experience will make more docile,26 or men, as do homosexuals (who, paradoxically, become homosexual only to preserve their virility from the threat of female desire). But these, as the Marchese explains, are mere substitutes, and the problem remains: that of a male demand which does not find any echo, because of the absence of women raised to serve and honor what is revealed there.

  • 27 Pierre Bourdieu, La distinction, Éditions de Minuit, 1979. As another example of such conservative (...)
  • 28 We speak of androcracy rather than patriarchy, Lawrence valuing man more than father. In a strange (...)
  • 29 Letter to Katherine Mansfield, 5 December 1918: “I do think a woman must yield some sort of precede (...)

17It is women who therefore are the cause of the erotic anxiety in men, through their way of obstructing desire, or through their opposition to it in the name of a narrow conception of the moral good, or the endeavor to trap it, so as to establish a form of domination over men. This outrageous anti-feminism, which can only seem antipathetic to a 21st century reader, was perhaps that of Lawrence in his discussions with Norman Douglas and Magnus in Florence while Frieda was in Germany. It may have been a naïve expression of those popular dispositions he had acquired during his first experiences of socialization. While the bourgeois artists of the time, such as the members of the Bloomsbury group (including Virginia Woolf), stood up firmly for women's emancipation and adopted postures that were ethically progressive, Lawrence often remained more conservative on these issues, as is often the case with those whose initial experience of socialization in in the less privileged classes27. Although his status as an artist and thus a defector from his class led him to frequent more diverse circles, far more tolerant with regard to sexual practices and to relations between women and men, many of his opinions find their origin in the dispositions acquired during his childhood in the world of Eastwood miners. Of course these class opinions were later submitted to a process of mental and argued justification that is often accompanied by a display of remarkable subtlety which is the prerogative of the artist. But class opinions they remain, and Lawrence himself acknowledges the unjustifiable nature of his "androcratic" opinions,28 which arise from a set of class reflexes rather than from any theoretical reflections.29

  • 30 AR, 246.
  • 31 See, for example, the portrait of a twenty-year-old American girl, ''very very modern,'' who only t (...)
  • 32 Bernard Lahire, « Distinctions culturelles et lutte de soi contre soi : 'détester la part populaire (...)

18This would appear to suggest that despite the literary distance and the irony that is manifest, the Marchese's anti-feminist theses are far from being simply disqualified. The Argyle formula that concludes the confession, "terrible thing, the modern woman,”30 is a good example of such ambiguity. The exclamation sounds curiously emphatic and almost comical. It has just the sort of theatrical and grandiloquent tone that makes the reader laugh (Douglas was to sue Lawrence after reading his portrait in the book). Nevertheless, the formula is to be found almost unchanged in different parts of Lawrence's work, sometimes in statements where he is speaking in his own name.31What does it mean to place in the mouth of a person who is being mocked an opinion that one oneself professes, with the reservation, however, that one does not entirely agree with oneself, that one is internally divided? The heterogeneous opinions and dispositions of a man like Lawrence, with his singular social trajectory, are likely to be heterogeneous. It is probable that they will weave the fabric of "torn habitus," where tastes and habits coexist with contradictory practices.32 This consideration, pertaining to a sociological comprehension, may help to understand the ambivalence evident in this passage, in relation to a spectrum of anti-feminist views that Lawrence both accepts and rejects, depending on the context. It is this ambivalence, to use the term in a literal sense, which gives this passage in chapter XVII its particular interest.

Literary text, plurality and heterogeneity of voices

  • 33 Bernard Lahire, L'homme pluriel, (Nathan, 2003 [1998]).
  • 34 Frieda says that on arriving in Florence, Lawrence, taking a tour of the city, noticed that the sta (...)
  • 35 Proust, Contre Sainte-Beuve.
  • 36 Some homosexual groups allude to a rejection of femininity as a principle in the construction of th (...)

19If we accept the idea of a heterogeneity specific to the agents themselves, or the fact that we are dealing with an author who is a "plural actor,”33 then the context of enunciation and exchange is essential to our understanding of the activation or not of a particular disposition or effect in the text. The degree of antifeminism latent in the passage seems to depend to a large extent on the framework within which the discussion unfolds, i.e. an exchange between four men who are “talking women” and drinking whiskey on a terrace in Florence (a ''men's town,'' as characterized by Frieda34). Rather than attributing to Lawrence the misogyny of the Marchese's remarks, we must grasp what light the context may shed on a discussion between men of the 1920s, endowed with a strong cultural capital but who are in a situation of relative decline (especially in the case of the Marchese: the Italy of the 1920s is very poor; while conditions for those returning to civilian life from the front are mediocre. Fascism took root on the ground of such discontent). Antifeminism can be a way through which to compensate for a precarious or declining social situation. As such it can be an option for an Italian aristocrat on a path of social decline. To this we may add, while not however forgetting that the biographical subject differs from the writing subject,35that the two men with whom Lawrence may have had a conversation of this type in the Florentine context, Norman Douglas and Magnus, were homosexuals, a feature that could be a factor in the misogynistic turn taken by the discussion.36. (The Marchese is of course married and heterosexual).

  • 37 “a bitterly disappointing introduction to the cult of male superiority,” Peter Fjagesund notes in T (...)
  • 38 The notion of cognitive dissonance was coined by the psychologist Leon Festinger in A theory of cog (...)
  • 39 See the paradoxical formulas of Fernando Pessoa on "the duty to change opinion and certainty severa (...)
  • 40 Montaigne, Essais, II, quoted by par Bernard Lahire in l'Homme pluriel, p.60 : « Celui que vous vît (...)

20Such elements make it possible for us to qualify significantly, at least in this passage, the hypothesis that we are dealing simply, in Aaron's Rod, with a "cult of male superiority.”37 Feminist criticism, in particular that of Kate Millett in Sexuality and Politics, gives vent to such a polemical bias. And like any enterprise of judgment, it therefore seeks to impute theses to an identifiable agent. It is not certain however that such "theses" exist, or at least that they can be so easily attributed to a range of relatively stable and reliable agents or voices. An examination of the manner in which dispositions and beliefs are constituted and transmitted in the fiction reveals the difficulty involved in the attempt to assign unequivocally an opinion to a subject, without taking into account the context of enunciation. All opinions are, at least partially, contextual. Cognitive dissonance experiments have shown how our opinions are permeable to context, even those that seem most strongly justified.38 And it is likely that the variability of our opinions is the rule rather than the exception,39 as the skeptics of classical philosophy had already recognized.40

  • 41 Notably Kate Millett, Sexuality and Politics, 1970.
  • 42 Which does not mean that a feminist reading of Lawrence cannot be enlightening today.

21For the same reason, there is only contextualized reading. For us to ask naively whether Lawrence is misogynistic or not is to ask a question that makes sense only in a polemical context (for example, the feminist struggles of the 1960s, where the aim is to summon before a court of philosophical opinion a "phallocentric" disposition of which Lawrence would seem to be a prominent representative41). It is not for us to seek to whitewash or to absolve Lawrence of the criticisms levelled against him. Our intention here is to attempt to read the texts outside this context of indictment, in a context of greater detachment and interpretational license, such as will allow a greater flexibility in imputation.42

22The distance introduced by the recourse to fictional characters or voices reinforces effects that are specific to literary writing in general (including very often the disengagement from immediate interests and practical constraints) and particularly to fiction which authorizes a retrospective rereading of past experiences, freely transformed by the imagination. The characters, functioning as masks, probably allow the author to voice or to venture arguments he would not subscribe to in his own name. The characters make possible an attenuation of the requirement of responsibility, which weighs on the proper name in its office as the guarantor of personal identity.

  • 43 The model is undoubtedly the Marchese Carlo Torrigiani (the name of an ancient patrician family fro (...)
  • 44 As an example, we can suggest that Hermione's remarks in Women in Love about lost spontaneity shoul (...)

23The Marchese Del Torre’s speech 43 is thus somewhat undercut within the economy of the story, without it being necessary to refute it through logical arguments. Lawrence makes routine use of the ploy of placing a thesis in a character's mouth, making it untrue or qualifying it, through the specific mode of its comprehension and its enunciation.44 One can invalidate a speech at the level of its specific enunciation. Certain truths become errors in certain mouths, at certain times or in certain places.

  • 45 AR, 227: “They [the Marchesa and Aaron] knew it was they who were exceptional, not he [the Marquese (...)
  • 46 AR, 220: “He was rather like a gnome,“ p.227, “ like a chaffinch or a gnome,” p.228 “ he was a litt (...)
  • 47 AR 223: “Manfredi seemed really attached to her – and she to him. They were so simple with one anot (...)
  • 48 AR, 256. We can read the passage in relation to the critique formulated by Kate Millet in Sexual Po (...)

