There is an interesting sexual metaphor in Coal Dust (cha. IX) of D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love involving a horse, rider, and train. The literal image is Gerald Crich waiting with his horse while a train races by, forcing the sensitive red Arabian to bear its noise and terror. In metaphor, though, Gerald’s subjugation of his horse represents the violent defloration of an increasingly unwilling virgin. At first, Gerald is “pleased with the delicate quivering of the creature between his knees” (93). She may be skittish, or she may be full of anticipation of what is to come, as her lover hovers over her about to begin. That her response is “delicate” implies that she is inexperienced.
The metaphorical sexual act starts when the locomotive arrives. Not yet in the open, it startles the mare, who “did not like it” (93). The closer the train comes, the more she “wince[s] away, as if hurt by the unknown noise.” Phallic and rhythmic the locomotive represents the male sexual instrument. Although Gerald’s partner does not see it, she can still begin to feel the pain of first sex, and shies away from it. Gerald will have none of it, and “pull[s] her head back,” as the rhythmic noise of the engine “broke with more and more force on her” (93). The narrator further characterizes the sound of the train over the rails rather concretely. He calls it “repeated sharp blows.” A train sounding repeated blows against a mare is by analogy a thrusting phallus, in Gerald’s case a violent one. Look at how his victim is “rocking with terror” and “like a spring” (93). Still, Gerald won’t let her go, forcing her to face the locomotive—his phallus—again and again.
It’s tempting to discount the metaphor, perhaps tone it down, or downplay it as merely sexual, and not a tale of rape. However, careful inspection of the wording is enough to convince us that it is a sexual metaphor for rape. First, the sheer physical labour involved—Gerald rides “glistening” on the horse—directly corresponds to vigorous sex. The feeling of the mare from the inside, as a “mad clamour of terror […] resounded through her” (italics mine), is indicative of sex, not noise (94). Noise is external: felt on the skin, or heard, while sex is internal, felt on the inside, through and through. The aural metaphor is resplendent in an explicit depiction of the sound that sex makes:
“[T]he trucks thumped slowly, heavily, horrifyingly, one after the other, one pursuing the other” (94).
Second, the sexual act is a rape—the girl tries to escape, but is forced back. In the middle of the act, “her fore feet struck out, as she convulsed away from the horror” (94). Think of this as the women, midway into sex, reaching up with her hands to push her lover away, sliding away from him. Gerald will have none of it. With “fixed amusement,” he simply leans forward into her again, “until at least he brought her down” (94). This occurs twice, once mildly, a second time “like a keen biting edge.” The second time, the language the narrator uses to describe him is “keen as a sword pressing into her.” The word “sword” is well-known trope—when used in conjunction with a women, it means “phallus.” So, literally saying that Gerald is like a phallus penetrating the mare completely gives away the sexuality of the scene, as he forces her down a second time.
The rape is finally consummated when Ursula cries, “She’s bleeding!” (94). The victim of Gerald’s sexuality is shown to be a virgin, bleeding as he presses into her. And then, shockingly, “on the very wound the bright spurs came down.” Having raped her and taken her virginity, he continues his sexual act until the train passes by and his metaphorical phallus is gone.
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