Study Guide

D. H. Lawrence

D. H. Lawrence Essay - Lawrence, D. H. (Short Story Criticism)

Lawrence, D. H. (Short Story Criticism)

Introduction

D. H. Lawrence 1885–-1930

(Full name David Herbert Richard Lawrence; also wrote under the pseudonym Lawrence H. Davison) English novelist, novella and short-story writer, poet, essayist, critic, translator, and dramatist.

The following entry presents criticism of Lawrence's short fiction works from 1987 through 2003. See also, "The Rocking-Horse Winner" Criticism.

One of the most original English writers of the twentieth century, Lawrence has been praised for his short stories that explore human nature through frank discussions of sex, psychology, and religion. In his lifetime he was received as a controversial figure, both because of the explicit sexuality he portrayed in his fiction and his unconventional personal life. Critics note that his short fiction was often based on experiences from his working-class youth in England's industrial midlands. Several of his stories are considered masterly and innovative examples of the short fiction genre and crucial to Lawrence's development as a novelist.

Biographical Information

Lawrence was born on September 11, 1885, in the colliery town of Eastwood, Nottingham. His father was a coal miner, and Lawrence blamed the debilitating mine work for his father's debased condition. Lawrence attended local grammar and high schools and later, from 1906 to 1908, studied at Nottingham University College, where he began writing short stories. In 1908, he moved to Croyden, just south of London, to teach school. While there he encountered Ford Madox Ford's English Review, where he published some of his early poetry and—more meaningful to the evolution of his fiction—discovered what he and others termed “the exciting new school of realism” in the works of such writers as Thomas Hardy, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, and Leo Tolstoy. In 1911, the onset of tuberculosis forced Lawrence to resign from teaching. That same year he published his first novel, The White Peacock, which was critically well received. When he was twenty-seven, Lawrence eloped to Germany with Frieda von Richthofen Weekly, the wife of one of his college professors, and the two were married in 1914.

In 1913, Lawrence published his first major work, the largely autobiographical novel Sons and Lovers, and also wrote “The Prussian Officer,” one of his most celebrated stories. Both works are early examples of the psychological fiction that he later developed more fully. Lawrence returned with Frieda to England just before the outbreak of World War I and remained there until the war's conclusion. During the war, Lawrence and Frieda endured harassment by the English government because of his seemingly antipatriotic views and her German ancestry. Lawrence's next novel, The Rainbow, a complex narrative focusing on relationships between men and women, appeared in 1915. The book was judged obscene for its explicit discussion of sexuality and was suppressed in England. His last major novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928), met with similar resistance and was available only in an expurgated version until 1959 in the United States and 1960 in England, when a landmark obscenity trial vindicated the book as a work of literature. After the war, the Lawrences lived briefly in Germany, Austria, Italy, Sicily, England, France, Australia, Mexico, and in the southwestern United States, where Lawrence hoped to someday establish a Utopian community. These varied locales provided settings for many of the novels and stories Lawrence wrote during the 1920s and also inspired four books of admired travel sketches. In 1930 Lawrence entered a sanatorium in Vence, France, in an attempt to cure the tuberculosis that afflicted him during the later years of his life. He died there on March 2, 1930.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Many critics consider Lawrence's short stories his most artistically accomplished writings and have attributed much of their success to the constraints of the form that forced Lawrence to deny himself the elaborations, diversions, and repetitions that characterize his longer works. In comparison with his novels, Lawrence's short fiction is economical in style and structure. His early stories are written in the manner of Robert Louis Stevenson and Rudyard Kipling, whose anecdotes and tales of adventure epitomized the traditional nineteenth-century English short story. Most critics concur that “Odour of Chrysanthemums” marked the emergence of a second stage in the development of Lawrence's short fiction. Composed in 1911 and published in The Prussian Officer, and Other Stories (1914), this piece incorporates the heightened realism of Henry James, Joseph Conrad, and Leo Tolstoy, and like most of Lawrence's stories from the years 1909 to 1912, focuses on the familiar events and problems of twentieth-century industrial society, while displaying concern for the lives of ordinary men and women. The title story from The Prussian Officer is regarded by many as Lawrence's first completely visionary work. This piece signaled another change in the direction of Lawrence's writing and, to some critics, in the art of short fiction at large. Written in 1913, “The Prussian Officer” combines accurate social setting with penetrating psychological analysis, exhibiting Lawrence's eagerness to explore areas beneath the surface of human behavior. Characterized by intense observation, this and other works of the period before 1925 imply the depth and complexity of ordinary experience and retain Lawrence's sharp observation of character and place.

