Edwardian drama : a critical study
Clarke, Ian, 1952-
Literature; Mass media; Performing arts
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- © 1981 Ian Clarke. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.
'The plays are very interesting, but again, formless,' was Violet Hunt's criticism of Lawrence's plays in 1912. This sort of comment is fairly predictable when the formal structure of drama in England, whether from the pen of Ibsen or Pinero, was expected to conform to the tenets of the well-made play. It arises from a basic misunderstanding of the nature of Lawrence's drama which has persisted until quite recently. Just as Lawrence's inclusion of the domestic details and rituals of the miner's home has been seen not as an ordering and defining principle but as a documentary, a transcript of unordered reality, so Lawrence's plays have been viewed as formless. To hold such an attitude is to fail to appreciate the form which inheres in the plays through such an ordering principle.
The sense of form in Edwardian drama tended to emanate from two different but linked sources: formal construction, plays with a beginning, a middle and an end; and a structure of received ideas, an overt ideology which informs the plays with a cohesive intellectual order. Lawrence deliberately avoided both the rigidity of construction of the well-made play and the tendency of the social thesis. Lawrence was unable to find an appropriate form in the drama of his contemporaries. and found that their form was false to the drama be wanted to write.
The aesthetic and morality of the well-made play in the hands of the society dramatists is inescapably interlinked, a part and parcel of the experience they convey. The experience mediated by the colliery plays is very different from the experience mediated by the society drama and therefore demands a different aesthetic, that is a different way of defining the drama. Lawrence deliberately constructed and gave form to his colliery plays by investing them with the sense of definition which I have analysed. Lawrence disguised the treatment of his material in order to achieve an effect which has greater congruity with our experience of the unordered reality of life. Similarly he disguised the construction of his plays so that we should be unaware of an externally imposed sense of form, either the theatricality of the well-made play or the intellectuality of the social thesis. Lawrence's plays are not more real that the plays of his contemporaries, he merely utilised a different convention, a different technique.
He avoided the formal exposition by making the creation of the social and cultural context its own exposition, its own explanation and definition. He avoided the conclusive ending which allowed the audience to go home feeling contented and satisfied at having witnessed Edwardian middle-class morality triumphant, or feeling smug and complacent in feeling that it had performed some social duty in having its own view of the unfairness of the social and economic system confirmed by a Galsworthy. And in so doing he created a drama which mediated a different experience.
It is only when the technique of Lawrence's plays is appreciated, when they are seen as carefully controlled and consciously dramatic works, that they can be hailed as they have been as 'the only really satisfying Naturalist drama in English’ (Lilian R. Furst and Peter N. Skrine, Naturalism, p. 68).
- Department of English, The University of Hull
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