Under the Volcano and Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Through the course of the twentieth century, a great deal of growth took place in civilized nations. With the great changes in political and social climates came the need for change in the arts, to capture and convey peoples’ changing attitudes toward the human condition in a way that could be better understood. The work of D. H. Lawrence broke form with Victorian literature and is now considered modernist. Among his most famous works is the novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which tells the story of an upper-class British woman who has an affair with her husband’s gamekeeper. The novel was incredibly controversial primarily because it is so sexually explicit, but its exploration and critique of traditional British values doubtlessly were controversial, as well. As the second World War approached, so did postmodern literature, including Malcolm Lowry’s novel, Under the Volcano, a novel about an alcoholic British consul in Mexico who deals with the rise of fascism and the failure of his marriage. These authors, in their respective novels, employ characters with complex psychological issues to explore larger themes including politics and philosophy.

The main characters in Lady Chatterley’s Lover provide a great deal of insight into Lawrence’s ideas about psychology. Lawrence provides the psychological background for Connie and Clifford early in the novel, emphasizing both the significance of their status as upper-class citizens and their respective phases of rejection of traditional values. Clifford’s early adulthood is marked by the fact that he serves in a war that he doesn’t seem to take very seriously. The war, however, takes him seriously, leaving him paralyzed for life. Connie married him just before the war and didn’t seem too take the marriage too seriously. The two are trapped in a marriage that doesn’t seem to promise much in the way of fulfillment to either. When Clifford moves from writing to business to find the fulfillment and validation that Connie could never give him (because he could never earn it), Connie finds herself involved with Mellors. She is more satisfied and fulfilled by her relationship with him, apparently because he is a dominant lover, taking what he wants while giving her what she needs. Traditional values of the Victorian age would condone neither a relationship between classes such as this one nor such a sensuous and passionate involvement. Lady Chatterley is not only a sexual woman; she is a passionate woman who is only satisfied by a virile and masculine partner. Clifford’s physical impotence as a lover is a manifestation of what Lawrence seems to suggest is a characteristic impotence. Clifford and men like him seem to believe that they are entitled to the benefits the world has to offer, and so they are incredibly dejected when the world does not deliver. Mellors, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to want anything from the world, but when Connie comes to him, he responds by putting forth the effort to make her his, in a much deeper and more real sense than that of marriage.

In Under the Volcano, the most psychologically significant character is, by far, Geoffrey. The struggle of his alcoholism against his genius and against his whole being sets the stage for his relations with the other main characters in the novel, as well as his interaction with the increasingly fascist world around him in Mexico. Yvonne and Hugh are psychologically significant, as well, in that they are well-written and believable characters with very real psychological complications. They are not given nearly as much depth as Geoffrey, however. Yvonne seems to be nearly as compelled psychologically to Clifford as he is to mescal and his remorse at having lost her. She seems to be an intelligent woman of respectable status; it seems to be a testament to Geoffrey’s greatness that she married him and is still so in love with him. Of course, the possibility remains that her desperate need to repair their relationship might spring from her overwhelming guilt at having cheated on him. To have her back, though, does not serve Geoffrey’s purposes, as he prefers the misery of his “paradise of despair” to the romantic notions of what life could be if they were to repair their relationship. In the end, he seems to surrender to the idea that this paradise of despair will be too difficult to maintain as it progresses. He stands up against the fascists who were responsible for the death of the Indian in the road earlier in the day, simultaneously distinguishing himself from the weak and frightened cast of people around him and finding an escape from the torture of living in a world that stifles his genius.

These novels, while psychologically complex, also deal with a number of political and philosophical ideas. Through the characters and the atmosphere of the world in which their stories take place, Lowry and Lawrence deliver complex reactions to the political climate of the world in the early twentieth century. The problems experienced by the characters in these novels are symptomatic of the conditions of the world at large, and in their struggles they respond in ways that demonstrate the changing values of the world around them. These characters are at the edges of a society that is growing outward in many directions, the result of all of the growth and change in the world at the time. Both of these writers have succeeded in creating complex novels that address the political and social questions of the era through the stories of their characters.

In Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Lawrence addresses the postwar political climate of the world, and especially Europe, through the lens of a British story. Clifford Chatterley is born into an upper-class family of status but reaches late adolescence and early adulthood without a deep sense of loyalty to the customary values of the time. Connie doesn’t seem to buy into the traditional values structure, either. Certainly most generations throughout history have experienced a phase of rebellion against their parents and the values structures in place as they come of age, but Lawrence’s novel seems to suggest that there is more happening than simple rebellion. With the rise of industry and globalization, the world is changing rapidly during the course of this story’s events, and that rebellion gives way to significant shifts in attitudes toward traditional ideas about the roles of men and women in society and in relationships with each other. Connie and Clifford’s marriage to each other is not in conflict with traditional values, but the complications brought forth as a result of Clifford’s injuries in the war and the failures of traditional means to satisfy the two in the relationship (both very literally and figuratively) emphasize the need for re-evaluation of custom. Clifford resorts to writing and to industry as means for fulfillment—nothing new for a man to do—while Connie suffers an unfulfilling life until she is able to find meaningful relation to another human in her relationship with Mellors. Lady Chatterley’s Lover is very much a novel about the breakdown of a specific relationship, but it is also a novel about the failings of traditional values in a changing world that cause that breakdown. Lawrence does a wonderful job of illustrating the shortcomings of traditional values and how those shortcomings affect people who are not content to settle for what society deems appropriate.

Lowry sets Under the Volcano up during World War II and uses the political tensions of the world as an important backdrop for the story of the consul’s failing marriage and alcoholism. Britain’s withdrawal from Mexico and Geoffrey’s subsequent withdrawal from service as a British Consul to Mexico play an important role in the downward spiral of his alcoholism. Most importantly is the rise of fascism as his alcoholism progresses, which seems to exacerbate his frustration with his situation. More than ever he would like to write and make a difference, but his frustration with the state of affairs, while potentially all t
hat much more reason to make his message heard, also seems to serve as an reason for despair. With such an overwhelming problem as fascism, work toward positive change likely seems incredibly futile. This would be especially true in Geoffrey’s case, as his basis for believing in people’s goodness and ability to overcome is founded in his relationships with Hugh and Yvonne, not to mention his own wavering faith in himself. If he cannot even manage to switch from mescal to that nutritious Mexican beer, how could humanity be expected to overcome fascism? How does he expect that he will be able to reach people with his philosophical and mystical ideas if he can’t even communicate to Yvonne and Hugh his true state of being? The pathologies of the world climate can illustrate themselves through the individuals of the world. Geoffrey’s condition—genius stifled by an oppressive affliction—might serve as a parallel for humanity—potentially beautiful and creative but stifled by the oppression of fascism and materialism. In the end, Geoffrey’s stand against the oppression of fascism is the very catalyst for his destruction. Certainly efforts to shake off the rule of oppressive regimes have been destructive to humanity, and perhaps Lowry foresaw a time when powerful nations pitted against each other could potentially threaten the existence of humanity. Whether or not this was something he intentionally included in his novel, he very effectively creates a story of rich, deep characters in an incredibly well-illustrated time and place.

Novels of modern and postmodern writers display the reactions of those writers to the changing times of the twentieth century. Lawrence’s novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, highlights the breakdown of traditional values in British life after the World War I through the disintegration of Connie and Clifford’s marriage. Lawrence explores the minds of Connie, Clifford, and Mellors, among others, to illustrate the changing attitudes and sensibilities of the modern age and the politics of a world undergoing great changes. Lowry wrote during World War II, and his work demonstrates an even greater disintegration of the values and sensibilities of the civilized world struggling to incorporate the changes of industrialization and the beginnings of globalization. Lowry’s postmodern novel demonstrates heightened desperation and anxiety in the cast of characters and in the political atmosphere of Mexico as an indication of the world at large. Lowry and Lawrence have helped to document some of the great changes of the twentieth century through modern and postmodern literature in their novels.

