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Of Pirates and Bullfights: Lawrence’s Fascination with Two Faces of Dionysian “Madness”

Jane Costin

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  • 1 G.S. Kirk, The Nature of Greek Myths. (London: Penguin, 1974), 124.
  • 2 Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns and Homerica, trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White (London: William Heinemann, 191 (...)

1G.S. Kirk reminds us how Nietzsche saw the ancient Greek gods, Apollo and Dionysus, as “symbols of opposing aspects – classical and romantic, controlled and ecstatic – of the Greeks’ spirit”.1 This opposition between Apollo, also seen as the god of the Sun, of light and reason, and Dionysus, who is associated with the dark, wine, excess, drunkenness and unreason – or madness – is commonplace. Yet looking at Lawrence’s fascination with Dionysus suggests that he saw the division not between these two gods, but within Dionysus. In January 1916, during his stay in Porthcothan in Cornwall, Lawrence read Hesiod’s The Homeric Hymns and Homerica and was particularly impressed by a story which links Dionysus with wine and pirates.2 However, it is in Lawrence’s depiction of bull-fighting in The Plumed Serpent (1926) that we perhaps most clearly see his representation of the two faces of Dionysian “madness.”

  • 3 Edward Nehls, D.H. Lawrence: A Composite Biography, Volume Two 1919- 1925. (Wisconsin: The Universi (...)

2At the start of The Plumed Serpent, Lawrence’s graphic description of a bullfight closely mirrors Witter Bryner’s detailed account of one that he saw with Lawrence in Mexico City on 1 April 1923. Brynner notes that, prior to the event, they were both “curious but apprehensive” about seeing the bullfight. However, Brynner goes on to record how Lawrence, empathising with the bull, became angry as soon as the animal entered the ring and urged his friends to leave. But they remained. Nevertheless, foreshadowing Lawrence’s depiction of Kate leaving the bullfight in his novel, Brynner describes how the killing of the first horse left Lawrence “dazed and dark with anger and shame” prompting “his nerves to explode” and how “denouncing the crowd in Spanish” Lawrence left the spectacle prematurely, and on his own.3

  • 4 Michael Bell, D.H. Lawrence: Language and Being, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 94.
  • 5 Ibid., 175.
  • 6 My thanks to Jonathan Long for drawing my attention to the fact that, before seeing his first bullf (...)

3When Lawrence revisited his feelings about the bullfight in his novel, Michael Bell describes the passage as “an eruption of passionate disgust” and observes that “all readers, whether approvingly or not, feel Lawrence’s intensity of revulsion spilling over the frame of the fiction.”4 Bell also notes that whilst “In The Plumed Serpent Lawrence seeks to analyse more directly than before the question of killing and violence […] he himself could not easily kill any living creature.”5 Therefore, Lawrence’s response to the bullfight may not surprise us. But neither would Lawrence have bee»n surprised by the events at the bullfight because, before he went, he had read Terry’s Guide to Mexico,6 which contains a fulsome description of bullfighting and these gruesome details of how horses are killed in the bullring:

  • 7 Terry T. Philip, Terry’s Guide to Mexico, (New York, 1923), 101-104.

The man, arranging the bandage over the right eye of his nag, sets his spurs to the already half-frightened beast [… ] half a yard of horn is in the horse’s chest […] the horse, bleeding profusely from a ghastly hole, and struggling desperately to rise to his feet […] The bandage has fallen off [… ] his eyes are wild and terror stricken. But there is life and utility in him yet […] the “wise monkeys” [assistants] […] flog him, trembling in every limb, to his feet […] At the second pica the heart is touched […] The stricken animal rocks dully to and fro and falls prone twitching his ears and moving under his lip convulsively […]. A mono sabio relieves him in a leisurely manner of saddle and bridle and plants his foot on his head and taking out a small Puntillo […] drives it smartly into the base of the brain and shakes it to and fro. A desperate kick or two; the eyes grow dim; the lip droops disclosing the grinning teeth; and all is over.7

4Terry’s Guide also horrifically illuminates how horses are often gnawed to death by the bull as part of the spectacle and how this cruelty is both commonplace and accepted:

  • 8 Ibid., 105.

Horses, fewer or more as the case may be, will fall and be thwacked again to their feet by the assiduous peones, and gnored (sic) in every possible manner until they are ripped to shreds and little of their flesh and nothing of their life remains to them; and then the teams of the arrastre, to the music of their merry bells, will drag them away and out of sight; and upon the morrow, says your neighbour facetiously, the price of chorizos (sausages) will be cheaper.8

  • 9 This is not referred to in Lawrence’s letters but see Jeffrey Meyers, D.H. Lawrence: A Biography (N (...)

