Unused

Bougainvillea

But he was strange and unused. So suddenly, everything that had been before was shed away and gone. One day, he was a bachelor, living with the world. The next day, he was with her, as remote from the world as if the two of them were buried like a seed in darkness. Suddenly, like a chestnut falling out of a burr, he was shed naked and glistening on to a soft, fecund earth, leaving behind him the hard rind of worldly knowledge and experience. He heard it in the huckster’s cries, the noise of carts, the calling of children. And it was all like the hard, shed rind, discarded. Inside, in the softness and stillness of the room, was the naked kernel, that palpitated in silent activity, absorbed in reality. (Lawrence, The Rainbow)

Will Brangwen’s marriage is a transformative moment in which his world is recast anew. It’s a making-strange of the world that takes place amid the mundane, used-up day-to-dayness of the real (‘One day … The next day’) and the banal noise of the social world, the ‘shouts in the street’ with which Joyce’s Stephen Daedalus dismisses talk of God). But it’s also a rejuvenating transformation, a kind of reincarnating of Will (and, in the novel’s apocalyptic rhetoric, of [his] will, both his testament and his headstrongness) as no longer singular, but rendered singularly new – ‘with her’, as the text puts it, but also somehow ‘remote from the world’ – and as (confirming and completing the tense implicit in his name) having become. This becoming and remoteness are combined in the strange word (coupled here with ‘strange’), ‘unused’ – a negation that implies freshness but also a sense of being remaindered, somehow surplus. In this remoteness what Will becomes, it seems, is a figure of unused innocence, a kind of extreme Blakean innocent peeled of worldliness and use-value. The singularity is crucial for Lawrence’s ideology of sexual union: ‘the two of them’ seem, in early marriage, ‘buried like a seed in darkness’. And yet it’s Will who is clearly the seed: the text insists that he, not her nor the pair of them, is ‘shed naked’ ‘like a chestnut out of a burr’. An ‘unused’ seed: unplanted, unrooted, ungrown.

Lawrence’s recurrent figure for such drastic, intense character-recasting involves this image of a seed or fruit with a rind; sometimes this is a nut in a shell, or perhaps (as here) a ‘chestnut’ in a ‘burr’, ‘shed’ (a thrice-repeated word in the passage above) like a skin or fur. These mixed but insistently natural, fertile, or reproductive, images reproduce themselves across the text (there are dozens of examples in the pages following the passage above). They create a sense of potentiality within the character and his context – his innocently new experience of the immediacy of the world (of ‘worldness’) is a kind of thrownness, the disturbing insistence of repetition and reiteration that organizes Lawrence’s prose at its most effective. Joseph Hillis Miller writes (in 1998, in a paper published by Aarhus University), of different forms of what used to be called ‘literariness’ in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. One way, he argues, that

Heart of Darkness presents itself as literature is in the elaborate tissue of figures and other rhetorical devices that make up, so to speak, the texture of the text. The simplest and most obvious of these devices is the use of similes, signalled by “like” or “as.” These similes displace things that are named by one or the other of the narrators and assert that they are like something else. This something else forms a consistent subtext or counterpoint defining everything that can be seen as a veil hiding something more truthful or essential behind. The first use of the figure of screens that are lifted to reveal more screens behind, in a structure that is apocalyptic in the etymological sense of “unveiling,” as well as in the sense of having to do with death, judgment, and other last things, comes when the frame narrator, describing the evening scene just before sunset, when the sky is “a benign immensity of unstained light” (4) as it looks from the Nellie at anchor in the Thames estuary, says: “the very mist on the Essex marshes was like [my emphasis: JHM] a gauzy and radiant fabric, hung from the wooded rises inland, and draping the low shores in diaphanous folds” (4). These similes, as they follow in a line punctuating the text at rhythmic intervals, are not casual or fortuitous. They form a system, a powerful undertext beneath the first-level descriptive language. (J Hillis Miller, ‘Should we read Heart of Darkness?’, at http://dac.au.dk/fileadmin/www.litteraturhistorie.au.dk/ forskningforskningspublikationer/arbejdspapirer/arbejdspapir17.pdf).

The ‘as’ in Lawrence doubles as comparator and simile – ‘as remote from the world as if’ – signalling a potentially double simile, a double displacement, Will’s new condition as both a kind of  ‘unused’ / useless extra-worldly ‘remoteness’ and a kind of burial (‘buried like a seed in darkness’) – a ‘burial’, not a planting. The double simile tells us something of how we’re meant to read the literary rendition of Will’s experience of marriage as represented in this chapter (its title, after all, is ‘Anna Victrix’). Lawrence’s language ‘unveils’, just as the experience of marriage peels from Will ‘the hard, worldly rind of knowledge and experience’, rendering him as if ‘unused’. The ‘elaborate tissue’ of nut and seed (and their near-anagrammatisation of ‘unused’) and burr and rind and kernel similes works throughout the novel to embed a similarly apocalyptic process of unveiling, reveiling, and unveiling again as the structure through which Lawrence’s (mainly male) characters encounter and ‘unuse’ themselves within their worlds.

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