Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Unlike most of D. H. Lawrence’s fiction, “The Woman Who Rode Away” does not focus on the theme of mating—of erotic selection. Instead, the long story concerns a psychological and spiritual initiation into the mysteries of primitive religion. As a moral parable that explores religious values distinct from those common to Western cultures, the story resembles other late fiction by Lawrence, notably “Sun” and “St. Mawr” (1925). In these tales, the writer elaborates a moral argument that runs against the grain of his society’s moral conventions. In general, the argument holds that spiritual enlightenment—a mystic attainment of pure vital spirit or anima—is superior to any attainment of emotional fulfillment through erotic bonding.

In “The Woman Who Rode Away,” the reader is asked to approve the Woman’s acquiescence to the act of her own sacrificial slaughter in order to appease primitive gods. More audaciously, the reader is asked to approve the notion that the primitive gods should be restored to their spiritual supremacy, so that the white man’s moral order may be overturned.

To understand fully the extent to which Lawrence dares to impose on his readers a different (and, for most, unsettling) consciousness of moral reality, one should compare “The Woman Who Rode Away” with “The Princess,” a story begun in 1924 and first published in 1925. Both stories originate from a core idea. Mabel Dodge Luhan records...

(The entire section is 496 words.)