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Same-Sex Desire, Cross-Gender Identification and Asexuality in D.H. Lawrence’s Early Short Fiction

Howard J. Booth
p. 37-57

Texte intégral

1The appearance of The Vicar’s Garden and Other Stories in 2009, edited by N.H. Reeve, concluded the publication of Lawrence’s short fiction in the Cambridge edition with a volume of early and draft versions of a number of stories. Drawing on this new text, I will argue that the depiction of sexuality and desire in early Lawrence was much more heterogeneous than has usually been acknowledged. The texts address male-male desire, cross-gender identification and asexuality. Sexual relationships between the sexes appear unattainable, and it is in many of these stories that Lawrence went furthest in imagining women living lives that are not centred on sexual relationships with men. Two sets of early short stories will be the focus for what follows: “A Modern Lover,” “The Harassed Angel” and “The Shades of Spring”; and “Intimacy,” “The White Woman” and “The Witch à la Mode.”

2Critics have not questioned sufficiently the model for interpreting the early life and work that Lawrence himself first laid down. Heavily teleological, the claim is that a “real” Lawrence emerged, despite the forces that threatened to hold back—and perhaps curtail altogether—his “development.” This narrative is organised around a breakthrough, or a series of breakthroughs, that allowed the “mature” Lawrence to emerge. Accounts of early Lawrence lead up to the meeting with Frieda in March 1912 and the writing of the final version of Sons and Lovers between September and November of that same year. The individual, emotional, sexual and literary are fused in an account of the writer’s “progress.” An “advance” in terms of relationships is linked to a breakthrough in the writing, where an outdated interest in late nineteenth-century forms of writing gives way to a more modern writing style.

  • 1 For an introduction to queer theory see Jagose’s Queer Theory. For a lively polemical attack on the (...)

3Any reading aware of queer theory would want to question the normative judgements in play in this account of Lawrence’s life.1 Words like “real,” “development,” “mature,” “progress” and “advance” show the value judgements in play. Seeing the early work as the royal road to Frieda and Sons and Lovers leaves on one side much material that does not fit this powerful masterplot. John Worthen’s first volume in the Cambridge biography is the major exception here. Though its overall narrative shape is one that that sees a damaged, constrained Lawrence moving towards inter-connected breakthroughs in his personal life and writing, Worthen’s commitment to “thick description” means that attention is paid to many of the themes around Lawrence, sexuality and gender that I develop here.

4Lawrence argued in his essay “Give Her a Pattern,” written between the 6 and 12 December 1928 (see LEA 160), that women’s lives may settle into a male-imposed form, “But in the end, the strange and terrible logic of emotion will work out the smashing of that pattern, if it has not been emotionally satisfactory” (LEA 164). The “logic of emotion” masterplot, where a true self breaks through what holds it back, informs Lawrence’s take on his own life and career. It can be seen, then, not as positive and radical alternative to conventional logic, the logic of the mind, but as a strategy for legitimising a retrospective construction of the past. As a result some things are seen as good and others bad. Here I propose attending to what the “logic of emotion” plot condemns and discards, to what usually gets filtered out and omitted in the normative accounts of early Lawrence.

5Lawrence himself began to develop this narrative at an early stage, famously declaring in a letter to Arthur McLeod in late October 1913 that “one sheds ones sicknesses in books—repeats and presents again ones emotion, to be master of them” (Lii 90). A plot featuring a challenge to the established structures of an individual’s life can be seen in many of Lawrence’s post-1912 texts, where it is a particular feature of the writing from the 1920s. The response to the challenge varies: the blocking off of emotional flows may produce a complete and full reaction (for example, Connie breaking out from the confines of her marriage in Lady Chatterley’s Lover), the “smashing” of the “pattern” may prove impossible to effect (one thinks of the Witts in St Mawr), or the consequences of an immovable selfhood set out (Aunt Cissie, in The Virgin and the Gypsy, has “lost her life and her sex,” but “strange green flares of rage would come up in her, and at such times, she was insane” (VG 8)). The breakthrough narrative was then applied by Lawrence to his own earlier life in the “late autobiographical pieces” (see EY 500-3) which maintain that certain kinds of relationships—with family and lovers—needed to be overcome and surpassed.

