Navigation – Plan du site

Limbs at War: Amputation, Mutilation and Paralysis – Wilfred Owen, Blaise Cendrars and D.H. Lawrence.

Elise Brault-Dreux

Texte intégral

1“We are among the ruins” (LCL 5), the narrator of Lady Chatterley’s Lover asserts at the beginning of the novel. If this postwar outlook obviously refers to the economic, political, social and moral situation of Europe, the ruins were also significantly individual: shell-shock (as Rebecca West depicts in The Return of the Soldier), disfigurement (notably represented in Henry Tonks’s paintings) and, what will be analyzed here, dismemberment, were particularly striking and new. The new war machinery as well as the terrible hygiene conditions in the trenches where bacteria were proliferating, led to countless amputations and lifelong disabilities. “41,000 men had one or more limbs amputated” among the British troops, “of these, 69% lost one leg, 28% lost one arm, and nearly 3% lost both legs or arms” (Bourke 33). Joanna Bourke further insists that “the potent man was rendered impotent” (Bourke 37) and Sandra Gilbert explains that many of the young men who were mobilized were then immobilized (Gilbert and Gubar 265). Is it because, as he wrote in September 1914 to Gordon Campbell, Lawrence could not bear the idea of soldiers returning as such “crippled beings,” “the thought of them mak[ing] [him] sick” (Letters 2 217), that years later he took a form of literary revenge on Clifford, as he pictured a maimed impotent bourgeois returned from the battlefield in “bits” (LCL 5)?

2Returning from the war, mutilated and maimed soldiers went through a period of rehabilitation which evolved synchronically with post-war reconstruction. What remained of their bodies needed to be reconstructed – and for Clifford, for instance, “the bits seemed to grow together again” (LCL 5). As Ana Carden-Coyne rightly points out, in the postwar period, the war crisis was constantly made visible in the former soldiers’ body. She writes: “the violated body was pervasive after the war […]. The images were not only potent memory triggers but became the dominant mode of remembering” (Carden-Coyne 108). The male body therefore became a significant locus of the crisis. It was then gradually “fixed” with prostheses or fixated into new types of mechanized wheelchairs.

3Wilfred Owen’s poem “Disabled” (written in 1917), Blaise Cendrars’s The Cut Hand and D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover all put forth dismembered or hybridized bodies. The purpose of this article is to show how, in each of these three texts, the former soldier’s body is readable as a meaningful sign. Ex-soldiers’ bodies will be successively apprehended as polysemic symbolic representations of trauma and /or heroism, as being partly metaphorical by nature (the prosthesis is a substitute for the missing limb) and, finally, as functioning synecdochically (fixed in his wheelchair, man is only a part of a new hybridized whole).

Owen’s “Disabled”: Symbol of Loss.

4In his poem, Owen depicts a young disabled soldier who served in a Scottish regiment. He is sitting in a wheelchair and remembers his former healthy athletic body. The suffix in “disabled” draws our attention to the definite end of the process. This morphological addition, which ironically means loss, is repeated with the adjective “legless” line 3. What is here added morphologically indicates physical subtraction. According to the O.E.D., in the seventeenth century the term “prosthesis” meant “the addition of a letter or syllable at the beginning of a word.” In Owen’s poem, the prosthesis then is only linguistic (yet placed at the end of the words) and not physical. No artificial extension has ever been fixed to replace the protagonist’s lost limbs.

He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow (ll.1-3)

5The preterit “he sat,” where “he was sitting” was more likely to be expected, suggests a single occurrence: he sat once and for good. The grey suit was cut to fit the new cut body, and the sewing bars any fancy hope of seeing his legs grow again.

