There are stories that may be important and fine works of literary art, but not very
enjoyable. These fall into that category. That doesn't mean they shouldn't be read. Not everything in the world of books is meant to be fun.
These certainly make one think, and arouse emotions, uncomfortable as they may be. Lawrence
accomplished his goal in expressing repressed human emotions.
Even during his own lifetime, David Herbert Richards Lawrence's works were not understood. "His public reputation was that of a pornographer," according to Wikipedia, and indeed, his stories are infused with sexual and erotic content, including homosexuality. Though Lawrence was married, he was probably bisexual. Again, a quote from Wikipedia: "I believe the nearest I've come to perfect love was with a young coal-miner when I was about 16."
Lawrence was the son of a barely literate coal-miner, Arthur John Lawrence, although his mother was a former pupil teacher. (They lived in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, a coal-mining town.) Most of the stories in this collection are set in coal-mining towns, and they all deal with poverty or societal/class issues, along with sexual issues—not only physical, but emotional. What makes these stories so uncomfortable is the inability of the characters to not only communicate with the people to whom they are attached, but their inability to have even the slightest grasp of who they themselves are, or what they are feeling. All of these stories have an underlying dreamy quality, in which normal objects take on a surreal meaning. It seems the characters are more able to express themselves in the context of material object or non-human life, than with other people. From The Shadow in the Rose Garden:
Hastily, she went to a little seat among the white roses, and sat down. Her scarlet sunshade made a hard blot of color. She sat quite still, feeling her own existence lapse. She was no more than a rose, a rose that could not quite come into blossom, but remained tense. A little fly dropped on her knee, on her white dress. She watched it, as if it had fallen on a rose. She was not herself."
There are seven short stories included in this small collection. Here is a brief commentary about each:
In The Prussian Officer, the Captain realizes he has homosexual feelings toward his orderly. The orderly becomes terrified, but endures because he is nearly done with his service. But the Captain, angry at his own feelings kicks the orderly until he is covered with bruises and nearly broken. This drives the orderly to insanity, and he kills the Captain.
Daughters of the Vicar is about a very poor man who is vicar in a coal-mining town where he is disliked. He thinks of himself as high class and separate from everyone else. His wife keeps having children that they cannot afford and are deep in debt. She finally becomes a fat invalid and spends her days on the couch. The eldest daughter, Mary, eventually marries another clergyman, Mr. Massy, who is very small and weak (who looks like a twelve-year-old). She convinces herself that she wants to marry him. (He is well-off, so the financial stability is essential for her own family.) Her younger sister, Louisa, however, truly loves Alfred Durant, who had served in the Navy, but is now home and working in the coal mines. When his mother dies, Louisa finally tells him she loves him. He is afraid of women, but does love her. They ask Mr. Lindley, Louisa's father for permission to marry. Mrs. Lindley mocks Alfred's low class. They had planned to live nearby in Alfred's house, but Louisa's parents feel it is too much of an embarrassment, so they agree to move to Canada.
In Second Best, Frances is jilted by Jimmy from Liverpool. She has gone to see him, and finds he is engaged to another. She then realizes she likes a country boy, Tom Smedley. This one is by far the least uncomfortable of them all.
The Shadow in the Rose Garden, quoted above, tells of a young married couple who move to where the wife had lived before, but she does not want anyone to recognize her. Still, she must do what she must, which is to return to the rectory. She had been in love with the rector's son, Archie, and had a sexual relationship with him, of which her husband was unaware. He was in the service and went to fight in Africa, where he supposedly died. But he didn't die, he just went mad.
The White Stocking is about a flirtatious young wife who pushes her husband too far one day until he hits her.
The Christening is a story of a family where an illegitimate child is born. The minister is to come and do the christening. The father of the daughters, a former coal-miner, is ill with a crippling disease which has affected him both physically and mentally. During the christening, he goes into a long prayer about how he has ruined his daughters.
In The Odour of Chrysanthemums, a woman with two children and another on the way awaits her husband from the coal mines. He is very late, but she is used to him going off drinking. Finally she begins to worry, and goes to a neighbor's, also a miner. The husband had stayed down in the mine to finish something, and they realize he has never come up. He is discovered, suffocated, because part of the mine had collapsed. His wife now understands that they never really knew each other, as she and her mother-in-law clean and dress the body.
D.H. Lawrence is best known for his full-length novels, Lady Chatterley's Lover, Sons and Lovers, Women in Love, and The Rainbow.
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