Themes in: D.H. Lawrence’s Short Stories

Themes in: D.H. Lawrence’s Short Stories

Image via blogs.nottingham.ac.uk.

This post was written in advance, and is also the penultimate blog post on themes (for the time being).

I’m going to talk about the themes of war, class and gender and how these overlap across  England, My England, The Horse-Dealer’s Daughter, and Monkey Nuts – three short stories by the Nottinghamshire writer D.H. Lawrence.

Class

In Monkey Nuts, Joe, a young soldier, and Albert, Joe’s corporal have come back from the war and work together unloading hay. There are close, and unified in their working-class status; despite Albert being Joe’s corporal, Joe ‘never thought of [him]… as a master’. This closeness, whilst interpreted as some as brotherly affection, has led to others interpreting the relationship between Albert and Joe as homoerotic.* Nonetheless, this intense relationship which has flourished, regardless of social status, suggests how war was helped to somewhat break down the class system in Britain.

*There are further nods to this as the two live together and even share a bed.

In contrast, The Horse-Dealer’s Daughter presents the relationship between people of differing classes completely differently. Firstly, the classes are geographically separate – Jack, a doctor, lives atop a hill in the village, whereas the working-class homes are below him in the valley, providing a clear metaphor that the working-class are also “below” him in all ways. Secondly, Jack finds visiting the working-class homes to treat the sick ‘stimulation’ for his mind. Free indirect discourse provides access to Jack’s thoughts; he thinks working-class are ‘emotional’, providing an interesting break from his own rational mind. The view that the middle-class are logical and intelligent, whereas the working-class are merely bumbling, emotional and a little odd is clearly discriminatory.**

**The fact that a working-class woman later throws herself in a pond probably doesn’t help matters.

War

England, My England is a story mostly focused on the theme of war. Evelyn is a middle-class man who joins the army, seemingly for something to curb his idleness and boredom – another suggestion that working-class lifestyle and labour is merely a “holiday” for someone belonging to a higher class. However, despite his wife’s enthusiasm and the general atmosphere of patriotism and excitement, Evelyn doesn’t share others’ favouritism of England, and is continuously upfront about what he’s going to do. A key sentence is ‘The distinction between German and English was not for him the distinction between good and bad’. This sentence is significant when context is considered. Lawrence was English, but his wife was German. As a result, Lawrence experienced lots of anti-German animosity because of his wife and was heavily critical of British propaganda. Lawrence saw war for what it was, and is: killing, and however, unsavoury that sounds, that’s the truth.

War is also a theme in Monkey Nuts. As previously mentioned, Joe and Albert are ex-soldiers, and work together unloading hay. Miss Stokes, a land-girl, passes them each day. This mix of both men and women in a working environment highlights how the war not only helped to partially erode class boundaries, but gender boundaries too.***

***If this was a history-themed blog, I could talk at length about women’s work in war and the women’s movement thanks to my History A Level, but it isn’t, so I won’t.

Gender

Following on from this, Miss Stokes is attracted to Joe and manages to hold power over him in such a way that she begins trying to start a relationship with him. However, she ignores his lack of interest and desire to be with her, and he is subsequently pressured into seeing her. This is a subversion of gender stereotypes, as it would be more common for a man to initiate the process of courtship a woman.

Similarly, in The Horse-Dealer’s Daughter, Mabel (the working-class woman mentioned earlier) is rescued from the pond by Jack. He resuscitates her, takes her to his home and lies her by the fire and fetches dry clothes for her. Upon waking, Mabel interprets his life-saving actions as a declaration of his love for her. She begins to urgently repeat, chant and insists to him that ‘You love me’. Again, through free indirect discourse, we learn that Jack is categorically not in love with her, he merely saved her life as his duty as doctor. He is shocked at Mabel’s increasingly affectionate actions, such as kissing and embracing him. This increasingly predatory behaviour causes Jack to admit that he does indeed love her, so as not to upset the emotionally fragile Mabel.

In these two different stories, Lawrence has created female characters who initiate romantic behaviour, regardless of whether the men want it or not. I find this incredibly interesting, although I am not certain as to the reason behind this choice. It strikes me as a subversion – perhaps to emphasis to a male readership how truly horrible sexual assault and/or unwanted advances are, perhaps for another reason entirely.

***

Thank you for reading this blog post! Those are my summarised thoughts on the three stories.

I hope you enjoyed it – please click ‘Like’ if you did, or leave some feedback in a comment below.

– Judith

From One Blogger To Another: An Interview With Florence Bell

From One Blogger To Another: An Interview With Florence Bell

This week, I “interviewed” Florence Bell, a theatre blogger and theatre kid.