6Owen then insists on the young man’s loss of masculinity:

Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls’ waists are, or how warm their subtle hands;
All of them touch him like some queer disease. (ll.11-13)

7He can no longer use his sense of touch on young women while others, probably curious, keep using theirs on him (the more material verb “touch” is now used instead of the previous “feel”). “Some” and “queer” in the simile (“like some queer disease”) suggest strangeness and place him at a further remote from what is commonly apprehended as normality. And his fragmentation deprives him of even the women’s gaze on him: “Tonight he noticed how the women’s eyes / Passed from him to the strong men that were whole” (ll.43-4). His last ejaculation was on the battlefield when blood (and not sperm) spurted down “shell-holes” (and not into a woman):

He’s lost his colour very far from here,
Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry,
And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race
And leap of purple spurted from his thigh. (ll.17-20)

8Sexual pleasures have hence been completely annihilated by the war which caused what Sandra Gilbert calls the “apocalypse of masculinism” (Gilbert and Gubar 262). Just like Clifford, and quite ironically, Owen’s soldier now depends on others (most likely female nurses) to “put him into bed” (l.46):

How cold and late it is! Why don’t they come
And put him into bed? Why don’t they come? (ll.45-6)

9His complete dependence arouses his annoyed impatience, as suggested in the successive exclamations and repetition. He will put no woman into his bed and will make no woman “come.”

10Yet, though suggested in arts and literature, this apprehension of a post-war loss of masculinity was nonetheless antagonistic to what was simultaneously sought by patriotic propaganda. While Owen’s young man returns from the trenches as less than a man, in newspapers the maimed soldier was more often than not glorified as being more of a man (Biernoff 9-10). That is where disabled ex-soldier’s private bodies can be seen as symbols of national victory or, as Deborah Cohen writes, as “living symbols of the war” (Cohen 131). Some civilians perceived the mutilated limb as a gain of masculinity, a proof of bravery or even a sort of medal. Bourke talks about “the sentimentalization of the war wounded” (Bourke 56) and Biernoff insists on “the sentimentalized and often idealized representation of amputees […] in the wartime press” (Biernoff). This heroic representation of fortitude, coupled with a feigned denial of pain, granted a symbolic meaning to the male body whose missing limb was in abstentia readable as a proof of the soldier’s sacrifice for his nation. This idea is painfully subverted in Owen’s poem in which the sacrifice is pictured as perfectly aimless. The poetic voice refers to “the old times, before he threw away his knees” (l.10): his legs have been wasted away, in no way objects of patriotic sacrifice, but reduced to common rubbish. Such subversive poetic treatment of the contemporary idea of the “heroic grandiosity” (Fussell 175) of war is also perceptible in Owen’s ironical representation of the young soldier’s initial naïve idealization of war:

He thought of jewelled hilts
For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes;
And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
Esprit de corps; and hints for young recruits. (ll.32-5)

11The young Hamlettian hero, who pictures himself handling a “dagger,” will too soon be caught in the unbearably harsh reality of war. And the “esprit de corps,” whose inherent patriotic nature is belittled by the ironical use of the foreign language, will somehow disintegrate and be weakened by countless fatalities. Literally, the “esprit de corps” will collapse as Owen’s soldier returns maimed and not “whole” (l.44).

12Symbol of the war then, the ex-soldier’s fragmented body was, in fact, what remained of the war, what was left after the battles. And these remains partly constitute the vestiges of the war. So the glorification of the soldier’s mutilated body could be read as the awkward erection of a sort of war memorial. The dismembered body, fixed in a wheelchair or partly erected again with prostheses, painfully commemorates the past battles. But in Owen’s poem, if the soldier’s body remembers, it never glorifies the war. It cannot even be fixed: “his back will never brace” (l.16). The war monument has collapsed, ironically because of the war, as though the soldier’s body could not sustain the harsh task of memorializing. It can merely remember.

Blaise Cendrars’ The Cut Hand: A Stammering Metaphorical Process.

13Blaise Cendrars, in his autobiographical testimony of his experience with the Foreign Legion during the Great War, relates the soldiers’ daily life in the trenches. If what stands out in his book is the importance of masculine friendship, the notion of amputation is worth considering as it is paradoxically both fundamentally central and at the same time marginalized. The title of the book, The Cut Hand, draws attention to that absent hand which is then present in the reader’s mind from the very beginning of the experience of reading. Yet, the reference to the accident sounds almost marginal in Cendrars’ text: “Un mois plus tard, fin septembre, Ségouâna était tué lors de l’attaque de la ferme de Navarin où, moi-même, je perdis mon bras” (Cendrars 63) – “a month later, end of September, Segouana was killed during the attack on Navarin farm where I myself lost my arm.” The reader learns, eight pages later (Cendrars 71) that the lost hand is the right one, the hand of the writer. And Cendrars much later almost accidently refers to his “terrible mutilation” (Cendrars 357) but makes no further comment. Finally, one learns that he had a medical treatment after his amputation (Cendrars 406), and that is it. So this thick book, whose title emphasizes amputation, marginalizes the act and its consequences, and references to it are surprisingly scarce. However, the sense of loss keeps looming over the memoirs. Towards the end, Cendrars wonders where his cut hand might now be:

