Lawrence on Moby-Dick

Of D.H. Lawrence’s fiction, I’ve only read Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and though it was ages ago now I don’t remember being overly impressed. I think I didn’t care particularly for his style, just as a matter of personal taste. But I’ve been dipping into a compilation of Moby-Dick criticism, and an essay from Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature is my favorite so far. I’ll have to pick up the book sometime to read the whole essay—and the others—but here is a great paragraph.

It is the old same thing as in all Americans. They keep their old-fashioned ideal frock-coat on, and an old-fashioned silk hat, while they do the most impossible things. There you are: you see Melville hugged in bed by a huge tattooed South Sea Islander, and solemnly offering burnt offering to this savage’s little idol, and his ideal frock-coat just hides his shirt-tails and prevents us from seeing his bare posterior as he salaams, while his ethical silk-hat sits correctly over his brow the while. That is so typically American: doing the most impossible things without taking off their spiritual get-up. Their ideals are like armour which has rusted in, and will never more come off. And meanwhile in Melville his bodily knowledge moves naked, a living quick among the stark elements. For with sheer physical, vibrational sensitiveness, like a marvellous wireless-station, he registers the effects of the outer world. And he records also, almost beyond pain or pleasure, the extreme transitions of the isolated, far-driven human soul, the soul which is now alone, without any real human contact.

Why can’t all lit crit be this exuberant? I may just have to excerpt more later.

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