Odour of Chrysanthemums by D.H. Lawrence is an excellent story for any writer to study. The use of description is masterful, and in fact, it is the vehicle used to deliver almost the entire tale–to set its stage, to create the characters, and to move the plot forward.
Let’s examine the use of description on the first page:
The description of the locomotive starts the story. Listen to the way that the locomotive sounds:
“The small locomotive engine, Number 4, came clanking, stumbling down from Selston with seven full waggons. It appeared round the corner with loud threads of speed….”
As the locomotive moves into view, the plot develops, and we learn more about the locomotive. We see that it is not speeding or at least, it is not traveling faster than the colt:
“…the colt that it startled from among the gorse…outdistanced it at a canter.”
Also in the above passage, as the reader notices the awakened colt and then, follows him as he streaks across the gorse, an energy and an aliveness fills the scene.
The following description begins to create a sense of foreboding:
“The fields were dreary and forsaken, and in the marshy strip that led to the whimsey, a reedy pit-pond, the fowls and had already abandoned their run among the alders to roost in the tarred fowl-house. The pit-bank loomed up beyond the pond, flames like red sores liking its ashy sides, in the afternoon’s stagnant light.”
In describing the miners on their way home from work, the scene takes on even more of a mood:
“Miners, single, trailing and in groups, passed like shadows diverging home.”
As we initially view the cottage, the tone is further developed:
“At the edge of the ribbed level of sidings squat a low cottage, three steps down from the cinder track. A large bony vine clutched at the house, as if to claw down the tiled roof. Round the bricked yard grew a few wintry primroses.”
In describing the cottage’s garden, even more of the mood is established:
“Round the bricked yard grew a few wintry primroses. Beyond, the long garden sloped down to a bush-covered brook course. There were some twiggy apple trees, winter-crack trees, and ragged cabbages. Beside the path hung dishevelled pink chrysanthemums, like pink cloths hung on bushes. “
I don’t want to say more about the story until you have had time to read it Here or listen to the Free Audio Book.
The story Odour of Chrysanthemums is a masterpiece, and the chrysanthemums themselves are characters that provide different levels of insight in different spots. Lawrence did something particularly notable with his use of description to create the character of the husband, who never actually enters the story’s action. We only see the husband through the ways that other characters perceived him.
The wife is weary of a husband who has habitually passed the cottage on the way home and gone to the pub to get drunk. The children are anxious about their father for the same reason. The husband’s mother describes him as a person who once was a lovely lad but who had become trouble, as an adult.
Read the complete story, and discover all of the many ways that D.H. Lawrence uses description in Odour of Chrysanthemums.
©Jacki Kellum August 4, 2016
From the movie: