University of Sussex
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Between letters : D.H. Lawrence, the nonhuman and the ‘life of writing’

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posted on 2023-06-09, 13:00 authored by Camilla Bostock
This thesis begins with the claim that to fully recognise the notion of ‘life’ in D.H. Lawrence’s writing, we must radically reconsider the ways in which we approach his texts. I argue that Lawrence’s ‘life’ cannot be confined to the auto/biographical life of an author, or to merely anthropocentric concerns, but extends to the nonhuman and what I propose to call the ‘life of writing’. The majority of Lawrence scholarship—in limiting its readings to the auto/biographical, humanist, narrative and character-based—has effectively worked to disavow and neutralise the elements of his writing that are most strange, hidden, unfathomable, contradictory, nonhuman, unconscious, resistant, disruptive, and, ultimately, dangerous. Each of my critical chapters and creative sections explores and seeks to avow the nonhuman, dangerous, unknowable life of Lawrence’s oeuvre, approaching his texts with a focus on letters (epistolary and alphabetic) and nonhuman (as well as human) life. My reading of Lawrence works to foreground the materiality of his writing, that which takes place between letters, exposing a semantic playfulness and experimentation in his texts that has long been ignored or insufficiently appreciated. My first chapter reads the question of life and animation in Lawrence’s letters (which have rarely been studied by scholars outside of their relation to Lawrence’s biography and the exegesis of his novels and other work). My second chapter looks at plants and writing in Sons and Lovers, considering how the presence of a kind of vegetal life in the novel works to undermine traditional concepts of narrative and character. In Chapter Three, I investigate the ways in which Lawrence writes against himself, his own narratives. Reading the novella St. Mawr, I demonstrate that material, crypt-like elements of the writing work to resist the kind of teleological reading to which the text is usually subjected. In my fourth and final chapter, I think about the way the poems of Birds, Beasts and Flowers produce uncalculated effects in order to ensure their own survival, living on like postcards that never fully reach their destination. In addition to this critical investigation, my thesis includes a creative writing element. Taking inspiration from Lawrence’s letters and postcards, I seek to countersign him through a series of fragmented postcards that play with the various features of ‘the life of writing’ explored in the critical part of my thesis. These postcards are interspersed between the chapters in five sections (‘Eastwood’, ‘Croydon’, ‘Sicily’, ‘Zennor’, Texas’), responding to and in dialogue with certain Lawrencian gestures and tropes. They acknowledge a sense of Lawrence’s (and my own) auto/biographical life in the sense that they are often written from the places he lived or visited (which I also visited as part of my research), while always drawing away from notions of authorship, narrative and human lived experience, towards a more impersonal, unconscious, nonhuman life of writing.


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  • eng


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