I’m reading a three-story collection of DH Lawrence that anthologizes “The Woman Who Rode Away,” St. Mawr (really a novella), and “The Princess.”
I’ve finished “The Woman Who Rode Away” and am a third through St. Mawr. All three tales involve horses. The first and last are about women who leave their normal lives on horseback, and St. Mawr is, himself, a horse.
Given where I am in the collection, this is something of a review in midstream.
“The Woman Who Rode Away” has many admirable qualities. James Lasdun, who wrote the collection’s introduction, does a very good job discussing them. He also notes Lawrence’s interest in pulp fiction, and for me, that’s what the narrative arc finally becomes, with all of that genre’s attendant problems of sexism, racism, colonialism. There is more to like about much of the writing than about the balance of the story.
St. Mawr is likewise full of brilliant moments, but so far seems to drag on. How many times must Lawrence tell us about the other planes of existence the horse seems to occupy? How many times must he tell us about the darkness in the stallion’s eyes, and in that darkness, fire? How many times must he remind us of Phoenix’s high cheek-bones and other “Indian” features? How long must poor Rico suffer? I am midstream in this story, but feel like changing horses.
Don’t get me wrong. Lawrence was supremely gifted. I should say that I’m concurrently reading Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, published two years after these Lawrence stories were written. Though the two writers shared many things in common (Hemingway does go on about the streets and restaurants of Paris, both men name-check the Rotonde, both deal in their ways with the aftermath of World War I), their styles are like the glyphs of different planets. Reading them together helps modern readers, almost a century on, understand why The Sun Also Rises was considered such a departure and, for that reason, such a landmark.
That’s not to diminish Lawrence, nor to compare this collection (not a masterpiece) to Hemingway’s best-known and most critically acclaimed work. But since I happen to be reading these pieces in tandem, I can’t help seeing them in light of each other, to an extent.
Lawrence’s prose is rich and layered and often very beautiful. He was, as Lasdun points out, a master at transmuting setting into psychological revelation. All of that is here. Hemingway can seem too stark by comparison. Sherwood Anderson, who Hemingway parodied in The Torrents of Spring (also published in 1926) is stylistically somewhere in between. Winesburg, Ohio is a current happy place of mine.
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