Preferred Citation: Craft, Christopher. Another Kind of Love: Male Homosexual Desire in English Discourse, 1850-1920. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1994 1994.

No Private Parts

5. No Private Parts

On the Rereading of Women in Love

The wrestling had some deep meaning to them—an unfinished meaning.

The imaginary now resides between the book and the lamp.

About my first or “original” reading of Women in Love[1] I can remember only three things. First, that as I lay on my bed—alone, no doubt very lonely, perhaps twenty years old, and “reading as if for life”[2]—I soon enough found myself so awash in anger and frustration, even readerly despair, that I flung the book across the room, where it smacked the opposing wall with a loud report and dropped, bruised and fluttering, to the floor; and second, that after an interval whose duration I can no longer even surmise, but which must have consisted of “many uncounted, unknown minutes” (271), I traversed the same space, retrieved the book, and, cursing together both Lawrence and myself, returned to the bed where, those curses now passing into thin air, I commenced reading again. If, as I now believe, I have never “actually” (that is, physically or bodily) reenacted the melodrama of this ambivalent gesture—a gesture, not incidentally, whose angry kinesis Lawrence was happy to authorize—then this is doubtless because subsequent conspiracies of thought and fantasy have succeeded in rendering such repetition unnecessary, so much so that fantasmatically I have repeated the gesture a thousand times, just as now, under the guise of a professional obligation, I am doing so for the thousand-and-first. And if I cannot now recall—after perhaps ten or twenty actual rereadings, both in and out of school, whether as student or teacher or neither—at what point or passage in the text I had arrived when I let the book fly, then this syncope in memory perhaps does not matter very much; for how easy it would prove—has proven—to anthologize those many passages in Women in Love where Lawrence’s hypercharged emotion, overwrought sexuality, and mystifying language (notice how I belie the imbricated tissue of the Lawrentian text as I itemize these qualities separately and serially) are sufficiently infuriating to precipitate, however passingly, the violence of such a repudiation. I only know that it could not have been at any point during the novel’s last fifty pages—“pages that have,” as Mark Schorer put it some forty years ago, “more power of a particular kind than any English or American novel. It is what we might call the real Russian bang.”[3] It was, no doubt, this “particular” power, itself an uncanny criss-crossing of erotic, homicidal, and suicidal impulsions, that (and this is the third thing I remember) banged me up against the bedroom wall where, transfixed and hyperventilating, I kept on reading, Lawrence’s easy thrall, until the indifferent book could let me drop.

Hyperbole, no doubt. But perhaps hyperbole may be admitted as the only figure whose rhetorical proportions are distended sufficiently to represent, however self-consciously, my own experience of Women in Love’s traumatizing power, which not even that score of rereadings has served adequately to diminish, much less “master” or overcome. For caught up in the knotted somatism of this reader’s responses—his outraged propulsion of the book and his cursing retrieval, even more his “feminine” submission to its closural raptus—were, as I think I see now and as anyone else surely would have seen from the start, deeply blindsided entanglements of identification and repudiation, desire and fear. A happier reading and writing (“O happy, happy love”) might dispose of the dangers of such blended affects by deploying them as single adversarial binarisms (identification versus repudiation, desire versus fear, etc.) whose first order of business would be to keep these emotions safe by keeping them distinct, with the “versus” marking the bar of an insuperable division; or, not so inversely, as more complex deconstructive binarisms whose also orderly business would be their dexterous vaporization into the airy sameness of an axiomatic différance. But Lawrence’s writing turns perversely upon the crossing of the same diacritical bar that it nonetheless also refuses to disembody or dissolve, with the consequent demand (repelling some readers, compelling others) that such irreconcilable human affects must meet, mingle, and interpenetrate—in the manner, say, of “Gladiatorial”:

So the two men entwined and wrestled with each other, working nearer and nearer. Both were white and clear, but Gerald flushed smart red where he was touched, and Birkin remained white and tense. He seemed to penetrate into Gerald’s more solid, more diffuse bulk, to interfuse his body through the body of the other, as if to bring it subtly into subjection, always seizing with some rapid necromantic foreknowledge every motion of the other flesh, converting and counteracting it, playing upon the limbs and trunk of Gerald like some hard wind. It was as if Birkin’s whole physical intelligence interpenetrated into Gerald’s body, as if his fine, sublimated energy entered into the flesh of the fuller man, like some potency, casting a fine net, a prison, through the muscles into the very depths of Gerald’s physical being.

So they wrestled swiftly, rapturously, intent and mindless at last, two essential white figures ever working into a tighter, closer oneness of struggle, with a strange, octopus-like knotting and flashing of limbs in the subdued light of the room; a tense white knot of flesh gripped in silence between the walls of old brown books.(270)

“Mindless at last” “with some rapid necromantic foreknowledge” and “ever working into a tighter, closer oneness of struggle”: if these phrases refer primarily and immediately to those naked male bodies “gripped in silence between the walls of old brown books”—books whose mute witness audibly situates this wrestling or “octopus-like knotting” in and as a scene of reading—then they also bespeak only too cannily the dense erotic entanglements, the impacted “physical junction,” that Lawrence’s writing imposes upon his readers generally and upon this particularly cathected reader especially. “Playing upon [my] limbs and trunk…like some hard wind,” how easily Lawrence has “interfuse[d] his body through the body of th[is] other,” insinuating into “every motion of the other flesh” a rhythm necessarily responsive to his own. In repeated engagements of “seiz” and release, of yielding and repulsion, of “conver[sion] and counteract[ion],” Women in Love and I have “wrestled swiftly, rapturously,” always “working nearer and nearer”; and, as with Birkin and Gerald, this reading or wrestling has reflexively invoked a who’s-on-top erotics of domination and control in which the book and I have sought “to bring [each other] subtly into subjection.” Whatever effects, salutory or dysphoric, such engagements may have induced in me, Women in Love has easily succeeded in casting its “fine net…through the muscles into the very depths of [my] physical being,” so much so that almost every sexual cognition or flexion I can summon, or that I have been lucky enough to have summon me, seems already to have been touched or tinged by Lawrence’s turbulent infusions. This has not, I hardly need stress, always meant good times. But it has made for some heady reading: too often I have found myself “a tense white knot of flesh gripped in silence between the walls of old brown books”; and many times I have looked up blindly from the text, “hearing an immense knocking outside. What could be happening, what was it, the great hammerstrokes resounding through the house? He did not know. And then it came to him that it was his own heart beating.…He did not know whether he were standing or lying or falling” (271). (Subsequent recognition: falling; more subsequent still: falling in love.)

Yet it would be fatuous at this late date in the history of reading to suggest that such avid involvements as these are, or ever could be, purely or even primarily “my own,” and not merely because they may claim a critical history long antedating my arrival, however bright-eyed, upon the scene. But if not mine, then whose? And to what I or me might this “mine” refer, if not to one whose most secretly enfolded being has been constituted crucially, if not entirely, through particular acts of reading, acts whose most private or even intimate aspects had no choice but to be articulated in terms of received conventions and codes, inscriptions and erasures, propulsions and reticences? Even the most rudimentary competence in reading entails the long and largely suppressed history of the reader’s enabling submission to the systems of meaning, modes of production, and procedures of interpretation that make comprehension possible at all. (If reading, as the heartiest of its hawkers like to proclaim, ultimately “liberates” the mind, it does so only by disciplining it first: reading drills us in the cultural uses of regulated repetition.) On this reading no reading can ever be originary, since all reading is already rereading, with each new text impelling yet another set of a by now reflexive exercise. The very giveness of the written text, the “simple” fact that it is there to be read at all, thus indicates a truth whose homeliness is exceeded only by its transparency: reading inserts every reader into a serial proliferation (of, to mention a crucial few, signs, sounds, silences, mediations, practices, commodities, other readers and writers) whose first and final elements no reader, however scrupulous or perspicacious, can ever know. I can read today only because others have read before me, and tomorrow I will teach another how to read. Banal as this observation is doomed to seem, its implications are portentous: however isolate the scene of reading, no one ever reads alone; however unacquainted reader and text, no one ever reads anything for the first time.

This dynamism of repetition, while indelibly marking the cultural embeddedness of all textual meaning and practice, necessarily impinges upon the embodiments of reading and writing. The somatics of interpretation may be ignored or exalted, incited or repressed, but they may not be escaped. Not only, as diverse feminisms have insisted, are individual and collective bodies, of whatever gender, construed within and as highly politicized systems of signs, but the “brute body” itself (which self, we must insist in passing, is itself a thoroughgoing abstraction) engages reading with an almost inconceivable immediacy: at the level of organs and functions, in the pores and along the veins.[4] I read as I breathe—in order to live. Nor is it just the (agitated or becalmed, saturated or dessicated) body of the individual reader that is at stake here, but also a whole history of multiple embodiments, symbolic and material, “natural” and technological. Even, for instance, the most trite (and later contrite) of our culture’s masturbatory scenarios—a boy, a book, a flashlight—hardly depicts a practice, much less a “vice,” that could by any reasonable measure be called solitary, given the interposition within this scene of a palpable surround of cultural/parental interdiction (the walls, I can attest, are whispering a “no” that sounds like “go”), of commodified representation (the book and its many incitements), and of a technology (the flashlight) sufficiently specialized to expedite the boy’s eager and enlightened consumption of that commodity.

In the language of “Gladiatorial,” this can only mean that the “whole physical intelligence” of the reader must wrestle with a knot of bodies not his own, “interfus[ing] his [elsewhere, her] body through the bod[ies] of the other[s],” and vice versa. Reading thus implicates, however invisibly, not merely the materially present body of the reader but also the ghostlier present-absent bodies within and behind texts: the bodies of characters, authors, readers; the fantasmatic bodies of class, race, and nationality; even that heavy abstraction, the “social body” at large. But any attempt to map the engagement of these surely affined but oddly incommensurate bodies onto the (highly contingent, deeply tendentious) grids of gender and sexuality will be sure to suffer resistance, slippage, even downright contradiction, especially in a culture where the pseudo-oppositions between genders and sexualities actively belie the far more sinuous relations (of identification, specularity, introjection, transference, etc.) through which these seeming oppositions are tirelessly rehearsed, both by those who would consolidate them and those who would empty them out. (The routine performative exertions, for instance, of being “masculine” and staying straight can be staggering in their destructiveness and duplicity, as the violent tortuosities of Women in Love—and of my reading of them—should help make clear.) In any case, because different readers will assimilate themselves differently to their “own” gender and sexuality assignations and to the subject/object positionings entailed therein, the homo/hetero alignments of reading will often elude easy binary coordination, however compelling at a particular time and place the disciplinary enforcements of the binary may be. And this will be true not only between or among different readers and their readings but also, crucially, within and across individual readers and theirs. Again I stress that this readerly production of difference hardly counts as an argument for the essential indeterminacy of meaning. Quite the contrary. A reading’s power and function—its utility within psychological, literary, and political fields—will almost certainly derive from its most insistent determinations and cathexes: from the way it affords, for instance, multiple or shifting or even contradictory gender identifications; or from the way it courts, despite the seeming self-evidence of one’s own heterosexual “orientation,” the ply and pull of homosexual desires. No reading, I am suggesting, should be so complacent as to be self-identical, so charmed by its own image as to leave itself no difference from itself. On this view, the very fragmentation of one’s reading—its contradictions, dissensions, resistances, lapses—becomes something more than either the symptomatic failure to assimilate the “organic” text or the equally symptomatic triumph of a programmatic indeterminacy. It becomes instead the site of intervention or the pivot of power, the fulcrum upon which the Archimedean lever may be wedged in order to tilt the world and one’s relation to it.

And so I repeat my questions. If my passionate involvements with Women in Love are not exactly or exclusively my own, then whose are they? Out of what skeins of knowledge and desire have they been woven, and what received compulsions and permissions do they repeat in their weave? Whose were the hands that drove me back, shall I say blindly and compulsively, to a text that I could not quite read, nor stop rereading, even as it was quite obviously reading me, as we say, like an open book? What promises of subtle instruction lay in “the beyond, the obscene beyond” (242) to which Lawrence offered, or seemed to offer, admission? More intimately still, what had Lawrence intuited (purblindly too: “a novel,” he would write in the earliest phases of its composition [1913], “which I have never grasped…and I’ve no notion what its about . . . like a novel in a foreign language I don’t know very well”)[5] about me some forty years before my birth? What was this dark knowledge that I could recognize, if at all, only in the funhouse distortions of my own ecstatic misrecognitions? And, most urgently of all, how was this knowledge, of whatsoever constituted, related to the erotic pulsions of this big book’s big bang, its terminal drive toward murder and mourning? If, as Lawrence puts it elsewhere, “death is part of the story,” what then to make of Lawrence’s, and my own, “desire to deal death and to take death?”[6]

But even as I put these questions, whose breathless framing exposes, even celebrates, the critical embarrassment that I have long since abandoned any hope of writing “objectively” about Women in Love, I know that I will withhold, for a certain duration at least, both the “merely” personal and the more broadly resonant transpersonal answers that they presume to solicit. And this for two reasons. First, to extract whatever critical advantage may derive from the temporizing erotologic made more than familiar by the repeated exercise of various behind-the-veil cultural practices, as in, for instance, confession or striptease, where the ritually stalled but nonetheless assured revelation of the “private parts” confers upon waiting its dense and urgent materiality. And second, to inscribe within this writing—rather, as this writing—a delay, confusion, and difficulty meant to imitate my own frustrated coming to knowledge of Women in Love, itself the product of an almost “scholarly” repetition compulsion variously worked out, if never exactly worked through, in bedrooms, libraries, and cafés. Hoping thereby to avoid the flattened formulations of academic thematism—say, “the homophobic interpellation within the ‘heterosexual male subject’ of homosexual and homicidal desires”—this writing will work, if it works at all, only to the degree that it enables what I understand to be the ethically imperative labor of transforming not just the text being read but also the writer who would hope thus to read it.

“The fundamental equivocation of Women in Love repels me,” writes John Middleton Murry, perhaps Lawrence’s acutest and certainly his most caustic (male) critic, in a reverse hagiography, Son of Woman (1931), whose own cognitive and erotic investments vibrate equivocally enough:

It is not that I blame Lawrence for yielding to a longing from which in his inward soul he shrank away. Lawrence was Lawrence—a destiny-driven man, if ever there was one. If the realm of mindless sensuality offered or seemed to offer the only way of escape for his tortured spirit, then he was driven to explore it. But I think he is to be condemned for painting his devil [Rupert Birkin] as an angel, for the duplicity with which he represents himself as turning away from this mindless sensuality towards a paradisal relation with the woman, yet subtly perverts this very relation (in defiance of all truth, factual or imaginative) into a form of that mindless sensuality from which it was to be an escape. Lawrence, in the essential and vital argument of Women in Love, behaves like a cheat.[7]

The erotic equivocation or “fundamental falsity” (SW, 95) that so distresses Murry here derives from Lawrence’s “failure”—I would say, his refusal—to sustain the patent dichotomy upon which the action, such as it is, and the characterology, also such as it is, of Women in Love turn. That dichotomy, as Murry was the first to recognize and as the subsequent criticism has largely affirmed, proceeds from “the distinction between the ‘love’ of Rupert and Ursula on the one hand, and [that] of Gerald and Gudrun on the other”: “Rupert and Ursula are represented as in the way of salvation, Gerald and Gudrun as in the way of damnation” (SW, 112–13). In Murry’s reading this distinction is indeed fundamental, constituting both “the essential and vital argument” of the book and the scission whose decisiveness establishes two diametrically opposed (hetero)sexualities, with the Birkin/Ursula conjugation embodying (alas, illusorily) the “paradisal” ideal in terms of which the “mindless sensuality” that binds Gudrun and Gerald each to the other will be found deficient, destructive, ultimately fatal. If the oft-cited and much-hated “symbolic” complexities and indeterminacies of Women in Love belie so schematic a binary logic as this, Murry’s proposition is nonetheless confirmed by, to cite the terminal example, the novel’s strong teleological drive, its need to finish itself by finishing off not just the Gudrun/Gerald relation but also, more specifically, the character—or, more specifically still, the erotic object, so exciting from the first—of Gerald himself. In killing Gerald outright and deporting (“so to speak”) Gudrun to Dresden with Loerke, the narrative critically and diacritically marks the difference between the couples according to a taxonomic principle whose conceptual simplicity and epistemological complexity anticipate the Freud of Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), a principle that organizes all human experience in terms either of an impulsion to live (Freud’s Lebenstriebe) or an impulsion to die (his Todestriebe). The epistemological difficulty here lies in the fact that the latter has, from the beginning, been so deeply invaginated, or folded, into the former that the death drive will be disclosed, if at all, only insofar as it is already locked in an embrace with the life drive, the result being an epistemological tangle, another “tense white knot of flesh” in which the two component drives have become, in Murry’s very worried phrase, as “indistinguishable as octopods in an aquarium tank” (R, 223). Freud’s more sober formulation of this entanglement: “What we are concerned with are scarcely ever pure instinctual impulses but mixtures in various proportions of the two groups of instincts,” a situation rendered still more perplexing because, as Freud explains, this dispersion of drive or “instinct” is topographical as well: “There can be no question of restricting one or the other of the basic instincts to one of the provinces of the mind. They must necessarily be met with everywhere.” Ultimately these analytical considerations led Freud to the Lawrentian recognition that the death drive “eludes our perception…unless it is tinged with eroticism.”

It is exactly this interfusion of vital/fatal difference that appalls Murry’s judgment and triggers his hostility. Hence his lament that the crucial erotic distinction between the couples only too soon confounds its own foundations, fond sans fond, and forfeits its distinctness: “when we consider the principles which these opposed couples really embody, we discover that the difference between them is that Rupert and Ursula are a whole stage further on in the process of damnation” (SW, 113). The distinction between the couples thus collapses and falls, in a figure borrowed from the novel’s own rhetoric of disintegrative sexuality, into the “dark river of dissolution,” that watery site—by turns symbolic, anatomical, and topographical; by another turn, all three—in which difference itself makes, as Birkin expounds it to Ursula, both “no difference—and all the difference” (173). It is on the banks of this river, where these two modes of heterosexual interaction lose the very “hetero” that contradistinguishes them, and where difference and no difference blend in Blutbrüderschaft, that Murry cries foul. What had seemed a crucial ontological polarity—nothing less than “salvation” versus “damnation,” an apocalyptic binarism perfectly resonant with the giant agon of Lawrence’s fiction—is disclosed instead as a factitious temporal vagary: a ruse, a lie, and a “cheat.” An equivocation, Murry almost says, like the fiend’s (“painting his devil as an angel,” etc.).

Substantiating his claim that this fundamental equivocation “subtly perverts” the novel’s sexual argument, Murry locates the specimen case of this perversion in the infamous chapter “Excurse,” specifically in those “crucial pages” where Ursula’s touch, having traced the round of Birkin’s buttocks, suddenly releases not merely typically Lawrentian “floods of ineffable darkness” “at the back and base of the loins” but also (and presumably with less intention) the fulsome waves of critical execration with which subsequent writers have so antiseptically inundated the only barely effaced anality of this scene. Not surprisingly, a postdiluvian Murry carefully positions himself out of touch, beyond the farthest rim of the anal caress (an “experience,” he says, “which we must call x”), and unconvincingly pretends that he does not know what he also demonstrably knows he knows: “to us,” he writes, “these crucial pages are completely and utterly unintelligible if we assume (as we must assume if we have regard for the vehemence of Mr. Lawrence’s passion) that they are not the crudest sexuality” (R, 223). Having thus deferred not to his own palpable anxiety before the anal issue but rather to the apparently frontal dignity of Lawrentian “vehemence,” Murry then proceeds by way of quasi-algebraic circumspection:

We have given, in spite of our repulsion and our weariness, our undivided attention to Mr. Lawrence’s book for the space of three days; we have striven with all our power to understand what he means by the experience x; we have compared it with the experience y, which takes place between the other pair of lovers, Gudrun and Gerald; we can see no difference between them, and we are precluded from inviting our readers to pronounce. We are sure that not one person in a thousand would decide that they were anything but the crudest kind of sexuality, wrapped up in…the language of Higher Thought. We feel that the solitary person may be right; but even he, we are convinced, would be quite unable to distinguish between experience x and experience y. Yet x leads one pair to undreamed-of happiness, and y conducts the other to attempted murder and suicide.

This x and y are separate, if they are separate, on a plane of consciousness other than ours. To our consciousness they are indistinguishable; either they belong to the nothingness of unconscious sexuality, or they are utterly meaningless. (R, 224–25)

It requires no extraordinary percipience to see that this passage traverses a “fundamental equivocation” all its own, as Murry’s tense analysis conscientiously abjures the very knowledge whose effects it is also in the process, however disingenuously, of deploying. Murry’s first move is to lay proud claim to an oceanic ignorance whose prophylactic dictum, uttered in the form of a bewildered “masculine protest,” is, quite simply, I understand nothing of this; such things are utterly beyond me, my touch, my ken. But the credibility of this incomprehension is rendered almost immediately suspect by the same vigor with which its claim to stupidity is prosecuted: are we seriously to believe that three full days of “undivided attention,” of the unrelenting application of “all our power to understand,” leave so alert and committed a reader as Murry still absolutely unenlightened as to the difference “between experience x and experience y?” Apparently not a sliver of recognition pierces the formidable barrier of Murry’s cognitive shield, which fits like a tight glove both the critic’s longing not to know (what, as I say, he also shows he knows he knows) and his need publicly to assume the posture and imposture of incomprehension: “This x and y are separate, if they are separate, on a plane of consciousness other than ours.” Yet no sooner is this claim to cognitive blankness advanced than it is twice compromised: first by those nine-hundred-ninety-nine implied readers whose stupefaction before the anal caress (“nothing but the crudest kind of sexuality wrapped up in…the language of Higher Thought”) nonetheless does not enervate their (however partial) acknowledgment that Lawrence is articulating a serious, if sometimes opaque discourse of the fundamental; and second in Murry’s little fantasia of the prescient “solitary,” that one-in-a-thousand reader whose power of Lawrentian attunement enables him, and him alone, to pass behind the veil into some “obscene beyond” (242)—the beyond in which Lawrentian contradiction and obscurity will be (in the language of light and butter) clarified, and the beyond in which the “crudest” (sic) of sexual gestures will be seen to have been merely a fingerpost, a pointer, a tip along the way. And yet if Murry’s recourse to this “ideal reader” (let us call him Anon) amounts to a rescission of his claim to ignorance, as well as an oblique admission of an otherwise unspeakable desire to follow Ursula in her traces, this gesture remains at heart half-hearted, ever open to retraction, since Anon returns from this beyond only to ratify Murry’s original claim to incomprehension. Anon returns, that is, enlightened but dumbstruck, still “unable to distinguish,” in words anyway, the difference between x and y, which itself remains “to our consciousness…utterly meaningless.”

In its transmigration among or between divergent, even incompatible subject positions (I just don’t get it…it’s not what it looks like.…Anon knows but Anon can’t say.…I still don’t get it), Murry’s writing on “Excurse” enacts the same “failure”—the failure to differentiate convincingly—that had originally animated his animus; the pot, it would seem, has been calling the kettle black. Consequently, whatever prescience Murry’s criticism may claim lies less in the lucidity of its truth claims than in the hide-and-seek of its knowing and unknowing, less in the validity of its value judgments than in the highly motivated vacillation between, on the one hand, its recognitions and, on the other, its intransigent refusals thereof.[8] It lies, if we may send the errant phrase home, in Murry’s own “fundamental equivocation.” This in turn helps explain why Murry is finally so astute about Women in Love in at least two senses: astute to assert that equivocation informs the primary morphemes of the novel (its plot, characters, tropes, etc.), and astute to designate that equivocation as constitutive and irreducible—as, specifically, “fundamental,” Murry’s latinate circumlocution for the “unspeakable” darkness “at the back and base of the loins.”

The embedded or muddied pun on fundament and anality, as obvious as it is obviously repressed in Murry’s writing (1921, 1931), would not receive open critical recognition until 1961, when G. Wilson Knight delicately unpacked some indelicacies from Lawrence’s notion of excursive desire. In a comparative reading of, among other texts, Women in Love, Ulysses, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover—a reading that goes out of its way to count the ways in which Murry’s “acute commentary has assisted my understanding”—Knight specifies the digital and phallic, not to say lingual, aspects of Lawrentian “sodomy”—a word, not by the way, that appears nowhere in Knight’s essay, although Knight does go so far as to say that “whatever we may think of the implied teaching, Lawrence was certainly engaged on a deep problem.”[9] Correctly specifying that “in Women in Love the implements [of this “implied teaching”] are fingers,” Knight goes on to identify in Connie Chatterley a nascent desire for purgatorial sodomy, for “a phallic hunting-out” (Lawrence) at “an entrance other than the normal” (Knight). When in chapter 16 of Lady Chatterley’s Lover Mellors’s “reckless, shameless” fucking shakes Connie “to her foundations,” this is because he takes her in the fundament, presumably “burning out the shames, the deepest, oldest shames, in the most secret places.” In his explication (and explicitation) of this sodomitical conjunction, Knight’s language recalls both Lawrence’s and Murry’s: “This experience Lady Chatterly now realizes that she has always unconsciously desired ‘at the bottom of her soul, fundamentally’; the words are exactly chosen. The writing has compression, density, and precision.”

Knight is perspicuous. Certainly “compression” and “density”—I remain skeptical about “precision”—are productive terms with which to begin retracing Lawrence’s excursus into heterosexual sodomy: productive because (like their kissing cousin from the psychoanalytic lexicon, “condensation” or Verdichtung) these terms incorporate, without pretending to sublate or subsume, high levels of variety, contradiction, and aggregation; they indicate a mode of inclusion but not a mode of unification or resolution—the many do not become the one. As terms transported analogically from the mechanics of fluids and solids, “compression” and “density” suggest a conception of writing in which particular images (say, “the dark river of dissolution”) or image clusters (say, thinking at once of Gerald Crich and Clifford Chatterley, mud, matter, mater, and mining) do not so much represent single ideas or unified conceptions as they do diverse, highly cathected, and often deeply conflicted associative chains at whose points of intersection and interfusion—at whose Blutbrüderschaft?—these images and clusters are located. Figured in this way, such compressed images or “symbols” are best understood neither as the transparent containers of luminous signification nor as the living educts of a relentlessly monologizing Imagination, but rather as the transfer points or relay stations where vectors of meaning, desire, and power criss-cross, cross-switch, even switch off each other. Like the percussive rays of light and dark that coruscate across the surface of Willey Water as a lunatic Birkin stones the reflected face of the moon, they do not so much embody or incarnate a particular code as they record the collision and collusion of divergent codes through procedures of skewing, distortion, refraction, and denial. Not the image fixed and formulated in gemlike perfection, but the image in transit and in extremis, at once shattered and shattering: “He got large stones, and threw them, one after the other, at the white-burning centre of the moon, till there was nothing but a rocking of hollow noise, and a pond surged up, no moon any more, only a few broken flakes tangled and glittering broadcast in the darkness, without aim or meaning, a darkened confusion, like a black and white kaleidoscope tossed at random” (247–48). Tossed out of and into “darkened confusion,” the condensed images of which I speak are compact of multiple affects and contrary significations, and they emphatically do not yield the heavily advertised consolations, at once Christological and organicist, that Coleridge dreamed to be intrinsic to the symbol: “a symbol. . .is characterized by the translucence of the special in the individual, or of the general in the special, or of the universal in the general; above all by the translucence of the eternal through and in the temporal. It always partakes of the reality which it renders intelligible; and while it enunciates the whole, abides itself as a living part in that unity of which it is the representative.”[10] A vision justly famous for its powers of divine seduction, this from Coleridge, but one hardly appropriate either to Lawrence’s practice of writing the symbol or to his theorizations of divergence and contradiction within what he sometimes calls “symbolic meaning” and sometimes “art-speech”:

But art-speech, art-utterance, is, and always will be, the greatest universal language of mankind, greater than any esoteric symbolism. Art-speech is also a language of pure symbols. But whereas the authorized symbol stands for a thought or an idea, some mental concept, the art-symbol or art-term stands for a pure experience, emotional and passional, spiritual and perceptual, all at once. The intellectual idea remains implicit, latent and nascent. Art communicates a state of being—whereas the symbol at best only communicates a whole thought, an emotional idea. Art-speech is a use of symbols which are pulsations on the blood and seizures upon the nerves, and at the same time pure precepts of the mind and pure terms of spiritual aspiration.[11]

Some examples will help elaborate my case. The passages adduced below, presented in order of their composition, resonate together with powerful affinities—though the resonance or convergence of thought, emotion, and image can hardly be called harmonic. Each passage derives from the fecund and crucial period, March 1915–July 1916, during which Lawrence was revising The Rainbow and seeing it first through triumphant publication and then through heartbreaking opprobrium; composing the outlandish, “philosophicalish,” and “revolutionary utterance” he would ultimately entitle “The Crown” (Letters, 2:300); and trying to subdue the extraordinary materials (it would take six full-scale revisions, the last not completed until September 1919) that would be published first in America under the banal misnomer Women in Love. Each passage employs the same barely controlled constellation of grotesque images; each manifests the same deeply ambivalent sodomitical/homosexual thematics; and each derives, mediately or immediately, both from the cultural surround of escalating homophobia (the Wilde trials, remember, had transpired only twenty years before) and from Lawrence’s own “actual” dreamlife, most especially from the acute nightmares he suffered in March and April 1915 after confronting (in the pyjama-clad person of John Maynard Keynes) the “too wicked and perverse” “marsh-stagnancy” of Cambridge University (Letters, 2:319,309). The first passage consists of two raging paragraphs extracted from an April 1915 letter to David Garnett, who was the son of Lawrence’s sometime champion Edward Garnett and whom Lawrence believed to be homosexually involved with one Francis Birrell. The recto of the envelope carrying the letter bears the inscription “Absolutely Private” in Lawrence’s beautiful hand. “My dear David,” the letter begins,

I can’t bear to think of you, David, so wretched as you are—and your hand shaky—and everything wrong. It is foolish of you to say that it doesn’t matter either way—the men loving men. It doesn’t matter in the public way. But it matters so much, David, to the man himself—at any rate to us northern nations—that it is like a blow of triumphant decay, when I meet Birrell or the others. I simply can’t bear it. It is so wrong, it is unbearable. It makes a form of inward corruption which truly makes me scarce able to live. Why is there this horrible sense of frowstiness, so repulsive, as if it came from deep inward dirt—a sort of sewer—deep in men like K[eynes] and B[irrell] and Duncan G[rant]. I never knew what it meant till I saw K., till I saw him at Cambridge. We went into his rooms at midday, and it was very sunny. He was not there, so Russell was writing a note. Then suddenly a door opened and K. was there, blinking from sleep, standing in his pyjamas. And as he stood there gradually a knowledge passed into me, which has been like a little madness to me ever since. And it was carried along with the most dreadful sense of repulsiveness—something like carrion—a vulture gives me the same feeling. I begin to feel mad as I think of it—insane.

Never bring B. to see me any more. There is something nasty about him, like black-beetles. He is horrible and unclean. I feel as if I should go mad, if I think of your set, D. G. and K. and B. It makes me dream of beetles. In Cambridge I had a similar dream. Somehow, I can’t bear it. It is wrong beyond all bounds of wrongness. I had felt it slightly before, in the Stracheys. But it came full upon me in K., and in D.G. And yesterday I knew it again, in B.

The subject of these paragraphs, as of this dream, is not bugs—it is buggery.[12] Or rather: the inescapable but purely arbitrary aural (and oral) affinity between these two words (there is, in fact, no etymological or genealogical connection whatsoever between them) incites Lawrence’s subconscious to percolate a truly phantasmagoric pun, a pun that in turn motivates his deeply idiosyncratic, his “wicked and perverse,” deployment of the beetle image. In this eerily self-reflexive missive addressed in his own name to his own name (i.e., from David to David, the name repeated six times in the letter’s four paragraphs), Lawrence’s image of “nasty” “black-beetles,” “horrible and unclean,” represents not merely the abstract possibility of male homosexual activity, the idea of “men loving men” about which of course he had had all along, via Plato and Wilde, a complacent mind knowledge; more crucially, the image embodies Lawrence’s intimate and shocked coming to blood knowledge of this possibility, which he straightforwardly represents as an “unbearable” infusion (much like Birkin’s fantasy of a goose’s blood “entering [one’s] own blood like an inoculation of corruptive fire—fire of the cold-burning mud” [89]): “And as [Keynes] stood there gradually a knowledge passed into me, which has been like a little madness to me ever since.” So supercharged was this infusion with repressed desire, loathing, and anal anxiety (“a blow of triumphant decay,” “a form of inward corruption,” “deep inward dirt,” “a sort of sewer,” etc.) that it constituted, according to Lawrence’s own evaluation, “one of the crises of my life,” sending “me mad with misery and hostility and rage” (Letters, 2:321). And worse: not only did this accession to “dark knowledge” refuse to stop coming (“I had felt it slightly before.…But it came full upon me in [Cambridge].…And yesterday I knew it again”), but it continued to traumatize the writer fantasmatically, automatically, even as he wrote against it: “I begin to feel mad as I think of it—insane.”

Lawrence’s dream image may be singular, but by no means is it single. His letters and other writings from this period indicate that, whether sleeping or waking, dreaming or writing, Lawrence returned with obsessive frequency to images of bugs, of “black-beetles,” of dung beetles (e.g., Women in Love’s “ball-rolling scarab” [253]), and, in one particularly violent redaction of the nightmare, to a monstrous centaur insect, a “very large beetle” phallicly endowed with the tail of a scorpion, an image to which he responded with a murderous “black fury,” a desire to kill and kill again. “Black fury”: as it internalizes the beetle’s blackness, this phrase compactly anatomizes the compulsive processes of inversion, projection, and introjection that characterize Lawrence’s use of the absolute, repellent other as a figure, however self-blinded, for the self one would prefer to deny—for, that is, “David…the man himself.” In any event, Lawrence in his dream sees the bug and moves, at first incompetently, to destroy it: “They [those Cambridge boys again] made me dream in the night of a beetle that bites like a scorpion. But I killed it—a very large beetle. I scotched it—and it ran off—but I came upon it again and killed it. It is this horror of little swarming selves that I can’t stand: Birrells, and D. Grants, and Keynses” (Letters, 2:319). If Lawrence’s dream insect here, like Kafka’s elsewhere, is both morphologically impossible and entomologically inaccurate (scorpions of course do not bite their prey, they sting with their tails), it is nonetheless grotesquely evocative as fantasy: the mouth/tail or orifice/penetrator confusion expresses with hallucinatory accuracy the semantic lability of “sodomy,” the elastic and “absolutely confused category” that historically had subsumed, among other variations, both oral and anal modes of conjunction, often without modernity’s fastidious concern for the anatomical sex of the persons thus conjoined.

But we have yet to comprehend adequately either the extent of Lawrence’s deployment of this imagery or the ferocity of his disgust when confronted, either physically or imaginatively, by “these ‘friends,’ these beetles.” In this regard let us put a fundamental recognition in place: Lawrence’s repulsion is directly proportional to the ardor of his cathexis; he stands riveted by the same thought/image he feels compelled to repudiate. However psychologically untenable such a position may seem, it nonetheless quickened Lawrence’s textual pulse (never slack anyway), the result being not merely a spasmodic overpopulation of bugs and beetles in the prose of this period, but also a striking proliferation of like or related images, some of them rivaling the “black-beetle” for sheer repulsiveness. The basic structure shared by each of these images may be easily diagrammed: a rigid exoskeletal form encloses, and thereby occludes, a pulpy and putrescent interior, itself quite formless. Or again, a “dry and scaly and brittle” shell envelopes a seething “viscous mass” that itself cannot be seen or touched or smelled until the surrounding rind has been cracked by—what else?—the deft hammerstrokes of Lawrence’s writing (DP, 473). In its schematic version the image rarely varies—fixed form on the outside, all seethe and amorphousness within; but in its local avatars the image is “humanwarious” indeed, sometimes impossibly abstract, other times unbearably concrete. In the following sequence, which pretends neither to exhaustiveness nor to rigorous logical coordination, I have listed some examples, some “black-beetle” cognates, each example already a figure for its brothers, all threatening to fall or fold indistinguishably one into the other, composing thereby a decomposing mass “full of corruption” (DP, 276, 277). If the images to follow seem to “run brittly hither and thither,” mounting reflexively one upon the other “like some extreme instrumental insects” (DP, 473), then the cause lies not merely with myself, compiler of these images, but with Lawrence too, who after all dreamed them up and wrote them out. Our indiscriminate series, then, may begin: (a) the whited sepulchre, or “state of the animated sepulchre,” its bright, firm architecture belying the organic mass decaying within (DP, 229); (b) the moribund cabbage, “hide-bound” with “enveloping green leaves outside, the heap round the hole,” “rotten within” from the “threshing, threshing, threshing” of its interior bud (DP, 273–76); (c) modern European (especially English) individuals, who remain “a wincing mass of self-consciousness and corruption, within [their] plausible rind” (DP, 276); (d) “the envelope of the achieved self,” or “shell of utter nullity,” “wherein the flux of corruption boils hotly and in supreme gratification” (DP, 472, 474); (e) modern cognition generally, or “the static entity of our conception,” for “the glassy envelope of the established concept is a foul nullity” (DP, 294); (f) the “collective activity” of the First World War, in which “we thresh destruction further and further, till our whole civilization is like a great rind full of corruption, of breaking down, a mere shell threatened with collapse upon itself” (DP, 277); (g) contemporary intellectuals like Russell and Keynes, “our most advanced minds,” who “have reduced their own instinctive, sensuous sel[ves] to a viscous mass” and whose “minds triumph, dry and scaly and brittle,” (DP, 473); (h) the self-and-other-annihilating protagonist of Poe’s “mechanical” fiction, whose “cruelty-lust is directed almost as much against himself as against his victim. He is destroying, reducing, breaking down that of himself which is within the envelope” (DP, 284); (i) many characters in Dostoevsky, master of “the theme of reduction through sensation after sensation, consciousness after consciousness, until nullity is reached,” the individual having become “an amorphous heap of elements” (DP, 282); (j) the “soldier who violently rapes a woman in the war” thus “destroying, reducing, breaking down that of himself which is within the [“glassy”] envelope.…And [notice please that this is an afterthought] he reduces, destroys the woman also” (DP, 472); (k) Gudrun “walking swiftly down the main road of Beldover” and “feeling like a beetle toiling in the dust…filled with repulsion” (11); (l) the mirrored interior of the Cafe Pompadour (in “the real world,” the Cafe Royal), where “one seemed to enter a vague dim world of shadowy drinkers humming within an atmosphere of blue tobacco smoke,” where “the red plush of the seats [seemed] to give substance within the bubble of pleasure,” and where lisping, black-eyed Pussum says to Gerald (who will soon mount her) “I’m not afwaid of anything essept black-beetles” (62, 69); (m) the first of Women in Love’s racist “fetishes,” or “strange and disturbing” “negro statues,” which depicts “a woman sitting naked in a strange posture [i.e., the posture of childbirth], and looking tortured, her abdomen stuck out,” an image that propels Birkin into rapt discourse, half paean, half lamentation: “it is an awful pitch of culture, of a definite sort.…Pure culture in sensation, culture in the physical consciousness, mindless, utterly sensual. It is so sensual as to be final, supreme” (74–79); (n) “gall apples” or “apples of Sodom,” outside “very nice and rosy” but whose “insides are full of bitter, corrupt ash” (126); (o) “your healthy young men and women” who, like the apples of Sodom that represent them, “won’t fall off the tree when they’re ripe” and therefore become “balls of bitter dust” (126); (p) the uncentered and terrified being of Gerald Crich who, as his father lies dying, feels “day by day…more and more like a bubble filled with darkness (322); (q) more specifically still, Gerald’s about-to-burst eyes, “blue and keen as ever, and as firm in their sockets. Yet he is not sure that they were not blue false bubbles that would burst in a moment and leave clear annihilation” (232); (r) the second of Women in Love’s “African fetishes,” this one in some ways the inverse of the first, “a statuette about two feet high, a tall slim figure,” “a woman with her hair dressed high, like a melon-shaped dome.…[Birkin] remembered her: her astonishingly cultured elegance, her diminished beetle face, the astonishing long elegant body, on short, ugly legs, with such protruberant buttocks” (253); (s) the Egyptian dung beetle that Birkin remembers as he meditates upon this fetish’s buttocks/face: “This was why her face looked like a beetle’s: this was why the Egyptians worshipped the ball-rolling scarab: because of the principle of knowledge in dissolution and corruption” (253); (t) the “pit-head surrounding the bottomless pit,” a figure surely familiar to the coal-miner’s son and creator of Gerald Crich (DP, 274); (u) “the cunning hyaena with his cringing, stricken loins” “preserving a glassy, fixed form about a voracious seethe of corruption” (DP, 297, 295); (v) the equally repellent “baboon, almost a man,” who “arrested himself and became obscene, a grey, hoary rind closed upon an activity of strong corruption” (DP, 295); (w) “the louse, in its little glassy envelope, bring[ing] everything into the corrupting pot of its little belly” (DP, 295); (x) a tubercular man’s fantasy or “knowledge of the gas clouds that may lacerate and reduce the lungs to a heavy mass” (DP, 475); (y) the intestinal being of industrial man, an envelope of pulsing “self-consciousness,” in whom “the threshing has continued…till our entrails are threshed rotten.…Fools, vile fools! Why cannot we acknowledge and admit the pulse and thresh of corruption within us” (DP, 276); and, perhaps most luridly of all, (z) a putrescent and undelivered “foetus shut up in the walls of an unrelaxed womb,” the “womb of the established past” where “the horror of corruption [has] begun already within the unborn, already dissolution and corruption set in before birth” (DP, 278, 279).

From a to z: what else is there to say, except that compared with this the notorious catalogs of Whitman are as nothing? And yet of course there is something to say, if only because Lawrence has said too much, or has said so much so perversely. The obvious point, and the crucial one, regards the writer’s volatile transferential relation to the materials he must employ in order to repel: the very qualities intrinsic to the figures that incite his loathing also characterize and dominate his articulation of those figures. With his own imagination immersed in the “seethe” and “Flux of Corruption,” Lawrence can only expectorate—as prose—the very stuff he refuses to swallow (383). The manic proliferation and sheer repetitiveness of these “instrumental insects” and their cognates (a “brittle” shell or “null envelope” under every rock and phrase); the “obscene” collapse of all divisions and distinctions into writhing indifferentiation, “the black river of corruption” “reducing reducing reducing the unequal mass to amorphousness” (172; DP, 473–74); the frenzied “hither and thither” motion of “these ‘friends,’ these beetles,” these “little swarming selves,” these “automatic” “little monsters” mounting one upon the other until we “pile ourselves over with dead null monstrosities of obsolete form” (DP, 473, 295): are these not the very qualities that, once transposed from the image objects of Lawrence’s revulsion, infuse his own writing? Does not Lawrence enact what he also denounces? And in doing so does not his writing itself become, as in his own critique of Poe, “a keen, fierce, terrible reducing agent” in which sepulchres, cabbages, rinds, hyaenas, eyeballs, mines, lice, pregnant women of color, half-dressed economists, and “nasty” “black-beetles” lose all difference and become (like the bright affront of the baboon’s ass) inflamed visions and versions of each other (DP, 284)? And, as I continue to insist, visions and versions of sodomy and buggery—of, that is, certain “repulsively attractive” or “bestial” or “degrading” acts of sexual conjunction whose modalities are by no means necessarily limited to the anal, but whose overwrought figuration, especially given Lawrence’s excrementitious delirium, generally is (412–13). Consider, again from “The Crown,” this retrograde and highly condensed passage in which Lawrence recoils from the erotic proclivities of “men of finer sensibility and finer development”; the passage swarms with the by now overfamiliar Lawrentian phantasmata:

In physical contact he [“the sensitive man”] seeks another outlet. He loves men, really. This is the inevitable part of the activity of reduction, of the flux of dissolution, analysis, disintegration, this homosexuality.

It is only coarse, insensitive men who can obtain the prime gratification of reduction in physical connection with a woman. A sensitive man is too subtle, he cannot come like a perverse animal, straight to the reduction of the self in the sex. Many many processes intervene. There are all the complexities of the mind and the consciousness to reduce first.…

The sensitive man, caught within the flux of reduction, seeking a woman, knows the destruction of some basic self in him, while the complexity and unity of his consciousness remains intact above the reduction. Which gives him jangled horror. He is too conscious, too complete. Instead of obtaining the gratification of reduction, he has got only a wound in his unified soul, a sort of maiming. He is horrified at his own mangled, maimed condition, of which he is painfully aware in his complete consciousness. So that a woman becomes repulsive to him, in the thought of connection with her. It is too gross, almost horrible.

What he loves is a man who is to a certain degree less developed than himself. Then he can proceed to reduce himself to his level. It may be he wishes to reduce himself back to the level and simplicity, the undevelopment, of a boy. It may be he wishes to reduce himself only to the level of a lower type of man. In which case he will love boy or man, as it may be. His ideal, his basic desire, will be to get back to a state which he has long surpassed. And the getting back, the reduction, is a sort of progress to infinite nullity, to the beginnings. So that his progress has some sort of satisfaction.

He is given up to the flux of reduction, his mouth is upon the mouth of corruption. This is the reason of homosexuality, and of connection with animals. (DP, 472–73)

Virulent ranting this, terrible in its conviction and predictably replete with half-assimilated historical detritus: homophobia, gynephobia, fear of atavism, the allure of degeneration, even a vestigial sodomitical linkage between homosexuality and bestiality. If Lawrence had written only in this (heavily pumping) vein, there would be little reason left to read him. Fortunately there is more and better elsewhere (even elsewhere in “The Crown”), and this because Lawrence wrote in order to exceed himself, and expressly so. His famous-because-catchy maxim—“Never trust the artist. Trust the tale. The function of a critic is to save the tale from the artist who created it”—bespeaks his strategy of productive excess.

