St. Mawr | Study Guide

D.H. Lawrence

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St. Mawr | Plot Summary & Analysis

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Summary

The Marriage

Mrs. Witt grew up in America with wealth and privilege in a slave-owning family. Her daughter Lou spent little time in America. Lou went to Europe for her childhood education and later traveled abroad as a young woman. She met an Australian artist named Rico in Rome, Italy. Rico is also a baron whose father left him a modest amount of money. His flirtatiousness and sexuality attract Lou. They had an off-and-on, long-distance relationship for a couple of years and then married after reconnecting with an exciting romance. However, Lou and Rico's marriage deteriorates to a stale, platonic friendship. Mrs. Witt is disappointed at Lou's decision to marry Rico. Mrs. Witt tends to be judgmental but is also obsessed by her own demons of middle age.

St. Mawr the Stallion

Mrs. Witt joins her daughter Lou in the English countryside even though she disapproves of Rico. Mrs. Witt brings along some horses and her stable groom named Phoenix. Phoenix has a mixture of Native American and Mexican ancestry and his real name is Geronimo Trujillo. Lou brings her own horse to ride with her mother and soon has her eye on a horse she wants to give Rico named St. Mawr.

St. Mawr is a beautiful, red stallion with an unpredictable temperament. Lou buys Rico the horse, and the purchase includes the employment of a Welsh stable groom named Lewis who has known St. Mawr since its birth. Rico is a hesitant horse owner but is even more unhappy with the large, powerful, and somewhat untamed St. Mawr. The horse can sense this reluctance and often rears up with the slightest provocation. At times Mrs. Witt provokes St. Mawr as a subtle, passive-aggressive gesture toward Rico.

In the English Countryside

Lou and Rico stay for a month at Mrs. Witt's new cottage in Shropshire at the border with Wales. They bring the horses and the stable grooms along. It is a rural countryside where people know each other, and Mrs. Witt seems to enjoy observing and judging others in the community. Flora Manby lives nearby. She has known Rico from childhood and is anxious to rekindle a relationship with Rico. Rico visits Flora frequently. Lou becomes accustomed to and seems to enjoy Rico's absence. Lou and Mrs. Witt spend the time with their horses and take an interest in the personal affairs of others. They often ponder the nature of human behavior and are especially interested in Lewis's behavior. Mrs. Witt insists on giving Lewis a haircut and wonders why he objects. Lou is likewise interested in how Lewis views his beard as part of himself.

Lou, Rico, Mrs. Witt, and Flora Manby take a ride in the country one day. Flora's brother-in-law Freddy Edwards joins them and Rico rides St. Mawr. The stallion suddenly spooks and rears up violently. It lands on top of Rico and kicks Freddy in the face. Flora is the first to rush to Rico's side.

As he recovers from his injuries in bed, Rico demands that St. Mawr be shot. Lou weighs her fears about the horse against her feelings for the animal. She considers taking the horse and herself to America. Many people in the community such as the dean of the church express their desire for the horse's destruction, and Mrs. Witt aligns with Lou against the idea. Rico meanwhile makes plans to sell St. Mawr to Flora who would then neuter the stallion to make him more docile. Lou and Mrs. Witt learn of this idea and make plans to leave for America and to take St. Mawr and the stable grooms along.

The Journey

Mrs. Witt departs on her horse along with Lewis on a cross-country journey to Merriton. Lewis rides St. Mawr. Flora Manby arrives at Mrs. Witt's cottage shortly afterwards to collect St. Mawr. Lou refuses to accept payment for the horse and sends Flora home.

It is a rainy day, and the distance to Merriton means that the ride will take several days and require stays at local inns along the way. This gives Mrs. Witt much time to reflect on her life and relationships with men as well as the nature of God and the natural world. These introspections become topics of conversations between Mrs. Witt and Lewis. They begin as one-sided discussions, but Lewis slowly opens up about his feelings, thoughts, and ideas while remaining guardedly distant. Eventually, Mrs. Witt suggests that Lewis should marry her. She is angry when he rejects her, and they continue on the trip to the next hotel.

