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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Thursday, 28 January 2016

"England, my England and other short stories" by D. H. Lawrence

In my writers' circle it is accepted that you try not to repeat yourself; that repetition, if you use it, should be employed to some effect.

Nobody told David Lawrence that!

In England, my England he repeats himself all the time. He hammers it. So when he wants to say that Winifred has a sense of duty he uses the phrase 'sense of duty' three times in a paragraph (and 'duty' appears three times more in the next two paragraphs). When her father has a "blind acrid faith as sap is blind and acrid" sap, and blind and acrid are prefigured and repeated. "To hold aloof" occurs three times in 15 words! The father is described as 'Ishmael' three times in two paragraphs and 'supple' three times in a single paragraph. Once you notice this technique it starts to grate. It becomes intrusive. It irks.

He also does a bit of exclaiming. Not just marvellous but "Ah, marvellous"; not just that he wanted her but "Ah, how he wanted her".

Egbert, a southerner with a bit of Viking in his eyes weds Winifred, a northerner. Two good Saxon names despite their apparently mixed heritages. Egbert is a bit of an amateur, a flaneur who doesn't work. They have three girls.  They have to rely on Winifred's father for money. One of the girls has an accident. Love dies but duty stays. The Great War calls. Egbert does his duty. Egbert dies. Umm.

The Horse Dealer's Daughter also uses repetition to hammer its images home. It starts with three brothers and a sister considering what they will do now that the business left them by their father has failed under the burden of his debts. Joe (who in the first paragraph feels safe but is later frightened) will "marry and go into harness"; he has a "glazed look of helplessness in his eyes"; his "glazed hopeless eyes", he is part of a "helpless" silence; Joe who will become a "subject animal" moves "in horsy fashion"; his knees stick out "in real horsy fashion". Get the picture?

Mabel, the daughter of the title, has not told anyone what she plans to do. She goes to a graveyard to attend to her mother's grave. This is a nice part of the story where her mundane cleaning of the headstone and trimming of the grass is contrasted with the "mystical element" of the "spell-bound" doctor who sees her. This moment, which he feels as a "powerful drug" is contrasted in the next paragraph by his everyday routine, filling bottles with "cheap drugs" and visiting the sick.

Now the town is presented as a burnt-out hell: deadened, deadening, cinder, ask and extinct are words used in this paragraph. As the doctor walks on his rounds he sees Mabel again and watches her as she wades into a pond and disappears. He runs to save her from the "dead water" which is "dead cold", "cold water" in the "dead cold" pond and, having gone under himself, at last he pulls her out and takers her back to her home where he strips her and puts her in a blanket by the fire.

And then she comes round and the story swings upon its pivot. "He stood still with fear" as she asks "Who undressed me". Suddenly we have a cosmic lurch: "'Do you love me then?' she asked." Wow! This is a crucial moment and the new direction comes twisting out of the blue.

And we are back in true Lawrence territory as they embrace and kiss and though he has "no intention of loving her" (4x) and "it was horrible", He was ... horrified", "He had a horror" and at the end she describes herself as "horrible (twice) and "awful" (5x) still his heart repeatedly melts at the sight of her shoulders (again and again) and her tears (at least six before she starts sobbing at the end).

Tickets please starts with a beautiful description of a tram that travels from a Midlands county town through villages and market-places and past collieries to "the cold little town that shivers on the edge of the wild, gloomy country beyond." Lawrence's descriptive powers are to the fore here (and shortly in his connected description of a fairground and its rides). A conductress, Annie, begins a romance with a tram inspector, John Thomas, but JT has his pick of the girls and he moves on from her. So she gathers a group of those jilted by JT and plots her revenge: he is lured into the conductress's staff room where they set upon him in a frenzy of violence reminiscent of the rites of the Maenads, the virgins from the hills, who lure King Pentheus to a remote place and there rip him apart in The Bacchae by Euripides. JT's clothes are ripped from him by the angry women. But this is the Midlands, so they only tear off his inspector's jacket. Then he is forced to choose one of the women as his bride; he chooses Annie and this immediately placates the other girls but Annie is left unsatisfied; the revenge turns sour for her.

