Why does the novel matter in our every day lives?
Author D.H. Lawrence set the world wondering how wonderful wonder is, and the novel was his primary vehicle. Since Lawrence was a writer, he wanted the novel to be a vehicle for learning. Life–being alive–touching, feeling, contact awareness; these were what mattered to Lawrence. The novel explores, discusses, creates these moods, and so, believed Lawrence, the novel matters.
Basically, I use the novel as an entertaining escape vehicle. Lawrence’s books have more than once provided my escape. And I won’t say I never learned from them. But it is usually a by-product more than a conscious purpose. Lawrence described the Bible as a long, wondering, confused oratory on life, but with a central figure, Jesus Christ, as a vital man alive.
The Bible’s lesser characters all, too, are people vitally alive, Lawrence stated. He believed the wholeness of the Bible to be reality not for the story it tells, but in the sense that those who are the story are vital people.
Lawrence had an artist’s concept of the importance of things. It was the wonder of beauty, and art, and love that arrested his attention. He cared not for what these do, but for what they are. For him, there was no “life” without wonder, and vitality was the mother of his wonder. Ordinary things like a growing flower, that the rest of the world took for granted, he marveled at in utter amazement. Perhaps, it was his escape, his way of daydreaming. Did wondering give him an excuse for non-involvement?
How did he view himself as a novelist? I wonder. Was it his purpose, through his characters, to pass along to the rest of the world the secret of being alive? Did he think other writers should make this their task? People, he observed, and all things, change, and that causes much undependability and uncertainty in their lives. Did he write to claim that the whole of anything was better than any of its parts? The theme of a book can be its lesson, but any of its parts could be a learning experience, it seems to me. This adheres to Lawrence’s thought that nothing is absolutely right, because things are ever changeable. But it would be nice if changes could always be favorable.
One of the reasons Lawrence loved the novel was that its characters could live, through the pen, the vital existence he viewed as essential to living well. He hoped readers could absorb this message, learn something about their own identity and, consequently, live more worthwhile lives. Novel characters can stretch this idea pretty far, but then, so can some real life people. Lawrence’s idea that it’s no good inventing Thou Shall Nots because the human conscious is a slippery entity, not easily corralled and categorized within social laws, is somewhat anarchic. He suggests, as a guide, not the Ten Commandments and Beatitudes, but the novel, for here man can really go from one extreme to another without restriction, and this is sort of what real men do anyway. So, he said, consider the novel and learn how to live well. But, let’s not forget, he liked the Bible as a novel, too.
What Lawrence had to say about knowledge is disturbing. He said knowing too much can lessen sensitivities. For example, we can know, but not feel. Professionals can become so involved in their craft that they lose insight, not gain it, he said. Amateurs may do better because they experience the wonder and delight that inspires and causes growth. However, weren’t all professionals amateurs at some point? Perhaps this wonder and delight, coupled with later knowledge and professionalism, made our country’s finest artists. Where do professionals go for relief from the occasional burden of their art form? They go to another art form! E.M. Forster absorbed himself in music to escape from writing. Virginia Woolf used the reading of memoirs as her release. Lawrence went to painting, perhaps as an outlet, but what he actually discovered was another source of wonder and delight. He just couldn’t get away from the amazement in life. It was life to him. He reveled in it. The difference between the approach of Forster and Woolf, and that of Lawrence, was that Forster and Woolf told us of their escapes, but still left us to our own devices, whereas Lawrence almost commanded us to take his route because we miss life itself if we don’t.
Through his experience with painting, Lawrence explained how works of art are generated. Study alone, natural ability alone, enthusiasm alone, won’t do, he insisted. It is the desire to communicate that is at the root of great artistry. I rather think it is all of these in combination, baking together, with the heart and deepest feelings thrown in for salt and yeast, that produce the loaf. Creativity Lawrence viewed as possibly a search for stability, a product of the observation of beauty and wonder. Life is nothing without imagination, he observed. He condemned education as an opiate and hailed wonder as the greatest stimulant. The more we know, the less we really feel, he said.
That hasn’t been my experience. The more I learn, the more stimulated I am to learn, create, imagine, live! Education always stimulates me to want to do and feel more, not just know more. Perhaps that’s because I’m one of those carers, which were Lawrence’s profoundly described nemeses.
Lawrence refused to care, and, thereby, entangle himself in the fruitless search for solutions to problems that can drain a person’s system, and leave him an empty shell incapable of experiencing wonder and delight, the twin proponents of true living. When one wraps himself up in causes, one forgets to live, Lawrence expounded. The soul suffers.
What about religion? Is it vice or virtue? According to Lawrence’s experiences, it’s all right if it is based on emotionalism. Hymns live. A fire and brimstone, soul-saving religion frightens. The whole story of religion doesn’t matter. But, the man Jesus is amazing, wonderful, creative, delightful, all those good essentials Lawrence saw as true life.
The second most annoying characteristic a person could have besides caring, in Lawrence’s opinion, is indifference to true life. Boredom with the wonder of things would be the ultimate crime. Overstatement, as used by Lawrence, could be a therapeutic vehicle. He overstated his case to better state his position. He certainly didn’t hesitate to express himself on any subject, and, when not writing, he was most serious about his job of wondering. Only carers and the unimaginative could look at a caterpillar and not be utterly amazed at its being, its aimless trek, he cautioned. A carer would want to save it from the horrors of radiation exposure, and the unimaginative would step on it.
Direct contact, being, is the important thing in life, Lawrence stated. Instincts lead people to and from. Intuitions make people feel. What else is there? Purity of spirit, that’s what! The divine is all. Beauty suppressed is a crime. A coal miner’s son, Lawrence saw his father’s appreciation of beauty undermined by his mother’s materialism. Then an outsider came along and said the coal miner’s plight had to be changed, when the coal miner didn’t even know he had a plight! He was happy in his dingy hole in the ground because he possessed the gifts of beauty, divinity, purity, physical awareness; in total, being. But he was forced to give them up by the emergence of the new art of possession.
The competition of acquisition destroyed a way of life, said Lawrence. It disheartened many. That is an experience of all peoples. Progress promotes change in our lives. We give up something to gain something else. It isn’t good or bad. It just is. Some rights are wrongs for others, as Lawrence put it.
Is a clean start possible? As Lawrence suggested, we can tear down villages and rebuild in splendor, with some reluctance, but with much reality. Can we provide a chance for the emergence of the whole man, the being? Is food for the soul more important than bread for the physical body?
Lawrence was convinced the answer is “yes,” but I’m still wondering if it could only happen in a novel.
Sources: D.H. Lawrence’s novels and essays