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Humphrey McQueen – “Place, Colour and Sedition: D. H. Lawrences "Kangaroo", a Study in Environmental Values"

“Place, Colour and Sedition:
D. H. Lawrence’s Kangaroo, a Study in Environmental Values”

By Humphrey McQueen

The place of D. H. Lawrence’s Kangaroo in Australian creativity and criticism appears as paradoxical as the platypus. The Lawrences were in Australia for 100 days, spending only seventy-seven around Sydney where most of the novel is set, and where he completed the first draft within six weeks. Yet Lawrence has been praised for getting that strip of landscape right. The Bulletin conceded that ‘he has written a very beautiful book that is full of the sunshine and flowers of Australia’. The Professor of English language and literature at the University of Adelaide, Archibald T. Strong, recognised
one or two remarkably vivid and sympathetic pictures of Australian scenery, especially of Pacific coastal scenery, and of the blooming of the wattle in the Australian spring. He has been in Australia long enough to understand the spell which the Bush slowly, but surely, weaves around many who are at first repelled by its strangeness.
In advocating ‘The Genius of Place’ as one of The Foundations of Culture in Australia (1935), P. R. Stephensen acknowledged that ‘[v]isitors, such as D. H. Lawrence, have discerned a spiritual quality of ancient loveliness in our land itself’. The founder of the Jindyworobaks, Rex Ingamells, reveled in ‘the indestructible spirit of the place about which D. H. Lawrence has written in such a superb piece of natural description at the beginning of Kangaroo’. The acceptance of Lawrence’s eye for nature raises the first query about cultural regionalism: how could a tourist beat the locals?

The question is the more perplexing once we compare this praise for Lawrence with the assertion that only the native-born could paint the landscape. Frederick McCubbin headed a protest during 1913 to secure commissions for native-born painters who had stayed here, at the same time telling expatriates to return to soak in the atmosphere. In praising the colours of Arthur Streeton, Lionel Lindsay in 1916 argued for nativism:
The flat masses of gum leaves, with their metallic luster and elusive greys, their sheen and shimmer in bronze with blue reflections – how could eyes, accustomed to the rich distinctive greens of England, hope to render their difficult nuances?
The problem could only be solved by a native-born artist possessing the necessary genius, whose vision had never been disturbed by the schools of the old world.
This prejudice festered throughout the 1930s, by when Lindsay saw art ‘threatened everywhere by the same aliens, the same corrupting influences that undermined French art’.

The distance between the literary critics’ appreciation of the visiting author and the disparagement of foreign-born and expatriate painters is one instance of how easier it is for an experienced writer to paint pictures with words about a new place than it is for an accomplished artist to achieve tonal harmonies of an alien land with oils or watercolours. The technical demands are of different orders, despite pleasantries surrounding ut pictura poesis. The craft of writing is another kind of work. Lawrence’s ability to convey some aspects of a landscape through which he was passing should be understood in terms of the part played by every type of labour in the transition from experience to imagination. Lawrence could not have succeeded in portraying any segment of the Australian bush had he not apprenticed himself to the writer’s trade during the previous fifteen years. His poetry and imaginative prose had helped him find the words to express his responses to a fresh environment, though the sun was not new to him

Lawrence had been ‘south’ to Italy before 1914 and went there again on his way here, reaching Florence in November 1919. By March 1920, they had moved to Sicily where they remained until February 1922. Stephensen convinced himself that travel had taken Lawrence ‘out of the wet and stifling, local and insular, atmosphere of England’, which was such a miserable place that only an infusion of southern warmth and colour had allowed it any literature beyond Wycliff or Bunyon. The Italian half of Aaron’s Rod (1922) is indeed sunnier than the opening English chapters. Lawrence’s Italian years had prepared him for Australia’s climate rather as Mussolini’s fascists did for his creation of the Diggers’ leader, Kangaroo.

Thus, Lawrence was no modern tourist who had never been out of Nottinghamshire before being jetted into a Sydney January, but had enjoyed two years in the warmth around the Mediterranean. Lawrence thought Ceylon too humid, too soft, a moral failing he associated with its coloured population. The Lawrences arrived at Perth early in May, safely into autumn. They got to Sydney later that month and had left by mid-August, and so experienced only a winter, during which Somers bathed in the ocean. Had the Lawrences been in Sydney through a humid summer, would he have been able to write at all? He treated early August as the Australian spring, as if the wattle were a ‘host of golden daffodils’. For all his references to the fern continent, he had not learnt that some Australian natives have the sense to flower during the cooler months.

The mediating power of human labour on the landscape of the Nottinghamshire mining districts had helped to make Lawrence a regional author in Sons and Lovers. He carried that experience through later novels and travels. Thirroul abutted a mining community with its share of English immigrants. He was not as remote from Australians as he depicted his Somers character who declares them more alien to him ‘than Italian scoundrels, or even Indians’. (127)

The landscapes that Lawrence encountered here were not ‘primeval’ as he, Stephensen, and Ingamells used that word. The environment had been altered by human presences, to some extent through indigenous practices and more rapidly by settlers. Those changes were wrought by activities which we can sum up as ‘work’. Writing from Sydney to Katharine Susannah Prichard in July 1922, Lawrence confessed to some of the troubles he had faced in picturing the Australian component in his latest fiction:
I feel I slither on the edge of a gulf, reaching to grasp its atmosphere and spirit. It eludes me, and always would. It is too far back. It seems to me that generation after generation must people it with ghosts, and catastrophes water it with blood, before it will come alive with a new day of its own.
To create his alter ego in Richard Lovatt Somers, Lawrence could not wait for those ghosts to appear and so he summoned a version of his Dark God: ‘it seemed as if the aboriginal daimon entered his body as his slept, to destroy its old constitution. (143) With ‘black’ recurring six times in fifty lines, Somers asks himself: ‘Is this devil after all my god? Do I stand with the debbil-debbil worshippers, in spite of all my efforts and protestations?’ (165) Such dream-work can succeed for an individual visitor crafting a single novel: layers of experience and reflection are required to establish a regional culture.

The attachments that people develop towards a place grow tight because they remake themselves in the process of remaking it. John Shaw Neilson’s yacka as a bushman allowed him to sing for the endangered birds:
Man with his axe, his old contentious plough,
Grieves in the dust, a grey ungracious fellow;
He who has warred with Heaven, can he allow
Faint emperors in yellow.
The urge to versify one’s toil need not aspire to Neilson’s lyricism to be irresistible or revelatory. In no human activity can the physical be severed from the mental.

Lawrence’s essay ‘The Spirit of Place’ drew on the power of the soil to explain why the Puritan-Jesuit colonisation of the Americas had brought about ‘the transmutation from men into machines and ghosts’. The no
tion of blood and soil relied on a vulgar materialism summed up as
‘What you eat today walks and talks tomorrow’. The linking of race with food sounded convincing for as long as most supplies were sourced locally and blood was assumed to be the carrier of inherited characteristics.
And how in the name of heaven is this world-brotherhood mankind going to see with one eye, eye to eye, when the very blood is of different thicknesses on different continents, and with the difference in blood, the inevitable psychic difference? Different vision! … (148)
Oceanic transport of grains and the identification of the DNA as the node for inheritance have still not erased misconceptions about blood and soil as the determinants of national character. Such follies cannot be contained without recognizing how human labour mediates nature, including its human variant.

Stephensen did not mention the contribution of human labour to his environmental values, but set ‘place’ as their foundation stone. He called on ‘Cape York poets to make the Cape York people more aware of Cape York’, without realising that those locals, through their labours, were making Cape York available to the poets.   Ingamells similarly ignored how human activities alter landscapes and cultures, and how those actors remake themselves in the process of remaking their physical, social and poetic environments.

