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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

A Man and a Woman: Comparing two famous D.H. Lawrence stories

Reading the intro to a collection of D.H. Lawrence stories I was struck by the reference to Kate Millett's criticique from the 1970s in which she called The Woman Who Road Away a male-fantasy pornographic-bondage story - and I agree with that. We can't take DHL to task for being a victim of the gender prejudices and biases of his day, although we need not hold him up, either, as a prophet, sage, and visionary regarding the liberation of women. To understand, let's look for a moment at two his famous late stories, similarly titled and in some ways similarly themed: The Woman Who Road Away (Woman) and The Man Who Loved Islands (Man). In both stories, the protagonist leaves known civilization behind, sets off alone on some kind of mission or journey, rejects all social relations, in fact turns away from marriage and abandons children, and ultimately dies in the quest. Clearly, this is an over-arching Lawrentian theme, as he was contemptuous of much social interaction, particularly in Western cultures, believed in the cult of a powerful individual leader (hate to think of some of the later consequences of that belief), fearless independence, and nearly obsessive travel. But the differences: Woman leaves husband, children, failing silver mine, heads off to find the remote Indian tribes of NW Mexico, and is captured, held in bondage, and sacrificed in a bizarre ritual killing. She continues to think that she is "dead already," and from moment of her arrival in Indian village puts herself at their mercy, without fear, protest, regret, or resistance. Man, however, sets up a little feudal state with him firmly ensconced as "master"; when he begins to run out of money, scales down and moves to a smaller island, with a very few servants, one of whom he begins an affair w/, though he laments that it's all about "will" and not passion or desire; abandons her and child and moves to solitary island where he slowly, by any objective account, goes insane (he's driven mad by the bleating of sheep, and finally starts destroying all evidence of written language), and dies during the cold winter (a really powerful and well-written scene, btw). So Man takes action, makes himself master of his realm, dies in heroic confrontation w/ the elements. By my view, they are both clearly disturbed, selfish, narcissistic, and irresponsible, and, particularly in Man's case, unaware of their privileged place in society and on the planet. But clearly DHL has what today we can see as a gender-biased view of heroism and independence.

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