Je me souviens que les officiers anglais qui nous accompagnaient tout le long de cette route tragique qui longe d’Arras à Verdun les principaux cimetières de l’autre guerre, dont, […], celui où doit être enterrée ma main droite, si jamais ma main droite a été ensevelie et non pas jetée aux ordures dans un charnier avec d’autres restes ou dépouilles… (Cendras 420)

“I remember the British officers who came with us along this tragic road which, from Arras to Verdun, runs along the other war’s main cemeteries, among which […] the one where my right hand must be buried, if ever my right hand has ever been buried and not been thrown away with the wastes in a mass grave with other remains…”

14His hand is depicted as an independent entity whose fate, nonetheless, preoccupies him. And just as Owen’s protagonist “threw away his knees,” Cendrars pictures his hand among rubbish and wastes.

15This serious preoccupation with his physically and somewhat textually missing hand blatantly returns at the end of the book when Cendrars poetically depicts a cut hand that he sees in the middle of a field. The “cut hand” of the title then acquires a new dimension as the reader realizes that it is at once the poet’s, that which is in the field, and a more allegorical image of war amputation. The sign of “the cut hand” then widens its initial individual traumatic reference, and Cendrars, in so deviating the reader’s attention from the writer’s own hand, more or less substitutes, in the text, another lost hand for his own. But this literary prosthesis is awkward, as the act of substitution is somehow stammering: physical loss is textually made up for by another loss. Loss is replaced by a “lost” hand.

16His depiction of the anonymous cut hand is itself highly metaphorical and thus doubles the substituting process aforementioned. The lost hand is poetically introduced as a “red lily” rooted in the soil:

…planté dans l’herbe comme une grande fleur épanouie, un lys rouge, un bras humain, tout ruisselant de sang, un bras droit sectionné au-dessus du coude et dont la main encore vivante fouissait le sol des doigts comme pour y prendre racine et dont la tige sanglante se balançait doucement avant de tenir son équilibre. (Cendrars 409)

(“rooted in the grass like an open tall flower, a red lily, a human arm, streaming with blood, a right arm cut right above the elbow and whose still living hand was digging into the ground as though it were seeking roots, and whose bleeding stem was swaying slowly before it found its balance”)

17This metaphorical displacement once again rests on a principle of substitution. The flower then acts as a poetic prosthesis, as it gradually comes to replace, in the reader’s mind, the fading human life, and reroots it in the soil of the battlefields, almost like a post-war memorial.

18This double substitution – that related to the “cut hand” of the title and the metaphorical one – is a poetic version of the replacement of the amputated limb by an artificial one.

  • 1 D.H. Lawrence applied at “the Nottingham firm of surgical garments manufacturers, J.H. Haywood, of (...)

19The war originated substantial changes in the limb industry in Europe, and the outlook on the human body was then significantly refashioned. The image of the artificial leg was fundamentally renewed. One remembers the pre-war scene in Sons and Lovers when Paul Morel – just like D.H. Lawrence himself during his own youth (Worthen 94)1 – works for a Manufacturer of Surgical Appliances:

Paul looked at the picture of a wooden leg, adorned with elastic stockings and other appliances, that figured on Mr. Jordan’s notepaper, and he felt alarmed. (Sons and Lovers 91)

20An alarming monstrous-like leg is outlined through the young man’s focalization. Once there, Paul thinks: “It seemed monstrous also that a business could be run on wooden legs” (Sons and Lovers 92). The seriousness of Paul’s unease is slightly undermined by the polysemy of “run” which evokes a grotesque image of a business literally running on wooden legs. A little later, Paul is again distressed by the view of Mr Pappleworth’s picking up a “flesh-pink ‘leg’” (Sons and Lovers 106): while an idea of real physicality is conveyed in the word “flesh,” it is immediately debunked by what sounds like an excessive use of the adjective “pink” and by the inverted commas which highlight the artificiality of the object. The “flesh-pink ‘leg’” then appears as nothing but a simulacrum of a real leg. What disturbs Paul in fact is the liminal nature of this non-human object with a human appearance.

