University of New Orleans
Reproductive Choice and Autonomous Individuality in D. H. Lawrence’s The Fox: A Darwinian Feminist Perspective
Monday, April 12, 2010
Science I 149, 5:00 PM
This talk will explore D.H. Lawrence’s classic novella The Fox from a Darwinian feminist perspective. Reconceptualized and rewritten in 1921 from a 1918 short story at a time when Lawrence was beginning to insist on a submissive role for women in his discursive writings, the novella has long elicited conflicting interpretations from literary critics, some of whom find the text consistent with his contemporaneous insistence on female subordination and some of whom find it more compatible with his earlier, more egalitarian doctrine of “ultimate marriage.” An evolutionary perspective on reproductive strategies combined with literary critical resources provides a means of interpreting the complex narrative perspective of this story. While evolutionary social science recognizes that men may seek to control women as reproductive resources, it also predicts that women will strive to elude or subvert such control, and it is just this conflict between strategies and choices as fitness concerns and self-determination or autonomy as a social matter that Darwinian feminism can foreground in cultural analyses. In the case of The Fox, Lawrence dramatizes the conflict between Henry Grenfel’s efforts to control Nellie March and March’s own efforts to maintain autonomous individuality through both literally represented actions and the symbolic implications of the fox.
Nancy Easterlin is Research Professor of English at the University of New Orleans. Her specializations include British romanticism, prose fiction, and literary theory, with a special emphasis in cognitive-evolutionary (or biocultural) theory. She is the author of Wordsworth and the Question of Romantic Religion (Bucknell, 1996) and coeditor of After Poststructuralism: Interdisciplinarity and Literary Theory (Northwestern, 1993), as well as the author of numerous articles on cognitive-evolutionary theory and criticism. Her current book project, What Is Literature For? Biocultural Theory and Criticism, demonstrates the theoretical and practical value of various areas of cognitive-evolutionary research for a range of current approaches in literary studies, including ideological, environmental, cognitive, and Darwinian orientations. The project was supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2008.