The distinction between two countries, say like India and Pakistan, is not the distinction between good and bad. It is the distinction between pink lotus flowers and white jasmine flowers: just a difference. “The difference between the wild boar and the wild bear,” as Egbert would say.
Egbert is the protagonist of D H Lawrence’s short story (a rather long one, in fact), England, My England. Egbert is a man of raw passion. He has a primeval spirit which loves the countryside with its “tufts of flowers, purple and white columbines, and great Oriental red poppies…” and patches of savage areas too like the “marshy, snake-infested places.” He is delighted to marry Winifred who is not only “young and beautiful and strong with life, like a flame in sunshine” but also has a timbered cottage in Hampshire gifted by her father, Godfrey Marshall.
Egbert makes passionate love with Winifred who “seemed to come out of the old England, ruddy, strong, with a certain crude, passionate quiescence, and a hawthorn robustness.” Godfrey Marshall loves the passion of this young couple.
With the birth of their first daughter, Joyce, Winifred’s passion takes a change in direction. She is now a mother more than a wife. Joyce become the centre of her life. Egbert too loves Joyce with all his heart. But his essential nature does not change. He is what Lawrence calls “a born amateur”. He can never get into the depth of anything in spite of his readiness to work hard. He works hard indeed but achieves very little. He is very handsome, the kind of a young man that women will adore. “Adorable and null,” as Lawrence puts it.
There is nothing seriously wrong with Egbert except that he is “null”. There’s nothing in him that Winifred can now like. You can’t go on liking good looks for ever. Even a waster would be better than Egbert, Winifred thinks. “A waster stands for something.” He is pitting himself against something in the society that he finds detestable. “What are you to do with a man like Egbert?” Winifred asks. “He had no vices.”
The inevitable rift creeps in between Winifred and Egbert though they have three children now all of whom are adorable little creatures. When Joyce falls on a sickle by accident – caused by Egbert’s carelessness – and hurts her knee badly, the family shifts to London where Godfrey Marshall provides them with a flat. Godfrey has been very generous to this family. In fact, they have been living with the money he provided as Egbert earned very little.
Egbert’s solution to the sudden emptiness that stares at him starkly is to join the British army. Since the First World War is going on, he is enlisted. He doesn’t like the job, however. He can only do it as a duty, as a drifter. He doesn’t think of the Germans as his enemies. The distinction between German and English is for him “the distinction between blue water-flowers and red or white bush-blossoms.” He would love to return to the pristine savagery of England. That is not possible, however. You can’t live a romantic life forever. You have to catch firmly the reality and its pains or else the reality will catch up with you. The war puts an end to Egbert’s romance once and for all.
Egbert dies for his country. But his death is quite futile as far as his view of life is concerned. What he wanted was a different England, an impossible England, an England that has not undergone changes like the Industrial Revolution. The pristineness he yearns for isn’t possible anymore. His raw passion with all its animal innocence is not worth anything in the world available to him. He has to change. If he can’t, then the world will change him. Or it will kill him. It does.
Clinging to certain historical myths and symbols is a kind of childish romance. India, my India, does not lie in its ancient history, however great it might have been. India is no more what it was once upon a time. India is what it is today. We need to confront that reality and deal with that. That’s the lesson from Lawrence’s England, My England offers.
PS. This is part of a series being written for the #BlogchatterA2Z Challenge. The previous parts are:
3. The Castle
Coming up tomorrow: Freedom at Midnight