Feminist-Queer-Postmodern Analysis of D.H. Lawrence’s ‘The Fox’

Ahhh finals are over and summer can begin. I seriously plan on shuffling the deck and working on some projects this summer. In the meantime I’m going to further revise some of my papers I turned in this quarter for blog posts and perhaps more as I do summer reading and visits to book clubs.

The later chapters in literary criticism class were fun, and while the readings were dense they were only ten pages. I feel like all my classes have been like FEMINISM-PATRIARCHY-POSTMODERNISM but I feel like now that I’ve been put through a lot of it I can finally get a grasp on these movements, which all seem to lead to something like “oh wait nothing means anything lets start over.”

Like the feedback I got in one class, all my papers could use about two or three more revisions, but I hope you enjoy reading it after one! Click the referral link to the novel as I experiment with Amazon referral links! If you live in Tacoma, you can also probably find a copy at local independent bookseller King’s Books for a cost that’s close to nothing.

the fox

Some would say D.H. Lawrence’s “The Fox” was far ahead of its time of publication in 1923, but while it offers some radical foreshadowing to postmodern thought the novel is still very much an artifact of its time. The nature of the relationships between these three characters is a popular topic scholars have ruminated upon ever since the novel’s publication. As the novel progresses, Lawrence uses imagery comparing the characters to animals. First, there’s Henry, the titular fox, a young man returning from his self-imposed exile to his father’s house to find out that he had died. The house is now in possession of the Banford, the bird. She lives there and sleeps in the same bed with her companion, March, the rabbit. Henry abruptly asks March for her hand in marriage, from which the conflict of the novel extends. Feminists, gender and queer theorists, and postmodernists have a lot to say about roles of genders in relationships, the networks of power at work in them, and finally how contemporary thought might be situated in previous eras. This paper will use a combination of feminism, gender and queer theory, and postmodernism as outlined in the Routledge Companion to Critical Theory as a framework while also looking at what some outside sources associated with these movements might have to say.

Henry might represent the patriarchy that the women in the novel should rise against that comes from the school of feminist theory (92). These women are fearful because society’s gender roles see women as subordinate to men, but over time we’ve seen that foundation revealed as not something so solid. Just like their animal totems don’t necessarily translate outside of this culture, which offer new layers of meaning to those familiar with local English mythology.

These gender roles outlined by feminist thought feed into networks of power in relationships, according to queer theory (104). In the Routledge Companion, Susan Heckmen recalls an empirical study by Carol Gilligan the found that women approach things from a contextual perspective while men use universally applicable concrete thinking. So here we have a solid difference between men and women, even though postmodernism challenges the categories “men” and “women” as mere labels. Clearly March and Banford feel free, for the most part, in questioning traditional gender roles as they live together in solitude in the English countryside. Perhaps March is put off by this risk as shown by the scene in which she relents to Henry and confides to him that she doesn’t see her and Banford as “two old women together.” Psychiatrist Qazi Rahman has offered interesting data-based ideas that reveal “under patriarchy, men may tend to propagate attributions that ensure their control, such as viewing risk-taking as something aberrant to their sex” (4). This might be seen in Henry as he doesn’t seem to have much respect for the relationship between March and Banford. He views their relationship as a risk, a weakness he can exploit.

This might be why Henry thinks he can just swoop in. Michael Squires questions this in his essay titled “Modernism and the Contours of Violence in D. H. Lawrence’s Fiction”. In his analysis of “The Fox,” Squires identifies parallels in the relationships in the novel to “the sweeping dislocations of a world war that hastened the innovations of Modernism” and goes on to describe the war as one of “masked aggression” possibly to mirror the conflict of the relationships in “The Fox” (91). Henry is never quite overt in his pursuits as he skulks and slinks around. He tells March his desire for marriage only in private. It is clear that Henry has a goal in mind and is working hard to achieve it, but hard goals like these are shown to lead to violence according to the postmodernist thought outlined in the Routledge Companion (118).

Henry appears quite aggressive when he proposes marriage, after a long back and forth about the whys and why nots, March eventually agrees. When she does, Henry is described in the story as sitting “silent, unconscious, with all the blood burning in all his veins, like fire in all the branches and twigs of him.” He then asks March to go in, and she “rose without answering.” This bucks with tradition of a mutually beneficial marriage proposal. Henry doesn’t appear to know why he is compelled to marry March. It could have something to do with what Donald Hall says in the Routledge Companion about gender and queer theorist Judith Butler. Butler found traditional heterosexual marriages to be a form of scripted performance set to endlessly repeat but never fully accomplish a singular identity (108). So, a queer theorist would question the inevitability of their marriage, although March seems to take it for granted.

When Henry kills Banford, accidentally or not, no one really questions whether or not March will go with him. Even despite the fact that she resisted the idea in the letter she writes to him. In a review in the Journal of History of Sexuality, Charles Hatten notes that author David Seelow dismisses feminist claims that Lawrence holds “hostility to lesbianism if not to feminine autonomy generally” (168). The review notes that the book holds “The Fox” as a work of radical literature and the author is quoted as referring to Lawrence in “pursuit of a utopian community founded on individual emancipation” (167). Hatten’s review notes that this critique ignores counterevidence; especially considering the story ends with the heterosexual male prevailing and taking a wife in victory after a violent act. However, the fact that the novel depicts such a situation at all is certainly quite ahead of its time. One might wonder if with further research we could find out if this ending was merely something that had to take place considering the cultural norms of the time, which considered same sex relationships quite abhorrent. Perhaps someone of this time might even consider this somewhat of a victory—while someone else would be forced to ponder whether or not this is a tragedy in that March truly belonged to Banford.

This analysis sought to look at “The Fox” through a lens of three contemporary viewpoints: feminism, queer theory, and postmodernism. These views would have interesting thoughts on the ideas of patriarchy, gender roles in relationships as networks of power, and help to see how contemporary thought compares to the time the novel was written in. “The Fox” is before World War II, the characters are living in a modern society although they might not hold modern views. This novel highlights relationships that defy traditional heterosexual ones, and the reader is left wondering if the tale reveals them as good or bad. Which of these relationships was the most stable in the end? Would the characters in this novel act any differently in our own time? Like many of the ruminations that come about through postmodern thought, these are also questions we are unable to answer completely, but what’s important is that we are offered a window in which to see them.

Sources:

Hatten, Charles. “Radical Modernism and Sexuality: Freud, Reich, D. H. Lawrence & Beyond by David Seelow.” Journal of the History of Sexuality. 17.1 (2008): 166-168. Web. 12 Jun. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/30114378&gt;.

Lawrence, D. H., and Dieter Mehl. The fox ; The captain’s doll ; The ladybird. London: Penguin, 2006.

Rahman, Qazi. “Gender Differences, ‘Risk-Taking’ And The Need For Empiricism.” Psychology, Evolution & Gender 2.2 (2000): 151-155. Academic Search Complete. Web. 12 June 2013. <http://offcampus.lib.washington.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=4463848&site=ehost-live&gt;

Squires, Michael. ” Modernism and the Contours of Violence in D. H. Lawrence’s Fiction.” Studies in the Novel. 39.1 (2007): 84-104. Web. 12 Jun. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/29533801&gt;.

Advertisements