Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 435

D. H. Lawrence was always interested in problems of male-female relationships, not only in terms of their grander, more romantic implications, but also in their often subtler nuances and details. This story is particularly interesting to a late-twentieth century reader because it involves not only the difficulty of men and women learning to live together, but also the nature of the roles that women and men play as individuals, both in and out of matrimony, and the ways in which male-female connections impinge on, and sometimes distort, female aspirations.

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In the early years of the twentieth century, Lawrence understood that English middle-class society expected women to be satisfied with the role of patient supporters of their husbands in their public careers. The fact that Mrs. Gee knows she is temperamentally unable to fulfill that role has something to do with her inability to live with her husband. What the story reveals, however, is that she cannot see any role for herself, other than to indulge in idle love affairs. She has, in a sense, no awareness of herself as an independent personality. She has little interest in her husband’s career, although she is concerned that it is not quite as good as it ought to be, and she is sensitive to the kind of relationship with which he is most comfortable. One would think, therefore, that she might attempt to terminate this odd and somewhat tasteless arrangement. She is honest enough to know it is not what she wants, but she seems to think that her only alternative is to continue as Gee’s wife, if in name only, and expect him to support her, and to accept her superficial dalliances, out of sight, and out of mind. There is something ignoble about the conduct of both parties.

Miss Wrexall, the secretary, is less to blame, if her supine adoration of her employer suggests that she, too, should get out of his employ as quickly as possible. When Lawrence wrote this story the opportunities for women were limited, and the general ideas about females and careers, and about relations between men and women, were considerably narrower than they became late in the twentieth century. Lawrence was notorious for being too frank and imaginative in his exploration of sexual themes, and this simple, seemingly innocent tale of marital pusillanimity is an example of how far he was ahead of his time in dealing with the problem in one of the more banal areas of how people try to live their lives within the confines of social convention when they are obviously unsuited to do so.

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