By D. H. Lawrence
New York: Vintage Books, 1992
146 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
March 2011

Arthur Saywell, a late 40s vigorous English parson, was left by his wife, Cynthia. She just ran off with someone and shocked Saywell’s conservative English community of the 1920s. He is left with two young daughters, and moves to a new vicarage. His domineering mother moves in, protecting her position by assuring Arthur he doesn’t want to remarry and run the risk of another Cynthia.

His wimp spinster sister, and bum of a brother, also move it. It’s a truly dreary and uninteresting household.

The two daughters are quite different. The older Lucille is, while excited by life in the early 1930s when she reaches young adulthood, able to internalize the boring life of the village and the way its going to be. But Cynthia, two years younger, has much of her mother’s spirit in her, and not only wishes the world were different, she has the courage to do something about it.

Yet, D.H. Lawrence assures us that neither is fully ready to do much with their lives. In the school girl days he tells us:

Tall, slender, fresh-faced, naïve, yet confident, too confident, in their school-girlish arrogance, they were so terribly English. They seemed so free, and were as a matter of fact so tangled and tied up, inside themselves. They seemed so dashing and unconventional, and were really so conventional, so as it were, shut up indoors inside themselves. They looked like bold, tall young sloops, just slipping from the harbour, into the wide seas of life. And they were, as a matter of fact, two poor young rudderless lives, moving from one chain anchorage to another.

Despite the conservativism of the culture, the girls and their friends in their middle class, had much more freedom than they could actually handle.

They were left so very free in their movements. These parents let them do almost entirely as they liked. There wasn’t really a fetter to break, nor a prison-bar to file through, nor a bolt to shatter. The keys of their lives were in their own hands. And there they dangled inert.

While the novel is primarily Yvette’s story, it’s all rooted in the family and cultural milieu of the period. When young Yvette becomes infatuated with an older gypsy man in the area, her father finally loses his cool and strikes out at her. He sees too much of her mother in her:

The rector looked at her insouciant face with hatred. Somewhere inside him, he was cowed, he had been born cowed. And those who are born cowed are natural slaves, and deep instinct make them fear with poisonous fear those who might suddenly snap the slave’s collar round their necks.

He then even threatens to kill her rather than let her be like her mother.

She adjusted herself, however, quite rapidly to her new conception of people. She had to live. It is useless to quarrel with one’s bread and butter. And to expect a great deal out of life is puerile. So, with the rapid adaptability of the post-war generation, she adjusted herself to the new facts. Her father was what he was. She would do the same. She too would play up to appearances.

While, with perhaps the exception of Yvette, the gypsy man, and a British couple she meets, these are fairly uninteresting people and Yvette’s rebellion is not all that serious. But D.H. Lawrence’s simply magnificent writing makes this much more gripping that most novels I have read that have plots of great breadth and excitement. He seems to have the ability to make the every day and common seem just elevated.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett