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Individualism and Paradox in the Works of D. H. Lawrence

Individualism and Paradox in the Works of D. H. Lawrence

When you read something by D. H. Lawrence, you often end up wondering the same thing: does he hate people? Lawrence has a profound interest in us human beings, but it’s the fascination of a child picking at a scab that drives him, rather than a kind of scientific or spiritual quest for some mythical “social truth.” Some of Lawrence’s works–“Insouciance,” for example–question mankind’s tendencies outright: what good is served by a world of “white-haired ladies” wasting time “caring” and sounding intelligent and cultured and talking about pretentious, bourgeois issues?(2)

But this work is blatant in its negative descriptions of people and their behavior in society. At one point in “Insouciance,” the narrator–Lawrence–comes right out and pontificates for several paragraphs on the defects of “modern” society. But for me, it is the more subtle pieces that hold greatest power. When Lawrence hints, insinuates, or implies his views, he is, in a way, letting us discover the kernel of truth, however upsetting or controversial. This process, utilized in “Mercury,” is of far greater interest than the almost direct missive from Lawrence used in “Insouciance,” that flatly states his view of what “living” really is. For not only must we discover the meaning; we must also decide whether our interpretation is really Lawrence’s intent–perhaps we have confused some inadvertent seepage of Lawrence’s personnel venom with his intended meaning. It is a risk we will have to take as we analyze works such as “Mercury”. Instead of condemning society in “Mercury,” Lawrence actually tries to leave it, ascending to “the top of the Merkur,” where he has a new vantage point on the world. He develops some of the same ideas as in “Insouciance,” but at the end of the work, Lawrence redeems society, or at least apologizes for it, adding new fire to our question. By the end we cannot, with certainty, tell whether Lawrence hates people or not–and this reflects a sort of internal struggle for Lawrence.

One could lessen the scope and dilute the importance of this topic by suggesting that the “Sunday people” Lawrence criticizes are not humanity as a whole but rather a specific group–perhaps the vacationing, upper-middle class Schlegels, perhaps the aspiring, pseudo-intellectual Leonard Basts of the lower middle class, who think culture lies in a misunderstood walk through the woods.

The Profound Ideas of Honore de Balzac’s Pere Goriot

The Profound Ideas of Honore de Balzac’s Pere Goriot

Honore de Balzac published Pere Goriot in 1834 (1), one of the outstanding novels in his panoramic study of Parisian life, the Human Comedy. Throughout Pere Goriot, Balzac’s narrator oscillates between the roles of social historian and moralist. Although the presence of both observer and commentator may initially seem mutually exclusive, it also is a large part of what makes this novel interesting and entertaining. Balzac’s readers, as flesh-and-blood humans, do not segregate perception and judgment routinely in their everyday lives. By packaging profound ideas in a way similar to natural human expectation, Balzac’s narrator achieves an especially comfortable and effective rapport with readers.

One of the central threads of Pere Goriot is the story of Eugene de Rastignac’s rise from provincial obscurity to success in Paris. Along the way he learns much about Parisian society and human nature. In the following passage from Pere Goriot, Rastignac pursues success through fashionable dress:

Eugene had begun to realize the influence a tailor can exercise over a young man’s life. He is either a mortal enemy or a friend, and alas, there is no middle term between the two extremes. Eugene’s tailor was one who understood the paternal aspect of his trade and regarded himself as a hyphen between a young man’s past and future. The grateful Eugene was eventually to make the man’s fortune by one of those remarks at which he was in later years to excel: “I know two pairs of his trousers that have each made matches worth twenty thousand francs a year.”

Fifteen hundred and fifty francs, and all the clothes he cared to have! At this point the poor southerner felt all doubts van…

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…ank and the English mathematician Charles Babbage developed the “analytical engine”, precursor to the modern computer.

2 This quote from Henry Reed’s 1962 translation, pages 99-100. (Honore de Balzac. Pere Goriot. New York: Penguin Books, 1981)

3 The emphasis is mine.

4 Daedalus was a great inventor in Greek mythology who escaped from prison with his son, Icarus, by flying away on wings of feathers and wax. Not heeding the advice of his practical father, Icarus dared to fly close to the glorious sun. The wax wings melted, and Icarus plunged to his death in the sea below.

5 A corollary is that no one who hasn’t been to the “provinces” knows a thing about human life, for a person who lives only in the city will also have a skewed perception.

Work Cited

Honore de Balzac. Pere Goriot. Translated by Henry Reed. New York: Penguin Books, 1981.

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