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Focusing on three relationships - one destructively stillborn, one disastrously unfulfilling and one passionately unspoken - Lawrence exploits the language and conventions of the rural tradition to foreground man’s alienation from the natural world. His evocation of the vanishing countryside of the English midlands, as soon through the eyes of the effete Cyril Beardsall, is both vivid and arresting, and as the novel draws towards its tragic conclusion Lawrence handles his themes with an increasingly visionary power. The White Peacock is both a fascinating precursor of the more famous novels to come and a moving and challenging book in its own right. underrated novel, and shows how Lawrence was already breaking the mould of English fiction.
I stood watching the shadowy fish slide through the gloom of the mill-pond. They were grey, descendants of the silvery things that had darted away from the monks, in the young days when the valley was lusty. The whole place was gathered in the musing of old age. The thick-piled trees on the far shore were too dark and sober to dally with the sun; the weeds stood crowded and motionless. Not even a little wind flickered the willows of the islets. The water lay softly, intensely still. Only the thin stream falling through the mill-race murmured to itself of the tumult of life which had once quickened the valley.
I was almost startled into the water from my perch on the alder roots by a voice saying:
“Well, what is there to look at?” My friend was a young farmer, stoutly built, brown eyed, with a naturally fair skin burned dark and freckled in patches. He laughed, seeing me start, and looked down at me with lazy curiosity.
“I was thinking the place seemed old, brooding over its past.”
He looked at me with a lazy indulgent smile, and lay down on his back on the bank, saying: “It’s all right for a doss—here.”
“Your life is nothing else but a doss. I shall laugh when somebody jerks you awake,” I replied.
He smiled comfortably and put his hands over his eyes because of the light.
“Why shall you laugh?” he drawled.
“Because you’ll be amusing,” said I.
We were silent for a long time, when he rolled over and began to poke with his finger in the bank.
“I thought,” he said in his leisurely fashion, “there was some cause for all this buzzing.”
I looked, and saw that he had poked out an old, papery nest of those pretty field bees which seem to have dipped their tails into bright amber dust. Some agitated insects ran round the cluster of eggs, most of which were empty now, the crowns gone; a few young bees staggered about in uncertain flight before they could gather power to wing away in a strong course. He watched the little ones that ran in and out among the shadows of the grass, hither and thither in consternation.
“Come here—come here!” he said, imprisoning one poor little bee under a grass stalk, while with another stalk he loosened the folded blue wings.
“Don’t tease the little beggar,” I said.
“It doesn’t hurt him—I wanted to see if it was because he couldn’t spread his wings that he couldn’t fly. There he goes—no, he doesn’t. Let’s try another.”
“Leave them alone,” said I. “Let them run in the sun. They’re only just out of the shells. Don’t torment them into flight.”
He persisted, however, and broke the wing of the next.
“Oh, dear—pity!” said he, and he crushed the little thing between his fingers. Then he examined the eggs, and pulled out some silk from round the dead larva, and investigated it all in a desultory manner, asking of me all I knew about the insects. When he had finished he flung the clustered eggs into the water and rose, pulling out his watch from the depth of his breeches’ pocket.
“I thought it was about dinner-time,” said he, smiling at me. “I always know when it’s about twelve. Are you coming in?”
“I’m coming down at any rate,” said I as we passed along the pond bank, and over the plank-bridge that crossed the brow of the falling sluice. The bankside where the grey orchard twisted its trees, was a steep declivity, long and sharp, dropping down to the garden.
The stones of the large house were burdened with ivy and honey-suckle, and the great lilac-bush that had once guarded the porch now almost blocked the doorway. We passed out of the front garden into the farm-yard, and walked along the brick path to the back door.
“Shut the gate, will you?” he said to me over his shoulder, as he passed on first.
We went through the large scullery into the kitchen. The servant-girl was just hurriedly snatching the table-cloth out of the table drawer, and his mother, a quaint little woman with big, brown eyes, was hovering round the wide fireplace with a fork.
“Dinner not ready?” said he with a shade of resentment.
“No, George,” replied his mother apologetically, “it isn’t. The fire wouldn’t burn a bit. You shall have it in a few minutes, though.”
He dropped on the sofa and began to read a novel. I wanted to go, but his mother insisted on my staying.
“Don’t go,” she pleaded.