24Now the Marchese, who proposes the anti-feminist hypothesis, is not only an unexceptional man,45 the text says, and he resembles a gnome.46 Moreover, although he seems to be in love with his wife47, the following chapter (XVIII) shows his helplessness in her company, when Aaron manages to release the voice of his wife, enticing her to sing again: "Manfredi knew that Aaron had done what he could not do for this woman.48 One can then suppose that it is a certain inability to desire (the flute, thanks to which Aaron manages to awaken his wife from her torpor, being, among its other valencies, a phallic symbol), that is the cause of the bitterness and the resentment of the Marchese during his confession. While he does unquestionably raise a serious problem (that of desire), it is only to resolves it by way of the same impotence that clouds his relations with his wife. What he says is thus invalidated by what he does, or rather by what he cannot do in the novel.

  • 49 AR, 167.
  • 50 AR, 228: “She looked at her little husband. Chains of necessity all round him: a little jailer. Yet (...)

25If the Marchesa does finally appear ''modern'' (with her short skirts, her makeup and her cigarettes) it is only because she is locked in a universe which, although pleasant, paradoxically excludes the disturbing reality of desire (symbolized also by music, which Aaron says elsewhere renders him "diabolical”49). When Aaron manages to awaken desire in the Marchesa thanks to his flute, the Marchese suddenly appears to his wife to be a kind of jailer,50 a petty-bourgeois defender of the order of the world, on the side of the good and its order rather than desire and its disorder.

  • 51 AR, 244 “I broke the shafts and smashed the matrimonial cart, I can tell you, and I didn't care whe (...)

26The characters who respond to the Marchese also have their reasons to blame women, and the text again leaves room for the relativization of the opinions they profess. Argyle is homosexual (which, we have seen, could be synonymous with misogynistic). He prides himself on having ''smashed the matrimonial cart'' regardless of his wife.51 As for Aaron, he has only had painful experiences with women (Lottie, Josephine and soon the Marchesa), who each time seemed to threaten his life. The three men therefore have reasons to be resentful of women. The context of a discussion between men drinking whiskey also deserves to be taken into account. There are things that are said in this context one would not say elsewhere, and Lawrence insists on this specific circumstantial dimension: "High up over the cathedral square," as indicated by the title of the chapter (in a first version the title was Nel Paradiso). The fantastical nature of this "elevation" and the isolation from the realities of the world should not be neglected when apprehending what is said on this terrace (Lawrence emphasizes that they no longer hear the noise of the street on the terrace where the discussion takes place).

  • 52 John Worthen points out how Lawrence divides what he puts into the novel, between Aaron on the one (...)

27But what above all makes it possible to distinguish the anti-feminist formulas of the Marchese or Argyle from the opinions that can putatively be attributed to Lawrence, is Lilly's position. The latter, recognized as an idealized representative of Lawrence himself,52 seems to be leading a free and satisfying life within his couple. He is far from subscribing to all that is said about women in the course of the discussion. Through the questions he poses and the objections he addresses, through the aporia he reveals and the alternative solution he finally sketches out, Lilly subtly exposes the Marchese’s theory for what it is: a fantasy inspired by resentment.

28A somewhat similar discussion took place in real life a few years later. It can shed light on what is at stake here. In a text recently recovered by Andrew Harrison, Lawrence opposes an article published in the Adelphi of April 1924, in which we find the following formulas:

  • 53 Andrew Harrison, “Meat-lust: An Unpublished Manuscript by D.H.Lawrence,” in Times Literary Suppleme (...)

In every woman born there is a seed of terrible, unmentionable evil : evil such as man – a simple creature for all his passions and lusts – could never dream of in the most horrible of nightmares, could never conceive in imagination […]. No doubt the evil growth is derived from Eve, who certainly did or thought something wicked beyond words53.

  • 54 The online group of incurs (involuntary celibates), devalued on the market of emotional and sexual (...)