5These passages raise two important questions; in that Lawrence clearly knew what to expect at the bullfight, why did he go in the first place? Furthermore, having been so intensely horrified by his first, brief, experience of a bullfight, why did he go to see a second one six months later when he sat through the whole performance?9

6This all points to the complexity of the relationship Lawrence had with bullfighting, which this essay will attempt to explore together with the associations that Lawrence makes between bullfighting and ideas of the “mad” god Dionysus. This will lead to the suggestion that Lawrence’s attendance at these bullfights was linked to his fascination with the two faces of Dionysian “madness” which, in turn, is connected to his portrayal of “honourable killing” in The Plumed Serpent. However, prior to looking at that, it is worth briefly considering the interest that Lawrence expressed in Dionysus during his time in Cornwall.

  • 10 Douglas Smith, Introduction to Friedrich Nietzsche The Birth of Tragedy, (Oxford: Oxford University (...)
  • 11 The god is also mentioned in his play “Touch and Go” (1920), his poem “Grapes” (1923), in Lawrence’ (...)

7Whilst Lawrence fleetingly mentions Dionysus in The Rainbow (1915), his particular interest in Dionysian ideas appears to have been instigated a little later during his time in Cornwall. In his introduction to Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy, Douglas Smith notes how the novel Lawrence rewrote into its final form in Cornwall, Women in Love (1921), explores “the psychological implications of the confrontation between Apollonian and Dionysian personal relationships” and observes how The Plumed Serpent (1926) “examines the theme of Dionysian politics.”10 Indeed, work Lawrence completed subsequent to his stay in Cornwall is peppered with references to the god.11 However, it is in his novel, Kangaroo (1923), which presents a fictionalised account of Lawrence’s experiences in Cornwall, that he clearly reveals his interest in Dionysus; the chapter “Harriett and Lovatt at Sea in Marriage” making obvious allusions to the story he had read in Cornwall about Dionysus crossing the sea. The impact Hesiod’s story made on Lawrence is also indicated by an intriguing biographical incident.

  • 12 Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns and Homerica, trans. Hugh G. Evelyn – White, (London: William Heinemann, (...)
  • 13 Redefining Dionysus (Mythoseikonpoiesis), eds., Alberto Bernabe, Miguel Herrero de Jauregui,Ana Isa (...)
  • 14 Whilst the first edition of this book contains the illustration, later editions do not.

8In January 1916, soon after he arrived in Porthcothan in Cornwall, Lawrence specifically asked Lady Ottoline Morrell to bring Hesiod: The Homeric Hymns and Homerica with her when she came to visit.12 For various reasons, her planned visit did not go ahead, but she sent Lawrence this book which is recognised to contain “the most important preserved piece of textural evidence about Dionysus.”13 This evidence comprises a short story known as “Dionysus Crossing the Sea” and the frontispiece to the book Ottoline sent Lawrence shows an illustration of this myth.14 The circular image is of a small boat, in which the god sits. The mast of the boat is wrapped in grape vines which are laden with fruit and around the boat play a school of dolphins. This illustration is taken from a piece of ancient Greek pottery known as the Dionysus Cup, now in a museum in Munich, which is the most famous extant work by the Greek vase painter and potter Exekias, who was active in Athens between 545 and 530 BC. As we will see, this image, and the accompanying myth, made a deep impression on Lawrence.

  • 15 Redefining Dionysus, 320.

9In the story Hesiod depicts one, unusual, face of Dionysian “madness,” that of being unnaturally calm and unperturbed in the face of great danger. Hesiod describes Dionysus as a somewhat effeminate, but attractive, young man with long flowing dark hair and a purple cloak. Seeing Dionysus alone on the shore, some Tyresian pirates seized him and, putting him on board their ship, planned to ransom him or sell him into slavery. Strangely, Dionysus does not try to resist the pirates, he just sits quietly as Hesiod states “with a smile in his eyes” which, as has been observed elsewhere, “denotes his strangeness and links to another world.”15

10This image of Dionysus facing a traumatic event with unreasonable calmness has a striking resonance with Lawrence’s later descriptions in Kangaroo of Somers’s (and, one can reasonably assume from other accounts, his own) behaviour when he was expelled from Cornwall. Somers is seated on the train from Cornwall to London surrounded by soldiers and sailors who had experienced, and were facing, their own traumas with the war; as Lawrence observes, their change in song choice marking their “bitterness” and that “many were beginning to make a mock of their own feelings” (K 247). However, amongst this rowdiness, Somers is described as unnaturally calm, “So he sat with his immobile face of a crucified Christ who makes no complaint, only broods silently and alone, remote” (K 247). This unusual calmness is also evident in Lawrence’s earlier description of Somers when the police came to search his cottage before giving him and Harriett notice to quit Cornwall. While Harriett, in an understandable response to this injustice, cries and vigorously argues with the police sergeant, Somers is strangely quiet and composed (K 242 - 244).

  • 16 James George Fraser, The Golden Bough. Ed. Robert Fraser (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 4 (...)
  • 17 Tim Shaw’s sculpture shows Dionysus as a raging bull with horns standing up on his hind legs surrou (...)
  • 18 However, “madness” is also a word with many meanings and all of them are debatable. In Lawrence’s s (...)

11This unnatural calmness in the face of adversity can be seen as unreason; as one face of Dionysian “madness.” This is very far from the other, better known, face of Dionysian “madness” when the blood thirsty god is shown, usually drunk, behaving in a disorderly manner and being followed by a band of ecstatic, wild women. Indeed, Dionysus is often portrayed as a roaring, savage bull that bursts forth from out of the darkness, as Lawrence would have known from his reading of The Golden Bough.16 Furthermore, it is this bovine image of Dionysus that tends to spark the imagination of artists, as can be seen in Tim Shaw’s sculpture for the Eden Project in Cornwall, “The Rites of Dionysus” (2004).17 Nevertheless, Hesiod’s depiction of Dionysus illustrates the two faces of his “madness.”18 For Dionysus is both the unnaturally calm god and the roaring god. And this dichotomy is significant, because it is the essence of Dionysus.

  • 19 Redefining Dionysus, 240

12Hesiod’s myth also offers other images of “madness,” for he tells us that the pirates were unable to tie up Dionysus because “the bonds would not hold him.” This alerts the helmsman to the fact that Dionysus is a god and, calling his companions “mad men” for having abducted a god, he pleads with them to return the god to the shore before he becomes angry and causes them trouble. However, the sailors regard the helmsman as “mad” for wanting to throw away this opportunity for profit, and hoist the sails to make better progress. But, needless to say, strange things begin to happen. At first, Hesiod depicts the calm face of Dionysus; wine begins to flow through the ship, causing a wonderful smell, and a vine grows along the top of the sail with clusters of grapes on it that hang down. But frightened by these unnatural events, the sailors finally realise their error in kidnapping a god and order the helmsman to make for land. However, it is too late. Dionysus then shows the other face of his “madness” by creating a raving bear and by changing himself into a roaring lion that attacks the captain of the ship. Fearing they will also be eaten by the lion, the sailors jump overboard and are changed into dolphins that play around the ship – an image, which it has been suggested, represents the first Dionysian dance.19 However, Dionysus spares the helmsman who recognised him as a god.

13The image in Hesiod’s book of the Dionysus Cup, and the accompanying story, clearly made a strong impression on Lawrence, as is clear from his letter to Lady Ottoline Morrell at the end of January 1916:

Do you remember that little round picture at the beginning of Hesiod, of Dionysos crossing the sea? It is very lovely and delightful, I think. Would you like me to draw it for you to embroider? – a round picture, not too big, Dionysos in a ship with a white sail and the mast a tree with grapes, sailing over a yellow sea, with dark, keen, joyful fish? (2L 517)

14It would seem that Ottoline was receptive to this idea because on 7 April 1916 Lawrence wrote again describing his bedroom as looking “really beautiful” with “a large deep window looking to the sea, and another window opposite looking at the hill-slope of gorse and granite” and he tells her that, “Your embroidery hangs on the slanting wall of the big window” (2L 591). Later that month he also wrote to Philip Heseltine concerning the return of his sketch, “Thank you for the Dionysos, which came this morning” (2L 598).

  • 20 The British Library has refused to change its classification of the embroidery because, in his lett (...)

15The sketch that Lawrence made of Dionysus crossing the sea no longer exists. But it would seem that Ottoline’s embroidery still does, although its provenance is now disputed. After Lawrence left Cornwall he gave Ottoline’s embroidery to Maitland Radford as a wedding present and, eventually, it was included in the archive of Ernest and Dolly Radford that has recently been accepted by the British Library. However, when the British Library received the embroidery, a label with it attributed it to Frieda Lawrence and, despite drawing their attention to Lawrence’s letters, they have refused to change their classification.20 Still, the fact that this Lawrencian artefact has now been located and is being properly cared for, means that there is an opportunity to continue discussions about its origin.

  • 21 For a fuller discussion of the associations the ancients made between Dionysus and wine see Walter (...)

16Nevertheless, this story from Hesiod illustrates the important duality in Dionysus’s character; the two faces of Dionysian “madness.” Dionysus is both the friendly god and the bestial, wild one. The association the ancients made, as in this story, between Dionysus and wine also emphasises this doubleness as wine, which is often considered the gift of Dionysus, has a divided nature; it can be life enhancing but too much can “transport men into madness.”21 In discussing modern theories about Dionysus, Walter F. Otto suggests how the madness connected to Dionysus leads to the ultimate significance of this essential duality; the madness of life and death:

All of his gifts and attendant phenomena give evidence of the sheer madness of his dual essence: prophecy, music, and finally wine, the flamelike herald of the god, which has in it both bliss and brutality. At the height of ecstasy all of these paradoxes suddenly unmask themselves and reveal their names to be Life and Death. (121)

  • 22 Kirk 128.
  • 23 Otto 136.

