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Lawrencian Echoes in Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents

Brigitte Macadré-Nguyên
p. 27-44

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1Trying to find Freudian echoes in Lawrence may appear somewhat contrived insofar as Freud published his book after D.H. Lawrence’s death. However, as Freud often quotes from writers, Twain, Goethe, Shakespeare, Rousseau and Rolland, he may also have been inspired by other literary sources which he did not explicitly quote from. These unacknowledged sources could include the writings of Lawrence.

2It is furthermore obvious that discontents with civilization were quite common among artists and writers after the WW1 trauma and that this led many of them to question the validity of art as a remedy for this disease, unless new forms of art were to be found to express the inhuman violence and destruction of this new form of war, without which only silence or absence of representation could prevail.

3In this context, we will try to find some traces of Lawrencian thoughts and ideas in Freud’s essay on civilization. These traces could be organized under three headings: 1. Discontents, symptoms and other diseases arising from the post-WW1 crisis in civilization; 2. Remedies within and without civilization; 3. An unrelenting tension between the two drives/the two flows.

Discontents, symptoms and other diseases arising from the post-WW1 crisis in civilization

4Both Lawrence and Freud who came after him, at least chronologically, expressed their discontents with civilization, even if Freud was less forceful than Lawrence in expressing them. Both question the very foundations of civilization, which had not managed to achieve what it had been created to do, to prevent men from having their “throats slashed,” or as Gerald puts it in Women in Love, “everybody cutting everybody else’s throat in five minutes” (WL 33). All the discontents, symptoms and diseases linked with the crisis in Western civilization could be attributed to the notion of loss and loss compensation that cannot be attained, and which then results either in an extraverted frustration and anger or an introverted sense of guilt and aggression. And at the root of civilization there was located the conflict between love and civilization itself, along with the restraints exercised by civilization on individual freedom and sexuality, which could only contribute to general unhappiness, to be compensated for by way of work and progress. If the very foundations are threatened, as in the post-WW1 trauma which brought the realization that work and progress led to mechanized death and total abstraction, then what could there be left?

5In Civilization and its Discontents, Freud starts—and I believe that it is necessary for us to go back to the beginnings of Freud’s argument if we are to grasp the latter—by expounding on the restriction of sexual life and the extension of cultural life: taboo, law and customs restrict sexual life and “demand a uniform sexual life” through their prohibition of incest or the banning of homosexual relations, by condemning “perversions” and by “disapproving of sexuality as a source of pleasure in its own right” (CD 40). Transgression occurs because such extreme limitations cannot be endured. However it is also a consequence of a predicament where “the sexual life of civilized man has been seriously damaged” and “its importance as a source of happiness has perceptibly diminished”—as if “something inherent in the function itself denies us total satisfaction and forces us to other paths” (CD 41). These restrictions quite logicallyentail “frustrations of sexual life […] those whom we call neurotics cannot endure” (CD 45).

6Rather than venting those frustrations, civilized man learns to control them, so that“the aggression is introjected, internalized, […] sent back to where it came from; in other words, it is directed against the individual’s own ego,” arousing a “sense of guilt” (CD 60–61) as if for having done something evil. This is why Freudfocuses on the sense of guilt and its importance in our discontents with civilization: “the sense of guilt as the most important problem in the development of civilization,” “cultural progress” being linked to “loss of happiness” and “a heightened sense of guilt” (CD 71)—whether conscious or unconscious, which influences our behaviour.

7Lawrence agrees on the fact that civilization is the source of human unhappiness. This is indeed the underlying connection which Birkin establishes—doing so in a somewhat surprising manner, if we fail to follow his train of thought—through his answer to Gerald’s remark on civilization being the only way to counterattack mutual aggression and murder and that “most other people would like to cut (our throats) for us: no wonder you are afraid of yourself and your own unhappiness.” His suggestion explicitly links civilization, fear and unhappiness.