This is a fascinating little story whose core seems to be borrowed from Euripides but whose ending is all DHL. It is a powerful ending. The man is humiliated, all the girls protest they don't want him (although each of them "hoped he would look at her. All except Annie, and something was broken in her.") But revenge has gone horribly wrong: "The girls were all anxious to be off. They were tidying themselves hurriedly, with mute, stupefied faces." Brilliant!

Monkey nuts is a strange tale of a romance between a private soldier and a land girl. She wants him but he is too shy (?) to meet her. He is positively rude to her. When she forces the issue he walks out with her every evening but returns every evening late. "He was sullen, taciturn and had a hang-dog look" This continues until his corporal quizzes him about what's wrong and he says "There'll be murder done one of these days." Shortly after, he is rude to the land girl and she never comes back. It is a very odd tale which leaves a lot of questions in the reader's mind.

The Wintry Peacock is narrated in the first person. 'I' meet a woman on a farm who asks 'me' to read a letter written in French to her husband. I realise it is a love letter and make up details about the baby that has been born, concealing the fact that this woman's soldier husband, due home soon, has fathered a French child. Later I meet the soldier. The wife has burnt the letter and he asks what it said. There is a feeling of male conspiracy in adultery.

The Blind Man lives with his wife since returning, sightless, from the war. Their love and his blindness has brought them extra intimacy and real depth to their passion; however, he still has days of deep and feral depression. Now she is pregnant and worried about the impact the child will have on their marriage.

A childhood friend of hers comes visiting. Before the war, her husband and her old friend didn't get on but the blind man recommends the visit. When the other man is there however, things are strained. The other man is a very reserved man, virginal, unable to drop his reserve long enough to let a woman close to him. On the visit the blind man goes out to the farming shed and, it being late, the visitor goes to look for him. The two of them talk and the blind man asks to feel his visitor's face and asks his visitor to feel his. This tactile communion makes the blind man feel that they have become friends but shatters the visitor. As the last line says: "He was like a mollusk whose shell is broken."

Matilda and Emmie are spinsters, living with their dying father. They expect to get £10,000 each when he dies and this means there expectations are rather too good for the craftsmen and labourers in the town. Their foster-brother, a charity boy who left them five years ago to go to Canada and has since served in the Great War, comes to the house. They fear that he is after a share in the will; he sits often with their dying father. One night, Matilda goes to her father's bedroom, forgetting that her father is sleeping downstairs, being sick, and that Hadrian, the charity boy, is sleeping in the father's room. She approaches the bed, asking if he is asleep, and touches the boy. She is horrified when she realises her mistake but he decides that he will marry her. He suggests this to the father who alters his will so that, unless Matilda marries Hadrian, Hadrian will get the entire fortune. She protests to Hadrian who says: "You Touched Me." Despite her reluctance, she is forced to marry him.

Part of the power of this writer is his keen observations. In Samson and Delilah a man returns to his abandoned wife after fifteen years. She persuades the soldiers billeted on her to tie him up and throw him out, but she leaves a door open for when he sneaks back in. In The Primrose Path a man returns from Australia; his abandoned wife is dying of consumption but he has another family now. And in Fanny and Annie, lady's maid Fanny comes home after a number of affairs to marry the craftsman who has waited (or at least stayed single) for her. In church a neighbour denounces him for getting her daughter pregnant so they are all naughty really. These stories are much of a muchness but it is the acuity of the observation that charms.

Firmly rooted in working life and especially the Midlands.

Powerful prose. He takes a few key words and repeats them to hammer the images home. Not exactly subtle and, once you start seeing the repetitions, rather distracting. But undeniably powerful.

Many of the characters behave in inexplicable and even paradoxical ways. It is as if Lawrence is saying that he is a writer of what real people actually do; I don't try to analyse or understand them. 

Some absolutely beautiful observations and very fresh descriptions.

A powerful writer with a very distinctive voice. January 2016; 190 pages

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