Hence the critical utility of this diatribe from “The Crown,” beneath which courses very much the same bifurcated erotic trajectory for male sexuality that Lawrence explores (old theme in Lawrence criticism) with greater deftness and vacillation in his fiction, most compellingly in Women in Love, where, if we may admit a momentary Lawrentian reduction, the man of “finer sensibility” and the “coarse, insensitive” man are known, respectively, as Rupert Birkin and Gerald Crich. Very much the walking (and especially talking) incarnation of the “sensitive man,” Birkin indeed “is horrified at his own mangled, maimed condition” when he contemplates the depleted horizons of heterosexual desire (“The possibilities of love exhaust themselves,” Gerald reminds Birkin just before they embrace in “Gladiatorial” [271]), and surely in Gerald Birkin finds himself loving “a man who is a certain degree less developed than himself,” “a lower type of man” in whom (listen to the late-Victorian inflection of Lawrence’s homophobia jangling through here) Birkin “can proceed to reduce himself” “to a state which he has long surpassed”; so obviously does Gerald embody, again beyond the brittle formulations of “The Crown,” the cruder male “who can obtain the prime gratification of reduction in physical connection with a woman” and whose primary erotic “relation with woman is the activity of rape and gross destructivity.” The isomorphism that obtains here between Women in Love and “The Crown,” an isomorphism governing masculine (i.e., male homosexual) desire in relation to a typology of male being and character, cannot, I think, be reasonably refuted; the prima facie textual symmetries are simply too compelling to be dismissed. These texts do speak each other’s language. But the importance and irrefutability of this fact must be counterposed to, and compounded by, what can only be called the difference within this sameness, a difference whose manifold truth (and fiction) effects distinguish the turbulent greatness of Women in Love from the turgid mediocrity of most of “The Crown” and a good deal of Lawrence’s subsequent fiction.[13] The remainder of this chapter will explore the devious narrative operations by which this difference in sameness, this homo-differential, is diverted into the bifold trajectory of heterosexual desire for which Women in Love is famous. As I have already argued, whatever “plot” the novel may claim derives from this four-term, double-coupled difference whose “duplicity,” in Murry’s cranky phrasing, “subtly perverts” the book’s “essential and vital argument” (SW, 116).

A brief historical reprise: I have argued at length in Chapter 1 that the metaphor of inversion—the turning inside out or upside down of desire in relation to gender—constituted the dominant, if not sole, explanatory paradigm by which late-nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century Euro-American culture structured its understanding of both the ontology and the etiology of “homosexuality.” In the paradigmatic instance of the male homosexual or “invert,” this explanatory figure would be reduced to a suspiciously convenient formulation: anima muliebris virili corpore inclusa, a female soul/spirit/psyche lodged or encased in a male body. The historical instantiation of this model of same-sex desire entailed the fluctuant and (ultimately only) partial supersession of the precedent model, “sodomy,” whose taxonomic mission was less to define the relation between being and desire than it was to classify and order the relation between bodies and acts. Above all, and in clear contradistinction to the inversion paradigm, the sodomy model did not presuppose, either theoretically or practically, an essential “heterosexual” linkage between an already gendered desire rooted in the depths of the subject (anima muliebris) and the objects of that desire’s gratification; thus the “unnaturality” of sodomy did not lie in the twisted or cross-gendered composition of the subject’s desire, but rather in the “mistaken” way in which the subject chose to lay his, or her, body down.

The cultural deployment of the inversion model was hardly a linear development. Sodomy did not concede overnight, nor was inversion irrevocably installed by the vertical imposition of power. As divergent but copresent sexual taxonomies, sodomy and inversion jostled one another, cheek to jowl, for both discursive space and institutional validation, with the latter model achieving taxonomic dominance largely because of its close filiation with the ascendent discourses and institutions of modernity: medicine, psychiatry, psychology, and psychoanalysis. A more than vestigial sodomy is, after all, still with us, especially in statutory law, where the human body remains directly subject to the intervention of the state. Furthermore, the discursive and institutional “implantation” of the inversion model was complicated, but also subtly facilitated, by two modifications that might at first seem to have vitiated or impaired the efficacy of inversion as a model of same-sex desire. First, the language of “homosexuality,” whose origins are roughly contemporaneous with those of “inversion,” would overtake and largely displace the vocabulary (but not the metaphorics) of inversion, whose currency in any event proved more durable in England than elsewhere in Europe or in America, no doubt in part because Havelock Ellis, having entitled his influential volume Sexual Inversion, promoted the term successfully there. But this supplanting of one lexicon by another did not vitiate the figural power of inversion, whose fundamental trope—the notion of a twist or torsion in the alignment between (the gender of) the subject’s desire and (the sex of) his or her body—would continue to operate, pseudonymously but effectively, within the discourse of homosexuality. And second, the obviously rudimentary articulations of the inversion metaphor, especially etiological formulations like the quasibiological anima muliebris virili corpore inclusa, would yield over time to more sophisticated psychological, and especially psychoanalytical, permutations, part of whose revisionary effect was to bestow upon inversion the benefit of an afterlife it otherwise could not have enjoyed. Even Freud, who in 1905 disqualified the idea of a “natural” or intrinsic sexuality and severed all but the most arbitrary linkages between “sexual instinct” and “sexual object,” nevertheless continued to deploy both the erotics of inversion and the essentialist gender assumptions behind those erotics.

All of this impinges immediately upon Lawrence’s writing, which wrestles to a fatal draw with exactly these serpentine contradictions regarding homosexual cathexis. Freud was driven to theoretical incoherence, Lawrence to “fundamental equivocation” and narrative violence. For these are the contradictions that inflect the sexual argument of Women in Love and constitute the novel’s interpretive crux: it is from this “tense white knot of flesh” that the narrative unwinds itself so gorgeously, so heterosexually, and finally so murderously. In the published version of the novel, the homotextual problematic surfaces as such in “Man to Man,” the talky chapter that sets up the grunting athleticism, some seventy pages later, of “Gladiatorial.” Having suffered another of his episodic fits of gynephobic revulsion (“It filled him with almost insane fury, this calm assumption of the Magna Mater, that all was hers, because she had borne him. Man was hers because she had borne him…she now claimed him again, soul and body, sex, meaning, and all. He had a horror of the Magna Mater, she was detestable” [200]), Birkin unloads upon Gerald a pounding lecture about “the slopes of degeneration—mystic, universal degeneration” (204). Gerald, who is just bright enough to play dumb on the subject, remaining in this way the “dark horse to the end,” looks “at Birkin with subtle eyes of knowledge. But he would never openly admit what he felt. He knew more than Birkin, in one direction—much more” (205–6). And then, as if by the solar effect of Gerald’s gaze, “the problem” dawns on Birkin:

Quite other things were going through Birkin’s mind. Suddenly he saw himself confronted with another problem—the problem of love and eter-nal conjunction between two men. Of course this was necessary—it had been a necessity inside himself all his life—to love a man purely and fully. Of course he had been loving Gerald all along, and all along denying it.

He lay in the bed and wondered, whilst his friend sat beside him, lost in brooding. Each man was gone in his own thoughts.

“You know how the old German knights used to swear a Blutbrüderschaft,” he said to Gerald, with quite a new happy activity in his eyes.

“Make a little wound in their arms, and rub each other’s blood into the cut?” said Gerald.

“Yes—and swear to be true to each other, of one blood, all their lives.—That is what we ought to do. No wounds, that is obsolete.—But we ought to swear to love each other, you and I, implicitly and perfectly, finally, without any possibility of going back on it.”

Birkin’s musing here may begin in Platonic abstraction—“the problem of love and eternal conjunction between two men”—but it moves expeditiously enough to the barely effaced, and appropriately Germanic, sexual fantasy of Blutbrüderschaft, the fantasy, obviously, of opening the body and sharing its fluids, implying in turn the subjacent transposition of blood and semen.[14] And if Birkin is rather quick to subtract his own body from the proposition he is in the process of making (“No wounds, that is obsolete,” he demurs once Gerald-the-literalist has diagrammed, in red crayon, the scene of conjunction), then this subtraction itself presupposes the extension, literally the transfusion, of the body into language—into, that is, the logos of what we now pathetically call “male bonding” (a phrase that, in my ears at least, continues to ring of the hardware store). No “strange conjunction” (148), just promises of same: instead of “rub[bing] each other’s blood into the cut,” Birkin instructs Gerald, “we ought to swear to love each other, you and I…finally, without any possibility of going back on it.” In this retrofantasy, language is first saturated, as if blood could be bled back into words, and then frozen, as if language could hold forever the full charge and discharge of Eros. Words “of one blood.”

The projectile force of this Lawrentian desire impels fantasy well beyond the conversation of Birkin and Gerald. In a letter of August 1916 to Amy Lowell, who had just given him a typewriter, Lawrence implicates first the media of novel writing itself, and then the body of his wife:

I am busy typing out a new novel, to be called Women in Love. Every day I bless you for the gift of the type-writer. It runs so glibly, and has at last become a true confrere. I take so unkindly to any sort of machinery. But now I and the type writer have sworn a Blutbrüderschaft.

We go down and bathe—not the typewriter, but Freida and I. Today there were great rollers coming from the west. It is so frightening, when one is naked among the rocks, to see the high water rising to a threatening wall, the pale green fire shooting along, then bursting into a furious and wild incandescence of foam. But it is great fun. It is so lovely to recognize the non-human elements: to hear the rain like a song, to feel the wind going by one, to be thrown against the rocks by the wonderful water. I cannot bear to see or to know humanity any more. (Letters, 3:645)

It is worth more than a laugh, that tumbling confusion between Freida and the typewriter. Lawrence’s comic sequence may seem benign enough, but consider the phantasmagoria. The simple typing of Women in Love (a task, by the way, that Lawrence soon abandoned) begins as a “glib” exercise in interfluent masculine erotics, the neuter machine having been gendered as a “true confrere” who needn’t balk at an easy Blutbrüderschaft; perhaps the writer’s imagination was piqued by the saturation of the typewriter’s ribbon with ink. However indisputably solid such a machine may be as a physical object, it is, like all physical objects for Lawrence, absolutely susceptible to symbolic appropriation—unstable as water, and light as air. Notice, for instance that in the course of the eight sentences I have just quoted from the letter, the mutability of the machine is adumbrated orthographically; the word typewriter “itself” is spelled in three ways: “type writer,” “type-writer,” and “typewriter”; Lawrence may have been averse “to any sort of machinery,” but the nuts and bolts of language were putty in his hands. And no sooner does the fluid bonding of man and machine achieve its happy apotheosis in Blutbrüderschaft than the paragraph breaks, as the whole passage is dipped, with barely a pause, “into the great rollers coming from the west.” Thus immersed, the typewriter dissolves and emerges by a kind of transsexual magic as…none other than Freida herself, the Magna Mater incarnate, and “naked” to boot. Luckily for everyone involved, the reader too, this vision is immediately eclipsed by apocalytic seas of serendipitous ejaculation, as the strong water “burst[s] into a furious wild incandescence of foam.”[15]

I am not being facetious. The fantasmatics of desire and gender that frolic “naked among the rocks” in Lawrence’s letter repeat those that operate, in a very different emotional tenor, throughout Women in Love. A recognizable sequence unfolds in both texts, roughly as follows. An irrepressible but nonetheless repressed desire for “eternal conjunction between two men” incites a barely effaced fantasy of sharing bodily fluids, a fantasy that, were it permitted to lip the rim of the genital, we could unproblematically designate as “sodomitical”; the term, with all its anatomical dubiety, would apply precisely. But this fantasy about human bodies is prematurely disembodied. Or rather, it has been arrested in the body of the signifier, literally in the pseudochivalric blah blah of Blutbrüderschaft, which displaces the act sufficiently (“No wounds,” etc., those having become “obsolete”) to shield the implicated males from the untenable anagnorisis of homosexual self-recognition. (Without the “wounds” one may always retreat, via a technical honesty anyway, to the high ground of masculine protest, which in turn predictably generates so much violence between, among, and within men: I, whoever I may be, am not one of “these ‘friends,’ these beetles”; if need be, I will “scotch” them, especially if they are in me.) But the sequestration of desire in an airy discourse of eternal devotion (promises, promises) hardly solves what Birkin correctly thinks of as “the problem,” which remains so acute, and acutely tempting, that some other “solution”—narrative, figural, characterological—must be attempted, if only to redistribute the considerable tensions generated by the conflict between desire and interdiction. In both the novel and the letter Lawrence resorts to the same rhetorical narrative solution; he deploys a metathesis of gender—less technically, an inversion—in which submerged homosexual desire, or a typewriter, resurfaces in (sometimes extra-urgent) heterosexual guise: Freida in the foam, buck naked; Gudrun, fully clothed, spasming to rhythms identical to those driving Birkin’s desire for Gerald—or, in the chilled Latin of the sexological formula, anima muliebris virili corpore inclusa. In each case the gender dynamics are the same: where man was, there woman shall be; cherchez la femme; la donna é mobile. Such is the fraudulent substitution subtending all articulations of the inversion metaphor, which thus refuses to countenance the masculinity of male homosexual desire, a refusal shared, we should note, by Lawrence’s title Women in Love, which silently ingests, all the better to occlude, the open secret of the novel’s secret subject: men in love.

The gender metathesis embedded within the inversion figure entails a specific violence: the elimination of at least one male, either by murder or “castration.” In the sexological formulation, that castration requires no messy instrumentation, neither scalpel nor gelding spoon, since the masculine subject has been handily dispatched via theoretical feminization (no animus virili to disturb the complacency of the equation); and in Lawrence’s comic letter of 1916 his “true confrere,” that mute but pliable typewriter, leaps (or is it pushed?) from the paragraph break into the sea, never to type again: Freida Victrix. Only in Women in Love does Lawrence adequately calculate the destructiveness of this process, and there only equivocally. In sacrificing the character whose radiant maleness so exacerbates Birkin’s nagging “problem,” Lawrence unleashes, with a little help from Gudrun and Loerke, the implacable death drive that crouches within the inversion trope. From the beginning of the narrative, and in direct proportion to the miner’s son’s energy and desirability, this push “for the smash of extinction at the bottom” targets Gerald’s person and Gerald’s body with a sniper’s patient calculation (DP, 280). All the claptrap early on in the novel about Gerald having slain his brother, and therefore presumably deserving the violence that befalls him, provides at best an improbable justification for the itch in the sniper’s finger, which derives rather from the narrative’s “profound but hidden lust” (33) to murder and to be murdered, a reciprocating Todestriebe that anticipates Freud’s own by several years. It is the gratification of this complex lust that charges the closure of Women in Love with its irresistible momentum, thereby providing “the real Russian bang” (the sniper having yielded to his itch) that Schorer so admired. To Gudrun’s ominous question in “Diver”—“where does his go go?” (48)—the novel answers emphatically, unswervingly, “To the Alps—to die.” “Death by perfect cold” (254).