17Kirk also draws attention to how the divided nature of this god reflects that of humanity, “Dionysus represents the irrational element in man, and his myths the conflict between reason and social convention on one side, emotion on the other.”22 In other words, this paradoxical nature of Dionysus - the two faces of Dionysian “madness” – offered the ancients an explanation for the dichotomy they saw in human nature; the polarity of humankind’s nature was finally reconciled in the duality of one god. This offered them one answer to the inconsistency of people who are normally kind and gentle, but can also crave violence and brutality. The ancients’ acceptance of conflicting impulses in humankind – that people are not essentially rational beings, but that they strive to be reasonable by supressing the wild side of their nature - then helps to explain the enduring popularity of this particular god. Dionysus’s significant attraction was that he did not represent a human idea of perfection that was unattainable, but the reality of the human condition; an inherent duality that can be seen as “mad.” Indeed, as Otto reminds us, “There can only be a mad god if there is a mad world which reveals itself through him.”23

  • 24 For a fuller discussion of the connection the ancients made between Dionysus and water see Otto162.

18Otto also makes a significant link between the idea of Dionysus and a river god, which then leads to the well-known connection between Dionysus and a bull. Otto points out that, “Dionysus, who holds them together, must be the divine spirit of a gigantic reality, an elemental first principle of being in whose essence lies the reason why he, himself, is called a madman, and why his appearance brings madness with it” (121). This recognition of Dionysus as “an elemental first principle of being” is important as it identifies him as a river god. The association with water not only reinforces his binary nature and his ultimate power, for water is both essential for life and deadly,24 but also helps to explain the god’s common manifestation as a bull, as Otto elucidates:

There was […] a mighty beast, in whose bodily form the river gods generally appeared when they emerged from their element, who was so close to Dionysus that he revealed himself to the devout in its form above all others. This is the bull.

It is well known that the bull was looked upon by ancient peoples as a symbol of fertility and prolific generation, and it was just for this reason that the spirits of nurturing and fertilizing streams had to be depicted in its image […] Thus the bull form of Dionysus again suggests the element of water, which we have perceived to be the carrier and agent of his divine power in nature. (165-6)

  • 25 Timothy Mitchell. Blood Sport: A Social History of Spanish Bullfighting (Philadelphia: University o (...)
  • 26 Otto 165.
  • 27 Rafael Lopez-Pedraza. Dionysus in Exile: On the Repression of the Body and Emotion (Wilmette: Chiro (...)

19In his examination of the social history of bullfighting, Timothy Mitchell notes that the mystery religion of Dionysus “dissolved into cult techniques that sought to harness the bull’s sexual potency for human purposes of fertility or procreation,”25 but as Otto reminds us, as well as giving life a bull can also destroy life.26 This is most evident in the bullfight which has long been recognised as a strong Dionysiac art form; 27for bullfighting incorporates cultural practices that equate to the two faces of Dionysian “madness.”

  • 28 For a further discussion of the violent nature of eroticism see Mitchell 168 – 173.
  • 29 A point Mitchell also makes 173.

20The art of bullfighting has come to be a culturally specific distinguishing feature of Spanish civilisation, which sets them apart from all the other nationalities that inhabit the continent of Europe. A bullfight is a spectacle of emotions – and for Spaniards, emotions equate to life. In Lawrence’s short story about bullfighting, “None of That” (1927), he tries to explore the emotions bullfighting engenders; in particular, how women, who are initially resistant to the spectacle, frequently, succumb to the eroticism of the event and become fascinated by the relationship between the bull and the matador.28 Lawrence suggests that this can become so pronounced that the matador gains a dominant power over the women’s emotions. He also indicates the sexual allure of this power and, linking it to erotic violence, pushes this insight to the extreme; portraying the outcome of this domination as an incidence of gang rape. However, one important point he is trying to make in this story is the sharp distinction he sees between the emotionally based Spanish culture, represented by bullfighting, and that of other European nations whom he regards as preoccupied, not with human emotions, but with “things.”29

  • 30 Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon, (London: Vintage, 2000), 19.
  • 31 Ibid., 18-19.
  • 32 Mitchell, 70-71.

21Ernest Hemingway has observed that “bullfighting is based on the fact that it is the first meeting between a wild animal and a dismounted man.”30 Within that event we see the two faces of Dionysian “madness.” There is the “madness” of the roaring bull – which is intensified by the goads and torments he suffers – and the “madness” of the unnaturally calm matador who willingly risks his life to slay the beast in a stylish manner. Hemingway observes that “We are fascinated by death, its nearness and its avoidance,” and points out that “the matador […] can increase the amount of danger of death […] as much as he wishes.”31 Indeed, how the bull is killed and how the matador behaves is of paramount importance. Lawrence shows in his short story how the power of the matador rests on his ability to control his emotions; death has to be courted with style. Mitchell also notes how it is important that, in the face of imminent death, the matador behaves with flippant indifference.32

  • 33 See also Mitchell, 165.
  • 34 In his book, Ritual and the Idea of Europe in Interwar Writing, Patrick Query puts forward the argu (...)

22Lawrence indicates in “None of That,” that it is this complete and wilful disregard for what are usually seen as the natural instincts of self-preservation, which gives the violence a sexual allure.33 Mitchell observes how, in Spanish culture, this determination to pay no heed to danger has developed into a prevalent type of social mores known as Majismo, of which bullfighting is a powerful demonstration. Majismo is a counterculture that originated in Spain and has a deep-rooted cultural significance as a form of resistance to oppression which, it has been noted elsewhere, distinguishes Spain as being alien to the rest of Europe.34 While Majismo reveals one face of Dionysian “madness,” it also provides a connection between Dionysian flouting of convention and bullfighting as Mitchell explains:

majismo represented a kind of class consciousness; it was inseparable from a conscious popular rejection of the alien and overrefined fashions and behaviours of the upper echelons of society [modelled on the Bourbon French][…] majismo was so overwhelmingly successful that […] members of the upper classes were doing their best to imitate the clothes and mannerisms of the plebians[ …] Majismo […] “was the opposite of submission and obedience to rules; it was the defiance of one’s own walk, one’s own body, of majeza, of majesty.” In short, body language. Everything about majismo was designed to create an aura of insolence and sex appeal […] the greatest vehicle for the propagation of majismo was the bullfight […] The warrior primitivism of bullfighters […] their paganistic or carpe diem philosophy […] stood in sharp contrast to the workaday reality principle of the majority. (63- 64, 66, 77)

  • 35 See Mitchell, 79. In trying to explain this phenomena Mitchell makes reference to the work of Georg (...)

23Mitchell notes this is very attractive to spectators, as is the bullfighter’s “ecstatic state from overcoming his fear in a successful bullfight, which is often compared to intoxication or sexual fulfilment, and is something that the crowds respond to with great enthusiasm.”35 Drawing on the work of Georges Bataille, Michell goes on to illuminate the fundamental connection between eroticism and violence and to explore the addictive nature of transgression:

The patently erotic nature of this enjoyment [the bullfight] can be seen in its intoxicating quality, its addictive nature and above all, in its voyeurism […] It is the intoxicating and addictive nature of voyeurism that constitutes the closest link between the mass psychology of the extinct blood sports of Rome and the thriving one of modern Spain […] Spectators gather to see large bulls being killed but also to watch young men taking totally unnecessary risks with their lives […] It is extremely difficult for human beings to gaze upon transgression without being aroused in some way […] Ironically, even reactions of horror and nausea confirm that violent spectacle is inherently erotic […] Disgust is nothing but a negative arousal caused by the fear of degradation that accompanies the desire to give way to the instincts and surpass all taboos [… ] in the last analysis, our personal reactions to bullfighting may depend on our willingness to indulge […] the animal in ourselves. (166 – 175)

  • 36 Otto, 91.

24This perhaps also offers some insight into the “shame” that Brynner recognised in Lawrence at the bullfight. For following Mitchell’s reasoning would suggest that the bullfight liberated emotions in Lawrence that he normally repressed, hence inciting the “shame” that Brynner observed. In this context, it is worth remembering that Dionysus was also known as “the liberator” in recognition of his ability to release “all that is locked up,” which leads to the suggestion that Dionysian “madness” should also be seen as a freedom from repression.36

  • 37 Hemingway, 6. Hemingway was dismissive of legislation, introduced in 1930, that made it compulsory (...)
  • 38 Ibid., 5, 7.

25This is clearly seen in bullfighting which liberates emotions in the audience that are usually regarded as unacceptable. That is part of their powerful attraction. For example, although stating, “This is the sort of thing you should not admit,” Hemingway explains that the disembowelling of horses, such as Lawrence saw, can provide a comic aspect to a bullfight. In Hemingway’s opinion, when a horse is galloping around the ring in a “stiff old-maidish fashion […] trailing the opposite of clouds of glory […] people running, horse emptying, one dignity after another being destroyed in the spattering, and trailing of its innermost values, in a complete burlesque of tragedy […]” it can be “very funny.37 Whilst acknowledging that it may be shocking, Hemingway makes a distinction between the “comic” death of the horses and the “tragic” death of the bull observing that, “the tragedy of the bullfight is so well ordered and so strongly disciplined by ritual that a person feeling the whole tragedy cannot separate the minor comic-tragedy of the horse so as to feel it emotionally.”38

26As we know, Lawrence left his first bullfight at this point and did not see the later display of the matador’s skills. But he did at his second bullfight. Furthermore, it would seem that this second experience underpins both his portrayal of bull fighting in “None of That,” and his depiction of “honourable killing” in The Plumed Serpent, because both of these accounts show a far greater understanding of the dynamics of bull fighting and its erotic attraction, which is connected to the two faces of Dionysian “madness.”

  • 39 PS 372.
  • 40 PS, 381-3.
  • 41 “None of That” 1154.

