The Persephone myth in D. H. Lawrence

Jane Maureen Lindskold, Fordham University


In D. H. Lawrence's writings the Persephone myth provides a symbolic structure through which he expresses his theories of the bi-polar psycho/sexual nature of the individual man or woman and investigates the ways in which the tension between these poles is manifested. Lawrence's sources for the Persephone myth included the Homeric "Hymn to Demeter," and the revolutionary discoveries of the Cambridge Anthropologists. The Cambridge Anthropologists demonstrated how the Persephone of the well-known Homeric hymn evolved from the double-faceted Mother/Maid goddess of the Corn. This goddess voluntarily descends into the underworld in order to emerge in the spring as the seedling corn. The Persephone myth in Lawrence is not restricted to its Greek source. It also serves as a metaphor for the struggle of male and female towards balance, and for the conscious and unconscious worlds between which every woman and, in a broader sense, every human being, land, and culture is torn. Lawrence reshaped and broadened the conflicting forces that the Greeks associated with the upper world and with Hades. The upper world for Lawrence is a place where the self-conscious will and intellect are in command. Lawrence's lower world is not a deathly Hades; it is the dark, fecund, creative center from which all mankind is born. Lawrence used the Persephone myth in each of his major genres. Lawrence's non-fiction writings, especially his travel works, use the Persephone myth. Five poems mention the goddess by name, and many others elaborate on the idea of Persephonian dualism. In the shorter fiction, Persephone is as integral to "The Ladybird," in which she is evoked by name, as to "The Fox," in which her tale provides a subtle thematic understructure. In the novels, Lawrence employs the Persephone myth most completely in five novels, although elements of the myth are evident in his other novels. In the longer works Lawrence provides a more thorough investigation of his theme. In the shorter works, he often focuses on symbolic and thematic elements, thus permitting micro-cosmic attention to details that in turn enhance his overall conception of the theme.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Lindskold, Jane Maureen, "The Persephone myth in D. H. Lawrence" (1989). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8910758.