Possibly (though probably not*) because lately I’ve been reading so many authors I had disliked ages ago, and apparently like now, I picked up D.H. Lawrence’s novella The Fox the other day. Lady Chatterley’s Lover had not been a hit with me, though I do like his poetry.
And I did enjoy the novella, though it is a bit simple. That might not be right; a lot has gone between Lawrence and now. Two girls—women really, of course—March and Banford, decide to buy a farm and work it themselves. Of course they are not really capable, but it doesn’t really matter and as they lose money they also lose chickens, to a sly little fox they can’t seem to shoot. At the end of the war, a young man lets himself into their farmhouse, not realizing his grandfather died years before and the farm has new owners. They invite him to spend the night.
This young man, Henry, is the fox. Or is like a fox. March has seen the fox up close and personal not long before, and sees the same look in Henry’s eyes. He is cunning, sly, shrewd, stealthy. He hunts. He wants to steal, both March from Banford and the farm from both girls. And March’s independence.
Some of this is, as I said, a little simple. It’s impossible not to connect Henry with the fox. But some of it is more subtle. When Henry arrives at the farmhouse, the girls have very little food to offer him, only bread and margarine—no butter. But the first day Henry stays with them, he goes hunting and brings back meat. Quasi-vegans without a man feast on duck and rabbit with one. But then an extended passage on Henry hunting deer makes the whole thing a bit inescapable again.
A couple things I can’t get past. The removal of Banford is too easy. Henry shouldn’t have come out of that looking very good, and the fact that we skip the aftermath is a little fishy. But Lawrence’s prose is lovely even with all the fox references, and the gloomy ending, which is only a beginning for Henry and March, is the right one, of course.
The woman striving, striving to make the man happy, striving within her own limits for the well-being of her world. And always achieving failure. Little, foolish successes in money or in ambition. But at the very point where she most wanted success in the anguished effort to make some one beloved human being happy and perfect, there the failure was almost catastrophic. You wanted to make your beloved happy, and his happiness seemed always achievable. If only you did just this, that and the other. And you did this, that, and the other, in all good faith, and every time the failure became a little more ghastly. You could love yourself to ribbons, and strive and strain yourself to the bone, and things would go from bad to worse, bad to worse, as far as happiness went. The awful mistake of happiness.
Catastrophic. Don’t worry, the man is miserable about the relationship too.
*While the possibility of a Lawrence reassessment did play a role, obviously I grabbed this because of (a) its amazing cover and (b) my preexisting fondness for foxes.