27In The Plumed Serpent the execution of Ramon’s attackers has striking parallels with the rituals of a bullfight. The start of the execution is reminiscent of a fiesta; men are dressed in special clothes, there are bonfires, fireworks, singing and frenzied dancing amongst Cipriano’s followers, which recalls the wildness associated with one face of Dionysian “madness.”39 Indeed, Lawrence suggests this association in the way he specifically, and repeatedly, links the beating of the drums by Cipriano’s followers with madness; “The hard drums […] were beating incessantly […] with a noise like madness […] the hard drums […] rattled like madness”40 Then, as in a bullfight, there is a procession, in which Cipriano represents the matador, the unnaturally calm, contrasting face of Dionysian “madness.” It is this abnormal composure that has a powerful erotic allure, as Lawrence indicates in his description of the matador in “None of That”: “Women went mad, once they felt him […] he could have had forty beautiful women every night and different ones each night, from the beginning of the year to the end.”41

  • 42 There is a further resonance with bullfighting. The first prisoners, a man and a woman, are tied up (...)
  • 43 “None of That” 1153.

28The echoes of bullfighting continue in The Plumed Serpent with the ritualised exchanges between Cipriano and his four helpers and in Cipriano’s appearance, which owes something to the matador’s very tight, “suit of lights” - Cipriano’s upper body being painted in a highly decorative manner.42 However, it is in the “honourable killing” of the three captive that the links to bullfighting are most obvious; Lawrence’s description indicating the knowledge that he gleaned from his second bullfight. Cipriano’s excessively dispassionate haughty manner recalls majismo, with all its links to bullfighting, whilst the ceremonial removal of the serapes hints at the flourishing of the bullfighters capes. But it is in Cipriano’s composed, swift action as he stabs each of the three men, just once, to the heart which is most reminiscent of a matador killing a bull in the preferred, but more perilous, way of a single thrust to the heart. Indeed, Lawrence describes this way of killing the bull in “None of That,” observing the audience’s appreciation of this dangerous feat, “The people went mad!” Lawrence also highlights the erotic attraction of the matador’s performance: “he held out his arms to the bull with love. And that was what fascinated the women […] Ethel […] too had gone mad.”43 In addition, in his novel, Lawrence’s description of the ritualised killing of the captives also highlights the role of the victim in the spectacle - there is much talk of taking death bravely – the very ethos that underpins bullfighting.

  • 44 Bell, 176.

29Lawrence’s depiction of the ceremonial murder of the three suspects in The Plumed Serpent should be shocking. The captives may be guilty, but there is no evidence of democracy, or a trial, and they are put to death in a way that reinforces the power of this dictatorship by gratifying a blood thirsty crowd. Yet Lawrence’s description lacks the powerful visceral disgust that overflowed in his description of the killing of the horse at the bullfight, demonstrating a very different attitude to death. Indeed, the contrast between Lawrence’s description of the bullfight and this “honourable killing” is evidence of what Bell identifies as Lawrence’s “conflicting impulses” towards killing for, as Bell explains, in this execution scene, “what Lawrence clearly wants to communicate is the true respect for life, and therefore for death.”44

  • 45 Hemingway, 2.

30Brynner’s description of Lawrence’s instinctive response to his first bullfight raised two pertinent questions; why did Lawrence go to see a bullfight? And why, if he was so horrified by his first bullfight, did he go to see a second? For many non-Spaniards, even the idea of a bullfight is repugnant. It is something they would avoid being involved with, even though they might have little knowledge or understanding of what it involves; for them, the thought of killing a large wild animal for “fun” is totally abhorrent. However, by looking at the culture of bullfighting, I suggest we may begin to understand Lawrence’s impetus to see a second bullfight in an attempt to understand his – and humanity’s – conflicting impulses towards killing and violent death. For, as Hemingway observed, “The only place you could see […] violent death now the wars were over, was in a bullring.”45

  • 46 Bell, 195.

31Before Lawrence went to his first bullfight he had done his research, he had read Terry’s Guide to Mexico, he knew what to expect. As is evident from Lawrence’s strong desire to leave his first bullfight before it had even started, and his condemnation of an event he was yet to see, he anticipated being revolted by the proceedings of the bullfight. This anticipation was fulfilled, which was why he left his first bullfight prematurely. But Lawrence also knew that his response was unusual. Bell points out that much of the horror of the bullfight for Kate – and for Lawrence – lies in their awareness of the isolation of their response to this event.46 Therefore, for Lawrence to go to an event he already thought he would find repulsive points to a curiosity to try and understand the powerful, mass appeal of the bullfight.

32Also of significance in Lawrence’s decision to go to a bullfight is the close association between bullfighting and Dionysus. As we have seen, Lawrence had long been fascinated by ideas of Dionysus and a bullfight gave him an opportunity to explore the two faces of Dionysian “madness.” However, although Lawrence clearly anticipated being horrified by seeing his first bullfight, I propose that he did not expect this Dionysian “madness” would unlock emotions in himself that he found hard to acknowledge. It would seem reasonable to conclude that Brynner’s account of Lawrence’s “shame” at that first bullfight was because he was humiliated; that Lawrence experienced sensations other than those of simply pure repugnance. I suggest that viewing the start of the bullfight prompted Lawrence to recognise emotions within himself that sparked a conflict between the “voices of his education” and his instincts; the very dichotomy he depicts in his poem “Snake” and, importantly, the one which Kirk associates with Dionysus.

33However, it would seem that Lawrence’s early and well-known declared intent in his novels was also a mantra for his life, “one sheds one sicknesses in books – repeats and presents again one emotions, to be master of them.” (2L 90). Lawrence wanted to be master of his emotions, so he went to his second bullfight. These two experiences then helped him to better understand his conflicting impulses towards killing, and enabled him to depict different attitudes towards killing and death in “None of That” and The Plumed Serpent. Thus it can be suggested that, in Lawrence’s fascination with the two faces of Dionysian “madness,” Dionysus, the liberator, perhaps triumphed and helped Lawrence to overcome some of his repressed emotions in order to free some of his deepest instincts.

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Bibliographie

Bell, Michael. D.H. Lawrence: Language and Being. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Bernabe, Alberto. Miguel Herrero de Jauregui, Ana Isabel Jimenez San Cristobal and Martin Hernandez. Eds. Redefining Dionysus (Mythoseikonpoiesis). Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co, 2013.

Frazer, James George. The Golden Bough. Ed. Robert Fraser. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. Boston: Little Brown & Company, 1998.

Hays, Peter, L. The Critical Reception of Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.” New York: Camden House, 2011.

Hemingway, Ernest. Death in the Afternoon. London: Vintage, 2000.

Hesiod. The Homeric Hymns and Homerica. Trans Hugh G. Evelyn-White M.A. London: William Heinemann, 1914.

Kirk, G.S. The Nature of Greek Myths. London: Penguin, 1990.

Lawrence, D.H.

D.H. Lawrence Complete Works, Delphi Classics, 2011.

…… Kangaroo. Ed. Bruce Steele. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

…… Quetzalcoatl. Ed. Louis L Martz. New York: New Directions Books, 1995.

…… The Plumed Serpent. Ed. L.D. Clark. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

…… The Letters of D.H. Lawrence Vol. II 1913-16 Eds. George J. Zytaruk & James T. Boulton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Lopez-Pedraza, Rafael. Dionysus in Exile: On the Repression of the Body and Emotion. Wilmette: Chiron Publications, 2000.

Mitchell, Timothy. Blood Sport: A Social History of Spanish Bullfighting. Philadelphia: University of Pensylvania Press, 1991.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy. Trans. Douglas Smith. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Otto, Walter F. Dionysus Myth and Cult. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1965.

Query, Patrick. Ritual and the Idea of Europe in Interwar Writing. Farnham: Ashgate, 2012.

Roberts, Neil. D.H. Lawrence: Travel and Cultural Difference. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

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Notes

1 G.S. Kirk, The Nature of Greek Myths. (London: Penguin, 1974), 124.

2 Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns and Homerica, trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White (London: William Heinemann, 1914).

3 Edward Nehls, D.H. Lawrence: A Composite Biography, Volume Two 1919- 1925. (Wisconsin: The University of Winconsin Press, 1977), 212 – 218.

4 Michael Bell, D.H. Lawrence: Language and Being, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 94.

5 Ibid., 175.

6 My thanks to Jonathan Long for drawing my attention to the fact that, before seeing his first bullfight, Lawrence had read Terry’s Guide to Mexico having written to Seltzer on 1st February 1923, “Would you order for me Terry’s Guide to Mexico – I believe that is the best” (4L 374). The first edition of this book had been published in 1909 and a revised edition was published in 1923.

7 Terry T. Philip, Terry’s Guide to Mexico, (New York, 1923), 101-104.

8 Ibid., 105.

9 This is not referred to in Lawrence’s letters but see Jeffrey Meyers, D.H. Lawrence: A Biography (New York: Knopf, 1990) 294 and Keith Sagar, The Life of D.H. Lawrence, (New York: Pantheon, 1980) 156. For further discussion see Patrick R. Query, Ritual and the Idea of Europe in Interwar Writing, (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012) 114.

10 Douglas Smith, Introduction to Friedrich Nietzsche The Birth of Tragedy, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008) xxxii.

11 The god is also mentioned in his play “Touch and Go” (1920), his poem “Grapes” (1923), in Lawrence’s short stories The Overtone (1924) and Glad Ghosts (1926) and in Sketches of Etruscan Places (1927-8).

12 Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns and Homerica, trans. Hugh G. Evelyn – White, (London: William Heinemann, 1914). Note: the Cambridge edition of Lawrence’s letters gives 1915 as the publication date (2L 510). However, this may be incorrect as the first edition, which contains the illustration, was published in 1914 and the story of Dionysus Crossing the Sea is on pages 429 - 433.

