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From Babel to Eden: D. H. Lawrence's Quest Abroad

De la Babel à l'Eden: la quête de D. H. Lawrence à l'étranger
Shirley Bricout
p. 27-39


C'est durement éprouvé par la censure et traumatisé par les examens de la conscription pendant la guerre que D. H. Lawrence quitta son pays natal avec sa femme, en 1919, afin de trouver de nouvelles formes de relations entre les hommes dans une renaissance cosmique. Ainsi Lawrence introduit-il dans ses romans, Aaron' Rod, Kangaroo et The Plumed Serpent, dont l'action se déroule respectivement en Italie, en Australie et au Mexique, des personnages qui, reflétant son propre désespoir, rejettent le Royaume Uni, ou encore “la Babel”, terme par lequel l'auteur désigne sa terre natale et tout ce qu'elle représente dans le monde entier.
Dans cet article, j'explorerai comment cette mise à distance physique, émotionnelle et aussi idéologique du Royaume Uni est transcrite dans les descriptions des terres et cultures étrangères elles-mêmes. En effet, même si les personnages se trouvent à des lieues du Royaume Uni, ils emportent toujours en eux leur bagage culturel; c'est donc par le prisme de leur héritage anglo-saxon que sont abordés les habitants, la politique, la religion, l'architecture, la faune et la flore des terres d'accueil.
Au fil des récits, il devient manifeste que la coupure du cordon ombilical d'avec “la Babel” abhorrée implique de construire de nouvelles relations avec le langage, le Verbe. C'est alors que le premier sentiment d'étrangeté fait place à la création dans ce qui devient un nouvel Eden. Le langage lui-même semble subir une seconde naissance dans l'accumulation des tournures négatives, des comparaisons et des références intertextuelles, notamment avec la Bible. L'étude de cette nouvelle relation au langage chez cet auteur moderne révélera sa vision d'un idéal cosmique.

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  • 1 In his study of Lawrence’s travel novels, Graham Hough points out that “It would be easy to make th (...)

1Having sustained the strain of censorship and the shock of conscription examinations during the war, D. H. Lawrence left his native country with his wife in 1919 in search of new forms of relationships between men through cosmic rebirth. His main travel novels, Aaron's Rod, Kangaroo and The Plumed Serpent, which I shall focus on in this article, give an account of alienation and quest, the two stages of exile. As these narratives, published between 1922 and 1926, bring into perspective exotic urban and rural landscapes as well as new social and political environments, it is relevant to confront them with Lawrence's own definition of the novel. Indeed, he held that a novel is, or should be, also a thought adventure, if it is to be anything at all complete (Lawrence 1923a, 279). So the reader will be led to appreciate that the travel novels are not so much about foreign lands as about the landscape and the society which Lawrence needs in order to try out his own ideas1.Therefore the text as such is a space to explore ideas, to experiment with language.

2To broach the issue of language, let's keep in mind that when Lawrence, to quote Boehmer, was attempting to approach Europe’s Others” (Boehmer 144), he not only bore with him his awareness of belonging to an imperial power and his resentment towards Britain after the war years, but also his cultural background deeply rooted in the Bible, as he recalls: I was always having the Bible read at me or to me. I did not even listen attentively. But language has a power of echoing and re-echoing in my unconscious mind (Lawrence 1936, 301-302). However he was eager to find what he called, in Kangaroo, “a new term of speech [...], a whole new concept of the universe [...], shedding the old concept” (Lawrence 1923a, 297).

3Building on these remarks, I shall aim to show how Lawrence's descriptions of the foreign parts the characters discover are constantly tinged with quotes and borrowings from the Bible. Woven into the narrative, these biblical references highlight the consequences of exile on language. This study will first illustrate how the paradigms of alienation and distancing from the native country are voiced thanks to allusions to the Bible, and how these intertextual relations between the lawrencian and the biblical texts stress that experiments on language are rightfully part of the cosmic quest. Then, I will show how the first encounter with the urban and also the political landscape leads to confusion as the characters find themselves still confronted with their native country or the Babel. Finally, the focus will bear on how Eden is regained by naming or renaming not only birds and flowers, but also individuals.

The Weight of the Hand of the Lord

4The road to exile takes each main character south, and comes in the wake of an inner process of alienation and distancing. Aaron, who suddenly abandons wife and family and gives up his job in the coal mines of Nottingham, heads for Italy; Somers, a writer, travels to Australia with his wife and Kate leaves Britain for Mexico. The journey from north to south offering the possibility to experience “a thought adventure” therefore stands for the personal quest, as Birkin had already stated in Women in Love: “And what then? The imperial road! The south? Italy? What then? Was it a way out?—It was only a way in again (Lawrence 1920, 579). That Aaron should begin to grasp this when he sees the Alps is expressed through the semantic field of awakening: “Aaron sat watching in silence. Only the uneasy birds rustled. He watched the city and the winding river, the bridges, and the imminent Alps. He was on the south side. On the other side of the time barrier. His old sleepy English nature was startled in its sleep. He felt like a man who knows it is time to wake up, and who doesn’t want to wake up, to face the responsibility of another sort of day (Lawrence 1922, 151).

5In Kangaroo, Somers' trip takes a Lawrencian character for the first time to the southern hemisphere. Set in a distant land, which mirrors British society because of colonial links, the narrative can upset traditional values and ideologies. These disruptions are introduced by the repetition of the adjective new (new country, new life, and new hope” [Lawrence 1923a, 19]), which paves the way for the trope of the new Jerusalem, a spatial image of renewal mentioned later in the novel (Lawrence 1923a, 158) and borrowed from the Apocalypse (21.2). Likewise, in the southern hemisphere, the sun, the central figure in the cosmos, changes its course, metaphorically pointing to the possibility of creating a timespace in complete opposition to the native country's. Cosmic disruptions expressed in instead of crossing the zenith, standing on his head(Lawrence 1923a, 15), and the northward travelling of the climbing sun: as if everything had gone wrong (Lawrence 1923a, 82) recall the vision of John announcing a new era in the Apocalypse: And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Apocalypse 21.1–2).

6Thus, the inner process of alienation is physically achieved by the geographic distancing from the native country. In Kangaroo, Harriett, who accompanies her husband Somers into exile, sums up their position: She had left Europe with her teeth set in hatred of Europe’s ancient encumbrance of authority and of the withered, repulsive weight of the Hand of the Lord, that old Jew, upon it. Undying hostility to old Europe, undying hope of the new, free lands. Especially this far Australia (Lawrence 1923a, 351-352). Repulsive weight and the Lord, that old Jew erase the sacredness to be found in the Hand of the Lord. So my contention is that the appropriation of biblical motifs throughout the narrative is the very means Lawrence sets to work to shed what he calls Europe’s ancient encumbrance of authority. In The Plumed Serpent, much in the same way, Kate, who is the widow of a political activist, the mother of grown children and a doubting Christian severs one by one all her links with Europe to give herself up to the revival of the Aztec cult. She reflects quoting Jesus' last words: Over in England, in Ireland, in Europe, she had heard the consummatum est of her own spirit (Lawrence 1926, 50). Such borrowings woven into fiction echo Lawrence's letters in which he resorts to Christian images, namely the crucifixion and the spear through the side, to describe his resentment toward his native land (Lawrence 1997, 87 and 329). Just as the characters' inner and outer journeys mirror Lawrence's own exile, the similar intertextual patterns magnify the blurring of genres between biography and fiction.

7Moreover the weight of the Hand of the Lord also hints at the weight of the Word or Logos inherited from the Judeo-Christian tradition, as the characters reflect on the consequences of their alienation on language. Mingling renewal and language, Lilly, Aarons' mentor in the quest, ponders: Forget the very words religion, and God, and love—then have a shot at a new mode. But the very words rivet us down and don’t let us move. Rivets, and we can’t get them out (Lawrence 1922, 291). Further in the same dialogue Lilly adds, I should like to try quite a new life-mode. So language, the Word”, merges with being or life. In the same way, Somers resorts to the trope of weight in this respect: The principle of permanency, everlastingness is in my opinion the root of evil. The Ten Commandments which Moses heard were the very voice of life. But the tablets of stone he engraved them on are millstones round our necks (Lawrence 1923a, 113).

  • 2 For more on intertextuality with the Bible see Bakhtin 1981.

