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Critical materials: On a Passage from Lawrence's 'Odour of Chrysanthemums'

From Walter Nash, Language and Literature: An Introductory Reader in Stylistics, ed., Ron Carter (George Allen and Unwin, 1982), pp. 100-120. We would like to thank Walter Nash and Ron Carter for permission to republish this article.


I A Sample Text

Intuitive response to D. H. Lawrence's classic story 'Odour of Chrysanthemums' suggests that its theme might be defined in the one word alienation. A woman is alienated from her husband, and this is the major issue; but it includes or is contingent upon other alienations family relationships are strained, a housewife is uneasy among her neighbours, man is a mere tenant in his industrial environment. These paradigmatic variants of the general theme are explored cumulatively in a series of episodes any one of which would provide a representative stylistic sample.

One such short sample text, perfectly defined and self-contained, occurs shortly after the beginning of the narrative. The following notes take into account the general patterning of the text as a narrative framework, the structuring of its content, and the relevance of stylistic device to structural intention. My metalanguage, except where otherwise indicated (and apart from ad hoc terms) is based on Randolph Quirk et al, eds., A Grammar of Contemporary English (Longman, 1972). Lines from the excerpt from the story are numbered for convenience in subsequent reference:

Line numberLine from text
1The engine whistled as it came into the wide bay of
2railway lines beside the colliery, where rows of trucks
3stood in harbour.
4Miners, single, trailing and in groups, passed like
5shadows diverging home. At the edge of the ribbed
6level of sidings squats a low cottage, three steps down
7from the cinder track. A large bony vine clutched at
8the house, as if to claw down the tiled roof. Round
9the bricked yard grew a few wintry primroses. Beyond,
10the long garden sloped down to a bush-covered brook
11course. There were some twiggy apple-trees, winter-
12crack trees, and ragged cabbages. Beside the path
13hung dishevelled pink chrysanthemums, like pink cloths
14hung on bushes. A woman came stooping out of the
15felt-covered fowl-house, then drew herself erect,
16having brushed some bits from her white apron.
17She was a tall woman of imperious mien, handsome,
18with definite black eyebrows. Her smooth black hair
19was parted exactly. For a few moments she stood
20steadily watching the miners as they passed along the
21railway; then she turned towards the brook course.
22Her face was calm and set, her mouth was closed with
23disillusionment. After a moment she called:
24'John!' There was no answer. She waited, and
25then said distinctly:
26'Where are you?'
27'Here!' replied a child's sulky voice from among
28the bushes. The woman looked piercingly through the
30'Are you at that brook?' she asked sternly.
31For answer the child showed himself before the
32raspberry-canes that rose like whips. He was a
33small, sturdy boy of five. He stood quite still,
35'Oh!' said the mother, conciliated. 'I thought
36you were down at that wet brook - and you remember
37what I told you -'
38The boy did not move or answer.
39'Come, come on in,' she said more gently, 'it's
40getting dark. There's your grandfather's engine
41coming down the line!'
42The lad advanced slowly, with resentful, taciturn
43movement. He was dressed in trousers and waistcoat
44of cloth that was too thick and hard for the size of
45the garments. They were evidently cut down from a
46man's clothes.
47As they went towards the house he tore at the
48ragged wisps of chrysanthemums and dropped the petals
49in handfuls along the path.
50'Don't do that - it does look nasty,' said his
51mother. He refrained, and she, suddenly pitiful,
52broke off a twig with three or four wan flowers and
53held them against her face. When mother and son
54reached the yard her hand hesitated, and instead of
55laying the flower aside, she pushed it in her apron-
56band. The mother and son stood at the foot of the
57three steps looking across the bay of lines at the
58passing home of the miners. The trundle of the small
59train was imminent. Suddenly the engine loomed past
60the house and came to a stop opposite the gate.

© Walter Nash
February 2010

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