And so Gerald is put on ice; more accurately, put on display as ice, “bluish, corruptible ice,” his once-resplendent body now an “inert mass,” “cold, mute, material” (480). With this “frozen carcase of a dead male” (477) the novel coolly repudiates the possibility that Birkin’s desire might ever warm to adequate human gratification, and it is enough to provoke in Birkin a double, or bifurcated, recollection, one hot and one cold. Memory: “Birkin remembered how once Gerald had clutched his hand, with a warm, momentous grip of final love. For one second—then let go again, let go forever. If he had kept true to that clasp, death would not have mattered” (480). Counter-memory: “Birkin looked at the pale fingers, the inert mass. He remembered a dead stallion he had seen: a dead mass of maleness, repugnant” (480). (The whole of Women in Love’s murderous homosexual teleology is condensed in this juxtaposition of Birkin’s memories: from “warm, momentous grip” to cold, “pale fingers…inert…repugnant”; from the “gleaming beauty [of] maleness” [14] to “a dead mass of maleness, repugnant.”) But before that stallion’s impressive energies are subdued by the narrative’s deep freeze—the blond stallion, I mean, who drives Gudrun to “strange transport” (15) in “Coal-Dust” when he stupendously dominates the red Arab mare, his “strong, indomitable thighs” “clenching the palpitating body of the mare into pure control; a sort of soft white magnetic domination from the loins and thighs and calves, enclosing and encompassing the mare heavily into unutterable subordination” (113)—before that stallion is subdued by cold, the author requires first that things heat up and then that they melt down. (This is, after all, a Lawrence novel.) This thermal process precipitates the crisis in reading that so disturbed Murry’s poise; for once these couples begin heating up, they also begin melting into each other, couple into couple, thereby compromising (thereby eroticizing) the only distinction upon which the dualistic heterosexual argument of the text has even the ghost of a chance of establishing itself. The line inscribing this difference dissolves in the heat of sex, despite the continuing narrative imperative that the sense of difference—a difference that makes sense—be sustained. This is to say that both couples obsessively “lapse” (crucial Lawrentian process) not just into each other, but also into Women in Love’s swampy language of “flux” and “dissolution,” a tendency about which critics have just as obsessively complained. In one of the best essays ever written on the novel, Leo Bersani, far kinder to Lawrence than most, puts the critical frustration with just the right touch of loving parody: “When the connection is made between two life currents or two death currents, minds ‘go,’ people ‘lapse out’ and ‘swoon,’ they have ‘transports’ and ‘keen paroxysms,’ and the ‘veil’ of ‘ultimate consciousness’ is ‘torn.’ Nothing is more disorienting in Women in Love than the use of such expressions as descriptive narrative accompaniments to the most banal action or the most controlled, unremarkable dialogue.”[16]

Ever since Murry’s original complaint about x collapsing indiscriminately into y, critical anxiety (more rarely: critical excitation) over trip-wire lapsing and knee-jerk swooning has proceeded largely from sheer cognitive frustration: with both couples lapsing apace, the language of the novel works perversely to block or intermit the fundamental binarism that organizes its plot. If the erotic path represented by Birkin and Ursula leads, by whatever obscure turns, to life and (equivocal) marriage, and that represented by Gudrun and Gerald leads to death and destruction, then the difference between the couples must signify; literally it is vital, the difference between life and death. But it is also virtually illegible, beyond clear specification except in its ultimate effects, and repeatedly undermined both by the writing’s most vigorous energies and by the insistent obscurity of particular sex acts that are after all never very particularly performed (whether by the copulars or their author, who can tell?). Bersani reads this indifference to difference as Lawrence’s major strategy in his war against “the anecdotes of personality,” against conventional notions of a unitary self, however complicated or vexed, whose coherence and intelligibility are grounded in a traceable personal history (example: Paul Morel). In Women in Love, Bersani argues, Lawrence attempts “to destroy the superstructure of personality in order to redefine human beings in terms of their primary impulses to live or to die” (A, 168). As with Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle, a text Bersani also invokes, this is a dualism whose vengeance overrides the vicissitudes of character or person: “Now the impulse to live and the impulse to die are not exactly attributes of personality; rather, they are attempts to enlarge on or to obliterate the very field in which the anecdotes of personality are possible. Personality must therefore be read as a system of signs or of choices which can be deciphered back to a primary choice of life or death” (A, 164). Unimpeachable as far as it goes (farther in this regard than anyone else has yet gone), this argument recalls Lawrence’s own account of his intention at the time of writing; in an oft-cited letter to Edward Garnett, father of the “Dear David” whose impending gayness would drive the novelist to fantasies of “inward corruption” and “triumphant decay,” Lawrence puts his purpose with characteristic vehemence:

You musn’t look in my novel for the old stable ego of the character. There is another ego, according to whose action the individual is unrecognisable, and passes through, as it were, allotropic states which it needs a deeper sense than any we’ve been used to exercise, to discover are states of the same radically-unchanged element. (Like as diamond and coal are the same pure single element of carbon. The ordinary novel would trace the history of the diamond—but I say “diamond, what! This is carbon.” And my diamond might be coal or soot, and my theme is carbon.)

You must not say my novel is shaky—It is not perfect, because I am not expert in what I want to do. But it is the real thing, say what you like. And I shall get my reception, if not now, then before long. Again I say, don’t look for the development of the novel to follow the lines of certain characters: the characters fall into the form of some other rhythmic form, like when one draws a fiddle-bow across a fine tray delicately sanded, the sand takes lines unknown. (Letters, 2:183–84)

“You musn’t look,” etc. Suppose we resist this authorial directive long enough to focus attention upon the middle ground that intervenes between “the old stable ego of the character,” a mere derivative or epiphenomenon according to this letter of 1914, and its ontological foundation or bedrock, that “same radically-unchanged element” toward which Lawrence would turn his reader’s blinking gaze, much in the manner of the magician who captivates his audience with the loud business in his left hand while he works the real trick silently in his right. What do we find there, wherever there is, in this middle distance, the intervenient space between diamond and carbon? What we find is Lawrence’s deliberately perverse inscription, not exactly what he says he has put there, but rather a version of it: strange “allotropic states” that indeed render individual characters “unrecognizable” and that require “a deeper sense than any we’ve been used to exercise, to discover are states,” not of a “pure single element” (the plain truth of carbon), but rather of a relentless narrative impulsion, a death/sex drive everywhere in the process of gender transference. Allotropic is instructive in this regard. Semantically, it means “having different properties, though unchanged in substance” or essence (OED); such a definition firmly roots the different in the same, thereby exposing transformation as a secondary process whose dazzling operations nonetheless leave the base element or essence “radically-unchanged”: diamonds are but carbon in evening dress.[17] Etymologically, allotropic indicates a turning or twisting (from the Greek tropos, to turn) toward or through the different (the Greek allos, or other); as such, it suggests a perversion (from the Latin vertere, to turn) that stops just short of the foundation, leaving its homo intact. This compound term thus describes with formidable economy the perverse itinerary that controls this novel’s admitted but admittedly blocked homosexual desire: its desire of the homo for the homo: of the man for the man who stands not merely as himself but also as the representative, even the guarantor, of the same, of the same man, of the man, that is, whose self-sameness must not be overthrown or degraded by the “feminine” cast of his desire. Viciously and ironically, this itinerary ultimately requires that homosexual desire seek its release in the Absolute Other (death, here “by perfect cold”), which after all reduces everything to the same cold mute material, that “inert mass” of “repugnant” dead matter. But the directness of this trajectory is interrupted by a violent detour whose feminine contours I have already suggested: masculine desire must “pass through, as it were” the allotropy of Lawrence’s All-But-Absolute Other, the anima muliebris that haunts his texts: woman, mother, mater, matter, here doubly and duplicitously incarnated in Gudrun and Ursula. Through mater, then, toward matter: toward the “cold, mute Matter” (480) that Gerald finally becomes at novel’s end. Fully feminized by death, Gerald’s “dead mass of maleness” becomes “repugnant” to Birkin’s eye, so much so that Birkin must immediately remember Gerald, contrary to the evidence of his senses and his own previous description, as warm, even warming: “That dead face was beautiful, no one could call it cold, mute, material. No one could remember it without gaining faith in the mystery, without the soul’s warming with new, deep life-trust” (480).

The teleological ferocity of this itinerary—death for some men, hostility toward women, unappeasable homosexual longing in the men who survive—must not be underestimated, especially in a culture whose everyday scenarios continue to play it out with an efficient reflexivity usually called “natural.” Nor can we afford to ignore the serpentine entanglement here between homophobia and misogyny, since the desperation of this itinerary responds to a perceived “feminine” threat. In Lawrence’s fiction at this time, as in the never quite perverse enough logic of inversion, the ever-imperilled male (the male, that is, who must work ceaselessly to erect and sustain an always impossible masculine subjectivity) is open to invasion on two fronts, front and back: from the woman without (her name is legion), and from the woman within (the legion having been condensed into the subject’s own name, say “Dear David”). Not the least of Women in Love’s extraordinary power derives from the blinded lucidity with which the novel both enacts and exposes this oppressive dynamic, which operates simultaneously as a (seemingly essential) truth of (in)human psychology and as a (manifestly artificial) mode of representation. This homophobic appropriation of the feminine (a process by no means reducible to the aberrations of a merely personal psychology) helps to explain, if not to justify, Women in Love’s obsessive thematization of gynephobia and the sometimes flat functionalism of Lawrence’s female characters, here and elsewhere. (Ursula, for instance, too often seems neither the subject nor object of “authentic” desires so much as the formally imposed mouthpiece of the opposition: the woman required by the narrative to kick sand in Birkin’s face.) Lawrence understood, if never quite thoroughly enough, his appropriation of the feminine and was not embarrassed by it: “I don’t care so much about what the woman feels—according to the usage of the word,” he writes just before launching into “allotropic states.” “That presumes an ego to feel with. I only care about what the woman is—what she is—inhumanly, physiologically, materially—according to the use of the word: but for me, what she is as a phenomenon (or as representing some greater, inhuman will), instead of what she feels according to the human conception” (Letters, 2:183; italics original). And so woman is deployed—“used”—according to the writer’s rhetorical need to represent that “greater, inhuman will,” “according to the use of the word…for me.” Women I have known have questioned the beneficence and legitimacy of this “greater” will, discerning in it, after all the metaphysical huffing and puffing, a formula of sufficient brutality: cunt for cock’s sake.

Or, in my argument, cunt in cock’s place. This modification of the feminist recognition may be put more “professionally”: given the logic of gender substitution governing homoerotic displacement in Women in Love, female genitalia (never of course offered in the pink) will come to represent something other than the specificity of woman’s desire and pleasure, a subject about which Lawrence seemed to believe he knew everything; the vagina and its amazing surround will come to represent, even in its textual ablation, a particular mode of castration anxiety, specifically that which advenes upon a certain male subject when he realizes, or even as he works assiduously not to realize, that his desire may be situated beyond the phallus, or beside it, or astride it, or even no longer in terms of it. (“Life has all kinds of things,” Birkin tells Gerald during their not quite postcoital chat after all the sweating in “Gladiatorial.” “There isn’t only one road” [276].) Suppose this male discovers (with what widening shock he may never be able quite to say) that his pleasure is no longer seated firmly in his cock, or that the focus of his desire is, or has become, the “contour and movement” of men in the street.

All the time, he recognised that, although he was always drawn to women, feeling more at home with a woman than with a man, yet it was for men that he felt the hot, flushing, roused attraction which a man is supposed to feel for the other sex. Although nearly all his living interchange went on with one woman or another, although he was always terribly intimate with at least one woman, and practically never intimate with a man, yet the male physique had a fascination for him, and for the female physique he felt only a fondness, a sort of sacred love, as for a sister.

In the street, it was the men who roused him by their flesh and their manly, vigorous movement, quite apart from all individual character, whilst he studied the women as sisters, knowing their meaning and their intents. It was the men’s physique which held the passion and the mystery to him. The women he seemed to be kin to, he looked for the soul in them. The soul of a woman and the physique of a man, these were the two things he watched for, in the street. (501–2)

The person doing the breathless watching here is the Ur-Birkin of Women in Love’s infamous prologue (appendix 2 in the Cambridge edition), written in the spring of 1916 as the novel’s opening chapter and rejected some months later as Lawrence wrestled once again to subdue his unruly leviathan. Much that is direct and clear-sighted here would become diffused and deflected in the version finally published in 1920. Birkin’s urgent genital response (“hot, flushing, roused”) to the provocation of male flesh, “quite apart from all individual character,” would suffer inflation into the quasimetaphysical problematics of “eternal conjunction between two men”; his “terribly intimate” feminine identification, that affinity with the “meaning and intents” of “the women he seemed to be kin to,” would be transposed into, among other things, his peaky misogyny and lackluster desire for women generally and Ursula particularly; and Lawrence’s recognition that Birkin’s homosexual desire is shadowed by an inverse subjective correlative, a deeply internalized homophobia whose considerable energies drive the novel in its final form to furious closure, would lose the perspicacity that it has here: “This was the one and only secret he kept to himself, this secret of his passionate and sudden, spasmodic affinity for men he saw. He kept this secret even from himself. He knew what he felt, but he always kept the knowledge at bay. His a priori were: ‘I should not feel like this,’ and ‘It is the ultimate mark of my deficiency, that I feel like this’ ” (505; italics original). This analysis of Birkin’s emotional and psychological duplicity is impressively clear. In order to keep a secret from oneself, one must first possess the very knowledge (“He knew what he felt”) that one will then proceed, with a disingenuousness born of genuine desperation, to disown; too dangerous to be allowed to curl around hearth or heart, such knowledge must be kept “at bay” by the effort of a continuous pressure; only in this way may such knowledge be sustained just beyond the horizon of a consciousness too frightened to embrace it openly and too lucid to foreclose it entirely. And as Lawrence also clearly understood, the subjective operations of this duplicity are objectively mandated; that is, they derive from, and continue to incarnate in the form of human feeling, certain culturally specific a prioris.

Among these a prioris are the obvious, such as those that misidentify gay desire as “the ultimate mark of my deficiency,” and the not so obvious, such as those that indicate the path of gendered signification through which such a misidentification must wind its tortuous way. When, for instance, Birkin’s eye scans the street for objects of identification and desire, it proceeds by way of the same binarism that informs the metaphorics of inversion: “The soul of a woman [anima muliebris] and the physique of a man [corpore virili], these were the two things he watched for in the street.” The almost technical specificity of Lawrence’s phrasing here suggests both the broad cultural diffusion of inversion as an explanatory paradigm and Lawrence’s own familiarity with particular textual versions of it.[18] But Birkin’s erotic gaze is differentiated from the sexological formula by its mode of articulation; the formula proceeds by conjunction or compaction, the gaze by dislocation and dispersion. The two components that the diagnosticians of sexology had so conveniently conjugated (a female soul enclosed in a male body) are disjoined, bifurcated again, in the dissociated field of Birkin’s watching: a soul here and a body there. Here I identify, there I want. Obviously, this splitting does not occasion the “liberation” of homosexual desire, its happy effusion into the drift of the gaze. On the contrary, it dictates a subtler reinscription, under much more complex narrative conditions, of an erotics of inversion within the figure constituted by the novel itself.

Or rather, by the novel as it was about to become. As Lawrence retreated from so direct a vis-à-vis with homosexual desire (a retreat, we should note, just some months subsequent to his visit to Cambridge and the ensuing dreams of black beetles), his narrative would adopt and elaborate the gender trajectory he had already begun to map in his acute analysis of Birkin’s gaze. In Women in Love as finally published, the desires that the prologue so emphatically lodges within Birkin’s “own innate being” (504) have been transported, across gender, into “the soul of a woman” whose body also “just happens” to be female. The result for the narrative is an enabling distortion that may be expressed in another convenient formula, this one my own: where Birkin’s desire had been, there Gudrun’s body shall be; and what this distortion enables is a “fundamental equivocation” much like the one toward which Murry himself had so equivocally gestured. Birkin can sustain the technical nicety of a “true” heterosexuality even as he grapples, however wordily and incompetently, with the problematics of “eternal conjunction” between men, while Gudrun and Gerald can explore, via the gender transposition that Gudrun now literally embodies, the murky sex that Birkin and Gerald can’t quite wrestle themselves into. The subjacent anatomical fantasy operating here, never of course articulated in the text, should be obvious. Gudrun and her (implied) vagina, both repeatedly associated with mud and the Flux of Dissolution, come to substitute for the male subject’s bodily orifices and for the possibility that he might (or worse: might want to) be penetrated, most specifically at the anus, a site so overburdened with desire, pleasure, loathing, and anxiety (just to mention the obvious few) that it must be blocked from direct representation even as it also promises, for exactly the same reasons, to release an overwhelming millenial satisfaction: “floods of ineffable darkness and ineffable riches” far “deeper than the phallic source” (314). As Bersani suggests apropos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, such great expectations are a lot to ask from an asshole, “except as a consequence of fantasies which, to begin with, attribute extraordinarily intense affective and moral value to anal pleasure. That is, the explicit value conferred on anal sex [or, as here, its digital complement] makes no sense except as the sign of a more complicated fascination with anality” (A, 172). In Women in Love that “more complicated fascination” infuses, if not everything, then just about everything else, most especially the book’s fundamental heterosexuality, that heavy and funless sexuality that is by no means focused exclusively upon the fundament.

But if not there, then where? If, as Jonathan Dollimore writes, “Lawrence finds ecstasy not in heterosexuality per se but [in] its radical perversion,”[19] then where shall that perversion root its representations when, at the level of what may be said or shown, the specific loci of the perverse have been, by law or convention or “taste,” already foreclosed? How else, in Lawrence, than by a displacement into frontal violence, a violence that traverses the bestial? Interdiction, whether specific or general, whether internalized within the subject as the murmurings of nature or externally codified in the muscular body of the law, does not produce silence and blankness, or not merely these, but also representation elsewhere and otherwise, representation responsive to the subtle but profound violence of metamorphosis. In “Rabbit,” after having instructed her charge, Winifred Crich, Gerald’s younger sister, to sketch the family pet, Gudrun reaches into the rabbit hutch to remove “the great, lusty” beast and is astounded to discover that, instead of a rabbit, a “thunder-storm…had sprung to being in her hand” (240):

They unlocked the door of the hutch. Gudrun thrust in her arm and seized the great, lusty rabbit as it crouched still, she grasped its long ears. It set its four feet flat, and thrust back. There was a long scraping sound as it was hauled forward, and in another instant it was in mid-air, lunging wildly, its body flying like a spring coiled and released, as it lashed out, suspended from the ears…

…Her heart was arrested with fury at the mindlessness and the bestial stupidity of this struggle, her wrists were badly scored by the claws of the beast, a heavy cruelty welled up in her.

Gerald came round as she was trying to capture the flying rabbit under her arm. He saw, with subtle recognition, her sullen passion of cruelty.

“You should let one of the men do that for you,” he said, hurrying up.

“Oh he’s so horrid!” cried Winifred, almost frantic.

He held out his nervous, sinewy hand and took the rabbit by the ears, from Gudrun.…

The long, demon-like beast lashed out again, spread on the air as if it were flying, looking something like a dragon, then closing up again, inconceivably powerful and explosive. The man’s body, strung to its efforts, vibrated strongly. Then a sudden sharp, white-edged wrath came up in him. Swift as lightning he drew back and brought his free hand down like a hawk on the neck of the rabbit. Simultaneously, there came the unearthly, abhorrent scream of a rabbit in the fear of death. It made one immense writhe, tore his wrists and his sleeves in a final convulsion, all its belly flashed white in a whirlwind of paws, and then he had slung it round and had it under his arm, fast. It cowered and skulked. His face was gleaming with a smile.…

Gudrun looked at Gerald with strange, darkened eyes, strained with underworld knowledge, almost supplicating, like those of a creature which is at his mercy, yet which is his ultimate victor. He did not know what to say to her. He felt the mutual hellish recognition. And he felt he ought to say something, to cover it. He had the power of lightning in his nerves, she seemed like a soft recipient of his magical, hideous white fire. He was unconfident, he had qualms of fear.…

She lifted her arm and showed a deep red score down the silken white flesh.

“What a devil!” he exclaimed. But it was as if he had had knowledge of her in the long red rent of her forearm, so silken and soft. He did not want to touch her. He would have to make himself touch her, deliberately. The long, shallow red rip seemed torn across his own brain, tearing the surface of his ultimate consciousness, letting through the forever unconscious, unthinkable red ether of the beyond, the obscene beyond. (240–42)

The genius of this passage (which I have truncated mercilessly), and of the great chapter from which it comes, derives from characteristic Lawren-tian strengths: from the way in which the writing catches the sheer animality of the rabbit in its homely facticity and in the extremity of its motion; from the way in which that animality, while being thus materially rendered, is nonetheless also seamlessly insinuated into a complex and contradictory symbolic web whose impalpable filaments ultimately flutter into the “red ether of the beyond, the obscene beyond,” an abstraction that in turn is immediately reincarnated, folded back into “the long red rent of [Gudrun’s] forearm, so silken and soft”; from the way in which the physical action (trying to pick up a rabbit) and its associated dialogue collate and condense the erotic violence that had begun in “Coal-Dust” when Gudrun identified with the red Arab mare being dominated by Gerald and that ends with Gerald’s perplexed submission, in “Snowed-Up,” to a dominatrix whose power he has always felt with an electrifying frisson but never once understood, much less mastered; and, finally, from the way in which the entire chapter, as part of the narrative ensemble, mediates between the chapter that immediately precedes it (“The Industrial Magnate,” in which Gerald’s need to dominate matter receives a highly abstract analysis) and the chapter that immediately follows (“Moony,” in which Birkin’s sexual desperation ignites a parallel scene of “strange conjunction” [148], as Ursula watches her lover, in still another whirring of limbs, stone the reflected face of the moon in Willey Water). All of this is incomparably done, in Lawrence’s casual, offhand manner.

But in “Rabbit” the strangest inflection of all is the homoerotic (but hardly gay) one—an inflection doomed from the beginning to seem “forced,” the compulsory imposition of an obsessive criticism, since in this chapter Birkin is, of course, nowhere to be found, off somewhere, no doubt, being sick or disgusted or bitching at the stars. In any event, not here. Yet what is this scene if not the graphic and spectacular realization, in the wrong body, of Birkin’s desire for Blutbrüderschaft with Gerald? And what is the narrative function of the rabbit (named Bismark!) if not to overwhelm, in a flurry of tremendous kicks, the very civility that mandates the obsolescence and “obscenity” of ritual mutilation, as when men “make a little wound in their arms, and rub each other’s blood into the cut”? “No wounds, that is obsolete,” Birkin reassures Gerald as they consider the exchange that they will never share, but the rabbit’s violence hardly acknowledges such polite considerations—the wounds it inflicts are immediate, multiple, and profuse. Both Gerald and Gudrun are “badly scored,” appropriately enough, at the wrists, although Gudrun appears to be redundantly cut, both at the wrists and along the (whole?) length of her forearm; indeed, Lawrence’s odd use of a preposition suggests that, upon display, Gudrun’s arm, or perhaps her whole being, metamorphoses into a wound, a slit, a gash: “She lifted her arm and showed [Gerald] a deep red score down the silken white flesh…it was as if he had had knowledge of her in the long red rent of the forearm.” The criticism has largely agreed to see a gynephobic and hallucinatory genitality here, a reading obviously encouraged by the heavily thumbed Biblicism of the phrasing “he had had knowledge of her.” And although Gerald and Gudrun do not literally “rub each other’s blood into the cut,” as Gerald says to Birkin, this omission would hardly seem to count, since precisely this ritual is being enacted at the level of the gaze, where the lovers look alternately into each other’s eyes and into each other’s wounds; Gerald even wants to enumerate the cuts—“How many scratches have you?” (242)—as if to say, let me count the ways. The gaze exchanged between Gudrun and Gerald seals a “mutual hellish recognition” that, even as it bypasses words of love, nonetheless perversely fulfills Birkin’s desire “to swear to love each other, you and I, implicitly and perfectly, finally, without any possibility of going back on it” (206–7): “Glancing up at him, into his eyes [Gudrun] revealed again the mocking, white-cruel recognition. There was a league between them, abhorrent to them both. They were implicated with each other in abhorrent mysteries” (242). And again, a page later: “There was a queer, faint, obscene smile over his face. She looked at him and saw him, and knew that he was initiate as she was initiate” (243). Joint initiation, mutual implication, abhorrent league: this diction confirms the recognition that the transposition of Blutbrüderschaft into demonic heterosexuality is being ritually completed, here “with shocking nonchalance” (243). And all thanks to a rabbit.[20]

One final point, worth underscoring because the chapter closes by repeating its violence, closes, that is, by reopening its wounds, slash after slash, upon Gerald’s person specifically. New wounds open as old wounds are eyed. (In the exchange in gazes in which Gudrun is the transparent master, Gerald merely participates, and a bit blindly.) For as Gerald looks, so is he cut, both inside and out: “the long, shallow red rip [“of” Gudrun’s arm] seemed torn across his own brain, tearing the surface of his ultimate consciousness.” And once more: “He felt again as if she had hit him across the face—or rather, as if she had torn him across the breast, dully, finally” (243). The sheer redundancy of these descriptions obsessively inscribes an oddly gendered violence: if, as seems inescapable, the display of Gudrun’s “deep red score” represents, in a single cut, both the female genitalia and the terror that a man may feel in his own fascination with that cut, then this is a vaginality that Gerald must share, as his own and in his own body; for what Gerald “recognizes,” however dumbly, in the mirror of Gudrun’s slash is nothing other than his own desire to be violated, to be torn, and thereby to abdicate the power that is indissociable from his sense of masculine being and performance—from, we might say, the performance of being masculine. (“You should let one of the men do that for you,” he tells Gudrun just before he takes the rabbit and assumes his wounds.) Furthermore, Gerald receives this recognition not merely as a proleptic anxiety (“I see that this might happen to me”), but as a species of déjà vu: even before he watches, after all, Gerald is already bleeding from analogous wounds, and as he watches he is cut again and again. Caught thus in an overwhelming ocular “league” with Gudrun, even the novel’s incarnation of male beauty and virile power suffers a mocking feminization, “castrated” by a woman whose gaze bespeaks the desire of a man formally absented from the exchange. Gerald, who thus finds himself many leagues beyond his natural depth, is perhaps wise to experience all of this so “dully” and “finally.” In any event, however darkling his recognitions, Gerald “turned aside” (243).

A double slap: Loerke is a faggot and Loerke is a Jew. Hardly accidental or unmotivated, Lawrence’s malicious superposing of “perversions”—of differences whose perceived extremity or otherness derives from the imperiled subject’s need to sustain, against whatever increasing odds, the seeming centrality of his own subject-position—bespeaks the urgency of the narrative demand that Loerke’s menace be convincing; hence one “deviation” is projected upon another. (That the psycho-logic of this superposition is, minimally, racist and heterosexist should go without saying but must nevertheless be remarked, if only parenthetically here.) Nor can there be any doubt: Lawrence means Loerke to repel on both counts; for the language employed, whether by Birkin or the anonymous narrative voice, to describe Loerke, that “lop-eared rabbit,” that “troll” (422), works overtime to secure the reader’s revulsion: “a small, dark-skinned man with full eyes, an odd creature, like a child, and like a troll, quick, detached” (405); Gudrun “could see in his brown, gnome’s eyes, that black look of organic misery, which lay behind all his small buffoonery” (422); “His figure interested her—the figure of a boy, almost a street arab. He made no attempt to conceal it” (422); “He lives like a rat, in the river of corruption, just where it falls over into the bottomless pit.…I expect he is a Jew—or part Jewish” (428); “He is a little gnawing negation, gnawing at the roots of life” (428); “and he’s the wizard rat that swims ahead…he ebbs with the stream, the sewer stream” (428). Shrunken, misshapen, malproportioned, a blackened rodent awash in excrement and gnawing at the roots of life: Loerke’s reduced body collocates, in a facile and highly concentrated form, a paranoid multiplicity of perversions—sexual, aesthetic, ethical, religious. That multiplicity finds its objective correlative not in sexual acts per se, since at no point does the novel (whatever its shadowy intimations) directly represent Loerke as engaged in any of these, but rather in self-conscious acts of verbal exchange, “in an endless sequence of quips and jests and polyglot fancies” (468), in the Wildean conversation that Loerke offers Gudrun, full as it is “of odd, fantastic expressions, of double meanings, of evasions, of suggestive vagueness” (453). (Loerke’s erotic motto, on the other hand, reads like simplicity itself: “Women and love, there is no greater tedium” [458].) The language thus shared between Loerke and Gudrun represents not a discourse of the body exactly, nor of the genitals, but rather of “the nerves”:

The whole game was one of subtle inter-suggestivity, and they wanted to keep it on the plane of suggestion. From their verbal and physical nuances they got the highest satisfaction in the nerves, from a queer interchange of half-suggested ideas, looks, expressions and gestures, which were quite intolerable, though incomprehensible, to Gerald. He had no terms in which to think of their commerce, his terms were much too gross. (448; italics original)

If perversity has always been a figure of speech, then here speech becomes a figure for perversity. The propensity of this “queer interchange” to turn back upon itself in pursuit of thrills both cheap and dear indicates a crisis in the novel’s representation of sexual desire generally and homosexual desire particularly. To some degree this crisis is a simple function of interdiction; after the debacle that followed publication of The Rainbow, Lawrence would deploy language—here, specifically, “conversation”—as a modality of sexual activity, its displaced representative, in part because he was inhibited, both externally and internally, from a more explicit articulation of bodies and body parts. “Sex in the head” would have to do. Hence the predictable reticence regarding the specifics of homosexual connection, as when Lawrence writes that Loerke and his “love-companion” Leitner, a blond and bland Gerald clone, “had travelled and lived together in the last degree of intimacy” (422). Never quite embodied in sexual action, the particulars of this “last degree” must be inferred (if they are to be conceptualized at all) from, as it were, the dark backward of language: from phrases like “sewer stream,” “wizard rat,” “river of corruption,” “falls over into the bottomless pit,” etc., etc.—phrases whose incipient anality is easy to see, hard to touch, and harder still to prove. In this way specific sexual practices partake of an obviousness that is immediately remanded to the crepuscular realm of “suggestive vagueness” and “subtle inter-suggestivity”; they are remanded, that is, to the “shadow kingdom” of connotation, where referentiality hangs by the slenderest of ropes (always ready to be cut) and where “what must be read” in language cannot definitively be distinguished from “what need not be read into it.” The very real (but always deniable) knowledge effects thus produced are emitted from a dubiety that, “being constitutive, can never be resolved.”[21] Under just such a discursive regime, Loerke shadows forth a paranoid fantasy of anal sexuality; “an odd little boy-man” (468) representing “the rock-bottom of all life” (427), he is sodomy’s dark distillate standing in the snow, wearing “a Westphalian cap” and a “simple loden suit, with knee breeches” (422). And so, by extrapolating the curve of the obvious, we may come to understand that what Loerke offers Gudrun, as the uncomprehending Gerald could never do, are the hieratic services of a well-practiced Back Door Man: “He, Loerke, could penetrate into depths far out of Gerald’s knowledge, Gerald was left behind like a postulant in the ante-room of this temple of mysteries, this woman. But he, Loerke, could he not penetrate into the inner darkness, find the spirit of the woman in its inner recesses, and wrestle with it there, the central serpent that is coiled at the core of life” (451). Poor industrialist, master neither of mater nor matter, just “grinding dutifully at the old mills” (463), Gerald is simply “left behind” at the behind, stuck “like a postulant in the ante-room,” unable to post up and take that last step into “the obscene beyond.”

