The Man Who Died by DH Lawrence

The Man Who Died by DH Lawrence (1931)
from The Virgin and the Gipsy & Other Stories (Wordsworth Classics, 2004) and a DH Lawrence omnibus (Book Club Associates, 1980)

I had read elsewhere that the first chapter of The Man Who Died is a story of the resurrection of Jesus (the religious figure, not a Spanish speaker). And it sure is, even though the words “Jesus”, “Christ” or “Messiah” and such things are ever mentioned. Clever lad, averting controversy by omission! Should anyone ask, he could’ve just said “well does it say that the man is Jesus anywhere? No? There you go, then! Who says it’s about Jesus at all? Might be about another bloke. Called, I dunno, Brian.” Should perhaps be a [sic] at the end of that, considering the man in this story could be classed as a Very Naughty Boy, at least come chapter two.

Chapter one (of two) starts by talking about a cock, and I do mean the animal. Okay, that doesn’t help, actually, I mean a male hen. This particular male hen is a very special male hen, because his feathers are particularly lovely and he wants freedom and all the rest of it and tries to escape. Then it’s cut to a man who hears said animal’s call, and wakes up from the dead. Or, as he says himself, near death – they cut him down before he was properly dead.

And it goes on to tell how this resurrected fellow feels about being oblivious and suddenly being back in his body and how awkward, bizarre and generally disappointing that feels. He’s not exactly pleased. Think Buffy and her post-ressurection blues – she was in a very nice place, then she gets dragged back to her physical body and finds it a lot less interesting than it used to be. That’s pretty much what this unnamed man goes through. (Hah, yes I did just compare Jesus to Buffy … sweet! :))

It begs the question of what it would be like. Here, the resurrectee is more of a normal bloke. A nice bloke, sure, but none of that lakewalking, insta-vintage out of water stuff. A man. Which I suppose I quite liked just from the fact of that’s how I see him. A man who had some good ideas once upon a time, but nothing supernatural to it. So it caters very well for those of us who aren’t inclined to the Judeo-Christian religion(s). Someone who is, on the other hand, might find it positively blasphemous. To those, I say, “hey it doesn’t say it’s him!” 😛

Chapter two is where it gets bizarre. Here we have the resurrectee visiting a temple of Isis, the Egyptian goddess, and he sees the head priestess there. They worship together. They have sex together. That’s a bit weird even for me, that he’d get into bed with someone of such vastly different belief systems. Although, Isis might be a bit easier on the fire and brimstone, so I don’t blame him.

So yes, in part one, a man gets resurrected and tries to adjust to his renewed lease of life, and in part two, he gets a-shaggin’ (which, as it happens, is a good way of “feeling alive”). It’s a fairly odd story altogether, and a bit brutal in parts (did we really need to know about a slave raping another, unconscious, slave?) but it’s also deeply fascinating and very well written. Such a shame DH Lawrence isn’t alive today; I would’ve loved to have a philosophical conversation with him! And that’s the thing, it’s stories like these that make me think he was an absolute genius, writer or no. If only all his writings were as intriguing as this!

This is my sixth review for the DH Lawrence Challenge 2010.

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