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Odour of Chrysanthemums | Study Guide

D. H. Lawrence

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Odour of Chrysanthemums | Quotes


The small locomotive engine ... appeared round the corner with loud threats of speed, but the colt that it startled from among the gorse ... outdistanced it at a canter.


This opening image lays out the main idea of the entire story. Industry "threatens" to advance quickly on the world, overtaking the natural order of things, but the reality is cyclical time and nature, represented here by the young horse, will "outdistance" it. In a similar way Elizabeth Bates feels "outdistanced" by her husband's death.


The pit-bank loomed up beyond the pond, flames like red sores licking its ashy sides.


In the story fire is associated with masculine energy and indulgence. Here, flames from the coal mine threaten to engulf the pastoral stillness of the landscape around it.


A large bony vine clutched at the house, as if to claw down the tiled roof.


The image of the vine like a hand "clutching" the house shows a more ominous view of nature and hints at the controlling nature of Elizabeth Bates, who drives her husband away from their home because she is unable to accept him as he is.


It's no sort of life for a man of my years, to sit at my own hearth like a stranger.

Elizabeth's father

Elizabeth's father reflects pragmatically on his decision to remarry, countering his daughter's objection it is too early. That he chooses comfort over propriety reflects a central theme—about men and women—in the story and further emphasizes the connection between men and fire, warmth, passion.


As the mother watched her son's sullen little struggle ... she saw herself in his silence and pertinacity; she saw the father in her child's indifference to all but himself.


Elizabeth's observations of her son reflect both her view of men—they are self-indulgent and selfish creatures—and her attempt to see her children as the shared product of her and Walter. Later in the story she revises this view, concluding, "the children did not unite them."


You're as bad as your father if it's a bit dusk.

Elizabeth Bates

Elizabeth resents her son's masculine attraction to fire and light. Quite likely, she also views lighting the lamp before Walter arrives as an unnecessary expense. She acquiesces bitterly—the same way she complains to the children about their father's drinking.


It was chrysanthemums when I married him, and chrysanthemums when you were born, and the first time they ever brought him home drunk, he'd got brown chrysanthemums in his button-hole.

Elizabeth Bates

Elizabeth's response to her daughter's "rapturous" love of the flowers' odor reflects her growing disenchantment with marriage. The flowers go from being a symbol of their union to a kind of drunken pledge, and their smell is ruined for her. Nevertheless, she has picked some and stuck them in her waistband. This could foreshadow Walter's death since she chooses to place the flowers where they lay the body out for viewing.


She had never yet been to fetch him, and she never would go.


Elizabeth's pride prevents her from setting foot in a public drinking house. Her sense of propriety reflects a common Victorian middle-class sensibility—public drunkenness was considered immoral and disreputable. It would lower Elizabeth's social status, which matters greatly to her, to cross that boundary.


He'll come home when they carry him.

Elizabeth Bates

Elizabeth makes several references in the story to Walter being carried home, an example of situational irony. She means he will be so drunk he can't walk on his own. In the end, of course, the colliers do carry him home—dead, on a stretcher.


I learned to understand him and to make allowances.

Old Mrs. Bates

Old Mrs. Bates reflects on the central difference between her treatment of her son and Elizabeth Bates's treatment of him, signifying the differences between men and women in general. Elizabeth wants to control and change male behavior to conform to her standard. This effort not only drives her husband away; it makes her miserable. Old Mrs. Bates, who remembers Walter as a "happy lad ... full of spirits," employs empathy to understand the difference and make allowances.


There was a cold, deathly smell of chrysanthemums in the room.


Once again the odor of the chrysanthemums mirrors Elizabeth's prevailing mood, reflecting her cold apprehension about the future just as they had once captured her feelings of newlywed passion.


She saw him, how utterly inviolable he lay in himself. She had nothing to do with him.


When Elizabeth views Walter's naked corpse for the first time, she recognizes every person is fundamentally alone in life and death. She mourns for not only her husband, who is gone, but for her former belief people can join forces together, or really know each other.


The touch of the man's dead body gave them strange emotions, different in each ... the mother felt the lie was given to her womb ... the wife felt the utter isolation of the human soul, the child within her was a weight apart from her.


This quotation emphasizes a central theme, which explores the nature of existence, in the story: not even giving birth to a child gives a person ownership of another life. The lie is the promise Old Mrs. Bates feels, believing her son belongs to her; likewise, Elizabeth's unborn child is "a weight apart from her."


She had denied him what he was—she saw it now. She had refused him as himself.


Out of fear, Elizabeth attempted to control Walter, just as she controls her son, John. By denying their separateness from her—or, in the words of Old Mrs. Bates, failing to "make allowances"—she has failed to prepare the condition by which they could have had a happy union.


She knew she submitted to life, which was her immediate master. But from death, her ultimate master, she winced with fear and shame.


The story ends with a reference to the gendered world, which has dominated throughout. Life is a "master" to which Elizabeth must submit—in a way it is the price she has to pay for not submitting to her husband's separate will. But death is "her ultimate master." Lawrence reasserts the idea that began the story: nature will "outdistance" man without even trying (going "at a canter") because it has the ultimate control over life and death.

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