8Biblical expressions are appropriated, displaced and woven into a profane text thereby creating a satirical mode. Just as the traveller ventures into foreign parts, biblical wordings are introduced into an unexpected textual environment. However as Mikhaïl Bakhtin argues, in Speech Genres, the Bible has “an extremely limited ability to combine with profaneor not sacredwords” (Bakhtin 1986, 132–133)2. He goes on to say that its presence “retards and freezes thought”. Therefore Lawrence's experiment with writing, in his accounts of exile, consists in playing with the conflicting nature of two texts (the Bible and his own). The constant friction between the two becomes itself meaningful in so far as the resulting dialogical relations are a means to express criticism, rejection, and denunciation. In Lawrence's own words, the shedding process “sets meaning against meaning” (Lawrence 1936, 295). It should be added that the dynamics of alienation and appropriation help the characters find out that the linguistic tools at their disposal are no longer adequate to express the building of connections with the cosmic god, and that they shall have to submit to a new language to fulfil their quest. Indeed, they understand that ensuring such connections entails giving up the Word which is a product of the modern Babel.

The Babel”

9The mention of Babel is explicit in Kangaroo to refer to the non cosmic system the character is fleeing. Indeed, as Somers is walking on the beach trying to sort his ideas, he feels that at last [the sea] talked its way into [his] soul, and he forgot the world again, the babel. The simplicity came back, and with it the inward peace(Lawrence 1923a, 154). Introduced in the book of Genesis (11.9), the tower of Babel has long since been the spatial symbol of confusion, plurality and of deviation from a set of values, in Lawrence's case his cosmic god. The tower of Babel was erected in Babylon, which being at the same time destructive and doomed to destruction is also a spatial symbol in the Apocalypse where John of Patmos announces, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen (Apocalypse 18.2). As a consequence the simplicity Somers yearns for can be taken in its original Latin meaning, from simplex”, “unique.

10Such confusion stems from Somers' disappointment at finding Australia mimicking Europe. Like the other travelers Aaron and Kate, at first, his oppressive Englishness prevents him from identifying and formulating new sets of paradigms which could enable him to fulfill his quest. Somers' confusion is expressed when he reads the names of the houses along the street where he is going to stay. Features of local architecture, the detached bungalows become the symbol of a new form of democracy as they are opposed to the solid rows of English houses, however names such as “Elite”, “The Angels Roost”, and “Stella Maris” bring to mind the Christian tradition. Other names such as “Verdun” and “The Better 'Ole”, the latter being the punch line of a military joke about bomb craters, painfully recall warring Europe. Somers expected to read Aboriginal names such as “Wagga-Wagga” or “Wallamby” (Lawrence 1923a, 11), totally disconnected from the “encumbrance of the authority of Europe” and offering cosmic potentialities. Hope blinds the character into a confusion of tongues. Indeed, he makes out that the bungalow he has rented is called “Forestin”. His wife, Harriett, helps him open his eyes to the actual meaning of the words which are reminiscent of those on a tombstone:

Forestin—” he said, reading the flourishing T as an F—“What language do you imagine it is?”
“It's T, not F,” said Harriett.
Torestin,” he said pronouncing it like Russian. “Must be a native word.”
“No,” said Harriett. “It means
To rest in.” She didn't even laugh at him. He became painfully silent. (Lawrence 1923a, 11)

  • 3 For a study of Bible tropes and borrowings in Lawrence’s anti-colonial discourse see Bricout.

11This Babel or state of confusion illustrates the power of the Word as inherited from the Judeo-Christian tradition and exported to distant territories through colonial expansion.3 Somers sighs: “There it is, laid all over the world, the heavy established European way of life. Like their huge ponderous cathedrals and factories and cities, enormous encumbrances of stone and steel and brick, weighing on the surface of the earth” (Lawrence 1923a, 346). Borrowings from Genesis (2.6), “on the surface of the earth”, and, from the book of Isaiah (2.2), “the heavy established”, fashion the satirical tone and deconstruct the society under criticism as much as the sacred text. This is how the experiment with writing “freezes thought” when characteristics of the Bible, such as even the repetition of the hypotaxis “and”, stand out in the profane text.

