As well depicted in Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life by Claire Tomalin there was an intimate and complicated relationship between Mansfield and D. H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda. Not long ago I read and posted on one of Lawrence's most famous short stories, "The Rocking Horse Winner", which I enjoyed. Tomalin indicated that in "The Fox" by D. H. Lawrence (1885 to 1930-England) there is a character whose appearance and to some extent personality is loosely based on Mansfield. This was enough for me to take the trouble to read the story and I am glad I did.
Some readers find that Lawrence is somehow heavy handed with his symbolism and telegraphs his plot lines too much. Others says the import of his work is in his insightful depictions of relationships and his evocation of natural beauty and some are given over to his philosophical views on the relationship between the sexes. Some see him as having tapped into the life force and stripped away the pretentious of society.
"The Fox" takes place on a farm in England during WWI-around 1918 from some details. The farm is run by two women, Banford and March who have a non-sexual union that seems like a marriage. (March is supposed to be physically like Mansfield. Lawrence and Mansfield had lots of ups and downs in their relationship so one cannot at once tell if this is meant well or not but to the story it does not matter.) Just to pause and look at the two names. "Banford" can be easily worked into meaning "Ban Forward Movement in Society" and "March" on the other had means go forward but in a way directed by external authority over which you have little control.
The women on the farm raise chickens and their chickens are constantly being killed by the same fox. They try to kill the fox for years with no luck. The fox is described beautifully and is meant to depict a force in nature. Foxes have a long deep history in English literature and lore and of course Lawrence is playing to this.
One day a handsome young man shows up looking for his grandfather who used to live in the house Banford and March do now. I am sorry but I could not help but laugh when I thought to myself "The Fox is in the hen house now!". The man makes himself indispensable to the women and of course he disrupts their relationship. I found the plot line predictable and that is sort of OK but there was for me little suspense in this story and I think that this was not meant to be.
As "The Fox" ends D. H. Lawrence treats us to some of his guru like thoughts on the nature of life. The thoughts more or less come out of nowhere and they nearly made me laugh and somehow I do not think that was Lawrence's intention. Mansfield has a fondness for guru like figures and Lawrence fit this mold.
Poor March, in her good-will and her responsibility, she had strained herself till it seemed to her that the whole of life and everything was only a horrible abyss of nothingness. The more you reached after the fatal flower of happiness, which trembles so blue and lovely in a crevice just beyond your grasp, the more fearfully you became aware of the ghastly and awful gulf of the precipice below you, into which you will inevitably plunge, as into the bottomless pit, if you reach any farther. You pluck flower after flower — it is never THE flower. The flower itself — its calyx is a horrible gulf, it is the bottomless pit. That is the whole history of the search for happiness, whether it be your own or somebody else’s that you want to win. It ends, and it always ends, in the ghastly sense of the bottomless nothingness into which you will inevitably fall if you strain any more.
There are beautiful descriptions of the English country side here. The relationship the two women is interesting. I am glad I read this story and I do not mean to turn others away from it. Long ago I read all the major works of Lawrence. Lawrence is not just a writer, he was a guru of sorts (as distinguished from a thinker who deduces his views) and is an important figure historically. To me he is worth reading if you can accept that he is heavy handed and has no seeming sense of humor about himself."The Fox" can be read online here.