The Plumed Serpent

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The Plumed Serpent
The Plumed Serpent (first edition).jpg
Cover of the first edition
AuthorD. H. Lawrence
Cover artistDorothy Brett (for the first US edition, published by Knopf)
GenrePolitical fiction
PublisherMartin Secker
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages445 (Vintage international edition)
ISBN0-679-73493-7 (Vintage international edition)

The Plumed Serpent is a 1926 novel by D. H. Lawrence. Set in Mexico during the Mexican Revolution, it was begun when the author was living at what is now the D. H. Lawrence Ranch near Taos in the U.S. state of New Mexico in 1924, accompanied by his wife Frieda and artist Dorothy Brett.[1]

Commentators have seen the book as having fascist overtones, and as expressing Lawrence's fears about the decline of the white race and belief in women's submission to men. It has also been interpreted as an expression of Lawrence's personal political ambition. Critics have disagreed about the book's literary merit as compared to Lawrence's other novels, some finding it inferior to his other work.


The novel has a contemporary setting during the period of the Mexican Revolution. It opens with a group of tourists visiting a bullfight in Mexico City. One of them, Kate Leslie, departs in disgust and encounters Don Cipriano, a Mexican general. Later she meets his friend, an intellectual landowner Don Ramón, and travels to Sayula, a small town set on a lake. Ramón and Cipriano are leading a revival of a pre-Christian religion and Kate becomes drawn into their cult.

Publication history[edit]

The Plumed Serpent was first published in 1926 by Martin Secker's firm in the United Kingdom and Alfred A. Knopf in the United States. Secker reissued the book in 1926, 1927, 1928, and 1930.[2] The book was published by Penguin Books in 1950, and numerous times thereafter.[3] In 1992, a Vintage International edition was published by Vintage Books, a division of Random House.[4] Lawrence wanted to call the book "Quetzalcoatl", after the Aztec god of that name, but Knopf found the name strange and insisted on "The Plumed Serpent", a title Lawrence disliked. An early draft of the book, different enough to be considered a distinct work, was published under the title Quetzalcoatl in 1995.[5]


The cultural critic Philip Rieff described The Plumed Serpent as "a novel of pagan religiosity, raising the possibility of converting a Western woman to a primitive Indian cult." Rieff wrote that in his "imaginative rehabilitation" of Aztec ritual, Lawrence "rightly understands sun dancing as an imitation — or a dramatic representation — performed in substantiation of the divine concern with the human being", but concluded that The Plumed Serpent is an embarrassment even to Lawrence's admirers.[6]

The feminist Kate Millett, writing in Sexual Politics (1969), described the "mood" of The Plumed Serpent as homoerotic. She wrote that most of Lawrence novels include a "symbolically surrogate scene of pederasty", giving the "consecration scene" in The Plumed Serpent as an example. Millett suggested that The Plumed Serpent was a deservedly neglected novel, describing it as "strident" and "unpleasant" because of Lawrence's "protofascist tone" and "fondness of force", his "arrogance" and his "racial, class, and religious bigotries." She maintained that the book showed Lawrence's search for triumph in politics and other areas of life, and that it records Lawrence's invention of a religion of "male supremacy", with its prose celebrating "phallic supremacy". She described Lawrence's character Kate Leslie as a "female impersonator".[7]

The poet Richard Aldington described The Plumed Serpent as "a curious and original novel". He compared it to Frederick Rolfe's novel Hadrian the Seventh (1904), considering the similarity to be that "in both books the author imagines himself raised to a position of power which he never had the faintest chance of attaining in fact on this earth." However, Aldington suggested that the book shows that "Lawrence constantly recoils in dissenting horror from the very things he is supposed to be preaching." Aldington interpreted Lawrence's character Don Cipriano as a projection of Lawrence himself, and his character Kate Leslie as a projection of Frieda Lawrence.[8]

F. B. Pinion considered the book "one of Lawrence's major novels, the most ambitious and successful of those he had written after Women in Love." According to Pinion, E. M. Forster regarded the book as Lawrence's finest novel.[9] The novelist William S. Burroughs stated, in response to dismissive comments about Lawrence by Leslie Fiedler, that he was very influenced by The Plumed Serpent.[10] The critic William York Tindall called The Plumed Serpent "a great metaphor for a feeling about reality."[11] The critic Harold Bloom argued in The Western Canon (1995) that Lawrence was writing as a "rather weird political theorist" in The Plumed Serpent, which he described as a "Fascist fiction" inferior to The Rainbow (1915) and Women in Love (1920).[12] The cultural critic William Irwin Thompson wrote that the novel shows that Lawrence misunderstood the religion of ancient Mexico.[13]

