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Growth Of A Chrysanthemum

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D. H. Lawrence's 1914 short story, "Odour of Chrysanthemums", is still in print and considered worth reading in 1999. Perhaps it's printed and reprinted as a matter of habit. Perhaps editors like it because other editors have. But maybe it's a success because it's an exceptional work. Of these three possibilities, the last is certainly the most appealing. Luckily, it seems most likely to be true. Lawrence made a conscious effort to improve and focus the story, as differences between the 1910 draft and the 1914 final version reveal. Lawrence succeeded in this endeavor, carefully revising an already excellent work to create a classic.
The claim that "Odour of Chrysanthemums" is a well-crafted story is hardly brave or risky, for many would agree. For instance, the man who in a sense discovered Lawrence, English Review editor F. M. Ford, said this about "Odour of Chrysanthemums":
The very title makes an impact on the mind. You get at once the knowledge that this is not, whatever else it may turn out, either a frivolous or even a gay springtime story. Chrysanthemums are not only flowers of the autumn: they are the autumn itself . . . This man knows what he wants. He sees the scene of his story exactly. He has an authoritative mind. (Ford 257)
As a fiction editor, he is quite receptive to Lawrence's descriptive gifts. He is impressed with Lawrence's sense of purpose. But readers needn't assess the short story by Ford's methods alone. Modern readers have a very different perspective than Lawrence's contemporaries, ensuring that many different analyses of "Odour of Chrysanthemums" are possible.
However, the plot itself is very simple. In the 1914 version, Elizabeth Bates spends most of the story waiting for her husband to return from the mine, fretting that he is once again dallying at a favorite pub. His coworkers drag him home, but he is not in a drunken stupor. He is dead, suffocated in an accident at the mine. Initially it seems that the moment when Elizabeth learns that her husband is dead is the story's climax. However, this is not the story's most riveting moment, for Lawrence's foreshadowing has already given this ending away. Elizabeth often unknowingly hints at the coming death, saying, "They'll bring him when he does come--like a log" (Lawrence 290). The real surprise comes after the reader discovers the death. Where the reader expects an anticlimax, they get a finale in Elizabeth's startling realization:
And her soul died in her for fear: she knew she had never seen him, he had never seen her, they had met in the dark and had fought in the dark, not knowing whom they met nor whom they fought. And now she saw, and turned silent in seeing. For she had been wrong. She had said he was something he was not; she had felt familiar with him. Whereas he was apart all the while, living as she never lived, feeling as she never felt. (Lawrence 300)
This is Elizabeth's epiphany. Her husband, a seemingly familiar fixture in her life, was ultimately a stranger to her. Her shock at realizing this suggests that some deep-seated belief of hers has turned out false. Perhaps Elizabeth incorrectly assumed that marriage implied a special connection between husband and wife. Whatever the belief, this realization coupled with her husband's sudden death leads to an acute sense of loneliness, which is the most unique aspect of the story. If we can attribute the unusual success of "Odour of Chrysanthemums" to those unique aspects, which distinguish it from other stories, then perhaps the unique, final moment is key evidence in the search for the reasons why "Odour of Chrysanthemums" is successful.
Furthermore, the epiphany must be considered carefully, for it is of vital importance to the story and its readers' perceptions of it. The position of the epiphany in the story's structure clearly suggests its importance. If the moment when Elizabeth discovers that her husband is dead truly is the climax, then why does Lawrence spend pages describing the period following this supposed climax? In other successful Lawrence short stories, such as "Second Best", the defining moment comes in the last pages. The fact that Elizabeth's epiphany, not the return of the dead collier, occupies this large final area in the short story's structure is further proof that the epiphany is the central moment of "Odour of Chrysanthemums." Therefore, a good assessment of the story will largely revolve around this most important moment.
A comparison between the final version of the story and an earlier 1910 draft effectively highlights the story's quality, particularly in terms of the ending. For instance, Elizabeth's reaction to her bereavement is quite different in the 1910 version than in the 1914 version. One clear example of this is the depiction of Elizabeth and her mother-in-law washing the grime from the coal mine off her husband's body. In the 1910 version, Lawrence writes:
Sometimes they forgot it was death, and the touch of the man's body gave them strange thrills, different in each of the women; secret thrills that made them turn one from the other, and left them with a keen sadness. (Bolton 43)
These lines show that Lawrence, in his 1910 version, had not yet decided to use the emotional inertia generated by the collier's death in any unusual way. In the 1914 revision, however, he has developed the idea of Elizabeth's epiphany and has changed the short story a great deal:
They never forgot it was death, and the touch of the man's body gave them strange emotions, different in each of the women; a great dread possessed them both, the mother felt the lie was given to her womb, she was denied; the wife felt the utter isolation of the human soul, the child within her was a weight apart from her. (Lawrence 299)
While the 1910 version emphasizes a sort of wistful memory, the 1914 text clearly pursues a different goal. What in 1910 was "They sometimes forgot it was death" became "They never forgot it was death." Lawrence is describing a much more ultimate loss in 1914. Even the mother feels "the lie," and the wife feels "the utter isolation of the human soul." By 1914, the story is less about a miner's pseudo-tragic death and more about the lack of meaning in institutional human relationships. Lawrence has chosen to do more than tell a simple tale. He is, for instance, considering the very meaning of marriage. For Lawrence, marriage is itself little more than a social pleasantry or a contract. Marriage therefore does not equal love. It is a symbol for love, but it is not necessarily a sign of it. Lawrence has concentrated his formidable efforts on revising "Odour of Chrysanthemums" with this in mind, mostly reworking the ending and developing Elizabeth's epiphany. While he has also edited and streamlined the entire story, the basic structure and plot remains the same. The most noticeable change between the 1910 and 1914 versions concern Elizabeth's final reaction.
Did this change improve the story? Lawrence must have thought so, or he wouldn't have made the changes at all. Assuming Lawrence to be correct, what qualities of the final version, particularly the ending, show improvement over the 1910 draft? While the draft's ending is something of an appeasement in its assurance that Elizabeth will lovingly remember her dead husband, the final version uses the death as a stepping stone for an idea more shockingly troublesome to the reader than most any plot element could be. The idea that people are ultimately alone generates so much shock in the reader because it applies to them and their personal relationships. Readers will generally fear for themselves ...

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Keywords: growing giant chrysanthemums, grow chrysanthemum in pot, chrysanthemum growth rate

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