Snake’s Eye and Obsidian Knife: Art, Ideology, and ‘The Woman Who Rode Away’

  • Peter Balbert


For several years it has been difficult to find a good word written about ‘The Woman Who Rode Away’. Today’s established opinion might date from Julian Moynahan’s belief in The Deed of Life (1963) that it is ‘a heartless tale au fond’, its central action ‘neither excusable nor interesting’.1 Frank Kermode, in D. H. Lawrence (1973), virtually dismisses the story entirely, claiming that ‘the end of the tale is naked doctrine, racial mastery’.2 Still, Kermode’s dismissal at least follows some treatment of ‘The Woman Who Rode Away’; if his concern only amounts to a short paragraph, several critical studies of Lawrence’s fiction bypass any discussion of this tale on the implicit understanding that it is an embarrassment not worthy of extended analysis.3 Feminist criticism is virtually unanimous in condemning the alleged doctrine in the work. Perhaps the most outspoken attack on the story is expressed through Kate Millett’s vituperations in Sexual Politics (1970), when she closes her chapter on Lawrence with a roll-call assault on the reputed ‘ethics’ in ‘The Woman Who Rode Away’; she concludes with the charge that the work is merely ‘pandering to pornographic dream’, and that it ‘would reward a careful comparative reading with The Story of O; in a number of ways it resembles commercial hard-core’.4


Short Story Sexual Politics Racial Mastery Distract Negative Modem World 
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  1. 1.
    Julian Moynahan, The Deed of Life (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963), 178.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Frank Kermode, D. H. Lawrence (New York: Viking Press, 1973; London: Fontana, 1985), 119.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See this peculiar lack of concern for one of Lawrence’s most lengthy short stories in two seminal critical studies of his work that appeared in the 1960s: H. M. Daleski’s The Forked Flame: A Study of D. H. Lawrence (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1965) andGoogle Scholar
  4. Colin Clark’s River of Dissolution: D. H. Lawrence and English Romanticism (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1969). While both studies are primarily on the novels, each also discusses several shorter fictions that have significant bearing on Lawrence’s career and/or the thesis of the respective critic. It is notable that Clark does not even mention The Woman Who Rode Away’, and Daleski — who might have employed the ‘sun’ images in the tale to great advantage in his argument — merely relegates it to a small footnote citation. Similarly, three of the most recent examinations of the full range of Lawrence’s fiction either ignore the story or miss entirely the crucial perspective in it that Lawrence establishes. There is not a word about ‘The Woman Who Rode Away’ (although there is much on other tales) inGoogle Scholar
  5. Graham Holderness’s D. H. Lawrence: History, Ideology, and Fiction (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1982), or inGoogle Scholar
  6. Gamini Salgado’s A Preface to D. H. Lawrence (London and New York: Longman, 1983); in an otherwise excellent and comprehensive study, D. H. Lawrence: The Artist as Psychologist (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1984), Daniel Schneider’s only comment on the tale is the wrong-headed assertion that the Indians ‘command the sympathetic response and credibility that Lawrence means them to have’ (97). As my analysis of this story will insist, the Chilchui do not command such response, and Lawrence does not intend that they should.Google Scholar
  7. 4.
    Kate Millett, Sexual Politics (Garden City: Doubleday, 1970; London: Virago, 1977), 287.Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, ‘Introduction: The female imagination and the modernist aesthetic’, Women’s Studies, 13 (1986), 5, 6.Google Scholar
  9. 6.
    Graham Hough, The Dark Sun (New York: Capricorn Books, 1956; London: Duckworth, 1970), 146.Google Scholar
  10. 7.
    F. R. Leavis, D. H. Lawrence: Novelist (New York: Simon Schuster, 1969; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970), 275.Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    For an incisive and well-documented study of the development of Lawrence’s attitude toward Mexico through his three visits there, see Charles Rossman’s ‘D. H. Lawrence and Mexico’, in Peter Balbert and Phillip L. Marcus (eds), D. H. Lawrence: A Centenary Consideration (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), 180–209.Google Scholar
  12. 11.
    D. H. Lawrence, Mornings in Mexico (Salt Lake City: Gibbs M. Smith, 1982; London: Heinemann, 1956), 62. Ross Parmenter’s introduction to this edition provides a useful dating of the composition and first publication of each of the essays in Mornings in Mexico, as well as an informative summary of the origin of the volume’s appearance in 1927. His more recent book on Lawrence’s experience in Mexico, Lawrence in Oaxaca (Salt Lake City: Gibbs M. Smith, 1984), is primarily an analysis of four months just after Lawrence completes ‘The Woman Who Rode Away’, when he lived with Frieda in Oaxaca; Parmenter’s attention to Lawrence’s reworking of The Plumed Serpent in this period and to the apparent influence on his prescriptions for an innovative religion in Mexico, confirm the conflicted feelings about primitivism that Lawrence charts throughout Mornings in Mexico. Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    Norman Mailer, ‘The White Negro’, in Advertisements for Myself (New York: Putnam, 1959), 342.Lawrence’s review, ‘In Our Time: A Review’, is collected inGoogle Scholar
  14. Edward D. McDonald (ed.), Phoenix: Posthumous Papers of D. H. Lawrence (New York: Viking; 1972; London: Panther, 1970), 366.Google Scholar
  15. 19.
    James T. Boulton and Andrew Robertson (eds), The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, III (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 475. Periodic letters from page 416 in this volume (November 1919) to page 581 (July 1920) unequivocally illustrate this negative estimation by Lawrence of his homeland.Google Scholar
  16. 20.
    Harry T. Moore, The Priest of Love: A Life of D. H. Lawrence, rev. edn (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1974; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1980), 319–20.Google Scholar
  17. 22.
    Lois P. Rudnick, ‘D. H. Lawrence’s New World Heroine: Mabel Dodge Luhan’, The D. H. Lawrence Review, 14 (1981), 99.Google Scholar
  18. 25.
    D. H. Lawrence, ‘The Woman Who Rode Away’, The Complete Short Stories, III (New York: Penguin, 1976), 546. Page numbers in my text refer to this edition.Google Scholar
  19. 35.
    Mabel Dodge Luhan, Lorenzo in Taos (New York: Knopf, 1932), 238.Google Scholar
  20. 37.
    Harry T. Moore (ed.), The Collected Letters of D. H. Lawrence, II (New York: Viking, 1962), 761.Google Scholar
  21. 42.
    Judith Ruderman, D. H. Lawrence and the Devouring Mother (Durham: Duke University Press, 1984), 135, 14.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Peter Balbert 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Balbert
    • 1
  1. 1.English DepartmentTrinity UniversitySan AntonioUSA

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