Stephensen might, for instance, have examined Jean Devanny’s 1936 Sugar Heaven as one aspect of the sugar industry. Despite the intensity of tropical foliage for its setting, Devanny’s novel is almost devoid of colour adjectives. She uses seventeen in the first seventeen pages but only seven during the next 300. In that opening section, she links the rich wine of the cane stalks to the blood squeezed from the workers. (pp. 11-14) Three pages later, she leads us through the colours of the landscape to have her protagonist, Dulcie, proclaim that the North is ‘heaven’. (17) Later, Devanny declares: ‘Here was drama! Here was colour! The great Painter, Life, was at work on the hitherto dull canvas of her existence’. (55) But that is the last we see of his palette.

Ingamells stressed that ‘the prime point of the Jindyworobak argument … concerns the accurate use of language’. He supposed that Lawrence had succeeded in portraying the bush ‘because he was a great writer and instinctively avoided incongruities’. This explanation in terms of innate genius sits uneasily with the Jindyworobak claim for environmental values. Some of what Lawrence accomplished in ‘the accurate use of language’ can be evaluated by examining Kangaroo for its language of colour, particularly ‘blue’ and ‘the rainbow’.

Havelock Ellis concluded his 1896 analysis of colour in poetry by remarking
that the aesthetic value of blue has not yet been fully developed in English literature; and there are signs that the English-speaking children of sunnier skies will find new scope in weaving into their work the colour of the sky and the sea, and the ideas of infinity and depth which it most naturally symbolises.
Ellis had drawn this expectation from his year in the late 1870s as a teacher in the bush beyond Scone, New South Wales. The novella that he later wrote about that time, Kanga Creek, did not match his promise. ‘Blue’ appeared four times in its fifty pages to describe eyes or clothes, but never as a metaphor for the metaphysical, or even for the heavens.

A concordance of Australian writing would be necessary to determine whether any writer had lived up to Ellis’s prediction before Lawrence’s arrival. John Shaw Neilson – known as a ‘Poet of the Colours’ – used ‘white’ more than any other colour term. The frequency of ‘green’ was followed by ‘blue’ which he often treated as a synonym for the sky. When he used ‘the blue’ symbolically he did so through his relations with birds, which he anthropomorphised. In the ‘The Gentle Water Bird’, God appears ‘terrible and thunder-blue’. In ‘The Blue Wren in the Hop-Bush’, the poet
… fears the blue light of his friend may set the world ablaze;
And the blue friend says, to mock me: ‘How slow of foot you are!’
And he puts into the broad sunshine his melody of blue.
‘The Whistling Jack’ takes blue as the symbol of nothingness. The bird justifies eating a baby chicken by reminding its human accuser of the slaughter along the Western Front:
You have defiled the sweet, green earth, and prayed into the blue,
For strength unto your God that you may other murders do,
The poet creeps away:
I did not wish to see
The heavens blue: for he had put such weakness into me.
Neilson repeated ‘red’ throughout his writing and almost always in association with murder, often in battle.

For a sometime painter himself, Lawrence recorded scant curiosity about Australian canvases. Perth did not have a public art collection to speak of. During the stopover in Adelaide, he called by its Gallery but did not comment on Tom Roberts’s ‘The Breakaway’ with its hot, dry sky. After a visit to the Melbourne collection, he came to associate the layered sky in the French Symbolist Puvis de Chavannes’ L’Hiver (Winter) with the Australian bush:
The gum trees are grayish, with pale trunks – and so often the pale, pure silver dead trees with vivid limbs; then the extraordinary delicacy of the air and the blue sky, the weird bits of creek and marsh, dead trees, sand, and very blue hills.
Lawrence appears not to have visited the National Gallery in Sydney where he could have seen the glare of Streeton’s ‘Fire’s On!’

The speed of Kangaroo’s composition encouraged Lawrence to raise his splash of colours to an aesthetic precept. Shortly after completing the manuscript, he heard about the attacks on James Joyce’s Ulysses, but did not have a copy. He assumed that he and Joyce shared a stream-of-consciousness approach to writing. He soon found that Joyce had spent years arranging his syllables and so that stream-of-consciousness applied to his protagonists, not to their puppeteer.