World War I was a major event in the evolution of Lawrence's aesthetic principles. Like many artists of the time, Lawrence viewed a cycle of apocalypse and rebirth as a necessary corrective to the apparent depravity of the modern world. In his postwar stories he presents intense personal engagements as essential in giving new life to people and societies on the verge of despair. Sensual love stands as an alternative to the mechanisms of modern warfare and technology, and the closed community that Lawrence valued and portrayed in his earlier writings becomes extended and reshaped to incorporate all of Western culture. To dramatize this concern for regeneration, Lawrence often utilized elements of religious ritual and myth. Stories from this period include the title story from England, My England, and Other Stories (1922) and “The Horse-Dealer's Daughter.” In “England, My England,” Lawrence symbolizes the self-destructive yearning of the fading English gentility through the protagonist Egbert, an effete aristocrat who is killed at the front after enlisting in the army in an attempt to reassert his masculinity. “The Horse-Dealer's Daughter” personifies the redemption of society through the erotic rejuvenation of a doctor and the girl that he rescues from suicide.

Lawrence's longer short stories from this period in some ways anticipate the techniques of his later works through their use of allegory, mythological structures, and imagery. Some critics have accused Lawrence of displaying chauvinistic attitudes in several works of this period, notably “The Fox,” “You Touched Me,” and “The Border Line.” The exotic story “The Woman Who Rode Away” culminates this trend in what some critics consider a misogynistic dramatization of female submission to male mastery in which a young white woman is captured and sacrificed to ancient gods by a group of aboriginal males. While many regard this tendency in Lawrence's work as transitory—by 1924 with “St. Mawr,” he began to modify his views—throughout his career, Lawrence often demonstrated distrust and even fear of the power of women. The stories from this middle period of Lawrence's career are noted for their extensive range of themes, attitudes, settings, and characters, and critics have often commented on the steadiness and high quality of Lawrence's output during these years. Lawrence's later short stories, from 1925 to 1930, display a dominant movement toward fabulation and satire. “The Rocking-Horse Winner” is a sardonic tale employing devices of the fairy tale and a mockingly detached tone to moralize on the value of love and the dangers of money. “The Man Who Loved Islands” is a parabolic story that ridicules idealism through the experiences of a man who flees the mechanistic modern world to three self-created island utopias, each of which fails due to the intrusion of his own human imperfection. In these and other late tales, Lawrence moves beyond the strictures of realism and encompasses a broad range of subjects and styles. Confronting such issues as materialism, idealism, conformism, women's movements, and traditional Christianity, these stories in some sense return to the legends and fables of his earliest works, yet manifest what many critics regard as keener insights, sturdier craft, and vaster experience.

Critical Reception

Lawrence is regarded as one of the twentieth century's most important short-story writers. Through his innovative use of psychological themes and his distinctive application of a heightened realism to quotidian English society, he produced some of the earliest and, some critics believe, finest, modernist prose. Lawrence demonstrated a wide imaginative range in his short fiction that was often lacking in his novels, and to many observers his fresh masterful approach extended the conventions of the short-story genre. Although some critics fault several of Lawrence's stories for exhibiting failed symbolism, fanatical didacticism, and controversial views, he is nonetheless celebrated for his trenchant insights into the deepest impulses of life, his devotion to illuminating human passion, and his original perspective on the problems posed by human relationships.