I say interviewed; it was more of a chat. Florence is a good friend of mine, and a fellow English student at the University of Nottingham. She wrote her first blog post in December 2016.

Florence Screenshot 2

The first play Florence ever saw was an amateur pantomime production of A Christmas Carol. “I was around three years old, and I remember the guy who played Scrooge putting pyjamas on top of his clothes. Of course, the audience was meant to suspend their disbelief, but three-year-old me was blown away that someone could wear clothes under their pyjamas.”

Since grappling with the discovery of costume in theatre, Florence has moved on to grapple with plays at an advanced critical level.

“I had been tweeting about theatre for a while and people kept encouraging me to start a blog, or asking me if I had a blog. I had been thinking about it for a while, but a few people suggesting it was all it took.” she said.

“I had already booked to see Mary Stuart at the Almeida Theatre and I knew that I’d be able to write an in-depth and interesting review of it. I probably spent more time on that review than on anything else I’ve ever written. I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted to grab people’s attention. I wanted to make a splash.”

‘I wanted to grab people’s attention.’

Florence certainly did make a splash; prominent theatre critics including Andrew Haydon and Matt Trueman both praised and retweeted her first blog post.

Florence Screenshot 3

She is upfront about writing, as well as reading, honest reviews.

“I like reviews that say what they mean, because that’s what they are meant to do. Reviews that mock awful shows can be fun to read, but they’re rarely the best reviews. My favourite reviews to read are assertive, thoughtfully considered, and beautifully worded.”

“I stopped writing negative reviews because all I was doing was annoying people who might employ me when I graduate, and there’s no point in being cruel. It’s fine to be critical – sometimes even mean – but constructive criticism is always best. It’s rude to both the theatre makers and your readers to take the piss out of a show and not give a careful and considered approach to what went wrong.

‘It’s fine to be critical – sometimes even mean – but constructive criticism is always best.’

If I’m going to be really negative about a show, instead of just slating it, I’d rather engage with it on a political level. That way, I can explain why the show had issues.Florence Screenshot 1 Sometimes I am too finicky though. I went to the theatre with a friend recently and I think I weirded her out by asking: Do you think this is problematic?’ during the interval!”

However, although she’s been blogging for a few months, Florence is adamant that writing is not her end-goal.

“I don’t want to be a critic and I don’t want to be a journalist. I don’t think I have a ‘writing style’ either –  other than an overuse of parentheses and a reliance on long paragraphs.”

“I like to think that my writing isn’t dissimilar to Meg Vaughan’s, but I’m kidding myself.”

“I write blog posts for fun.” she continued, “This is something I’m doing while at university, and I’ve met lots of cool people doing it, but being a critic is just not what I want to do with my life.”

Instead, Florence wants to be a director, and theatre has always been a big part of her life.

She has seen a variety of productions, but for her, it all started with a production of Oresteia. “It’s still my favourite play. I know half of it off by heart. Most theatre fans hum along to their favourite showstoppers in the shower. I recite bits of Oresteia in the shower.”

‘I recite bits of Oresteia in the shower.’

As someone who is not so much of a theatre kid, I steered the conversation towards a common interest of ours – Shakespeare.

As part of the BA English course at the University of Nottingham, both Florence and I chose a module title Shakespeare’s Histories: Critical Approaches. The texts we looked at were Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2, and Henry V.  Eagle-eyed followers may note this is why some of my blog posts focused on these last year.

Shakespeare’s Histories has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of studying English at Nottingham so far.” Florence said, “The plays we studied will always have a fond place in my heart; the module really got me into the degree. I think it helped me settle in. And I met you through Shakespeare’s Histories, so that’s always a plus.”

I blush.

When asked about her favourite Shakespeare productions, Florence said, “In terms of a director’s vision, Ivo van Hove’s Kings of War and Roman Tragedies, Thomas Ostermeier’s Richard III, and Icke’s Hamlet. Cheek by Jowl’s The Winter’s Tale and Deborah Warner’s King Lear were also gems.” she said.

‘There’s no such thing as a hard and fast rule to as what makes theatre good, and I’m definitely not the person to ask.’

“I find original practices productions, like Dromgoole’s production at Shakespeare’s Globe, quite hard to engage with. I’m interested in directors who are capable of cutting the text and finely tuning their stagecraft to engineer a tone and an atmosphere based on the events in the play, and actors capable of making Shakespeare’s words sound like they were written yesterday.”


Quick-fire Questions:

Favourite theatre actor?

Andrew Scott or Hans Kesting.

Favourite theatre actress?

Lia Williams, duh.

