Friday, 21 May 2010

Damn! Hell! Lordy!

Lawrence's fetish for a notional 'cleanness' that excluded humanity is well-enough known (Birkin cooing to Ursula in Women in Love: 'Don't you find it a beautiful clean thought, a world empty of people, just uninterrupted grass, and a hare sitting up?' When I was an undergard, the sublime George Watson, lecturing on Lawrence, read that out and then actually threw the book away in disgust. His point was about the very close ideological connection between notions of 'cleanness' and fascism). But what strikes me is how feeble, actually, was his vehemence on this topic. This famous letter to Edward Garnett, expressing anger that his manuscript for Sons and Lovers was rejected by Heinemann (3 July 1912):
Curse the blasted, jelly-boned swines, the slimy, the belly-wriggling invertebrates, the miserable sodding rotters, the flaming sods, the sniveling, dribbling, dithering palsied pulse-less lot that make up England today. They've got white of egg in their veins, and their spunk is that watery its a marvel they can breed. They can nothing but frog-spawn — the gibberers! God, how I hate them! God curse them, funkers. God blast them, wish-wash. Exterminate them, slime. I could curse for hours and hours — God help me.
An ounce of Byronic vim is worth gallons and gallons of this weirdly stifled, tame blather: as if DHL can't quite let go of notions of respectabilty enough to actually yell. It reads like a vicar performing the idiom of 'swearing'. Or the pasty bravado of his letter to Blanche Jennings [9 October 1908]:
If I had my way, I would build a lethal chamber as big as the Crystal Palace, with a military band playing softly, and a Cinematograph working brightly; then I’d go out in the back streets and main streets and bring them in, all the sick, the halt, and the maimed; I would lead them gently, and they would smile me a weary thanks; and the band would softly bubble out the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’.
The thing here is not the despicable ur-fascism of the sentiment, although that's obvious enough. It's the inability to rouse any properly diabolic force of expression. In a writer that's almost a worse sin. It's as if DHL has, sanctimoniously, decided to reserve 'fuck' only for purely sexual-descriptive purposes.

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