Principal Works

The Prussian Officer, and Other Stories 1914

England, My England, and Other Stories 1922

“The Ladybird,” “The Fox,” and “The Captain's Doll” (novellas) 1923; also published as The Captain's Doll: Three Novelettes, 1923

“St. Mawr”: Together with “The Princess” (novellas) 1925

The Woman Who Rode Away, and Other Stories 1928

The Escaped Cock (novella) 1929; also published as The Man Who Died, 1931

Love among the Haystacks, and Other Pieces 1930

The Virgin and the Gipsy (novella) 1930

The Lovely Lady, and Other Stories 1933

A Modern Lover 1934

The Tales of D. H. Lawrence 1934

The Complete Short Stories of D. H. Lawrence. 3 vols. 1955

The White Peacock (novel) 1911

The Trespasser (novel) 1912

Love Poems and Others (poetry) 1913

Sons and Lovers (novel) 1913

The Rainbow (novel) 1915

Amores (poetry) 1916

Twilight in Italy (essays) 1916

Look! We Have Come Through! (poetry) 1917

New Poems (poetry) 1918

The Lost Girl (novel) 1920

Women in Love (novel) 1920

Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious (essay) 1921

Sea and Sardinia (essays) 1921

Tortoises (poetry) 1921

Aaron's Rod (novel) 1922

Fantasia of the Unconscious (essay) 1922

Movements in European History [as Lawrence H. Davison] (essays) 1922

Birds, Beasts and Flowers (poetry) 1923

Kangaroo (novel) 1923

Studies in Classic American Literature (essays) 1923

Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine (essays) 1925

The Plumed Serpent (novel) 1926

Mornings in Mexico (essays) 1927

The Collected Poems of D. H. Lawrence. 2 vols. (poetry) 1928

*Lady Chatterley's Lover (novel) 1928

Pansies (poetry) 1929

Nettles (poetry) 1930

Apocalypse (criticism) 1932

Etruscan Places (essays) 1932

Last Poems (poetry) 1932

The Letters of D. H. Lawrence. 2 vols. [edited by Aldous Huxley] (letters) 1932

The Ship of Death (poetry) 1933

The Spirit of the Place (essays) 1935

Phoenix (essays and criticism) 1936

Fire (poetry) 1940

The First Lady Chatterley (novel) 1944

The Collected Letters of D. H. Lawrence. 2 vols. (letters) 1962

The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence. 2 vols. (poetry) 1964

The Complete Plays of D. H. Lawrence (drama) 1966

Phoenix II (essays and criticism) 1968

John Thomas and Lady Jane (novel) 1972

D. H. Lawrence: Selected Poetry and Non-Fictional Prose (poetry and essays) 1991

Selected Critical Writings (essays) 1998

*This work is the third of three different versions. The other two were posthumously published as The First Lady Chatterley and John Thomas and Lady Jane.

Criticism

T. H. McCabe (essay date summer 1987)

SOURCE: McCabe, T. H. “The Otherness of D. H. Lawrence's ‘Odour of Chrysanthemums’.” The D. H. Lawrence Review 19, no. 2 (summer 1987): 149-56.

[In the following essay, McCabe traces the concept of Otherness in Lawrence's work, finding “Odour of Chrysanthemums” to be the earliest examination of the issue.]

“The central law of all organic life is that each organism is intrinsically isolate and single in itself” (Studies in Classic American Literature 66). This is a basic Lawrencean idea: all living things are essentially strangers, outsiders, other. “Otherness” for Lawrence means the self's perception of that life beyond the self and inside...

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Martin F. Kearney (essay date 1988)

SOURCE: Kearney, Martin F. “Spirit, Place and Psyche: Integration in D. H. Lawrence's ‘The Man Who Loved Islands’.” English Studies 69, no. 2 (1988): 158-62.

[In the following essay, Kearney contends that ‘The Man Who Loved Islands’ “is a tour de force of Lawrence's ability to integrate landscape, character, and pollyanalytics into a single thematic statement.”]

D. H. Lawrence's ‘savage pilgrimage’ took him from England to Western Europe, Southeast Asia, Australia and North America. Each location's spirits of place were experienced first hand, duly recorded, and appear in the author's works as real presences that greatly influence his...

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Jeffrey Meyers (essay date summer 1989)

SOURCE: Meyers, Jeffrey. “D. H. Lawrence and Tradition: ‘The Horse Dealer's Daughter’.” Studies in Short Fiction 26, no. 3 (summer 1989): 346-51.

[In the following essay, Meyers finds allusions to mythology, literature, and Lawrence's earlier work in “The Horse Dealer's Daughter.”]

