D. H. Lawrence

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D. H. Lawrence Short Fiction Analysis

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

D. H. Lawrence’s early stories are set, except for “The Prussian Officer,” in the English Midlands; their plot and characters are a thinly veiled autobiography and are built on incidents that Lawrence would develop at length in other forms, notably the novels and plays that he was writing concurrently. Some readers prefer the stories over Lawrence’s longer forms, which they regard as too insistent and repetitious; his stories, like his poems, are more structured, their images more intense. Like the longer works, however, the stories reveal Lawrence’s central belief in a “fatal change” in the early twentieth century: “The collapse from the psychology of the free human individual into the psychology of the social being.” Lawrence tried always to see unity in the behavior of human beings and the historical changes through which ages lived. In the longer works and in many essays, he developed a didactic style appropriate to his sweeping interpretation of human history and types of personality. In the stories, he lyrically and more intimately explores how the quality of individuals’ lives is affected by their human relationships.

Odour of Chrysanthemums

A majority of the stories more frequently treat the failure of human relationships. “Odour of Chrysanthemums” is one of five accounts of such a discovery of lost human possibilities; other versions appear in three novels and a play, The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd (1914), from this period. A proud miner’s wife, Elizabeth Bates, waits with her two children for her husband, who is late coming from the pits. At first, she angrily surmises that he has gone to a pub; as time passes, the anger changes to fear. The husband has been killed in a mining accident, and his fellow colliers bring his body home. The climax of the story is one of Lawrence’s best scenes, as the miner’s mother and wife wash the corpse. In early versions of the story, from 1911, Lawrence treated the mother’s and wife’s whimperings and reveries equally; in the collected version in 1914, however, he added the powerful dramatic epiphany of Mrs. Bates’s feeling of shame for having denied her husband’s body. “She had denied him what he was refused him as himself.” The discovery is also liberating: “She was grateful to death, which restored the truth. And she knew she was not dead.” The symbol of flowers is a derivative, almost gratuitous device. Their fragrance equates to memory, as the wife recalls the events of her married life: birth, defeat and reconciliation, and death.

Before Lawrence’s own fulfillment with Frieda Weekley, it is problematic whether he could have known, or treated so honestly, the complex nature of human sexuality or the separateness of lovers. Without the revisions, the story is successful only as an account of lost love and patent realizations, much like others in The Prussian Officer, and Other Stories. “The Shadow in the Rose Garden” and “The Shades of Spring” are stories about return and realization, but they lack dramatic climaxes. In “The Shadow in the Rose Garden,” an unnamed woman returns on her honeymoon to the town where she first fell in love. There, she discovers that her first lover, whom she believed a Boer War casualty, is alive but confined to an insane asylum. In an unresolved ending, her husband learns that she is still attached to the soldier and concludes that it “would be violation to each of them to be brought into contact with the other.” In “The Shades of Spring,” Hilda Millership—rejected by a cultured suitor, John Syson—gives herself to her gamekeeper, Arthur Pilbury, on Syson’s wedding night. Later, still foppishly attached to Hilda, Syson returns to her farm, learns about Hilda’s affair, and is taunted by the gamekeeper for not having seduced her.

Both stories lack the dramatic structure of “Odour of Chrysanthemums.” They exemplify a style that Lawrence told his literary agent in 1914 he wanted to...

(The entire section is 3,617 words.)