1. Victorian Age 2.D.H.Lawrence 3.Chrysanthemums 4.Analysis 5.Optical illusions

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Lesson plan

  1. Pair work (15 min.)

Students will reread the text "Odour of Chrysanthemums" with a specific observation goal in mind. In pairs they will consider particular topics and collect facts to prove their statements.


  1. the two women
  2. the manager and the colliers
  3. the dead body
  4. the place
  5. the title
  6. the point of view
  7. the language
  1. Reporting (15 min.)

Moderated by the teacher, the students inform the class about their observations and conclusions. They try to grasp DHL by finding evidence for:

bullethis criticism of industrialization, which forces people to live in impossible circumstances and kills them mercilessly;
bullethis criticism of hypocritical morality, which prohibits people from truly meeting each other.
  1. Completion group document (15 min.)

In groups of three the students add informative paragraphs about the above topics to their final group report. They make links with existing pages.

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a) the two women


bulletkeeps functioning (mops up water, quietens the children, decides what must be done, washes the man, ...)
bulletdoesn’t cry
bulletis pregnant ("the child was like ice in her womb")
bulletlooks at the man from an erotic point of view (embraces the body, "a man of handsome body", "blond, full-fleshed, with fine limbs")
bulletrealizes her marriage was a poor one but doesn’t blame her husband for it ("She knew she had never seen him, he had never seen her, they had met in the dark and had fought in the dark, not knowing whom they met or whom they fought.")

the mother-in-law

bulletstops functioning (wakes up the children with her moaning and wonders why the manager bids her to be silent)
bulletweeps and cries all the time
bulletjealous ("Let me wipe him!")
bulletlooks at the man as if he were a boy or even a baby ("Dear lad - bless him", "White as milk he is, clear as a twelve-month baby, bless him, the darling!", "Isn’t he beautiful, the lamb?")

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b) the manager and the colliers

the manager

bulletharsh and impolite ("Wheer will you have him?" is the first thing he says to Elizabeth!)
bulletgives brisk orders to the colliers ("Lay the stretcher at the side," snapped the manager. "In there, Jim", "Mind now, mind!")
bulletpities himself ("What a job, what a job, to be sure!")
bulletdoesn’t seem to realize that his description of the accident must hurt the relatives. ("Seems as if it was done on purpose. Shut him in, like a mousetrap" - he made a sharp, descending gesture with his hand.)
bulletleaves the house without condoling with the women, without even greeting Elizabeth

the colliers

bulletdon’t say a word
bulletclumsy? (coat falls off the body, they break the vase)
bulletjerk aside their heads in hopeless comment
bulletstep over the body (!)

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c) the dead body

bulletshows no wounds, no bruises ("not a mark on him")
bulletblond, full fleshed, with fine limbs
bulletmouth slightly open... (as if ready to speak!)
bulleteyes, half open, don’t show glazed (as if he’s watching!)
bulletstill warm ("for the mine was hot where he had died")

Conclusion: the body doesn’t look dead. It is no more dead than when it was alive! Death has restored the truth: "They had been two isolated beings, far apart as now".

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d) the place

bullettwo rooms on the ground floor: parlour and pantry (typical cité-house)
bulletsmall: when the colliers get in with the stretcher they knock off a vase of flowers and when they leave they have to step over the body...
bulletbad insulation: in their bedroom the children hear the moaning of the mother-in-law and downstairs one understands every word Elizabeth whispers to her little daughter.

Conclusion: one can imagine the lack of privacy in such a place, where three generation live together and everyone hears what the others are doing. Perhaps these sad living circumstances condemned Elizabeth and her husband to remaining strangers to each other.

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e) the title

Odour of Chrysanthemums

bulletsymbolic: smell of death
bulletchrysanthemums: originally bluish and purple garden flowers which bloom very late in autumn (ideal to decorate graves with on All Saints’ Day: churchyard flowers).
bulletinterpretation: even before the corpse is entered into the house death was reigning there
bulletinterpretation: the broken vase means Elizabeth faces reality now. The dead body replaces the flowers - meaning, truth is restored: they had been dead for each other all the time.
bulletinterpretation: in so small a workers’ house the odour, the smell of death, reaches every room and every single corner. Meaning: miners’ families cannot live a happy life, death is on their heels all the time.

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f) the point of view

(Relevant to students who are acquainted with narrative techniques...)
Typical of DHL is the narrator who switches from neutral omniscience to selective omniscience, and back to neutral. At moments of high emotions, Lawrence gets so close to some of his characters that he identifies with them. There is no distance then between the narrator and the character. After emotions have peaked, the narrator leaves his selective point of view and becomes the neutral observer again -- a proof of instinctive behaviour!

bulletneutral omniscience: most of the time.

"The door came open , and the two women saw a collier backing into the room."

bulletselective omniscience: when we come so close to Elizabeth that we don’t see nor hear anyone else any more, i.a. each time when DHL uses free indirect speech.

"The child was like ice in her womb."

"And all the while her heart was bursting with grief and pity for him. She could make no reparation."

"It was finished then. It had become hopeless between them long before he died. yet he had been her husband. But how little!"

bulletSome might say we look at things from Elizabeth’s point of view all the time, that the narrator - and therefore the reader - is with her all the time. This isn’t true. E.g. when Elizabeth mounts the stairs the narrator remains behind:

"They could hear her on the boards, and on the plaster floor of the little bedroom."

"There was silence for a moment, then the men heard the frightened child again."

"Then she must have bent down and kissed the children."

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g) the language

"In most cases the human being who is affected by an emotion, is not the grammatical subject of the sentence; it is the feeling itself which is grammatical subject and agent of the sentence." (H. Servotte)

bullet"The old tears fell in succession as drops from wet leaves, the mother was not weeping, merely her tears flowed;"
bullet"The child was like ice in her womb."
bullet"For as she looked at the dead man, her mind, cold and detached, said clearly: ..."
bullet"And all the while her heart was bursting with grief and pity for him."

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Useful link

Helen Croom's view on "Odour of Chrysanthemums"

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