“The Horse Dealer's Daughter” (1922) has often been read as a story of resurrection,1 though this does not fully account for its extraordinary mystery and power. Previous critics have not noticed that in this tale Lawrence combines both classical and Christian resurrection myths, draws on literary allusions and transforms analogues in nineteenth-century fiction to...

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Jack F. Stewart (essay date December 1989)

SOURCE: Stewart, Jack F. “Totem and Symbol in The Fox and St. Mawr.Studies in the Humanities 16, no. 2 (December 1989): 84-98.

[In the following essay, Stewart discusses the fox in “The Fox” and the stallion in “St. Mawr” as totemic images.]

Reading D. H. Lawrence's “The Fox” (1923) and “St. Mawr” (1925), one is first struck by vivid animal presences and then by the paradox that these presences are mediated by language.1 As images, the fox and the stallion are overcharged with a surplus of power that seems to challenge a socially constituted consciousness. The unconditioned life-force in these male animals is transmitted...

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Barry J. Scherr (essay date 1989-1990)

SOURCE: Scherr, Barry J. “‘The Prussian Officer’: A Lawrentian Allegory.” Recovering Literature: A Journal of Contextualist Criticism 17 (1989-1990): 33-42.

[In the following essay, Scherr reads “The Prussian Officer” as an allegory for Lawrence's metaphysical concerns-specifically, the balance between the concepts of mental consciousness and blood consciousness.]

One of Lawrence's most famous short stories, “The Prussian Officer,” has received considerable attention from numerous literary critics who have interpreted the work in various ways.1 But none of these fine Lawrence critics has dealt with what may be the most important contribution...

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Volker Schulz (essay date summer 1991)

SOURCE: Schulz, Volker. “D. H. Lawrence's Early Masterpiece of Short Fiction: ‘Odour of Chrysanthemums’.” Studies in Short Fiction 28, no. 3 (summer 1991): 363-69.

[In the following essay, Schulz interprets “Odour of Chrysanthemums” as a story about human isolation and life renewal.]

D. H. Lawrence is not only a major novelist (if far from a flawless one), but also one of the great masters of the modern short story. H. E. Bates was the first of several critics who have considered his short fiction superior even to his novels: “the short stories will emerge as the more durable achievement” (201).1 Nevertheless, it was not until 1984 that the...

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Marijane Osborn (essay date spring 1992)

SOURCE: Osborn, Marijane. “Complexities of Gender and Genre in Lawrence's The Fox.Essays in Literature 19, no. 1 (spring 1992): 84-97.

[In the following essay, Osborn offers a compositional history of “The Fox” and asserts that “as Lawrence uses an actual fable of the Aesopian kind to give form to elements borrowed from his own life, the result is a fiction rich in ambivalence about sexual roles and played out by characters luminous as mythic beings.”]

The point of recognition seems to be also a point of identification, where a hidden truth about something or somebody emerges into view.

...

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Gerald Doherty (essay date summer 1992)

SOURCE: Doherty, Gerald. “The Art of Survival: Narrating the Nonnarratable in D. H. Lawrence's ‘The Man Who Loved Islands’.” The D. H. Lawrence Review 24, no. 2 (summer 1992): 117-26.

[In the following essay, Doherty elucidates Lawrence's inventive narrative strategies in “The Man Who Loved Islands.”]

What to write now? Can you still write anything? One writes with one's desire, and I am not through desiring.

(Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes.)

In Reading for the Plot, Peter Brooks has offered one of the most acute and attractive accounts of desire in narrative. For...

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Duane Smith (essay date fall 1992)

SOURCE: Smith, Duane. “England, My England as Fragmentary Novel.” The D. H. Lawrence Review 24, no. 3 (fall 1992): 247-55.

[In the following essay, Smith argues that the stories comprising England, My England, and Other Stories possess a thematic unity and that the volume should be read as a fragmentary novel.]

Writing about James Joyce's Dubliners, Frank O'Connor observes that “A good book of stories like a good book of poems is a thing in itself, the summing up of a writer's experience at a given time, and it suffers from being broken up or crowded in with other books.” O'Connor argues that books such as Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg,...

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Sheila Contreras (essay date 1993-1994)

SOURCE: Contreras. Sheila. “‘These Were Just Natives to Her’: Chilchui Indians and ‘The Woman Who Rode Away’.” D. H. Lawrence Review 25, nos. 1-3 (1993-1994): 91-103.

