Saturday, August 25, 2018

Some nightmarish D. H. Lawrence stories - a hatred of man's onward struggle towards further creation

The Citadel of Fear was the second Aztec “lost world” fiction I read in the last year.  D. H. Lawrence wrote one, “The Woman Who Rode Away” (1925).  She, the woman, is riding away from her unsatisfying husband, looking for – and finding – a Mexican to assault and murder her.  In this case, in the form of a hidden civilization making a ritual sacrifice to the sun, to Quetzalcoatl.  “And all the eyes of the priests were fixed and glittering on the sinking orb, in the reddening, icy silence of the winter afternoon.”

I say “in this case” because around the same time Lawrence wrote at least two more stories in which American women, white women, are sexually assaulted by Mexican men.  “The Princess” is more realistic, like a crime story, where “The Woman Who Rode Away” is explicitly fantastic.  I don’t know what “None of That” is supposed to be.  An American woman falls for a famous, brutish toreador, and is punished for it.  This one seems as much of a revenge fantasy than anything else, Lawrence punishing someone in his life, or in his imagination.

The novella St. Mawr, also from 1925, almost fits the theme.  An English woman falls deeply in love with a dangerous stallion, the title character.  Her husband is pretty masculine – quite masculine –  but not masculine enough, not an untamable stallion.  Near the end of the book, the woman, the horse, and a few other characters move to New Mexico to live a more authentic life.  She buys a little isolated mountain ranch.  The novella ends with a long history of the ranch, and the people who tried to make it work.  The protagonist of this section is an entirely different woman, one of the previous owners.  The stallion, all of the other characters, they vanish.

This section was outstanding, I thought.  I’m not sure what it is doing in the book.

And her love for her ranch turned sometimes into a certain repulsion. The underlying rat-dirt, the everlasting bristling tussle of the wild life, with the tangle and the bones strewing: Bones of horses struck by lightning, bones of dead cattle, skulls of goats with little horns: bleached, unburied bones. Then the cruel electricity of the mountains. And then, most mysterious but worst of all, the animosity of the spirit of place: the crude, half-created spirit of place, like some serpent-bird for ever attacking man, in a hatred of man's onward struggle towards further creation.

Look, there’s Quetzalcoatl sneaking in again.

What was Lawrence doing with these misogynistic, racist themes?  He seems trapped by them.  He would die a few years later.  Maybe he would have escaped if he had lived longer.  Or maybe he had been permanently poisoned.  He was always tempted to turn his stories about men and women into stories about Man and Woman, but his push for something mythic here takes him to some ugly places.

I read what seems to me like a lot of Lawrence over the last year, maybe eight books, a lot for a writer I don’t particularly like.  I used to be more concerned about whether or not a book was good, but over time it has become more important that a book be interesting.  I am not sure if this is a maturation or an abandoning of taste.

And man, Lawrence’s books are almost always interesting.

I want to poke at Lawrence for a couple more days.  At better stories and books.  I read these stories several months ago; who knows what I misremember.


  1. A few years ago i read his Short Story “The Fox”, i found The symbolism so heavy handed i burst out laughing.

  2. If you mean the title symbol, I did not mind. It is a symbol generated within the story, a product of the character's heavy brains. Lawrence characters often want to live symbolically.

    In his search for the sublime, Lawrence plunges right into the ridiculous, up to the elbows.

    If anybody is looking for a Lawrence crime story, a polar, with an ending almost too unpleasant to read, "The Fox" is it.

  3. I still remember it. "His hair was ruddy, like a fox". Then a few pages later. "His hair was ruddy, like a fox". - One of those writers who could have done with an editor.

  4. The Google Ngram of "ruddy" is as I suspected - more of a 19th century than a current word. But there is a little blip right around "The Fox." It is a "ruddy"-heavy text.