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

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

One of D.H. Lawrence's most bizarre stories (and there are many)

The Woman Who Rode Away is definitely one of D.H. Lawrence's most bizarre stories (and there are many), this one from his American phase - DHL was the most peripatetic writer of his time, not just traveling but relocating time and again, to many continents, in a time far before there were global communications of any sort - this story set in the sparsely populated Chihuahua state of NW Mexico. The eponymous woman is in her early 30s and married to a guy 20 years her senior - she's American (Berkeley), he's I think from the Netherlands, a silver miner and independent sort. They have two young children. She feels lonely and isolated on their tract in Mexico and listens to the tales that the occasional (male) visitors share with her husband - and she gets it into her head that she'd like to learn more about the mysterious native Indian tribes that live up in the mountains and have virtually no contact with other civilizations. So she sets off alone, while husband away on business, telling a fake tale about going off to visit her daughter who's in a convent school. Let's just think for a second about the cruelty, not to say insanity, of this decision: she abandons, home, husband, and even her two children with no explanation and in fact never has a single thought or moment of regret or sorrow about this decision. She laments at various times that she was "already dead," whatever that's supposed to mean - but if it's a loveless and lonely marriage, whose fault is that? Her husband is never mean or cruel toward her, so far as we know. So he's expected to return, find her missing, no doubt spend days or weeks of untold agony searching for her or more likely for her remains? In any case, she heads off toward the mountains (on horseback), does meet three of the native Indians (one of whom surprisingly speaks Spanish - it's never clear what these three were doing roaming about far from their settlement - who lead her on a very difficult passage to their village (abandoning the horse, by the way - another bit of unexamined cruelty). They hold her captive for what seems to be several months, but she never expresses fear, longing, or sorrow - rather, she imagines that she is being incorporated into nature (again, thinking she is "already dead) and having visions, "as if she were on drugs" DHL notes (as if?!). Long and short, she becomes a victim of a human sacrifice - in an entirely weird phallic ceremony (she's pierced by a falling icicle!). So is this in any way, shape, or form a feminist story? I doubt it. She's not a feminist, not liberated, nor even a victim of male oppression. At best, she's a victim of delusions. And the native Indians? - they're not so great either. They, too, are cruel, and not so noble - as far as we can see the men do nothing but sing and chant and the women seem to raise the children in dwellings apart from the men. It's another one of these DHL homo-erotic cultures - men and women apart like sun and moon, according to the myth that the Spanish-speaking native spills to the woman who rode - a tale so heavy-handed and overburdened that, with any other writer, you'd think he was having us on. But no DHL is deadly serious about this story, as he is about everything. Must we take it seriously, though?

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