Louis L. Martz wrote that the book resembles the Bible in its "combination of prose and poetry, its mingling of narrative and description with songs and hymns, lyrical sermons and eloquent authorial ruminations, along with its frequent use of occult symbols". Martz found the work a success in its own terms so long as it is "read as a novel of prophecy, with all the abrupt shifts of tone and technique that prophecy manifests".[14] Marianna Torgovnick wrote that The Plumed Serpent "has been charged with protofascism" and that it "states its racialised theses quite clearly at times. It posts Lawrence's views, derived from theories circulating within his culture, of the fall and rise of races based upon energy and power. Lawrence's fear is specifically the fear that the white race will be supplanted".[15][16] She suggested that the book "advocates women’s slavelike submission to men and surrender of the drive toward orgasm" and that its "overblown prose" makes it easy to reject.[17] Anne Fernihough called The Plumed Serpent "stridently ideological".[18]

Standard editions[edit]

  • The Plumed Serpent (1926), edited by L. D. Clark, Cambridge University Press, 1987, ISBN 0-521-22262-1
  • The Plumed Serpent (1926), ed. by L. D. Clark and Introd. Virginia Crosswhite Hyde, Penguin Twentieth Century Classics 1995 ISBN 0-14-018812-6
  • The Plumed Serpent (1926), Edited with an introduction by Ronald G. Walker, Penguin English Library, 1983
  • Quetzalcoatl (1925), edited by Louis L Martz, W W Norton Edition, 1998, ISBN 0-8112-1385-4 – Early draft of The Plumed Serpent

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Taos Summer Writers Conference
  2. ^ Moore, Harry T. (1974). The Priest of Love: A Life of D. H. Lawrence. London: Heinemann. p. 419.
  3. ^ Aldington, Richard; Lawrence, D. H. (1974). The Plumed Serpent. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. p. 4. ISBN 0 14 00-0754 7.
  4. ^ William York, Tindall; Lawrence, D. H. (1992). The Plumed Serpent. New York: Vintage Books. p. iv. ISBN 0-679-73493-7.
  5. ^ Martz, Louis L.; Lawrence, D. H. (1998). Quetzalcoatl. New York: New Directions Books. pp. iv, ix. ISBN 0-8112-1385-4.
  6. ^ Rieff, Philip (1968). The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith After Freud. New York: Harper Torchbacks. pp. 213–214.
  7. ^ Kate, Millett (1990). Sexual Politics. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc. pp. 238, 241, 281, 283, 284. ISBN 0-671-70740-X.
  8. ^ Aldington, Richard; Lawrence, D. H. (1974). The Plumed Serpent. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. pp. 7–9. ISBN 0 14 00-0754 7.
  9. ^ Pinion, F. B. (1980). A D. H. Lawrence Companion. London: Macmillan. pp. 196, 205. ISBN 0 333 17983 8.
  10. ^ Morgan, Ted (1988). Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs. New York: Henry Holt and Company. p. 561. ISBN 0-8050-0901-9.
  11. ^ Tindall, William York; Lawrence, D. H. (1992). The Plumed Serpent. New York: Vintage International. p. xiv. ISBN 0-679-73493-7.
  12. ^ Bloom, Harold (1995). The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages. New York: Riverhead Books. p. 408. ISBN 1-57322-514-2.
  13. ^ Thompson, William Irwin (1996). The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light. New York: St Martin's Griffin. p. 52. ISBN 0-312-16062-3.
  14. ^ Martz, Louis L.; Lawrence, D. H. (1998). Quetzalcoatl. New York: New Directions Books. p. xxi. ISBN 0-8112-1385-4.
  15. ^ Torgovnick, Marianna (1997). Primitive Passions: Men, Women, and the Quest for Ecstasy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 227. ISBN 0-679-43086-5.
  16. ^ Torgovnick, Marianna (2001). Fernihough, Anne, ed. The Cambridge Companion to D. H. Lawrence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 46. ISBN 0-521-62617-X.
  17. ^ Torgovnick, Marianna (2015-05-04). "Our D. H. Lawrence Moment". The Chronicle of Higher Education. ISSN 0009-5982. Retrieved 2017-04-17.
  18. ^ Fernihough, Anne (2001). Fernihough, Anne, ed. The Cambridge Companion to D. H. Lawrence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 9. ISBN 0-521-62617-X.

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