Friday, 31 March 2023 to Sunday, 2 April 2023

'Her long blanks and darknesses of abstraction were Polish': Faith and faithlessness in DH Lawrence's depictions of Poles

Fri31  Mar12:50pm(20 mins)
Gilbert Scott Room 356


Juliette Bretan1
1 University of Cambridge, UK


For Brits in the early twentieth century, Poland was an unknown entity. In marked contrast to depictions of the country in previous ages, which associated the country with heroic uprisings and sacrifice - most astutely explored by Thomas McLean in his The Other East and Nineteenth Century British Literature (2011) - the new century brought at best confusion, and at worst apathy, towards the Polish nation; even following the resurrection of Polish independence in 1918, historian AE Tennant could only class Poland as presenting "misleading mirages". 
My paper will draw on similar accounts of British uncertainties about Poland by considering depictions of Polish characters in works by DH Lawrence - and especially his 1915 novel The Rainbow. Exploring its juxtaposition of a laser-focused language of material observation, logic and categorisation (including scientific questioning and spying) with the suspension or questioning of natural laws (through the improbable, ineffable, spiritual or psychological), I argue the novel illuminates British unfamiliarity with Polish affairs - and the perceived mythical existence of Poland at the time. But - vitally - such representations also reveal an innate skepticism of existing forms of information gathering, pointing to a need to welcome ambiguities, to revise estimations - and to the hidden agendas and dangers behind inflexible approaches to the world.