But of course this won’t quite do. Or rather, it will do only if we scrupulously restore to the narrative field the fundamental contradictions, “deeper than the phallic source” (314), that the preceding paragraph rather too glibly effaces as it elides Lawrence’s elisions by propelling the “merely” connotative into the glaring legibility of anal denotation. This critical excess is ours; we have seen and said too much: who is so obtuse as not to feel Lawrence’s corpse flushing now with rage? But if there are no patent assholes in Women in Love (Birkin excepted of course), neither is there any anal dearth; it is not merely that the text abounds with “floods of ineffable darkness” and “river[s] of corruption” and “bottomless pit[s],” but rather that these figures of speech both bind the characters each to each and establish, however tenuously, the indistinct boundaries of the novel’s intelligibility. The implication for the reader here cannot be escaped: Lawrence compels us to rim the text in order to coax its yield of knowledge, power, and pleasure; either this, or suffer an intolerable contraction into cognitive darkness. Refusing this banishment of sense, what then do we find at Women in Love’s margins of intelligibility if not the operations of contradiction and displacement?

Three of these will be central to our analysis of the text’s closure. First, as obvious as it is that Loerke and Leitner enter Women in Love as the narrative’s Manifest Homosexuals, and thus embody the “explicit” textual irruption of the physical possibility of gay sex, so should it be equally clear that this is a homosexuality immediately to be superseded. A single gesture efficiently admits and expels homosexual praxis, for no sooner do Loerke and Leitner make their bows of introduction than it becomes “evident that the two men…had now reached the stage of loathing. Leitner hated Loerke with an injured, writhing, impotent hatred, and Loerke treated Leitner with a fine-quivering contempt and sarcasm. Soon the two would have to part” (422). And second, the homophobic logic subtending this passage (its first axiom: that the future of sex between men can hold only “loathing,” “impotent hatred,” and mandatory separation) effectively guarantees that the perversity inheriting the site and function of a thus-evacuated homosexuality will perforce be a “heterosexuality” at once “obscene” and “beyond.” Obscene because its refinement into “unthinkable subtleties of sensation” (452) propels it past the reach of direct sexual representation, and beyond because its irreducibly surrogative function ensures that it can be articulated only in terms of the homosexual desire it works both to adulterate and “explain.” As with the erotic epiphany in “Rabbit,” this is a sexuality whose hetero is crossed with a bestial thrill: for Gudrun “there were no new worlds, there were no more men, there were only creatures, little, ultimate creatures like Loerke.…There was only the inner, individual darkness, sensation within the ego, the obscene religious mystery of ultimate reduction…of diabolic reducing down” (452; italics original). That these “mystic frictional activities” consist primarily in involuted conversation and some heady tobogganing suggests the difficulty Lawrence encountered in sexually embodying the last phases of “ultimate reduction.” Finally, although it is Loerke’s personal pleasure and narrative responsibility to sheath in Gudrun “the fine, insinuating blade” of wit that this “final craftsman” alone may wield, and thereby to superannuate the thickness of a Gerald who in any case cannot comprehend, much less perform, “the last series of subtleties” that Gudrun demands (452), still it is not quite correct to say that this “sexuality,” whatever its specific modalities, supplants Gerald absolutely. He is not entirely “left behind.” And this because it is Gerald who receives the violent “bliss” of the narrative’s ultimate sexual act, that “great downward stroke” of Gudrun’s fist, which brings all of this perversity to “satisfaction” and this novel to its banging close (471).

This last equivocation must not be evaded: only as sexual agent is Gerald superseded. As Gudrun’s pathic he still has important duties to perform. But what other “being,” beyond or before such agency, may Gerald claim, this man who is all get-up-and-go and going nowhere but to sleep in a lap of snow? What possible relations to sexual “passivity” may Gerald entertain or enjoy, except the “death by cold” that the novel is about to confer upon him with the rigor of destiny? The very death that thereby negatively affirms the fraudulent equation between masculine self-identity and the obdurate “will to subjugate [the] Matter” and the Mater that, whether searching them out or not, he will always find both within and without himself —even, as the novel puts it, in “his own ends” (223). Hence Gerald’s imperative to search and destroy: “The subjugation itself was the point, the fight was the be-all, the fruits of victory were mere results” (223). Not that Gerald hasn’t longed for a different relation to passivity. Early on in their affair, before its escalation into murky sex and transparent violence, Gudrun and Gerald experience mutual satisfaction as they float one evening in a canoe on Willey Water. His right hand bandaged thanks to the fortuitous narrative intervention of “some machinery,” (163), Gerald cannot man the oar that would, no doubt “naturally,” fall to his hand; with the paddling therefore entrusted to Gudrun, Gerald uncharacteristically relaxes:

He was listening to the faint near sounds, the dropping of water-drops from the oar-blades, the slight drumming of the lanterns behind him, as they rubbed against one another, the occasional rustling of Gudrun’s full skirt, an alien land noise. His mind was almost submerged, he was almost transfused, lapsed out for the first time in his life, into the things about him. For he always kept such a keen attentiveness, concentrated and unyielding in himself. Now he had let go, imperceptibly he was melting into oneness with the whole. It was like pure, perfect sleep, his first great sleep of life. He had been so insistent, so guarded, all his life. But here was sleep, and peace, and perfect lapsing out.

“Shall I row to the landing-stage?” asked Gudrun wistfully.

“Anywhere,” he answered. “Let it drift.” (178)

This “perfect lapsing out” is the closest Gerald will ever come to a nonpurposive erotic “drift,” the kind to which Barthes would later lend the prestige of his name and the facility of his style. As Gerald abandons the “keen attentiveness” and “guarded” concentrat[ion] whose joint duty it is to patrol the borders of a masculinity otherwise susceptible to flux and lapse, he begins to merge, “for the first time in his life, into the things about him.”

But as if in anticipation of such dissolution at the margins of his being, Gerald has already assumed a managerial obligation, the impossibility of whose execution should at least have forestalled such a lapse in character; just before the boats are launched he tells Gudrun and Ursula: “Don’t, for my sake, have an accident—because I’m responsible for the water” (163). The mortifying rigor imposed by such a responsibility freezes Gerald’s attempt at “letting go.” To his lovely and woozy “Let it drift,” the novel responds with a direct countermand, a loud shout, a call for immediate action: “Then as if the night had smashed, suddenly there was a great shout, a confusion of shouting warring on the water, then the horrid noise of paddles reversed and churned violently” (178). The foreshadowed accident is now fully under way. Gerald soon realizes that his sister Diana has fallen, fatally it turns out, into Willey Water, across whose darkened surface a prophetic alarm sounds in the form of a truncated name: “Di—Di—Di—Di—Oh Di—Oh Di—Oh Di!” (179). Instantly, as in a reflex, Gerald reverts to the vigorous agency, the purposive athleticism, that is his only mode of being and being masculine, and for the abandonment of which he is now being punished. (“Wasn’t this bound to happen?” Gudrun says, “with heavy, hateful irony” [179; italics original].) Thus compelled to act, to discharge his responsibility for (and in) the water, Gerald dives repeatedly into the reservoir to save his sister, only to discover the futility of his best effort. His agency—all agency—is annulled: “There’s room under that water for thousands…a whole universe under there; and as cold as hell, you’re as helpless as if your head was cut off” (184).

“As if.” This watery decapitation will be propelled from the conditional to the indicative some three hundred pages later, when Gudrun lets fall her “great downward stroke, over the face and on to the breast of Gerald” (471), and specifically in a frozen environment where “that water” has indeed become “cold as hell.” But not before Gerald comes to realize, in his own balked and intermittent way, that he wants this release, that this surcease has been all along the occluded objective of his stopless success: “There’s something final about this. And Gudrun seems like the end, to me.…It blasts your soul’s eye…and leaves you sightless. Yet you want to be sightless, you want to be blasted, you don’t want it any tears you like a silk, and every stroke and bit cuts hot—ha, that perfection, when you blast yourself, you blast yourself!—And then…you’re shrivelled as if struck by electricity’ ” (439–40; italics original). Decapitation, blinding, blasting, cutting, shrivelling: the law of castration here parades its metonyms “with a queer histrionic movement” (440), a movement disclosing, as when one inverts a glove to examine its lining, the Todestriebe, or drive to cease, that impels Gerald’s “infinitely repeated motion” (228). Gerald’s self-recognition, flickering as it is, thus effectively condenses (1) a compulsive (not to mention compulsory) heterosexuality; (2) a heated gynephobia bordering on the idolatrous; (3) the “feminine” masochism secreted beneath the rippling cuts of a hypertrophic masculinity, the business of whose overbusy agency is to render that agent “sightless” and befuddled in his relation to (4) the death drive that is for all purposes indistinguishable from a desire for castration, a desire not simply to find the stop of death, but also to be released by death (no other remedy being likely or practicable) from the impossible responsibility of bearing the phallus aloft. Hence when Gudrun’s blow finally descends after many pages of tête-à-tête between herself and Loerke, it comes not so much as the ultimate in heterosexual declensions, the definitive Salomean cut that brings Gerald’s closeted passivity to its alpine consummation; it arrives as well as an action Gerald must emulate as he enters the last phase of a terminal process whose “satisfaction” will require his full participation. (Every mother’s son knows: you must “blast yourself, blast yourself” to find that last “hot” stroke of “perfection.”) Of course Gerald’s immediate response to being struck is romantic reciprocation—that is, to strike back. Converting pain into power, passivity into action, he takes “the throat of Gudrun between his hands, that were hard and indomitably powerful.…And this he crushed, this he could crush.…The pure zest of satisfaction filled his soul” (471). But this reflex is little more than the last pulsation of Gerald’s murderous sexual agency, and he botches his own consummation (“I didn’t want it, really” [472]), although the attempted strangulation offers Gudrun rush enough to bring her off with impressive alacrity: “struggling was her reciprocal lustful passion in this embrace, the more violent it became, the greater the frenzy of delight, till the zenith was reached, the crisis, the struggle was overborne, her movement become softer, appeased” (472). At precisely this moment, in the interstitial pause between Gudrun’s having finished and Gudrun’s being finished off, Loerke intervenes masterfully with a rhetorical coup (“Monsieur! Quand vous aurez fini—”; 472) whose inhuman composure disarms Gerald’s violence and induces him to release Gudrun before her little death graduates to a big one. And so Gerald lets go: “A revulsion of contempt and disgust came over Gerald’s soul. The disgust went to the very bottom of him, a nausea.…A weakness ran over his body, a terrible relaxing, a thaw, a decay of strength. Without knowing, he had let go his grip, and Gudrun had fallen to her knees” (472).

Gerald now turns and walks away, “sheering off unconsciously from any further contact” (472). Once again, this time for the last time, he drifts: “A fearful weakness possessed him, his joints were turned to water. He drifted, as on a wind, veered, and went drifting away” (472). A no doubt formidable muscular effort is yet required to take Gerald “higher, always higher” toward the mountain summit and “the hollow basin of snow” where his activity will find its cool caesura; but these are little more than the incipiently posthumous reflexes of an automaton, the movements no longer of the imposing “industrial magnate” who had dominated “thousands of blackened” miners “all moving subject to his will” (222), but rather those of a man-machine awaiting, in the only modality left to it, the absolute depletion of an energy it does not know how to refuse (473, 474). Thus Gerald moves toward his death “unconscious and weak, not thinking of anything, so long as he could keep in action” (472). And “keep in action” he mechanically does, despite “a wind that almost overpower[s] him with a sleep-heavy iciness,” until he is driven at last to hallucination: “Somebody was going to murder him. He had a great dread of being murdered. But it was a dread which stood outside him, like his own ghost…. He could feel the blow descending, he knew he was murdered. Vaguely wandering forward, his hands lifted as if to feel what would happen. . .” (473). The imaginary blow whose descent Gerald gently reaches up to receive partakes of the same trajectory as the many “downward stroke[s],” whether brachial or pelvic, that the novel has busied itself in suggesting; most obviously, it repeats as fantasy the “fatal” stroke of Gudrun’s most recent delivery. As fantasmatic emulation, then, Gerald’s dream blow simultaneously introjects Gudrun’s violence as a violence he must visit upon himself and projects that violence outward in a repudiation of individual agency, since it is the nobody of an externalized “somebody” (say, given the shortage of plausible candidates, “his own ghost”) who is about to blast Gerald into eternity. With this disembodied gesture, Gudrun and Gerald finally join hands in a loving liaison whose immediate result is the absolute elision of Gerald’s being. “Death by perfect cold” indeed, but whether by murder or suicide it is no longer possible to tell.

I have denied it all along, but now it is time to come clean: Women in Love ends not with a bang, but a whimper. Birkin’s whimper, Lawrence’s, my own: “I didn’t want it to be like this.…He should have loved me” (479–80). One sees immediately that this formulation conveniently projects the failure of love upon the lost object of desire, now banished by death, thereby exculpating the speaking subject who, after all, had abandoned his friend at the height of the latter’s erotic crisis with his demon lover. (Had Birkin stayed with Gerald in the Alps, would the “great downward stroke” ever have fallen?) The formal title Lawrence gives to this whimper is “Exeunt,” the brief concluding chapter in which Birkin and Ursula return to the Alps to retrieve what love has left of Gerald—“the frozen corpse of a dead male” (477). Immediately putting this corpse to use, “Exeunt” performs, against the novel’s impending closure, what by now should be the familiar labor of extension and deferral: it inscribes mourning as the afterlife of the interminable homosexual longing that outlives whatever “finish” (more bitterly: whatever dead end) may be offered by a heterosexuality whose promises of satisfaction, however hard the sell or obsessive the pursuit, nonetheless always leave something to be desired. For if Gudrun, Loerke, and Gerald (“A pretty little sample of the eternal triangle” is Gudrun’s curt dismissal [477]) have effectively eliminated Gerald as either sexual agent or viable sexual object, they have hardly diminished his capacity to generate desire; instead they have provided the formal centerpiece—in effect, the ice sculpture—for the dialogic tableaux that conclude the novel by rehearsing its (now postmortem) fantasy of “eternal conjunction between two men.” Thus, for instance, it is entirely appropriate that Birkin’s self-exculpating lament should be addressed to (a none too pleased) Ursula across the mute expanse coldly occupied by “the frozen dead body that had been Gerald,” as if to suggest that only the interposed “carcase of a dead male” could adequately incarnate not just the erotic distance separating husband and wife, but also the very condition or prerequisite for the terminal heterosexuality that inherits Women in Love’s decimated erotic field: the prerequisite that the homosexual desire to which the novel resolutely refuses any gay chance whatsoever must be assimilated instead as melancholic equivocation (477). And, of course, it is exactly this equivocation that informs the novel’s famous last words—the domestic dispute, I mean, in which Birkin and Ursula openly contest the sufficiency of heterosexual connection and the correlative necessity of “another kind of love”:

Gudrun went to Dresden. She wrote no particulars of herself. Ursula stayed at the Mill with Birkin for a week or two. They were both very quiet.

“Did you need Gerald?” she asked one evening.

