The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd

by D. H. Lawrence

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H. Lawrence is one of the most significant of the new generation of writers just beginning to appear in England. One of their chief marks is that they seem to step forward full-grown, without a history to account for their maturity. Another characteristic is that they frequently spring from social layers which in the past had to remain largely voiceless. And finally, they have all in their blood what their elders had to acquire painfully: that is, an evolutionary conception of life. Three years ago the author of "The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd" was wholly unknown, having not yet published a single work. To-day he has to his credit three novels—"The White Peacock," "The Trespasser" and "Sons and Lovers"—a collection of verse entitled "Love Poems," and the play contained in this volume. All of these works, but in particular the play and the latest novel, prove their author a man gifted with a strikingly original vision, a keen sense of beauty, an equally keen sense of verbal values, and a sincerity, which makes him see and tell the truth where even the most audacious used to falter in the past. Flaubert himself was hardly less free from the old curse of sentimentalizing compromise—and yet this young writer knows how to tell the utmost truth with a daintiness that puts offence out of the question.

He was born twenty-seven years ago in a coal-miner's cottage at the little colliery town of Eastwood, on the border line between Nottingham and Derbyshire. The home was poor, yet not without certain aspirations and refinements. It was the mother who held it together, who saved it from a still more abject poverty, and who filled it with a spirit that made it possible for the boy—her youngest son—to keep alive the gifts still slumbering undiscovered within him. In "Sons and Lovers" we get the picture of just such a home and such a mother, and it seems safe to conclude that the novel in question is in many ways autobiographical.

At the age of twelve the boy won a County Council Scholarship—and came near having to give it up because he found that the fifteen pounds a year conferred by it would barely pay the fees at the Nottingham High School and the railway fares to that city. But his mother's determination and self-sacrifice carried him safely past the seemingly impossible. At sixteen he left school to earn his living as a clerk. Illness saved him from that uncongenial fate. Instead he became a teacher, having charge of a class of colliers' boys in one of those rough, old-fashioned British schools where all the classes used to fight against one another within a single large room. Before the classes convened in the morning, at eight o'clock, he himself received instruction from the head-master; at night he continued his studies in the little kitchen at home, where all the rest of the family were wont to fore gather. At nineteen he found himself, to his own and everybody else's astonishment, the first on the list of the King's Scholarship examination, and from that on he was, to use his own words, "considered clever." But the lack of[ix] twenty pounds needed in a lump sum to pay the entrance fee at the training college for teachers made it impossible for him to make use of the gained advantage.

Two years later, however, he succeeded in matriculating at the Nottingham Day Training College. But by that time the creative impulse had already begun to stir within him, aided by an early love affair, and so he wrote poems and worked at his first novel when he should have been studying. At twenty-three he left the college and went to London to teach school, to study French and German, and to write. At twenty-five he had his first novel—"The White Peacock"—accepted and printed. But the death of his mother only a month before that event made his victory seem useless and joyless. After the publication of his second novel, in 1912, he became able to give up teaching in order to devote himself entirely to his art. Out of that leisure—and perhaps also out of the sorrow caused by the loss of her who until then had been the mainspring of his life—came "Sons and Lovers" and "The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd."

What has struck me most deeply in these two works—apart from their splendid craftsmanship—is their psychological penetration, so closely paralleling the most recent conclusions of the world's leading thinkers. In the hands of this writer, barely emerged out of obscurity, sex becomes almost a new thing. Not only the relationship between man and woman, but also that of mother and child is laid bare in a new light which startles—or even shocks—but which nevertheless compels acceptance. One might think that Mr. Lawrence had carefully studied and employed the very latest theories of such men as Freud, for instance, and yet it is a pretty safe bet that most of his studies have been carried on in his own soul, within his own memories. Thus it is proved once more that what the student gropingly reasons out for abstract formulation is flashed upon the poetic dreamer in terms of living reality.

Another thing that has impressed me is the aspect in which Mr. Lawrence presents the home life of those hitherto submerged classes which are now at last reaching out for a full share in the general social and cultural inheritance. He writes of that life, not only with a knowledge obtained at first hand, but with a sympathy that scorns any apologetic phrase-mongering. Having read him, one feels inclined to conclude, in spite of all conflicting testimony, that the slum is not a location, but a state of mind, and that everywhere, on all levels, the individual soul may create around itself an atmosphere expressive of its ideals. A book like "Sons and Lovers" ought to go far to prove that most of the qualities held peculiar to the best portion of the "ruling classes" are nothing but the typical marks of normal humanity.

Edwin Björkman.


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