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Shirley Bricout, Politics and the Bible in D. H. Lawrence’s Leadership Novels

Montpellier: Presses universitaires de la Méditerranée, collection « Horizons Anglophones », série Present Perfect, 2014 (350 pages), ISBN-13: 978-2-36781-104-8.
Elise Brault
Référence(s) :

Shirley Bricout, Politics and the Bible in D. H. Lawrence’s Leadership Novels, Presses universitaires de la Méditerranée, collection « Horizons Anglophones », série Present Perfect, 2014 (350 pages), ISBN-13: 978-2-36781-104-8.

Texte intégral

1In Politics and the Bible in D. H. Lawrence’s Leadership Novels, Shirley Bricout proposes a biblical intertextual analysis of Lawrence’s three novels, Aaron’s Rod (1922), Kangaroo (1923) and The Plumed Serpent (1923)—a trilogy, set in post-war and post-colonial contexts, which follows wandering prophets and in which Lawrence voices political issues. As in Terry Wright’s and James Cowan’s works—among others—the question of religion in Lawrence’s oeuvre is at the heart of this book. But Bricout’s central idea in her study is to closely scrutinize how biblical phrases are called upon in political contexts. If Shirley Bricout obviously takes the Bible as a philosophical and ideological source for Lawrence, she more originally insists on the literary and narrative aspects of the hypertext which feed Lawrence’s own writing (thematically and aesthetically), and proves how Lawrence thus manages to ‘challenge the institutionalized interpretation of the Bible’ (19) and, in the subversive intertextual narrative process, depicts a quest for a new form of religion which verges on a sort of pre-biblical mythopoeia.

2The book is divided into four chapters. In chapter one, ‘The Genesis of the written word’, the author addresses the question of intertextual theory resorting to Kristeva, Derrida, Barthes, Genette, Ricoeur, Bakhtin and Compagnon, and posits her own object as ‘intertextuality in movement’. With this in mind, she reminds the reader that Lawrence himself, in Apocalypse, reads the Bible as a palimpsest with three layers: a pagan substratum, first rewritten by Jewish apocalyptists, and again rewritten by the Jewish-Christian apocalyptist John. In other words, in Lawrence’s novels, the hypotext is itself apprehended as a multi-layered narration whose pagan substratum Lawrence seeks to revitalize, in order to re-position man in the cosmos. Bricout then gives a thorough insight into the very history of the writing of the Bible, from its sacred origin, to its various translations and its profane evolution. She then clearly posits the three main Lawrentian subversive intertextual uses of the Bible in political contexts: travestism (or carnivalesque deconstruction and desecration), parody (often serving at deconstructing political arguments) and pastiche (more frequently used to suggest social construction). To guide her reader in her close analysis, she proposes a table of biblical resonances for the three novels. It is a very clear demonstration of both the amount of references and the alterations undergone by the hypotext as it surfaces in Lawrence’s work.

3Among the several points broached in the second chapter, ‘The Break from Europe’, that of the connections between the individual and his environment is particularly well argued. In Aaron’s Rod, Lawrence proposes that the political, social and religious critical precariousness derives from the loss of the ancient cosmic connections in favour of man-made orders. Then in focussing more particularly on Kangaroo, she shows how Lawrence conceives mutilation and sacrifice as expressions of the brutality of the state: the individual has thus been cut from the cosmos. Lawrence, with intertextual subversions, seeks to endow the bodies with a new cosmic significance. Bricout subtly shows how Kate, in The Plumed Serpent, becomes a ‘cosmic woman in her relationship with man’ (153) through the subversion of biblical phrases and symbols. In other words, here and elsewhere, Lawrence condemns the aberrations of religion and of the post-war social chaos, in destructing the sacred and mingling it with the profane. He finds creative opportunities—both political and hermeneutic—in the displacements and deconstruction of the Bible, ‘the ideological source of the forsaken world’ (163).

