"The Prussian Officer and Other Stories, Paperback Book

"The Prussian Officer and Other Stories Paperback

Edited by John Worthen

5 out of 5 (1 rating)


His first published collection, these twelve stories were written between 1907 and 1914, during a crucial period of development for Lawrence from which he emerged a leading figure of the modernist movement.

Reaching new levels of feeling and experience, these stories range from the tale of a Prussian officer who drives his orderly towards a bloody reckoning, to the strangely exotic elements of 'A Fragment of Stained Glass', and the divisions within society and conflicts of the heart that form the central themes of 'Daughters of a Vicar'.

Interweaving individual lives, their happiness, failures and defeats, with the prfound forces of nature, Lawrence has created stories of remarkable power and sensitivity.

This Penguin edition reproduces the newly established Cambridge text, which is based on Lawrence's manuscripts, typescripts and corrected proofs.


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These 12 stories published in 1914 are Lawrence's first collection, most had been published before (the earliest "Goose Fair" in 1910). Lawrence's early masterpiece [Sons and Lovers] had been published the previous year and the autobiographical nature of that novel is again reflected in the short stories. Many of them take place in the mining towns of Nottinghamshire (England) and the surrounding countryside, but the first two and among the last to be written take place on the continent and deal with the military world. The first story "The Prussian Officer" was changed by the publisher from it's original title of "Honour and Arms". Lawrence was not best pleased as he saw his story applying to the very nature of life in all the armed forces, not just the Prussians. It opens with Schoner: an orderly in a line of marching men, he is suffering intensely due to the heat and because of severe bruising on his body which makes every step painful. We learn that he is being bullied by his captain and that it is the result of a certain tension that exists between the two men. It is partly sexual jealousy, because the Captain resents his orderly spending time with his sweetheart, but also there is an underlying homo eroticism that neither of them are able to acknowledge. Add to this mix a power struggle between a servant and his master, where the servant has no hope of success and the violence that ensues is a logical outcome. The violence is passionate and destructive and the story ends with a raging thirst in the heat of the day that subsumes all that has gone before. "The thorn in the Flesh" is next and the soldier Bachman must undertake an exercise where his fear of heights will make it impossible for him to succeed. He is humiliated and when his sergeant bullies him further he lashes out accidently knocking him over the edge of a high mud wall. He makes a run for it and seeks help from his girl who works as a servant in the house of the colonel. Bachman feels such intense shame that he can hardly think for himself; he cannot bear to subject his body or his spirit back into the hands of the army although he knows his chances of escape are slight. These first two stories while not dealing with the fighting are concerned with the closed world of the army and it's debilitating effect on those who must suffer because of a weakness or because they are low in the ranks. Lawrence was fiercely anti-war, but subjected himself to humiliating medical examinations when conscription was introduced during World War I; his horror of the army is reflected in these stories.The remainder of the stories are set mainly in and around the country and mining towns that Lawrence knew so well and there are two absolute gems. "The Odour of Chrysanthemums" is the story of a miners wife waiting for her husband to come back home from his shift at the pit. She waits in vain in her meagre cottage by the railway tracks trying to stop worrying while keeping her children occupied as they wait for their father. Recently he has taken to going down the pub straight after work, but not this time; there has been an accident and he is brought home dead. She must lay out his body in the parlour and with his mothers help she washes the pit dirt from her dead husband's body and thinks guiltily about her life:<I>"In fear and shame she looked at his naked body, that she had known falsely. And he was the farther of her children. Her soul was torn from her body and stood apart. She looked at his naked body and was ashamed, as if she had denied it, After all, it was itself. It seemed awful to her. She looked at his face, and she turned her own face to the wall. For his look was other than hers, his way was not her way. She had denied him what he was - she saw it now. She had refused him as himself. And this had been her life, and his life. She was grateful to death, which restored the truth. And she knew she was not dead."</I>My other favourite story is "The White Stocking". Elsie and Ted have been married for two years, but each of the Valentine's days she has received a gift from her ex employer Sam Adams. Ted is jealous because Elsie cannot help but be thrilled at receiving the gifts; she is a flighty quick girl and Ted the more slow witted, sometimes struggles to keep up with her. Lawrence describes their relationship as: <I>"He was the permanent basis from which she took those giddy little flights into nowhere...... within his grasp she could dart about excitingly"</I>Ted and Elsie are invited to a party at Sam Adam's house, they go, arriving a little late, but Sam immediately latches on to Elsie filling up her dancing card. Ted does nor dance and goes through tortures watching Elsie falling under the spell of Sam's dancing prowess. She is whirled off her feet and when she returns home at last with Ted: the subsequent row spirals out of control into domestic violence. There are no weak stories in this collection although a couple of them are little more than sketches. Lawrence was by now delving deeper into the psychology of human relationships, linking them to the natural world and it's increasing spoliation through urbanisation and the war machine. Lawrence was an acute observer of how the sexes related to each other and was able to pinpoint his observations with words and phrases that evoked a realism that could be painful to read, but now he wanted to explore further; the sexual tensions, the struggle of the individual, the battle with convention and the omnipresent class system. His women are quick witted and wise, usually a cut above their men, who are slower, but with an animalism that proves to be a powerful aphrodisiac. "The Sick Collier" begins with the sentence "She was too good for him. Everybody said" and this could also be watchwords for "The Shadow in the Rose Garden" a story where a miners wife visits with her husband the seaside town where she grew up. She makes an excuse to escape from Frank and goes to the rose garden of one of the big houses; there she sees her old lover who has returned from the war in Africa, he does not recognise her, the war has left him mentally ill. The wife returns to her husband who wants to know where she has been, she can't help but tell him and he reacts angrily and they both realise there are issues between them.A story that stands out a little from the rest is "A Fragment of Stained Glass". Unlike the others it is written in the first person and is a story within a story. The story inside is a medieval tale of a groom having to flee his master, because he axed to death a horse in his charge. It is winter and he must shelter in the woodlands; he stumbles into a pig sty, sick and frozen with cold and is discovered by the Millers daughter who knows and loves him. They return to the frozen woods and in an attempt to find shelter in the white snow covered world, he breaks through a stained glass window of an abbey appearing like a demon to the monks inside. It is a story filled with Lawrence's gift for describing the natural world and in this story he manages to conjure up a magical landscape that is raw and unforgiving. Whether Lawrence is describing the mean existence of coal miners and their cottages or young lovers sparring in natures abundant world outside, he never fails to do it justice.This collection is ample representation of one of the finest writers of the twentieth century, they are stories that have the power to linger long after they are read. Don't expect neatly tied up endings, because Lawrence's characters can be passionate and contradictory, but the underlying themes will force their way into your consciousness. Some people think that Lawrence was at his best as a short story writer, because the format did not allow him to indulge in the repetition and over layering that some find present in the novels. I am not one of those people; I like my Lawrence anyway he wants to be. 5 stars.