Academic journal article British and American Studies

Language: Anarchism, Class and Sexuality in D. H. Lawrence's the Daughter-in-Law

Academic journal article British and American Studies

Language: Anarchism, Class and Sexuality in D. H. Lawrence's the Daughter-in-Law

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Thought to have been written in January 1913 and rediscovered after D. H. Lawrence's death by Else, Frieda's sister, The D aught er-in-Law is in many ways coincidental with Sons and Lovers in temporal and paradigmatic terms. Written in "kitchen-sink" fashion and caught in the atmosphere of the 1912 miners' strike, the play captures family tensions to such an extent that the physical strike out there becomes a metaphor for tense family relationships, which are finally released at the end of the play. It centers around two male characters, Luther and Joe, brothers and sons to the overbearing Mrs Gascoigne and three female characters, Mrs Gascoigne, Minnie, wife to Luther and Mrs Purdy, mother of Bertha, who is reported to be expecting a child from Luther. The revelation of this pregnancy after Minnie and Luther have been married for six weeks brings about a tension in the husband-wife, mother-son and mother-in-law - daughter-in-law relationships.

Although the play and the novel share almost the same family paradigms - an overbearing mother, the collier background, classless relationships - still it seems that the play follows up what the novel initiated in a more lively way and apparently brings to conclusion what the characters in Sons and Lovers could not - liberation from an imposing motherly figure. Matters of class and sexuality are more emphatically conveyed here owing to the dialogue of the play. Often considered his best, the play is written "wholly in the dialect he [Lawrence] had left so far behind him" (Poplawski 1996: 31).

Although the use of dialect speech makes it at times difficult for the reader to follow the play, it very much accounts for its success in conveying ideas in a genuine way. It should be briefly recollected here that although it was written as early as 1913, the play was never performed while Lawrence was alive. It was actually found by coincidence after his death, among the several manuscripts he had left behind while in Germany. The manuscripts went forgotten until they were rediscovered by Else in 1931 who then returned them to Frida in 1933. Frida tried to have the play put on stage, but was told that it needed adapting if it were to be produced. After some failed attempts for the adaptation of the play, the job was handed down to Walter Greenwood, who altered the structure of the play, from four to three acts, changed its ending and "modified] the dialect to make the play more comprehensible" (Sagar and Sklar 1982: 298). The play was finally performed as My Son 's My Son in 1936. It was not until Peter Gill's productions of D. H. Lawrence's plays that they received their missing acclaim (cf. Sagar 1982; Wilcher 1996).

If one considers some history of the play's production in 1936 by Leon M. Lion, its 1967 production by Peter Gill and other later productions, one would soon notice that comments, negative or positive, point in the same direction. Its failures, if any, or success, revolve around the use of dialect speech in the play. Back in 1936 the reviewer of The Times would speak of loss "when the tension that had 'bound together the rest of the play' gave way to a radically different kind of tension and the situation created in the first two acts was resolved with 'a melodramatic flourish'" (Wilcher 1996: 255), a remark which clearly alludes to the alterations made to the play by Greenwood, among which, the most important, the modification of the dialect. Reviews following the several productions of the play in the years 1967-1985 focused mainly on Lawrence's naturalism and on the homely atmosphere present in the play, two aspects which, in my view, are ascertained by the use of dialect in the play. Others would clearly mention the use of the dialect:

Wardle [2] was 'amazed that such a work could have been neglected' and declared that 'the Derbyshire dialect rings with a common humanity which is the most precious sound in the theatre.' [...] while Woddis, in spite of reservations about Lawrence's sexual politics and the unfamiliar dialect, acknowledged that it was the work of 'a masterly playwright and a painfully honest analyst of his own obsessions. …

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