6All this is not to say that Lawrence did not consider and set out other ways of viewing his early life. For example, in a 1924 interview with Kyle Crichton, Lawrence proposed a rather different account. There is not the same degree of reliance on a narrative of personal progress in what he is reported as saying to Crichton about rereading The White Peacock in Mexico the previous year,

Last year in Mexico I reread The White Peacock for the first time in fifteen years. It seemed strange and far off and as if written by somebody else. I wondered how I could have thought of some of the things or how I could have written them. And then I’d come across something that showed I may have changed in style or form, but I haven’t changed fundamentally. (Nehls 2:414)

7Such a position appeals to notions of a core self where other elements simply fall away. However, these elements are not seen negatively, as obstacles preventing personal growth, as they are in the account that stresses a series of breakthroughs.

8The early short story “A Modern Lover” is rarely discussed; it is usually seen as a strange, awkward precursor of the story “The Shades of Spring,” to be found in The Prussian Officer volume of 1914. An earlier version of “The Shades of Spring,” “The Harassed Angel,” is included in The Vicar’s Garden and Other Stories. It received periodical publication in 1913 in Forum in the United States and The Blue Review in Britain (see VG 252). The differences between these stories could be seen in terms of writing indebted to aestheticism and symbolism giving way to a more honed shaping of the narrative and prose. Lawrence can be said to have “grown” as a writer, to become more modern and less “provincial” (in the pejorative sense of the word). There is also, this argument would run, a shift away from self-reflexively considering the personal development of an artist figure (see EY 148-51).

9In “A Modern Lover,” Cyril Mersham returns from the South after two years to visit Muriel on the farm where she lives with her family. They have long had an intense friendship, but are both still virgins: an earlier title, deleted on the manuscript, was “The Virtuous.” Returning to ask if Muriel is prepared to turn their relationship into a sexual one, Cyril finds that Muriel is being courted by Tom Vickers, “a working electrician in the mine”; Muriel’s brothers also work in the same pit (LAH 38). Cyril is able to supplant Tom in Muriel’s affections, but she raises objections to introducing sex into their relationship. Cyril is left feeling empty and devoid of emotion at the end of the story.

10The text can be related to events in Lawrence’s own life in December 1909. Jessie Chambers, on whom Muriel is based, was reported by Emile Delavenay as saying of Lawrence’s arrival at the Haggs Farm that Christmas Eve that “from his first glance I was aware of a difference [...] He said that all our long association was in reality a preparation for this ‘une intimité d’amour.’ It came as a shock to me, very disturbing, yet at the same time inevitable” (Delavenay 2:702 cited in LAH 225-6 note to 28:1). These events and the story can also be compared with the later “Test on Miriam” chapter in Sons and Lovers (SL 322-44): in “A Modern Lover,” though, there is no sign of Muriel relenting. The story was perhaps first drafted between the end of 1909 and late January 1910. By the time of Lawrence’s letter to Blanche Jennings from Croydon of 28 January 1910 things had changed. Lawrence reported that “She [Jessie] is coming to me for a week-end soon; we shall not stay here in Croydon, but in London. The world is for us, and we for each other—even if only for one spring—so what does it matter! What would my people and hers say?—but what do I care—not a damn!—they will no know” (LI 154). Heterosexual sex once again seemed possible.

11Coming from the period before “no” turned to “yes,” “A Modern Lover” gives non-normative relationships and gender roles prominence. Here this will be explored in three ways. George Moore’s novel A Modern Lover of 1883 will be shown to have provided Lawrence with more than just a title, rather it is an important intertext for the story. The scene involving Cyril and Tom Vickers is explored both in terms of male-male desire and cross-gender identification. Cyril evaluates Tom as a sexual partner by imagining himself in Muriel’s position. The changing treatment of the love-rival in “The Harassed Angel” and “The Shades of Spring” will be explored. Thirdly and finally, the text’s interest in the very absence of desire will be investigated, where this will lead into a brief examination of the second group of stories, “Intimacy,” “The White Woman” and “The Witch à la Mode.”

