The Problem with Pleasure: Modernism and Its Discontents

Columbia University Press
New York
Publication year

See in particular Chapter 3: "Orgasmic Discipline: D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Hull, and Interwar Erotic Fiction." This chapter incorporates most of the material in Frost's earlier "The Romance of Cliché: E. M. Hull, D. H. Lawrence, and Interwar Erotic Fiction" (2006) and expands on it somewhat.

In the first part of this chapter, I will examine the remarkable attention Lawrence and critics such as Q. D. Leavis pay to Hull's novel and the subgenre to which it belongs, desert romance, whose predictable formulas and sensational prose were viewed as epitomizing popular pleasure. The Sheik has a surprisingly prominent place in significant formulations of British modernism precisely because of the efficiency with which Hull manages readerly pleasure. In his effort to revive sexual experience, Lawrence turned to the tropes that he criticized in Hull's work but used them toward fundamentally different ends. Lawrence's response to Hull's writing exposes an important conflict between the modernist ambition for innovation and its reluctant recognition of popular culture's attractions. It also demonstrates an intrinsic paradox of pleasure: its dependence on both novelty and familiarity. In the second part of this chapter, I will examine how several of the features Lawrence borrows from Hull return in Lady Chatterley's Lover, his most explicit and radical treatment of eroticism. Here Lawrence writes about sex, not to promote pleasure but rather to discipline and even curtail it. (90)


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