Academic journal article D.H. Lawrence Review

The Search for Pan: Difference and Morality in D. H. Lawrence's "St Mawr" and "The Woman Who Rode Away"

Academic journal article D.H. Lawrence Review

The Search for Pan: Difference and Morality in D. H. Lawrence's "St Mawr" and "The Woman Who Rode Away"

Article excerpt

From Sons and Lovers to Lady Chatterley's Lover, D. H. Lawrence's literary landscape holds a peculiar import that crystallizes and becomes most vivid when he writes about the American South-West, Taos holding a place in his fiction that is perhaps even more important because of its separateness from the other places he describes in small-town England or on the Continent. He revisits Mexico and New Mexico in his fiction several times, most notably in The Plumed Serpent (1924) and shorter novellas and stories like "The Princess," "St Mawr" (1925) and "The Woman Who Rode Away" (1928). For the purposes of this paper, I will concentrate on the two latter stories, but the emphatic presence of the landscape is plain in them all; for instance, the Princess "want[s] to look over the mountains into their secret heart. She want[s] to descend to the cabin below the spruce trees, near the tarn of bright green water. She want[s] to see the wild animals move about in their wild unconsciousness" (193). The landscape is central to her understanding of the place, its flora, fauna and its indigenous people.

This linking of the land with its animals extends to the Indians who live there and endows the indigenous tribes, in the eyes of the narrator, with a simplemindedness that is extremely problematic. The housewife from "The Woman Who Rode Away" and even Lou Carrington from "St Mawr" at first join the Princess in imagining the Indians as "static," as if "both as individual men and as a race, they had no raison d'etre, no radical meaning." As the Princess looks at Domingo Romero, she thinks, "Unable to wrest a positive significance for themselves from the vast, beautiful, but vindictive landscape they were born into, [the Indians like him] turned on their own selves, and worshipped death through self-torture" (188). Turning landscapes into psychological topoi encourages each of the central protagonists to see Indian men as utterly other, fundamentally removed from the European ennui that tinges their daily lives. Further, these men become, like the landscape, something to discover, to see and therefore understand, as if the visual will lead to a metonymic comprehension of the whole. Irony, something for which Lawrence does not receive enough credit, is heavy throughout these stories. Each woman is exposed as understanding the Indian only partially, and each thereby fails to come to terms with him as a whole. As each woman meets her personal disaster, the reader is left hanging with questions of self-definition and alterity, resulting in a strong critique of difference itself as perceived by these women. Exterior difference no longer serves as any helpful measure of interior ones; difference itself has become unquantifiable in the textual space represented by Lawrence.

In her reading of Lawrence's "The Virgin and the Gypsy," Deborah Nord suggests that the figure of the gypsy is a locus around which issues of identity and otherness are collated and ultimately confounded--the gypsy, who has been portrayed as an exotic "other within," eventually reveals himself as inhabiting all the conventional trappings of British life: a commonplace name, the ability to write, and a sentimental interiority. Thus, she notes that Lawrence invokes the gypsy myth, relying on easy stereotypes to sketch out his characters, only to debunk it all the more effectively. It seems to me that such an example of debunking is most profound in Lawrence's so-called Taos stories. The American Indian has been one of the enduring symbols of otherness to western Europe, even more remote than the exotic Easterners who populate Hesse's Siddhartha, for instance. Although it is not uncommon to come across accusations of anti-assimilationist paternalism directed at Lawrence, (1) a fuller consideration of these stories reveals the extent of this debunking: an irresolute ending, which denies a pat conclusion to their themes and plots; a set of problematic protagonists, as an ironic authorial hand keeps each on the edge of readers' sympathies; and finally, the problem of difference itself, since each woman's attempts to define herself against an other result from a profound failure of the imagination, leading to the question of whether one can effectively define the self through such contrast at all. …

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