I read The Fox by D.H. Lawrence last night for the first time and it confirmed my opinion that when constrained by the short form he was at his best. Give him prating room and he will take it. That mars the end of the novella which up to that was compressed and moved with the internal energy of the story. Then out comes the soap-box. ‘Can you hear me back there, I’ll capitalise so’s you won’t miss the important bits’.
Is the symbolism neon with directional arrows indicating an entrance into a magical playground where the dark forces of illness, repression and dismal Sapphism are defeated by manly health? Of course and no doubt for his red hair and beard D.H. might himself have been nicknamed ‘Foxy’.
We are introduced :"The two girls were usually known by their surnames, Bamford and March.” They are both nearly 30 and it is presumed they will never marry. The year is 1918. Bamford is the sickly one and the principal investor in their small holding. March is robust and practical:
March did most of the outdoor work. When she was out and about, in her puttees and breeches, her belted coat and her loose cap, she looked almost like some graceful, loose-balanced young man, for her shoulders were straight, and her movements easy and confident, even tinged with a little indifference or irony.
Into this menage comes a trois in the form of a fox that is taking their chickens. Somehow he evades their gun:
The fox really exasperated them both. As soon as they had let the fowls out, in the early summer mornings, they had to take their guns and keep guard: and then again as soon as evening began to mellow, they must go once more. And he was so sly. He slid along in the deep grass; he was difficult as a serpent to see. And he seemed to circumvent the girls deliberately. Once or twice March had caught sight of the white tip of his brush, or the ruddy shadow of him in the deep grass, and she had let fire at him. But he made no account of this.
In one of her dreamlike rapt moments the fox appears to March like a spirit animal:
She lowered her eyes, and suddenly saw the fox. He was looking up at her. Her chin was pressed down, and his eyes were looking up. They met her eyes. And he knew her. She was spellbound — she knew he knew her. So he looked into her eyes, and her soul failed her. He knew her, he was not daunted.
Later she goes out to look for the fox:
She took her gun again and went to look for the fox. For he had lifted his eyes upon her, and his knowing look seemed to have entered her brain. She did not so much think of him: she was possessed by him. She saw his dark, shrewd, unabashed eye looking into her, knowing her. She felt him invisibly master her spirit.
Then a young man turns up, a soldier on leave. The fox is in the hen house toorallou. March has a dream:
That night March dreamed vividly. She dreamed she heard a singing outside which she could not understand, a singing that roamed round the house, in the fields, and in the darkness. It moved her so that she felt she must weep. She went out, and suddenly she knew it was the fox singing. He was very yellow and bright, like corn. She went nearer to him, but he ran away and ceased singing. He seemed near, and she wanted to touch him. She stretched out her hand, but suddenly he bit her wrist, and at the same instant, as she drew back, the fox, turning round to bound away, whisked his brush across her face, and it seemed his brush was on fire, for it seared and burned her mouth with a great pain. She awoke with the pain of it, and lay trembling as if she were really seared.
This is a great short read. I forgive him the ending and maybe I’m wrong about it. ‘tinged with a little indifference or irony’. Very fine.