a swimming through, like rats in a dark river

Discussion in 'English Only' started by longxianchen, Feb 5, 2015.

  1. longxianchen Senior Member

    Here are some words from the novel Lady Chatterley's Lover
    (para.27) by Lawrence (the University of Adelaide,here)
    “Sometimes he( Michaelis) was handsome: sometimes as he looked sideways, downwards, and the light fell on him, he had the silent, enduring beauty of a carved ivory Negro mask, with his rather full eyes, and the strong queerly-arched brows, the immobile, compressed mouth; that momentary but revealed immobility, an immobility, a timelessness which the Buddha aims at, and which Negroes express sometimes without ever aiming at it; something old, old, and acquiescent in the race! Aeons of acquiescence in race destiny, instead of our individual resistance. And then a swimming through, like rats in a dark river. Connie felt a sudden, strange leap of sympathy for him, a leap mingled with compassion, and tinged with repulsion, amounting almost to love.”

    Please notice the words in red. What(or who) swims through like rats in a dark river? It's hard to understand this part. I guess it's Michaelis's hansome apperance that swam through(meaning "dispear" here I guess) like rats in a dark river. Am I right? If not, what does "swims through like rats in a dark river"mean please?

    Thank you in advance
  2. owlman5

    owlman5 Senior Member

    I'm not sure, longxianchen. I understand it to mean that black people may suddenly resist or escape from some inferior position that they have tolerated for a long time.

    A writer's metaphorical language can be hard to understand. Other readers may interpret this sentence to mean something else entirely.
  3. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    English - British
    Michaelis is (white) Irish, though, is he not?
    The swimming through is a separate idea, contrasted with the previous idea of acquiescent immobility.

    Rats in a dark river have to swim for the shore: and just keep swimming, in faith, as it were, since they cannot see their way to the shore.
    Lawrence means that Michaelis sometimes shows in his facial expression the same kind of faithful persistence, even when there is no clear way open for him.
  4. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southern England
    English - England
    Lawrence is picking up an earlier reference here.

    This is not the only animal image that Lawrence uses for Michaelis - the Dublin mongrel with his tail between his legs, the "outcast, in a certain sense; but with the desperate bravery of his rat-like existence."

    The rat image has been established already. It is Michaelis who is one of the rats who are swimming through. The swimming through represents the social emergence of a class of poor Irish intellectuals - Michaelis is a playwright - and the image is of rats being the river, a river of rats - the rats (Michaelis and fellow poor Irishmen) are not swimming for the banks, they are swimming through, that's to say down the river. The river is dark because they have the dark complexion of the working-class Irish, in Lawrence's view - he's already drawn the negro parallel. They are the river of people going (swimming) through the social barriers erected by the English class system.

    That's how I see it.
  5. Hermione Golightly

    Hermione Golightly Senior Member

    British English
    I think it's important to bear in mind the enmity of the Irish towards the English. The Irish were fighting for their independence at this time, so they truly were the enemy. One attitude of that time might have been that there was little difference between the Africans and the Irish. They were of different religions too, not English Protestantism.
    Ireland had been a colony for centuries and Britain's African 'possessions' were vast. One also has to bear in mind the notion of absolute superiority felt by the upper classes towards everybody else. Think of the description of Clifford's feelings about the workers, on whom he was dependent.
    It's really hard, I find, to grasp this. I can only get a sense of it by thinking of the complete scorn I feel for some groups of people, monied wastrels of any sort and upper classes in particular.
    Connie does have an affair with Michaelis. It's as if she's trying different sorts of men to find her perfect mate. She and her sister had already had flirtations if not more, with young Germans when they were studying in Germany.

    There are so many references in Lawrence's novels in addition to the stylistic difficulties, that they are very hard reading especially if the cultural references aren't at all familiar. If possible read something else even if it's not of such literary merit. Reading in a foreign language should be enjoyable even if it's hard work. I read classic detective stories for my French reading material, similar to Agatha Christie I suppose.
  6. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    English - British
    Surely this makes Michaelis, if anything, unusually white in complexion.
    The rats would have to swim through the water and through the darkness in order to reach the shore.
    Surely that idea of reaching land represents the aim of being socially accepted.

    Just swimming down the river would result in being swept out to sea and lost for ever.
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2015
  7. longxianchen Senior Member

    So many creative and interesting explanations. Thank you so much.

    Logically, I try my best to analyse the revelant sentences " something old, old, and acquiescent in the race! Aeons of acquiescence in race destiny, instead of our individual resistance. And thena swimming through, like rats in a dark river":

    The black people have suffered so much and tolerated so long in their race destiny. Then they (not only Michaelis) all swim through the river like rats (even though "they cannot see their way to the shore, as Wandle said in post 3, that's a kind of fight and struggle to change their destiny. Maybe they won't be tolerant anymore".

    Understanding in this way, we will be able to fit the sentece "
    And then a swimming through, like rats in a dark river" into the context. Otherwise, it will lose connection with the sentence before and behind it.

  8. Silver_Biscuit

    Silver_Biscuit Senior Member

    English - UK
    I think this is a good analysis, you've got the basic meaning here. The image for me represents the fear that the English would have felt of the Irish, covered up by disdain but still this is a scary image, of rats swarming in unseen.

    Except do remember (as others have pointed out) that although Lawrence has drawn deliberate parallels here between black people and the Irish, really Michaelis is a white Irishman. Lawrence is really talking about the Irish, not black people. To a certain extent, from the historical perspective of the English upper classes, there are similarities between all people who are 'other' and who are colonised by Britain (including the Irish and people from many different African nations). But the relationship between Ireland and England was nevertheless unique and that is essentially what Lawrence is addressing, so don't get too caught up in the 'Negro' thing.
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2015
  9. longxianchen Senior Member

    Very good conclusion. I will keep it in my mind. Thank you

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