  • 2 Mary Guyatt insists that people felt that such a process might erode individuality “in the interest (...)

21The artificial limb’s intermediary (or liminal) nature, at once mechanical and fixated on a living body, raised predictable questions about the potential subjectivity – or de-subjectivity – of the prosthesis. Since the needs for artificial legs increased, the manufacturing process clearly intensified. And being limbless “in the age of mechanical reproduction” (to use W. Benjamin’s phrase) meant partaking in a modern manufacturing experience. In 1921, the English saw the emergence of the government-sponsored Standard Wooden Leg, “a device to be manufactured by all contracted limb-makers from a prescribed pattern” (Guyatt 312). The manufacturing process quickly evolved into mass-production that followed Taylorist principles.2 The notion of interchangeability was then present in all minds. The desubjectivized (and de-subjectivizing) object could be exchanged for another one, equivalent but different. This is what Doris Lessing suggests in the second part of her auto-fictional novel Alfred & Emily (published years after the war), when she describes the artificial leg her father got after his return from the First World War: “The contraption that enabled him to do all this [running or climbing a tree] was called by him ‘my wooden leg,’ and it lived, in duplicate, leaning against a wall in the parental bedroom” (Lessing 152). Or later she refers to the “long wooden case [that] held his wooden legs” (Lessing 164). He therefore owned several duplicates of the same pattern. This principle of substitution or duplication somehow recalls that operated on the paradigmatic axis. As long as the object is a simulacrum or a metaphor of the real leg, and as long as it fits the corporeal syntagmatic axis imposed by biology, the object can be replaced by an equivalent item – just as Cendrars substituted the “red lily” for the cut hand, when another vehicle could have been a possible poetic prosthesis, like another flower for instance. The subjective instability that may derive from the possibility of interchanging artificial limbs (and which recalls the flexibility of language itself) was inclined to alert people who feared they would become a collage or an assembly of mechanical devices. And the Taylorist rhetoric truly generated ill-grounded confusion. For indeed, though the making of artificial limbs was standardized, each limb was of course adapted to each specific stump (Guyatt 315).

22If some people, most importantly surgeons and physicians, liked to advertise the progress of such techniques, its grotesque sides were nonetheless often represented.

  • 3 The grotesque aspect of Otto Dix’s “War Cripples” (1920) is still another artistic expression of th (...)

23In The Cut Hand, Cendrars refers to post-war chance encounters with former soldiers he had befriended in the trenches. He thus meets “Chaude-pisse” in Paris, a soldier whom he thought had been killed during a battle. Cendrars bluntly remarks: “Il me manquait un bras. Il lui manquait une jambe” (Cendrars 132) – “I had one arm missing, he had one leg missing.” If the parallel structure conveys a sense of resignation, it is immediately supplanted by Chaude-Pisse’s good-humored reference to his “American leg” which he wears like a precious good on Sundays only, but which he was nonetheless ready to barter against some good meal with Cendrars that same night (Cendrars 133). Cendrars then relates another encounter with a former “poilu” named Opphopf who lives on a flatboat on the Seine. The grotesque effect of the passage relies on Opphopf being a prisoner on the boat, annoyed because he is unable to join Cendrars for a glass of wine, since his mistress took his wooden leg and his crutches with her in order to prevent him from leaving the spot. Another such light treatment is when Cendrars, in 1946, is offered an honorific medal. He declares, “Mon bras n’a toujours pas repoussé. Je ne puis refuser cette rosette puisque j’y ai droit comme ‘Grand mutilé 100%’ ” (Cendrars 398) – “my arm still hasn’t grown. I can’t refuse this rosette since I’m entitled to it as a war disabled person.” Verging on the grotesque, this remark once again creates a cynical detachment which considers the missing arm as mere material value, whose worth is no more than that of a trivial “rosette.” These scenes draw the reader’s attention to the impossible serious replacement of flesh by wood, metal or award. This replacing principle is a dead metaphor which, when it is brought back to life, clearly reveals the huge and incongruous discrepancy between tenor and vehicle. The three mutilated soldiers comically remind us that the artificial substitution can be laughed at.3 It is merely material and can be exchanged for a meal or a “rosette,” and is helpful only to let one have some good wine with a former buddy.

