How strange and wonderful to discover a new (yet old) author & love him so much. “First Women In Love” is the first book I ever read by Lawrence. I was reminded of him through Forster’s “Aspects of the Novel” (EMF loves DHL), and found my copy (which actually is the first version of “Woman in Love”) in a Berlin bookstore yesterday & couldn’t stop reading it. Lawrence sets up an almost perfect continuous dream. The way he uses language to draw life, conflict and characters, is astonishing. The complexity of stylistic elements made me feel as if I was dancing on a high wire with my feet on fire. Listen to the first mention of Gerald Crich’s mother:
«There came the mother, Mrs Crich, with her eldest song Gerald. She was a queer unkempt figure, in spite of the attempts that had obviously been made to bring her into line for the day. Her face was pale, yellowish, with a clear, transparent skin, she leaned forward rather, he features were strongly marked, handsome, with a tense, unseeing, predative look. Her colourless hair was untidy, wisps floating down on to her sac coat of dark blue silk, from under her blue silk hat. She looked like a woman with a monomania, furtive almost, but heavily proud.»
“a woman with a monomania, furtive almost, but heavily proud“—what a threesome! Compare the telling of the simpler “furtive” and “proud” with the showing of “furtive almost” and “heavily proud“—Yes, it flows, it flows. The next scene explodes in the reader’s face after a most careful setup—re-read the description of the mother above to see how expertly the summative characterization of her as an “old, unbroken wolf” is foreshadowed:
«Her son was of a fair, sun-tanned type, rather above middle-height, well-made, and noticeably well-dressed. But about him also was the strange, guarded look, the unconscious reserve, as if he did not belong to the same life as the people about him. “His totem is the wolf,” said Gudrun to herself, “a young, innocent, unconscious wolf.” She wondered how innocent, and how far untameable. She would like to know. He looked a man of twenty eight or thirty, but young, unbroached. His gleaming, unconscious candour, his curious look of good-humour, a certain attractive handsomeness, maleness, like a young, good-humoured wolf, did not blind her to the significant stillness in his bearing, the lurking danger of his cunning, indomitable temper. “His totem is the wolf,” she repeated to herself. “His mother is an old, unbroken wolf.”»
So well done: “young, unbroached … old, unbroken“—and the way he repeats expressions thereby re-tinting the picture…I swoon. This paragraph is remarkable also because it marks the entry of a fantastical element. It shows how, if you use it as delicately as Lawrence, fantasy can turn into a fine dagger. Notice also the effect of juxtaposing the rather simple, fashion-conscious description of Gerald’s appearance with the overall description of his inner life (which corresponds to the exact feelings of Gudrun, who is observing here).
The only weakness, for me, apart from a certain overheatedness (owed in part to the times & the subject in those times—women scandalously in love in 1917), is her wondering if Gerald is “untameable“. An important motif that, for me, does not fit in the character of Gudrun, who’s been described as standoffish, repulsed even. Of course, she is, in this moment, falling in love, that’s the whole point, but…to wonder how tameable the fresh object of love is neither fits the previous expose of her character nor the onrush of love. Love!
There is so much more I’d like to tell you—this author, and this book especially, is a diamond mine for the discerning writer, who reads not merely for pleasure but to observe a master at work. Things I learn from only the smallest bit of DHL include: best use of adjectives, letting characters speak for themselves (in this respect he’s similar to Forster and Austen [?], though distinctly more modern), scene build-up and foreshadowing, and the mundane placement of commas (always a challenge for the native German).
DHL really is a novelist who has a “Prophecy” (I wrote about this elsewhere), as E. M. Forster calls those writers with “an accent in the novelist’s voice. His theme is the universe, or something universal. The characters and events still have a specific meaning within the story, but they also have greater resonances.”
Grand writing that keeps me breathless whenever I open the book — I want it to go on…but of course, I must get back to my own writing, too. Cheerio then.
Notes: An earlier, shorter, flimsier version of this review resides at goodreads. “Adjective & Adverb” is the topic that my Berlin writing group is currently dealing with. We’ve tied our boat to Ursula Le Guin‘s excellent writing workshop book “Steering The Craft“.