8Although it is not possible to comment at length upon Women in Love as the literary creation of the types of reactive discontents that are described above in Freud’s essay, it seems obvious that the book is filled with neurotics frustrated by all the restrictions or difficulties imposed upon them by the diktats of civilization. However the text is also filled with metaphorical intimations that civilization is the curse of humanity, its necessary destruction or demise. From the first to the last chapter, the novel abounds with such presentiments. I shall however give but a few here: there is Cain’s mark which is on Gerald Crich, the most civilized and accomplished of all the characters, the one who will be symbolically murdered—“And Gerald was Cain, if anybody” (WL 26); Hermione is Cassandra predicting the fall of Troy, “Hermione strange like a long Cassandra,” always a prey to “a sickness, a fearful nausea” (WL 90–91); London is a new Sodom and Londoners are Apples of Sodom (WL 126), “Well, if mankind is destroyed, if our race is destroyed like Sodom, and there is this beautiful evening with the luminous land and trees, I am satisfied” (WL 59); there is Gudrun’s revelation that Gerald is promiscuous, which comes to her “as if she had seen some new Mene! Mene! upon the wall” (WL 412), a writing on a wall, omen of the destruction of the city, which appears before the King of Babylon. And last but not least, there are Birkin’s final words after Gerald’s death, “I didn’t want it to be like that” which makes Ursula think of the Kaiser’s: “Ich habe es nicht gewollt” (WL 479), the death of an individual here mirroring the death of our civilization through WW1.

9The discontents and failures of civilization, the frustrations and strivings imposed by cultural life, entail a loss of life and a loss of freedom and sensuality, a loss of direction and purpose, which Birkin analyses so well in what could be considered as Lawrence’s own fictional treaty on civilization and its discontents. The following passage from Women in Love, taken from “An Island”—the island being both the ideal “retreat” from the civilized world, its function akin to that of a hut for Connie and Mellors or a ranch for Lou—is typically Lawrencian, with its text and undertext, what is said and what is meant, and in the way that facts, words and ideas are threaded together in effortless dialogue. Birkin’s illness and the fact that he is, more generally, an emblem of sickness, and the consequent shame, fear and humiliation which this generates in him, and the repulsion which it arouses in Ursula are all symptoms of the disease described by Freud:

“You have been ill; haven’t you?” she asked, rather repulsed. “Yes,” he replied coldly. They had sat down under the willow tree, and were looking at the pond, from their retreat on the island. “Has it made you frightened?” she asked. “What of?” he asked, turning his eyes to look at her. Something in him, inhuman and unmitigated, disturbed her, and shook her out of her ordinary self. “It is frightening to be very ill, isn’t it?” she said. “It isn’t pleasant,” he said. “Whether one is really afraid of death, or not, I have never decided. In one mood, not a bit, in another, very much.” “But doesn’t it make you feel ashamed? I think it makes one so ashamed, to be ill—illness is so terribly humiliating, don’t you think?” He considered for some minutes. “May-be,” he said. “Though one knows all the time one’s life isn’t really right, at the source. That’s the humiliation. I don’t see that the illness counts so much, after that. One is ill because one doesn’t live properly—can’t. It’s the failure to live that makes one ill, and humiliates one.” “But do you fail to live?” she asked, almost jeering. “Why yes—I don’t make much of a success of my days. One seems always to be bumping one’s nose against the blank wall ahead.” Ursula laughed. She was frightened, and when she was frightened she always laughed and pretended to be jaunty.
(WL 125)

10Birkin opposes the “failure to live,” the source of his illness, and the goal of “living properly.” His “mal de vivre” is due to his “mal vivre.” Civilized life is therefore the source and reason of the malaise, while living properly would involve liberating oneself from all the taboos, restrictions and other forms of censorship imposed on humanity.

11Elsewhere Lawrence opposes the extent or range of our consciousness and its shallowness, as if civilized man had had to find other channels to express his damaged vitality which are so many forms of denial of his true, deep vital self. “Culture and civilization are tested by vital consciousness. Are we more vitally conscious than an Egyptian 3000 years B.C. was? Are we? Probably we are less. Our conscious range is wide, but shallow as a sheet of paper. We have no depth to our consciousness (Apocalypse 46–47) and as a result man has “den[ied] his connections, [broken] them, become a fragment” and “[is] wretched” (Apocalypse 48).

Remedies within and without civilization

12Something has been lost at the origin which should be regained. Man is sick and diseased. He should be healed and made whole again. Remedies should be found, and both Freud and Lawrence were aware that civilization in itself contained the very germs of disease and hence that it had, almost simultaneously, to find remedies or antidotes to the poison. In which case the remedies are to be sought both within and without civilization, whether reasonable remedies, ones taking into account the inescapable reality of civilization, or utopian remedies founded on the refusal or denial of this reality, a mild example of which is Birkin’s island, or at least the “quest of (his) Blessed Isles” as Gudrun mockingly says (WL 438).

Remedies within civilization

13For Freud, and to some extent for Lawrence too, the first remedy against the ills of civilization that appeared in its wake is religion: “The religions, at least, have never ignored the part that a sense of guilt plays in civilization. Moreover, […] they claim to redeem humanity from this sense of guilt, which they call sin. From the way in which this redemption is achieved in Christianity—through the sacrificial death of one man, who thereby takes upon himself the guilt shared by all—we drew our inference as to what may have been the original occasion for our acquiring this primordial guilt, which also marked the beginning of civilization” (CD 72). Freud thus clearly links Christianity, guilt and the beginning of civilization, the worm was in the apple from the beginning…

14But the case with religion is a difficult one, as it is both a remedy and a curse, especially the Christian religion, characterized by the centrality of its use of the sense of guilt. The hostility to civilization thus came “with the victory of Christianity over paganism” and the “devaluation of earthly life that came about through Christian teaching.” This hostility was intensified through the “voyages of discovery” that “brought us into contact with primitive peoples and tribes,” and “inadequate observation” of their manners and customs and the absence of neurosis due to “the degree of privation that society imposes” on civilized man” (CD 25). Here, it would be appropriate to discuss Lawrence’s novella “The man who died,” which focuses on the realization that life is a resolute force not to be extinguished, with “a ringing, ringing, defiant challenge” not to be ignored, this “everlasting resoluteness of life.” We can at least allude here to the wish to revert to paganism as a possible solution, as expressed in Apocalypse, where Lawrence again links forcefully the two aspects of the problem that were addressed by Freud: “The Christian fear of the pagan outlook has damaged the whole consciousness of man” (CD 41), even if “the Bible is so splendidly full of paganisms” (CD 39).

15The second remedy is the recourse to art and imagination: “If happiness, which is the programme of the pleasure principle,” is difficult to experience, “unhappiness is much less difficult to experience” and with it, suffering. Art and imagination can alleviate our suffering, and that is exactly what artists try to do when they create, experiencing the “joy” of creation and keeping suffering at bay. And that is what lovers of art can also do when enjoying works of art, even though “the mild narcosis that art induces in us can free us only temporarily from the hardships of life” (CD 18). Lawrence had much to say about art and imagination but also about the failure of art to render life truly and deeply, the only successful form of art being, according to him, Etruscan art.

16The third remedy developed by Freud is love with its sublimation of sexual love: he clearly differentiates sexual/genital love, which can expose the self to suffering through loss of the object, from a more general kind of love, or aim-inhibited love, that is directed towards mankind and the world. This Messiah-drive is at the heart of Lawrence’s later novels, when sexual love has proved inadequate to heal the wounds of humanity even if Lady Chatterley’s Lover reverses the trend.

17The fourth remedy given by Freud is also interesting in Lawrencian terms. It involves the scientific “subjugation of the forces of nature,” an enterprise that creates both pride and distrust (CD 26) along with the sense of an artificial man, equipped with protections such as tools, dwellings, engines, machines against the violence of natural forces, so that “man has become, so to speak, a god with artificial limbs,” “with auxiliary organs” (CD 29).

  • 1Dans Verdun ravagé, il découvre ‘des sujets tout à fait inattendus et bien faits pour réjouir (so (...)

