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Depravity, abuse and homoerotic desire in Billy Budd and the 'Prussian officer'

Jones, Bethan

Authors

Dr Bethan Jones B.M.Jones@hull.ac.uk
Senior Lecturer/ Programme leader for BA English with Foundation Year.



Abstract

In their resonant and evocative stories – Billy Budd, Sailor and ‘The Prussian Officer’ – Herman Melville and D. H. Lawrence adopt military settings for a personal drama. In both tales, two men come into close and dangerous proximity, resulting ultimately in their deaths. Michael Squires has argued that the Lawrence story, “revealing the secret origin of abuse, shows the Captain punishing what he cannot consciously desire”. This comment could also be applied to Melville’s introspective and ambiguous novella (which has been subject to diverse interpretations), suggesting a motive for John Claggart’s persecution of the innocent Billy. Furthermore, secret abuse and subconscious desire are certainly prevalent within Benjamin Britten’s operatic version of Melville’s tale, with libretto by E. M. Forster and Eric Crozier. When it is considered that Forster had almost certainly read Lawrence’s controversial story of military insubordination, bullying, murder and repressed homoerotic desire, a fascinating and complex pattern of inter-connection begins to emerge. Below, I will attempt to tease out the most significant connections by examining both stories alongside the subsequent recasting of Billy Budd as an opera.

Journal Article Type Article
Journal Journal of D H Lawrence studies
Print ISSN 1759-1066
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 4
Issue 2
Pages 47-72
APA6 Citation Jones, B. (in press). Depravity, abuse and homoerotic desire in Billy Budd and the 'Prussian officer'. Journal of D. H. Lawrence Studies, 4(2), 47-72
Keywords Billy Budd, Herman Melville, The Prussian Officer, D. H. Lawrence
Copyright Statement Copyright: individual author and the D. H. Lawrence Society. Quotations from Lawrence’s works © The Estate of Frieda Lawrence Ravagli. Extracts and poems from various publications by D. H. Lawrence reprinted by permission of Pollinger Limited (www.pollingerltd.com) on behalf of the Estate of Frieda Lawrence Ravagli.
Additional Information This is a copy of an article published in: Journal of D H Lawrence studies, 2017, v.4 issue 2.

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Copyright Statement
Copyright: individual author and the D. H. Lawrence Society. Quotations from Lawrence’s works © The Estate of Frieda Lawrence Ravagli. Extracts and poems from various publications by D. H. Lawrence reprinted by permission of Pollinger Limited (www.pollingerltd.com) on behalf of the Estate of Frieda Lawrence Ravagli.



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