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This article is taken from PN Review 27, Volume 9 Number 1, September - October 1982.

What the Slowworm Said Thom Gunn

1

This century more than any other has been fascinated by 'the primitive'. Its artists have been especially drawn to the idea of a ceremony, or a sequence of ceremonies, which sums up at the same time birth, sexuality, procreation, and death. Their fascination has led some into violent fictions, where the emphasis has been less on birth and procreation than on sexuality and death. An example is D. H. Lawrence's story 'The Woman Who Rode Away'. The Woman, the wife of an industrialist in Mexico, stunned to a boredom transcending boredom by her comfortable but meaningless and confined existence, rides off to a distant mythical valley where 'the old priests still kept up the ancient religion', with the object of offering herself up as a ritual sacrifice, though she may not be explicitly aware of her own intention until she is already in the hands of the Indians. Once she is made captive she comes in contact with men only. The feeling of the story is erotic although the action is not. In the ceremonies that lead up to her sacrifice (here she is receiving a ritual massage), 'She knew she was a victim; that all this elaborate work upon her was the work of victimising her. But she did not mind. She wanted it.' As elsewhere in the best of Lawrence's fiction, the improbable story is kept insistently alive by his imaginative fidelity to states of mind, however unusual, and by his feeling for the ...


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