Short Story Spotlight: "The Princess" by D.H. Lawrence

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ah, Mr. Lawrence. We meet at last. D.H. Lawrence is another of those writers that I am afraid of (along with James Joyce, William Faulkner, Salman Rushdie, and others), and so today, with no other ideas for my Short Story Spotlight, I decided to dive into one of his stories. Wikipedia told me "The Princess" was one of the most famous, so I selected it for my first exposure to Lawrence.

What I got from it? A whole bunch of weird paralleled with a little bit of beauty. Actually, to be honest, I can see why Lawrence is acclaimed. The story is compelling, well-crafted, and tight - my own term for having no loose ends and multiple themes woven together. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

(Spoilers in this summary, if spoilers are a problem for short stories). Essentially, the Princess is the daughter of an eccentric Celtic man. Her mother dies when she is very young, and her father brings her up to believe that something in her core essence, what he calls her "demon," is royal and different from the demons of other people. This is reflected in her behavior and character, and she often repels people with her differentness. She is referred to constantly as cold, virginal, and a changeling. However, after her father's death, she starts to wonder about the world. She thinks she wants to get married and goes to a ranch in New Mexico where she meets a Mexican tour guide. She feels a kinship with him, an "inter-recognition." She convinces him to take her to a cottage in the woods where she can see wild animals, and then, rather uncertainly, seduces him. He then considers himself owner of her and assaults her several times, and her feelings of kinship with him disintegrate into anger at any one asserting ownership over her. Eventually she is rescued, Romero is shot, and she represses the memory, eventually marrying an older man.

I was very uncertain of what to expect from this story. I'd never heard of it, and at first it had the quality of a fairy tale, describing the devoted and somewhat mystical companionship between the Princess and her father. Then it seemed to shift into a romance, describing the kinship between the Princess and Romero. Despite the descriptions of the darkness of Romero's aspect, describing him as obsessed with death and "a dark beam of light," (an interesting phrase), this still seemed somewhat innocent to me, and I thought it had the chance of thawing the Princess's icy love life. Then it becomes dark and like a nightmare. Lawrence definitely took me on a path I wasn't expecting.

I have two things to say about the writing itself. I'll give you the negative comment first, because it's always nice to have a sweet taste in your mouth at the end of a paragraph. Fragments are one of my pet peeves. I know that masters don't have to follow the rules. However, it still irritates me. On the other hand, the writing is crystal-clear and gorgeous. I could see everything in the story as if there was a photograph in front of me, and the Princess's unique and cold personality was also rendered in such a manner as to make her vivid, despite the fact that I've never met anyone like her before. "As a small child, something crystallised in her character, making her clear and finished, and as impervious as crystal." Something about that sentence it pitch-perfect. I'm not a master like Lawrence, so I can't quite put words to it. But you see what I mean, right?

I am not a literature major or very experienced in literary theory, having taken only one class on it. However, here is my overall feeling from the story: Because the Princess was raised to be different, because she spent her entire life cultivating her peculiar, individual "demon" and believing that no one else could penetrate the ice around her heart, it became reality. Even when her father passed away and she longed for someone in her life, for love, she couldn't accept anyone, even if their "demon" had a similarity with her own. When she attempted it, it turned into a nightmare, because it was anathema to the reality she created for herself. The experience was so opposed to her conception of reality that she had to repress it, and in the end married an elderly man because she had some sort of Electra complex, having only been able to experience fulfilling companionship with her father before he died.

If you have studied or have insights into the story, I'd love to hear them! While I don't believe that literary theory is essential to enjoy literature or legitimately discuss it, I am always open to learning other people's opinions and views. I'm glad I chose a short story to dive into on my first attempt with Lawrence, and hope to eventually get into a novel.


  1. I've read Lady Chatterley's Lover and really liked it. Never a short story by Lawrence, though... :-)

  2. So this definitely makes me want to read DH Lawrence more. I have Lady Chatterley's Lover on my shelf, just haven't picked it up yet. Maybe I'll ease myself in with one of his short stories! Good thinking :-)

  3. @Jillian - I am trying to decide if I want to read Lady Chatterley's Lover. I get kind of bothered by really sexual books, but I've heard such great things about it that I'm not sure if I'll ever look into it or not.

    @Sarah - I need to read more of his short stories! I'm unsure if I am ever going to read Lady Chatterley's lover but he definitely has an interesting style.


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