The great novels of sex of the nineteenth century were those of Thomas Hardy. By comparison, Lawrence’s books are more subtle and more revealing. Hardy was interested in the results of the sex impulses as they display themselves in normal life. Sex wrecks Jude; sex ennobles and ruins Tess. Lawrence is not much interested in results. When sex is triumphant in Alvina, the lost girl, the story ends. Her story is just beginning, but the only aspect that interested Lawrence has concluded. Sex in itself and for itself is his fascination, and if this makes him narrow it also makes him shrewd.
Sex can be defined fairly adequately in physiological terms as consisting of the building up of bodily tensions and their release. Eros, in contrast, is the experiencing of the personal intentions and meaning of the act. Whereas sex is a rhythm of stimulus and response, Eros is a state of being. The pleasure of sex is described by Freud and others as the reduction of tension; in Eros, on the contrary, we wish not to be released from the excitement but rather to hang on to it, to bask in it, and even to increase it. The end toward which sex points is gratification and relaxation, whereas Eros is a desiring, longing, a forever reaching out, seeking to expand.
There are two kinds of sex, classical and baroque. Classical sex is romantic, profound, serious, emotional, moral, mysterious, spontaneous, abandoned, focused on a particular person, and stereo typically feminine. Baroque sex is pop, playful, funny, experimental, conscious, deliberate, amoral, anonymous, focused on sensation for sensation’s sake, and stereo typically masculine. The classical mentality taken to an extreme is sentimental and finally puritanical; the baroque mentality taken to an extreme is pornographic and finally obscene. Ideally, a sexual relation ought to create a satisfying tension between the two modes (a baroque idea, particularly if the tension is ironic) or else blend them so well that the distinction disappears (a classical aspiration). Lovemaking cannot be totally classical unless it is also totally baroque, since you cannot abandon all restraints and so attain a classical intensity. In practice, however, most people are more inclined to one mode than to the other. A very classical person will be incompatible with a very baroque person unless each can bring out the other’s latent opposite side. Two people who are very one-sided in the same direction can be extremely compatible but risk missing a whole dimension of experience unless they get so deeply into one mode that it becomes the other.
Political life in our country has plowed in muddy channels, and needs the infusion of clearer and cleaner waters. I am not sure that women are naturally so much better than men that they will clear the stream by the virtue of their womanhood; it is not through sex but through character that the best influence of women upon the life of the nation must be exerted.