The rector adored Yvette, and spoiled her with a doting fondness; as much as to say: am I not a soft-hearted, indulgent old boy! He liked to have weaknesses to a hairs-breadth. She knew them, this opinion of himself, and the Mater knew his and she traded on them by turning them into decorations for him, for his character.
At the same time, out of the squalid world sometimes would come a rank, evil smell of selfishness and degraded lust, the smell of that awful nettle, She-who-was-Cynthia. This nettle actually contrived, at intervals, to get a little note through to her girls, her children. And at this, the silver-haired Mater shook inwardly with hate. For if She-who-was-Cynthia ever came back, there wouldn't be much left of the Mater. A secret gust of hate went from the old granny to the girls, children of that foul nettle of lust, that Cynthia who had had such an affectionate contempt for the Mater.
The children were brought up in this atmosphere of cunning self-sanctification and of unmentionability.
The above are some of the most interesting passages from Lawrence's short story. They clearly emphasize the author's astute analysis of human character.
Both Yvette and Lucille are portrayed as almost-orphaned children, raised in an atmosphere of "cunning self-sanctification and unmentionability." Granny must secure her own power and influence over the household by marginalizing her son's former wife. This is why the latter is unceremoniously and contemptuously referred to as She-Who-Was-Cynthia; she is never mentioned as a figure of respectability.
The word "was" in the title She-Who-Was-Cynthia is pivotal: it highlights the dethroning of the former wife and the newly entrenched power of the elderly widow (Granny). To secure her own position, Granny humors the rector. With Machiavellian cunning, she uses the rector's weakness for pure, beautiful things (which he makes into idols) to bind him ever closer to her.
So, despite her hatred for Yvette and, ultimately Cynthia, Granny carefully protects the image of sentimental indulgence in her son (the rector). Meanwhile, the rector, due to his own ambivalence towards his own sexual nature, succumbs to his mother's emotional manipulation. He dotes over Yvette in the same way he once doted over Cynthia: it is the only way he can reconcile what he considers his "worm-like," ugly inner self with the reality of his life.
This "worm-like" self the rector privately agonizes over is the self that secretly desires to be engulfed by his sensual nature. He simultaneously hates and...
(The entire section is 635 words.)