24Cendrars turns to another type of apparently light naïve treatment of war mutilation in his long poem “La Guerre au Luxembourg,” in which he depicts children who, in the Jardin du Luxembourg, are playing at being on the battlefield.

… on relève les morts
Tout le monde veut en être
Ou tout au moins blessé ROUGE
Coupe coupe
Coupe le bras coupe la tête BLANC
On donne tout
Croix-Rouge BLEU
Les infirmières ont 6 ans
Leur cœur est plein d’émotion
On enlève les yeux aux poupées pour réparer les aveugles
J’y vois ! j’y vois ! (ll.33-40)

25The children’s gestures and language mimic the actions carried out in the trenches, and the litany “cut cut / cut the arm cut the head” evokes the relentless action of limb amputation. The lost eyes are imaginatively replaced by dolls’ eyes which children tear from their toys to use as prostheses. The coalescence of naïve words and images with their traumatic references admittedly creates a sense of unease but also, and more powerfully, deflates the seriousness of post-war fixation of mutilated bodies and turns it into a childish and futile naïve game.

26D.H. Lawrence, in Lady Chatterley, chose not to replace Clifford’s limbs but to have his whole body coexist with the machine. There is therefore no principle of substitution, but a coextensive relation between the present dead limb and the wheelchair.

Clifford, “Prisoner” of his Wheelchair: a Synecdochic Paralysis.

27With a paraplegic, Lawrence chose what Deborah Cohen defines in The War Come Home as one of those who “inspired the most sorrow.” She writes: "Amputees might be rehabilitated […]. But paralyzed men were helpless, dependent on others for the most intimate care. (Cohen 132)

28Clifford entirely depends on others: “It was cruel for Clifford, while the world bloomed, to have to be helped from chair to bath-chair” (LCL 179). And, unlike Owen’s soldier, whose legs and arms have been cut, and are hence potentially replaceable by prostheses, Clifford’s inert legs remain. They are the traumatic vestiges of the war and make physical death visible. If Lawrence, in his treatment of the wheelchair in chapter XIII which will be analyzed further down, condemns the new connection between human body and machine, in the same period other people were truly fascinated by the new partly mechanic body. In it they saw a futuristic version of the human frame. In 1915 in “Technical Manifesto of Futurist Literature” Marinetti wrote that “art is the need to destroy and scatter oneself”4 and, starting from this principle, the violence of war and machinery was a source of energy. The mutilated soldier with an articulated limb or in a motorized wheelchair therefore appeared as the embodiment of the new “motorized hero” (Carden-Coyne 191). But the ex-soldier’s hybridization with a mechanical leg or machine was in fact the consequence of his previous subordination to the machine on the battlefield. This, Lawrence denounced in “With the Guns” where he insists that during the war “men [were] no more than the subjective material of the machine.”5 Likewise, for Georges Duhamel in Vie des Martyrs, the function of the body was reduced to that of activating the machine (Duhamel 222). This coextensive relation between body and machine, horrifying for some and appealing to others, relies on a principle of “fragmentation and augmentation” (Armstrong 3) which, according to Tim Armstrong, is fundamentally Modernist. The modern technical intervention on the human body makes it more efficient. The “augmentation” of the body by the prosthesis or the wheelchair was therefore seen by some as an empowering “extension” (Foster 109) on the otherwise banal and too commonly human body. This idea is briefly broached by Freud in Civilization and Its Discontent when he explains that “man has become, so to speak, a God with artificial limbs.” Man’s new tools are “auxiliary organs” (Freud 36).

