England, My England

D. H. Lawrence has written almost as many collections of short stories as novels. England, My England from 1922 is the first such collection that I have read. I normally do not enjoy the short story format, yet while I was still reading my first Lawrence novel, Sons and Lovers, I thought that the shorter format would suit Lawrence (and me, the fussy reader) better. In comparison to the length of time it took me to finish Sons and Lovers and Women in Love, I raced through the stories in England, My England, with the exception of the first story, the title of which the collection was named after.

It did not bode well that such a boring story should start the collection, but in it Lawrence reveals the same contradictions that typify his writing and continue throughout his stories. In “England, My England”, he writes: 

“But he [Winifred’s husband] would not give himself to what Winifred called life, Work. No, he would not go into the world and work for money. No, he just would not. If Winifred liked to live beyond their small income–well, it was her look-out.” 

Throughout the story Winifred bemoaned that her husband Egbert would not go out and get a job. In spite of this, she also felt: 

“And Winifred did not really want him to go out into the world to work for money. Money became, alas, a word like a firebrand between them, setting them both aflame with anger.” 

The stories get better, and the dialogue and descriptions become racier and less couched in euphemism. The final story, “Fanny and Annie”, deals with a woman returning to her hometown to marry her first love. Fanny no longer loves Harry as passionately as she felt ten years ago, yet is settling for him since she feels she has no better options. Harry, meanwhile, has slept around with the loosest woman in town, Annie. Annie’s mother causes a scandalous scene (in church, no less) where she interrupts the choir and yells out to the entire congregation that Harry has gotten her daughter pregnant and abandoned her. This was a real page-turner and I rushed through the story excitedly. 

Lawrence’s contradictions appear in “Fanny and Annie” as well. While Harry is singing his solo in the choir, his fiancée Fanny thinks: 

“He, it goes without saying, sang like a canary this particular afternoon, with a certain defiant passion which pleasantly crisped the blood of the congregation.” 

and then, in the same paragraph: 

“But, oh, also, it was so repugnant.” 

One of the funniest stories was “Tickets, Please”, where the conductors of a tram-car company, all women, corner the womanizing inspector and beat him up. The inspector had dated and promised the world to all the women in the firm and they beat him into making him select just one of them. 

There are more D. H. Lawrence novels in my library that I want to read but no other short story collections. After England, My England, I will seek them out. Times like this I consider myself fortunate to work in a library.

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