Here’s a devastating example of character assassination by DH Lawrence ! It is somewhat suggestive of the playful opening to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but without the irony which defines Austen’s writing. In Lawrence the concerns are explicitly desperate and barely conceal loathing and hatred. Relationships are cynically pragmatic, awkwardly underpinned by fear.
This description of the new vicar, in DH Lawrence’s claustrophobic early story The Daughters of the Vicar, dissects the ostensible ‘man of God’ through a relentless, scalpel like description which renders the new vicar, both physically and spiritually repulsive: casually summarized in the creepily evocative verb ‘padded.’ Vitriol is here muted into the inferred softness of the ‘padded’ movement of the new vicar, which augurs not so much care as unmanly stealth.
DHLawrence loathed effete males, rather ironically perhaps, considering his own intellectualism and comparative ‘weakness’ in terms of masculinity. The males whom Lawrence enjoyed were strong working men, possessed of a primitive natural sexuality which challenged the emasculated diluted males of modern civilization.
The description also captures the unreality of the vicar, his disassociation, even his superciliousness which attempt to ‘defend’ him against his ‘insufficiency’. Each reflection exposes yet another ‘slice’ of the Vicar’s temperament, as Lawrence’s scalpel goes to the core of his character’s cold rigid heart.
Reminds me of George Eliot’s Casaubon in Middlemarch and just as repulsive! Both the vicar and Casaubon are arid human beings with zero erotic appeal and no warmth; marital quagmires!
Lawrence returned to this early story later in his writing career and produced one of his greatest works, The Virgin and the Gypsy whose origins can be detected in this earlier tale.
Still, at the back of her mind, she remembered that he was an unattached gentleman, who would shortly have an income altogether of six or seven hundred a year. What did the man matter, if there were pecuniary ease! The man was a trifle thrown in. After twenty-two years her sentimentality was ground away, and only the millstone of poverty mattered to her. So she supported the little man as a representative of a decent income.
His most irritating habit was that of a sneering little giggle, all on his own, which came when he perceived or related some illogical absurdity on the part of another person. It was the only form of humour he had. Stupidity in thinking seemed to him exquisitely funny. But any novel was unintelligibly meaningless and dull, and to an Irish sort of humour he listened curiously, examining it like mathematics, or else simply not hearing. In normal human relationship he was not there. Quite unable to take part in simple everyday talk, he padded silently round the house, or sat in the dining-room looking nervously from side to side, always apart in a cold, rarefied little world of his own. Sometimes he made an ironic remark, that did not seem humanly relevant, or he gave his little laugh, like a sneer. He had to defend himself and his own insufficiency. And he answered questions grudgingly, with a yes or no, because he did not see their import and was nervous. It seemed to Miss Louisa he scarcely distinguished one person from another, but that he liked to be near her, or to Miss Mary, for some sort of contact which stimulated him unknown.
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