Analysis of D. H. Lawrence’s The Prussian Officer and Other Stories

The publication by Duckworth of D. H. Lawrence’s first volume of short stories on November 26, 1914, collected writing from as early as 1907. Except for the unpublished Daughters of the Vicar, the book was compiled from work that had previously appeared in journals such as Katherine Mansfield’s Blue Review, Austin Harrison’s English Review, and Ezra Pound’s Smart Set. “A Fragment of Stained Glass” (formerly titled “Ruby Glass”) and “The White Stocking” represent revised versions of two of the stories Lawrence submitted under pseudonyms to the Nottinghamshire Guardian’s 1907 Christmas competition. “A Prelude,” the third story and the winning entry in the Guardian’s “Most Enjoyable Christmas” category, was published under the name of Jessie Chambers (Lawrence’s then lover) but, like stories such as “Love Among the Haystacks,” was omitted from The Prussian Officer. Indeed, Lawrence extensively revised all of the included stories before their collection. As he wrote to Edward Marsh in July 1914, “Lord, how I’ve worked again at those stories—most of them—forging them up” (Letters, 287).

However, Lawrence’s hand was not the only one to shape the collection. Duckworth’s editor, Edward Garnett, was responsible for its title and for rearranging the stories into an order different from that given by Lawrence. In July, Lawrence had suggested that the projected title of the volume change from The Goose Fair to The Thorn in the Flesh, and in October 1914 he proposed The Fighting Line as a title to Garnett: “After all” he wrote, “this is the real fighting line, not where soldiers pull triggers” (Letters, 292). In reply, Garnett told Lawrence that it would be titled The Prussian Officer, an amendment that caused Lawrence to write in a letter to his literary agent, J. B. Pinker, that “Garnett was a devil to call my book of stories The Prussian Officer,” (Letters, 296).

A letter to Garnett dates the composition of the volume’s title story in early June 1913. Lawrence considered “The Prussian Officer,” originally titled “Honour and Arms,” “the best short story I have ever done” (Letters, 209). Like “The Thorn in the Flesh,” the story tells of a German soldier, Bachmann, who deserts the army during World War I in order to escape the violence exacted on him by his superiors. Other characters in the collection, such as Elsie Whiston in her affair with Sam Adams in “The White Stocking” or Louisa Lindley in her engagement to Alfred Durant despite the protestations of her family in Daughters of the Vicar, escape social conventions in order to live. The influence of Lawrence’s Study of Thomas Hardy (begun in the summer of 1914) can be detected. Like Thomas Hardy’s characters, Lawrence’s characters’ tragedy is that despite their escape they die either from their “own lack of strength to bear the isolation and the exposure, or by direct revenge from the community, or from both” (Phoenix, 411): The orderly dies, Bachmann is arrested, Elsie’s husband strangles her to make her give up Sam, and Louisa and Alfred are obliged to emigrate to Canada. Be it battlefield violence or domestic violence, the emotional and physical damage is plain. In “The Shadow in the Rose Garden” the title character is the former lover of a woman who discovers him as a lunatic; the war has made him a shadow of his former self. Although critics responded to these stories as “morbid,” “brutal,” and “depressing,” scenes such as Bachmann and Emilie’s lovemaking the night before he is recaptured show human beings alive and living in such a way as they ask. As Lawrence argued in Study of Thomas Hardy, “What does money, power, or public approval matter? All that matters is that each human being shall be in his own fullness” (Phoenix, 406).

Money matters were, however, influential in the creation of the volume itself. Since Lawrence was impelled to write professionally—as he wrote in a letter, “I’ve got to earn my living by prose” (Letters, 231)—placing short stories in magazines rather than writing novels, whose publication process was lengthier, offered a more stable income. “A Sick Collier,” which appeared in The Prussian Officer, is one of four “journalistic” pieces engaging with the miner’s strike at the end of February 1912. The strike began at Alfreton pit, not far from Lawrence’s birthplace, Eastwood, when the miners demanded a minimum wage. Both the location and the cause were dear to Lawrence. Indeed, possible methods of political change and social reconstruction are proposed throughout his work. “The Christening” and “Odour of Chrysanthemums” are also based on mining families. The latter was printed in the English Review in June 1911 but dates in composition from 1909. Its description of the miner Rigley’s scar, “caused by a wound got in the pit, a wound in which the coaldust remained blue like tattooing” (189), is copied almost verbatim in the description of Walter Morel’s “blue scars, like tattoo marks, where the coal-dust remained under the skin” (235) in Sons and Lovers, and it illustrates one of The Prussian Officer’s many intertextual relationships.

In January 1914, Lawrence wrote to Edward Garnett telling him that he was “going through a transition phase” (Letters, 263). The Prussian Officer stories are documents of Lawrence’s earliest writing, and their revision and collection are testimony to his development and transition as a writer. Their themes are perennial in his oeuvre and are often reworked in his later writing; in particular, the love triangle among a gamekeeper, his betrothed, and her former lover in “Shades of Spring” became the central conflict in Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

Analysis of D. H. Lawrence’s Novels

Cushman, Keith. D. H. Lawrence at Work: The Emergence of the Prussian Officer Stories. Hassocks: Harvester, 1978.
Kearney, Martin F. Major Short Stories of D. H. Lawrence: A Handbook. London: Garland, 1998.
Lawrence, D. H. Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D. H. Lawrence. Edited by Edward D. McDonald. London: Heinemann, 1936.
———. The Collected Letters of D. H. Lawrence. Edited and with an introduction by Harry T. Moore. 2 vols. London: Heinemann, 1962.
———. The Prussian Offi

The Prussian Officer and Other Stories
Book by D. H. Lawrence

cer and Other Stories. Edited by John Worthen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Categories: British Literature, Literature, Short Story

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