13 Redefining Dionysus (Mythoseikonpoiesis), eds., Alberto Bernabe, Miguel Herrero de Jauregui,Ana Isabel Jimenez San Cristobel and Martin Hernandez (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 2013), 245.

14 Whilst the first edition of this book contains the illustration, later editions do not.

15 Redefining Dionysus, 320.

16 James George Fraser, The Golden Bough. Ed. Robert Fraser (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 400. For a further discussion of this see Walter F. Otto Dionysus Myth and Cult. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1965), 79 -80. Notably, this book also describes the cult of Dionysus as “a movement which came from below” (53), which brings to mind Lawrence’s frequent references to the dark god who enters us from below.

17 Tim Shaw’s sculpture shows Dionysus as a raging bull with horns standing up on his hind legs surrounded by eleven, life-sized, frenzied nude followers, known as Maenads, who are banging drums and blowing trumpets whilst they dance through the small vineyard in the Mediterranean biome at the Eden Project in Cornwall. Probably Shaw’s best known work, the sculpture took four years to complete. In 2013 Shaw was elected as an Academian of The Royal Academy of Arts.

18 However, “madness” is also a word with many meanings and all of them are debatable. In Lawrence’s short story about bullfighting, “None of That,” he explores some of these meanings and uses the word “mad” to describe the fury of a tormented bull, the enthusiastic approval of the crowd at a bullfight and the erotic attraction of violence.

19 Redefining Dionysus, 240

20 The British Library has refused to change its classification of the embroidery because, in his letters, Lawrence does not describe Ottoline’s embroidery that he hung on the wall of his bedroom in Cornwall. Therefore, they reason, it is possible that these letters refer to a different embroidery that Ottoline made at this time and gave to Lawrence and, therefore, they hold to their opinion that the Dionysus embroidery was made by Frieda.

21 For a fuller discussion of the associations the ancients made between Dionysus and wine see Walter F. Otto, Dionysus: Myth and Cult, trans. Robert B. Palmer, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1965) 151.

22 Kirk 128.

23 Otto 136.

24 For a fuller discussion of the connection the ancients made between Dionysus and water see Otto162.

25 Timothy Mitchell. Blood Sport: A Social History of Spanish Bullfighting (Philadelphia: University of Pensylvania Press, 1991), 40.

26 Otto 165.

27 Rafael Lopez-Pedraza. Dionysus in Exile: On the Repression of the Body and Emotion (Wilmette: Chiron Publications, 2000), 38.

28 For a further discussion of the violent nature of eroticism see Mitchell 168 – 173.

29 A point Mitchell also makes 173.

30 Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon, (London: Vintage, 2000), 19.

31 Ibid., 18-19.

32 Mitchell, 70-71.

33 See also Mitchell, 165.

34 In his book, Ritual and the Idea of Europe in Interwar Writing, Patrick Query puts forward the argument that Majismo distinguishes Spanish exceptionalism, i.e. Spain as being alien to the rest of Europe.

35 See Mitchell, 79. In trying to explain this phenomena Mitchell makes reference to the work of George Bataille to elucidate the erotic nature of violence and arguing that “The direction of all desire is towards violence and degradation,” observes how society represses such emotions: “eroticism is violent and violence is erotic; society must contain and control both by interdicts.”

36 Otto, 91.

37 Hemingway, 6. Hemingway was dismissive of legislation, introduced in 1930, that made it compulsory for horses to wear padding to stop such incidents for, he argues, not only did it deprive the audience of this comic aspect, but it also did not prevent the horses being killed by a charging bull, it was just that the horses injuries were internal and could not be seen by the audience.

38 Ibid., 5, 7.

39 PS 372.

40 PS, 381-3.

41 “None of That” 1154.

42 There is a further resonance with bullfighting. The first prisoners, a man and a woman, are tied up and “humbled” by being having ash put on their heads, which would have made them lower their heads just as a bull is “humbled” and made to lower his head by the dagger that is stuck in his neck to cut his tendons as he enters the ring.

43 “None of That” 1153.

44 Bell, 176.

45 Hemingway, 2.

46 Bell, 195.

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Référence électronique

Jane Costin, « Of Pirates and Bullfights: Lawrence’s Fascination with Two Faces of Dionysian “Madness” », Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 50 | 2019, mis en ligne le 02 octobre 2019, consulté le 15 octobre 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lawrence/960 ; DOI : 10.4000/lawrence.960

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Auteur

Jane Costin

Jane COSTIN is an independent scholar and regular contributor to this journal. She worked on an international conference to mark the centenary of Lawrence’s move to Zennor which was held in St Ives in September 2016 together with other cultural events intended to raise awareness of the important connection between Lawrence and Cornwall. She has published several articles on Lawrence and contributed to a book of proceedings of the 13th International DHLSNA conference.

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