…But just because they are avenues of escape and not fantasies doesn’t mean they are all the same, or that they are all desirable. It seems to me there are two kinds of escape, at least, and here again, D.H. Lawrence’s stories in The Woman Who Rode Away outline the contours of each of them. The first type, the “bad” kind, which Lawrence shows most clearly in “The Woman Who Rode Away” and “Jimmy and the Desperate Woman,” views escape both as a complete, physical fleeing from the situation and as an ironic (in the Deleuzean sense) protest against the state of the situation. In the latter story, Jimmy’s convincing a woman to abandon her miserable working-class life and marry him registers a protest against a social milieu that sees him as less than masculine. In the former story, the titular woman’s dissatisfaction with a family in which she is treated as property, as equivalent to the silver mines her husband owns, causes her to run away and seek out the authentic, exotic embrace of the mysterious natives who live on the other side of the mountains. In each case, the character’s primary concern is with registering disapproval, with the purpose of both voicing dissent and enunciating their subjectivity.
Az has an excellent post on possession, escape, and experimentation that uses the idea of traces to describe the effects that sociality has on subjects; that is, traces
in a Foucauldian sense: that the historical traces of capitalism, desires to own, even desire itself — what has been apparently repressed, forbidden — are not in fact repressed at all […] but form discourses in themselves, become institutionalised within us. And finally, they become objects of desire in themselves. And thus, the solution is not to repress or to retrain but to trace the working of those desires externally, in the field of the social, but also internally
In the Lawrence stories, the main characters’ every action is an attempt to erase — to repress and retrain — these traces. Their solution to their own subjection is to prove that the traces are false or wrongly applied or unfairly burdensome, while assuming that the social situation that leaves them is neutral and inescapable. In both cases, fleeing and protesting ensure not only that the fugitives and protesters don’t escape their situations but that the bonds with their sociality are renewed, reaffirmed, and strengthened: Jimmy’s marriage has the potential to rearrange his position in the social order, and the woman who rode away runs into the mirror opposite of her “civilized” situation — instead of being the commercial property of her husband, she becomes the religious property of the native men. In both stories, the social order remains undisturbed.
There’s also a theological element to this kind of escape. In “The Woman Who Rode Away,” the woman tells the natives who capture her that “I came away from the white man’s God myself. I came to look for the God of the Chilchui.” The kind of escape she enacts, Lawrence makes clear, is thoroughly religious: It is the trading of one god (master) for another, it is the search for a savior (or, in Jimmy’s case, the desire to become a savior), and it is all carried out with a evangelistic desire to persuade.
There is, however, another kind of escape, one that, as Lawrence says it, “side-steps” the situation, and the state of the situation. In “Glad Ghosts,” the narrator finds himself in a house in which the inhabitants are deadlocked in their mourning.
“This house is awfully depressing,” I said to her, as we mechanically danced. “Why don’t you DO something? Why don’t you get out of this tangle? Why don’t you break it?”
“How?” she said.
I looked down at her, wondering why she was suddenly hostile.
“You needn’t fight,” I said. “You needn’t fight it. Don’t get tangled up in it. Just side-step, on to another ground.”
She made a pause of impatience before she replied:
“I don’t see where I am to side-step to, precisely.”
“You do,” said I. “A little while ago, you were warm and unfolded and good. Now you are shut up and prickly, in the cold. You needn’t be. Why not stay warm?”
“It’s nothing I do,” she said coldly.
“It is. Stay warm to me. I am here. Why clutch in a tug-of-war with Lady Lathkill?”
“Do I clutch in a tug-of-war with my mother-in-law?”
“You know you do.”
Lawrence’s advice here is excellent: Don’t engage in the tug-of-war, but move to other ground where the terrain is more favorable for fighting.
Lawrence also makes it clear that a good escape does not consist of fleeing a situation but attempts to alter its conditions. In “The Last Laugh,” the two main characters have a relationship that is at odds with how male-female relationships are supposed to operate: not exactly lovers, but in love with one another; friends, but in a more intimate way than is usually considered appropriate between the sexes. To help them navigate their relationship, they imagine (conjure up?) a person who can “alter all the world immediately,” and this person’s probing, life-affirming laughter makes them realize their foolishness and the foolishness of the situation they find themselves in. This person they imagine, however, is not a transcendent being that arrives to save them. That would be even more foolish. “Really, what fantastic silliness, saving a man from himself! Saving anybody. What fantastic silliness!” Instead this creation allows them to change the conditions of their situation by redefining love in a way that suits their relationship. Instead of raging against the situation or try to erase the traces, they embrace the risks of such an experiment, which reminds of Az’s advice:
We are all propertarians. Admitting that, and watching the traces, maybe laughing at them a little, and going on. That is what it means to take a risk.