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This article is taken from Poetry Nation 3 Number 3, 1974.

D. H. Lawrence and the Ethical Approach to Literary Criticism David A. Dyson


F. R. LEAVIS, in his D. H. Lawrence: Novelist, calls Lawrence, 'an incomparable literary critic', 1 and this opinion seems to be gaining ground in the academic world, at least if we can judge by the number of American Literature courses on which Studies in Classic American Literature is standard critical reading. Certainly if we compare Lawrence's work with that of most other critics, we cannot but agree with Leavis, for the simple reason that Lawrence is one of the few critics who have realised that a work of art is something of direct relevance to life, and not merely an interesting machine which can be taken to pieces for the purposes of study. As Lawrence himself says, 'We judge a work of art by its effect on our sincere and vital emotion, and nothing else. All the critical twiddle-twaddle about style and form, all this pseudo-scientific classifying and analysing of books in an imitation-botanical fashion, is mere impertinence and mostly dull jargon.' 2 Lawrence, we must realise from the start, is in a class of his own above practically all academic criticism, and the last thing a critic of his criticism must do is to suggest that his whole contribution is null and void. Yet I must confess to finding Lawrence's critical works unsatisfactory, and, moreover, unsatisfactory in a way which can tell us a great deal about not only Lawrence's work as a whole, but also the problem of the relation of literary criticism to moral ...


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