Odour of Chrysanthemums Summary by D. H. Lawrence
An Introductory Note:
“Odour of Chrysanthemums” is a short story by D. H. Lawrence. It was written in the autumn of 1909 and after revision, was published in The English Review in July 1911. Lawrence later included this tale in his collection entitled The Prussian Officer and Other Stories, which Duckworth, his London publisher, bought out on 26 November 1914. An American edition was produced by B W Huebsch in 1916. Lawrence later adapted the story into a play, The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd.
The story presents the life experiences of a small family, living in a mining region. Walter Bates is a drunken collier and he lives with his wife, Elizabeth Bates. They have their children, John and Annie with them, along with Bates’ mother and father. The story focuses on Elizabeth, who struggles hard for her dreams, fighting the reality of life. She is a proud and determined wife, who is desperate to get Bates’ love and commitment for family.
However, his drinking behavior and lack of bonding with the family makes her disappointed. Since Walter is the only breadwinner for the family, she faces much bitterness. However, things take a disastrous turn in their life when Walter meets an accidental death. Her life and emotions seem to take drastic changes. She realizes the reality of life and changes her mind to accept the fact of her life. She also understands how her expectations and refusals have spoiled her relationship with her husband.
She finally understands him as a common man and loving husband, instead of dwelling on him as a burden. She also understands that she is the only one responsible for her life’s happiness and misery. With such an epiphany, Elizabeth starts her new life dedicated to her family and children.
By the end of the story, she gets mortified for her mistakes and submits to life with a new perspective. In “Odour of Chrysanthemums” author D. H. Lawrence explores the concept of human isolation and the nature of love and relationships. With the sudden death of her husband Elizabeth is forced to re-examine her opinions and beliefs, shedding light on a marriage she had given up on long before.
An Analytical Summary:
I. A train passes by a mining town, where a woman calls to her young son, John, as the light fades to dusk. He joins her sullenly, pulling at the chrysanthemum bushes as they walk towards the house. The mother tells her son to stop, before plucking a branch of flowers to smell and tucking them into her waistband.
II. The mother and son wait at the foot of the steps, watching miners heading home after a day of work. The train comes to a stop before their gate, and the engine driver, the woman’s father, calls out to ask whether she has a cup of tea.
The woman prepares some tea, bread, and butter, and she exchanges words with her father, expressing disapproval of his hasty remarriage. Her father defends himself and mentions that he heard news of Walter, the woman’s husband, spending his money in pubs. The woman bitterly acknowledges that this news is very likely true.
III. The woman’s father pulls away in the train, and the woman, Elizabeth, enters the house and begins preparing the family’s tea. Meanwhile, the day darkens, and there are fewer and fewer miners passing by on their way home.
IV. A young girl enters the house, and Elizabeth chides her for coming home late. Annie, the girl, responds that it’s hardly dark out yet. Elizabeth asks Annie whether she’s seen her father, and Annie responds that she hasn’t. Elizabeth bitterly replies that he was probably snuck by Annie on his way to the pub.
V. Annie sits before the fire, admiring the flames. Her mother tells her that the fire needs to be tended to, or else her father will complain that the house isn’t warm enough when he returns. As Annie tends the fire, John complains that she isn working quickly enough.
VI. The children eat as Elizabeth drinks her tea, growing angrier as she waits for her husband. She puts coals on the fire, and Jchr. complains that it’s too dark. Elizabeth lights a lantern in the middle of the room, revealing her stomach, rounded with pregnancy.
VII. Annie, upon seeing the chrysanthemums, gasps at their beauty and goes to smell them. Elizabeth says that chrysanthemums no longer smell beauti..l to her because they were present when she married Walter, when she gave birth to Annie, and when others first brought Walter home drunk.
VIII. Elizabeth sews as the children play, and eventually, she sends them to bed, promising that there won’t be a scene when their father returns home. She continues to sew, growing worried as she waits.
IX. When the clock strikes eight, Elizabeth goes outside and walks to town, consulting another miner’s wife, Mrs. Rigley. Mrs. Rigley goes to ask her husband whether Walter is in the pub, “Prince of Wales,” while Elizabeth waits in the Rigleys’ untidy home. When the Rigleys return, Jack Rigley admits that he left Walter finishing up a stint at the mine. He walks Elizabeth to her home before he leaves to search for Walter. Elizabeth waits, growing more and more anxious, when she hears a pair of footsteps at the door.
X. Walter’s mother enters the house, moaning. Jack Rigley told her that Walter had an accident, though she doesn’t know how serious it is. When the men come to the door, Elizabeth is informed that Walter is dead. Walter’s mother reacts hysterically, but Elizabeth warns her not to wake the children.
XI. The men bring Walter’s body into the parlor, knocking down the vase of chrysanthemums, which Elizabeth cleans up. The noise wakes Annie, and Elizabeth goes to comfort her, while the men tiptoe out of the house. When Elizabeth returns to the parlor, she and Walter’s mother strip and wash the body, as Walter’s mother reminisces about Walter’s childhood.
Elizabeth realizes suddenly how far removed she and Water were, even in life. She acknowledges that she also played a part in the dissolution of their marriage because she never recognized Walter for who he truly was.
XII. After the women finish dressing Walter, Elizabeth locks the parlor door and goes to tidy the kitchen. She’s aware that she must tend to her current master, lite, but she fears death, which is the ultimate master.
The title “Odour of Chrysanthemums” refers to the flowers, chrysanthemums, that appear several times in the story. Whether the odor of the flowers is bitter or sweet depends on the characters’ life experiences and perspectives.
D. H. Lawrence wrote “Odour of Chrysanthemums” in 1909 and submitted to the English Review where the magazine’s renowned editor Ford Madox Hueffer (better known to most as renowned writer Ford Madox Ford) judged the story’s worth as Jone with the potential to become the author’s greatest work. The editor then immediately set to work slicing through the manuscript with his red pen that amounted five page pages worth of Lawrence’s prose going missing when finally published two years later.
Three years after that initial appearance, “Odour of Chrysanthemums” (appeared in Lawrence’s collection of short fiction, The Prussian Officer and Other Stories. This version would be the third version of the story that Lawrence himself (had deemed vorthy of publication.
The longer version is essentially an expansion of (part III: Death in which the reflections of Mrs. Bates on the reality of her marriage (in the presence of her husband’s recovered corpse is deepened and more emotionally Hayered. Also known to the proceedings is the author’s far more corrosive criticism of Elizabeth for allowing that marriage to become a failure.
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