Lawrence’s storm of creative consciousness flashes through the following passages:
They were so blue and pure: the blue harbour like a lake among the land, so pale blue and heavenly …
It was strange that, with the finest of new air dimming to a lovely pale blue in the distance, and with the loveliest stretches of pale blue water, the tree-covered land should be so gloomy and lightless.(19)
Lawrence’s resort to ‘blue’ intensifies the capacity of his imagery to summon infinity:
and above the ridge-top the pure blue sky, so light and absolutely unsullied, it was always a wonder … into a sky of such tender delicacy, blue, so blue, and yet so frail that even blue seems too coarse a colour to describe it, more virgin than humanity can conceive, the land inward lit up … (82)
Despite the frequency of Lawrence’s association of blue with transcendence, he never tied a colour to only one response.

A recent critic, W. J. Lillyman, has proposed a reading which rescues ‘blue’ from timeless universal, locating its symbolism alienated modernity:
the blue sky … is a symbol throughout post-romantic literature … to reveal man’s isolation … an example of … a ‘true modern symbol’ [that is] the sign of the absence, or the non-being of what was formerly believed to be the perennial divine reality. ‘Le ceil est mort’. (Mallarmé, 1864) They first reveal the anguish caused by an unmediated, unapproachable, swiftly receding deity.
Lawrence attempted to fill this social vacuum with his ‘Dark God’, while many of his contemporaries also drew comfort from one or other variety of mysticism, though he tied his spiritual quest to the flesh rather than a Soul.

One of these seekers was the Theosophist Annie Besant who had arrived in Fremantle on the same ship as the Lawrences. Although Lawrence had no direct contact with her, he dabbled
in the occult and dipped into Theosophist writings. In 1901, Besant and Charles Leadb
eater had published a Theosophist account of colour harmony, Thought-Forms, in which they associated ‘blue’ with ‘Devotion to a Noble Ideal’:
The different shades of blue all indicate religious feeling, and range through all hues from the dark brown-blue of selfish devotion, or the pallid grey-blue of fetish-worship tinged with fear, up to the rich deep clear color of heartfelt adoration, and the beautiful pale azure of that highest form which implies self-renunciation and union with the divine; the devotional thought of an unselfish heart is very lovely in colour, like the deep blue of a summer sky. Through such clouds of blue will often shine out golden stars of great brilliancy, darting upwards like a shower of sparks.
Any of these characteristics could be applied to some element in both Lawrence and Somers. A residue of social reform in this crediting anyone with a selflessness would have irritated Lawrence/Somers whose Noble Ideal was ‘freedom of the individual’.

Shadowing Lawrence’s complaints about the smothering of the individual by mechanisation was his quest for the ‘Dark God’ that did not dwell in villadom. When the Somerses first rent a house – ‘Torestin’ – on the North Shore (actually a picture of ‘Wyework’ at Thirroul), these contrary attitudes flare in a disagreement about the domestic colour scheme:
Before Harriett had even taken her hat off she removed four pictures from the wall, and the red plush table-cloth from the table. Somers had disconsolately opened the bags, so she fished out an Indian sarong of purplish shot colour, to try how it would look across the table. But the walls were red, of an awful deep bluey red, that looks so fearful with dark-oak fittings and furniture: or dark-stained jarrah, which amounts to the same thing; and Somers snapped, looking at the purple sarong – a lovely thing in itself:
‘Not with red walls’.
‘No, I suppose not,’ said Harriett, disappointed. ‘We can easily colour-wash them white or – cream’.
‘What, start colour-washing walls – ?’
‘It would only take half a day’.
‘That’s what we come to a new land for – to God’s Own Country – to start colour-washing walls in a beastly little suburban bungalow? That we’ve hired for three months and mayn’t live in three weeks!’
‘Why not? You must have walls’. (11-12)
Indeed, one must. And floors too it appears because, seventy pages on, after the Somerses have shifted south to ‘Coo-ee’, they spend the day, with help from Jack and Victoria Callcott,
tearing down the horrid rag-and-dirt screens … and … the dirt-grey thin carpet … Then they banged and battered this thin old patternless carpet, and washed it with soda and water … and afternoon saw Jack and Somers polishing floors with a stuff called glowax …(84)
The threatened whitewashing, like the actual waxing, followed a utilitarian approach to decoration. The colours of nature better suited the free individual, except that they tied one to a place, and that meant to its people.

