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Stripping the Veil of Familiarity from the World: D.H. Lawrence’s Art of Language in “The Border-Line”

Brigitte Macadré-Nguyên
p. 169-186

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1Obscurity, incommunicability, untranslatability are merely some of the words used to describe or criticize Lawrence’s sometimes failed attempts at communication, the failure being the result of his idiosyncratic use of language. If language refers to the systems which are developed by a community of people in order to communicate their experience, Lawrence is to be regarded as someone who devises an individual speech combining different resources of English in a way that can alienate, estrange, or at least raise doubts and questions in his readers. However this creative use of language can also be considered as a means to enlighten the readers through the revelation of another reality behind appearances or reach another level of reality by way of an apparent abstruseness or incomprehensibility. Hence the reference in the title of this paper to Shelley’s words in A Defence of Poetry (1821):

  • 1 “A Defence of Poetry” in Poets on Poetry, ed. Charles Norman (New York: Collier Books, 1962), 208.

[…] it strips the veil of familiarity from the world, and lays bare the naked and sleeping beauty which is the spirit of its forms.
All things exist as they are perceived; at least in relation to the percipient. And whether it spreads its own figured curtain or withdraws life’s dark veil from before the scene of things, it equally creates for us a being within our being. It makes us the inhabitants of a world to which the familiar world is a chaos. It reproduces the common Universe of which we are portions and percipients, and it urges from our inward sight the film of familiarity which obscures from us the wonder of our being.1

  • 2 Biographia Literaria (1817), (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1956), chapter 14, §2, 169: “ [… ] to give (...)

2Shelley’s words echo Coleridge’s “film of familiarity and selfish solicitude [which lead us to] have eyes, yet see not, ears that hear not, and hearts that neither feel nor understand.”2

  • 3 Ibid.
  • 4 Keith Cushman, “Ghosts and Fighting Celts in ‘The Border-Line’.” Etudes Lawrenciennes 33 (Presses u (...)

3I shall thus argue that Lawrence’s use of language also aims at stripping the veil of familiarity from the world in order to reveal what has been obscured by habit or blindness. His creative use of language aims at “ excit[ing]” in the readers “ a feeling analogous to the supernatural, by awakening the mind’s attention from the lethargy of custom,”3 to quote Coleridge again. Such a disruption of the habits of readers to help them see things afresh has since been called defamiliarization—or ostranenie, Viktor Shklovsky’s word (“making strange”) in his essay “ Poetry as Technique” (1917). The purpose of this paper is twofold: to examine how Lawrence proceeds, that is, the devices he uses to make the familiar seem strange and unfamiliar, in order to better enlighten his readers and reveal the hidden reality of the world and, secondly, whether these attempts are successful for the reader, who could well be alienated and lost in the process. Indeed what is revealed may well be another, even more obscure, level of reality which, as such, may hinder revelation. To study Lawrence’s literary devices or deviations from the ordinary, we will closely read the short story “The Border-Line” in its 1924 Hutchinson Magazine version, our attention being focused on its borderline status, half-way between the everyday world story and the fantastic, supernatural, Gothic story. “The Border-Line,” “a love-triangle story in the modern Gothic mode,” to quote Keith Cushman,4 in which Katherine Farquhar, who had first been married to a Scotsman, Alan Anstruther, who went missing in action in 1915, is now remarried to Philip Farquhar. During her journey from Paris to Baden-Baden to meet her husband, she stops in Strasburg where the ghost of her dead husband appears to her. After this eerie encounter, Katherine questions the validity of her marriage with Philip, who then falls ill and dies in a “pool of blood.” The story is ideal for an analysis of the passage from one type of fiction to another, which could also be viewed as the actual stripping of the veil, veil-stripping in the making, so to speak.

Deviations from the conventions of ordinary language: tearing away the veil of familiarity to reveal the unfamiliar world behind

  • 5 D.H. Lawrence,“The Border-Line” [BL], in Selected Short Stories (London: Penguin, [September 1924] (...)

