Richard Weare ponders Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious…

In 2019, Paul Fillingham and I hope to embark on a digital pilgrimage that will recreate Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage via a memory theatre. Until then, my every waking hour is spent reading and researching this prolific writer. As part of this research I’ve created a 3rd year ‘alternative to the dissertation’ module at Nottingham Trent University in which students have the opportunity to help us think about the aesthetics and functionality of our proposed memory theatre. As part of the module, students create a photo essay about an element of Lawrence’s work or life. The above video (and words below) are by Richard Weare.

During the most prolific period in his career, D H Lawrence wrote two rather peculiar books: Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious (1921) and Fantasia of the Unconscious (1922). Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious was originally written as a retort to the unappreciated psychoanalytic criticism of his third novel Sons and Lovers (1913). It quickly transformed into something much more, becoming a platform for Lawrence to explore his ideas about the psyche and eventually manifesting into the beginnings of his own pseudo philosophy. The video embedded in the top of this page focuses on chapter one: Psychoanalysis Vs Morality.

Immediately, we get a good old dose of Lawrencian rage, as he deals psychoanalysis some articulate blows. Calling Freud a ‘psychoanalytic quack who vehemently demonstrated the serpent of sex coiled round the root of all actions’ and by extension the entire practice know-it-alls who pose as healers and physicians, attempting to be scientists, hoping to become apostles. He is not impressed and remains sceptical of their incentives; seducing the poor public with ‘dreams to sell’.

In a letter to Gordon Campbell sent on September 21 1914 we get the first example of Lawrence’s distaste towards psychoanalysis. Here he tackles the effect the war has had on the psyche of a nation, lamenting upon the mechanical, obsolete, stupidity of war. ‘The war doesn’t alter my beliefs or visions. I am not Freudian and never was – Freudianism is only a branch of medical science.’

Lawrence believes that it has caused expression to ‘become mechanical’ alluding to the effect the outbreak of war has had on the mindset of the masses, who are seemingly transfixed upon the questions it poses. It is due to all of this destruction, he argues, we have a ‘want to realise the tremendous non-human quality of life’. He then signs off with ‘It isn’t one’s conscious self that matters so much. We are conscious mad. But at the back of it all we are healthy and sane individuals.’

The significance of this letter is evident when laid alongside the distrust of psychoanalysis he expresses in his opening chapter. He poses some interesting points about the public’s willingness to accept whatever they are told, rather than discovering it out for themselves, believing that it ‘subtly and insidiously suggested to us, gradually inoculated us’ until it became the norm.

But his real wrath is reserved for Freud. He despises Freud’s perception of the unconscious perceiving it as a cave containing a ‘myriad of repulsive little horrors spawned between sex and excrement’ and questions why it cannot contain anything beautiful. No Freudian criticism would be complete without the inclusion of the psychosexual which allows Lawrence to exposes the paradoxical nature of the Oedipus Complex. If we are willing to admit that the incest craving is a normal part of every man’s development why is it that we inhibit it? Is it not such suppression that causes eventual regression and neurosis? An unsettling but necessary observation. Lawrence, never won to suppress anything, ends the chapter with a damning indictment of Freudian unconscious, describing it as ‘the cellar in which the mind keeps its own bastard spawn.’

#MondayBlogs Censorship: Challenging Sexual Norms

In 2019, Paul Fillingham and I hope to embark on a digital pilgrimage that will recreate Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage via a memory theatre. Until then, my every waking hour is spent reading and researching this prolific writer. As part of this research I’ve created a 3rd year ‘alternative to the dissertation’ module at Nottingham Trent University in which students have the opportunity to help us think about the aesthetics and functionality of our proposed memory theatre. As part of the module, students create a photo essay about an element of Lawrence’s work or life. The above video (and words below) are by Rebecca Provines. This is her first ever attempt at recording audio and producing a photo essay.   

Welcome to the mind of D H Lawrence, a controversial poet, playwright, painter, essayist and literary critic from Eastwood in Nottingham. His birth home stands at 8a Victoria Street and is now home to the Birthplace Museum, where his story began.

An upper-class woman having an affair with a working class game keeper!

Lesbian lovers frolicking in the sea.

Naked men wrestling!

Lawrence’s writing tended to cause a stir, as he often wrote about intimacy and connection. Prudish people everywhere campaigned to have his works banned and his descriptions of the people back in Eastwood turned their families against him.

Life for Lawrence was never easy.

Lawrence’s most famous novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover was published in 1928. He was so desperate for it to get out there that he paid for it be printed privately, circulating subscription copies amongst friends. But it wasn’t until 1960, when Penguin Books were acquitted of obscenity at the Old Bailey, that we were finally able to get our hands on it!

Yaaaaaaay.

So what was all the fuss about?

Well firstly, there were three versions of the book. My favourite is version two which was originally titled John Thomas and Lady Jane, ahem. Then it became Tenderness, ahh. By the time we get to the final version, the novel is notorious for its emotional [and mainly physical] relationship between Constance Reid and Oliver Mellors, which contains the (then-unprintable) explicit descriptions of their sexual relations. There’s lots of F’s. So much in fact that a lawyer in the court case counted them out!!!

The Rainbow is a family-based novel that features three generations of the Brangwen family. On the surface it may seem like a simple plot, but nothing is ever that simple with Lawrence. Consequently it was also banned for its treatment of sexual desire with 1,011 copies seized and burnt.

For Tom Bragwen, sex is between the paragraphs, readers may use their imagination to decode details […] For Anna and Will Brangwen, desires are described and fragments of their bodies alluded to. However it’s Will and Anna’s daughter Ursula that causes the most controversy. By the time she’s a grown woman, she dares to demand spiritual and intellectual freedom. This results in an affair with a soldier, becoming pregnant before marriage, and just to round it off, a lesbian affair with her teacher.

At the time of publication lesbian relationships were unthinkable in a male dominated society, yet Lawrence was no ordinary man and explored this identity freely…

Ursula lay still in her mistress’s arms, her forehead against the beloved, maddening breast.
“I shall put you in,’ said Winifred.
But Ursula twined her body about her mistress.

“Tell me the parts you think the publisher will decidedly object to,” Lawrence asked his friend Violet Meynell in July 1915 before its eleven-year ban in Britain. But it was declared “unfit for family-fiction”. