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UBC Theses and Dissertations

States of estrangement : the novels of D.H. Lawrence, 1912-1917 Templeton, Wayne


The general intent of this dissertation is to investigate the correlation between urban industrialism and the failure of individuals, particularly women, to achieve personal fulfillment and autonomy. Specifically, it analyzes a selection of Lawrence's novels, the settings of which are most often an oppressive and alienating society; the main characters, and how they perceive themselves, each other and their environment; and the conflict between the desire to reject and the pressure to conform to moral convention and economic necessity. My first chapter establishes the socio-historical context in which Lawrence wrote these novels, and discusses alienation, not as a sociological or psychological theory, but as a symptom of contemporary urban experience, the subtle yet concrete effects of which I contend with in the chapters following. Alienation, then, as I define it, is a pervasive phenomenon within the novels, and an experience, therefore, unique in many respects to Lawrence's characters. At the same time, however, it, and the characters themselves, are familiar, for they represent a common social experience as well. The body of this work analyzes the specific nature of that experience, which I see as being of two basic varieties or states: social alienation—the sense of being a foreigner amongst one's contemporaries—and personal or psychological estrangement—the sense of being identified exclusively in terms of social roles, morals, and conventions. My dissertation attempts as well to discuss and to determine the plausibility of those alternatives Lawrence offers as solutions to the problems of estrangement, aborted relationships and repression, alternatives which become an integral and important part of his novels because of the way they inform the characters and reflect the enigma and contradictions of urban social experience. Because Lawrence changed after WW I, largely in fact as a result of that war, from a novelist concerned with the suffering, the often frustrated goals, the complexities of individuals to one primarily concentrating on the reformation or the mystical transcendence of society, my work will examine only those novels written before and during the war (that is: from 1912 to 1917), novels which are as well, I think, his finest, most complex works: The Trespasser, Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow, and Women in Love.

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