Go to the home page for Odour of Chrysanthemums, a text in process

Critical materials: 'Odour of Chrysanthemums'

From Keith Cushman, D. H. Lawrence at Work: The Emergence of the Prussian Officer Stories (University Press of Virginia, 1978), 47-76. We are very grateful to Professor Cushman for permission to republish this piece.


'Odour of Chrysanthemums', March 1910 proofs.

The version of 'Odour of Chrysanthemums' that Ford Madox Ford accepted for the English Review in 1909 was first published in 1969, when James T. Boulton edited for Renaissance and Modern Studies the twenty-seven pages of proofs of the story now among the Louie Burrows papers. This edition of the unrevised text of the proofs also contains a useful critical apparatus that indicates the variations between the proofs, the revised proofs, and the version actually published in the English Review in June 1911.

Lawrence recorded his intentions concerning his revision of the proofs in his correspondence with Louie Burrows in April 1911. On 2 April he wrote that 'the desideratum is to shorten sufficiently the first part' (LL 90). On 6 April he said that he wanted the story to 'work quicker to a climax' and that he had cut out 'the kiddies share' (LL 93). These remarks are an accurate description of the revision he had undertaken. Even the most casual comparison of the 1910 proofs with the revised version published in the English Review in 1911 reveals that he followed through on these intentions.

As Boulton has noted, 'the focus of the writer's attention has notably shifted from the beginning to the end; from, that is, the evolving situation in the Bates's house in which the circumstantial details of the mother and children awaiting Bates's return are central, to the adult emotions associated with the preparation of the dead man's body for burial' (Boulton 8). The 'children's games' material of the first half is fascinating, but Lawrence decided—probably with Austin Harrison's editorial prompting—that it was peripheral to the main thrust of the narrative and distracted the reader from the growing tension. The lengthy and elaborate passage in which the children play first at being gypsies and then at being colliers has such a self-sufficiency that it takes on a life of its own apart from the context of the story. The detail is lovely, but it distracts attention from the central situation. In his revision for the English Review of June 1911 Lawrence focuses on the absent collier and his wife's growing anger and concern. By the time the story reached its final form in 1914, the 'kiddies' share' had been fully and skillfully integrated into the story's central theme. For example, now young John is more subtly shown to be his father's son, and—like father, like son—he is champing at the bit of Mrs. Bates's authority.

The scene in the 1910 unrevised proofs in which the two women lay out and wash the body contains many elements that Lawrence retained in the version of the story that was finally printed in the English Review. There are slight, often interesting, differences in detail, but it is only in Mrs. Bates's reverie that the English Review version diverges radically from the conclusion of the 1910 proofs.

Mrs. Bates's reverie over the corpse of her husband is the emotional climax. In later versions of the story, the experience of seeing and washing her husband's beautiful body as it lies in the repose of death is a powerful epiphany, a shattering but illuminating experience that for the first time reveals to her the nature of her marriage. The brief version of the reverie at the end of the 1910 proofs is devoid of any such impact:

Elizabeth, who had sobbed herself weary, looked up. Then she put her arms round him, and kissed him again on the smooth ripples below the breasts, and held him to her. She loved him very much now--so beautiful and gentle, and helpless. He must have suffered! What must he have suffered! Her tears started hot again. Ah, she was so sorry, sorrier than she could ever tell. She was sorry for him, that he had suffered so, and got lost in the dark place of death. But the poignancy of her grief was that she loved him again – ah, so much! She did not want him to wake up, she did not want him to speak. She had him again, now, and it was Death which had brought him. She kissed him, so that she might kiss Death which had taken the ugly things from him. Think how he might have come home—not white and beautiful, gently smiling . . . Ugly, befouled, with hateful words on an evil breath, reeking with disgust. She loved him so much now; her life was mended again, and her faith looked up with a smile; he had come home to her beautiful. How she had loathed him! It was strange he could have been such as he had been. How wise of death to be so silent! If he spoke, even now, her anger and her scorn would lift their heads like fire. He would not speak – no, just gently smile, with wide eyes. She was sorry to have to disturb him to put on his shirt—but she must, he could not lie like that. The shirt was aired by now. But it would be cruel hard work to get him into it. He was so heavy, and helpless, more helpless than a baby, poor dear!—and so beautiful. (Boulton 44)

This version of the corpse-washing scene has no revelation to offer. The experience gives Mrs. Bates no new insights into her marriage; instead it fixes her in the attitudes she already has and further distances her from the truth. In Mrs. Bates's mind, the sight of her husband's body, 'white and beautiful', cancels the years of ugliness in their marriage. She is 'sorry for him', but, incredibly, her gladness seems almost to dominate. She does not 'want him to wake up', and she kisses him, 'so that she might kiss Death which had taken the ugly things from him'. A strong undercurrent of the paragraph, whether or not Lawrence intended it, seems to be the happiness of a woman who is escaping from a bad marriage. This may seem rather shocking, but it is not so different from Lawrence's killing off of the father projection in The White Peacock.

Lawrence felt that this paragraph was a little inconclusive, for the subsequent revision contains two more sentences of dialogue between the women, and Bates is actually clothed at the end. As we shall see, he also added an extensive passage of authorial commentary that is outside the frame of the story and destroys the unity of tone he had worked so hard to maintain.

In the version of the corpse-washing scene found in the March 1910 English Review proofs, the collier's mother is counterpointed with Mrs. Bates. Her role of archetypal mother is part of the original conception of the story and remains a constant through the many revisions. The mother's raptures about her son's white skin and about his having made his peace before dying are incorporated, using much the same language, in all subsequent versions of the story and in the play too. Lawrence's archetype of maternity did not change, but his archetype of wifehood did. It is the recasting of Mrs. Bates's response to the tragedy and of her inner monologue that gives the story its changing meaning.

© Keith Cushman
February 2010

Next page

Copyright © 2008 University of Nottingham
Contact us
Valid CSS! Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional