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Reviewed by:
  • The Short Fiction of D. H. Lawrence
  • Jeffrey Meyers
Janice Harris. The Short Fiction of D. H. Lawrence. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1984. 333 pp. $25.00.

Janice Harris has examined the manuscripts of Lawrence's stories and shows how he improved his work in revision. She relates the stories to the novels and traces his development from realist to visionary to fabulist and satirist, though the last phase also includes realistic tales. And she has patches of lively argument when, for example, she easily demolishes Kate Millett's contention that Lawrence did not describe women's bodies in his fiction.

But there are radical faults in method, accuracy, and interpretation as Harris deals with the sixty stories, including sketches in Phoenix II, that were written between 1907 and 1928. Because Lawrence's minor stories do not require extensive analysis and the major ones have been exhaustively studied, Harris' relentless examination is either a tedious trot through trivial tales or a repetition of the familiar and the obvious. She states that "Lawrence identifed the living, mysterious forces of nature with the living, mysterious forces of sex"; emphasizes his "belief in the importance of touch"; belabors the theme of death and resurrection in "The Horse Dealer's Daughter"; and announces that Lawrence's mother and wife "were among the most significant people in his life."

Harris attempts to justify her study by claiming: "For too long, critics have seen the tales as bits of material left over from the novels," though no such dim critics are named in the text or the notes. Her Introduction offers an extremely superficial view of literary history, ignores the work of James and Conrad, and uses Lawrence as a stick to beat Kipling and Stevenson—though he admired and learned from the latter. She tends to neglect the biographical element in the stories that deal with Frieda, Brett, Murry, Cynthia Asquith, Mabel Luhan, Compton Mackenzie, the Meynells, and the Brewsters, and does not consider the artistic and moral question of how Lawrence portrayed and flayed his friends in his fiction.

She does not discuss the thematic content and artistic success of Lawrence's volumes of stories and does not distinguish between those works published in [End Page 361] his lifetime and those that appeared posthumously. She was unable to use John Worthen's Cambridge edition of "The Prussian Officer" and Other Stories or Brian Finney's "St. Mawr" and Other Stories. Her transitions are awkward: "Lawrence's first tales constitute a commencement, but it is halting. Let me begin with the halting." Her comments are banal: "This is no lullaby, sinister or otherwise." And she lacks the style, originality, and excitement of Kingsley Widmer's The Art of Perversity —still the best book on this subject.

Harris is frequently inaccurate. "Ramon" and "émigré" lack accents; the page reference on 85:11 is incorrect. The character John Adderley Syson is called John Addington; John Gardner's name is misspelled; the editor of the English Review was called Hueffer, not Ford. The Black Forest is in southwest, not northern Germany; the Villa Bernarda was in Spotorno, near Genoa, not Monte Carlo. Paul Morel collected his father's wages in the colliery office, not the chapel; and Hauptmann is the Prussian Officer's rank, not his name. Frieda did have an affair with Murry in 1923; and it is absurd to say that Christ, who came back from the dead in The Man Who Died, "almost died."

Harris' interpretations are too often incomplete, misleading, or mistaken. She refers to but does not discuss the title of "England, My England," an ironic allusion to Henley's poem, and does not consider the vitally important revised conclusion of "Sun." She says a career woman is a "rare thing in Lawrence," though in The Rainbow and Women in Love Ursula is a teacher and Gudrun an artist. Neglecting the propitiatory gift in "The Woman Who Rode Away," she claims the Indians "do not need the change the woman's sacrifice presumably will bring." And she maintains that The Man Who Died "unintentionally celebrates . . . the desire to be alone," though the whole point of that startling story is Christ's...


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