The detachments – emotional, physical and intellectual – that had been keeping Somers from saying ‘Yes’ to the leader of the fascist ‘Diggers’, Kangaroo, were also expressed through colour. Kangaroo concludes with the departure of Richard and Harriet Somers. Their last day is filled with a longing to stay in the bush, and with reflections on the significance of their sojourn. Their connections to the place are suffused with colours:
The bush now and then glowed gold, and there were almond and apricot trees near the little wooden bungalows, and by the railway unknown flowers, magenta and yellow and white, among the rocks. (356)
Into sixty lines of type, Lawrence put twenty-three colour adjectives, as well as the word ‘colour’ five times, and such cognates as ‘rainbow’, ‘darkness’, ‘brilliant’ and ‘glittering’.

Once that rejection had happened, ‘[t]he coloured bubble had burst’. (133). When Somers is leaving, he sees:
Sydney lying on its many-lobed blue harbour, in the Australian spring. The many people, all seeming dissolved in the blue air. Revolutions – nothingness. Nothing could ever matter. (356)
Here, ‘blue’ is an expression of the void, the blindness in sight, thought and feeling that flows from the play of sunlight on the surf and then the harbour. Here is a source of that emptiness that Somers finds inside Australians. (131) ‘Blue’ as nothingness arches back to the misery that Somers had felt on arrival.

Even at its most exalted, ‘blue’ could not carry his responses to their zenith. For that, Lawrence relied on the rainbow:
Far back, in the east, was a cloud that was a rainbow. It was a piece of rainbow, but not sharp, in a band; it was a tall fume far back among the clouds of the sea-wall.
‘Who is there that you feel you are with, besides me – or who feel themselves with you?’ Harriett was asking.
‘No one’, he replied. And at the same moment he looked up and saw the rainbow fume beyond the sea. But it was on a dark background like a coloured darkness. The rainbow as always a symbol to him – a blood symbol: of this peace. A pledge of unbroken faith, between the universe and the innermost. And the very moment he said ‘No one,’ he saw the rainbow for an answer.
Many times in his life he had seen a rainbow. The last had been on his arrival in Sydney.
… the wharf looked black and dismal, empty. …. Black, all black … even the green grass … Yet over it all, spanning the harbour, the most magnificent great rainbow. His mood was so miserable he didn’t want to see it. But it was unavoidable. A huge, brilliant, supernatural rainbow, spanning all Sydney.
He was thinking of this, and still watching the dark-green, yellow-reflecting sea, that was like a northern sea, a Whitby sea, and watching the far-off fume of a dark rainbow apparition …. (155)
Lawrence had not placed this epiphany in its chronological order on the opening page. There, its metaphysics would have overpowered the mood he needed to establish about the newcomer as isolate.

To describe the steaming away from the wharf, Lawrence turns the streamers between ship and shore into a summation of his political and personal reactions to the love that he has refused:
So, this was the last tie, this ribbon of coloured paper. Somers had a yellow and a red one: Victoria held the end of the red streamer. Jaz’s wife the end of the yellow. Harriet had blue and green streamers. And from the side of the ship a whole glittering tangle of these colours connecting the departing with the remaining, a criss-cross of brilliant colour that seemed to glitter like a rainbow in the beams of the sun …
Only the criss-crossing web of brilliant streamers, red, blue, purple, white, yellow, green, went from the hands of the departing to the hands of those who would be left behind. (357)
By the final page, Lawrence has created the conditions for a rainbow made out of streamers, one no less laden with thoughts than that presented by nature on Somers’ arrival.

