‘Blood-Consciousness’ and the Pioneers of the Reflex and Ganglionic Systems

  • Christopher Heywood
Part of the Macmillan Studies in Twentieth-Century Literature book series (STCL)


Studies of Lawrence’s physiological thinking2 have generally refrained from linking his ideas to developments in theoretical neurology in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. An exception occurs in Professor James C. Cowan’s Journey with Genius: D. H. Lawrence’s American Journey, where Lawrence’s ideas are placed discerningly in the context of available anatomical knowledge.3 Anatomical clarifications were; however, inseparable from major debates about function, and these are strongly reflected in all Lawrence’s writing in this field. Lawrence saw his ‘blood-consciousness’ theory as a remedy to the inadequacies of psychoanalytic theory and practice, and various other cults of his period, but complicated the debate by nowhere revealing his sources. ‘I am no scholar of any sort’, he argued, but remained silent about scientific writers whom he may have had in mind when he added, ‘But I am very grateful to scholars for their sound work’ (F, p.11). The suggestion of this essay is that Lawrence made use of two major and originally rival theories on the function and structure of the involuntary nervous system, the one stemming from the work of Marie-François Xavier Bichat (1771–1802) and the other from the work of the Nottingham-born physiologist Marshall Hall (1790–1857). Hall’s work on the reflex arc largely supplanted Bichat’s ‘ganglionic’ theory by mid century, but Lawrence does not seem to have been aware of the synthesis of the two systems which stemmed from the work of Claude Bernard (1813–78).


Nervous Control Female Orgasm Reflex Function Nervous Functioning Ganglionic System 
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© Christopher Heywood 1987

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  • Christopher Heywood

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