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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.

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VI The Actors: (iii) the Boy

The boy is not so intensively portrayed, and yet the presentation of this secondary figure is carefully structured. There are analogies between his introduction into the text and that of the woman. Of her, it is observed that she drew herself erect, having brushed some bits from her white apron (15-16), and then, in immediate continuation, She was a tall woman of imperious mien (17). Subsequently it is stated of her son that the child showed himself before the raspberry canes that rose like whips (31-2) and that He was a small, sturdy boy of five (32-2). Here are obvious parallels between the reflexive constructions (drew herself erect, showed herself) and between the descriptive statements (She was a tall woman of imperious mien, he was a small, sturdy boy of five). There is, moreover, a subtler functional parallel between the participial clause having brushed some bits etc. (16) and the place adjunct before the raspberry canes etc (31-2). Each of these in its own way projects a character: the woman's active and precise, the child's passive before the intimation of punishment.

He is presented through alternations of 'pose' and 'activity'. The 'activity' is at first merely existential (He stood quite still, 33, The boy did not move, 38), yielding to movement (the lad advanced slowly, 42) and then to suddenly positive (and destructive) action (he tore at the ragged wisps of chrysanthemums, 47-8). Thus, although he says practically nothing, he gradually emerges as an active 'wilful' personality a development which, indeed, makes something of a counterpoise to the mother's recession from stern admonition into conciliation, gentleness and pitiful hesitancy. The earlier stages of his emergence are marked by the strategic use of manner adjuncts (defiantly, 34, with resentful, taciturn movement, 42) as well as by the modifier (sulky, 27) that characterises his one utterance. The description of his clothing in 43-6 the most extended 'pose' is important in constituting a transition between the earlier, 'passive', and the later, 'active', stage of presentation. The actor is endowed literally invested with a presence.

© Walter Nash
February 2010

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