The Plumed Serpent

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The Plumed Serpent
File:The Plumed Serpent (first edition).jpg
Cover of the first edition
Author D. H. Lawrence
Cover artist Dorothy Brett (for the first US edition, published by Knopf)
Language English
Genre Novel
Published 1926 (Martin Secker)
Media type Print (hardback and paperback)
Pages 445 (Vintage international edition)
ISBN 0-679-73493-7 (Vintage international edition)

The Plumed Serpent is a 1926 novel by D. H. Lawrence. Set in Mexico, it was begun when the author was living at what is now the D. H. Lawrence Ranch near Taos in U.S. state of New Mexico in 1924, accompanied by his wife Frieda and artist Dorothy Brett.[1] Lawrence wanted to call the book "Quetzalcoatl", after the Aztec god of that name, but his publisher 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.[2] Critics have seen The Plumed Serpent as having political or fascist overtones, and as expressing Lawrence's fears about the decline of the white race and belief in women's submission to men.


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.


Several critics have found a political and even fascist dimension to The Plumed Serpent. Literary critic Harold Bloom observes in his The Western Canon (1995) that Lawrence was writing as a "rather weird political theorist" in the book and calls it a "Fascist fiction" inferior to The Rainbow and Women in Love,[3] while Anne Fernihough calls the novel "stridently ideological".[4] Marianna Torgovnick writes that the book "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".[5][6] She believes 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.[7]

Cultural critic Philip Rieff writes that The Plumed Serpent is "a novel of pagan religiosity, raising the possibility of converting a Western woman to a primitive Indian cult." Rieff believes 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 concludes that The Plumed Serpent is an embarrassment even to Lawrence's admirers.[8] However, novelist William S. Burroughs stated, in response to dismissive comments about Lawrence by Leslie Fiedler, that he was very influenced by the book.[9] Literary critic William York Tindall called The Plumed Serpent "a great metaphor for a feeling about reality."[10] Professor Louis L. Martz writes that The Plumed Serpent, 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" resembles the Bible. Martz finds 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".[11]

Cultural critic William Irwin Thompson writes that the book shows that Lawrence misunderstood the religion of ancient Mexico.[12]

Standard editions

  • 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


  1. Taos Summer Writers Conference
  2. Martz, Louis L.; Lawrence, D. H. (1998). Quetzalcoatl. New York: New Directions Books. pp. iv, ix. ISBN 0-8112-1385-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Bloom, Harold (1995). The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages. New York: Riverhead Books. p. 408. ISBN 1-57322-514-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Fernihough, Anne (2001). Fernihough, Anne, ed. The Cambridge Companion to D. H. Lawrence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 9. ISBN 0-521-62617-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Torgovnick, Marianna (1997). Primitive Passions: Men, Women, and the Quest for Ecstasy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 227. ISBN 0-679-43086-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Torgovnick, Marianna (2001). Fernihough, Anne, ed. The Cambridge Companion to D. H. Lawrence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 46. ISBN 0-521-62617-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Rieff, Philip (1968). The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith After Freud. New York: Harper Torchbacks. pp. 213–214.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Tindall, William York; Lawrence, D. H. (1992). The Plumed Serpent. New York: Vintage International. p. xiv. ISBN 0-679-73493-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Martz, Louis L.; Lawrence, D. H. (1998). Quetzalcoatl. New York: New Directions Books. p. xxi. ISBN 0-8112-1385-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Thompson, William Irwin (1996). The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light. New York: St Martin's Griffin. p. 52. ISBN 0-312-16062-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links