"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, February 3, 2018

A Fox In The Hen House–The Animal Sexual Metaphors Of Lawrence And London

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.
She struggled, confusedly she came to herself, and saw him making off, with slow leaps over some fallen boughs, slow, impudent jumps. Then he glanced over his shoulder, and ran smoothly away. She saw his brush held smooth like a feather, she saw his white buttocks twinkle. And he was gone, softly, soft as the wind.
She put her gun to her shoulder, but even then pursed her mouth, knowing it was nonsense to pretend to fire. So she began to walk slowly after him, in the direction he had gone, slowly, pertinaciously. She expected to find him. In her heart she was determined to find him. What she would do when she saw him again she did not consider. But she was determined to find him. So she walked abstractedly about on the edge of the wood, with wide, vivid dark eyes, and a faint flush in her cheeks. She did not think. In strange mindlessness she walked hither and thither…
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. She knew the way he lowered his chin as he looked up, she knew his muzzle, the golden brown, and the greyish white. And again she saw him glance over his shoulder at her, half inviting, half contemptuous and cunning (The Fox).
Image result for images cover d.h. lawrence book the fox

The sexual metaphor of a fox in the hen house is not new –  cunning male predator, a society of women, sexual flurry, rape, and satisfaction – but for Lawrence there is much more than simple sexual intrusion.  It is a matter of will, dominance, and submission.  March can not only forget the fox, she looks for him. 
March also was not conscious that she thought of the fox. But whenever she fell into her half-musing, when she was half rapt and half intelligently aware of what passed under her vision, then it was the fox which somehow dominated her unconsciousness, possessed the blank half of her musing. And so it was for weeks, and months. No matter whether she had been climbing the trees for the apples, or beating down the last of the damsons, or whether she had been digging out the ditch from the duck-pond, or clearing out the barn, when she had finished, or when she straightened herself, and pushed the wisps of her hair away again from her forehead, and pursed up her mouth again in an odd, screwed fashion, much too old for her years, there was sure to come over her mind the old spell of the fox, as it came when he was looking at her.
It was as if she could smell him at these times. And it always recurred, at unexpected moments, just as she was going to sleep at night, or just as she was pouring the water into the tea-pot to make tea--it was the fox, it came over her like a spell.
So the months passed. She still looked for him unconsciously when she went towards the wood. He had become a settled effect in her spirit, a state permanently established, not continuous, but always recurring. She did not know what she felt or thought: only the state came over her, as when he looked at her.
He is the predatory male, frightening, and completely sexual – an animal with no sense of propriety, no moral code, no social justice, no complex motives or considerations.  Henry wants March only sexually; and she responds.  No man has wanted her with such sexual desire and with such determined, unalloyed will.  Henry is the fox, a male of uncomplicated and simple instincts, without human reserves. 
When you really go out to get a deer, you gather yourself together, you coil yourself inside yourself, and you advance secretly, before dawn, into the mountains. It is not so much what you do, when you go out hunting, as how you feel. You have to be subtle and cunning and absolutely fatally ready. It becomes like a fate. Your own fate overtakes and determines the fate of the deer you are hunting. First of all, even before you come in sight of your quarry, there is a strange battle, like mesmerism.
Your own soul, as a hunter, has gone out to fasten on the soul of the deer, even before you see any deer. And the soul of the deer fights to escape. Even before the deer has any wind of you, it is so. It is a subtle, profound battle of wills which takes place in the invisible. And it is a battle never finished till your bullet goes home.
When you are really worked up to the true pitch, and you come at last into range, you don't then aim as you do when you are firing at a bottle. It is your own will which carries the bullet into the heart of your quarry. The bullet's flight home is a sheer projection of your own fate into the fate of the deer. It happens like a supreme wish, a supreme act of volition, not as a dodge of cleverness.
The sexual metaphor of the bullet going home after the hunt is not new, but Lawrence again adds the dimension of will.  Male and female will always struggle to assert their will and to dominate.  Gender itself has nothing to due with sexual victory; and Lawrence is neither feminist nor chauvinist.  He, like Albee in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, takes no sides; but only comments on the inescapable willful, sexual combat which will always occur between men and women.

True intimacy can only result with its settling.  There is no winning or losing – no victory for patriarchy, misogyny, or male supremacy or for the castrating female; only a sexual equilibrium. The  male must be a fox, a hunter, an unstoppable animal force; and the female must be receptive to his advances. Yet a willing submission has nothing to do with capitulation or subservience.   It is the end game of sexual combat when male pursuit is balanced by female receptiveness – when the particular sexual configuration between male and female is agreed upon.

