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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.


IV The Actors: (i) Identity and Relationship

The relationship of the two actors is ingeniously plotted in the grammar and lexis of Phases II and III. A series of minor shifts in syntax or vocabulary brings the characters closer to each other and also to the reader; by almost insensible degrees they are 'established' for him as figures with an identity — not yet complete, not yet so fully realised that they are actually mentioned by name, but certain enough for them to be accepted as textual acquaintances, as 'the woman and the boy in our story'.

In 14 a woman (note the indefinite article) is introduced; in 17 she is described quite fully as a tall woman of imperious mien, etc.; in 28 she is the woman; in 35 her role is specified and she is the mother; in 50 there is a further change of determiner— his mother — fully establishing her relationship to the boy.

The son first appears as a disembodied voice (a child's sulky voice, 27) and then as the child in 31. In 33 a descriptive phrase specifies his sex and age — he is a small sturdy boy of five. At his next appearance, in 38, he is the boy, a designation that shifts to a 'warmer' synonym in 42, with the lad. The establishment of the actors as a pair, or corporate unit, conforms to the general pattern of movement from general to particular identity; thus mother and son in 53 is followed by the mother and son in 56.

The tactics of establishment are remarkably consistent. Determiners (a, the, his) lead from an unmarked or 'inchoate' preliminary identification (e.g. a woman) towards the firmer base of an anaphoric reference (e.g. the woman), or yet further towards the endophoric allusion that makes the textual connection between one figure and another (e.g. his mother). Synonymic and hyponymic variants (child, boy, lad, son; woman, mother) are of obvious important in the progressive familiarizing of the two characters. We may note further how in two places an expanded description of the actor (a tall woman of imperious mien, etc., a small sturdy boy of five, 33) is the precursor of the anaphoric reference with definite article + noun denoting sex and age (the woman, 28, the boy, 38). The process of identification can be summarise thus:

A The Woman

(i)A woman, 14Indefinite article: preliminary, 'inchoate' identification
(ii)a tall woman of imperious mien, handsome, with definite black eyebrows, 17Indefinite article: pre- and elaborate post-modification; figure described
(iii)the woman, 28Definite article: figure now 'anaphorically based' in text
(iv)the mother, 35Definite article: hyponymic variation of noun: the woman's social role textually established
(v)his mother, 50Shift of determiner to possessive pronoun: connection with other figure textually established

B The Boy

(i)a child's sulky voice, 27Pre-modifying genitive makes preliminary identification; denotes age, not sex
(ii)the child, 31Definite article: anaphoric reference gives figure some base in text, but sex still unspecified
(iii)a small sturdy boy of five, 33Indefinite article: pre- and post-modification: age and sex specified
(iv)the boy, 38Definite article: figure now 'anaphorically based' in text
(v)the lad, 42Definite article: synonymic variation; warmer, more intimate response suggested, the reader's sympathy invited – cf. the effect of pathos in the description of trousers and waistcoat 'cut down from a man's clothes'

C Woman and Boy Together

(i)mother and son, 53No determiner: preliminary identification of the corporate unit: further hyponymic shift (to son), in line with already established shift (see A (iv) to mother)
(ii)the mother and son, 56Definite article; anaphoric reference gives textual underscoring to the relationship

As a footnote to this analysis of identities and relationships in the text, it may be added that a further relationship is introduced in the woman's remark, There's your grandfather's engine coming down the line! (41-2). This has a twofold function. It makes a point of intersection between what we see of the environment and what we learn about the actors — we might say that the outer, descriptive phases I and IV here briefly intrude upon the inner phase III. Secondly, it establishes a point of connection with the next episode (Penguin, pp. 206-7), in which the engine-driver/grandfather is seen in conversation — or, rather, confrontation — with his daughter.

© Walter Nash
February 2010

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