[In the following essay, Contreras assesses the significance of indigenous culture within the broader tradition of modern primitivism in “The Woman Who Rode Away.”]

D. H. Lawrence's travels to Mexico between 1923 and 1925 occurred during a period of intense U.S. and British interest in the social and political events of that country. “The Woman Who Rode Away” is a tale that combines many of Lawrence's observations of “a frightening country, the silent, fatal-seeming mountain slopes,...

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Conchita Diez-Medrano (essay date spring 1995)

SOURCE: Diez-Medrano, Conchita. “Narrative Voice and Point of View in D. H. Lawrence's ‘Samson and Delilah’.” Essays in Literature 22, no. 1 (spring 1995): 87-96.

[In the following essay, Diez-Medrano examines the function of the narrative voice and point of view in “Samson and Delilah,” which she perceives to be a story about male violence against women.]

Each of us has two selves. First is this body which is vulnerable and never quite within our control. The body with its irrational sympathies and desires and passions, its peculiar direct communication, defying the mind. And second is the conscious ego, the self I KNOW I am.

...

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Ronald Granofsky (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: Granofsky, Ronald. “Illness and Wellness in D. H. Lawrence's The Ladybird.Orbis Litterarum 51, no. 2 (1996): 99-117.

[In the following essay, Granofsky asserts that the metaphor of illness and wellness and the focus on parent-child relationships in “The Ladybird” tend to overpower Lawrence's interest in the themes of dependency and power.]

“… a wound stimulates the recuperative powers.”

—Nietzsche, Preface to The Twilight of the Idols

D. H. Lawrence's Ladybird novellas, “The Fox,” “The Captain's Doll,” and “The Ladybird” (1923), form part...

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Carol Siegel (essay date 1997)

SOURCE: Siegel, Carol. “St. Mawr: Lawrence's Journey Toward Cultural Feminism.” D. H. Lawrence Review 26, nos. 1-3 (1997): 275-86.

[In the following essay, Siegel analyzes Lawrence's relationship to feminism and contends that “St. Mawr” reveals some commonality between Lawrence's beliefs and cultural feminism.]

Although D. H. Lawrence has always had some strong supporters among academic feminists and, in the last few years, has gained in this area, the predominant opinion among feminist literary critics is that his writing exemplifies misogynist discourse. The critics promoting this view of Lawrence often concede that some sympathy with the feminist...

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Linda Ruth Williams (essay date 1998)

SOURCE: Williams, Linda Ruth. “‘We've Been Forgetting That We're Flesh and Blood, Mother’: ‘Glad Ghosts’ and Uncanny Bodies.” D. H. Lawrence Review 27, no. 2 (1998): 233-53.

[In the following essay, Williams perceives “Glad Ghosts” to be an exploration of Lawrence's psychoanalytic theories.]

For it is true, as William James and Conan Doyle and the rest allow, that a spirit can persist in the after-death. Persist by its own volition. But usually, the evil persistence of a thwarted will, returning for vengeance on life. Lemures, vampires.

(SCAL 80-81)

Lawrence wrote this in...

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Weldon Thornton (essay date 1999)

SOURCE: Thornton, Weldon. “A Trio from Lawrence's England, My England and Other Stories: Readings of ‘Monkey Nuts,’ ‘The Primrose Path,’ and ‘Fanny and Annie’.” D. H. Lawrence Review 28, no. 3 (1999): 5-29.

[In the following essay, Thornton urges greater attention to three of Lawrence's neglected stories—“Monkey Nuts,” “The Primrose Path,” and “Fanny and Annie”—as subtle and effective character studies.]

D. H. Lawrence's England, My England, and Other Stories (1922) has been called his “most outstanding accomplishment as a writer of short stories” (Cushman 27) and has been the most discussed among his collections of...

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Gerald Doherty (essay date 1999)

SOURCE: Doherty, Gerald. “The Short Fiction: Metaphor and the Rituals of Courtship.” In Theorizing Lawrence: Nine Meditations on Tropological Themes, pp. 131-44. New York: Peter Lang, 1999.

[In the following essay, Doherty elucidates Lawrence's depiction of contemporary courtship rituals in his short fiction.]