At the hotel Mrs. Witt finds letters from Lou waiting for her that discuss Lou's experience after Mrs. Witt had gone. Flora had convinced Lou and Rico to stay with her while Rico recovered. Lou had told Rico about how Mrs. Witt had ridden away with St. Mawr to prevent the stallion's castration. Rico agreed to give the horse back to Lou. Lou began spending more time with Phoenix and her own horse Poppy. She finally told Rico that she intended to go to America with her mother and the horses. Lou used the excuse that she and her mother would be doing business for their estates in Texas, America, and implied that the stay in America would be temporary.

Mrs. Witt is pleased as she reads the letters. She arranges for Lewis to take St. Mawr to London and for Lewis to meet Lou there. She leaves for London the following week. In London, Lou convinces Lewis to continue on with them and St. Mawr to America.

Lou, Mrs. Witt, Phoenix, Lewis, and St. Mawr board a cargo ship to America. Mrs. Witt hates the sea and stays locked in her cabin as they pass over the ocean. Their first stop across the Atlantic is Cuba where Lou and Mrs. Witt stay at a hotel occupied by American tourists. The tourists enjoy drinking liquor which is currently illegal in the United States.

America

The group leaves for San Antonio, Texas, and travels to their ranch. Lou ponders the wide-open spaces of Texas and the peculiarities of the Americans who live there and drive motorcars. St. Mawr happily settles into the wide-open spaces of Texas and even makes advances to mate with a mare.

Lou spends more time with Phoenix. He fascinates her and she begins to imagine a romantic relationship with him. She decides against it before even trying because Phoenix is a servant and because her relationship with Rico has caused her to be repulsed by sexuality and romantic affairs. Lou wants to guard herself against ever experiencing a romantic relationship again, even in her marriage to Rico.

Lou finds a ranch that she would like to buy. The large ranch was once successful, but overspending left it semi-abandoned and in disrepair. A former schoolmaster who became a gold prospector bought the ranch but then traded it away to settle his debt. The trader who acquired it worked to obtain piped running water from a small creek. He spent summers there with his wife while Mexican farmers worked the farm's goats and alfalfa crop. The trader's ambitions were high. Fifty goats became 500 after a few years, and the responsibilities became difficult to manage. The trader found himself pouring money into the ranch with few returns. Bad luck followed with chickens dying or wandering away, horses struck by lightning, and black ants invading the house. The beauty of the paradise-like view of the mountains eventually was not enough to make up for the hardships. The trader and his wife gave up and went back to live in the village down the mountain, leaving Mexican ranchers in charge.

Lou becomes infatuated with the ranch. She buys it and brings her mother to take a look. Mrs. Witt agrees that it is beautiful but feels it is so run down that restoration would be hopeless. Lou explains that it will be an escape for her from the many romantic relationships she no longer wishes to endure. Mrs. Witt then agrees that the purchase is money well spent.

Analysis

Character Development

D.H. Lawrence portrays Lou as a young woman with no sense of belonging, and that lack haunts her throughout the story. Lou is a young woman of privilege who can be wherever she wants while belonging nowhere. She quickly tires of her surroundings and searches for something meaningful and powerful that is out of reach, so she is fascinated with St. Mawr. Her lack of attachment to place and community does not erase her attachment to class structure because that is a world where she enjoys an advantage. She is a woman accustomed to getting what she wants, be it a change of scenery, Rico, St. Mawr, or Phoenix. She nonetheless despises some elements of class responsibility like the necessary pleasantries of social grace that her mother has mastered but she has not. Lou cannot change and does not become more mature as the story progresses. Something inside her that she cannot quite discover remains restless. Her self-proclaimed protectiveness of St. Mawr becomes an excuse to leave a marriage that has tired her and to pursue imagined new adventures in a new setting. Even the conclusion in America lacks finality because Lawrence ensures that Lou will ultimately tire of living there as well.