Image result for images cover play who's afraid virginia woolf

Doris Lessing wrote:
This animal obsesses March, the stronger of the two women. From the first, this beast is more than itself. "For he had lifted his eyes upon her and his knowing look entered her brain. She did not so much think of him: she was possessed by him." The biblical echoes here are part of the spell: the fox again and again "came over her like a spell".
Strongly set as this tale is in its social place, we have left realism behind. So it always is with Lawrence's animals. His feeling for them, or with them, is much more than anthropomorphism or the sentimentality these islands are sometimes accused of. The fox is representative of some force or power, alien, inhuman, other, part of all old world, inaccessible to humans. Except of course through intermediaries, like Lawrence, whom it is easy to see in a line of descent from the old shamans, whose knowledge of animals was a reaching out to other dimensions. This fox is demonic. "She felt him invisibly master her spirit."
March sees Henry, the soldier returning from the war as the fox, the intruder.
March sees him as the fox. She dreams of singing outside the house, which she cannot understand and made her want to weep. She knew it was the fox singing, but when she went to touch he bit her wrist, and whisked his brush across her face, and it seemed this fiery brush was on fire because it burnt her mouth. Any old magical man or woman would have recognized this dream's fear, and power, and warnings, and its deep attraction for the forbidden.
What is forbidden is man, is men, the masculine.
Henry, like the fox, upsets the brood.  He sees the prey he wants and cares nothing for the rest of the flock.
So, one thieving fox is dead, but the human fox is alive and determined to have March. He began by coveting the little farm, but now it is the woman he wants. He is in a contest with Banford, and for a while this battle dominates the tale, and March, the contested one, is almost an onlooker. The young man detests Banford. This is a power struggle, naked and cold, like the one between the human world and the fox, ending in its death. There has to be a victim. Banford is a frail thing, dependent on March, and it is clear she will do badly without her.
Lessing concludes:
But what do we care about his pronouncements on the sex war? What stays in my mind is the entranced woman, wandering about her little farm in the darkness watching for her enemy the fox, for the white tip on his fiery brush, the ruddy shadow of him in the deep grass, then the struggle to the death between the two women and the young soldier, the long cold evenings of that winter after the war where they watch each other in the firelight. "A subtle and profound battle of wills taking place in the invisible," he says.
Jack London’s The Call of the Wild is another parable of male will and authority.  Buck is the uber-male - wild, untamed, ferocious, indomitable and dominant – while men have been corralled, harnessed, stabled, and shod. While London said that he did not set out to write a parable and comment on the human condition, he admitted that the parallels were clear.  The story of Buck is nothing if not the embodiment of the American dream, escaping from the entangling complexity of modern life to an unencumbered natural state; and the male sexual dream of uninhibited sexual victory.

Image result for images cover the call of the wild

More important are the influences of Darwin and Nietzsche.  Buck is an animal Superman whose indomitable will, rejection of good and evil and the morality of the Southland enable him to rule the North.  His slaughter of the Yeehats is not just retribution and revenge, but a brutal, willful savagery and the final portal to the wild.  Buck is also a perfect example of Darwinian evolution and the survival of the fittest.  Buck combines both evolutionary superiority and the unique character of animal will.

There is something even more compelling about the story of Buck – his aggressiveness, and male dominance.  There is a completeness and perfection in the male character of Buck – he has no feminine side – and his will is male, one unmistakably virile, potent, and forceful.  While many men may publicly disavow any such characteristics as primitive evolutionary throwbacks, privately they feel that they have capitulated their maleness, accommodated women far too much, and become neutered.  It is one thing to support women’s equality of opportunity and enterprise, another thing to feel emasculated by their insistent claims of emotional and intellectual superiority.

Both Lawrence and London have their feminist critics who see in both a rude chauvinism couched in Tantric and Nietzschean ethos.  Their characters are little more than cutout figures, acting out Victorian male fantasies; and their use of animal metaphors reeks of social Darwinism at its worst.

More careful readers, however, realize that Lawrence was anything but a misogynist, and that his claims to distinct, biological, incontrovertible male and female sexual natures are consistent with social and biological history.  His focus on will has nothing to do with male aggression and abuse, but the natural, common, and inevitable struggle between two different sexual species.  His conclusion that the most complete union of male and female results from an equilibrium of wills, and acceptance of male and female imperatives makes ultimate sense.  His metaphors are recognizable.

Jack London was conclusive about human will and the fundamentally animal nature in all of us.  There was no doubt that Buck was a male, that his will derived from his maleness, and that his actions were consistent with his nature; and there was no doubt in London’s mind that human males have the same predatory, defensive, and aggressive instinct.

Yet London was not the patriarchal misogynist, Victorian throwback, and primitive male of which he has been accused.  He like Lawrence understood the principle of sexual complementarity, a state which never just happens but is the result of a concerted battle of wills.

London and Lawrence were sexual realists who could not ignore gender determinism.  Their earlier counterparts Ibsen and Strindberg were no different.  Hedda Gabler, Rebekka West, and Hilde Wangel are willful women for whom sex is an after thought and female dominance uppermost.  Laura, the Captain’s wife and Miss Julie, both understand how to bring men to heel and have the will do do so; and there is far less sexual subtlety in these writers than in Lawrence.

In an age of gender spectrum, it is important to read these authors who refused to ignore sexual determinism and understood how accommodation can only result from battle.

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