The Cynical Bard

Shakespeare, like any good poet, knew a thing or two about unrequited or ill-fated love. The speaker in his sonnets lavishes affection on a young man who seems to be oblivious, indifferent, or intolerant to the love. There doesn’t seem to be much hope for the speaker in the sonnets. In All’s Well That Ends Well, Helen is deeply in love with Bertram, who doesn’t seem to even know at the onset of the play. Because of their different social standings, there is little hope for Helen’s love. The first glimmer of hope comes when she devises a plot by which she might be deemed worthy of Bertram’s hand in marriage. One of the turning points in the play is in Act II Scene III when Bertram resists Helen’s advances in spite of the King’s wishes. Where a more reasonable person might have given up and suffered the pain of unrequited love, Helen pursues further measures to win Bertram—if not in love, at least in marriage.

Helen’s love for Bertram has developed over a period of time, and it seems at the onset of the play that she longs for him to return that love. Because of her social status, their match is not likely even if his feelings are reciprocal. Helen sees the chance to help out the King in trade for the favor of making her marriage with Bertram possible. Her interest in Bertram seems genuine and she manages to arrange it so that their marriage is possible. One might think that a reasonable character would give up on a beloved who refuses to return the love, as he so clearly does in this scene. Bertram’s response to the situation in this scene paints a clearer picture for the audience of the sort of man that he is. He is a man of class and status, but the indignant attitude with which he responds to the King and Helen shows him to be much less refined than might be expected. More surprising is the fact that Helen continues to pine after him even when she’s seen him as he is in this scene.

Just as Bertram as a character is shown to be less appealing than he seems in this act, Helen’s love for him seems to be less authentic than it is portrayed to be in earlier scenes. Her love for him is portrayed as having developed over time as a genuine appreciation of his character—character that is shown in this and later scenes to be less than ideal—but the fact that she is relentless might call into question whether her interest is in a relationship with him or a marriage to him. Having lived in Bertram’s home for some time as a person of less class, Helen seems to have identified her lower-class status with her relationship with Bertram. In spite of the rank and money that the King has promised Helen for her services, she will not feel complete until she has won Bertram. On the surface, it appears as though her persistence comes from her desire for him as a husband and lover, but I think that her desire comes instead from a psychological correlation between Bertram and status of respectability.

This scene is important to the play because it really makes the play stand out as an ironic comedy rather than a romantic drama. Bertram, and Helen’s love for him, are both made to seem silly and flawed. When the play begins, the story is of the struggles that must be overcome for love to prevail. Beginning with this scene, Shakespeare seems to poke fun at the idea of love overcoming. When the obstacles have been surmounted, the ideal turns out to be less than ideal. Bertram isn’t the catch that Helen seems to think he is, but on the other hand, her love isn’t quite what traditional literary notions would suggest. All’s Well That Ends Well because her distorted love falls on a flawed love object.

A Critical Scene in Twelfth Night

Our group was assigned the play Twelfth Night for performance, and we chose Act IV Scene I. Twelfth Night is a play that turns normal social constructs upside-down, particularly gender roles. The title of the play, as we have learned in class, points to this reversal by referring to the twelfth night of Christmas celebration, which at the time was a night of “turning things on their heads.” We are introduced almost immediately in the play to the way that things will be confused, when one of the lead characters—Viola—decides to dress up as a man to serve the Duke. The scene we chose is a significant turning point in the play because this is when Sebastian, Viola’s twin brother, first meets the characters with whom Viola has developed relationships. Viola has based her disguise as a male on her brother’s appearance and the people who know her as Cesario mistake Sebastian for her. Shakespeare uses this appearance of Sebastian to resolve complications in the plot that might otherwise result in chaos.

This scene is significant in performance, as we have learned by performing it, in that it provides audience members with an opportunity to see how the other characters react to Sebastian. Shakespeare uses this scene to show just how great the similarity is between the appearance of Sebastian and his disguised sister. The scene opens with Festy trying to relay a summons from Olivia to Sebastian, who he thinks is Cesario/Viola. He attempts to assume the same jovial relationship with Sebastion that he’d developed with Cesario, but Sebastian is not playful and tries to get rid of Festy, who never seems to get the hint that he’s being serious. This is when Andrew and Sir Toby enter, making the same mistake that Festy has made. They immediately resume their conflicts with Sebastian when their vendetta is actually directed at Cesario. Finally, Olivia enters, who proceeds to insist on an answer to her advances from Sebastian, when she’s fallen in love with Cesario. As a performance issue, this serves to make it abundantly clear to the audience that the resemblance between brother and disguised sister is striking. The ease with which the two characters are confused is necessary for the resolution to the play’s conflicts.

One of the central conflicts—which involves Olivia’s lines in this scene—is solved by the mistaken identity of Sebastian. When the play begins, Duke Orsino seeks to woo Olivia, who will have no suitor as she mourns her brother. She allows Cesario to come forth and present Orsino’s suit, but instead of accepting Orsino’s propositions, she falls in love with Cesario. Because Olivia believes that Sebastian is Cesario, a marriage is arranged in this scene between the two. And because Viola has developed a warm relationship with Orsino as Cesario, Orsino does not need to be terribly disappointed at losing Olivia to Sebastian. The appearance of Sebastian in this scene as a character who will accept Olivia’s advances frees Viola not only from Olivia’s pursuit, but also to reveal her true identity and her love for Orsino.

This scene is crucial to the peaceful resolution of the play. Sebastian’s appearance at this point in time serves both to redirect the homoerotic energies into heterosexual relationships and to allow for a comic rather than tragic ending. Perhaps if Sebastian had never arrived, or worse—arrived too late, Viola’s true identity might have been revealed, resulting in the anger of both Orsino and Olivia. Perhaps she would have been killed or killed herself, and Sebastian would’ve had to attend her funeral. Perhaps a more fitting title for this play could’ve been All’s Well That Ends Well.

Bottom’s Up: A Strategy for Studying History

There are many possible ways to understand history. We have artifacts and accounts of the events and situations of the past that have shaped what the world is today, and people who study history must make decisions about how to treat this evidence in order to construct a working understanding of what the past actually was. One of the approaches for understanding this evidence is a “bottom-up” approach, by which historians place a greater focus on the common people’s stories of historical events than the traditional approach to historically significant names and events. Rather than focusing on the people of great power and influence, bottom-up history attempts to understand how historical events impacted the people who lived during the periods studied. There are a number of advantages and disadvantages to this approach. Among the primary disadvantages is the scarcity of reliable and extensive primary sources among the common people of certain periods. On the other hand, bottom-up history is advantageous in that it can provide a much more organic understanding of what the events and situations in history actually meant for the people who lived during the period. Among the texts that we are using to study history from the bottom up this semester include the Autobiography of Mother Jones and Going to the Source, Volume Two. Each demonstrates the advantages and disadvantages of studying history from the bottom up.

The Autobiography of Mother Jones is very useful as a source for studying history for a number of reasons. Mother Jones lived through the struggles of the labor movement of the early twentieth century, a movement that has done a great deal to shape the face of the United States and even the world as it is today. As industrialization took place in this country, the working class was faced with a choice of what its role would be in the changing nation. The owners and managers of industry were largely concerned with production and growth. The needs and rights of the working class were of little concern to those who made influential decisions. The working class would need to decide whether or not it would continue to allow the owners and managers to be responsible for their needs. Relying on the consideration of those with power and influence had left the working class in a rather miserable state, and by rising up in the labor movement to assert power and influence of their own, the working class was able to significantly change the way industrialization affected this country and the world. The Autobiography of Mother Jones details the struggles behind this movement and how the battles for the rights of the laborers changed industry and the lives of those who relied on it for their well-being.

There are, however, drawbacks to the picture of history provided by the Autobiography of Mother Jones. These accounts of the history of the labor movement do a wonderful job of describing what the labor movement was for the working class, but they paint a rather shallow, incomplete picture of the owners and managers on the side of industry. Those with power and influence in this period had a great number of issues to consider as they made decisions about the industries they ran, and as businesspeople they should be expected to try hard to get the most for their money. The Autobiography of Mother Jones treats the employers as a faceless entity with very little or no concern for fairness or the rights and struggles of the employed. It would be unfair to say that one striker’s violent actions prove that all strikers are violent and anarchistic. Likewise, it is unfair to suggest that employers in general did not sympathize with the struggles of the employed because some people in management and ownership roles disregarded their needs or utilized shady and subversive measures to undermine the efforts of the labor movement. An adage suggests that there are two sides to every story, but the truth is that there are infinitely more than two sides. The greatest limitation of the Autobiography of Mother Jones is that it provides a limited perspective of the labor movement, but that perspective is exactly why it is helpful in studying the labor movement.

