I read this for work, although reading Lawrence feels a bit like coming home to me. I was first introduced to Lawrence by my Year 12 Lit teacher in 1996, and it seems only fair that I begin to introduce Lawrence at my own school now.
One of the most unique and compelling things about Lawrence’s writing is his exploration of female sexuality – and that is certainly a theme of this collection of novellas. Many feminsist criticise Lawrence for the way he portrays them – he often casts them in sexual thrall to some masculine entity, a dark attraction (often one they know is no good) that they can’t deny. But I say, at least he was acknowledging women as sexual creatures in a time when we still liked to keep them as covered and docile as possible.
This runs through all three of the novellas in this collection. They also concern men and women before, during or after the First World War. The first concerns two women who have set themselves up alone on a farm (I’d be interested to hear if anyone else picks up definite homosexual undertones here – which again would not be out of character for Lawrence) only to have their solitude disturbed by two ‘foxes’. The first fox is actual – a crafty creature that they cannot manage to keep away from their henhouse. And yet March, the more masculine of the two who does most of the physical work on the farm, cannot help but be drawn to the creature. The second fox is symbolic, although the situation is similar. A young man returning from war and seeking relatives who left the farm years ago, arrives to also ‘prey on their henhouse’.
The Captain’s Doll in my opinion is the weakest of the three. A Countess is attracted to a Scottish soldier, despite the fact that she knows he is no longer capable of loving her. But his sexual magnetism is apparently too much to resist.
The third story, The Ladybird, is the most compelling, especially towards the end of the story where there are several beautiful quotes. A young English woman begins to visit a German prisoner of war, and again finds herself strangely drawn to him in ways that will turn her world upside down when her husband returns from war. This romance is dark and almost gothic with declarations of love such as “In the dark you are mine. And when you die you are mine. But in the day you are not mine, because I have no power in the day. In the night, in the dark, and in death, you are mine. And that is forever”.
I think I feel some swooning out there in cyberspace, as I felt myself!
Lawrence is always amazing, and these three (particularly the last) are wonderful examples of his liberated genius.