Elizabeth Bates in “The Odour of Chrysanthemums” by D. H. Lawrence and Josephina “Jug” Pinner in “The Daughters of the Late Colonel” by Katherine Mansfield serve as the protagonists of their respective stories. In addition, both of the characters have lost the most important person in their lives. Yet, each of the ladies are quite different in their approach to life and their relationships with their lost loved one.
As a coal miner’s wife, Elizabeth leads a dreary life. Her anger comes from her husband’s drinking and inattentiveness toward his family while she has become bitter and harsh in her treatment of those around her. On the day of the story, Elizabeth waits for her husband to come home from work. She suspects that he has gone to the local pub. Eventually, he is discovered dead from an accident in the mines.
When she cleans the body of her husband, the reader discovers that Elizabeth has not been entirely blameless in her dying marriage. She initially shows herself as a woman who deserved a better life. Now, Elizabeth recognizes her failures in the marriage---her coldness and her neglect toward her husband. Looking at her dead husband, Elizabeth realizes that she does not even know who he is.
In the end, Elizabeth learns a hard lesson. Death cannot be mastered; one must be prepared for it. Life must be cared for and nurtured rather than just lived.
Josephina has been called Jug by her sister since they were children. She is the older of the two sisters although often it seems hard to distinguish this fact. Her father died in the last week; and his dominance has left his daughters unprepared for life without him.
This has left both sisters incapable of making decisions. The discussions that the sisters have are comical until the realization comes that they will have to take care of themselves without guidance. At any rate, they do not realize how badly they need help. They have never worked for a living and barely know what to do from moment to moment. One discussion involves firing the cook; then, they wonder what and where they might find the food.
"What it comes to is, if we did give Kate notice"–she raised her voice again–"we could manage our own food."
"Why not?" cried Constantia. The idea was so exciting. "What should we live on, Jug?"
"Oh, eggs in various forms!" said Jug…
Jug, who is the more level headed, wonders what their father would think about everything that they do. They have never married because their father discouraged them. Jug both loved and feared her father.
She wonders what would father think about the girls burying him. In a similar fashion to Elizabeth’s dedication to her life as a coal miner’s wife, Jug realizes that she has spent her entire life “looking after her father. She also learned to stay out of his way.”
Like Elizabeth, her future is uncertain without her father. Jug experiences a glimpse of the future when she studies the faded photograph of her mother which makes her wonder how life would have been different if her mother had lived.
Elizabeth cannot see beyond the burial of her husband and the birth of her new baby. Jug sees that photographs fade and the memories of the dead do as well. Hopefully, for she and her sister, the memory of their father will fade as well.