29These formulations, more radical than those of the Marchese, revel what it was that Lawrence took the trouble to react to in his writing: the link between a problem posed by desire as a force that is transgressive (''evil'') and unrepresentable (''unmentionable,'' ''could never dream of in the most horrible nightmare,'' ''could never conceive in imagination''), and a fantasized etiology of desire, which makes women the sole culprit,54 in accordance with the old gesture of projection, involving the location in the other of the disturbing otherness which one refuses to recognize in oneself. Lawrence is not mistaken, when he writes to Murry, in response to this text that its author speaks ill of women and that one must find ''a better explanation.''

  • 55 John Worthen, The Life... p. 247: “At this stage of their lives, Lawrence and Frieda seem to have r (...)
  • 56 Catherine Brown brings together, in “D.H.Lawrence and Women” (2013), a number of relevant, albeit u (...)
  • 57 Kate Millett, Sexual Politics. For an evaluation of the arguments formulated by Millett, Janice H.H (...)

30Lawrence may have been attracted by anti-feminist conceptions, particularly at a time when he was partially disengaging himself from his life within a couple so as to focus on possible relational alternatives, both private and collective.55 But there are many things that should make us cautious in discerning whether Lawrence was an anti-feminist or not.56 That certain characters sometimes hold misogynistic remarks in Lawrence's work is a truism. Such remarks are indeed especially noticeable in the Marchese's confession in chapter XVII. But a careful reading reveals a set of formal processes that are aimed at placing a distance between the stated opinions and those of the artist who deploys them in the literary space. If a vein of feminist critique, especially that of Kate Millett,57 was undoubtedly legitimate in a specific cultural context and in relation to the avowed polemical aims specific to a groundbreaking generation of theorists, we can allow ourselves to read differently, in a mode that is more attentive perhaps to the plurality of voices that confront each other in the text, more attentive to the discordant tendencies that coexist within every individual, and which literary creation makes it possible to exteriorize. It can be said of Lawrence that he is both a misogynist and quite the opposite. The point is not to decide whether to come down on one side or the other of a controversial alternative. The challenge for the reader is to examine how discordant provisions manage to find a place in the same text, through so many heterogeneous voices that together, compose the story or mythos of a "plural actor" with varying and contextualized opinions.

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Bibliographie

Ballin, Michael. “The Duality of Love and Power in D.H. Lawrence's Aaron's Rod,” 1999.

Festinger, Léon and Carlsmith, J.M. “Cognitive consequences of forced compliance,” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1959.

Harrris, Janice H. “D.H.Lawrence and Kate Millett” in The Massachusetts Review, vol.15 n°3(summer 1974)

Harrison, Andrew. “Meat-lust : An Unpublished Manuscript by D.H. Lawrence,” Times Literary Supplement, 29/03/2013.

Lacan, Jacques. Séminaire 7, Éditions du Seuil, 1986.

Lahire, Bernard., l'Homme pluriel, Éditions Nathan, 1998.

Lawrence, D.H., Aaron's Rod, CUP.

Lawrence, D.H, Late Essays and Articles, CUP, 2004.

Lawrence Frieda, Not I but the Wind.

Millett, Kate. Sexual Politics, New York, Doubleday and Co., 1970.

Pessoa, Fernando. Chroniques de la vie qui passe, Image 2000000900001111000005F5E5B48EB6.wmf 10/18, 1999.

Tamagne, Florence.« Genre et homosexualité ,» Vingtième siècle, Revue d'histoire, 2002/3 (n°75).

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Notes

1 Aaron's Rod (AR), 299

2 In the Cambridge edition the confession ranges from 242-1 to 246-18.

3 During the Marchese's confession, the information that is afforded outside the content of the dialogues is minimal, compared to that usually provided by Lawrence. Several signs of unrest are however given: "The little man was intense. His face was strained, his blue eyes so stretched that they showed the whites all round. He gazed into Lilly's face (243-13), "The Marchese looked from one to the other of them" (243-21), "he spat suddenly and with frenzy on the floor" (244-10), and "jerking up erect as if he had found something "(245-24). All the comments clearly underline the intensity of the Marchese's investment in his remarks.

