St. Mawr | Study Guide

D.H. Lawrence

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St. Mawr | Context

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David Herbert Lawrence published and set "St. Mawr" in the 1920s. This period was nicknamed "the Roaring Twenties" due to the excitement a new sense of prosperity brought to the decade. The 1920s was also a transitional time after England and the United States won in World War I (1914–18) and people continued to adjust to a more mechanized manufacturing industry.

The End of World War I

Participants in World War I (1914–18) viewed it as a conflict that would end all wars. The Allies, the side of World War I that included the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, and Japan, fought against the Central Powers, which included Germany, Turkey, and Austria–Hungary. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (1863–1914) on June 14, 1914, started the conflict that led to war in August of that same year. The war ended on November 11, 1918 with nine million soldiers killed and 21 million wounded. About 10 million civilians died from the war also. The Treaty of Versailles (1919) outlined the terms of peace. The aftermath of the war created social disruption and instability, particularly in Europe. Countries dealt with their losses, rebuilt their cities, and lived with a tense and uncertain peace.

Societal Changes and the Role of Women

Women entered the workforce to fill the gap left by men who went away to war, and this challenged gender roles. Society in the 1920s responded with drastic changes from traditional social norms for women. Dresses were shorter and more revealing and hairstyles were shorter and less traditionally feminine. More liberated views on sexuality and morality gave authors like D.H. Lawrence more freedom to express sexuality in their contemporary fiction. Many people welcomed the changes, and others who supported conservative morality believed they would decay society's ethics.

Mass Production of Consumer Goods

The 1920s brought changes to the manufacturing industry. New technology like conveyor belts and innovative industry practices like the assembly line helped create mass quantities of goods that could be sold cheaply. Car prices alone dropped by about 35% in this decade. Mass production helped create good-paying jobs and helped fuel an increased standard of living. However, mass production also made work boring and repetitive and aggravated social class issues because there was a wider divide between the rich and the poor. D.H. Lawrence addresses the topic of social class extensively in "St. Mawr." Mrs. Witt proposed marriage to Lewis, but he rejected her because his lower social class influences Mrs. Witt to treat him without respect. Mrs. Witt dismisses Lewis's rejection by thinking to herself that he is just a servant. Social class also affects Lou's and Mrs. Witt's perception of Phoenix. Lou rejects Phoenix as a potential romantic partner because she considers him just a servant. Mrs. Witt refuses to use Phoenix's real name because it reflects his Spanish heritage.

Psychoanalysis

Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) was a noted psychiatrist who began his work in the 1890s and introduced psychoanalysis to the world. This method of mental health treatment involved analyzing patients in different levels of consciousness such as dream interpretation to understand the underlying causes of their behavior. Freud believed mental health disorders were caused by repressed feelings and desires, particularly those related to sexuality. The popularization of Freud's theories like the Oedipus Complex, where a person has a sexual desire for a parent of the opposite sex, created a society where D.H. Lawrence might more openly explore his characters' sexuality. Lawrence addresses sexuality extensively in "St. Mawr." Oedipus is a hero in Greek legend who used as a metaphor for the theory in the same way that Lawrence uses Greek mythology as a resource for his own symbolism. In "St. Mawr," Lawrence also likens Mrs. Witt to a pure and "fiendish" psychologist. She constantly criticizes people, tears apart the psyche of those around her, and intrudes into their private lives. Her behavior makes a statement about Lawrence's opinions regarding psychoanalysis.

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