Lawrence slowly brings the audience to better understand Rico who is never what he seems to be. The story gradually reveals that Rico is not a name but a persona. Lawrence does not explain whether Lou was the one who used the name Rico to refer to her husband. She possibly created the character of Rico in her whimsical imagination. Rico himself is a charade. His real name is Sir Henry Carrington, and he is not rich as his lofty title suggests. He is therefore not truly a member of Lou's social class and this makes leaving him behind easier for her. Even his profession symbolizes his pretense. As a painter he recreates the world as he sees fit into a manufactured reflection of his perception of reality. He presents the new image to members of the social class he wishes to impress and to which he yearns to belong.

The initial glimpses of Mrs. Witt's character show a cold and one-dimensional mother constantly watching and standing in judgment. The story progresses to show more depth to Mrs. Witt. In her lie all the experiences that built the product of class privilege that her daughter has become. "St. Mawr" challenges the reader to determine whether the true poser is Rico with his suave personality, Lou with her endless state of uncertainty, or Mrs. Witt with her manufactured lifestyle who was born on a plantation driven by slave labor. The reader later learns that Lou may have inherited much of her confusion about life from her mother. Mrs. Witt herself is unsure of her place in life despite the air of confidence she exudes.

Metaphors

"St. Mawr" uses metaphors extensively and presents seemingly unrelated things as if they are the same as another, particularly in relation to the human connection with nature and interpersonal relationships. St. Mawr the horse is a metaphor for power and tenacious spirit not just of an animal but also of men forced to live in a manufactured reality and to exert control over an unseen force within themselves.

Lawrence's metaphors often use imagery from mythology. In "St. Mawr'' this includes Pan, the god of wild things in Greek myth. Pan presided over various aspects of natural wilderness and the wild, sexual side of humans. Lou struggles with these very topics as she navigates her way through the world. She easily obsesses with beauty and power in men only to find them flawed because they cannot be their natural selves in society. Lou sees Pan in men like Rico and in the stallion St. Mawr because they are both untamed inside and struggling for control in the world of humans.

Setting

Lawrence uses the setting to portray his characters' personalities, thoughts, and desires. Life changes for Lou when she goes to the countryside of Shropshire where Mrs. Witt buys a cottage. Shropshire has a few wealthy landowners interspersed within a farm labor community in a picturesque landscape. This setting resembles Lawrence's hometown of Eastwood, Nottinghamshire which was a mining town with many inhabitants trapped at the lower end of society. Lawrence places a small church near Mrs. Witt's property with its graveyard in her view which becomes an important detail. She watches and hears the funerals, and she laments about her age and missed opportunities. She even thinks about her own death.

Lou and Mrs. Witt leave for America to escape the ancient monotony of Europe. They view America as a place with exaggerated wide-open spaces and stereotypical Texans driving noisy, dust-raising cars. They try to fit in with the stoic cowboy persona. Lou purchases a ranch called Las Chivas that provides more illusion. The ranch is a failed dream where others before her worked to build the appearance of success with aspects like overly expensive piped-in water and an unmanageably large herd of sheep, yet Lou imagines it as the place where she might finally discover her true spirit.

St. Mawr Plot Diagram

ClimaxFalling ActionRising ActionIntroductionResolution2134675

Introduction

1 Lou and Rico meet, fall in love, and marry.

Rising Action

2 Lou is determined to buy a horse for Rico.

3 Lou and Rico visit Lou's mother's cottage in Shropshire.

4 St. Mawr injures Rico who then wants it shot or sold.

Climax

5 Mrs. Witt rides away to save St. Mawr.

Falling Action

6 Lou, Mrs. Witt, and St. Mawr travel to America.

Resolution

7 Lou discovers Las Chivas, a place where she can escape.

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