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“Going to Lawrence for feeling”: A Study of The Princess

Natalya Reinhold
p. 203-214

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  • 1 See a few exceptions: Mara Kalnins’ “Terra Incognita”: Lawrence’s Travel Writings,” Renaissance and (...)

1The Princess is seldom analysed on its own,1 being either eclipsed by St Mawr, or dismissed as just another shorter narrative about a white woman packing her bags and leaving her ranch to go into the mountains with an attractive and swarthy Mexican guide. I suggest reading this text in terms of its poetic structure, and, to tighten my grip on the story, I am going to use John Fowles’s view of Lawrence as a reference. In his commentary on the last works of Lawrence, Fowles emphasizes the significance of feeling: “Lawrence, of course, cannot be read for strict common sense, narrow science, or reason; but we may go to him for feeling.” (Fowles, 236; my italics.-N.R.)

2What Fowles means by “feeling” came up in my talk with him back in 1992 (though there is no direct reference to Lawrence in the passage below from the 1992 interview, I do not think it is of less importance):

J.F. […] Well, I have said somewhere that I feel I was born on the wrong planet. That is why I am always an exile. You know I feel I really would have been happier or more fulfilled or richer somewhere else and I think this is a common twentieth-century feeling: you are an exile somewhere, from where you ought to be. It is a funny use of the word. (Reinhold 1994, 200-201)

3It seems Fowles considered Lawrence to be a great (probably the great) twentieth-century British writer who evoked the dreadful state of humanity seeing human beings as “exiles from somewhere, from where [they] ought to be.” I assume that the feeling, which we may go to Lawrence for, following Fowles’s suggestion, is the “common twentieth-century feeling […] [of being] an exile,” and I think that The Princess expresses it in its own form and idiom.

  • 2 I thank Neil Roberts for drawing my attention to the correct location. Cf. Letters 5, 136, 139; Rob (...)

4As is known, Lawrence wrote the “novelette” (Letters 5, 147-8) “between late September and 8 October 1924” at Lobo (Kiowa) Ranch, New Mexico,2 and “it appeared first in The Calendar of Modern Letters for March, April and May 1925,” (Warren Roberts 480) and then in book form, together with St. Mawr, on 14 May 1925, published by Secker (Warren Roberts 110); the first American edition came out in 1947. St. Mawr, The Woman Who Rode Away and The Princess make up the so-called Taos stories: “All three have some of this country in them,” Lawrence wrote in his letter of 2 October 1924 to Martin Secker.

5What all three also share is a feeling of sadness. Lawrence writes to Curtis Brown on 8 October 1924: “This week-end I will send you The Princess […]. With ‘The Woman Who Rode Away’ and ‘St. Mawr’ it will easily make a book of three novelettes. But not gay, alas,” ( Letters 5, 147). He is more explicit in the letter of the same date to Catherine Carswell, which is worth quoting extensively:

The summer has gone. It was very beautiful up here. We worked hard, and spent very little money. And we had the place all to ourselves, and our horses the same. It was good to be alone and responsible. But also it is very hard living up against these savage Rockies. The savage things are a bit gruesome, and they try to down one. – But far better they than the white disintegration. – I did a long novelette – about 60000 words – about 2 women and a horse – “St. Mawr”. […] And two shorter novelettes, about 15000 words: “The Woman Who Rode Away” and “The Princess.”[…] They are all about this country more or less. […] They are all sad. After all, they’re true to what is. (Letters 5, 147-8)

6Of note are several topographical and biographical references, one to Columbine Lake, which is the setting for The Princess, and the other to Dorothy Brett who was the model for the title character (Letters 5; 136, fn 1).

7The analysis of the poetic structure, however, brings up other observations than purely autobiographical ones. If we treat the present time described in The Princess as the early nineteen-twenties, then Colin Urquhart, Dollie’s father, must have been born about 1850 or 1855, while her mother, Hannah Prescott, was born around 1873. So in terms of the historical time, the story is about Lawrence’s generation and that of his elders. As for the topography of the action described, four locations are central to the message of the story: Scotland, where Colin Urquhart comes from, and historical Spain, the land of Domingo Romero’s ancestors, New England and New Mexico, where Urquhart and Romero meet.

