It is not that I care about other people: I know that I am the English nation – that I am the European race – and that which exists ostensibly as the English nation is a falsity, mere cardboard. L’Etat c’est moi.
And I am English, and my Englishness is my very vision. But now I must go away, if my soul is sightless for ever.
Quoting Louis XIV, 'L'Etat c'est moi', Lawrence is also echoing Flaubert's celebrated dictum, 'Madame Bovary, c'est moi' - a phrase equating the writer's identity with his writing. In this formulation - a comic delusion of grandeur, of megalomania - Lawrence, his writing and England are a trinity become one.
Yet the writer who claimed to be the English nation and the European race was poorly treated by England’s state institutions during the First World War. If Lawrence was England, his wartime experiences show a nation at war with itself. The state restricted the distribution of his writing by banning The Rainbow in 1915. This cut Lawrence off from his audience, and his royalties were so reduced that he lived out the war years in poverty. The state restricted his rights of movement, expelling him from Cornwall under suspicion of espionage, and refusing to allow him to leave England. Most traumatically, the state ‘pawed’, scrutinised and mocked his naked body, a body not fit for military service. Lawrence was examined by military doctors three times. In his letters, and in the chapter of Kangaroo entitled ‘The Nightmare’, Lawrence portrays his treatment by military tribunals as a form of sexual assault.
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