Monday, October 5, 2015

'Our whole eunuch civilisation': The horse in 'St. Mawr' by D. H. Lawrence (1925)

Louise is a married woman who calls herself "the harem type" insofar as she is given to relaxation, "only I never want the men inside the lattice." One day, she spies the stallion St. Mawr, an animal intended to be used as a stud but who reportedly didn't "seem to fancy the mares for some reason," and, "already half in love," she wants to buy him for her husband Rico.

"He was of such a lovely red-gold colour, and a dark, invisible fire seemed to come out of him. But in his big black eyes there was a lurking afterthought. Something told her that the horse was not quite happy: that somewhere deep in his animal consciousness lived a dangerous, half-revealed resentment, a diffused sense of hostility. She realised that he was sensitive, in spite of his flaming, healthy strength, and nervous with a touchy uneasiness that might make him vindictive."

A man warns her:

"...every horse is temperamental, when you come down to it. But this one, it is as if he was a trifle raw somewhere. Touch this raw spot, and there's no answering for him. ... If he was a human being, you'd say something had gone wrong in his life. But with a horse it's not that, exactly. A high-bred animal like St. Mawr needs understanding, and I don't know as anybody has quite got the hang of him. I confess I haven't myself."

Lou sees it:

"Not any raw spot at all. A battle between two worlds. She realised that St. Mawr drew his hot breaths in another world from Rico's, from our world. Perhaps the old Greek horses had lived in St. Mawr's world. And the old Greek heroes, even Hippolytus, had known it.

"With their strangely naked equine heads, and something of a snake in their way of looking round, and lifting their sensitive, dangerous muzzles, they moved in a prehistoric twilight where all things loomed phantasmagoric, all on one plane, sudden presences suddenly jutting out of the matrix. It was another world, an older, heavily potent world. And in this world the horse was swift and fierce and supreme, undominated and unsurpassed.–"Meet him half-way," Lewis said. But half-way across from our human world to that terrific equine twilight was not a small step. It was a step, she knew, that Rico could never take. She knew it. But she was prepared to sacrifice Rico."

Lou swears that she doesn't want "intimacy," that she is "too tired of it all."

"I love St. Mawr because he isn't intimate. He stands where one can't get at him. And he burns with life. And where does his life come from, to him? That's the mystery. That great burning life in him, which never is dead. Most men have a deadness in them, that frightens me so, because of my own deadness. Why can't men get their life straight, like St. Mawr, and then think?"

She says: "I want the wonder back again, or I shall die."

St. Mawr becomes a tragic figure. A character named Phoenix reports hearing someone say "cut him – else shoot him. Think they cut him – and if he die, he die." St. Mawr is too old to geld. Lou cannot believe it.

"Do you think it is true?" she asked. "Lewis? Do you think they would try to geld St. Mawr – to make him a gelding?" Lewis looked up at her. There was a faint deadly glimmer of contempt on his face.

"Very likely, Mam," he said.

She was afraid of his cold, uncanny pale eyes, with their uneasy grey dawn of contempt. These two men, with their silent, deadly inner purpose, were not like other men. They seemed like two silent enemies of all the other men she knew. Enemies in the great white camp, disguised as servants, waiting the incalculable opportunity. What the opportunity might be, none knew.

Lou resisted the news: "You know, I can't believe it. I can't believe Sir Henry would want to have St. Mawr mutilated. I believe he'd rather shoot him." The horse's buyer, a Miss Manby, reportedly asked – in Lewis's words – about gelding the difficult animal to "make a horse of him."

Lou watches the horse:

She could see St. Mawr himself, alone as usual, standing with his head up, looking across the fences. He was streaked dark with rain. Beautiful, with his poised head and massive neck and his supple hindquarters. He was neighing to Poppy. Clear on the wet wind came the sound of his bell-like, stallion's calling, that Mrs. Vyner called cruel. It was a strange noise, with a splendour that belonged to another world age. The mean cruelty of Mrs. Vyner's humanitarianism, the barren cruelty of Flora Manby, the eunuch cruelty of Rico. Our whole eunuch civilisation, nasty-minded as eunuchs are, with their kind of sneaking, sterilising cruelty.

Yet even she herself, seeing St. Mawr's conceited march along the fence, could not help addressing him:

'Yes, my boy! If you knew what Miss Flora Manby was preparing for you! She'll sharpen a knife that will settle you.'

Not only the animal and human world, but the plants as well, suffer from this enervation.

"The very apples on the trees looked so shut in, it was impossible to imagine any speck of 'Knowledge' lurking inside them. Good to eat, good to cook, good even for show. But the wild sap of untameable and inexhaustible knowledge – no! Bred out of them. Geldings, even the apples."

She imagines telling Miss Manby:

"...you may have my husband, but not my horse. My husband won't need emasculating, and my horse I won't have you meddle with. I'll preserve one last male thing in the museum of this world, if I can."

She thinks of Lewis:

"In spite of the fact that in actual life, in her world, he was only a groom, almost chétif, with his legs a little bit horsy and bowed; and of no education, saying 'Yes, Mam!' and 'No, Mam!' and accomplishing nothing, simply nothing at all on the face of the earth. Strictly a nonentity."

And yet she has also seen that Lewis inhabits "another world, silent, where each creature is alone in its own aura of silence, the mystery of power: as Lewis had power with St. Mawr, and even with Phoenix."

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