Although “Love among the Haystacks” was published posthumously in November 1930, two letters date its composition between July 30, 1908, and November 7, 1911. In the first letter, D. H. Lawrence writes at length to Blanche Jennings about his fortnight’s work at the hay harvest in Greasley (Letters, 21–26). In the second, he describes “a rather ripping long short story” (Letters, 85) to Edward Garnett, which has been identified as “Love among the Haystacks.” However, the similarities between the story’s diction—for example, the description of the “large lime tree,” which “teemed with scent that seemed almost like a voice speaking” (Letters, 104)—and that of the letter to Jennings, describing the “big lime trees, murmuring and full of the scent of nectar” (Letters, 23–24), suggest that the story was written closer to July 1908 than to November 1911.
Like much of Lawrence’s writing, the story is based on people and places known by him and is semiautobiographical. The Wookey family are a characterization of the Chambers family, with whom Lawrence was intimately connected through his relationship with Jessie Chambers. Their realistic rather than sentimental presentation is given in the dialectal forms of their dialogue. They are portrayed again as the Saxton family in The White Peacock and as the Leivers family in Sons and Lovers. Likewise, Greasley, the setting for the story, retains its proper name and landmarks, such as the vicarage mentioned in the letter, whereas in the novels that share its Nottinghamshire setting, real locations are described under allusive names, such as the fictionalization of the Chamberses’ Felley Mill Farm as Strelley Mill in The White Peacock and Lawrence’s birthplace, Eastwood, as Bestwood in Sons and Lovers.
Another common factor between “Love among the Haystacks” and these two early novels is their opening paragraphs, in which the narrative moves from a panoramic view of the landscape to characters’ perceptions of it. By contrasting different perspectives of the landscape, such as Maurice’s immediate, exclusive view of the haystack versus Geoffrey’s speculative “large view” (88) of the countryside from it, Lawrence develops a method of characterization that he applies to subsequent novels, notably the opening of The Rainbow, in which inward- and outward-looking views of the known world are used to distinguish between the male and female members of the Brangwen family, respectively. Views of the landscape, such as Maurice’s perception of the colliery’s “elfish” lights, the iron-foundry’s “red-flare,” and the “dim breathing of town-lights” (106), also reflect Lawrence’s anxiety about England’s ecological destruction at the hands of its mechanized, urban society.
The plot centers on the sibling rivalry between Maurice and Geoffrey Wookey and their respective sexual initiations the night after the hay harvest. The language of the consummations is handled with the delicate metaphorical suggestion characteristic of Lawrence’s early writing. Indeed, the story is drawn upon again in The Rainbow as Will and Anna “consummate” their love after making a new “stook” one night during the corn harvest. “Love among the Haystacks” is typical of the early fiction in that for both brothers “the whole feminine sex ha[s] been represented by their mother” (89), and the story tells how such oedipal bonds are broken. In so doing it explores how lovers subvert and are constrained by social taboos, as in Maurice’s engagement to Paula, a Polish refugee. Himself a traveler and outsider for most of his life, Lawrence gives sympathetic treatment to characters like Paula and Lydia, who is trapped in a loveless marriage to a gypsy. Such themes continue to be explored in later stories. “Love among the Haystacks” demonstrates Lawrence’s imaginative attachment to his experiences in the countryside of his youth and the importance of the short story to him as a document thereof. Moreover, it exemplifies his use of the short story both as an aesthetic form in its own right and as a sketchbook for descriptions and characterizations that appear in his work in other genres.
Kearney, Martin F. Major Short Stories of D. H. Lawrence: A Handbook. New York: Garland, 1998.
Lawrence, D. H. Letters of D. H. Lawrence. Vol. 1: 1901– 1913. Edited by James T. Boulton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979.
———. Love among the Haystacks and Other Stories. Edited by John Worthen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.
Categories: British Literature, Literature, Short Story
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