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England, My England


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:
Coming up tomorrow: Freedom at Midnight


Comments

  1. Accepting and adapting to the changes around you is what keeps you going.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Of course, one can't go on clinging to the past forever.

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  2. Leaning heavily on past has no wisdom in the fast changing world. Some classics still remain so relevant is what makes me wonder. May be the human nature has not seen any revolution and has remained the same basic as it was for centuries together.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Classics will continue to remain because basic human values such as love and compassion, liberty and equality won't change.

      Delete
  3. 'In the end I am just another you and you are just another me.' Ultimately, there's little difference among all the land and their boundaries. The lesson given by Lawrence can also be applied to human relationships. What is today is the reality, and we must confront it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Human nature is the same whether we live on this side of the national border or that side. Peripherals may differ, that's all.

      Delete
  4. The fact be it a country or an individual it is foolish to cling to the past. One has to change with the times. This is something I feel deeply about especially when some of our politicians or even my friends lecture me on what a glorious past India had. It is the here and now that matters.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The world has changed so much that it is absolutely futile to cling to some ancient glory and boast about it. I stick to the here and now too. What else matters unless we are able to see the future?

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  5. Such an emphatic statement - the distinction between Pakistan and India!! Nice one )

    ReplyDelete
  6. great to meet the old bloggers through the challenge again. Nice read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. True. I too found some old friends after a while.

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  7. Wow, I totally resonate with this. Past glory is good only if it inspires you to achieve something bigger. Alas, mostly people use it as a cheap tool to feel good about oneself.

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  8. He dies at the end. Sad :(
    I like his description about the difference between the English & Germans. How true!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This series of mine began with Shaw's Arms and the Man, a very similar theme.

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  9. Look back to the past, live in the present to shape a better future. Sir, you continue to marvel with your razor sharp thoughts

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  10. To live on past glories is to live in a fool's paradise. Lessons drawn are always cyclical.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I think we all need to accept the inevitability of change.
    With time, comes change.
    Everything has changed over the years, and everything will change over the years.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Change is the only thing that doesn't change. Getting stuck is a real problem.

      Delete
  12. Bushra allaboutthewomanApril 6, 2020 at 11:31 PM

    I think we should ready to transform ourselves whatever the situation is

    ReplyDelete

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