One measure of the colours that Lawrence lavished on the last pages of Kangaroo comes from comparing his departure scene with that in Henry Handel Richardson’s Australia Felix, published in 1917. Richardson had completed the draft in England before her return visit in 1912, during which she would have experienced the streamers but could not use them for a sailing set fifty years earlier. The emotional significance of such colours as Richardson chose is different from Lawrence’s because Mahony is heading towards ‘the dear old mother country – home’, and is several times gladder to be quitting Melbourne than Lawrence is sorry to be leaving Sydney. Instead of streamers, Richardson portrayed her characters waving handkerchiefs, damp with tears, or tied to canes but she made no mention of their colours – were they all white? As Mahony’s ship, called Red Jacket,
moves through Port Phillip Bay, the settlements are reduced to ‘whitely s
mudges’ before ‘the Dandenong Ranges, grown bluer and bluer, were also lost in the sky’. Mahony’s temples are ‘graying’ but his ‘faculties green’. Richardson used the Rip at the mouth of the Bay, with its ‘white lines of foam’ and churning ocean, as a metaphor for Mahony’s mental state. Here is excitement, but also menace, a forewarning of the wreck that her protagonist’s life will become, an end foreshadowed in the trilogy’s opening sentence of a man’s being buried alive.

The Boy in the Bush, which Lawrence rewrote after leaving Australia, was nowhere near as chromatic as Kangaroo. The final paragraph wins its effect from a restrained use of colour when the ‘pale blue ocean full of light’ is contrasted to ‘the silent grey bush’ in which the young Englishman no longer feels lost.

As Somers is leaving Sydney, he spies some Chinese on the dock, a sight which summons a tripled invocation of ‘darkness’:
He felt another heart-string going to break like the streamers, leaving Australia, leaving his own British connection. The darkness that comes over the heart at the moment of departure darkens the eyes too, and the last scene is remote, remote, detached inside a darkness. (357)
Lawrence extended synaesthesia beyond a merging of the senses to encompass politics. The rainbow of streamers formed a bridge, a pledge, just as the streamers were a bond among the white race. Crossing the Indian Ocean on his way to Fremantle, Lawrence had written of his distaste for the Ceylonese:
Those natives are back of us – in the living sense lower than we are. But they’re going to swarm over and suffocate us. We are, have been for five centuries, the growing tip. Now we’re going to fail. But you don’t catch me going back on my whiteness and Englishness and myself. English in the teeth of all the world, even in the teeth of England. ’
Within Kangaroo, Lawrence expanded on thoughts he had put in his Moby Dick essay:
Melville knew. He knew his race was doomed. His white soul doomed. His great white epoch, doomed. Himself, doomed. The idealist, doomed. The spirit, doomed. … What then is Moby Dick? He is the deepest blood-letting of the white race; he is our deepest blood-nature. And he is hunted, hunted, hunted by the maniacal fanaticism of our white mental consciousness. And in this maniacal conscious hunt of ourselves we get dark races and pale to help us, red, yellow, and black, east and west…
This tangle of colours and places is a reprise of the streamers tying Somers to his white race, but they are not strong enough to hold him. Lawrence was alarmed not only at the upsurge of the coloured. He had been repelled by the European masses, just as Somers rejects both the ‘Diggers’ and the ‘Reds’ in Sydney.

