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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.


V The Actors: (ii) the Woman

As well as establishing the woman's social position, the text provides a number of effective indices to her character. A feature of obvious importance is the alternation of modifier and adjunct as carriers of evaluative description: tall, imperious, handsome, definite, smooth, calm, set/exactly, steadily, piercingly, sternly.

The adjuncts are particularly noteworthy, in that they relate or 'interlock' presentations of three different aspects of her being physical appearance, activity, and manner of speech. Thus, the manner adjunct in her smooth black hair was parted exactly (18-19) defines an appearance or, to use a distinctive and convenient term, a pose; in the woman looked piercingly (28) the adjunct qualifies an activity; while in she asked sternly (30) a style adjunct denotes her manner of speech.

Pose, activity and speech-style are the three elements by means of which her nature is intimated to the reader, and in 17-23, a passage of extended description, these elements appear to be arranged in a patterned scheme, punctuated by time adjuncts (for a few moments, then, after a moment). The scheme may be summarised: Pose TA Activity TA Activity Pose TA Speech. The elements of the pattern are diversely weighted, however, as a reading of the passage will show:

She was a tall woman of imperious mien, handsome, with definite black eyebrows. Her smooth black hair was parted exactly (POSE). For a few moments (TA) she stood steadily watching the miners as they passed along the railway (ACTIVITY); then (TA) she turned towards the brook course (ACTIVITY). Her face was calm and set, her mouth was closed with disillusionment (POSE). After a moment (TA) she called (SPEECH):

Throughout the text generally, her 'activities' present a point of stylistic interest. There is some contrasting of transitive and intransitive patterning; more precisely, there is a contrasting of operative and static processes. At her first appearance, in 11-14 (the first part of Phase II), the woman is an agent with some volitional and operative power over her own person and the things around her (cf. drew herself erect, having brushed some bits from her apron, 15). In the remainder of Phase II, and throughout Phase III, however, all effective activity withers, and the agent makes no impress on her surroundings. Such phases as she stood steadily watching, she said distinctly, the woman looked piercingly, she asked sternly denote no activity more positive than looking and speaking.

This recession into 'inoperativeness' is introduced by a sequence of 'pose' elements (see above). The clauses presenting these are, as one might expect, structures in which the verb is a mere copula (was) and the subject is in most cases a noun denoting a part of the body (hair, face, mouth). She becomes for a time a face, a voice, a mien nothing more. It is only in the passage's last phase that the will to goal-directed activity is reasserted (broke off a twig with three or four wan flowers and laid them against her face, 52-3, she pushed it in her apronband, 55-6).

She is characterised by one fine stylistic touch in Phase IV, where instead of 'she hesitated' we read her hand hesitated (54). There is a shift of initiating agency from the whole person to a part, the hand, which is treated as though it had an independent will. This device expresses in a very telling way her division against herself, her alternations of voluntary act and involuntary response, and her reluctance to admit any feeling of tenderness about her marriage. It betrays a vulnerability which we might not suspect in a tall woman of imperious mien . . . with definite black eyebrows.

© Walter Nash
February 2010

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