29The narrative treatment of Clifford bars him from the experience of “augmentation.” His most obvious post-human characteristic rather corresponds to a form of progressive regression: with a prosthesis man can at least pretend that he still is a homo erectus, but the wheelchair deprives him of his fundamental nature of a “man standing on his legs.” Though not caught in an atavistic regression which would lead him to the pre-human condition of the quadruped, Clifford reversely degrades into a post-human condition where man cannot move without being hybridized. Clifford has lost his symmetry or, in a more Lawrencian term his “equilibrium,” which should keep him erected. The failing function of Clifford’s inert legs is tentatively replaced by the motorized wheels: "He could wheel himself and had a bath-chair with a small motor attachment, so he could drive himself slowly around the garden [...]" (LCL 5). The verbs “wheel himself” and “drive himself” establish a new connection between machine and man: the mechanism is verbal (“wheel” and “drive”) – the motor of the sentence – while man is passive. Such passivity is however ironically subverted at the beginning of the crucial passage in chapter XIII when Clifford and Connie go out in the meadow. Through a subtle blend of external and internal focalization, Lawrence depicts Clifford controlling his chair as a captain would command the wheel of his ship:

[…] the chair began to advance slowly, joltingly down the beautiful broad riding washed over with blue encroaching hyacinths. Oh last of all ships, through the hyacinthine shallows! Oh pinnacle on the last wild waters, sailing in the last voyage of our civilization! Whither, oh weird wheeled ship, your slow course steering – !! Quiet and complacent, Clifford sat at the wheel of adventure: in his old black hat and tweed jacket, motionless and cautious. Oh captain, my Captain, our splendid trip is done! Not yet though! Downhill, in the wake, came Constance in her grey dress, watching the chair jolt downward. (LCL 185)

30But the running metaphor of the end of life (“our splendid trip is done”) and Clifford’s stiff appearance in his hat and jacket nonetheless bring him back to his paralyzed condition. This short dream scene, actually more Romantic than Futuristic, is the prelude to a moment of crisis.

  • 6 He likewise scares a pigeon with his horn.

31At the beginning of the episode Clifford ostentatiously asserts his domination with the machine and meanwhile subjects it to his masculine power. The man who, we are told “even seemed to have a certain conceit of himself in his lameness” (LCL 179), manages to express his sense of superiority physically as he “stopped the chair at the top of the rise and looked down” (LCL 184). He uses his mechanical “auxiliary organ” to assert the masculinity he has lost. To call Connie who has just realized that Mellors was around, he uses his horn, a substitute for his own failing sex: “They [Connie and Mellors] heard the Papp! Papp! of Clifford’s horn, tooting for Connie” (LCL 184). In a slight futuristic fashion, he asserts his power over nature by repeatedly crushing the flowers with his machine. Such savage destruction underlines that Clifford is totally unadapted to nature.6 He asserts his superiority still further when he recurrently refers to the wheelchair as a “she.” If such feminization was expected, because it was preceded by the ship metaphor, its insisting recurrence catches the reader’s eye: Clifford refers to it as “the old girl” (LCL 186) or contemptuously remarks “we’ll let her breathe” (LCL 186). Yet, Clifford, like Owen’s protagonist, in spite of such pretence, is still dependent on female helpers (especially Mrs. Bolton).

  • 7 Michel Serres insists on the human body’s incredible resilience (“ses incroyables capacités” (Serre (...)
  • 8 Or later, when Mellors is here and the chair starts again:

32So, though the motorized Clifford positions himself as more of a man, the narrative voice soon dismantles his feelings of empowerment. There is a confusion between the sick man and the sick machine. Because of the rugged grounds, the wheelchair, unable to adapt as easily as human legs do,7 starts to “pug […] slowly, in a struggling, unwilling fashion” then “she balked, struggled, jerked” (LCL 186). Its uneven progression is coupled with its sickness: “It struggled and faltered like a sick thing” (LCL 186). The humanized machine is immediately dehumanized and turned into a mere subhuman “thing.” Such personification is later reiterated when “she coughed and snarled” (LCL 188), “the chair charged in a sick lurch sideways at the ditch” and it “seemed to strangle immediately” (LCL 189). The noises now produced by the machine are those of an agonizing being, or worse, of insects: “he made his engine buzz like a blue-bottle” (LCL 188). The machine then is de-graded to a poor dependent condition, blatantly recalling Clifford’s own dependence on others. This is revealed to Clifford when Connie first suggests that the chair be “pushed.” Clifford reacts angrily: “ ‘Don’t push,’ he said angrily. ‘What’s the good of the damned thing, if it has to be pushed!’” (LCL 187).8

  • 9L’homme appareillé est un otage de la machine” (Le Breton 261).
  • 10 For if, as Mary Guyatt reminds us, “artificial limbs are inseparable from the loss of amputation” ( (...)

33While Clifford found in the machine a form of power to tacitly supplant his own failing potency, the state of confusion which blends two forms of dependence and sickness now drives him crazy. Like Clifford himself, the machine is in “bits.” The hybridized being formed by the connection between the lame man and the machine is in the end entirely paralyzed. Clifford is therefore synecdochically associated with his machine, as he is merely a paralyzed part of the paralyzed whole. His inertness has contaminated the mechanism: “She stood inert. Clifford, seated a prisoner, was white with vexation […]. But she would not budge. No, she would not budge” (LCL 189). Clifford then is doubly held hostage – of his inert body and prisoner of the inert machine.9 Michel Serres argues that one is not aware of one’s body until one experiences a moment of crisis: health is blind and the crisis makes the body visible (Serres 36-7). This episode is precisely a revealing moment of crisis. In Clifford’s mind, his chair was a great ship whose multiple mechanical functions obliterated his paralyzed condition: his inert legs, though visible, were forgotten in the metaphorical process. But the empowering metaphor fails. And when the machine starts being deficient, it no longer liberates Clifford’s mobility and mind but now incorporates his whole being in its mechanical inertness. Clifford voices his sudden awareness in the midst of this crisis: “It’s obvious I’m at everybody’s mercy” (LCL 189). It is obvious that his paralyzed legs are the visible remains of the war, and the machine constantly draws attention to their inertness. Though he eventually asks Mellors “do you mind pushing her home” (LCL 189, italics mine), endeavoring to distinguish himself from his feminine chair, Mellors’ eventually heaving both Clifford and his chair only further condemns the latter to a metonymical fusion with his paralyzed chair.10 The futuristic process of “augmentation” and “extension” is reversed into a form of fusing reduction. Clifford is reduced to having (and not being) a useless body trapped in and by a useless machine.

34The examples of mutilated or maimed soldiers provided by Owen, Cendrars and Lawrence, though different in nature and literary treatment, all display failing or traumatized memorials of the First World War, unable to be proudly erected in honor and memory of past battles.

35All three are somehow readable as literary tropes. Owen’s soldier is a symbol of the trauma of the war. Cendrars’s cut hand is introduced through a double process of substitution (or a stammering metaphorical process): the writer’s cut hand is replaced by the image of an anonymous hand, itself metaphorically replaced by the “red lily,” a sort of poetic prosthesis. As for Lawrence, with Clifford, he pictures the synecdochical reduction of the ex-soldier’s inert body with his paralyzed machine. If official discourses glorified the return of the soldier, these three examples seek to inscribe in a form of literary texture the sense of loss experienced by the ex-soldiers. To a relative extent, surgeons and physicians ironically attempted to be much more creative than poets and writers. For as the latter developed their imaginations and language on the two axes of combination and substitution (fragmentation and augmentation), unlike physicians, they demonstrated the limits of these very processes on the human body.

Haut de page


Armstrong, Tim. Modernism, Technology and the Body – A Cultural Study. Cambridge: CUP, 1998.

Biernoff, Suzannah. “The Rhetoric of Disfigurement in First World War Britain,” in Social History of Advance Access, February 27, 2011. DOI : 10.1093/shm/hkq095

Bourke, Joanna. Dismembering the Male – Men’s Bodies, Britain and the Great War. London: Reaktion Book, 1996.

Carden-Coyne, Ana. Reconstructing the Body: Classicism, Modernism and the First World War. Oxford: OUP, 2009.

Cendrars, Blaise. La Main Coupée. Editions Denoel : 1946.

