The dynamic marriage relationship between Richard Lovat Somers and his wife, Harriet, is the central concern of this novel. As with all the important marriages in the novels of D. H. Lawrence, it is a constantly changing relationship that alternates between being nourishing and life-giving to each individual, on the one hand, and being destructive and emotionally suffocating on the other. As is also typical of Lawrence, the relationship is characterized by a great intensity. At times, that emotional and spiritual intensity completely engulfs the individual selves of the characters, and they achieve mythic proportions.
Richard Somers is an English writer who has come to Australia to escape what he believes is the worn-out, spiritually restricting culture of Europe. The novel opens with the arrival of Richard and Harriet by boat from India, and it closes with their departure for the United States several months later; in that interval, Richard and Harriet experience the unique social and physical landscape of the Australian continent, an experience which changes them forever.
The novel’s dramatic action begins with Richard and Harriet becoming acquainted with their neighbors, Jack and Victoria Callcott. The couples are curious about each other. Victoria is fascinated by Harriet, whom she views as a European lady, a person of sophistication and worldly knowledge. Harriet, in turn, responds to Victoria’s open friendliness, finding in her a symbol of the larger Australia with its freshness and its cultural freedom. Yet it is the relationship between the two men that is more important to the novel’s development. Richard finds in Jack the characteristics of the friendly, slow-to-anger Australian, the man who seems to be an individual beyond all else. Jack, however, a veteran of the recent war, now belongs to a reactionary group which has ambitions of taking over the Australian government in a semimilitary movement. When Jack learns that Richard is the son of a workingman and that Richard views Western civilization as basically hampering to the individual, Jack becomes emotionally committed to Richard. Jack pledges his friendship and takes Richard to Benjamin “Kangaroo” Cooley, a successful lawyer who is the spiritual leader of the organization. Richard is fascinated by Kangaroo, an individual of remarkable intelligence who possesses a great, deep love for mankind.
Kangaroo has read Richard’s writings on the flawed nature of democracy, and he invites Richard to join the organization, which is composed largely of Diggers, a name for veterans from the recent war. Yet Richard hesitates: Although he wishes to become a leader of men, to move in the world of action, he finally rejects the offer to join the paramilitary group because he cannot believe in its political purpose. When Jack learns that Richard will not join, a tension develops between the two men which mars their friendship.
As these events unfold along one line of the novel’s action, Richard and Harriet concurrently explore Sydney and the surrounding area in their search for cultural freedom. Aided by the Callcotts, they find a house by the beach in a small township outside Sydney and move into it. There they experience what becomes the essence of Australia for them: Before them, beyond their porch, is the marvelously changing ocean, and behind is the vast bush of the continent, which holds a great dark freedom from the restrictions of civilization. Yet in that very freedom, their unconfined, civilized consciousness seems to turn on them, and their situation becomes oppressive. Although they discover a sublime beauty in the landscape, a vast beauty that in many ways finds its complement in the openness of the Australian people, both discover that they miss the infrastructure of European civilization. They also realize that they do value a civilized consciousness; they cannot undo what they are.
Although Richard could not commit himself to Kangaroo’s reactionary party,...
(The entire section is 1,337 words.)