Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The White Stocking” is one of Lawrence’s earliest stories. It was originally entered in a competition offered by the Nottinghamshire Guardian in 1907, when Lawrence was twenty-two. It did not win, and the judges commented that it was “lacking finish.” Like most of Lawrence’s early stories, it is marked by a down-to-earth realism, and this makes an important contribution to its effectiveness. The commonplace setting, for example, the Whistons’ small, “seven and sixpenny” dwelling, and the homeyness and simplicity of their daily routine, is disturbingly limited and ordinary. This is reinforced by the effect of the diction. The predominance of short sentences containing a high proportion of monosyllabic words has a simple, almost childlike effect, suggesting that the characters are undeveloped in their understanding of life; they lack sophistication and self-knowledge. (This changes only in the rich, flowing prose used to describe the dance, which ably conveys the new reality that Elsie has discovered.) The presence of an omniscient narrator, who sees so much more than any individual character is able to see, tends to emphasize for the reader the smallness and inadequacy of the Whistons’ own perspective.

These stylistic elements effectively highlight, by contrast, the surging, primeval forces that the characters unleash in themselves and in one another, for which they are totally unprepared. It is as if they are living only on the surface of life. The bewilderment expressed in Elsie’s final reconciling words, “I never meant—,” is highly significant. The rational, everyday world that they inhabit makes them helpless before the dark and irrational psychic forces that they unwittingly arouse. They might well echo the cry of St. Paul in Romans 7:15: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”