How does D.H. Lawrence portray the physicality of the relationship in 'Odour of Chrysanthemums'? Would you say it is a blunt/frank depiction of the physical? Lawrence is generally known for...

How does D.H. Lawrence portray the physicality of the relationship in 'Odour of Chrysanthemums'? Would you say it is a blunt/frank depiction of the physical?

Lawrence is generally known for blurring the lines in terms of portraying the physical aspect of relationship in his other novels, bordering on "indecent". Would you say this description of the physical in this story is very frank and different from how other Victorian authors would handle it? 

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gpane | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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To recap my answer to an earlier question, the story portrays the physicality of the husband-wife relationship by focusing on the husband's dead body and his wife's reaction to it, as she participates in the ritual of washing and laying out the corpse. Also, we learn that the physical connection was the only one they had, as emotionally and spiritually they had always remained separate.

It doesn't seem to me to be a particularly frank, blunt description of the physical; there are no explicit descriptions. Rather than providing intimate details, the narrative lays stress on a more general sense of the physical aspect of the man-woman relationship. This is very tame compared to some of Lawrence's works, most notoriously, perhaps, Lady Chatterley's Lover, which could not be published openly in Britain until 1960, after a famous obscenity trial. 

In answer to your question about how other Victorian writers would handle this type of material, it is important to point out first of all that Lawrence, although a Victorian by birth, was not a Victorian writer. 'Victorian' is the term used to designate the bulk of nineteenth century writing in Britain, when Queen Victoria was on the throne (her reign lasted from 1837 to 1901). But as well as designating a chronological period, the term 'Victorian' is used to denote a certain mindset, that of being polite and conventional. It has also been used as a term of ridicule for people (artists and non-artists alike) who are regarded as being excessively prudish. Lawrence emphatically does not qualify as a Victorian writer on either count. Rather, he was a Modernist writer.

'Modernism' is the blanket term used to cover new approaches and ideas in literature, and art more generally, in the early twentieth century. This is a vast and complex subject, too big to go into here, but one of the movement's distinguishing features was a willingness to push boundaries, to depart from convention, and to depict aspects of life previously not seen suitable for literary treatment. There was a feeling among many of the Modernist writers that literature in the past - certainly in the Victorian period -  simply hadn't been honest and realistic enough in its portrayal of life and that some of the most important aspects - such as sex - had simply been ignored. Writers like Lawrence certainly didn't shy away from dealing with such subjects, although it is important to remember that the deeper psychological, emotional aspects of life and relationships were even more important to him than the detailing of the mere physical. This is why a relationship like the one in 'Odour of Chrysanthemums', which proceeded no further than physical consummation, appears so barren.

Lawrence was certainly not alone in all of these concerns among Modernist writers, some of whom went even further than he did in the depiction of the physical aspects of life. James Joyce, one of the most famous of all Modernist writers, is an excellent example of this in works like Ulysses. Although death was quite a popular subject in Victorian writing and culture generally, Victorian writers would probably not have gone as far as portraying a young woman touching her husband's naked dead body; but this wouldn't have been an issue for Modernist writers. 

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