The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Lawrence makes quite clear to the reader that Nellie March and Jill Banford share an affectionate and committed friendship. The relationship between them is homoerotic, although perhaps not physically homosexual. In her letter to Henry, Nellie writes: “I know her and I’m awfully fond of her, and I hate myself for a beast if I ever hurt her little finger. We have a life together.” In other works, Lawrence is less sympathetic toward the homoerotic attachments of women. Winifred Inger in The Rainbow (1915), for example, is an intellectual lesbian whose influence Ursula Brangwen finally rejects as oppressive. In the 1929 poem “Ego-Bound Women,” Lawrence’s hostility to lesbianism is unmistakable. Yet in The Fox, Lawrence treats with dignity and matter-of-factness the erotic friendship of Nellie and Jill. Although they are, from a stereotypical erotic-fantasy point of view, “butch” and “femme,” Nellie and Jill reverse their roles in their relationship toward Henry. He is attracted to the more nearly “masculine” Nellie rather than the “feminine” Jill. Also, counter to the stereotypical erotic-fantasy, Nellie surrenders none of her homoeroticism by submitting to Henry; he fails to dominate or “change” her sexually.

Henry, similarly, departs from the conventional erotic-fantasy stereotype of the virile male in playing his part in the triangular relationship. He falls into neither of the two major types of Lawrence’s male lovers (or would-be lovers): neither the sexually unassertive, fastidious, charming heroes such as Paul Morel (Sons and Lovers, 1913), Cyril Mersham (“A Modern Lover”), Bernard Coutts (“The Witch a la Mode”), or Edward Severn (“The Old Adam”), nor the virile, direct, unself-conscious models of Oliver Mellors (Lady Chatterley’s Lover, 1928), Maurice Pervin (“The Blind Man”), or Tom Vickers (“A Modern Lover”). Instead, Henry is always described as a “boy.” Assertive, magnetic, and uncomplicated like Lawrence’s virile heterosexual males, he is also—unlike the finer types— insensitive, manipulative, cunning. His sexuality has turned predatory, like the aggressiveness of the fox. He represents the male heterosexual as destroyer of women.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Ellen (Nellie) March

Ellen (Nellie) March, a co-owner of a Berkshire farm. Strong, authoritative, and almost masculine, Nellie is the decision maker on Bailey Farm, where she does most of the outdoor work. The stability on the farm between Nellie and Jill, the farm’s vaguely fragile co-owner, is upset by two events in the story. The first is the appearance of a fox that frequently disturbs the quietude by stealing and murdering chickens. The second is the appearance of Henry Grenfel, a young soldier who soon decides to marry Nellie. The woman is thereafter torn between her desire for stability with Jill Banford and her attraction to the prospects of marrying Henry and going to Canada. In the end, she is left with Henry, but there is little hope for joy in this union.

Jill Banford

Jill Banford, the other owner of Bailey Farm and best of friends to Nellie March. Nerve-worn and delicate, but warmhearted, Jill functions in the novella as the losing vortex of the love triangle. Jill is taken aback by Nellie’s prospects of marriage to Henry Grenfel, and she works constantly to thwart this outcome. At the end of the story, however, in what is seemingly a convenient accident, she dies when a tree being felled by Henry strikes her on the head. Her death ensures that Nellie will marry Henry.

Henry Grenfel

Henry Grenfel, a young soldier who used to live on Bailey Farm with his grandfather....

(The entire section is 504 words.)