4In ‘The Quest in Exile: a Second Creation’, the author sheds light on Lawrentian subversions of the Bible, in the three novels, when he condemns the colonial heritage in associating it with sin and the Fall. She, for instance, thoroughly analyses the occurrences of the secularized and parodied ‘thou shalt’, which thus reads as a metaphor of the European country’s undisputable authority over its former colonies. Shirley Bricout concludes her chapter in insisting that Lawrence, a sort of modern prophet, as he seeks to outline his political ideal of a community in which the individual must not be lost in anonymity, clearly calls upon the Bible and Greek mythology. The cosmogony he thus produces, Bricout argues, in being created by processes of decreation, travestism and parody, reads as a hybrid text, whose nature is therefore not that distinct from Lawrence’s own vision of the Apocalypse as a multi-layered piece.

5In the final chapter, ‘The New Alliance: Exploring Political Thought’, Shirley Bricout deals with Lawrence’s response to emerging fascism and Marxism in his three novels and with his peculiar use of the apocalyptic symbols. She first gives a brief account of how Engel and Marx frequently resorted to Christian metaphors. She then focusses on the political and ideological discourses of the rising ‘saviours’ in Kangaroo and Aaron’s Rod, hermaphrodite figures who bear mystic resonances. The debate over Marxism is staged in the narrative by a plurality of voices who resort to the biblical hypotext, and thus stands in contrast with Marx’s own ‘doctrinal’ system of metaphors. In Lawrence’s narrative, the relation to the biblical intertext rather appears as dialogical, constantly renewed and therefore creative.

6Almost quite expectedly, Shirley Bricout ends her study with the Apocalypse which, she insists, ‘involves destruction coupled with creation’ (284). She looks at the apocalyptic symbols which appear in the ‘riot scenes’ of the three novels: apocalyptic chromatism, the dragon and the rainbow. In using and manipulating these symbols in his narratives, Lawrence renews and revitalizes their initial symbolic values—before they were allegorized by Christianity. And Shirley Bricout very rightly uses the image of Lawrence’s writing as a ‘restorati[ve] cycle’ (313) through which, at the end of his life, he progressively proposes a ‘cosmic reading of the world’ (313). In her conclusion, she summarizes the three functions of biblical intertextuality in Lawrence’s leadership novels: a deconstruction process (especially of the contemporary political and social ideologies); a creative function (of an ideal community of individuals in connexion with the cosmos); and a ‘mediation’, that is the conversion of a ‘traditional univocal interpretation’ (318) of symbols to their creative, dynamic uses.

7Shirley Bricout shows exceptional knowledge of the Bible and a very good capacity for close reading—which makes this book a reference for both Lawrentian and Bible scholars. Her intertextual approach is not just textual and does not leave the context behind. It is both minutely textual and immensely contextual: the author of the leadership novels is definitely not dead. His personal life and the immediate political context of the times are fundamental elements in her study. Her embracing method is also relevant in the way she brilliantly handles three analyses at once. She does not compartmentalise the novels but rather weaves them together, always subtly and meaningfully, and feeds her study with references to some of Lawrence’s letters and essays, especially Apocalypse. Throughout her study, she brings in many other Lawrentian critics to feed or contrast with her own argument, thus proposing fruitful dialogues. All this is exposed in a didactic style with very clear transitions after each part and subpart: the reader always knows where (s)he is going. All in all, Politics and the Bible in D. H. Lawrence’s Leadership Novels definitely offers a convincing close reading of three novels that have too often been disregarded by Lawrentian scholars. Shirley Bricout’s work is therefore ground breaking and stimulating.

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Référence électronique

Elise Brault, « Shirley Bricout, Politics and the Bible in D. H. Lawrence’s Leadership Novels », Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 49 | 2015, mis en ligne le 06 novembre 2015, consulté le 24 octobre 2017. URL : http://ebc.revues.org/2771

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Elise Brault

Université de Valenciennes

en

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Études britanniques contemporaines est mise à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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