Europe And Englishness, Identification And Difference In D.H. Lawrence’s American Writings

  • Abstract:

    In his Studies in Classic American Literature, D. H. Lawrence asserts: “Every continent has its own great spirit of place. Every people are polarized in some particular locality, which is home, the homeland. Different places on the face of the earth have different vital effluence, different vibration, different chemical exhalation, different polarity with different stars: call it what you like. But the spirit of place is a great reality.” Lawrence’s concept of Europeanism and Englishness finds expression in his American writings which concentrate on place, reshaping his literary content and his relationship with his reader in ways that respond to the American spirit of place. In the American continent Lawrence discovers a religious promise in the residue of aboriginal culture, which for England, and by extension for Europe, suggests the possibility of redemption and a new beginning. My paper argues, however, that Lawrence’s American vision is marked by ambivalence, at once optimistic and pessimistic, sympathetic and anxious. In Mornings in Mexico Lawrence focuses on Pueblo Indian religion rendering it with a strong sense of identification; he visits the Apache, Hopi and Navajo reservations to gain an understanding of indigenous American forms of consciousness which is very different from European and English forms of consciousness. This new vision will take shape as the nascent religion of The Plumed Serpent. However, this later, more substantial work concentrates on a female protagonist who is caught up in a conflict between submission to aboriginal America’s dark, seemingly malevolent forces and the rejection of those forces because of the limitations of her white mental-spiritual consciousness. Lawrence clearly finds it wrong to impose European consciousness on aboriginal American peoples – the Aztec, the Maya, the Inca. Yet, as my argument will demonstrate, he nonetheless believes that the white and dark modes of consciousness in America resist unification. He emphasizes the differences between the local Americans and the Europeans and thus points out to the themes of individuation, heterogeneity and divergence. The Mexican Indians are different in their concepts of time, distance and money; dance and music and especially in their profound sense of religion. Despite his profound subjective engagement and his strong will to identify, he feels frustrated by “Indian” sensibilities, by what he perceives as unassimilable otherness. Yet he maintains his belief that he finds in America the primal wisdom that Europe has lost. Mexico becomes his own infernal paradise of conflicts and contradictions.