The Fox by D.H. Lawrence

The Fox is #724 on the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list. See the whole list and my progress here. This summer, I’m reading from the list for my 20 Books of Summer challenge, and instead of straight reviews, I’m going to compare the 1,001 Books write ups with my own impressions.

The Fox is a borderline novella, 86 pages in my wide-margined and illustrated edition. The 1,001 Books write-up begins by contrasting the length of this book with Lawrence’s major works, calling it “too brief and too self-contained” to include much more than plot. I can’t argue that it’s brief, though I would argue that there’s plenty of the “symbolism and mysticism” the reviewer found lacking, right where you’d expect it – the titular fox, who poaches chickens from two women running a small farm, is transposed onto the returning WWI solider who disrupts their solitary life:

“But to March he was the fox. Whether is was the thrusting forward of his head, or the glisten of the fine whitish hairs on the ruddy cheek-bones, or the bright, keen eyes, that can never be said: but the boy was to her the fox, and she could not see him otherwise.”

The Fox by D.H. Lawrence

This turned out to be the least of my quibbles. In describing the outcome of the young man’s intrusion (spoiler alert), the reviewer says that “ultimately female friendship is defeated”. I’m still trying to figure out how two women who live together, and share a bedroom, and are completely destabilized by the man’s determined pursuit of March, are “friends”; or how Banford’s words, that she “shall never know a moment’s peace again while I live, nor a moment’s happiness” if March accepts him, and how March’s words, in an attempt to reject him, “when I am alone with Jill (Banford) I seem to come to my own senses… I love Jill and she makes me feel safe and sane” are the words of “friends”.

And of course, this “friendship” is only “defeated” when (spoiler alert!!) the man murders one of the women.

I wondered if I was imagining the lesbian relationship at the centre of this novella. Have I just read too many Emma Donoghue and Sarah Waters novels?

Emma Donoghue turned out to be the key. In browsing book blogs that mention The Fox, I came across a review of Donoghue’s 2006 history of “desire between women in literature”, Inseparable, in which she examines The Fox as an example of rivalry, in which a man threatens a relationship between women, and as an example of domesticity in lesbian relationships, rare enough, as women weren’t often able to live together in the early 20th century:

When a female couple does find a home, destruction is rarely far behind: it is as if the hubris of claiming a permanent site for love brings on nemesis.

Inseparable by Emma Donoghue

Donoghue’s book is fascinating, and offers a much richer way to look at The Fox and other post-WWI novels, many of which are steeped in anxiety about how all these unmarried women would live in a world with so few young men to marry. Inseparable also examines other rivalries that threaten lesbian relationships, going back as far as Clarrisa and Dangerous Liaisons, and in other chapters, themes as varied as cross dressing, monsters, romantic friendship, and criminals. Highly recommended!

1,001 Books finishes its brief examination of The Fox by characterizing the book as having a sense of “freedom and joyfulness”. The death of one lover, and the bleak future of the other as an unhappy wife and homesteader seems anything by free and joyful. The triumphant man/fox even admits that he “should have left Banford and March to kill one another”.

“The book may be brief, but it is beautiful”, the closing line of the 1,001 Books summary, may be the only point on which we agree!

The full 1,001 Books write up, for your reading pleasure. Contributor is Dr. Patricia McManus.

5 comments

  1. annelogan17

    I hate to sound like that person, but as soon as I started reading your review I thought “yup, definitely lesbians”. And I don’t even read that much Emma Donoghue!

  2. Pingback: 20 Books of Summer 2021 | Reading in Bed
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