4I have tried to identify the different devices or deviations used by Lawrence, quoting several examples among the numerous ones which could have been given. To begin with, he resorts to the language of excess, evident as early as in the first paragraph: “ she had a morbid fear of underpaying anyone, but particularly a man who was eager to serve her” (BL 370),5 where we notice the tendency to establish incongruous relations between terms such as anguish, death and sex and the simple fact of tipping a porter, referred to in this opening “Ghosts and Fighting Celts in ‘The Border-Line.’” sentence. The result is an intertwining of the different themes of the story and the foregrounding of its ambiguous generic status: is it a ghost story, a love story, an ordinary world story, or all of these?

5Strings of adjectives are used in characterization. These adjectives in turn are never neutral, being exaggerated, inflated, with prefixes like over-, un- or suffixes like –less. Alan Anstruther is qualified as being “dauntless,” “overbearing,” “indomitable,” “overweening,” “unyielding,” all in the same page. However this inflation is ironically undermined in the same breath by the qualification that “Lordly or not, he wasn’t much of a success in the worldly sense” (371), so that the language itself undermines what it is apparently saying: excess in the language of characterization shows the vanity of the character—with an obvious touch of self-parody in the description of his being “red-haired, blue-eyed, bony.” Alan is obviously D.H. Lawrence, while Katherine and her “amiable, queen-bee self” (371) is Frieda, and the little somebody is J. M. Murry.

6There is an accumulation of adjectives then, but also a recourse to repetitions and hyperboles, to a series of inappropriate or incongruous adjective-noun pairs, “voluptuous scramble,” “voluptuous suffocation,” and a number of coined compound words, “husband-care,” “husband-knowledge.” Clearly this is a creative use of grammar on the part of Lawrence, in particular the use of adverbs as nouns—“ in the afterwards” for example—or quantifiers like somebody somebodies/ nobody/ nobodies, which can be deprived of meaning by their sheer repetition. Philip, the narrator notes, “was a little somebody”/ “Her world […] consisted almost entirely of little somebodies. She was outside the sphere of the nobodies, always had been. And the Somebodies with a capital S, were all safely dead. […] Paris […] seemed intended for Somebody. In a ghostly way it called for some supreme Somebody” (371). All these are yet other means of making the familiar unfamiliar.

7Obviously another device drawn on by D.H. Lawrence is the use of foreign words: French and German, quite appropriately so, given the geographical situation, namely the borderline between France and Germany. The French porters at the station “Madamed her.[…] Because, after all, she was Boche.” Indeed, says the narrator “At the Gare de l’Est, of course, everyone was expected to be Boche.” “Madame was travelling alone” (370). There is also the creative use of those foreign words, making a verb from a foreign noun. Otherness and feeling of alienation, both literal and metaphorical are effectively rendered by this use of French words. The adjective “chétif” is used in connection with Philip (382) while German exclamations “Ach” mock Philip’s littleness.

8Lawrence’s idiosyncratic vocabulary, that is, his tendency to give words idiosyncratic meanings, can also be a means of estranging the reader’s experience. There is the question of of what a “real” man is (372-373), which is voiced by way of the ironical defence of the husband by the lover in an exchange with the former’s wife, again with the distance created in the reader by possible biographical knowledge: Philip says to Katherine that Alan is amazing as he is “the only real man, what I call a real man, that I have ever met,” “the only man who can’t help being real.” To which Katherine retorts “Ha! You overrate his reality,” a remark which is interesting in many ways, involving as it does the question of what it is to be a real man/ a manly man, virile and potent, or a material man, as opposed to a ghostly, unreal, immaterial man. The passage about the reality of a man is also stressed through Alan’s derogatory comment on Philip “I never positively cared for the man. He’s too much over the wrong side of the border for me” (373), with its proleptic irony and the stress drawn to the notion of reality and to borders or borderlines between reality and unreality.

9Another example of this idiosyncratic vocabulary is the use of the adverb “back,” which could emphasize the fact the end is in the beginning: “Paris brought back her first husband, Alan Anstruther”—another ambiguous phrasing that could mean recollecting/ remembering/ bringing back from the dead (But we can bear in mind that remembering, in fact, means bringing back from the dead by making whole again.)

10When Alan leaves Katherine to go to war, there is indeed an over-insistent use of “back”: “he looked back at her,” the “remote, realizing look that lay at the back of his eyes” (373). This “backward” movement is echoed by Katherine’s will to “reverse” “the whole flow of history”—not surprisingly: “Alan never came back,” but she “had never mourned for him,” “had never considered him dead” (374). This is another instance of the unsettling use of a grammatical tense. Why is the pluperfect used here? Is it a proleptic effect? Indeed Alan’s inevitable coming back is anticipated by the use of the pluperfect and the superimposition of the two tenses.

