(Ruhr-University Bochum)

„Multistable Complicity: Image-Schematic Struggles and Sapphic Embodiment in D. H. Lawrence’s The Fox (1923) and The Rainbow (1915)“

The sapphic has persistently been cast as a category that exists and does not exist, thus constituting a ‘ghostly’ reality whose truth status is inherently unstable (e.g. Castle, Medd). As Jodie Medd suggests, the possibility of the sapphic was construed as a threat to marriage in post-WWI British society, with the divorce rate reaching an all-time high in 1921, leading to a surge in discursive resignifications of female homoeroticism (Medd 211).

Read through the lens of complicity, it can be proposed that the imminent threat of the sapphic to dominant culture is subject to strategies of enfolding, suggesting a collective investment in the invalidation of an ontological structure. The notion that a complicit individual can be defined as being ‘enfolded’ in structural inequity (Wächter 2020) – i.e., bodily as well as cognitively implicated in collective wrongdoing – serves to explore to what extent one ontology becomes (or is made to be) the privileged site of embodied situatedness rather than another.

As I propose, D.H. Lawrence’s The Fox and The Rainbow engender (reading) positions that oscillate between ideologies through changing bodily enfoldedness on the level of image schemas. I analyse both narratives through the lens of gestalt perception to investigate to what extent the sapphic disrupts hegemonic figure-ground relations. The oscillation between figure-ground relations can be mapped onto what Lisa Blackman calls ‘threshold phenomena’, including experiences such as voice hearing, telepathy, and mesmerism, which featured particularly prominently in early 20th century discourse due to the emergence of telephenomena and which unsettled the idea of selfhood as bounded. These suggestive phenomena “refer to a diverse range of actions registered and transmitted between bodies that cross the divide between the somatic and the psychological” (Blackman 52). The heteronormative forces represented in the two novels are instances of complicit enfolding in that they render sapphic embodiment more permeable image-schematically, which facilitates the enfolding of the sapphic in hegemonic feeling structures. However, as I aim to demonstrate in my exemplary readings of The Rainbow and The Fox, the very schemas created to enfold the sapphic are rendered multistable by the indeterminacy of the latter.

My PhD project examines queer modernist fiction through the lens of embodied and cognitive narratology, critical phenomenology, as well as new materialist approaches. Given its generic properties, queer modernism allows for a thorough investigation of sensations, perceptions and emotions that deviate from normative experiencing as depicted in narrative.


Blackman, Lisa. Immaterial Bodies: Affect, Embodiment, Mediation. SAGE, 2012.

Castle, Terry. The Apparitional Lesbian: Female Homosexuality and Modern Culture. Columbia University Press, 1993.

Medd, Jodie. “Séances and Slander: Radclyffe Hall in 1920.” Sapphic Modernities: Sexuality, Women, and National Culture, edited by Laura Doan and Jane Garrity, Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, pp. 201-216.

Wächter, Cornelia. “Complicity: Enfoldings and Unfoldings.” Project Description. Unpublished [2020].