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

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Only Connect - and D. H. Lawrence (yes, I know Forster said it)

E.M. Forster said "only connect," but D.H. Lawrence may as well have said it, too - or perhaps "only touch," as physical contact seems to be the key point in many of his stories and novels - often sexual contact, his descriptions of which were pretty advanced and honest or the early 20th century, but not always sexual contact: thinking about a few of his stories that I've been reading. As noted in yesterday's post on Odour of Chrysanthemums the story culminates when the women (wife, mother) touch the dead body of the miner, and his widow understands all she has lost in life, missed in life, and the travail that lies before her. Two very different stories - not in the small and desolate mining villages of the midlands that we so associate with DHL's major early works, involve human contact in different ways: Tickets, Please is set during the 1st World War in rural England and is about a group that runs the local "tram" - I guess it's something like a small train with just a few cars? Or maybe a bus? -shuttles among the villages. Most of the employees (ticket-takers) are young women, while the those of higher rank, the inspectors, are men - one of whom is a notorious Don Juan who courts the women then drops them cold. The women lure him into a little shed where they warm up and unwind after work and essentially gang up on him and beat the crap out of him - a violent, brutal contact that un-mans him, so to speak: he is weakened, defeated, and humiliated, and we begin to think: why is he able to serve as a tram inspector? Why isn't he fighting in the way? He's a "cock of the walk" in this world deserted by most men, among women needy for any male attention - the violent female contact shows him to be an attenuated weakling, a shameful and narcissistic person (he asking the women to serve him tea and toast is truly insipid - I'd like to join in the slugfest after that). The Blind Man is set just after the war, as a man, blinded and scarred in battle, makes a life with his young (pregnant) wife on the family farm; they seem to have plenty of money, as they are well supported by a legion of servants who keep the farm running - but he tries to keep busy with tasks and to accommodate to the narrow scope of his life (and of his marriage). An old friend of his wife's comes to visit, and there's a powerful undercurrent of jealousy and distrust - until the two men meet in the dairy barn (in the dark, I think), and the blind man asks the other guy to touch his eyes and his face. The man does so, feeling queasy and uncomfortable. After this touching, the blind man reports to his wife that they've cleared the air between them and become "friends." It's hard not to see the homo-erotic undercurrents here (reminds me of the nude wrestling match in Women in Love) - but DHL doesn't bring out this element explicitly - what he seems to be getting at is that human touch is a sacred, holy, and mysterious life phenomenon that can have different effects - bonding, destroying, disturbing.

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