Grace Cossington Smith began her engagement with a Modernist palette by creating ‘Sock Knitter’ (1915), an image of domestic security which nonetheless implied the violence of soldiering. She continued to shift between the realms of suburban safety and public menace. ‘Reinforcements’ (1917) and ‘The Prince’ (1920) presented city spaces that upheld the values of her class, threatened by the masses in ‘Strike’ (1917), ‘Crowd’ (1922) and ‘Rushing’ (1922). The pastel pinks in ‘Strike’ are challenged by the hammers carried by the workers. Elsewhere, Cossington Smith selected colours and tones to confirm her prejudices. In ‘Reinforcements’, she constrained the khaki of the troops with a foreground of brightly dressed civilians and high-keyed buildings behind. Even the presence of her beloved royalty was portrayed in brown and fawn, with the flags lost in shadow, unlike the festive streetscapes of Manet and Monet. Her 1922 pair were in dark brown, blue serge and tan.
What was gloomy in Cossington Smith was a brilliant red in ‘Yarra Bank Meeting’ (1923), once called ‘Strife’, by Patrick John Harford who glorified the social forces that Cossington Smith feared. His abstracted figures were of the anti-conscriptionist union official Fred Riley, and the Communist Party solicitor Christian Jolly Smith. Harford applied his craft as a stained-glass maker to this painting with its diagonal slash of red lightning. He had married Lesbia Keogh (1891-1927) whose poems grew from the struggles of girls in clothing factories, miles away from the voluntary sewing circles of Grace Cossington Smith along the North Shore.

The street scenes of Cossington Smith and the Harfords crossed the political and industrial conditions that the Lawrences encountered. He interpreted them in Kangaroo through the prism of the world class war between fascism and Bolshevism. That contest had informed the second half of Aaron’s Rod, passages in Sea and Sardinia, and his essays on Melville and Whitman.

Lawrence had characters in Aaron’s Rod gabble on about exterminating the brutes as the path back to sanity: ‘You’ve got to have a sort of slavery again. People are not men: they are insects and instruments, and their destiny is slavery’. In the ‘Nightmare’ chapter of Kangaroo, Somers rails against ‘all the teeming human ants, human slaves’(150). Lawrence also hated the mob, but refused to surrender to ‘the vast mob spirit’ behind that hatred when marshaled by the upper classes: ‘He still believed in the freedom of the individual. – Yes, freedom of the individual!’ (227). Kangaroo’s lieutenant, Jack Callcott, knew that, in a war between classes, as between nations, ‘what you depend on is a general, and on discipline, and on obedience. And nothing else is the slightest bit of good’. (89) The majority could not afford the luxury of standing outside or above the conflict, as Somers decides to do in Kangaroo, before fleeing from one scribbling place to the next.

Lawrence opened Chapter XVI of Kangaroo by asking ‘And what is a mob?’, and answered with a contrary: ‘But the only way to make any study of collective psychology is to study the isolate individual’ (294). This paradox set him off through a ten-page essay on ‘the Dark God’:
But the mob has no direction even in its destructive lust. The vengeful masses have direction. And it is no good trying to reason with them. The mass does no act by reason. A mass is not even formed by reason. The more intense or extended the collective consciousness, the more does the truly reasonable, individual consciousness sink into abeyance. (298)
Lawrence continued that ‘men are reduced to a great, non-mental oneness as in the hot-blooded whales, and then, like whales which suddenly charge upon the ship which tortures them, so they burst upon the vessel of civilisation’. (301) In his essay on Melville’s Moby Dick, Lawrence projected the Pequod, with its polygot crew, as a ‘symbol’ for mechanical, ‘business-like Yankees’. The white whale was ‘the deepest blood-being of our white race’, in revolt against the false values of those maniacs.

Peter Scheckner in Class, Politics and the Individual suggested that Lawrence – through his characters – maintained a creative tension inside himself about on which side, if either, of the barricades he should take a stand. He could never commit his individuality to any cause, or deny his working-class roots. Kangaroo can be read as a study of these conflicts, in which Lawrence shifted around a Manichean opposition between the black debbil-debbil of the mob and the white whale of individualism. As fascinating as he made chiaroscuro in his prose, its tonalism did not allow him to paint his individuality. Lawrence chased after exotic landscapes against which he could contrast his Englishness. In Kangaroo, he realised the effects of place on people and of people on place through every colour of the rainbow.

Humphrey McQueen is a Marxist dinosaur, surviving as a freelance historian in Canberra. He is currently writing a history of builders labourers and their unions in Australia since European invasion. More details and a
selection of his writings can be found at alphali

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