18Here there come to mind the Crich industrial magnates, both the first and second generations: Thomas Crich, dying of the impossibility to reconcile his Christian teachings and his subjugation of the forces of nature through industrialism, who “loved his neighbour better than himself—which is going one further than the commandment” (WL 215) (a commandment that Freud also commented upon at length, regarding it as a major frustration of civilized man [CD 46–47]; and Gerald Crich, “the God of the machine” with his “perfect instruments in perfect organisation, a mechanism so subtle and harmonious in its workings that it represents the single mind of man […]” and his “marvellous adjustment of myriad instruments, human, animal, metallic, kinetic, dynamic, a marvellous casting of myriad tiny wholes in to one great perfect entirety” [WL 227–228]). This is a type of perfection which has involved the loss of his human dimension through his becoming a machine himself: “His eyes were blue and keen as ever, and as firm in their sockets. Yet he was not sure they were not blue false bubbles that would burst in a moment and leave clear annihilation.” (WL 232). And there is also Clifford Chatterley (who has become “a creature with a hard, efficient shell of an exterior and a pulpy interior, one of the amazing crabs and lobsters of the modern industrial and financial world, invertebrates of the crustacean order, with shells of steel, like machines, and bodies of soft pulp, Connie herself was completely stranded.” [LCL 114]). Both these characters are machine-men, futuristic men, in this reminiscent of Fernand Léger’s robot man, devoid of flesh and blood, an aggregate of metal cones and tubes, the only possible pictorial representation of humanity in the aftermath of WW1: “Léger figure des hommes-robots déshumanisés, serviteurs de machines qui les écrasent.1

19Lawrence argues that industrial work and progress have displaced the human characteristic of a soul into the machine “The Evil World-Soul”:

Do not think that a machine is without a soul.
Every wheel on its hub has a soul, evil,
it is part of the evil world-soul, spinning.

And every man who has become a detached and self-activated ego
is evil, evil, part of the evil world-soul
which wishes to blaspheme the world into greyness,
into evil neutrality, into mechanism.
(Complete Poems 712–713)

Remedies without civilization

20If remedies within civilization fail, and they do fail, according to Lawrence, then other remedies should be considered. Indeed, the remedies within civilization in fact reveal other dis-eases, they bear within them the very seed of the discontents of man with civilization, so that the temptation is great to think that only a reversal, a utopian return to pre-civilization conditions could save humanity from itself, that religion is a lie, work and progress yet more lies, and that sexual love has been turned into a more general kind of love that in no sense constitutes a threat to the fabric of our civilized world. Here Freud seems to start out from the the same intention to revert to a primitive world as Lawrence. He is however wary as to the possibility of such a posture. He does admit that “we should be far happier if we were to abandon it and revert to primitive conditions” (CD 24–25) and that “civilization imposes [such] great sacrifices not only on man’s sexuality, but also on his aggressivity, [that] we are in a better position to understand why it is so hard for him to feel happy in it” (CD 51). Further on, he ventures the hypothesis that “some civilizations or cultural epochs—possibly the whole of humanity—have become ‘neurotic’ under the influence of cultural strivings?” (CD 80). However he then adds “I have no wish whatever to offer an evaluation of human civilization.” (CD 81). Lawrence is more fearless since he advocates a utopian return to primitivism and paganism on a collective level, as well as to freedom and cosmic love on an individual one, and it is here that the Freudian and the Lawrencian echoes become dissonant. Freud clearly states his point of view on primitive peoples: “more careful study has shown that we have no reason whatever to envy them their instinctual life by reason of the freedom attaching to it; it is subject to restrictions of a different kind, which are perhaps even more severe than those imposed on civilized man” (CD 51). Thus in reality there is no ground whatsoever for a romantic and fallacious Rousseauist view of primitive happiness.

  • 2 “After reading The Future of an Illusion” (1927c), in a letter dated December 5, 1927, Romain Roll (...)

21Another disagreement between Freud and Lawrence hinges on their appraisal of Romain Rolland’s “oceanic feeling.”2 Whereas Freud admits that the “oceanic feeling,” this sense of “being at one with the universe” (CD 10), of “being indissolubly bound up with and belonging to the whole of the world outside oneself” (CD 4) is a condition which can be reached “at the height of erotic passion” when “the borderline between ego and object is in danger of becoming blurred”—as with Connie and her experience of love—or again, in morbid cases, when the “parts of a person’s body, indeed parts of his mental life—perceptions, thoughts, feelings—seem alien, divorced from the ego” (CD 5), as is the case with Hermione in the lapis lazuli ball episode, he nevertheless confesses that “[he] can discover no trace of this ‘oceanic’ feeling within [himself].” As to Lawrence, he refers to “the Oceanic Godliness of the End” or “the Oceanic God” and to “the deity which Jesus knew, the vast Ocean God which is at the end of all our consciousness” or he also states that “the proper study of mankind is man in relation to this Oceanic God,” (“The proper study,” Phoenix 722–723), from which it may be deduced that the divine may be found within man himself and, even more so, within the sexual relation, which is also a reversal or a return to the primitive sexual drive, with no sense of guilt and no anxiety but only communion with nature, the God Pan and the cosmos. Only then can man become alive again, as Mellors suggests in his letter to Connie:

They ought to learn to be naked and handsome, and to sing in a mass and dance the old group dances, and carve the stools they sit on, and embroider their own emblems. […] They should be alive and frisky, and acknowledge the great god Pan. He’s the only god for the masses, forever. The few can go for higher cults if they like. But let the mass be forever pagan. But the colliers aren’t pagan, far from it. They’re a sad lot, a deadened lot of men: dead to their women, dead to life.
(LCL 314–315)

22or again in Apocalypse

What we want is to destroy our false, inorganic connections, especially those related to money, and to re-establish the living organic connections, with the cosmos, the sun and earth, with mankind and nation and family. Start with the sun, and the rest will slowly, slowly happen.
(Apocalypse 126)

And if this does not work, why not do away with mankind altogether, since civilization is a lie, humanity is a rotten lie, since love turns into destructive hate, as with Birkin’s ultimate vision of a world empty of people?—“But I abhor humanity, I wish it was swept away. It could go, and there would be no absolute loss, if every human being perished tomorrow. The reality would be untouched. Nay, it would be better. […] don't you find it a beautiful clean thought, a world empty of people, just uninterrupted grass, and a hare sitting up?”
(WL 127)

23or elsewhere:

Brute force crushes many plants. Yet the plants rise again. The Pyramids will not last a moment compared with the daisy. And before Buddha or Jesus spoke the nightingale sang, and long after the words of Jesus and Buddha are gone into oblivion the nightingale still will sing. Because it is neither preaching nor commanding nor urging. It is just singing. And in the beginning was not a Word, but a chirrup.
(Etruscan Places 126)

24A world empty of people then? Is that the vision which the WW1 trauma has bequeathed to artists and men alike?—“Cette guerre-là, c’est l’orchestration parfaite de tous les moyens de tuer, anciens et modernes. C’est intelligent jusqu’au bout des ongles. C’en est même emmerdant, il n’y a plus d’imprévu. […] C’est linéaire et sec comme un problème de géométrie. […] C’est l’abstraction pure, plus pure que la Peinture cubiste ‘soi-même’.” (Fernand Léger, quoted in “La couleur des larmes”): “parfaite,” “linéaire,” “sec,” in the sense of “perfect,” “perfected” till nothing remains but a blank page, an abstraction. Everything has failed in civilization, and since civilization is intimately linked with humanity, humanity must be swept away or destroyed. This is also the conclusion which Freud reaches at the end of his essay, despite his misgivings at passing a judgment on human civilization: “The fateful question for the human race seems to be whether, and to what extent, the development of its civilization will manage to overcome the disturbance of communal life caused by the human drive for aggression and self-destruction. […] Human beings […] will have no difficulty in exterminating one another, down to the last man. They know this, and it is this knowledge that accounts for much of their present disquiet, unhappiness and anxiety” (CD 81–82).

An unrelenting tension between the two drives/the two rivers

25But just as Ursula can only laugh at such “phantasy,” such “pleasant fancy” of a creation finally rid of this “dirty humanity” (WL 128), we know too well the “hideous actuality” of humanity which is a “disease on the clean earth,” “a mass of unclean world that we have superimposed on the clean world” (Letter to Lady Cynthia Asquith, 3 August 1915) and which cannot be cured. We are then left in an impossible situation, an irreconcilable tension, an unsolvable conflict between love and civilization, between the ego-drive and the death-drive, between the bright river of creation and the dark river of dissolution. It is this impossible situation which is at the root of humanity’s unhappiness and anxiety.

26Both Freud and Lawrence before him knew about this. Freud expressed this tension, this essential conflict, in those terms: “On the one hand, love comes into conflict with the interests of civilization; on the other, civilization threatens love with substantial restrictions” (CD 39). Or again, in what are very Lawrencian terms: “Just as the planet still circles round its sun, yet at the same time rotates on its own axis, so the individual partakes in the development of humanity while making his own way through life. […] In the same way, the two strivings—for individual happiness and for human fellowship—have to contend with each other in every individual […]” (CD 77).

27Conflict, threat, contradictory strivings which are forever contending with each other, this indeed is the impossible dilemma of humanity, which can result in outbursts of violence, in anger, hatred or self-destruction. However there is, in Freud’s words, a civilized humanity “the unending struggle between Eros and the destructive drive, the death drive,” the eternal “conflict of ambivalence” (CD 68). He adds: “And now it is to be expected that the other of the two “heavenly powers,” immortal Eros, will try to assert himself in the struggle with his equally immortal adversary. But who can foresee the outcome?” (CD 81–82) (last sentence added in 1931).

28Before Freud then, Lawrence had formed his own opinion about this conflicting oscillation between the two drives, the inward and the outward-directed, the centrifugal and the centripetal, or again the sadistic and the masochistic, an opinion which resonates through all his writings and that found clear expression in Women in Love again, with Birkin’s often-quoted words:

“It seethes and seethes, a river of darkness,” he said, “putting forth lilies and snakes, and the ignis fatuus, and rolling all the time onward. That's what we never take into count—that it rolls onwards.”
“What does?”
“The other river, the black river. We always consider the silver river of life, rolling on and quickening all the world to a brightness, on and on to heaven, flowing into a bright eternal sea, a heaven of angels thronging.—But the other is our real reality.”
“But what other? I don't see any other,” said Ursula.
“It is your reality, nevertheless,” he said; “that dark river of dissolution. You see it rolls in us just as the other rolls—the black river of corruption. […]”
“Dissolution rolls on, just as production does,” he said. “It is a progressive process—and it ends in universal nothing—the end of the world, if you like. But why isn't the end of the world as good as the beginning?”
(WL 172-173)

29Such words can only arouse anger and hatred in Ursula, this lovely “rose of happiness.” They also reveal or confirm that in Lawrence’s vision of the world, love, cruelty and anguish of death often coexist, as it was already the case in his early poetry.


30The “Prologue” to Women in Love clearly demonstrates the essential polarity, the oscillation between the unrealistic wish for the destruction of civilization and the realistic awareness that this is impossible to achieve, this is just a “release of the imagination” that can allow escape into an inner world. The same ambiguity is present at the end of Freud’s Civilization, with its last sentence, so Lawrencian in its undecided tone, which was added in 1931 as an afterthought—“But who can foresee the outcome?”

31In the “Prologue” to Women in Love, the end of civilization, the absence of religion, the incapacity to love and the consequent diseases are all forcefully intertwined. And with this there is the impossibility of any reconciliation or harmony within the individual. Civilization is seen as a mere “mechanical activity” that is “spasmodic” and “purposeless,” creating in man “nausea and horror” (Prologue,PII 99). Already in the Prologue, Birkin is the embodiment of the sick, diseased man, “helpless” and “ill” in his very soul, whose diseased state is merely a reflection of a diseased civilization which does not rest on religion anymore: “no God to serve,” “ no altar to kindle”, “no sacrifice to burn” (PII 96). Love cannot be a way out, since Birkin is torn between spiritual love for women and physical love for men, which reveals a personality on the verge of dissolution, “on the point of breaking” under the “bondage” and the “vibration between two poles” (PII 102).

32In fact, Birkin experiences in his flesh and soul the beginning of the end, what he calls “the autumn of civilization,” “a process of decay and decomposition”: “the autumn must take place in every individual soul, as well as in all the people, all must die, individually and socially.” The essential question, which so tortures Birkin in the “Prologue,” was also to torture Freud at the end of his Civilization. It echoes in Freud’s last sentence, added as an afterthought, even if Birkin put things differently: “How to get away from this process of reduction, how escape this phosphorescent passage into the tomb, which was universal though unacknowledged” (PII 98). How can one live when one is aware that “the transcendent star of one evening was the putrescent phosphorescence of the next?” (PII 96)

33There is “little doubt that civilization was breaking down rapidly” (to quote Joyce Carol Oates in a very enlightening essay, “Lawrence’s Götterdämmerung”):

Our own era is one in which prophetic eschatological art has as great a significance as it did in 1916; Lawrence’s despairing conviction that civilization was in the latter days is one shared by a number of our most serious writers, even if there is little belief in the Apocalypse in its classical sense.

34How not to share this conviction that humanity is doomed, in the aftermath of Hiroshima and the Holocaust and as other horrors are unfolding, scarring our civilized minds and souls forever?

35Lawrence asked Freud’s question before he did. And he ventured an answer to it, while Freud remained undecided to the end. That is why Birkin and Ursula try to survive in an “unmythic, unidyllic landscape, their fates closely bound up with that of their civilization” (Oates). And this is all they may really do: survive, just as Connie and Mellors survive in a metaphorical if not real hut of their own. And because Lawrence never lost faith, even when all his hopes were crushed, we may follow his lead and end on his hopeful note. Indeed even if he did not “believe in evolution,” but rather, to borrow Birkin’s words again, “progressive devolution” (WL 204), he also believed “in the strangeness and rainbow-change of ever-renewed creative civilization” (Foreword to Fantasia and the Unconscious, 1922). And if he knew that “the herculean task of cleansing the Augean stable” of civilization was “beyond the power of a solitary individual,” he never lost faith in the hope of doing so.

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Works cited

Primary Sources

Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and its Discontents [CD]. London: Penguin, [1930] 2002.

Lawrence, D.H. Lady Chatterley’s Lover [LCL]. London: Penguin, [1928] 1978.

Lawrence, D.H. Mornings in Mexico, Etruscan Places. London: Penguin, [1932] 1981.

Lawrence, D.H. Phoenix II, Uncollected, Unpublished and Other Prose Works [PII]. London: Heinemann, 1968.

Lawrence, D.H. Women in Love [WL]. London: Penguin, [1920] 1995.

Secondary Sources

Oates, Joyce Carol. “Lawrence’s ‘Götterdämmerung’: The Apocalyptic Vision of Women in Love,” The Critical Inquiry, Vol. 4, No 3 (Spring 1978): 559-578. Accessed November 13, 2014,

Oates, Joyce Carol. Avant-propos à l’exposition au Mémorial de Caen, “La guerre 14-18. La couleur des larmes,” 1998. Accessed November 13, 2014,

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1Dans Verdun ravagé, il découvre ‘des sujets tout à fait inattendus et bien faits pour réjouir (son) âme de cubiste’ (7). Dessins et aquarelles tirent parti de ces accointances. Léger figure des hommes-robots déshumanisés, serviteurs de machines qui les écrasent. Il relève les formes éboulées des ruines et les lignes brisées d’un avion abattu.” (Avant-propos, “La guerre 14–18. La couleur des larmes.” Accessed November 13, 2014,

2 “After reading The Future of an Illusion” (1927c), in a letter dated December 5, 1927, Romain Rolland wrote to Freud: “By religious feeling, what I mean—altogether independently of any dogma, any Credo, any organization of the Church, any Holy Scripture, any hope for personal salvation, etc.—the simple and direct fact of a feeling of ‘the eternal’ (which may very well not be eternal, but simply without perceptible limits, and as if oceanic). This feeling is in truth subjective in nature. It is a contact.” (Henri Vermorel and Madeleine Vermorel, “Oceanic Feeling,” in International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, 1993, 304; 2005., accessed September 25, 2014,

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Brigitte Macadré-Nguyên, « Lawrencian Echoes in Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents », Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 45 | 2014, mis en ligne le 28 février 2015, consulté le 29 mai 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/lawrence.222

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Brigitte Macadré-Nguyên

Brigitte Macadré-Nguyên is a Lecturer at Reims University of Technology where she teaches Business English. Her PhD dissertation focused on D.H. Lawrence as artist and art critic. She has written several papers on Lawrence, all published in Etudes Lawrenciennes.

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Licence Creative Commons
Études lawrenciennes est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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