Going to the Source also has its limitations as a source for studying history. The book provides a variety of primary sources as artifacts for gaining an understanding of history, many of which represent traditionally overlooked resources. The main drawbacks of these sources are their biases and lacking context. Once again, these sources provide unique perspectives that fit into a larger story, and the risk is that their relative importance and validity might be inflated or discounted when they are integrated into an understanding of history. This is why context is crucial. These sources fit within a larger framework of artifacts presenting the history of the time. Without the proper consideration of how these pieces fit together, it is incredibly easy to misinterpret their meanings and implications about history.

Providing context is exactly why Going to the Source can be very helpful in gaining an understanding of history. These overlooked or underutilized resources can put traditional historical facts and perspectives into a deeper context. Marginalized voices can be heard and underestimated evidence sheds new light on the backdrop of history. The sources in this volume provide these fresh perspectives on the context of traditional history and enrich our understanding of what it was like to live through it.

The difficulty regarding bottom-up history is simply that historically, “common” people haven’t had a voice or mode of expression as much as the influential people who hold positions of authority in society. Through newspaper interviews, personal writings, and other similar sources, we can get a glimpse of what some of the reactions are to social trends and historical events, but these sources are rare and can provide biased or incomplete pictures of what the actual spirit or attitude of the times was. The Autobiography of Mother Jones, for example, provides us with historical information from a biased perspective. While the text is very illuminating about the struggles of the labor movement in the early twentieth century, this text does not provide us with a clear, objective picture of the social forces against which the labor movement struggled. In order to gain a more complete understanding of the labor movement, it would be necessary to supplement this text with a viewpoint more sympathetic to the owners and managers. The ability to see the issue from both sides is crucial in gaining a strong—and less biased—understanding of the struggle. The text also fails to paint a clear picture of what the social atmosphere was at the time independent of the labor movement. Other social issues at the time, including women’s rights, are present in the text but not given much attention. A more complete understanding of the time period should include an understanding of the wide variety of social concerns at the time. Again, the Autobiography of Mother Jones serves as a strong source of material, but must be supplemented in order to provide a more complete picture.

Traditional historical sources—quotes of influential figures and facts about the dates and locations of historically significant events—can provide a relatively complete picture of the larger themes that shape the patterns of history, but they are lacking in their ability to provide an understanding of how those historical trends affected the people of the times. Bottom-up history provides a more complete understanding of these aspects of history by highlighting the voices of commonly disenfranchised groups or minorities whose place in history might normally be skimmed over by traditional study. Understanding how the stories of these marginalized segments of the population fit into the historical patterns can be just as important as understanding the trends themselves. In Going to the Source, we are exposed to a variety of prim
ary-text media that convey a wide variety of themes. Newspaper articles, advertisements, court testimony, diplomatic communications, and private letters, among other sources, all serve to flesh out the background of the picture that traditional history tends to paint. By filling in the gaps and giving a voice to those usually overlooked by traditional history, these sources conveyer a deeper and broader understanding of the twentieth century.

Certainly there are plenty of legitimate ways to study and understand history. Bottom-up history provides a look at aspects of history that might otherwise go unnoticed or suppressed. With the Autobiography of Mother Jones, we are able to see the labor movement very intimately from the perspective of one of its biggest proponents. The biggest drawback to this approach is the lack of available sources to provide a complete picture. As we have seen with Going to the Source, even with these limited sources we gain a deeper sense of history than is possible with more traditional methods. The drawbacks to this method are clearly outweighed by the benefits, especially because we are steadily gaining a wider number of sources from which to study history and because historians are becoming much more conscientious in their efforts to understand and teach the lessons that history provides.

Thanks!