12As a metonymy of this form of writing, cathedrals which should stand for the statement and expansion of religious creeds are in Somers' description of Sydney set side by side with factories and cities which are built by and for men, pointing again to the confusion of a Babel doomed to destruction. Besides in his essays, Lawrence denounced, in the very architecture of cathedrals, the piling up of ornaments and sculptures which led humanity away from the cosmic god, “the simplicity”. He wrote: “There was however, in the Cathedrals, already the denial of the Monism which the Whole uttered. All the little figures, the gargoyles, the imps, the human faces, whilst subordinated within the Great Conclusion of the Whole, still, from their obscurity, jeered their mockery of the Absolute, and declared for multiplicity, polygeny” (Lawrence 1923b, 66). So here too sacredness dissolves as religious architecture verges on confusion. “The beauty was nauseous to him”, says Somers (Lawrence 1923a, 356).

13Moreover Lawrence finds in those foreign lands a fitting setting where he may probe relations between individuals united in a social group and stage fictional ideological experiments. For instance, the rise of Fascism Lawrence witnessed in Italy is turned into a fictional Australian movement, and the Aztec symbols Lawrence grew familiar with in Mexico are heavily borrowed from to give birth to a fictional revival of the Aztec cult. To express the characters' “thought adventure” in the field of politics, the description of the leaders of these political movements are again fashioned by borrowings from the Bible which are associated to indigenous material. Indeed, in the novel Kangaroo for example, despite his grotesque appearance which has earned him his nickname, the leader, Kangaroo, has a “Jehovah-like kindness” (Lawrence 1923a, 110–111) and appears as the “Kangaroo of Judah”, instead of the biblical “Lion of Judah” (Lawrence 1923a, 210). His protection and authority are expressed thanks to a combination of sacred and profane words, the pouch adding a humorous twist to the image. Somers tells him that he is “Jehovah with a great heavy tail and a belly-pouch” (Lawrence 1923a, 210). Harriet, Somers’ wife, will also use, among others, the biblical spatial metaphor “Abraham’s bosom” (Lawrence 1923a, 119) to convey the same feeling of comfort and safety.

14If Kangaroo pictures himself as a Saviour, this title is immediately deprecated by the sceptical members of his movement: “He’s a funny sort of Saviour. Not much crown of thorns about him. Why, he’d look funny on a cross?” (Lawrence 1923a, 128). So the dialogical relations also undermine the portrait. They deconstruct the mystic figure because the reader sees clearly what he is made of: a parody of God. Moreover Kangaroo's ideal society based on Whitmanesque love only reminds Somers of the Sermon on the Mount. In a long monologue, he deconstructs, much in a Nietzschean way, the Beatitudes which are components of the Sermon (Matthew 5.1–14). The parody ends with a pun on the word “Beatitudes”, turned into “bee attitudes”, to denounce the loss of individuality to society or to a political group (Lawrence 1923a, 283). The constant juxtaposition of the sacred and profane turns Kangaroo and his ideal into a caricature, a parody of a dying system. And because of this distancing, the reader can only reject this ideology as being part of the Babel as Somers did.

15Europe and its Australian duplicate that Somers found in his political contacts are eventually clearly rejected. As he identifies the cosmic potential in Australia, Somers comes to the conclusion that: “All the shibboleths of mankind are so trumpery. Australia is outside everything” (Lawrence 1923a, 203). Doctrines, political currents all amount to the same thing, as the word “shibboleth” shows. Indeed, in the book of Judges (12.6), in the Bible, the warring tribes of Ephraïm and Gilead could only distinguish their men thanks to their accent when pronouncing this term. Insignificant in time of peace, accents became crucial in time of war. Once again, confusion magnifies the power of the Word. So to what extent does Lawrence's bid for cosmic connections lead him from experimenting with the Word to expressing a non-verbal experience?

The New Eden

16Lawrence, in Kangaroo, expounds on his discovery about language in relation to the cosmos: Alas, there is no morse-code for interpreting the new life-prompting, the new God-urge. And there never will be. It needs a new term of speech invented each time. A whole new concept of the universe gradually born, shedding the old concept (Lawrence 1923a, 297). This shedding process is to be found mainly in Kangaroo, since it has not quite begun in Aaron's Rod, and is nearly completed, as we shall see, in The Plumed Serpent.

17Somers has grown into the habit of leaving the town and taking to the Australian bush in search of peace. In the process of appropriating these foreign parts, he attempts to name the flora and fauna of Australia, hoping to build organic connections with the cosmos. Metaphorically speaking, he is looking for the answer to the question put by Lilly in Aaron's Rod on leaving for the south: “Do you think a cuckoo in Africa and a cuckoo in Essex is one and the same bird?” ( Lawrence 1922, 290). At first, contrary to the First Man who took to task to name birds, animals and flowers in the garden of Eden (Genesis 2.19–20), Somers, still under the pressure of his Englishness, hesitates clumsily. Then the more he masters the vocabulary the more he connects with his cosmic God and, in doing so, the less he commits himself to the political solutions he comes across. Approximate descriptions such as “like great red spikes of stiff wisteria”, “apparently some sort of bean flower” (Lawrence 1923a, 12), “sort of pink pea-flowers” (Lawrence 1923a, 16), “various healthy-looking undergrowth”, and “great spiky things like yuccas” (Lawrence 1923a, 76), are symbolic of Somers' contamination by the world he loathes. Approximations are indeed an authorial choice since Lawrence, according to one of his biographers H. T. Moore, had access to botanical information through May Eva Gawler, a gardener of repute at the time (Moore 349). So he did master the adequate vocabulary but persistently chose approximations. The same goes for the names of birds which remain vague.

18On the contrary, Kate, in The Plumed Serpent, who is way ahead in her quest gives the appropriate names to the plants and birds she sees in Mexico; she speaks of “the vast stretches of maguey, the huge cactus, or aloe”, for example (Lawrence 1926, 75). She reacts in the same way to birds and remarks to don Ramón:

And when the cardinal birds settled, they too disappeared, for the outside of their wings was brown. Like a sheath.
“Birds in this country have all their colour below,” said Kate.
Ramón turned to her suddenly.
“They say the word Mexico means Below this!” he said, smiling.
(Lawrence 1926, 183)

19This last remark of don Ramón's shows that Kate is on the right track. L. D. Clark comments in his edition of The Plumed Serpent that Lawrence had thought of calling this story “Below This”: “In Q[uetzalcoatl], Ramón uses the phrase ‘below this’ with mystical overtones, invoking [...] ‘a faith that is not catholic nor protestant, but of the alive blood, which is dark and below this’” (Lawrence 1926, 466). So Kate perceives the symbols that hover around her; she identifies Mexico as the regenerating primeval earth. By naming correctly the birds and the plants, she has already acknowledged this land as being the new Eden where her inner self can be fulfilled.

20So when Somers returns to the botanical gardens and to the Australian bush, eventually free from the grip of Babel, he finds at last the specific words to name the animals and plants. “Palm trees”, “wrens”, “cockatoos”, “love-birds”, an emu” (Lawrence 1923a, 205), all join in communion with Somers, a new Adam in a garden of Eden. The chatter of the birds, like so many voices of Australia, is expressed with verbs of communication (“pronounced”, “this in a more-to-human voice”, “so absolutely human the sound, and yet a bird”, Lawrence 1923a, 204–205). Their colourful feathers (“blue”, “brilliant-coloured”, “sulphur-crested”, “blue fireworks”, Lawrence 1923a, 204–205) remind Somers of the rainbow, the token of the link between man and the organic Whole. Once the character has completed a personal cycle which leads to cosmic rebirth, he is free to connect analogies through language. Thus similes such as “it was suggestive of Japanese landscape” and “tousled palms like mops” (Lawrence 1923a, 177–178) picture not only the landscape and its inhabitants, they also give information about the quest of the observer. Indeed Somers has successfully identified one of the birds called a koukaburra (a sort of kingfisher), but willfully compares it to “a bunch of old rag”, ideas linking freely (Lawrence 1923a, 178). The linking devices “like”, suggestive of, “sort of are still in use in these scenes, but although they are the same words, just as Somers is the same character, language and its user have entered a new dynamic creative cycle. Words connect. And as the dynamics of language are renewed, poetry is introduced into the narrative to express inner experience. Again genres are blurred as the ideological or political essayist turns into a poet by whom, as Gaston Bachelard put it, “the world of the word is renewed in its principle. The true poet, at least, is bilingual, he does not confuse the language of meaning with poetic language” (Bachelard 186). As this form of communion is achieved, the parody of the Bible fades, gradually paving the way for Kate's rebirth in The Plumed Serpent, in which the Aztec traditions have been appropriated and language given a new purpose.

21Indeed, Kate herself will be given a new name so that she can be born again in the Aztec cult and at the same time revive the name of a lost divinity. As she yearns for cosmic rebirth, she prays in the following terms:Give me the mystery and let the world live again for me! And deliver me from man’s automatism” (Lawrence 1926, 105). This pastiche of the Lord's prayer (Matthew 6.9–13) delineates a new function for the intertextuality with the Bible we have been looking at. Indeed, I would contend that, contrary to parody which deconstructs the source text and the world it belongs to, pastiche, as Lawrence uses it, empowers language to build an imaginary setting where the quest can meet its fulfillment. Genette's study of pastiche, in Palimpsestes, pinpoints that, contrary to parody, pastiche does not consist solely in criticism, rather it has already acknowledged a role model it is ready to imitate (Genette 138). Therefore, in the travel novels, pastiche is proleptic of renewal. As a consequence, by rewriting the Bible in an Aztec setting, Lawrence is rewriting the world according to his own creed.

22The shift in the use of intertextuality is also exemplified when Kate takes her wedding vows. The words she recites mingle Aztec symbols and a pastiche of The Book of Common Prayer which reads: “Dear beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this company, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony” (The Book of Common Prayer 300). Don Ramón, acting as a priest in The Plumed Serpent, echoes these words at the wedding ceremony, saying, “Barefoot on the living earth, with faces to the living rain [...] man, and woman, in presence of the unfading star, meet to be perfect in one another” (Lawrence 1926, 329). James Cowan, in his perceptive study of biblical intertextuality in The Plumed Serpent, highlights the function of pastiche: “The shift in form from vow to prayer signals the shift in emphasis from marital bond to marital relationship. [...] Thus, Lawrence’s focus is wholly on the sacramental union, not the civil contract, of marriage” (Cowan 112).

23Concomitantly, by agreeing to change her own name to Malintzi, the Aztec Mother of a new race, Kate reactivates the cosmic dimension of the name. Indeed, at the beginning of her quest her approach to the cult was once again linguistic. Making conversation at a tea party, she said of the name of the leading god in the Aztec pantheon: “I love the word Quetzalcoatl” (Lawrence 1926, 61). For Kate, “Quetzalcoatl” was only a set of phonological units; a signifier in Saussurian terms. By calling it a word (in italics in the text), she severed the signifier from the signified. She may have been aware of the meaning of the word for the worshippers of the Aztec god, but her remark divested the name of its cosmic dimension. That is why Mirabal, a Mexican character present in the scene, tries to explain the cosmic attributes of divine names: “But if you like the word Quetzalcoatl, don’t you think it would be wonderful if he came back again?—Ah, the names of the gods! Don’t you think the names are like seeds, so full of magic, of the unexplored magic? Huitzilpochtli!—how wonderful! And Tlaloc! Ah! I love them! I say them over and over, like they say Mani padma Om! in Thibet. i believe in the fertility of sound. Itzpapalotl—the Obsedian Butterfly! Itzpapalotl! But say it, and you will see it does good to your soul. Itzpapalotl! Tezcatlipoca!” (Lawrence 1926, 62).

24Signifier and signified connect here enabling communication to take place, language to operate, but also words to become names. André LaCocque, in his article “The Revelation of Revelations” stresses that divinities often have several names by which they can be invoked. These names are so to speak for general consumption. Communication enables to refer to one god rather to another, for example to Quetzalcoatl rather than to Jehovah or Zeus. However, appropriated through a ritualized repetition, the connection between signifier and signified enables communion to take place. The incantation actualizes the spiritual or magical dimension of the sign which can then express a non-verbal experience. Connections are in this way established between the worshipper or the priest and the God (LaCocque 316-324). These are the very connections Mirabal is trying to achieve by saying the names “over and over”. He believes that the names of the Christian gods have lost their magic through excessive massive consumption: “Think of Jehovah! Jehovah! Think of Jesus Christ! How thin and poor they sound! Or Jesus Cristo! They are dead names, all the life withered out of them. Ah, it is time now for Jesus to go back to the place of the death of the gods, and take the long bath of being made young again” (Lawrence 1926, 62). Then Mirabal presses his point in favour of the Aztec gods by resorting to an oxymoron: “[Jesus] is an old-old young god, don’t you think ?” (Lawrence 1926, 62).

25When Kate achieves these connections she is quite “surprised at herself, suddenly using this language. But her weariness and her sense of devastation had been so complete, that the Other Breath in the air, and the bluish dark power in the earth had become, almost suddenly, more real to her than so-called reality(Lawrence 1926, 108–109). However, although it stages some sort of revelation, the narrative never really solves Kate's ambivalence. Indeed, in the course of her quest, the Babel comes to her in a new form: that of the confusion of the soul. One evening as the Indian disciples of don Ramón sing and dance, on the village square, to honour their Aztec god, Kate hears the call of their voices which seem to ring like the songs of birds: “Then a voice in the circle rose again on the song, and like birds flying from a tree, one after the other the individual voices arose, till there was a strong, intense, curiously weighty soaring and sweeping of male voices, like a dark flock of birds flying and dipping in unison. And all the dark birds seemed to have launched out of the heart, in the inner forest of the masculine chest” (Lawrence 1926, 127). The ironic twist consists in voicing Kate's ambivalence through another avian metaphor. Her soul is compared to a mocking-bird's, i.e. a bird that can imitate at will the songs of other birds to set its own voice in unison. So we can wonder to what extent Kate's new connections are authentic and to what extent Lawrence's own appropriation of local lore is working.

26To conclude, the paradigms of displacement enable Lawrence to express, not only the process of alienation, but also the non-verbal experience of cosmic relations. The exotic environments the characters are led to are appropriated in order to help them shed old concepts and the weight of the Word, just as a snake sheds its skin using the environment it happens to be in. The appropriation of the Bible as a means to deconstruct the system the author loathes gradually becomes more constructive through pastiche, the confrontation between the sacred and the profane playing an essential role in the shedding process, and disclosing Lawrence's cosmic vision of the world.

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The Authorized King James Version of the Bible, Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997.

The 1928 Book of Common Prayer, Oxford: Oxford UP, 1993.

Bachelard, Gaston, Poetics of Reverie: Childhood, Language and the Cosmos, trans. Daniel Russell, Boston: Beacon, 1971.

Bakhtin, Mikhaïl, The Dialogical Imagination: Four Essays, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist, Austin: U of Texas P, 1981.

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Hough, Graham, The Dark Sun: A Study of D. H. Lawrence, London: Duckworth, 1956.

LaCocque, André, “La Révélation des révélations”, Penser la Bible, eds. André LaCocque and Paul Ricœur, Paris: Seuil, 1998, 314–345.

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Lawrence, David Herbert, The Plumed Serpent (1926), ed. L. D. Clark, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987.

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Lawrence, David Herbert, Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays (1923b), ed. Bruce Steele, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002.

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Moore, Harry T., The Priest of Love: A Life of D. H. Lawrence, London: Heinemann, 1974.

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Note de fin

1 In his study of Lawrence’s travel novels, Graham Hough points out that “It would be easy to make the mistake of referring the development of Lawrence’s ideas to his geographical migrations – to describe Kangaroo as inspired by Australia, The Plumed Serpent by Mexico and so forth. The fact is that it often works the other way. Lawrence moves to a new country because he is developing new ideas, and needs a landscape and a society to match them. Australia was only a temporary halting-place on the way to America, and Kangaroo is an interim report, as Aaron’s Rod had been” (Hough 117).

2 For more on intertextuality with the Bible see Bakhtin 1981.

3 For a study of Bible tropes and borrowings in Lawrence’s anti-colonial discourse see Bricout.

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Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Shirley Bricout, « From Babel to Eden: D. H. Lawrence's Quest Abroad », Études britanniques contemporaines, 37 | 2009, 27-39.

Référence électronique

Shirley Bricout, « From Babel to Eden: D. H. Lawrence's Quest Abroad », Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 37 | 2009, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2017, consulté le 18 novembre 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/ebc.3680

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Shirley Bricout

Université Paul Valéry-Montpellier 3.
Shirley Bricout est professeur agrégée exerçant dans le secondaire. Elle effectue des recherches sur D. H. Lawrence et la Bible et a soutenu sa thèse en 2006. Elle a publié, en 2009, un ouvrage intitulé L'Itinéraire d'un prophète en fuite ou le texte biblique et la pensée politique dans Aaron’s Rod, Kangaroo et The Plumed Serpent de D. H. Lawrence aux Presses Universitaires de la Méditerranée.Elle a par ailleurs publié plusieurs articles dans Les Etudes lawrenciennes (Paris X) ainsi que dans Les Etudes britanniques contemporaines.

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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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