11Other devices which shall be focused on at length in the second part of the article can be identified. There are the abrupt stylistic changes or mood sways which buffet the reader from humour and satire to tragedy and a Gothic atmosphere endowed with all the paraphernalia of a Gothic gory tale. And there are the textual contradictions or illogical assertions, mainly linked with Katherine’s perception, “ He was a stranger: and yet, it was he, no other” (378) and the time distortions, its compression and dilution, involving the speeding up or slowing down of the action: “Came the war, and the departure of Alan’s regiment for France” (373), “ Alan never came back” (374). These indications are almost like parentheses in time, similar to Woolf’s compression of time in To the Lighthouse. To give yet another example of time compression, a 6-year period of time is rendered in a single paragraph: “In the spring of 1915 he (Alan) was missing. […] And in 1921 she had married him (Philip)” (374). The narrative device gives an unrealistic, unsettling quality to the passing of time in what is an otherwise seemingly realistic atmosphere. Examples of these narrative disruptions are the story’s two long analeptic passages, the first introduced by “Paris brought back her first husband,” with its evocation of her first marriage, Alan’s disappearance and her subsequent remarriage with Philip, ends on Philip’s denial—“she suddenly deluded herself into feeling as if Philip had never existed, only Alan had ever been her husband” (375). The second passage, about Strasburg Cathedral, brings the narrative to a standstill and undermines the chronological flow of narration.

Going from the familiar to the unfamiliar: Veil-stripping in the making

12Here I would like to focus on those two key passages that are also actual passages from one side of the story to the other, the actual crossing of the border from realism to fantasy or ghost story, or to a kind of “magic realism” where the reader is actually forced to admit that what he/she could have taken for Katherine’s hallucinations and delusions is in reality a “real” encounter with her dead or missing husband.

13I am referring to the passage following Katherine’s marriage to Philip and her subsequent growing malaise, which prepares her for the second passage relating her encounter with her dead husband outside Strasburg Cathedral.

141. The first passage combines several devices we have already mentioned, such as the accumulative effect of adjectives, nouns, the lexical field of disease, corruption and death, coupled with the use of “unreal”—which can of course be related to the resonances of “real,” in the Laurentian sense, and which thus defamiliarizes the reader quite effectively:

At first it was wonderfully pleasant and restful and voluptuous, especially for a woman of 38, to be married to Philip. Katherine felt he caressed her senses, and soothed her, and gave her what she wanted.
Then, gradually, a curious sense of degradation started in her spirit. She felt unsure, uncertain. It was almost like having a disease. Life became dull and unreal to her, as it had never been before. […] In the numbness of her flesh she could feel no reactions. Everything was turning to mud.
The memory of Alan came back to her. (374)

15It is no accident that the clause “The memory of Alan came back to her” is placed at the beginning of a new paragraph which echoing another one, four paragraphs earlier, also placed at the beginning of a paragraph, thus bracketing Katherine’s gradual sense of estrangement and degradation in her new life. Echoes are created in the reader’s mind, with the insistence on “back”– that is the “revenant”/ the one coming back—and the unorthodox definitions of “real/ unreal,” that is, the sense that Alan always had this quality of being “real,” whereas life for Katherine after his disappearance becomes “unreal.” The word “mud,” along with Katherine’s impression of suffocation, are not neutral either, insofar as Alan went missing in the mud of the trenches. Katherine seems to be experiencing agony and death in the trench mud, or even death-gas, through a sort of displacement process, gasping “from her oppressed lungs” (375). The suffocation is both “strange” and “voluptuous,” leaving her soul in mud. The sudden “coming back” of Alan’s face, the feeling that he is at her side again, makes her “breathe air” more freely. Her strange exhilaration experienced at the beginning of the story can thus be explained by her feeling that she is coming back to Alan, in an oxymoronic state of mind that is both “unseeing” and in “full consciousness,” not unlike the experience of a drug-induced semi-trance which is nonetheless conscious, also reminiscent of a border-line, in-between, entre-deux experience through which Katherine is made ready for the reunion with her missing husband. This is why it is by no means a surprise, when she realizes that she is now in the “Marne country,” “(t)he border country, where the Latin races and the Germanic neutralize one another into horrid ash” (376), that she should describe the landscape from the train window as a nightmarish one, a hellish vision of trench horrors, with the “fields of greyish earth” like “compound of the clay of dead men” and the trees “pallid, stark and thin” like bones, the houses like “rotten teeth” (375). And again we find a single, isolated sentence, a paragraph in itself, “Perhaps even the corpse of her own man among that grey clay” (376), the very first admission on her part that he might actually be dead. Katherine is going to the other side.

16When she has actually gone to the other side, through the looking-glass, everything that is real, in the common sense of the word, now becomes “artificial”: “[…] life, as she had known it, seemed all to turn artificial to her, the sunshine of the world an artificial light, with smoke above, like the light of the torches, and things artificially growing, in a night that was lit up artificially with such intensity that it gave the illusion of the day.” The real world is turned into a torch-lit cave, or vault, a Platonic world that is only the reflection of another world, which it seems, would be “ the grey shadows of death” (376).

17Strasburg is the city where the encounter will take place, with its “minster” which Katherine “remembered it so well, in that other life” (377). Everything is confused, for Katherine and for the reader, reality and illusion, past and present. Even the languages are mixed, the porter “addressed her at once in Alsatian German” (376-7) and “(s)hop-signs were in French, often with a little concession to German underneath.” In that general confusion, Katherine “ crossed the night-dark river” (377), the Styx, the black river of death, to the other side, towards the cathedral, everyday life elements become charged with nightmarish connotations. Again, it is hard to know whether it is Katherine’s mood which induces her response to the outer world, or if she is actually walking through the underworld, even the French policeman she asked her way from is curiously silent and merely “pointed out to her” (377).

182. The second passage worth commenting on at length in this gradual stripping of the veil is the description of Strasburg cathedral, symbol of the border-line world. The cathedral, a kind of hybrid monster, takes on both Gothic and typically Lawrencian qualities. All the devices used to defamiliarize the reader are present: the excess of adjectives, oxymorons, “reddish stone, that had a flush in the night, like dark flesh” (377), incongruous adjective-noun couplings, “the uncanny cathedral,” the compound adjectives or nouns, “demonish-heathen” (377) and “ blood-creature.” It is here that I wish to quote from Freud’s The Uncanny, which offers us an acute analysis of the process that is going on in “The Border-Line” and which points at what Lawrence’s stripping of the veil could reveal:

The subject of the “uncanny” is a province of this kind. It is undoubtedly related to what is frightening—to what arouses dread and horror; equally certainly, too, the word is not always used in a clearly definable sense, so that it tends to coincide with what excites fear in general.
the uncanny is that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar. How this is possible, in what circumstances the familiar can become uncanny and frightening, I shall show in what follows.
Many people experience the feeling in the highest degree in relation to death and dead bodies, to the return of the dead, and to spirits and ghosts.
The imaginative writer has this license among many others, that he can select his world of representation so that it either coincides with the realities we are familiar with or departs from them in what particulars he pleases.

  • 6 Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny , 1-18.

19The situation is altered as soon as the writer pretends to move in the world of common reality. In this case he accepts as well all the conditions operating to produce uncanny feelings in real life; and everything that would have an uncanny effect in reality has it in his story. But in this case he can even increase his effect and multiply it far beyond what could happen in reality, by bringing about events which never or very rarely happen in fact. In doing this he is in a sense betraying us to the superstitiousness which we have ostensibly surmounted; he deceives us by promising to give us the sober truth, and then after all overstepping it.6

20With Lawrence’s gradual unveiling of another world, Strasburg Cathedral becomes uncanny for the reader, because it passes from the status of inanimate, lifeless object to that of animate being or animal. Conversely, Alan’s apparition can raise doubts in both Katherine and the reader, who could wonder if the apparition is animate or inanimate.

21The fact that the architectural, uplifting, stained-glass window, the lit symbol of Christianity, is transformed into a heathen, demonish, primitive monster lurking in the dark, with its “indomitable blood” (378), is indeed uncanny, revealing as it does the repressed tendencies hidden under a Christian veneer, with this “blotting out [of] the Cross it was supposed to exalt” (378). Jesus, as the son sacrificed by God the Father also becomes, by the same token, the victim of a primitive sacrifice demanded by this “vast, silent beast with teeth of stone” (378). Simultaneously the horror felt can also be explained by the metaphorization of the Great War, which had bled a whole generation of young men white and dry—that is this “pallid humanity,” this “ashy pallor and sulphur” with its “ white brittleness” (378) like bones ready to be crushed. The passage enacts a comprehensively sacrilegious inversion of the symbol of the Cross, now made of whitened bones or the white crosses of the tombs for war casualties, from which a new humanity will be born and “move erect once more” (378). It is not surprising that Alan should appear to Katherine in this context of uncanny reversal of themes and references.

[…] she noticed a man standing on the pavement, in the direction of the post office, which functions obscurely in the Cathedral Square. Immediately, she knew that that man, standing dark and motionless, was Alan. He was alone, motionless, remote. (378)

22Katherine’s unreasoned and unreasonable knowledge of Alan’s presence takes on an almost psychiatric border-line quality. Is it then a definite crossing of the border between the ordinary world and the fantastic world, between reality and delusion? The reader is unable to assert for sure whether Katherine is a victim of her senses or is mentally unbalanced or if we are in the accepted, conventional world of a Gothic tale. As Freud puts it, one could feel betrayed by the writer. Alan is both similar and different, as is shown by the repetitive binary structure of the clauses which assert something in order better to contradict it subsequently, deconstructing its meaning by the same token: “It was he, though she could hardly see his face,” “He did not speak, but laid his hand detainingly on her arm,” “a stranger” and” yet it was he, no other,” “He said nothing at all. But that was also in keeping,” “she was walking with his spirit. But that even did not trouble her” (378).

23What is more, this uncanny, blood-curdling, ghastly situation seems natural to Katherine. She experiences a surprising contentment and relief, along with a sense of “homecoming,” in what is another inversion of Christ’s Coming (with the prayer-like repetitive pattern of the four paragraphs, starting with “Now, afterwards/ Now, in the afterwards/ Now, she knew/ Now, in the afterwards she realized”) and the insistence on his kindly aura, his “silent kindliness,” looking at her “darkly but kindly,” giving her thoughtless pleasure and a flood of contentment to which she gladly submits. Her inner relief and release result furthermore in a flood of tears, “tears running from her cheeks” (379), as opposed to the “frozen weariness of conquered humanity.” These might be the flowing waters of re-birth, maybe also the orgasmic flow of fountain-women, as opposed to the frozen waters of death and frigidity. Again there is a pervasive ambivalence and a loss of references as it is a “revenant,” a ghost from the dead that recreates and rejuvenates her.

24The town is also contaminated by this process of defamiliarization, taking on a quality of unrealistic reality: it is “stony and cold,” its inhabitants are “pale, chilled through, doomed,” “forlorn souls waiting to cross the Rhine” (380). Her eyes have been opened, she lived in a world of ghosts, and it is the coming back of a dead man that has brought her back to life. Katherine’s actual journey back home seems to be suspended between two worlds. This is echoed in the vocabulary and the rhythm of the text, whose whole environment is threatened or contaminated by a sense of numbness, neutrality, absence and suspense, as if the stripping of the veil revealed only a no man’s land, both thematic and textual, where nothing is said and nothing takes place: “The train crept slowly, disheartened, out of town”[…] “[S]lowly the country disintegrated into the Rhine flats and marshes” (380); “[…] utterly disheartening the river […],” “[t]here was a long wait in Kehl, where the German officials and the French observed a numb, dreary kind of neutrality,” “[b]ut the train waited and waited, as if unable to get away from that one point of pure negation, where the two races neutralized one another, and no polarity was felt” (381).Communication has also been ruptured. Katherine “heeded neither French nor German, spoke one language or the other at need, hardly knowing” (381). Katherine seems to lose consciousness of her use of languages, and the string of foreign or enemy-sounding towns, Kehl, Appenweier, Steinbach, Oos, Baden-Baden, Heidelberg, which follows also contributes to this loss of meaning and to the defamiliarizing process.

  • 7 Already used in “Daughters of the Vicar”: “ There arrived a small, chétif man, scarcely larger than (...)