12The reluctance to explore how “A Modern Lover” relates to George Moore’s novel with the same title perhaps has its roots in the belief that “A Modern Lover” is to be taken as a work of sustained irony. Keith Cushman has seen the short story as examining Cyril, as his surname suggests, as a “mere sham” (Cushman 122-3). I would argue that this is to elide the story with the attitudes of the later Lawrence. If the story is to be read as ironic, though, the irony has to declare itself. Samuel Johnson’s supported his definition of irony as a form of speech in which what is said is not what is meant with the phrase “Bolingbroke is a holy man.” This phrase is not essentially ironic, rather Johnson expects all his readers to be part of a community that thinks that Bolingbroke was not holy (Colebrook 18). A literary text has to signal to its readers when it is deploying irony, and this does not happen in “A Modern Lover.” What is most striking about “A Modern Lover” is the very lack of a position from which Cyril can be critiqued and treated ironically. “A Modern Lover” can be seen as an author using writing to explore his situation, but that is not the same as saying that Lawrence had found a way forward when he wrote it.

  • 2 Moore rewrote the novel, in a version published in 1917, changing the title to Lewis Seymour and So (...)

13Lawrence works off the depiction of contemporary love found in Moore’s novel. A Modern Lover the novel tells the story of Lewis Seymour, an artist who eventually becomes an Academician not because of talent and ability, but because he can win the support of powerful female patrons and respond to changing fashions. The most arresting part of the novel is its opening chapters, which is the section to which Lawrence responded. Lewis has run out of money, and is living in very cheap accommodation. Across the landing is a female lodger Gwynnie Lloyd, a 16 year-old factory worker. She has recently arrived in London, having had a strict religious upbringing in the country. Lewis has no money but he does manage to win a commission for a decorative panel of a naked Venus. However, he has no-one to sit for him. To compound things, Gwynnie’s purse is stolen on pay-day and neither of them have the money to pay for a model. Lewis puts the situation to Gwynnie thus: either she overcomes her scruples and poses nude for him, or he will be ruined and go and kill himself. After much soul-searching she agrees to act as his model.2 Muriel’s refusal in the Lawrence text is heightened because, in contrast, Lewis Seymour in Moore’s novel constantly gets his own way.

  • 3 On Moore’s time in Paris see Frazier 27-66. On his early development and A Modern Lover see Cave 11 (...)

14Lawrence shared an interest in French writing and symbolism with the older writer. After trying to become a painter in Paris, Moore gave up painting for literature. When he began writing, though, he had little acquaintance with work in his own language; his enthusiasm was for Balzac, the symbolists and especially Zola.3 “A Modern Lover” shows Lawrence responding to Moore’s style, but there are differences between the two as well. In Moore the descriptions often place the individual in a disorientating city, where the symbols stand in for the very absence of meaning,

All was fantastically unreal, all seemed symbolical of something that was not. Along the embankment, turning in a half circle, the electric lights beamed like great silver moons, behind which, scattered in inextricable confusion, the thousand gaslights burned softly like night-lights in some gigantic dormitory. On the Surrey side an immense curtain of shadow stretched across the sky, out of which a red light watched him with the haggard gaze of a bleeding eye. (Moore 14)

15If the style belongs with the aesthetes and decadents, the content prefigures the “[u]nreal city” of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land of 1922 (Eliot 71) and the surrealist treatment of eyes, most famously in Luis Bruñel and Salvador Dali’s film Un Chien Andalou of 1929. In this description the effect is gained by overlaying the city at night with images drawn from the human body and the domestic sphere; the disjunction between the different scales in play is what disturbs. The Lawrence text differs from the Moore text, and not only because of the use of nature imagery and because each image is sustained for much longer. Meaning and reality are still sought. The stress falls on what Cyril might gain from the outside that could transform and change him,

Surely, surely somebody could give him enough of the philtre of life to stop the craving which tortured him hither and thither, enough to satisfy for a while, to intoxicate him till he could laugh the crystalline laughter of the star, and bathe in the retreating flood of twilight like a naked boy in the surf, clasping the waves and beating them and answering their wild clawings with laughter sometimes, and sometimes gasps of pain. (LAH 29)

16The repeated word “surely” shows the expectation that there simply must be a way forward. Rather than being caught by “the stubble of sentimentality and stupid fear,” Cyril hopes that “surely he could find the hot destruction of Life fighting out its way” (LAH 29). (The language here draws on the Conclusion to Walter Pater’s The Renaissance (Pater 150-3), which first appeared in 1873). Thought and reading can burn away “the chaff of sentimentality and false romance that covered the real grain of life.” However, the story suggests this “real grain” is not sprouting (LAH 33).

