D. H. Lawrence’s “Two Blue Birds” may be read as the story of three individuals’ alienation from themselves, from one another, from language, and from the rest of the world. The two women in the story could hardly be more different, yet they both experience alienation from Cameron Gee. Miss Wrexall’s alienation is the most obvious and wretched; the secretary is “slavishly devoted” to Mr. Gee, but insufficiently recompensed in all respects. Mrs. Gee is also estranged from her husband, whom “she could not live with”; from her home, in which she is a “super-guest”; and from her lovers, who are of little interest to her. Mr. Gee is alienated from the production of his work as well as from his wife and others, for he lives in “comparative isolation.” Only Mrs. Gee realizes the state of alienation that she and others are in, marking her as the most philosophic (or at least, most contemplative) of all the characters. It may seem that her teasing of Miss Wrexall is entirely malicious and founded on envy, but I shall argue that Mrs. Gee is motivated by a salvific desire to free the secretary from the bonds of servitude, and, simultaneously, to restore her husband’s independence.
In “Two Blue Birds,” all the characters have difficulty communicating their feelings and ideas to one another. Alienation from language most readily concerns the writer Cameron Gee, but the two other characters are far from exempt from this type of alienation. Miss Wrexall may be responsible for producing drafts and copies of Mr. Gee’s manuscripts, but she is not the composer of the words for which she makes shorthand marks; she is alienated from language in the sense that the words she transcribes are not her own. Moreover, while working, she is “too busy to have any feelings, except one of elation at being so busy.” That she takes such immense pleasure in her productivity indicates that her master’s interests dominate her own. Even Mrs. Gee, who jots down neither her husband’s ideas nor her own, is not spared alienation from language. Despite anyone’s best efforts to express a sentiment verbally or otherwise, his or her declarations will never actually represent that sentiment; as soon as one utters a phrase – for example, “I love you” – the phrase becomes a thing distinct from, and set against, the actual feeling of love. So Mrs. Gee is alienated from language, just like everyone else, but she has recourse to subtler ways of expression that are much more powerful than words; she uses her eyes “to speak many inexplicable dark volumes.” Despite her self-professed incompetence, Mrs. Gee is the most perceptive and least alienated character.
“Volumes” is also a pun on the books that Mr. Gee writes (or, rather, dictates). Ironically, he who has the greatest facility with words experiences the greatest alienation from language. Mr. Gee can never find the right words to express his ideas; when he dictates a magazine article to Miss Wrexall in the garden, he continually edits his sentences. On one level, he is estranged from the process of writing as he employs a secretary, and on another level, he is alienated from the words he uses, which will never suffice to express his thoughts. Also, the material comforts provided by Miss Wrexall and her mother and sister may seem to benefit Mr. Gee, but they actually cause him to “[deteriorate] from easy comfort.” Profiting from the hard work of others has its drawbacks, which Mr. Gee is oblivious to. As Mrs. Gee perspicaciously reflects, the “perfectly devoted, marvelous secretarial family…were bad for him: ruining his work…ruining him with their slavish service.”
It is notable that Lawrence mentions Mr. Gee’s “beating time with his dangling hand,” as Miss Wrexall takes down his words, twice in the same paragraph. In beating “a sort of vague rhythm to his words,” Mr. Gee tries pathetically to compensate for his alienation from the physical process of artistic production (i.e. typing or writing). Further, it seems as if there exist no outlets through which he may convey his emotions. Mrs. Gee’s feelings towards her husband are telling: “Whether she herself…wanted to be kissed by him, even that she was not clear about. She rather thought she didn’t.” Mrs. Gee would not be gratified by her husband’s kisses because she knows that they will be insincere at worst and insufficient representations of his feelings at best.
Mrs. Gee tries to make Miss Wrexall realize that her relationship with Mr. Gee has made her unhealthily subservient to him, but the little secretary tearfully refuses to acknowledge the baseness of her position, preferring instead to believe the myth that she “was happy working for him” and that Mr. Gee “gives [her] everything, everything.” Miss Wrexall initially protests that she “was happy working with him,” but then revises this statement by averring that she “was happy working for him.” There is, of course, a big difference between the two assertions; the first implies a relationship of equals while the second implies one of unequals. Pushed to exasperation by Mrs. Gee’s “raillery,” Miss Wrexall concedes, for a moment, that she occupies a position of inferiority in her relationship with Mr. Gee, but repeatedly insists that she “was happy.” Was she truly happy or is she simply employing casuistries? Does Mrs. Gee (and by extension, philosophers) err in assuming that slaves are invariably disaffected? And doesn’t Mrs. Gee acquiesce by responding, “Go on being happy working with him…If it makes you happy, why then, enjoy it!” At first blush, it may seem like such is the case, but her diction reveals her belief that happiness is only possible in relationships of equals, and even there it is not always guaranteed, as her own relationship with her husband illustrates. And a short while later, Mrs. Gee tries one final time to make Miss Wrexall aware of the cost of her bondage: “Why, I should say you got nothing out of him at all, you only give! And if you don’t call that making yourself cheap – my God!” After hearing all this, Miss Wrexall still does not wish to reclaim her independence – or does she? Or will she later? Perhaps in spoiling the “beautiful relationship” between her husband and the secretary, Mrs. Gee succeeds in planting the seed of enlightenment and revolutionary sentiment in Miss Wrexall. As for Mr. Gee, his wife’s contradicting him foreshortens his power as master, and brings into sharp focus his alienation from the people closest him.
According to G. W. F. Hegel, the slave in a slave-master relationship may initially feel grateful towards his master for giving him a job, but when his condition gets bad enough, when he reaches a state of abject immiseration, he will then yearn for – and contemplate means of – liberation from that which controls him. Thus, a slave’s insistence of his happiness would be regarded as factitious by a (Hegelian) philosopher, who considers the slave’s freedom to be delimited and diminished by his relationship to his master, who is actually as dependent on the slave as the slave, on the master. Mr. Gee depends on Miss Wrexall not only for her secretarial services, but also for his status as her master. Likewise, Miss Wrexall could not be a slave without a master. If she stopped laboring for Mr. Gee, their relationship would be abolished and they could confront each other as equals. But this is precisely what Miss Wrexall seeks to avoid; she refuses to acknowledge the fact that her relationship with Mr. Gee is inimical to her freedom, as she derives a “deep satisfaction” from working twelve hours a day.
The alienation of language is an inescapable problem whereas the alienation between people can be reduced, if not totally overcome. By the end of “Two Blue Birds,” the three characters are ruffled and displeased, but they are not worse off than they were in the beginning. A crucial change has taken place: Mrs. Gee has forced Mr. Gee and Miss Wrexall to confront the fact of their estrangement from each other and from themselves; she has shone a light on the problem, proffered a solution, and attempted to reason with those who would rationalize. And that is all a philosopher can do. In time, Miss Wrexall may well abandon the place around her master’s feet and, uplifted, gain the air.