25Katherine’s experience with the ghost of her first husband, the living dead, strangely ruddy and full of silent energy and authority, helps her see in Philip, her second husband, Alan’s Doppelgänger, his living yet ghostly double. It is thus the actual, living husband who was now “looking ill, yellowish,” “queer and chétif,”7 a “little” man, a “lesser man alive than Alan is dead” (382), a “ stand-up mannikin”, a “toy man” to be laughed at through the derogatory comments of her two sisters who were “rattling away in German” and whose German exclamations “Ach” (383) sound harsh and cut into Philip’s softness. Her husband has lost all reality for Katherine: “You don’t seem very real to me”, she said (384), so that even his name sounds pathetic and humiliating—“She was humiliated even by the fact that her name was Katherine Farquhar” (382).

  • 8 See Keith Cushman: Alan is “a modern incubus, lying on top of his victim and pressing the life out (...)

26The story again veers to the Gothic, as revisited by Lawrence. There are clusters of images of blood, dreams, nightmares, ghosts, ghouls, blood-sucking vampires. Philip’s ordeal and final death help the reader to realize that Katherine’s experience in Strasburg Cathedral was no hallucination, but a diegetic reality, so to speak. Philip is now haunted by Alan, dreams—it starts with “I dream terribly,” “(b)ut nearly always about Alan” (385)—and experiences literal nightmares, as he dreams that “someone was lying on my bed, outside the bedclothes. […] Then I knew it was Alan, lying there in the cold. And he was terribly heavy. He was so heavy I couldn’t move, […], I could hardly breathe, they were like tight lead round me. It was so awful, they were like a lead coffin-shell. […] When I awoke at last, I thought I was dead.” (385)8

27Everyday reality has utterly vanished from the world of the story. The other people taking the waters with Katherine and Philip have become “dark spirits round a source of steam” (386); the water is “hot, queer, hellish-tasting,” and it makes Philip choke and cough under Alan’s watchful and ghostly gaze: “He coughed and coughed, in a convulsed spasm as if choking,” while Katherine later “saw with horror that there was a red smear of blood on Philip’s chin, and red blotches on his overcoat” (386-387). The reader now knows that what could have been interpreted as Katherine’s hallucinations or delusions are not, and that Alan has definitely come back from the dead to take his revenge on Philip, like an incubus sucking the life and blood out of him. Katherine is strangely unable or unwilling to help Philip, she either leaves him alone in fear—“You’ll be better alone” (387)—or is prevented from helping him by “two hands cold and strong as iron” (388). Blood is everywhere, in a red smear on Philip’s chin, then running down his chin, because Alan “burst a blood-vessel in his chest,” till finally blood is “all over the sheets,” ending with Philip in a “ pool of blood.” Conversely, while Philip is gradually bleeding to death, Alan undergoes a strange metamorphosis from “wonderful, changeless idol radiating a strange, stony coldness” (387) to a “hard and cold” Tree of Life that “seemed to possess her through every pore of her body” (389).

From the reader’s point of view, does the story actually work? And what was there to reveal?

28But does the process of defamiliarization really work its magic for the reader? What does the stripping of the veil reveal? Certainly not any admirable beauty or poetic truth but, on the contrary, something that is more in the manner of an inversion of Christian redemption, a pervasive presence of death and blood-dried deserts, a loss of flesh and of incarnated sexuality, a neutralized, empty world, a void in which a “real” man is indeed a “neutral” ghost, neither male nor female, a “Tree of Life.” The end of the story is moreover cryptic, bewildering for the reader. There is a confusion in words, there are meaningless languages, mythological cross-references and foreign names: the two men encountered by Katherine on the hill are referred to as “queer, wild ruffians,” “tramps” and “Lumpen”; the words they utter are obscure—“Every tramp can have his lady” (389). Cryptic too are the references first to Merkur Hill and Mercury, even if he is the messenger of the Gods who conducted the souls of the dead to Hades. The two tramps could almost be seen as Shakespearian or Beckettian fools whose meaningless words are but dumb gestures:

“We are hardly men and women together. We are more like the men and women who have drunk in this hall, living after our day.”
“Only we eat and smile still, and the men want the women still.”
“ No! No! A man forgets his trouser-lining when he sees the ghost and the woman together” (390)

  • 9 See note 8.