4 AR, 241..

5 AR, 247 (l.29-30) : ''A miss is as good as a mile,'' laughed Lilly, rising and picking up his chair to take indoors”.

6 AR, 242.

7 Among other hypotheses, the unity of the book, it is argued, is to be found in the hero’s search for an "utterly obedient and subservient disciple, Richard Aldington, Introduction to Aaron's Rod, 1976, in ''the desperate affirmation of male superiority, Peter Fjägesund, or, more seriously, in the question of the relationship between the individual and society, Michael Bell, D.H. Lawrence, Language and Being, Cambridge, 1991, or again in the question of love and power, Michael Ballin, "The Duality of Love and Power in D.H Lawrence's Aaron's Rod,''1999. If all these themes are undoubtedly present in certain episodes in the book, the notion of desire seems to us the best element through which to grasp its unity.

8 John Worthen writes in The Life of an Outsider, p.242, that "the book has become a kind of journal for his changing ideas and experiences.'' Richard Aldington, in his introduction to Aaron's Rod, noted the contradictions in various parts of the text, taking them as testimony to the improvised and rapidly written character of the book.

9 Begun in the fall of 1917 and completed in the fall of 1921.

10 One may wonder to what extent Lawrence's renewed interest in politics at this time is a consequence of his relative disinterest in his life as a couple.

11 Lawrence himself makes the distinction, for example in The Virgin and the Gypsy (ch.7 :”’I think,' said the Major, taking his pipe from his mouth, 'that desire is the most wonderful thing in life. Anybody who can really feel it, is a king, and I envy nobody else!' He put back his pipe. / The Jewess looked at him stupefied. 'But Charles !' she cried. 'Every common low man in Halifax feels nothing else!' / He again took his pipe from his mouth. 'That's merely appetite,' he said.”

12 AR, 233.

13 Chapter XVII of Aaron's Rod dates from 1921. Freud's text, Beyond the Pleasure Principle (Jenseits des Lustprinzips) was written in 1919, published in December 1920, then revised until 1925).

14 Jacques Lacan, S7, 256 : « Freud nous montre quelque chose, cet accident si l'on peut dire, qui résulte du fait qu'il est tout à fait insuffisant, quelque loin qu'en ait été poussée l'articulation dans la tradition de la philosophie classique, que ces deux termes de la 'raison' et du ’besoin' sont insuffisants pour nous permettre d'apprécier le champ dont il s'agit quant à la réalisation humaine » The theme of human realization is explicitly stated at the beginning of chapter XXI of Aaron’s Rod.

15 According to a Brewster testimony, cited in the introduction to the Cambridge edition, p.xxvii. The sentence was probably uttered when the book was only half-written and Lawrence wondered what to do with his story.

16 AR, 25: « Fair, wise, even benevolent words: always the human good speaking, and always underneath, something hateful, something detestable and murderous. Wise speech and good intentions – they were invariably maggoty with these secret inclinations to destroy the man in a man. […] To hell with good-will! It was more hateful than ill-will. Self-righteous bullying, like poison gas !''

17 Lacan, S7, 270: « la dimension du bien dresse une muraille puissante sur la voie de notre désir».

18 AR, 147.

19 In this sense, Lacan's proposal, which requires of the tragic hero that he"[should] not give in to his desire," especially in the face of the demands of good and beauty, is valid for Aaron and makes it possible to justify the fact that his behavior would seem to be dictated by a play of confused emotional reactions. We can see how something (a desire we would say) is opposed to the requirements of the good, for example, p.25: “He should take the road home. But the devil was in it, if he could take a stride in the homeward direction. There seemed a wall in front of him.”

20 AR, 242-243.

21 The question of the active or passive poles in desire was already very important among the Greeks. Homosexuality was thus considered acceptable and legitimate only when the mature man was "active," passivity being tolerated only in young adolescent and being assimilated to a passivity related to childhood. See Michel Foucault, The Use of Pleasures, p.243-244. On the question of homosexuality in ancient Greece, K. J. Dover, Greek Homosexuality (1978), Harvard, Harvard University Press, 1989.

22 The Marchese seems to gather, somewhat carelessly, under this term money makers, "the bourgeoisie, the shopkeepers.» He himself is a minor noble who has enlisted in the army and who is reluctant to be demobilized.

23 The Marchese here takes up a common criticism levelled at the bourgeoisie, from the standpoint of virile values. But the criticism is by no means self-evident, insofar as desire is both the sign of masculine ardour and fertility and also a propensity which hinders mastery and which introduces a form of passivity and submission into the person who surrenders to it. Helen’s seducer and initiator of the Trojan War, the beautiful Pâris, is portrayed as a womanly man who transgresses both the masculine norms of self-control and the rules of hospitality in order to seduce the spouse of his host.

