D. H. Lawrence's Stained Glass.

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Author: Irena Yamboliev
Date: Mar. 2021
From: Twentieth Century Literature(Vol. 67, Issue 1)
Publisher: Hofstra University
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 10,309 words
Lexile Measure: 1420L

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In Taos, New Mexico, where D. H. Lawrence lived in the early 1920s, one can visit the house of Mabel Dodge Luhan, a friend of Lawrence's and a patron of the arts. Today the house is a museum, hotel, and retreat, and it offers the visitor a remarkable encounter with color. The bathroom on the second floor, enclosed by painted windows, is flooded by brilliant yellow, green, blue, and red. The designs are predominantly geometric, with stripes, diamonds, circles, and zigzags resembling those in Native American textiles. Here and there they include representational elements: a stylized rooster, a turkey, a deer, a cat (see figs. 1 and 2). The patterns seem to pop out of the walls, propelled by the rays of sunlight pushing through them, and they dull all that surrounds them, turning what is usually seen as background ornament into primary presence. Lawrence worked on these windows with his friend and fellow painter Dorothy Brett (Bachrach 2006: 18), and they show Lawrence's abiding interest in decorative art's visual syntax, and in particular the syntax of stained glass. Though they are painted on, not stained, his windows reproduce stained glass's characteristic mode of arranging vivid color to shine forth from among contrasting lines of opaque black. In his writing, too, Lawrence emphasizes the capacity of colored panels to extend beyond their material boundaries, to glow and inundate adjacent spaces, shaping an environment-in-the-round, and varying in hue and intensity as the sunlight changes throughout the day.

For Lawrence, this capacity of stained glass to extend into its surroundings provides a pervasive metaphor for the individual self's interaction with other human and nonhuman beings, and for the permeability of that self even as it delimits itself from others. As we shall see, Lawrence sees the way any stained glass panel holds the burning colors by means of the black lines as akin to the ways we fashion stories about ourselves and our lives, filtering and organizing the chaos of perception into livable narrative. His characters achieve their own emotional and aesthetic survivals by aspiring to function like stained glass--to organize and hold potentially overwhelming elements in juxtaposition, to balance their resistance and receptiveness. What's more, stained glass becomes a model for shaping writing itself. Lawrence stages encounters among his characters using an idiosyncratic prose style that foregrounds words' flickering between different parts of speech, shifting between grammatical independence and dependence, and reaching, repetitious, across sentence breaks.

Again and again, Lawrence deploys stained glass throughout his work, telegraphing its transformative force. In the novella The Ladybird (1923), for instance, the stained glass panes of an Elizabethan mansion "interven[e] like magic between oneself and the world" (Lawrence 1992: 210). In Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928), uninspiring "big panes" of particular colors--"greenish and raspberry," which, as we will see, distinguish the stained glass of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries from the medieval stained glass Lawrence favors--convey the general ugliness of the industrial coal town Tevershall, its "utter absence of the instinct for shapely...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A663352073