  • 3 From here on the pages in round brackets refer to the 1978 edition of The Princess and Other Storie (...)
  • 4 Incidentally, Prince is the name of a horse on Del Monte Ranch, see D. H. Lawrence’s letter to Bret (...)

8The onomastic aspect can hardly be overlooked as concerns the names and nicknames of the title character: her Christian name is Mary Henrietta, her father’s pet name for her is “The Princess” or “My Princess,” whereas her mother’s diminutive for her daughter is “Dollie,” and her American family called her “a poor little thing.” Yet, “The Princess” is given priority over the other names or forms of address. Its implications seem to be obvious: a princess is expected to marry a prince; she is a would-be queen; what is her future kingdom then? Is Romero her prince? etc. These implications make the reader somewhat skeptical: if the protagonist is a princess, Scotland must be an ephemeral kingdom, given its history. Also, what is there to inherit for “the Princess,” born in the 1890s, at the turn of the twentieth century? Is it the property of her New England grandfather, which would allow her to own two nice houses, one in London, the other in Connecticut? Obviously, Dollie’s mad father’s dream is somewhat more magnificent and fantastic than just one of middle-class material prosperity. We get a glimpse of his witheld dream in his story about the green daemon of the self (Princess 253): by means of it, the father teaches his daughter a secret superiority over the others and also, surprisingly, the fact that she is the last of her line: “I am a prince,” says her father, “and you a princess, of the old, old blood” (25); “But you must never forget that you alone are the last of Princesses, and that all others are less than you are, less noble, more vulgar.” (Ibid.) After her father died “she was the Princess, and sardonically she looked out on a princeless world.” (30; my italics)4

9When you get to this point, you face the possibility of reading the story as a parable about the past blocking the present and the future. Some readers will say that there are Freudian implications in this text, yet I do not think the tale gives us sufficient material for reading it along Freudian lines. What we do find in the text, however, as the intentio operis, is the theme of the Princess and her father being in exile in the world: “But we are in exile in the world,” (29) says Colin Urquhart. This idea of them being in exile, or, to borrow Fowles’s simile, “as if born on another planet,” makes them alarmingly different from the others. Their difference is emphasized by the description of the Princess as a changeling (26, 27), or a Renaissance lady (“an odd touch of Renaissance grandeur,” 32), or as a proud old Florentine portrait (her face “was modelled with an arched nose like a proud old Florentine portrait,” 30), etc.

10The Princess’s difference, which her father cultivates so obsessively, implies somehow, from the very beginning, that she is the last of their kind, and this evolves in the story as a theme of impending death, revealing the idiomatic meaning of the set phrase “going west,” “going westwards” as “going to die.” Given this idiomatic touch, the passage “Her face seemed turned west. Now her father was gone, she felt she would go west, westwards, as if for ever” (32) sounds disquietingly like, “Now that her father died, she felt she was driven to death, as if for ever.”

11The dynamic of the female protagonist is somewhat ambivalent: on the one hand, the Princess felt “she would go west,” (32) on the other, she “still entertained the idea of marriage” (33). It reads as if she were one thing in her heart of hearts (driven westwards, into no man’s land, belonging to nobody, being the last), whereas in her mind she entertained the idea of finding a prince. Isn’t this the seed of the future drama?

12The male protagonist is Domingo Romero, a guide, the former owner of the New Mexican Rancho del Cerro Gordo, which was close to the Indian pueblo of San Christobal: he “had sold the ranch itself to the Wilkiesons, ten years before, for two thousand dollars” (33). Romero is of Spanish origin, “the son of the old Romero, the last of the Spanish family that had owned miles of land around San Cristobal. But the coming of the white man […] had finished the Romero family. The last descendants were just Mexican peasants”(34).

  • 5 Cf. the “Introduction” reprinted in the 2005 Cambridge edition of Introductions and Reviews: “Mastr (...)

13So the Princess and Romero seem to be similar since they are the last female and male representatives of the old Scottish and the old Spanish dynasties, with no land to go to or to inherit. The one thing left to them (as it turns out in the tale) is a roofless cabin, up in the Rockies. Though I make it sound intentionally as a metaphor or a parable, I do not think I have stretched the point about the existential dimension of the story too far: the situation the protagonists find themselves in, as given in the story, allows for a broader philosophical reading than a factual realistic description of the position of the poor Mexicans, former Spaniards, driven from their own lands by the Americans (though the latter is neatly and briefly outlined in the story). For an extra argument in favour of my description of The Princess as a parable, I will refer to Lawrence’s criticism of the realistic novel in his 1928 “Introduction to Mastro-don Gesualdo” based on a translation of Verga’s piece done in the spring of 1922, and published by Seltzer in October 1923 and then by Cape in March 1925.5

14The protagonists’ similarity in their being the last of their kind, both exiles, with no land to call their own, is emphasized by their difference from the majority of men and women. Compare the description of Romero:

His eyes were black and Indian-looking. Only, at the centre of their hopelessness was a spark of pride, or self-confidence, or dauntlessness. Just a spark in the midst of the blackness of static despair.

But this spark was the difference between him and the mass of men, (35)

to the portrait of Mary Henrietta Urquhart earlier in the story:

“But you are the Princess,” says her father, “and they are commoners. Never try to think of them as if they were like you. They are not […]” (25-26)

15So it seems that what is at stake in the story is not so much the cultural difference between Romero and the Princess, as their difference from the rest, that is, their otherness. The two of them constitute the Other, that is the heirs without land or kingdom, both going west.

16Now, do they symbolize humanity gripped by despair? The story prompts such a reading: “And at the same time, curiously, he gave her the feeling that death was not far from him. Perhaps he too was half in love with death.” (37; my italics). This “too” is telling, I think.

17The tale seems to hint that the protagonists’ similarity-cum-difference from the rest of the world boils down to the Princess and Romero being alike in their psyches, but different in their selves:

No, now she came down to it, it was as if their two “daemons” could marry, were perhaps married. Only their two selves, Miss Urquhart and Senõr Domingo Romero, were for some reason incompatible. (38)

18It is another matter whether we as readers should swallow or suspect this explicit explanation. Taking the above passage critically, we can risk a question: is it for a social reason that the woman thinks Romero to be unacceptable? Does it mean that she does not find a place for herself and for him in the same social class? Does it imply things like setting up as a family, having children, holding a position, etc.? Or, has it to do with their psyches, with each being secretly driven to death?

19At the level of the fabula the woman takes the initiative by teasing Romero with a question: “Are there no bigger animals in these mountains?”(39), hinting at something different from the quadrupeds. Yet what seems to work at the level of the plot is the dramatizing of the conflict in the psyche of the Princess, that is, the conflict between her being driven to death, and her knowledge that there is no chance of their getting married. At a certain point she gives in to her subconscious attraction to the man, without realizing that her wish to see the bigger animals is suicidal. Dollie asks a man, very soon to die, to have sex with her: “And the Princess, with that black, unheeding figure always travelling away from her, felt strangely helpless, withal elated.”(43)

20The description of the journey up into the Rocky Mountains takes up the central part of the story, and is arranged as the dramatizing of Dollie’s psychic state. It is done explicitly, without a naïve parallel between the landscape and the character’s emotional state:

And again the chill entered the Princess’s heart as she realized what a tangle of decay and despair lay in the virgin forests (44);

And she would snatch at the blood-red leaves of the oak as her horse crossed a more open slope, not knowing what she felt (Ibid.);

The black emerged ahead, his black tail waving.[ …] She rode on after the black. (Ibid.)

Interestingly, the psychic mode of the description is interspersed with Christian imagery, and that introduces a broader dimension:

Away through the gap of the canyon she could see the pale blue of the egg-like desert, with the crumpled dark crack of the Rio Grande Canyon. And far, far off, the blue mountains like a fence of angels on the horizon (48);

  • 6 Note the un/intentional pun in the participle “devilled.”

Then she made a little fire. Then she ate a devilled egg.6 (49)

Again, note how the landscape “speaks” to the human psyche with its beauty and phobias, its hates and loves:

The sky was blue. Her little lap was soft and delicate as fairy-land. But beyond and up jutted the great slopes, dark with the pointed feathers of spruce, bristling with grey dead trees among grey rock, or dappled with dark and gold. The beautiful, but fierce, heavy cruel mountains, with their moments of tenderness. (49; my italics.)

The growing dramatic tension is emphasized with the growing intensity of movement and colours: note the upward and downward movement of the travelers, see the living barren grey mountains contrasting with the orange, blue and buff of the Princess’s clothes.

The sorrel mare rocked and slipped behind her. But down came the Princess in a reckless intensity, a tiny, vivid spot on the great hollow flank of the tawny mountain. So tiny! Tiny as a frail bird’s egg. It made Romero’s mind go blank with wonder.

But they had to get down, out of that cold and dragging wind. […] Away plunged Romero, zigzagging down. And away behind, up the slope, fluttered the tiny bright-coloured Princess, holding the end of the long reins, and leading the lumbering, four-footed, sliding mare. (55)

21The clash between the Princess and Romero seems to evolve not so much at the level of the two wills fighting each other (cf. “She could see she had given him a cruel blow. But she did not relent. She was getting her own back. She wanted to regain possession of all herself, and in some mysterious way she felt that he possessed some part of her still,” 64), as of each of the two persisting in his or her individual dilemma. With him, it is the maddening sense of the ancestral pride of someone who knows he is the last of an old family, and who stops at nothing when pricked to the quick: “You Americans,” he said, “you always want to do a man down.” (64) With her, it is the internal conflict between self and feeling, and her ever mistaking one for the other. The key passage that reveals her ignorance about her own feelings is this: “‘Romero,’ she said strangely, ‘it is so cold.’ Where did her voice come from, and whose voice was it, in the dark?’ ” (61) She mistakes her subconscious voice for her self-will: “But she had willed that it should happen to her. And according to her will, she lay and let it happen” (62). Interestingly, the word “willed” belongs to her, so it is a test for the reader to distinguish the protagonist’s voice from the voice of the narrator.

22Thus each persists in his or her dilemma, he in his pride, she in her ignorance about herself, and it is their mutual blindness to the other that sets the situation on edge. When Romero tosses Dollie’s things into the icy pool, his gesture takes on a symbolic meaning: it is not only her social belongings, that is, her self-will, that are thrown away, but also, her beauty, her being:

And on the pure, dark green mirror, in the slaty shadow, the Princess saw her things lying, the white linen, the orange breeches, the black boots, the blue moccasins, a tangled heap of colour. Romero picked up rocks and heaved them out at the ice till the surface broke and the fluttering clothing disappeared on the rattling water, while the valley echoed and shouted again with the sound. (65)

23I take this passage to be the climax of the story. From this moment on, both face death: “They were like two demons watching one another. In his face, beyond a sort of unrelieved gloom, was a demonish desire for death” (65). What follows – the drama of Romero’s shooting at the Forest Service men and getting shot himself – is, I think, rather a dénouement than the central collision.

24What we as readers are left with – rather what I as a reader am left with – is a question, Why are these people driven to such despair? And of course there is no answer given in the story. Outside the tale, we can speculate about Dollie being brought up in the wrong way by her father who had somehow stolen her life. Or we may suggest that Romero was too obstinate in his pride… Yet the tale itself is so hard and precise in registering human reactions, stereotypes of thinking and feeling, that it may be read as a parable about the desolate state of mankind, considering the relentless logic of feeling unfolding in the story: the last thing that might be expected from Lawrence is a positive ending of the type hinted at by Romero: “we’ll fix it up now and go down to the ranch tomorrow and get married […]” (67)

25So, there is no future for the two, as their characters are shaped in The Princess. To borrow Fowles’s metaphor, the tale is unlikely to “leap you with it to another planet,” (Fowles, 230) rather it plunges you into the shattering reality of desolation as the on-going state of humanity.

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Fowles, John. “The Man Who Died: A Commentary (1992),” in Wormholes: Essays and Occasional Writings. Ed. and Introduced by Jan Relf. London: Jonathan Cape, 1998. 228-240.

Lawrence D. H. Introductions and Reviews. Ed. N. H. Reeve and J. Worthen. Cambridge: CUP, 2005.

Lawrence D. H. “The Princess” and Other Stories. Ed. By Keith Sagar. Penguin in Association with William Heinemann, 1978. 22-72.

The Letters of D. H. Lawrence. Vol. 5. 1924-1927. Ed. James T. Boulton and Lindeth Vasey. Cambridge: CUP, 1989.

Read, Herbert. “Lawrence as a Painter,” in Paintings of D. H. Lawrence. London: Cory, Adams and Mackey, 1964. 55-64.

Reinhold, Natalya. ‘John Fowles about the Author: Has Postmodernity Created Its Aesthetic Tradition?’ In Tradition and Postmodernity: English and American Studies and the Challenge of the Future. Ed. by Teresa Bela and Zygmunt Mazur. Krakow, 1999. 237-244.

Reinhold, Natalya. “Derevo i chaiki v otkrytom okne: beseda s Johnom Faulzom” [The tree and the sea-gulls in the open window: A talk with John Fowles] in Voprosy literatury, 1994:1, pp. 165-208.

Roberts, Neil. D. H. Lawrence, Travel and Cultural Difference. Palgrave: Macmillan, 2004.

Roberts, Warren, and Poplawski, Paul. A Bibliography of D. H. Lawrence. 3rd ed. Cambridge: CUP, 2001.

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1 See a few exceptions: Mara Kalnins’ “Terra Incognita”: Lawrence’s Travel Writings,” Renaissance and Modern Studies, vol. 29, 1985, pp. 66-77 (qtd from Neil Roberts, 189); Simonetta De Filippis, “Eros and Thanatos in D. H.Lawrence’s Amerindian Tales,” Études Lawrenciennes, 2000:23; also, Neil Roberts 2004, 111-116.

2 I thank Neil Roberts for drawing my attention to the correct location. Cf. Letters 5, 136, 139; Roberts N., xi.

3 From here on the pages in round brackets refer to the 1978 edition of The Princess and Other Stories. Ed. By Keith Sagar. Penguin in Association with William Heinemann, 1978. 22-72.

4 Incidentally, Prince is the name of a horse on Del Monte Ranch, see D. H. Lawrence’s letter to Brett of 15(?) May 1925. (Letters 5, 253)

5 Cf. the “Introduction” reprinted in the 2005 Cambridge edition of Introductions and Reviews: “Mastro-don Gesualdo is a great realistic novel of Sicily, as Madame Bovary is a great realistic novel of France. They both suffer from the defects of the realistic method. I think the inherent flaw in Madame Bovary […] is that individuals like Emma and Charles Bovary are too insignificant to carry the full weight of Gustave Flaubert’s profound sense of tragedy; or, if you will, of tragic futility. Emma and Charles Bovary are two ordinary persons, chosen because they are ordinary. But Flaubert is by no means an ordinary person. Yet he insists on pouring his own deep and bitter tragic consciousness into the little skins of the country doctor and his dissatisfied wife. The result is a certain discrepancy, even a certain dishonesty in the attempt to be too honest. By choosing ordinary people as the vehicles of an extraordinary passionate feeling of bitterness, Flaubert loads the dice, and wins by a trick which is sure to be found against him.”(Lawrence 2005, 149)

6 Note the un/intentional pun in the participle “devilled.”

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Natalya Reinhold, « “Going to Lawrence for feeling”: A Study of The Princess », Études Lawrenciennes, 43 | 2012, 203-214.

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Natalya Reinhold, « “Going to Lawrence for feeling”: A Study of The Princess », Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 43 | 2012, mis en ligne le 19 décembre 2013, consulté le 18 janvier 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/lawrence.99

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Natalya Reinhold

Natalya Reinhold received her PhD in English from Exeter University, UK, and is Doctor of Philology, Moscow, Russia. She has authored numerous publications on twentieth-century English literature, comparative studies and translations. Among them are English Modernism: Psychological Prose, Russian Translation Studies (ed.), Woolf Across Cultures (ed.), published essays-cum-interviews with Iris Murdoch, Piers Paul Read, John Fowles and Martin Amis, translations of Virginia Woolf’s essays on Russian writers and A Room of One’s Own, literary criticism of T. S. Eliot, Post Factum Book Series et al. She is currently head and professor of the Department for Translation Studies at the Russian State University for the Humanities in Moscow.

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