Thanks for all the good response to the last poem :) I am posting another right now; it’s three haikus (again) that make up a bigger, more complete poem. and sometime or another, I’ll go through at add poetry (specifically the stuff that has appeared here as featured poetry but is no longer available for viewing) to my poetry section at doublemuse.

right—one more thing: I received my “book of mormon” in the mail yesterday. people really believe this stuff! wow. I wish I had a deeper knowledge of history, because while some claims strike me immediately as complete bullshit, I don’t have the proper knowledge to prove it :(

anyway. . . I’ll put it with the dozens of other religious books that I have and perhaps peruse it at further length one day. (maybe then I’ll write that essay about spirituality&religion)

Music

for all you thieves out there: music

I have saved my music to my domain host in order to avoid losing all of it should my computer ever die. that means that people who know where to look can steal my music. just so it’s known, I don’t feel perfectly comfortable ignoring copyright laws, as they’re supposed to protect artists…but on the other hand, I think that I would be happier as a writer who sells one book that two people read than to sell one book that one person reads. bullshit rationale? I know.

and a merry fucking valentine’s to everyone! no, I’m not bitter :) my parents were the only two people who initiated contact with me…and given people’s general spirit of the day, I find it easy to start falling into the “nobody loves me” bullshit….but I know that’s just self-centeredness. I did, however, make the decision not to go out of my way to buy a valentine’s gift for any one (or many) of the girls I know just so I could feel like I was doing my part (I’ve done it in the past…it’s a bit like lighting a sinking ship on fire or something). and if any of those girls are heartbroken because I didn’t do anything nice for them, then they ought to have shown some interest before valentine’s day! if nothing else, just to get a valentine’s gift, then they could’ve told me to hit the road once they got their chocolate :) bullshit rationale? I know!

for real, though. . . it can serve as a nice time to show appreciation for our loved ones. and I like to think that I’m fairly caring/generous all the time, not just on (insert name of holiday here). but (insert name of holiday here) can provide a nice excuse to do something really special/over the top to really make someone feel special. but whatever. I’m tired of thinking of this, and it’s definitely cutting into my nap time :)

Valentine’s Day

When the darkness comes, and the cold with it
the friendly giggles of the joyful, the playful
are torturous and cruel;
I think about the river you spoke of
that separates us from those who suffer no more.

I think that I would like to cross with you,
the echoes of joy still fresh in my ears.
But who, having a companion for the travel,
would embark on such a journey?

We lie in bed at night, curled up like overgrown children,
alone and afraid of the dark
with no Mother big enough to scoop us up and hold us in her arms.

Could the relief of another’s embrace
last beyond the time spent together?

Or would it be nothing more than a light rain
when we long for a flood to carry us out to sea?

Friendly Rejection

Dear Sir or Madam:

In regard to your recent application for friend ship
we regret to inform you that you have been

denied.

Unfortunately, positions in this organization
are currently very limited,
and we are reserving the open positions
for those who are more promising candidates.

We would like to extend you deepest
gratitude
for your interest
in this position, and warmest wishes
of luck in your future attempts
to secure meaningful relationships.

Not Yours in any manner—
management

V-Day!

I’ve written a nice uplifting poem for the occasion. you can read it here.

also, had a nice talk this morning that reminded me of the possibility of travelling to russia to teach english once I finish my bachelor’s degree. I’m looking around online for info about that.

UPDATE: I looked around online, and for some reason it appears that all of the programs you can sign up for are programs where one *pays* to go teach. what’s up with that? can’t I go teach and get paid?!? (END UPDATE)

it’s early to tell what I’ll actually end up doing–I’ve also considered the idea of grabbing a teacher’s certificate when I finish the bachelor’s to do some 8-4 M-F stuff for a while, or perhaps just continue working in a cafe—possibly managing one—and working on my writing. who knows. I’d like to get the sort of job where I could return to some sort of normal sleeping schedule. I mean…my sleep schedule right now is “regular” in that I nap EVERYday and consistently stay up too late (never with any good reason), but I think I might enjoy going to bed at a decent hour every day and getting up at a reasonable hour, as well. no rush.

Ominous

soft flannel sheets warm my body
envelope me in my bed
as the cool, moist air blows through the open window

the little ones like to go out on the roof to play

unseasonably warm, they say
a thunderstorm in January

like the smell of ozone, just before lightning strikes