17Muriel’s refusal to accede to Mersham’s request for sex shows that women will not necessarily respond; the worlds of Lewis Seymour and Cyril Mersham operate differently. Women may be deciding their own fate, and the story explores the possibility the desired object may not themselves desire at all. Cyril’s sense of emptiness at the end of the story is caught at the level of style. The symbolism and the language of aestheticism drain away to leave a much sparer prose,

18They stumbled over the mole-hills, under the oak trees.

“And look—how we should have to be—creeping together in the dark –”

This stung him;—at once, it was as if the glamour went out of life. It was as if she had tipped over the frail vessel that held the wine of his desire, and had emptied him of all his vitality. He had played a difficult, deeply-moving part all night, and now the lights suddenly switched out, and there was left only weariness. He was silent, tired, very tired, bodily and spiritually. They walked across the wide, dark meadow with sunken heads. (LAH 48)

19The tipping over of “the frail vessel that held the wine of his desire” can be linked to the wish to be given the “philtre of life” at the start of the story. Cyril gains nothing from his visit, and indeed it is possible to say that he has lost what he had as he is shorn of his hopes. He is described as being unable to return to a core identity when he stops acting his part. Cyril, we are told, “felt unable to gather his energy to say anything vital” (LAH 48). Without a kiss, and with only Cyril saying goodbye, the story ends. Lawrence struck through a further sentence that ran “He stumbled a little as he hurried down,” away from Muriel and the farm (LAH 230 note to 48:36).

20From early in the story it is made clear that when Cyril stops focussing on Muriel, male beauty comes to the fore. After we are told that Cyril “hardened his heart and turned his head from her,” comes an account of her brothers washing off the pit-dirt:

The boys had stripped to their waists, and had knelt on the hearth-rug and washed themselves in a large tin bowl, the mother sponging and drying their backs. Now they stood wiping themselves, the firelight bright and rosy on their fine torses, their heavy arms swelling and sinking with a life. They seemed to cherish the firelight on their bodies. Benjamin, the younger, leaned his breast to the warmth, and threw back his head, showing his teeth in a voluptuous little smile. Mersham watched them, as he had watched the pewits and the sunset. (LAH 31-2)

21The brothers are linked both to nature and to the sensual. The figure of Tom could be expected, given this description of Muriel’s brothers and a knowledge of Lawrence’s subsequent trajectory, to offer the way forward; he might be the “natural man” in contrast to the aesthete Mersham. However, any examination of Tom’s role in the story would suggest that he is presented neither as a possible long-term partner for Muriel nor as a model for Mersham. Instead attention in the triangular relationship shifts away from Muriel to the engagement “between men” (Sedgwick 1-27). The character of Tom must have puzzled many readers of “A Modern Lover.” Cyril soon shows himself superior in Muriel’s affections and the section where Tom and Cyril go out to the barn before Tom departs can be said to impede the story’s flow and to distort its structure. Emile Delavenay records Jessie Chambers as saying “The character of Tom Vickers, invented, did not appear in the first version” (Delavenay ii 708 cited in LAH xxvi n. 24). The surviving manuscript version has Tom present from the start, but his role was greatly expanded in pages inserted into the manuscript during revision; it is possible that Jessie read the unrevised version and misremembered (LAH xxvi). With no Tom there would have been little in the way of narrative at all.

22From the start Tom is linked to his bicycle; it is the “slurring ring of a bicycle bell brushing the wall” that announces his arrival (LAH 37). He is said to be the kind of man who possesses a “healthy animalism” and who are like “children in simplicity,” but it is made clear that this alone will not do (LAH 39). Though Cyril pays careful attention to the way Muriel moves around the house, he is convinced that she would soon be bored of Tom: “He is one of the men, as George Moore says, whom his wife would hate after a few years for the very way he walked across the floor.” This time the Moore text drawn upon is Evelyn Innes of 1898 (LAH 40, 228 note to 40:5). In another of the running motifs of the short story, Cyril is said to be able to see into life’s algebra, where Tom is linked to the simpler plane of arithmetic. With support from the narrator, Tom is described as “an old-fashioned, inarticulate lover, such as has been found to be the brief joy and unending disappointment of a woman’s life” (LAH 43). In the story’s terms, then, Cyril is superior to Tom.

23Cyril, though, is increasingly aware of Tom as an attractive sexual partner; much more so, indeed, than is Muriel. As Tom goes outside to collect his bicycle, Cyril feels that he is coming under Tom’s protection. He enjoys the feeling, where passivity plays a role in a number of male-male scenes in early Lawrence, most importantly the “A Poem of Friendship” chapter in The White Peacock (WP 218-24). Depictions of men being watched repairing bicycles occur elsewhere in Lawrence, but with a female observer. In the “Strife in Love” chapter of Sons and Lovers Paul has to repair a puncture, with the account of his actions used to demonstrate that Miriam’s physical response to Paul has limits: “She wanted to run hands down his sides. She always wanted to embrace him, so long as he did not want her.” (SL 227). There is another comparable scene in The Lost Girl, as Keith Cushman has noted (Cushman 125, LG 163-4), where Alvina observes Ciccio working on his bicycle. The scene involving the two men in “A Modern Lover,” though, is the most clearly sexual,

Vickers carefully struck a match, bowing over the ruddy core of light and illuminating himself like some beautiful lantern in the midst of the high darkness of the barn. For some moments he bent over his bicycle lamp, trimming and adjusting the wick, and his face, gathering all the light on its ruddy beauty, seemed luminous, and wonderful. Mersham could see the down on his cheeks above the razor line, and the full lips in shadow beneath the moustache, and the brush of the eyebrows between the light.

24“After all” said Mersham, “he’s very beautiful, she’s a fool to give him up.”

25Tom shut the lamp with a snap, and carefully crushed the match under his foot. Then he took the pump from the bicycle, and crouched on his heels in the dimness inflating the tyre. The swift, unerring, untiring stroke of the pump, the light balance and the fine elastic adjustment of the man’s body to his movements, pleased Mersham.

“She could have” he was saying to himself “some glorious hours with this man—yet she’d rather have me, because I can make her sad and set her wondering.” (LAH 44.)

26John Worthen has pointed out that Lawrence rewrote the final part of the second sentence above a number of times: at one point it ended with the word “transfiguration” (LAH 229 note to 44:20). Here the mechanical is not condemned, as it often is in Lawrence’s later work. Rather the way Tom works on his bicycle gives an insight into his likely sexual performance. He is treated very differently from the educated electrician Palmer in Women in Love, whom Gudrun sees before forming her relationship with Gerald. Palmer is depicted as “really impersonal,” with “the fineness of an elegant piece of machinery” (WL 117). We are a long way, too, from Mellors’s unsuccessful fiddling with the “rods underneath” Clifford’s motorised wheelchair in the final version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (LCL 188).

27While observing Tom’s movements, Cyril is said to be thinking of Muriel’s pleasure and satisfaction. Identifying across the genders, Cyril imagines himself in the place of a woman having sex with a man. He keeps asking Muriel, to her puzzlement, why she doesn’t find Tom more attractive,

“Why don’t you like him?” he asked playfully.
“Need you ask?” she said, simply.
“Yes! Because he’s heaps nicer than I am.”
She laughed a full laugh of amusement.
“He is! Look! He’s like summer, brown and full of warmth. Think how splendid and fierce he’d be –”
“Why do you talk about him?” she said.
“Because I want you to know what you’re losing—and you won’t till you see him in my terms. He is very desirable—I should choose him in preference to me—for myself.”
“Should you?” she laughed. “But” she added with soft certainty “you don’t understand”. (LAH 45-6)

28Speech breaks down into a series of phrases, showing that this is at the edge of what Cyril feels able to articulate. The slip-and-slide in the pronouns has Cyril putting himself in Muriel’s place in order to imagine having sex with Tom. Cyril asks Muriel to review Tom through his eyes; he feels she won’t come round to his way of thinking “till you see him in my terms.” Muriel, drawn to an intense mental friendship, only goes as far as saying “you don’t understand”; she also shows her reticence.

29At the end of 1911 Lawrence wrote a short story that has many similarities with “A Modern Lover.” First receiving periodical publication as “The Harassed Angel,” it was revised to become “The Shades of Spring” in The Prussian Officer volume. It was written quickly in December 1911 as Lawrence recovered from a severe bout of pneumonia; Jessie Chambers visited him in Croydon as he recuperated (VicG xxviii). “The Harassed Angel” has a different focus to the earlier story, despite the apparent similarities. Both the returning man—here called John Adderley Syson—and the woman, Hilda Millership, are in their late twenties, and thus older than either Lawrence or Jessie. Lawrence is perhaps projecting forward to explore what they might become. Hilda is represented as having developed after the model provided by a younger version of Syson. She is both well-read and deeply responsive to nature. Throughout the story indeed Hilda is presented as a “natural woman” and is often depicted outside. Her lover, Arthur Pilbeam, is not an electrician in a mine but a gamekeeper. They meet in his hut and Hilda wears a cloak made out the skins of the animals Arthur has killed. Their relationship became a sexual one at the same time as Syson got married. Syson soon realises that he has failed to develop and grow. Leaving the farm he overhears Hilda promising to marry Arthur; Syson is now becoming part of Hilda’s past. “The Shades of Spring” in The Prussian Officer pares down the style—more is left to the reader to infer—removing many of the classical references and the way exchanges between Hilda and Syson are said to take place in German. Most significant is the way the Syson-Hilda relationship is rebalanced, making it more ambivalent. Muriel makes no commitment to marry Arthur at the end, and may not have got over her love for Syson. In the rewritten story Hilda Millership is less certain and Syson less abject.

30In both versions Arthur has a smaller role than Tom in “A Modern Lover.” There is no equivalent of the bicycle scene, but attention is still given to the male body in “The Harassed Angel,”

The keeper was a young man of four or five and twenty, ruddy, and comely. He had large, dark blue eyes which now stared aggressively. His black moustache, very thick, was cropped short over a small, rather self-conscious, almost feminine mouth. In every other respect the man was unusually virile. He was just above middle height; the strong forward thrust of his chest, and the perfect ease of his erect, proud carriage gave one the feeling that he was taut with life, like the thick jet of a fountain balanced at ease. He stood with the butt of his gun one the ground staring insolently and questioningly at Syston [sic]. (VicG 142)

31The references to a “strong forward thrust,” “erect, proud carriage” and his being “taut with life” manage both to call to mind the “motion ever kept in reserve” of Greek sculpture as described in Pater’s analysis of Winckelmann (Pater 139) and to suggest that Tom’s sexual “gun” is loaded and ready to go off. The manuscript of the story had “extremely masculine” instead of “unusually virile” and a cancelled sentence then ran “he was not much above medium height, but his figure was strong and handsome, showing to advantage in the close-fitting clothes of smooth dark cloth” (VicG 253 note to 132:7). The revision suggests that there is now a more cautious hand at work, aware of how such writing might be seen. The description is preceded by the assurance that this is the view of a detached artist and not the result of desire: “Syson looked at him with an artist’s impersonal, observant gaze” (VicG 142).

32The prospect of there being no sexual response at all from women is explored in the short story “Intimacy,” published for the first time in The Vicar’s Garden and Other Stories. It is an earlier version of the story that eventually became first “The White Woman” and then “The Witch à la Mode” (where these two texts are very similar; indeed “The White Woman” forms the base text for “The Witch à la Mode” in the Love Among the Haystacks and Other Stories volume in the Cambridge edition) (LAH xxviii-xxix and VicG xxvii-xxviii). It may have been written as early as March or April 1911, in response to an encounter (or encounters) with Lawrence’s Croydon friend Helen Corke, but the first time its existence is confirmed is in September of that year (VicG xxvii-xxviii). Lawrence sent it to Edward Garnett for his comments; for the first time Garnett was acting as Lawrence’s advisor on his new work. Garnett responded promptly and Lawrence acknowledged his criticism, saying that “I myself had felt the drag of the tale, and its slowness in accumulating” (Li 307). It does indeed deploy a complex, interlinked set of symbols in a way that can be compared to “A Modern Lover.” Symbols include flashes of blue light, burning, whiteness, redness, flowers that strain towards the light, and there is a stress on the upward-moving female form. The devices can be compared to Lawrence’s response to Greiffenhagen’s painting An Idyll (for example, Li 103) and the depiction of male beauty, on the edge of achieving “transfiguration,” found in “A Modern Lover.” There are few changes in terms of narrative as “Intimacy” developed into “The White Woman” and “The Witch à la Mode.” All the versions tell of the return of Bernard Coutts from the Continent. On his way to his fiancée in Yorkshire he decides to visit Croydon, where he used to live to encounter a woman to whom he was once close, called Margaret in “Intimacy,” Winifred in the later versions. In “Intimacy,” form matches content. Bernard accuses Margaret of being “fogged in symbols,” (VicG 132) where indeed this version as a whole could be described in such terms. Lawrence, probably acting under Garnett’s advice, made the main theme and message of the story clearer in “The Witch à la Mode.”

33We can explore this by comparing the closing scene, which is much shorter in the earlier version. In “Intimacy,” Margaret is like a witch-flower “rising as a massive white stalk.” Bernard is depicted as an enormous beating heart,

She came, her arms always round his neck, till at last she lay on his breast as he stood, feet wide, clasping her tight, his mouth on the supreme kernel of her throat. She turned suddenly to meet his full, red mouth in knotted kiss. He felt his moustache prick back into his lips. Dazed with a red swoon he felt the throb of one great pulse, as if his whole body were a heart that contracted in throbs. He felt, with a bursting ache, as if he were pulsing out blood into the night. The hurt became so great it brought him from the reeling stage. (VicG 137-8)

34As it goes on Margaret’s body becomes part of this painful pulsing of his body. The scene though is described entirely from Bernard’s perspective, for example we are told that he was “almost bursting the blood under his nails as he still gripped her wrists” (VicG 137). The reader is left to imagine the pain this is causing Margaret. Bernard thinks of his fiancée: “He remembered his troth, all pledges that claimed him; and here was the heavy handing form of the woman upon him, her mouth grown to his in a great kiss.” The mind is not controlling Bernard’s actions when he kicks over the lamp, rather “His heart struck the blow of an impulse.” After checking that the fire is out and that Winifred is not badly hurt, we learn that “In another instant he was gone, running blindly, with burning red hands stretched before him, down the street” (VicG 138).

35The revision of “Intimacy” as first “The White Woman” and then “The Witch à la Mode” communicates a clearer, more unified message. It develops the theme of ambivalence in the relationship, of love and hate, while also moving to fix Winifred as going against nature. The final scene is extended and a clearer interpretation of events provided. Though Bernard is still shown as feeling “false” to his fiancée, more attention is now given to Winifred, but only to identify her as the problem. Her underlying asexuality is described as “her unnatural ebb of passion” as she pulls away from the kiss because “[a]lready she had had enough” (LAH 69). When the flames lick up she is described as keeping her hands round his neck, strangling him (something which can perhaps be seen as prefiguring the role of strangulation in Women in Love, not least in the final climactic encounter between Gerald and Gudrun (WL 471-2)). Rather than the build-up to the complex event in “Intimacy,” which is left to the reader to interpret, the final incident in “The Witch à la Mode” sees Bernard burnt not by passion but by the very lack of desire. He has to finally break away from a dangerous lack of “normal” sexuality, which the title of the last version identifies as a modern form of witchcraft and devilment. The story’s development then can be seen in terms of the way it increasingly comes to take on the masterplot of the journey to heterosexual “maturity.”

36When the normative elements in the established narrative of Lawrence’s early life and career are questioned, other ways of thinking about gender and sexuality come to the fore. The early writing style sees Lawrence finding an appropriate form and language for his then concerns. Examples here include responding to George Moore’s early texts and utilising a symbolism of “fogged” complexity. These stories need to be seen in their own context; it is important to guard against making assumptions about them based on what we expect of the later Lawrence and the “logic of emotion” masterplot. We should not only think in terms of what Lawrence had gained by the end of 1912. There should also be a preparedness to consider what was lost.

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Cave, Richard Allen. A Study of the Novels of George Moore. Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire: Colin Smythe, 1978.

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1 For an introduction to queer theory see Jagose’s Queer Theory. For a lively polemical attack on the power of the normative see Michael Warner, The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics and the Ethics of Queer Life.

2 Moore rewrote the novel, in a version published in 1917, changing the title to Lewis Seymour and Some Women. No longer interested in Zola and French literature, Moore purged the prose, and the text became a meditation on posing nude: many of the characters, including Lewis, sit for artists (Cave 31-2).

3 On Moore’s time in Paris see Frazier 27-66. On his early development and A Modern Lover see Cave 11-33.

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Howard J. Booth, « Same-Sex Desire, Cross-Gender Identification and Asexuality in D.H. Lawrence’s Early Short Fiction », Études Lawrenciennes, 42 | 2011, 37-57.

Référence électronique

Howard J. Booth, « Same-Sex Desire, Cross-Gender Identification and Asexuality in D.H. Lawrence’s Early Short Fiction », Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 42 | 2011, mis en ligne le 16 janvier 2014, consulté le 18 janvier 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/lawrence.113

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Howard J. Booth

University of Manchester, UK

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