Twentieth-century ideas of love in D. H. Lawrence and Eileen Chang

Sijia Yao, Purdue University


This dissertation investigates the twentieth-century conceptions of love by comparing the novels and stories of two representative, cutting-edge authors, D. H. (David Herbert) Lawrence (1885-1930) and Eileen Chang (Ailing Zhang, 1920-1995). Love, as a romantic passion in literature is never simply an emotion, but is inexorably intertwined with culture, authority, history, and ideology. One would expect a very different perspective on love from an aristocratic Chinese woman and an English working-class literary genius. And yet, despite all these differences between English and Chinese cultures, there remain certain underlying aesthetic practices that connect the works of these two writers during the formative years of the twentieth century. To discern what is common between otherwise different cultures, my project, built upon the research of other scholars but narrowed down to two representative writers, will examine four forms of love commonly experienced in one’s lifetime: Oedipal love, sexual love, adulterous love, and transcendental love. The comparison between D. H. Lawrence and Eileen Chang through the four loves helps us to argue that love is a universal feeling but is encoded with different social, political, cultural, and metaphysical meanings in distinctive contexts. The recognition of the two representative modern writers’ resemblances and differences fosters us to contemplate such significant, urgent topics as gender, modernity, and religion, to fill the rift between the East and the West, and to register the lasting cultural impacts the authors exert in today’s cultures. Lawrence and Chang, equally courageous truth-tellers, share Nietzsche’s countercultural orientation, and offer us alternative modes of thinking about love, life, time, our cultural identity, and overall the meaning of our existence.




Ross, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Comparative literature|Modern literature

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