The short stories of D. H. Lawrence are many and varied; in the complete edition, they fill three volumes. If any one of these stories can be singled out as central to the art of Lawrence, however, one must invariably choose “The Prussian Officer.” It begins under the aspect of nature; its protagonists are soldiers moving down a German country road surrounded by thickets of trees, ripe and heavy crops, green meadows, and tall black pine woods. Everywhere there is a sense of ripening, and the men are at the mercy of a harsh and brilliant sunlight. The orderly and the captain are the principals of this story: the former moves slowly and painfully across the field of vision on foot, the latter moves quickly and savagely on horseback. The captain has the look of a man at odds with life. He is solitary, bitter, a figure of the soldier for whom there is no reality but war. Significantly, he is unmarried. Although occasionally he finds a mistress, he is sexually isolated; after the event, he goes back to duty—tense, hostile, and aggressive. However latent at this point, the captain is a sexual deviate. As the story unfolds, readers see that he is in fact a sadist.
In decided contrast, the orderly is one of Lawrence’s perfectly heterosexual heroes. He is in a sense the male counterpart of Lady Chatterley: strong, heavy, swarthy, and full of animal vitality. The orderly appears to be a figure of an ideal kind, perhaps of Laurentian nature. What evidently...
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