lunes, 10 de diciembre de 2012

The Lost Girl by D H Lawrence


In a very famous context, D. H. Lawrence is himself famous for using a word beginning with ‘f’, a word that is infamous rather than famous. Mentioning this word and then repeating it got the author into some serious trouble that was not resolved until decades after his death. In this book, The Lost Girl, Lawrence is clearly preoccupied with the word and the novel is very much focused on it and its associated act. Its anticipation, achievement, consequences and perceived implications seem to be the very stuff of the heroine’s life, but in this book the word never actually appears. So, like Lawrence, let’s use a euphemism, but let’s also be more direct than the writer. Let’s use ‘fabrication’, an activity that is central to the work of any author.

The Lost Girl is Alvina Houghton. The surname is pronounced with an ‘f’ sound in the middle, not an ‘o’, so its first syllable rhymes with ‘fluff’, not ‘now’. She is the daughter of James, a shopkeeper in a small Derbyshire town called Woodhouse, in the north English midlands. James has a shop selling Manchester goods, the mass produced textiles of the late nineteenth century. He is not the best businessman, however, and his activities shrink over time. His daughter, Alvina - that’s with a ‘y’ sound in the middle, not an ‘e’ - is rather plain-looking and apparently not too interesting either. She thinks quite a lot about fabrication from quite an early age, but she is a determined spectator when it comes to relationships. Her counsel, especially after her mother dies, is from older women, some of them determined spinsters.

After some prevarication, Alvina eventually trains as a midwife. The skill offers her a chance of independence, but she chooses to revert to her preferred state of familial dependence. After all, Alvina will probably inherit her father’s business. Thus she continues her arm’s length relation with life.

There is a short affair with a local man, a rather goofy figure who goes on to Oxford University and probably lives long enough to make a packet. But clearly the safe option is not for Alvina, who equally seems utterly afraid of risk in any form. She clearly cannot bring herself to the fabrication she privately craves and so the affair, surely destined for marriage in the eyes of the locals, comes to nought.

Women close to The Lost Girl die. Others remain like perched birds watching over events. And, when James decides to leave the shop and sell off the little coal mine he also owns there is much consternation. There is even more to chirp about when he announces he is going into the entertainment business by opening up a little music hall, especially when Alvina declares that she will play the piano. Until this point, she had not mentioned being a musician. It is worthwhile remembering that we are in age when playing the instrument was almost part of any single woman’s trousseau.

And so the music hall presents its act, a motley crew of Red Indian impersonators, including a German called Max and an Italian called Cicio. Initially, the show packs them in, but the passing of time sees interest start to dwindle. But suddenly new opportunities arise for Alvina to think of fabrication, and fabrication with foreigners involved to boot!

And so the story of Lawrence’s The Lost Girl eventually fabricates its way from Derbyshire, and we leave Alvina in what looks like a new - though very old fashioned - life in changed circumstances. She seems now completely enslaved in her chosen womanly role, but we are at the start of the First World War and surely the role of women in society is about to change for ever.

The Lost Girl deals with many of Lawrence’s recurring themes, but its fabrication is often rather clumsy and its style often less than comfortable. It is, however, worth seeing through, if only to realise just how much both Lawrence and his fabricated characters - especially the women - are still locked in a soon to be changed mind-set about gender roles and social class.

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