D.H. Lawrence and nineteenth-century French literature: representations of masculinity and male desire

UoM administered thesis: Phd


This thesis explores the relationships between D.H. Lawrence and four nineteenth- century French writers: Honore de Balzac, Theophile Gautier, Charles Baudelaire, and Emile Zola. It presents a kinship between Lawrence and French writing founded on the shared desire to depict sex – specifically behaviours and desires that did not adhere to the procreative and heteronormative standard of their respective eras. I argue that the disruption of norms in French writing presented a queering of gender and sexuality that cohered more closely with Lawrence’s depiction of gender nonconformity and sexual dissidence than contemporary anglophone examples. Havelock Ellis’s concept of sexual inversion, Edward Carpenter’s uranism, and the homosexuality of Oscar Wilde represented identity markers Lawrence mistrusted and with which he could not identify. The first chapter examines male femininity in The White Peacock (1911), Balzac’s Sarrasine (1830), and Gautier’s Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835), and explores how this gender ambiguity subverts heteronormative love triangles in Balzac’s La Fille aux yeux d’or (1835). The second argues for the importance of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal and its Decadence to Lawrence’s wartime poetry, before offering a posthuman reading of Women in Love (1920). The final chapter posits Lawrence’s reconfiguration of the degeneration theory used in Zola’s La Curee (1871) to critique scientific discourse and nationalist narratives in Women in Love. In examining Lawrence in the light of an alternate cultural and literary milieu, this thesis develops not only Lawrencean scholarship in mapping the relevance of Decadence and Naturalism to his work, but contributes to the expansion of modernist studies across national and temporal boundaries. This project uses comparativist and queer readings of Lawrence to shed light on the complexity of his writing about sex. It formulates a queer historiography, founded on desire experienced not only across time but through space, by charting what Carolyn Dinshaw calls ‘queer historical touches’ between Lawrence and the French writers. Reflective of Lawrence’s own engagement with these French authors, the bilingual nature of this confounds Anglocentric understandings of Lawrence, and challenges monolingual conceptions of modernism more broadly.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2022