Sunday 15 February 2009

DH Lawrence - The Fox

I’ve just finished copy-editing D.H. Lawrence’s The Fox. I’ve never actually read any Lawrence before, so it was an interesting introduction.

The scene is an isolated farmstead in the Midlands in 1919. The farm is looked after by two women, March and Banford. They struggle to make a living from working on the farm. One of their problems is a fox who steals their chickens. One day, March sees the fox, and becomes entranced from staring directly into its eyes. There’s almost something supernatural at work and, after this point, March becomes obsessed with the fox. Then a young Cornish soldier turns up, whose grandfather lived at the farm before the girls. He gets them to allow him to stay at the farm. For March, he bears a strange similarity to the fox, and she almost identifies him with the animal. He, like the fox, has a mysterious charm for her. I won’t give away any more of the plot – suffice to say there’s conflict between the characters.

First of all, I loved the opening. Wonderful scene-setting and description, sense of time and place, characterization. This was the strongest part of the book. The subsequent conflict between the characters is OK, but not as interesting, and the language doesn’t have the same resonance or evoke the same kind of recognition in the reader (or this one at least). I think that, as the story progresses, Lawrence’s own ideas and preconceptions start to interfere with the narrative to its detriment – most notably, there’s a diatribe of several paragraphs, just before the end, on the impossibility of attaining happiness in this world, which should really have been cut or reworked. The way in which Lawrence’s personal opinions intrude upon the narrative reminds me a bit of Tolstoy, whose fiction has the same problem, though I have a suspicion that the intrusion is on the whole more jarring in Lawrence.

So, overall, it was interesting. I can’t say I’m say straining at the bit to read everything Lawrence ever wrote, but I would be interested to read at least one of his masterpieces.


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