29Perhaps the process of stripping the veil of familiarity from the world through his idiosyncretic use of language ultimately represented a way for Lawrence to come to terms with the cruelty of this world, rather than a process for the enlightenment of his readers and for the revelation of the hidden truth behind the veil. Indeed it should be pointed out that for Katherine the “[…] route she takes from Paris, via Nancy and then Strasbourg, exactly parallels that of the Lawrences when they left the French capital on 6 February 1924” (Ellis 160). The three protagonists of the story are the doubles of Lawrence, Frieda and Murry. We could therefore say that Lawrence’s story enables him to achieve a displacement process, both in his “fear and knowledge of tubercular haemorrhage” (Ellis 163)9—hence Philip’s haemorrhaging to death—, in his awareness of Frieda and Murry’s affair as well and also of his own sexual impotence. This may explain the insistence on love-making which does not involve penetration but “alternative methods of gratification” (Ellis 164) which might not have satisfied Frieda. The story notes that Alan’s final embrace felt as if “the tree itself were growing round her, the hard, live wood compressing and almost devouring her, […] crushing her in the last final ecstasy of submission, squeezing from her the last drop of passion […]” (390). As Keith Cushman puts it, Alan’s “voracious” embrace at the end of the story “dramatizes uncomfortable ideas about sex roles and arguable sexual politics” (Cushman 205). Above all, “The Border-Line” is a veil-stripping writing exercise through which Lawrence could exorcize all his fears and tame the eternal anguish of the after-death journey to the other side. At the end of “The Border-Line,” the vision revealed to the reader by the stripping of the veil is by no means the promise of a new world, as with Ursula’s epiphany in the final page of The Rainbow. The vision is rather of a post-apocalypse wasteland only peopled at best by “little somebodies,” as “the Somebodies with a capital S were all safely dead” (371), and where the ghost of a man can only sexually satisfy a woman by turning into a negation, a “hard and cold Tree of Life” threatening to crush her in a mortal “ecstasy of submission” (390).

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1 “A Defence of Poetry” in Poets on Poetry, ed. Charles Norman (New York: Collier Books, 1962), 208.

2 Biographia Literaria (1817), (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1956), chapter 14, §2, 169: “ [… ] to give the charm of novelty to things of every day, and to excite a feeling analogous to the supernatural, by awakening the mind’s attention from the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us; an inexhaustible treasure, but for which in consequence of the film of familiarity and selfish solicitude we have eyes, yet see not, ears that hear not, and hearts that neither feel nor understand.”

3 Ibid.

4 Keith Cushman, “Ghosts and Fighting Celts in ‘The Border-Line’.” Etudes Lawrenciennes 33 (Presses universitaires Paris 10, 2005), 196.

5 D.H. Lawrence,“The Border-Line” [BL], in Selected Short Stories (London: Penguin, [September 1924] 1982).

6 Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny , 1-18.

7 Already used in “Daughters of the Vicar”: “ There arrived a small, chétif man, scarcely larger than a boy of 12 […] ‘What a little abortion’” ( The Prussian Officer and Other Stories. London: Penguin Century Classics, 1945), 59.

8 See Keith Cushman: Alan is “a modern incubus, lying on top of his victim and pressing the life out of him.” (202) and David Ellis’s remark on homoerotic hints: “Alan’s way of killing Philip is unusual: ‘by lying on top of him’.” (Dying Game, 1922-1930. Cambridge: CUP, 1998), 164.

9 See note 8.

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Brigitte Macadré-Nguyên, « Stripping the Veil of Familiarity from the World: D.H. Lawrence’s Art of Language in “The Border-Line” », Études Lawrenciennes, 44 | 2013, 169-186.

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Brigitte Macadré-Nguyên, « Stripping the Veil of Familiarity from the World: D.H. Lawrence’s Art of Language in “The Border-Line” », Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 44 | 2013, mis en ligne le 01 avril 2014, consulté le 29 mai 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/lawrence.194

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Brigitte Macadré-Nguyên

Brigitte Macadré-Nguyên is a Lecturer at Reims University of Technology. Her PhD dissertation focused on D.H. Lawrence as artist and art critic. She has written several papers on Lawrence, all published in Etudes Lawrenciennes.

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Études lawrenciennes est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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