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“Daughters of the Vicar” (thoughts)

January 16, 2009

shotsofshortI chose “Daughters of the Vicar” as my introduction to D.H. Lawrence, because when Nymeth posted about how much she liked Lady Chatterley’s Lover last year, she kindly gave me some story recommendations in reply to my comment. She said this one was her favourite, though the longest (44 pages!), so I decided to go for it.

Whatever I was expecting, it wasn’t a story of such humanity or a writing style that reminded me of a darker, more jaded Jane Austen. I know-all of you Austen fans out there are going “Are you serious?! Lawrence?! Isn’t he known for writing pornography?!” First off, let me suggest you read Nymeth’s review (that I linked up above) to clear up that misconception. Next, let me tell you the plot of the story: a vicar and his wife end up poorer than expected, and the two eldest children-both daughters-must decide about marriage, and its relationship to love or money (sound familliar?). Then check out this passage from the story:

“The young clergyman was keenly expected. He was not more than twenty-seven, a Master of Arts of Oxford, had written his thesis on Roman Law. He came of an old Cambridgeshire family, had some private means, was going to take a church in Northamptonshire with a good stipend, and was not married. Mrs Lindley incurred new debts, and scarcely regretted her husband’s illness.
But when Mr Massy came, there was a shock of disappointment in the house. They had expected a young man with a pipe and a deep voice, but with better manners than Sidney, the eldest of the Lindleys. There arrived instead a small, chétif man, scarcely larger than a boy of twelve, spectacled, timid in the extreme, without a word to utter at first; yet with a certain inhuman self-sureness.”

If that doesn’t remind you of Austen, then perhaps I’m just crazy.

Anyway, I don’t want to imply that reading “Daughters of the Vicar” is similar to some cozy time with Pride and Prejudice. In Austen’s world, fate is always kind to the heroines; Lawrence prefers to look at the real world, and examine what might happen therein. Oh dear, I’m having the hardest time writing this review without giving away the plot. So I’m going to turn my attention to my attention to other literary stuff. ;)

One of the things Lawrence does magnificently in this story is to examine the different forms of love. One character has a deep, hopeless love for someone of a different class. One character discovers herself to be loved by someone she does not love, and must decide if a loveless marriage is worth the monetary advantage. That’s the romantic love-there’s also a couple of cases of mother love. The two key mothers in the story (one is the vicar’s wife, the other is from the ‘low class’ parish to which the vicar preaches) show their love in very different ways. One is determined to better her children’s situation, so that they won’t have to live in the poverty she detests. The other prefers to smother and care for her favourite child, to keep the child at home even at the expense of social advancement. They are both extremes, and I believe most real-life mothers would fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, but for the purposes of the story they work perfectly.

There’s no way I can talk about what I think Lawrence did best without giving away one aspect of the plot (it’s an event that occurs maybe halfway through the story). So consider this your spoiler alert. If you stop reading now, just know that Lawrence is a wonderful author to whom you should really give a chance. If, like me, the idea of beginning with one of his novels made you nervous, you can either read a story online (I’ve linked the title to a free copy) or get a hold of The Prussian Officer, the collection that contains this story. Oh, and be sure to check out my question in bold after the spoiler paragraph-I’m curious to know your answer!

Still with me? Ok. Well, the eldest daughter-Mary-decides to marry the repulsive clergyman described in the above passage for his wealth. And the best part of the story is watching her struggle with her decision, watching how as a human being she justifies her compromise of her very self. Here’s one of the most compelling passages in the story, in my opinion:

Mary, in marrying him, tried to become a pure reason such as he was, without feeling or impulse. She shut herself up, she shut herself rigid against the agonies of shame and the terror of violation which came at first. She WOULD not feel, and she WOULD not feel. She was a pure will acquiescing to him. She elected a certain kind of fate. She would be good and purely just, she would live in a higher freedom than she had ever known, she would be free of mundane care, she was a pure will towards right. She had sold herself, but she had a new freedom. She had got rid of her body. She had sold a lower thing, her body, for a higher thing, her freedom from material things. She considered that she paid for all she got from her husband. So, in a kind of independence, she moved proud and free.

Tell me you can read that passage and not want to read more Lawrence! **END OF SPOILER**

So that about sums it up: I was very skeptical of D.H. Lawrence, but now I shall definitely include one of his novels on my TBR list. Have you ever read an author and found yourself amazed that s/he was nothing like you expected? Who? And was it for the better or worse?

Other Notable Passage
She stood utterly motionless. Then clumsily he put his arms round her, and took her, cruelly, blindly, straining her till she nearly lost consciousness, till he himself had almost fallen.
Then, gradually, as he held her gripped, and his brain reeled round, and he felt himself falling, falling from himself, and whilst she, yielded up, swooned to a kind of death of herself, a moment of utter darkness came over him, and they began to wake up again as if from a long sleep. He was himself.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. January 16, 2009 10:48 am

    I have never read DH Lawrence and though PORNOGRAPHY! although, you are right, he is known for that. But known in context of the time.

    I like you’re parallels to Austen, I never thought of that, but now mentioned makes a lot of sense – especially Women In Love.

  2. January 16, 2009 12:04 pm

    Now, why should I be surprised that you’re reading Lawrence? I’m glad you like him, because so many people don’t. I think I was the only person in my freshman lit class who appreciated “Lady Chatterly…” My favorite novel is “Sons and Lovers.” It has real sexual tension as well as some fun Oedipal overtones.

    I’m going to have to delve into his short stories, because this one sounds like a winner. Don’t you love his descriptions? Lawrence was an accomplished writer, and I don’t care what anyone says!

  3. January 16, 2009 1:28 pm

    This does sound good!

  4. January 16, 2009 3:06 pm

    I loved your review, Eva! And the passages you picked are some of my favourites too.

    I second chartroose’s recommendation of Sons and Lovers. It actually deals with some of the same themes as this story. Something to keep in mind, though, is that most editions out there are abridged but are not identified as being so.

    Lawrence’s publisher cut large chunks out of the novel, and it was only the 1992 Cambridge University Press edition that restored the original text. A great deal of what was cut out was a storyline concerning the protagonist’s older brother, which may be seen as peripheral but makes the book more interesting, in my opinion. Of course, it adds a lot of pages to what’s already a long book, but I know you like chunksters :P

  5. January 16, 2009 4:50 pm

    Hi Eva, it did sound like Austen. I don’t really have negative notions about Lawrence, but I was kind of indifferent. My sister reads him but I just didn’t think reading him a priority. However, I read Nymeth’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover review and am now really wanting to read him! I would probably try a novel as I’m not too keen on short stories.

    Anyway, I didn’t read your spoiler, just in case. :)

    An author who surprised me? There’s probably a few. One I can think of is who I’m reading now, E. Annie Proulx. I know she’s won the Pulitzer and other awards but I still imagined her writing would be bleak and boring. I’m surprised the tone is actually a lot lighter than I thought.

  6. January 16, 2009 8:34 pm

    I haven’t read this one, but I’m glad you liked it! It’s always nice to be pleasantly surprised by an author. :)

  7. January 16, 2009 10:55 pm

    I read Sons and Lovers a few years ago, and actually hated it. I mean, really hated it. Not so much because of the subject matter, which was a little strange. But I was so bored with it. The writing style was blah….and it was all I could do to finish it. For that reason, I haven’t had the desire to pick up any other Lawerence book.

    Mabye in “short” doses it would work. Because this does sound good!

  8. January 17, 2009 3:07 am

    At school my English teacher said he thought everyone interested in literature would go through a Lawrence phase and I read huge amounts of Lawrence in my late teens and early twenties. My favourite of the big novels is Women in Love but I also really loved The Trespasser. Thinks, perhaps I should do some re-reading…

  9. January 17, 2009 5:05 am

    I think you are right that this sounds Austenish (the plot & descriptions though not quite her language).

    And what people regarded as pornography in 1919 may not shock a kindergarden child today. Just think about the fact that people were outraged by Forster´s Howard´s End (for other reasons, but still…)

    I like your question, “Have you ever read an author …” I cannot come up with any good examples off-hand but I have stolen the idea, intending to use it some day on my blog :)
    – and I did write down where I found the inspiration.

  10. January 17, 2009 6:46 pm

    Haven’t read any Lawrence although I read an excerpt from Sons & Lovers (I think) which made me think I needed to read something by this author.

    I love being surprised by an author… One I remember was when I read The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells. I read for the Slaves of Golconda discussion, not really expecting to like it, and it turned out to be one of my favorite reads that particular year. I still find it a chilling tale.

  11. January 18, 2009 4:36 am

    Christina, I’ve only read this story of his, so I don’t know if there are a lot of Austen parallels, but I’m curious to read a novel now. :D

    Chartroose, he was definitely an accomplished writer!! You should write one of your songs for him. :D

    Lisa, it is!

    Nymeth, thanks for recommending the story. :) And I’ll definitely make sure to find an unabridged version-I hate the way publishers are all sneaky about abridged classics!

    Claire, Nymeth writes great reviews, doesn’t she?

    Andi, it defiitely is!

    Stephanie, wow-it’s funny how people can have so many different reactions to the same book. I find almost every Dickens book I’ve read boring, whereas a lot of bloggers really enjoy him!

    BrideoftheBookGod, well I guess I’m at the right age to have a Lawrence phase then!

    Dorte, what mainly reminded me of Austen was the occasional gentle, satirical digs at society. What outraged people over Howard’s End? (since I Just read that)

    Iliana, I’ll have to try that one out-I’m always looking for a ‘chilling tale,’ and I don’t think I’ve read anything by Wells before!

  12. January 18, 2009 5:11 am

    I think it was the fact that a little, illegitimate child, son of a worker, inherited “Howard´s End” which was seen as a symbol of England. I do not remember that much about the book, actually. I have used the film now and then in one of my classes and at least I enjoy it thoroughly every time, especially the rather touching ending.
    Thanks for visiting my blog.

  13. January 18, 2009 9:54 pm

    Dorte, interesting!

  14. July 18, 2009 7:03 am

    How Lawrence portreyed Mary really baffles and amazes me. The way she thinks that she had given up the “lower” physical for the “higher” material living makes me sad. I think she had given up the higher than higher thing which is Love.

    I like the little daughter of the two, Louisa. She is brave cause she dares to love and asks for love.

    The men portreyed in this novel are just so so so so so detestable.
    Ah…

  15. March 21, 2010 4:01 pm

    i do like the austen parallel, i guess it works when you peel it down to the bones. surprising authors? in recent memory, there’s flannery o’connor. i always read about authors before i read the stories and i wasnt expecting anything as mean and shocking as her shorts ‘the misplaced person’ (if that’s the right title) and ‘a good man is hard to find’ (that title was very misleading for me)
    i just read Daughters of the Vicar and feel exhausted, and just have to second this recommendation :)

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