24 AR, 244

25 AR, 245

26 In L'école des femmes (1663), Molière (who had just married Armande Béjart, a woman young enough to be his daughter) presents the character of Arnolphe, an old man who has closeted a girl at the convent with the aim of having her made into an ignorant and faithful wife. Things do not turn out as intended. The idea of ​​raising individuals or social groups in a manner intended to satisfy the desire of other individuals or social groups is at the root of numerous, more or less drastic practices of domination of which slavery constitutes the emblematic extreme case. The model of a woman entirely, and seemingly voluntarily subjected to male desire has prompted an abundant contemporary critical literature regarding the question of pornographic representation of gender relations.. For a summary of the discussion, and the paradoxical defense of pornography in the name of women's freedom, see Ruwen Ogien, Penser la pornographie, (Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, coll. "Questions of Ethics,» 2003). The historical projection of the Marchese's fantasy, that of erotically docile women who respond to masculine desire is a way of denying the fact that his ideal does in fact comprises fantasy elements and that, played out in real relations such elements would involve violence against these women.

27 Pierre Bourdieu, La distinction, Éditions de Minuit, 1979. As another example of such conservative provisions, we may mention the separation complied with in the Reformed Church of Quetzalcoatl, where women go to one side and turn their face to the ground, while the men go to the opposite side, brandishing their fists in the air.

28 We speak of androcracy rather than patriarchy, Lawrence valuing man more than father. In a strange essay of 1928, entitled "Matriarchy - And If Women Were Supreme ..." Lawrence defends the idea of a progressive form of matriarchy, which would consist in giving up all responsibility to women so that men might develop alternative forms of sociability, ((Late Essays and Articles, p.103 and sq.) Lawrence's open-mindedness regarding alternative forms of gender relations, as we see in this article and as is evident in his other writings from the same period, does however suggest that he never really calls into question the norm of male domination, secretly postulated everywhere.

29 Letter to Katherine Mansfield, 5 December 1918: “I do think a woman must yield some sort of precedence to a man, and he must take this precedence. I do think men must go ahead absolutely in front of their women, without turning round to ask for permission or approval from their women. Consequently the women must follow as it were unquestioning. I can't help it, I believe this.” (my emphasis).

30 AR, 246.

31 See, for example, the portrait of a twenty-year-old American girl, ''very very modern,'' who only thinks of going out to party, in “Laura Philippine,” in Late Essays and Articles, p.75 and sq.

32 Bernard Lahire, « Distinctions culturelles et lutte de soi contre soi : 'détester la part populaire de soi’» (Hermès, n°42, 2005). The expression "torn habitus" (habitus déchiré) is a quotation from Pierre Bourdieu, in Méditations pascaliennes, 190.

33 Bernard Lahire, L'homme pluriel, (Nathan, 2003 [1998]).

34 Frieda says that on arriving in Florence, Lawrence, taking a tour of the city, noticed that the statues in the streets were of men. "'This is a men's town', I said, 'not like Paris, where all the statues are women.” (Frieda Lawrence, Not I But the Wind, ch.8, "After the War"). It is interesting to note that Frieda came to hate Lawrence’s two friends, Douglas and Magnus, whom she found "vicious" (wicked). Magnus would refer to her as “the bitch '' in a letter to Douglas.

35 Proust, Contre Sainte-Beuve.

36 Some homosexual groups allude to a rejection of femininity as a principle in the construction of their identity. See. Florence Tamagne, « Genre et homosexualité », (Vingtième siècle, Revue d'histoire, 2002/3, n°75), which evokes testimonies from the 1930s.

37 “a bitterly disappointing introduction to the cult of male superiority,” Peter Fjagesund notes in The Apocalyptic Woof D.H.Lawrence, 1991, p.121, quoted by Michael Ballin in “The Duality of Love and Power in D.H.Lawrence's Aaron's Rod ,“ 1999

38 The notion of cognitive dissonance was coined by the psychologist Leon Festinger in A theory of cognitive dissonance, 1957. On the dependency of opinions on their context, see for example Festinger et Carlsmith, “Cognitive consequences of forced compliance,” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1959.

39 See the paradoxical formulas of Fernando Pessoa on "the duty to change opinion and certainty several times a day," in Chroniques de la vie qui passe, 10/18.

40 Montaigne, Essais, II, quoted by par Bernard Lahire in l'Homme pluriel, p.60 : « Celui que vous vîtes hier si aventureux, ne trouvez-vous pas étrange de le voir aussi poltron le lendemain : ou la colère, ou la nécessité, ou la compagnie, ou le vin, ou le son d'une trompette lui avait mis le cœur au ventre ; ce n'est un cœur ainsi formé par discours ; ces circonstances le lui ont fermi ; ce n'est pas merveille si le voilà devenu autre par autres circonstances contraires .»

41 Notably Kate Millett, Sexuality and Politics, 1970.

42 Which does not mean that a feminist reading of Lawrence cannot be enlightening today.

43 The model is undoubtedly the Marchese Carlo Torrigiani (the name of an ancient patrician family from Florence), married to an American and who had the habit of hosting guests on Sundays, in the Florence of the 1920s. See note 220: 1, p.325 of the Cambridge edition.

44 As an example, we can suggest that Hermione's remarks in Women in Love about lost spontaneity should be analyzed in this sense, an argument sometimes found in almost identical form in Lawrence's own published essays, but which are neutralized and invalidated in the case of their voicing by Hermione.

45 AR, 227: “They [the Marchesa and Aaron] knew it was they who were exceptional, not he [the Marquese].»

46 AR, 220: “He was rather like a gnome,“ p.227, “ like a chaffinch or a gnome,” p.228 “ he was a little gnome,“p.237 “gnome-like grin,” p.256 “His face looked strange and withered and gnome-like.”

47 AR 223: “Manfredi seemed really attached to her – and she to him. They were so simple with one another.“

48 AR, 256. We can read the passage in relation to the critique formulated by Kate Millet in Sexual Politics, p.242 : “ the world will only be put right when the male reassumes his mastery over the female in that total psychological and sensual domination which alone can offer her the 'fulfillment' of her nature “.

49 AR, 167.

50 AR, 228: “She looked at her little husband. Chains of necessity all round him: a little jailer. Yet she was fond of him. If only he would throw away the castle-keys. He was a little gnome. What did he clutch the castle-keys so tight for ?“

51 AR, 244 “I broke the shafts and smashed the matrimonial cart, I can tell you, and I didn't care whether I smashed her along with it or not.”

52 John Worthen points out how Lawrence divides what he puts into the novel, between Aaron on the one hand and Lilly on the other. Cf. The Life of an Outsider, p. 244-245: “Rawdon Lilly seems equally like Lawrence, but in a very different way […] his relationship looks like a perfected version of Lawrence's idea of what he could have with Frieda.”

53 Andrew Harrison, “Meat-lust: An Unpublished Manuscript by D.H.Lawrence,” in Times Literary Supplement, 29/03/2013.

54 The online group of incurs (involuntary celibates), devalued on the market of emotional and sexual relations, demand revenge for what they consider as the injustice of women towards them and advocate an extreme and misogynist form of male reassertion.

55 John Worthen, The Life... p. 247: “At this stage of their lives, Lawrence and Frieda seem to have related to each other not with the accustomedness of a long-married couple, but in a stranger and less intimate way.” On the nuanced and contradictory attraction to politics, see, p.241, the quotation from a letter in which Lawrence speaks of committing himself to the Communist Party.

56 Catherine Brown brings together, in “D.H.Lawrence and Women” (2013), a number of relevant, albeit undeveloped, arguments for caution on this question, going so far as to read Lawrence '' as a feminist. ''

57 Kate Millett, Sexual Politics. For an evaluation of the arguments formulated by Millett, Janice H.Harris, « D.H.Lawrence and Kate Millett, in The Massachusetts Review, vol.15 n°3 (summer 1974)).

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Référence électronique

Benjamin Bouche, « The “Theory” of the Marchese in Aaron's Rod, XVII, a Proof of Lawrence's Misogyny? »Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 49 | 2019, mis en ligne le 18 mars 2019, consulté le 27 octobre 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lawrence/401; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/lawrence.401

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Benjamin Bouche

Benjamin Boucheholds a Master’s Degree in philosophy from Paris I Sorbonne. He is a teacher of philosophy and medical ethic in Versailles.  He is preparing a PhD at Paris Nanterre University under the supervision of Professor Crowley: “D.H.Lawrence and the problem of thought.”

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