If you could be any female character in any play who would you be and why?

Most of the plays I see are far too depressing to actually want to be any of the women in them. None. Literally none.

What about a male character?

Nope.


At any rate, it’s clear Florence is a confident theatre blogger and theatre kid but, crucially, she is not a theatre critic. She has other plans for when she grows up.

‘What do you wanna like be when you grow up?’

‘I am grown up.’

(Annie Baker, The Flick at The National Theatre)
(Florence Bell, Top Ten Plays of 2016)

***

Thank you for reading! I had so much fun talking to Florence and writing this interview. Please click ‘Like’ if you enjoyed, and share it around.

You can find her blog at: bellflorence.wordpress.com

You can follow both of us on Twitter as well:

– Judith

 

 

 

 

Themes in: Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

Themes in: Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

Sass Warning: Low/Mild

The Sherlock Holmes stories are such a famous franchise now, originally written by Arthur Conan Doyle as short stories and novels.  The stories belong to detective genre, and most of the plots rest on on restoring order to society after the disorder a certain crime has caused.

The only theme I want to talk about in the Sherlock Holmes stories is class, in relation to The Man With The Twisted Lip and The Speckled Band. There are striking differences between how the working-class and middle-class are portrayed in the two texts.

For example, Grimesby Roylott in The Speckled Band is a vastly wealthy and powerful figure. He is also the antagonist and a criminal, guilty of murder and attempted murder.  However, he is compared to a fearsome ‘bird of prey’ which, whilst a mildly threatening image, also connotes majesty, cleverness and skill. It is much more appealing to be compared to an eagle than a pigeon, for instance.   Roylott is also described with elaborate imagery such as the metaphor ‘A large face, seared with a thousand wrinkles’. The lengths Watson goes to describe Roylott in these ways suggests an awe, or bias towards a villain, because of his middle-class status.

In contrast, Hugh Boone – a beggar and ruffian in The Man With The Twisted Lip – is described with negative language such as ‘piteous spectacle’ and ‘pale face disfigured by a horrible scar’. This description implies that those of the lower class not only look different to the middle-class, but they look worse*, as we are spared of Watson’s poetic language – language which, it would seem, is reserved for those belonging to the middle-class, like Roylott. This discriminatory language, and the perceived correlation between appearance and class has not left society; how many jokes have been made about the appearance of guests on The Jeremy Kyle Show, a programme largely designed to “represent” those who are not middle or upper class?

* The language used to describe Boone’s appearance is even more troubling once we learn that Boone is merely a disguise performed by the middle-class man, Neville St. Clair, who created his appearance to purposefully “look lower class”.

Furthermore, a lot of Sherlock Holmes stories turn the reader’s attention to Holmes’ rival: Professor James Moriarty (although he isn’t present in either of the two previously mentioned stories). Despite Moriarty’s involvements in countless crimes and schemes, I don’t think the reader is ever expected to see him in the same way as other criminals. He is cunning, ruthless, and his crimes provide Holmes with intellectual “stimulation”. The fact that Moriarty is a well-educated professor with a substantial income, who also happens to belong to the same class as Holmes and Watson is, I’m sure, merely coincidental with the narrative’s positive bias towards him.

In short, the Sherlock Holmes stories portray middle class criminals as attractive and exciting, whereas any criminal perceived to be from a lower class is portrayed as the scum they rightly are.


Thank you for reading this blog post.

Please click ‘Like’ and leave any responses you have in the comments below.

– Judith

Read and Review: The Mayor of Casterbridge

Read and Review: The Mayor of Casterbridge
  • Title: The Mayor of Casterbridge
  • Author: Thomas Hardy
  • Published: 1886

The Mayor of Casterbridge is dubbed a ‘tragedy’ novel. It is about Michael Henchard, a hay-trusser who sells his wife Susan and their daughter Elizabeth-Jane to a sailor on a drunken whim. Years later, Susan arrives in Casterbridge and, to her surprise, finds Henchard is the Mayor and is a reformed man. The pair reunite, but both Henchard and Susan are keeping secrets from one another, and the past refuses to stay buried.

In true Hardy style, multiple taboos are introduced quickly in The Mayor of Casterbridge, such as the maltreatment of women, drunkenness, fights, fake identities, and death.

The number of problems each character faced, and how these problems impacted upon the other characters made the book feel very much like an 19th century predecessor to The Jeremy Kyle Show!

I thought The Mayor of Casterbridge was okay, despite having a dislike for most of the characters; each character was selfish and deceptive in varying amounts, so it was hard to feel sympathetic for any of them.

The Mayor of Casterbridge has particularly witty moments, and I liked the Harry Potter-like language in this passage:

‘she [Elizabeth-Jane] no longer spoke of “dumbledores” but of “humble bees” […] that when she had not slept she did not quaintly tell the servants next morning that she had been “hag-rid,” but that she had “suffered from indigestion.”’

(Chapter 20)

I think it’s still unclear as to whether this passage inspired J.K. Rowling, when it came to writing her best-selling children’s fantasy series. In an interview with Stephanie Loer for The Boston Globe, Rowling said:

“Some of the names are invented… Dumbledore […] is an Old English word meaning bumblebee. Hagrid, who by the way is one of my favourite characters, also comes from an Old English word – hagridden – meaning having a nightmarish night.”

Regardless, I liked The Mayor of Casterbridge (not as much as Jude The Obscure however) – not because of its maybe links to the Harry Potter books, but because of Hardy’s ability to simply tell a good story.

Thanks for reading! Please click ‘Like’ if you enjoyed.

– Judith

[BONUS] Read and Review: Lady Chatterley’s Lover

[BONUS] Read and Review: Lady Chatterley’s Lover
  • Title: Lady Chatterley’s Lover
  • Author: D.H. Lawrence
  • Published: 1928

Image via BBC.

As an English student at Nottingham, trust me, they make a big deal about D.H. Lawrence. He was born in Eastwood, near Nottingham, in 1885.

Furthermore, ‘The Manuscripts and Special Collections section at The University of Nottingham includes one of the world’s major international collections on DH Lawrence among its extensive historic archives and literary papers.’ (http://www.dh-lawrence.org.uk/collection.html)

Consequently, D.H. Lawrence is, unsurprisingly, on the syllabus. I’ve read a range of his short stories so far but I wanted to read his novels too, having enjoyed his style of writing. I decided to start with one of the most infamous and most controversial novels: Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

Connie and Clifford Chatterley, a middle-class couple, own the Chatterley estate – a large house, plenty of land, and a coal mine. When Clifford is paralysed from the waist down after World War I, this causes significant problems for the couple – mainly, no sex and thus no heir to the estate. Connie gradually becomes disenchanted with the idea of being ‘Lady Chatterley’, but feels guilty about leaving Clifford because of his disability. She seeks comfort from Mellors, the gamekeeper, which results in a sexual relationship and a scandalous affair.

I don’t think I enjoyed the story of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, mainly because I didn’t like the main characters.

Clifford behaves contemptuously to almost everyone who surrounds him and neglects his wife often. He favours discussions with his intellectual chums instead which of course, Connie could never participate in, because she is “only” a woman.

Connie and Mellors engage in an affair while they are both already married to others (albeit in an unhappy marriage), but “justified” promiscuity makes me uncomfortable still. Plus, despite the language used to describe the pair’s affections, I only ever saw the relationship as one-sided. It’s clear Mellors truly loves Connie, but as to whether Connie fully reciprocates these feelings for Mellors, I’m unsure about.

However, I did find Lady Chatterley’s Lover incredibly interesting because of the issues it raises, mainly the question:

Is Lady Chatterley’s Lover about sex?

Yes

Yes; the language is far too explicit for Lady Chatterley’s Lover to not be about sex (despite its infamy, I still didn’t expect language from the 1920s to be that clear-cut, which does nothing but reveal my own ignorance to the romance/erotica genre)!

The book is about the role sex has within marital and extra-marital contexts. Clifford sees marital sex merely as useful for the production of a child who will one day inherit his estate and continue the Chatterley legacy. Connie uses extramarital sex to experience, love, lust, desire, and freedom – all the things she feels she is lacking from her oppressive husband.

No

However, once the focus on sexual encounters is put to one side, Lady Chatterley’s Lover also raises issues of class and region – both which are common threads in Lawrence’s works.

Connie “transgresses” from her middle-class position to pursue a relationship with their gamekeeper, an indistinct member of the working class, with presumable “bad breeding”. In addition, Lawrence devotes a lot of time to exploring the dynamics of Connie and Clifford’s middle-class lifestyle, and why this is unfulfilling for both, as well as exploring the lives of other local working-class people in the area.

Mellors is fluid in his use of dialect. He uses Standard English when publicly interacting with the Chatterleys, yet uses a natural Nottinghamshire dialect when alone with Connie. Arguably, this reveals a deeper aspect of Mellors’ personality, but ironically, it alienates Connie. She is drawn to his use of language – his straight-talking manner with which he confesses his feelings – and yet she does not speak the dialect, she is restricted to Standard English, and so struggles to consistently understand him.


So is Lady Chatterley’s Lover about sex? Yes, but it’s also about so much more.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover was adapted for the BBC in 2015, and you can read a review of that here.

***

Thank you for reading!

If you enjoyed this post please click ‘Like’ and leave any responses you have in the comments below.

– Judith

Themes in: Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti

Themes in: Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti

Goblin Market is a Victorian poem about two women, Lizzie and Laura, one of whom is tempted by the goblins that frequent their village to sell exotic fruits all year around. Laura becomes grievously ill after eating some of this fruit, and is saved by her sister’s bravery and heroism against the goblins.

To me, the most striking element in Goblin Market is its use of symbolism – of religion, of the patriarchy and, as an offshoot of this, the sexual oppression of women.

Religion

Firstly, Goblin Market’s religious imagery is overwhelmingly clear. The premise of the poem is that deceptive, supernatural creatures tempt a pure woman into eating a mysterious and forbidden fruit, which then has negative consequences. This is a direct parallel to the events in Genesis 3; the goblins symbolise Satan and Laura symbolises Eve.

However, there is a second layer to this religious imagery. Lizzie saves her sister by standing resolute in the face of the goblins’ horrid behaviour towards her, enduring suffering for the sake of Laura. She is described as ‘fruit-crown’d’ – an irony – because a crown is meant for royalty, highlighting Laura’s virtuous and honourable nature, yet it is made from fruit, the goblins’ “weapon” of attack. This may be a parallel to the ‘crown of thorns’ (Matthew 27:29) worn by Christ during the crucifixion, to mock him. Furthermore, during Lizzie’s attack from the goblins, she ‘utter’d not a word’, again imitating Christ’s behaviour when he was trialled by Herod:

  • ‘He [Jesus] was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth’ (Isaiah 53:7)
  • ‘He [Herod] plied him [Jesus] with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer.’ (Luke 23:9)

Patriarchy

Secondly, although the goblins are in some ways supernatural, they are also described as ‘goblin merchant men’. The significance of calling them ‘men’ suggests the poem can also be read as a poem about the male oppression of women within a patriarchal Victorian society. It is important that while the goblins are running their market and earning money, both Lizzie and Laura are confined to the home, undertaking stereotypically female tasks, such as sewing, baking cakes and talking like ‘modest maidens’. This highlights the separate spheres ideology which was rife in Victorian society, that encouraged men to leave the house and work to provide for the family (in the “public” sphere)  whilst women were to stay at home as housekeepers and mothers (in the “private” sphere).

Yet there is more. Rossetti also highlights that within a patriarchal society, not only were women confined to their domesticated “sphere” of life, but they were also victims of sexual abuse. This is evidenced by the goblins’ attack on Lizzie. The goblins, whilst ‘grunting and snarling’, ‘tore her gown’, ‘held her hands’, ‘kick’d’ and ‘maul’d’ her in order to force her to eat their fruits. The goblins’ fruit is a metaphor for sex, and thus this distressing scene symbolises one of rape and domestic abuse, a scenario sadly commonplace within Victorian relationships.*

*A harrowing statistic: marital rape wasn’t criminalised in the UK until 1991.

***

Of course, there’s so much more that could be said about the poem. I enjoyed reading Goblin Market; it’s beautifully written narrative poem with vivid imagery and multiple interpretations. There are many other offered readings of the poem, but I think Goblin Market’s parallels with the Christian faith, and the message of female oppression are its most significant undertones.

Thank you for reading this blog post.

Please click ‘Like’ and leave any responses you have in the comments below.

– Judith

WWW Wednesdays: What Am I Reading? (3)

WWW Wednesdays: What Am I Reading? (3)

WWW Wednesdays is a weekly meme that is hosted by Taking on a World of Words. The “rules” are simple – answer the 3 questions below:


1. What are you currently reading?

I’m currently reading Finders Keepers by Stephen King, as well as The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy; if you’ve been following my other WWW posts you’d know I’ve been planning to read this particular Hardy book since February. I only have two books on the go at the minute, which is allowing me to get through both books at an excellent pace.

2. What did you recently finish reading?

If I remember rightly, I finished reading two reads: Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence, 11.22.63 by Stephen King. However, I’m sorry to say I’ve also given up on not one, but two books. I’ve abandoned To The Lighthouse by Woolf (in fact, I’m not at all sorry for giving up on this one, it was a disastrous book for me to try and get into) as well as The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. Whilst I had read some the stories and found them amusing, I just wasn’t engaged enough to want to commit top reading the entire thing just yet.

3. What do you think you’ll read next?

I honestly don’t know – at present I don’t have a burning desire for any other books in particular, but I’m sure that’s bound to change.


 What are you currently reading?

– Judith