According to Peter Barry’s Beginning Theory of Post-Modernism, ‘Modernism is the name given to the movement which dominated the arts and culture of the first half of the twentieth century’ (Barry, 2002, pg. 81). Some of the characteristics of modernist writing include how we see rather than what we see, Stream-of-Consciousness technique, and a movement away from clear-cut moral positions (Barry, 2002, pg. 82). This can be seen in The White Stocking, where D H Lawrence experiments with structure, technique and morality. In Lawrence’s essay Morality and the Novel, he clearly states ‘Life is so made and that opposites sway about a trembling centre of balance’ (Lawrence, 1979, pg. 176), and this short story explores this. As a true modernist writer, D H Lawrence follows and practices Freudian theories in relation to the “id” and “ego”. This can be seen particularly in the dance sequence, in chapter two of the story, between Elsie and her boss, whereby the sexual chemistry between the pair drives their unconscious desires. Since the story examines the true erotic instinct, there is no clear moral position and this is an example of early modern prose fiction.
One style of modernist writing is that of psychological symbolism and The White Stocking demonstrates this. The stocking itself becomes an emblem of desire, eroticism and an image of virgin white. A stocking is also a very intimate gift and a denotes belonging by Adams and a renewal of courtship. The pearl earrings also denote a sexual imagery with the earring piercing the ear. When Elsie wore them, ‘She was stimulated all the day. She did not think about her husband’ (Lawrence, 1955, pg. 250). The intention with which the gifts are given have worked on Elsie. Lawrence’s use of language with the words black and white further evoke this imagery; Whiston was ‘…black with rage’ (Lawrence, 1955, pg. 258); whereas his ‘…heart was white-hot with love for her’ (Lawrence, 1955, pg. 259). This further emphasises the symbolism and the dark side of their relationship.
The physical attraction Elsie shows towards her boss can be seen in chapter two of the story in the dance sequence. This part of the story is an analepsis and the centre of which the whole story swings on. Lawrence uses the Stream-of-Consciousness technique here and Elsie’s thoughts are exposed, ‘she felt herself slipping away from herself…she would fuse down into perfect unconsciousness at his knees and feet’ (Lawrence, 1955, pg. 254). The sexual tension between them is palpable. The dance sequence can also be connected to Freudian theories of psychoanalysis and the different layers of Elsie’s mind as she is carried away in her subconscious. This relates to the text and subtext in context to Elsie true feelings. She is hiding her inner psyche and not being true to herself. The image of dance is used throughout the story. When Elsie tries the stockings on, she ‘began to dance round the room…in ballet-dancer’s fashion’ (Lawrence, 1955, pg. 261). The dance is also like a mating ritual and Adams is portrayed as animalistic which is in sharp comparison to Whiston, who is appears stiff and ungainly and does not dance.
Social class impacts on Elsie’s desires in that the surface of her feelings is one of simplicity and the powerful undercurrent is a hidden world of lust. The antagonism for Elsie is that the inside of her own mind and desires do not match her social standing and this does not allow her to fulfil herself. Lawrence uses free indirect objective in the story. The omniscient narrator allows us to see all the character’s thoughts and feelings and this change of perspective frames an experience: ‘…the movements of his body and limbs were her own movements- and oh, delicious!’ (Lawrence, 1955, pg. 254). This change allows the narrator to slip in and out of the characters and the reader to experience their thoughts and feelings.
In Michael Black’s DH Lawrence the Early Fiction, he offers that the moral in this story is ‘Whiston’s masculine strength can from now on cradle Elsie’s feminine waywardness and charm even if it has to offer a salutary violence at the right moment’ (Black, 1986, pg. 240). Although Elsie taunts her husband with the gifts and attention from Adams, it is still not a clear-cut moral position, as love is an unharmonious balance and deep down she does love him but he will always have a hold over her.
Barry, P (2002) Beginning Theory- An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Black, M (1986) D.H. Lawrence The Early Fiction. Hampshire: The Macmillan Press Ltd
Lawrence, D. H. (1955) The White Stocking. In The Collected Short Stories Vol 01 (pp244-266) London: Heinemann.
Lawrence, D. H. (1979) Morality and the Novel. In A Selection from Phoenix (pp175- 181) London: Penguin
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