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The Phallus is Not a Mere Member

Artefact 3: Phallic Tenderness | Article 5 of 12

Late Millet and D.H. Lawrence in a fight
Phallus Fight by James Walker. Character sketches by Hunt Emerson for Dawn of the Unread.

In the fifth of twelve essays, Stephen Alexander explores the role of the phallus in Lawrence’s writing and the importance of touch.

Stephen Alexander
Stephen Alexander

The celebration of the phallus in Lawrence’s work is problematic for many readers and critics. Kate Millet, for example, famously claimed in her Sexual Politics (1970) that Lawrence is guilty of transforming his own model of masculinity into a misogynistic mystery religion founded upon homoerotic worship of the penis. But what Millet fails to appreciate is that when Lawrence writes of the phallus he is not simply referring to the erect penis, which, as he says, is a “mere member of the physiological body”.

For Lawrence, the phallus is primarily a sacred symbol of relatedness which forms a bridge between bodies and to the future that is born out of such a union. Nobody, says Lawrence, can accomplish anything – not even flowering into their own individual being – unless they enter into touch with another and find the mating of their desire.

Contempt for the phallus, says Lawrence, betrays the great modern horror of being in touch. And it explains the often frenzied efforts by idealists, happy in their own isolation, to nullify the potency of the phallus by confusing it with the penis.

Having said that, Lawrence himself sometimes confuses the issue, when, for example, Connie Chatterley lovingly observes and fondles the actual genitalia of her lover, Mellors, and succumbs to the queer wonder of his body in its masculinity. This, we might argue, is Lawrence wanting to have his phallic cake and eat it.

Suggested Reading:

D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, ed. Michael Squires, (CUP, 1983).

Kate Millet, Sexual Politics, (Virago, 1977).

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