Like the previous meditation, this one is also structuralist in the Lévi-Straussian sense of the word: it tracks those transformations that follow regular laws. Once again it takes courtship narratives—this time in Lawrence's short fiction—as its object of meditation. However, it both develops and complicates the rhetoric of plotting I analysed in The...

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Ben Stoltzfus (essay date 2000)

SOURCE: Stoltzfus, Ben. “‘The Man Who Loved Islands’: A Lacanian Reading.” D. H. Lawrence Review 29, no. 3 (2000): 27-38.

[In the following essay, Stoltzfus offers a Lacanian interpretation of “The Man Who Loved Islands.”]

“The Man Who Loved Islands” is a story that lends itself to Lacanian analysis because its theme, structure, and language replicate psychoanalytic concepts of the Other, castration, desire, language, and aphanasis or the loss of sexual desire. Aspects of Saussurian linguistics and Freudian theory (the touchstones of Lacan's thought) are embedded in the title. To love “I-lands” is to dwell within the split self, a division that...

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Roger Ebbatson (essay date spring 2000)

SOURCE: Ebbatson, Roger. “‘England, My England’: Lawrence, War and Nation.” Literature & History 9, no. 1 (spring 2000): 67-82.

[In the following essay, Ebbatson asserts that “England, My England” provides insights into English cultural identities at the time of World War I and examines Lawrence's revision of the story.]

The constituent elements of D. H. Lawrence's short story “England, My England” may be related both to Edwardian preoccupations with Englishness and to the conditions of the text's production, revision and reproduction. The interpretation which follows seeks to focus upon a number of interrelated issues thrown up by a theorised...

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Bernard-Jean Ramadier (essay date autumn 2000)

SOURCE: Ramadier, Bernard-Jean. “Dubious Progress in D. H. Lawrence's ‘Tickets, Please’.” Journal of the Short Story in English, no. 35 (autumn 2000): 43-54.

[In the following essay, Ramadier maintains that in “Tickets, Please,” the “incidental effects of progress on humanity are shown through the Lawrentian central theme of the relationship between men and women.”]

“Tickets, Please” is one of the short stories in the collection England, My England [England My England, and Other Stories], published in 1922. It is a simple anecdote told in deceptively simple language; a young inspector of the tramway system seduces all the conductresses...

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Peter Balbert (essay date fall 2002)

SOURCE: Balbert, Peter. “Pan and the Appleyness of Landscape: Dread of the Procreative Body in ‘The Princess’.” Studies in the Novel 34, no. 3 (fall 2002): 282-302.

[In the following essay, Balbert maintains that “The Princess” is an impressive achievement “for the seamless way that it connects Lawrence's developing stylistic notions on writing and painting with his doctrinal beliefs about Pan mythology during the last six years of his life.”]

“So much depends on one's attitude.”

—D. H. Lawrence, “Pan in America”

I

Characteristic praise for “The...

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Stefania Michelucci (essay date 2002)

SOURCE: Michelucci, Stefania. “The Pact with the Genius Loci: The Prussian Officer.” In Space and Place in the Works of D. H. Lawrence, translated by Jill Franks, pp. 18-23. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2002.

[In the following essay, Michelucci traces Lawrence's development as a short story writer through an analysis of the pieces in The Prussian Officer, and Other Stories and contrasts the differences between these stories and his novel The White Peacock.]

The frontiers are not east or west, north or south,
                                                  but whenever a man fronts a fact. …

—Henry David Thoreau...

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Laurie McCollum (essay date 2003)

SOURCE: McCollum, Laurie. “Ritual Sacrifice in ‘The Woman Who Rode Away’: A Girardian Reading.” In D. H. Lawrence: New Worlds, edited by Keith Cushman and Earl G. Ingersoll, pp. 230-42. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2003.

[In the following essay, McCollum applies René Girard's theories of cultural anthropology, particularly the practice of ritual sacrifice, to Lawrence's “The Woman Who Rode Away.”]

D. H. Lawrence's obsession with the trope of sacrifice begins in his earliest works but is enacted most directly in “The Woman Who Rode Away.” In this short story, where the crisis of sexuality doubles as the crisis of civilization,...

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