In the mid-1950s F.R. Leavis called Lawrence ‘one of the great masters of comedy’ but failed to develop the claim, intent as he was on eliciting a body of truths about the life-enhancing, religious and normative potential of Lawrence's writings. In the reconstruction of values which attended the cold-war, industrialist and existentialist climates of the period, that particular Lawrence – once established, and answering felt needs – held good for a couple of decades. The construction still deserves respect as testimony to the way in which Leavis and others powerfully responded to energising qualities they discovered in Lawrence's writings. But the result was to construe those qualities as redemptive values of which post-1960s generations of readers, differently attuned, would feel little need. However, the intellectual relativism of the late twentieth century is helping us to recognise another Lawrence. Understanding the place of comedy in his works – particularly those of the 1920s, generally cast as poor relations of the ‘great’ works of the 1910s – will be central. This, the first book devoted to the subject of Lawrence and comedy, is intended as a contribution to the project. Inevitably this collection of essays, all but one freshly written for the volume and previously unpublished, will not exhaust it; the present Introduction sketches the background and points towards further possible lines of enquiry.
The earnestness of the Lawrence-figure we have inherited leads many people, understandably, to assume that ‘Lawrence’ and ‘comedy’ are self-contradictory terms.