Studies in Classic American Literature, first published in 1923, provides a cross-section of D. H. Lawrence's writing on American literature, including landmark essays on Benjamin Franklin, James Fenimore Cooper, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville and Walt Whitman. Eight of the essays were first published in the English Review ...
Studies in Classic American Literature, first published in 1923, provides a cross-section of D. H. Lawrence's writing on American literature, including landmark essays on Benjamin Franklin, James Fenimore Cooper, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville and Walt Whitman. Eight of the essays were first published in the English Review 1918-19; but Lawrence continued to work on his material, with the aim of producing a full-length book; at various times fifteen separate items belonged to it, all of them revised on different occasions, some of them four or five times, and often corrected with the errors of their predecessors preserved. This volume offers the final 1923 version of the text in a newly corrected and uncensored form, and the complete surviving text of the essays of the English Review period, as well as a host of other materials, including four different versions of Lawrence's pioneering essay on Whitman.
It is an excellent work especially noteworthy are the chapters on Poe, Hawthorn and Mellive.
Sep 6, 2007
The Open Road
First published in 1923, Studies in Classic American Literature is exactly that. While history itself has repudiated D.H. Lawrence's notions of a primeval "blood-consciousness"--one cannot possibly entertain those ideas after World War II Axis fascism--this slim volume of essays about Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman and others, beginning with the essay, "The Spirit of Place," is filled with an unerring, even telepathic instinct for the true and duplicitous in the work and the country.
Here is Lawrence about "Fenimore Cooper's White Novels": "The moment the last nuclei of Red life break up in America, then the white men will have to reckon with the full force of the demon of the continent. At present the demon of the place and the unappeased ghosts of the dead Indians act within the unconscious. . .soul of the white American, causing the great American grouch, the Orestes-like frenzy of restlessness in the Yankee soul, the inner malaise which amounts almost to madness, sometimes."
Of course there's a mad sort of mysticism at work in the above passage, yet even reputable historians have noted, for example, Andrew Jackson's penchant for a "regenerative violence" against Native Americans, and Southern writer Eudora Welty has said, "Feelings reside in place." At the least, Lawrence forces the reader to consider whether the dark slaughter of Indians during the westward expansion may haunt the inhabitants and the land itself.
In contrast, the author defines Walt Whitman's message in Leaves of Grass: "The true democracy, where soul meets soul, in the open road. . .American democracy where all journey down the open road, and where a soul is known at once in its going. Not by its clothes or appearance. Whitman did away with that. Not by its family name. Not even by its reputation. Whitman and Melville both discounted that. Not by a progression of piety, or by works of Charity. Not by works at all. Not by anything, but just itself. The soul passing unenhanced, passing on foot and being no more than itself."
To me, this passage is tonic and restorative in its recognition that American democracy consists not of surface appearance, lineage, reputation or good works, but the conjunction of soul meeting soul on "the open road." That seems as apt a definition of our national ideal as any I've read. An essential book of American literary criticism.
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