Someone at Oneworld Classics has been reading my dissertation notes, methinks… I mentioned them in a big everything-piled-in-together post a little while ago, and I was expecting them to send me a certain book… instead The Fox by D.H. Lawrence arrived in the post the other day. Did the good people at Oneworld know that I was writing on 1920s novels? And that one of them was David Garnett’s Lady Into Fox (more here) published in 1922, the year before Lawrence’s? Serendipity often crops up in my reading life, but rarely with such happy results that I can read something for pleasure, for reviewing, and for my dissertation all at the same time. Talk about multi-tasking.
The Fox is under seventy pages, but rather powerful. Nellie March and Jill Banford (usually known by their surnames) are in their late-twenties, and live together on a farm in Berkshire and try, with limited success, to make a profit out of poultry and a cow or two. This is DH Lawrence rather than Stella Gibbons, so the mishaps are irksome rather than something narsty in the woodshed. Worst among these problems is a fox, slyly and unabashedly diminishing their livelihood.
And then a young soldier arrives. And stays. So fixated is March upon the creature ruining their farm: ‘to March, he was the fox. Whether it was the thrusting forward of his head, or the glisten of fine whitish hairs of the ruddy cheekbones, or the bright, keen eyes, that can never be said – but the boy was to her the fox, and she could not see him otherwise.’
How foxlike (or, indeed, vulpine) is the boy? And what effects will his arrival have upon the pair? The Fox is an excellent narrative of jealousy and disruption and wrestling over self-control, as well as having some wonderful moments of imagination and clever imagery. In the hands of any other author I would describe the novella as a passionate one, but by Lawrence standards it’s postively matronly. Which has to be a good thing, to be honest. When Lawrence isn’t showing off what a tough, sexual brute he is, he can actually write very beautifully.
And why choose the Oneworld Classics edition? (Which you can do here) Other than the gorgeous cover (well, I love foxes) the edition has a very thorough chronological guide to Lawrence’s life and works, four pages of relevant photographs including some manuscript, and even a select bibliography. Highly, highly recommended.