It is the way our sympathy flows and recoils that really determines our lives. And here lies the vast importance of the novel properly handled. It can inform and lead into new places the flow of our sympathetic consciousness, and it can lead our sympathy away and recoil from things gone dead. Therefore, the novel, properly handled, can reveal the most secret places of life: for it is the passional secret places of life, above all, that the tide of sensitive awareness needs to ebb and flow, cleansing and freshening.
lawrence must have known what he was doing, for this defence of the novel is embedded in Lady Chatterley’s Lover itself. This is the novel which Lawrence pushed into the “passional secret places”. But “cleansing and freshening”? Surely, with all those dirty words “cleansing” is pushing it a bit far?
There were always, in his mind, two kinds of sex, two ways of loving, two attitudes to the world. The “thing gone dead” in society were part of its “mental consciousness”, the fixed conventions and habits of life and feeling, which he identified in people (Gerald, astride the horse, forcing it with bit and spur in Women in Love) and in history (Gerald, the industrial capitalist). The mental consciousness, “the substitution of the mechanical principle for the organic”, he saw as the dead hand of industrial capitalism, cramping human nature, thwarting and reversing “the flow of sympathy” (love) that ought to “determine our lives”. It was this alien, mechanical consciousness which inspired Gerald in his relationships with his miners:
Suddenly he had conceived the pure instrumentality of mankind. There had been so much humanitarianism, so much talk of sufferings and feelings. It was ridiculous. The sufferings and feelings of individuals did not matter in the least. They were mere conditions, like the weather. What mattered was the mere instrumentality of the individual. As a man as of a knife: does it cut well? Nothing else mattered.
Women in Love, p. 233–4