“Yes,” he said.

“Aren’t I enough for you?” she asked.

“No,” he said. “You are enough for me, as far as woman is concerned. You are all women to me. But I wanted a man friend, as eternal as you and I are eternal.”

“Why aren’t I enough?” she said. “You are enough for me. I don’t want anybody else but you. Why isn’t it the same with you?”

“Having you, I can live all my life without anybody else, any other sheer intimacy. But to make it complete, really happy, I wanted eternal union with a man too: another kind of love,” he said.

“I don’t believe it,” she said. “It’s an obstinacy, a theory, a perversity.”

“Well—” he said.

“You can’t have two kinds of love. Why should you!”

“It seems as if I can’t,” he said. “Yet I wanted it.”

“You can’t have it, because it’s false, impossible,” she said.

“I don’t believe that,” he answered. (481)

As “closure” this fails miserably, if by that swaybacked term we mean to indicate the substantial resolution—or at least the polite suspension, for the purpose of saying goodbye—of the conflicts that have generated the narrative’s interest and power. Not only is there no resolution here, Lawrence makes no plausible attempt to produce it; with its last words Women in Love straightforwardly abjures the closural consolations traditionally afforded by heterosexual marriage, at least to characters in fiction. Hence even a passing analysis of this scene must minimally acknowledge the perdurance, beyond closure, of: (1) Birkin’s intransigent sense of heterosexual insufficiency, of a gap or aporia that cross-gender sexuality can neither bridge nor fill (“But to be complete, really happy, I wanted…”); (2) a correlative drive for homosexual fulfillment, here figured as a supplementarity whose specific modalities are still (some five hundred pages later) obscurely situated somewhere between an idealized “eternal union” and an eroticized “sheer intimacy”; (3) an opposed and equally intransigent refusal of this same desire, a position embodied here by an offended Ursula, who peremptorily dismisses her husband’s longing as “an obstinacy, a theory, a perversity,” the last term suggesting, as the editors of the Cambridge edition bashfully acknowledge, Ursula’s familiarity with certain “technical” (e.g., sexological, psychoanalytic) material; and thus (4) an insuperable dissension whose narrative function is not to reconcile or sublate items 1 through 3 but to sustain, now in an elegiac register, the conflict of which they have been all along the constituent elements.

Women in Love thus expires upon the posthumous instantiation of a disgruntled heterosexuality whose terminal oscillations (“You can’t have it”/“I don’t believe that”) dialogically rehearse the catastrophic homosexual loss that both founds this heterosexuality and confounds its powers of satisfaction and completion. Once upon a time I thought this a brave and admirable ending, characteristically Lawrentian in its transgression of narrative convention, both to the degree that it belies the tirelessly rehearsed pieties of marital finality and to the degree that it insists upon the vital intransigence of an only momentarily defeated homosexual desire. I am no longer so confident or so easy, and not least because I think I can now see what I needed not to see before: that Lawrence’s novel works, with a sometimes psychotic intensity, to produce this loss, this corpse, this murder as its narrative telos, the single definitive event toward which this whole creation moves; that the mechanism of this production is a gender inversion whose fatal work is to transpose Birkin’s homosexual longing for Gerald onto a “demonic” heterosexuality that likewise finds its most compelling object in a dumb blonde just dying to be blasted; and that my first, enthralled submission to this big bang bespoke not merely the purblind and mobile nature of a particular reader’s identifications but also his own appalling openness to what Lawrence in “The Crown” calls the “desire to deal death and to take death” (DP, 476). Caught in the surge and flux of multiple identifications, I did not merely (like Birkin) want Gerald’s superlative maleness, all thrust and drive—I also wanted (like Gudrun) to kill him for the extraordinary imposition his desirability entailed. My homosexual desire (which of course I did not see at all) was thus fundamentally linked to a murderous impulsion, itself no doubt the subjective correlative of a deeply insinuated homophobia to which I was equally blind. (Remember here Lawrence’s dream insect: “I scotched it—and it ran off—but I came upon it again and killed it.”) And out of the ferocious conjugation of these desires, one homosexual and one homicidal, a third torsion unfolded itself, as if some iron law of necessity would compel me to complete, in and as my own “blasted” being, another “pretty little sample of the eternal triangle.” Not content (or even able) simply to desire Gerald, I also identified with him, and most especially with his extravagant Todestriebe, his urgent impulsion toward extinction. In the fantasia of my reading and rereading, Gerald’s bewildered death sentence had become my own: “You want to be sightless, you want to be blasted, you don’t want it any different.” Whatever “I” I may have had when I entered the text was now thoroughly dispersed among conflicting desires. Hence, once pinned to the wall by the novel’s last pages, I could assume all subject-positions and enact the entire drama “myself”: I did not merely receive Gudrun’s “great downward stroke” of annihilation—I delivered it too, no doubt with a homicidal relish indistinguishable from suicidal relief. And once done with the killing and the dying, with Gerald cold and Gudrun gone, I could invoke my reader’s exemption and (like Birkin) exit the text intact, saved (more accurately, made safe) by the freshness of a grief that occluded, even as it inherited, my guilt: “I didn’t want it to be like this…He should have loved me.”

This unhappy story (the novel’s and my own) both explicates and repeats the chilling cathexis between homosexual desire and death that has compelled so much attention in the present study. I must insist in closing that this is a cathexis grounded nowhere in “nature” (itself, after all, one of the more tendentious categories of culture) but everywhere in a complex historical figuration whose brutal production schedule continues to supply a fresh yield of corpses, day after day, with no end in sight. The dead have been many too many, but apparently not enough to satisfy a culture grown too facile both in its consumption of corpses and in its criminal prosecution of a post-mortem pedagogy. Not the least of the daily lessons still being inscribed upon bodies, both living and dead, is the disciplinary constitution of a desiring male subject whose heterosexual security demands the continual performance of his “fundamental equivocation”: first the solicitation of this subject’s homosexual desire, then his repudiation of its possibilities in the real. I take Birkin at novel’s end as a figure of this regime—if not its most docile subject, then nonetheless one of its representative men: one of many who have been instructed to exorcise their homosexual desire through the murderous exercise of an interminable grief itself virtually indistinguishable from erotic longing. “I didn’t want it to be like this.…He should have loved me.” I admit in the end that I still find these simple, plangent lines extremely moving. But I also know that this very plangency confirms that the desire these sentences recall now speaks only to the dead—speaks, that is, in memoriam. And I know, too, that the subject speaking them must hereafter wake each day to a fresh mourning, bereft of his friend but not exactly alone: haunted, rather, by the ghost of a murder he cannot shake.


1. D. H. Lawrence, Women in Love (1920; Cambridge, 1987). All further citations to Women in Love are to the Cambridge edition and appear parenthetically in the body of the chapter.

2. Miller, The Novel and the Police, 193.

3. Mark Schorer, “Women in Love” in The World We Imagine: Selected Essays (New York, 1968), 121. Anyone familiar with Schorer’s writing on Lawrence will recognize my indebtedness to his notion that Lawrence’s novel represents a “psychic drama” in which “the two possible allegiances” wrestle for the fate of character.

4. A compelling meditation on the somatic implications of reading can be found in Miller’s “Cage aux folles,” especially pages 146–56 in The Novel and the Police.

5. The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, ed. James T. Boulton, 7 vols. projected (Cambridge, 1980), 1:544. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text as Letters.

6. D. H. Lawrence, “The Crown” in Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays, ed. Michael Herbert (Cambridge, 1988), 263, 476; hereafter this text will be cited parenthetically as DP. Written originally in 1915 and then substantially revised in 1925, “The Crown” is one of those intractable “philosophicalish” tracts that Lawrence generated in the turbulent wake of his fiction writing, part diatribe and part paean: in any event, indisputable evidence (should any more be necessary) of an overwrought erotic imagination. I have uniformly cited the 1915 version, since it bears immediately upon Women in Love; the excellent textual apparatus in the Cambridge edition of DP makes it easy to follow the changes between versions.

7. John Middleton Murry, Son of Woman: The Story of D. H. Lawrence (New York, 1931), 116; hereafter cited parenthetically in the text as SW. I will be quoting as well from Murry’s 1921 Nation and Athenaeum review of Women in Love, reprinted in Reminiscences of D. H. Lawrence (London, 1933), hereafter cited parenthetically in the text as R.

8. This “highly motivated vacillation” has a fascinating biographical correlative, well known among those conversant with the competing mythologies surrounding Lawrence and his writing. That correlative is appropriately double-edged, marked, if you will, by a “fundamental equivocation” not unlike the one against which Murry rails: Murry himself was one of the two “real-life” prototypes for Gerald Crich, a transparent fact that Murry chose not to recognize (consciously at least) at the time of his 1921 review of Women in Love. Putting himself under erasure as erotic object, Murry enabled himself to “forget” the implications of the fact that it was he to whom Lawrence proposed the presumably irrevocable bond of blood brotherhood. As if to say: Not I Brother.

9. G. Wilson Knight, “Lawrence, Joyce, and Powys,” Essays in Criticism 11, no. 4 (1961): 403–17. An understated but monumental piece of Lawrence criticism.

10. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Statesman’s Manual; quoted in English Romantic Writers, ed. David Perkins (New York, 1967), 503.

11. D. H. Lawrence, The Symbolic Meaning, ed. Armin Arnold (Fontwell, 1962), 18–19; italics original. This text collects early versions of the much-revised critical essays that Lawrence published in 1923 as Studies in Classic American Literature.

12. Anyone wishing to resist the sheer arbitrariness of Lawrence’s obscene subconscious pun should consider the following passage from another Lawrence letter, this one written to S. S. Koteliansky (or “Kot”) on 20 April 1915, the day after he wrote the letter to David Garnett quoted above: “We have had another influx of visitors: David Garnett and Francis Birrell turned up the other day—Saturday. I like David, but Birrell I have come to detest. These horrible little frowtsy people, men lovers of men, they give me such a sense of corruption, almost putrescence, that I dream of beetles. It is abominable” (Letters, 2:323).

13. The political fate of homosexual desire and misogyny in Lawrence’s fiction has been studied with impressive finesse by Cornelia Nixon, Lawrence’s Leadership Politics and the Turn Against Women (Berkeley, 1986). Although I have learned from Nixon’s work, I remain uncomfortable with her complacent deployment of the Oedipal model.

14. It turns out, a little surprisingly, that the fungibility of blood and semen has a literally ancient heritage; see Thomas Laqueur, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (Cambridge, Mass., 1990), especially pages 35–51. In an impressively researched argument, Laqueur demonstrates that, until the late eighteenth century (more or less), Western medical and popular thinking on sex and gender presupposed a single-sex model of the human body: a model, that is, in which sexual dimorphism was subordinated to the idea of a single, variable anatomy in which “men and women were arrayed according to their degree of metaphysical perfection, their vital heat, along an axis whose telos was male” (5). Within this androcentric “one-sex body,” as Laqueur calls it, “blood, semen, milk, and other fluids” participate in a “physiology of fungible fluids and corporeal flux.…A Hippocratic account makes these physiological observations more vivid by specifying the anatomical pathways of interconversion; sperm, a foam much like the froth of the sea, was refined out of the blood; it passed to the brain; from the brain it made its way back through the spinal marrow, the kidneys, the testicles, and into the penis” (35).

15. Laqueur’s “physiology of fungible fluids and corporeal flux” displays itself strikingly in Lawrence’s phantasmagorical anecdote about the typewriter, Freida, and the sea: we move from ink to blood to sea to semen. Laqueur’s research more than sufficiently demonstrates that this sequence is anything but idiosyncratic; it is, rather, culturally received and transmitted, that is, conventional. The following passage from Roland Barthes, Michelet, trans. Richard Howard (Berkeley, 1987) suggests the wide extension of this image repertoire: “the superlative form of blood is finally the sea. The sea, which is the primordial genetic element, constitutes the archetype of blood and milk.…It produces both milk and blood by a kind of progressive organization, of tumescence analogous to all the phenomena of spontaneous generation (in which Michelet firmly believed)” (128; italics original).

16. Leo Bersani, A Future for Astyanax: Character and Desire in Literature (Boston, 1969), 164–65; cited hereafter parenthetically in the body of the chapter as A.

17. The Oxford English Dictionary’s entry for allotropy reads in part: “The variation of physical properties without change of substance to which certain elementary bodies are liable, first noticed by Berzelius in the case of charcoal and the diamond.”

18. Obvious question: what versions of it? Most probably (though not necessarily solely) those of Edward Carpenter, the Midlands radical whose writings on nonconforming sexualities were being published in Manchester and circulated in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, and beyond as early as 1894; in that year, for instance, The Labour Press Society, Manchester, issued two Carpenter pamphlets on sexuality: Sex Love, and its Place in a Free Society; and, “for private circulation,” Homogenic Love, and its Place in a Free Society (German translation in 1895). Emile Delavenay has plausibly suggested that Carpenter’s writing became available to Lawrence through the private library of Eastwood feminist Alice Dax, the young Lawrence’s sometime lover and prototype of Sons and Lovers’ Clara Dawes, whom we know to have owned many Carpenter texts; Delavenay reports that Jessie Chambers, Lawrentian soul mate and prototype of Miriam in Sons and Lovers, “was sure that Lawrence had read all the books on Mrs. Dax’s shelves, being a frequent visitor to her house at Eastwood.” Emile Delavenay, D. H. Lawrence and Edward Carpenter: A Study in Edwardian Transition (London, 1971), 21; italics original. Like Delavenay, I am persuaded by “internal” textual evidence that Carpenter’s Love’s Coming of Age: A Series of Papers on the Relations of the Sexes was of decisive importance to Lawrence’s original, but also highly appropriative literary imagination. Published originally by the Labour Press Society in 1896, this text was variously enlarged, republished, and reprinted in England between 1906 and 1948. The pivotal enlargement occurred with the addition in 1906 of the chapter entitled “The Intermediate Sex,” in which Carpenter again advanced a positive valuation of homosexual desire (which he preferred to term homogenic, thereby binding a Greek prefix to a Greek suffix); in this chapter Carpenter engages various theories of homosexuality, including the inversion model (which he adopts and modifies), and cites Ulrich’s Latin formula, anima muliebris virili corpore inclusa. Delavenay reports that “Alice Dax lent Jessie Chambers Carpenter’s book Love’s Coming of Age, possibly in its 1906 enlarged edition” and that this loan is likely to “have taken place around 1909–1910” (22).

19. Jonathan Dollimore, Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault (Oxford, 1991), 275.

20. The relationship between rabbits and frenetic sexuality is of course proverbial; on the connection between rabbits and homosexual desire in Lawrence’s fiction, see the prologue in appendix 2 in the Cambridge edition of Women in Love: “There would come into a restaurant a strange Cornish type of man, with dark eyes like holes in his head or like the eyes of a rat, and with dark, fine rather stiff hair, and full, heavy, softly-strong limbs. Then again Birkin would feel the desire spring up in him, the desire to know this man, to have him, as it were to eat him, to take the very substance of him. And watching the strange, rather furtive, rabbit-like way in which the strong, softly-built man ate, Birkin would feel the rousedness burning in his own breast, as if this were what he wanted, as if the satisfaction of his desire lay in the body of the young, strong man opposite” (505).

21. D. A. Miller, “Anal Rope,” Representations 32 (Fall 1990): 118.

No Private Parts

Preferred Citation: Craft, Christopher. Another Kind of Love: Male Homosexual Desire in English Discourse, 1850-1920. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1994 1994.