Cohen Deborah. The War Come Home – Disabled Veterans in Britain and Germany, 1914-1939. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2001.

Duhamel, Georges. Vie des Martyrs 1914-1916. Paris : Albert Guillot Editeur, 1948.

Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and its Discontent. Translated by David McLintock. London: Penguin – Great Ideas, 2004.

Foster, Hal. Prosthetic Gods. Cambridge, Massachussetts: The MIT Press, 2006. DOI : 10.1353/mod.1997.0030

Fussell, Paul. The Great War and Modern Memory. New York, London: OUP, 1975.

Gilbert, Sandra and Gubar Susan. No Man’s Land – The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century. Volume II – Sexchanges. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1989.

Guyatt, Mary. “Better Legs – Artificial Limbs for British Veterans of the First World War,”Journal of Design History – Volume 14, Ed. Nicola P. Maffei, Number 4, 2001. DOI : 10.1093/jdh/14.4.307

Lawrence, D.H. Lady Chatterley’s Lover [LCL]. New York, London: Penguin Books, 1994.

----The Letters of D.H. Lawrence – Volume II June 1913-October 1916 [Letters 2]. Ed. By George J. Zytaruk and James Boulton. Cambridge: CUP, 1980.

---- Sons and Lovers. London: Penguin Books, 1973.

Le Breton, David. Anthropologie du Corps et Modernité. PUF, 1990.

Lessing, Doris. Alfred & Emily. NY, London: Harper Perennial, 2008.

Owen, Wilfred. The War Poems of Wilfred Owen. Ed. and Intro. by Jon Stallworthy. London: Chatto & Windus, 1994.

Serres, Michel. Variations sur le Corps. Editions le Pommier, 1999.

Worthen, John. D.H. Lawrence – The Early Years 1885-1912. Cambridge: CUP, 1991.

Haut de page


1 D.H. Lawrence applied at “the Nottingham firm of surgical garments manufacturers, J.H. Haywood, of 9 Castle Gate, Nottingham […] Lawrence was successful at his interview, and around the end of September” (Worthen 94-5).

2 Mary Guyatt insists that people felt that such a process might erode individuality “in the interest of productivity” (Guyatt 314).

3 The grotesque aspect of Otto Dix’s “War Cripples” (1920) is still another artistic expression of the incongruity of mechanically fixated maimed bodies.

4 F.T. Marinetti, Selected Writings, ed. R. W. Flint (NY: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1972), 89.


6 He likewise scares a pigeon with his horn.

7 Michel Serres insists on the human body’s incredible resilience (“ses incroyables capacités” (Serres 31)), a resilience that enables him to check his balance when it is failing, to adapt to various types of ground (rugged or soft). Such resilience, wheels do not have.

8 Or later, when Mellors is here and the chair starts again:

"You see, she’s doing it!" said Clifford, victorious, glancing over his shoulder. There he saw the keeper’s face.

"Are you pushing her?"

"She won’t do without."

"Leave her alone. I asked you not."

"She won’t do it."

"Let her try!" snarled Clifford with all his emphasis. (LCL 189)

9L’homme appareillé est un otage de la machine” (Le Breton 261).

10 For if, as Mary Guyatt reminds us, “artificial limbs are inseparable from the loss of amputation” (Guyatt 308), by analogy one might say that Clifford’s wheelchair is inseparable from his loss of mobility.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Elise Brault-Dreux, « Limbs at War: Amputation, Mutilation and Paralysis – Wilfred Owen, Blaise Cendrars and D.H. Lawrence. », Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 46 | 2015, mis en ligne le 12 novembre 2015, consulté le 29 mai 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/lawrence.233

Haut de page


Elise Brault-Dreux

Université de Valenciennes

Elise Brault-Dreux is a lecturer at Valenciennes University, where she teaches English literature and language. She has published several articles on D.H. Lawrence's work, T.S. Eliot's and Katherine Mansfield's poetry. Her book on D.H. Lawrence's poetry was published in France in 2014 and is entitled Le 'je' et ses masques dans la poésie de D.H. Lawrence

Articles du même auteur

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

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

Haut de page
  • Logo Presses universitaires de Paris Ouest
  • Logo Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense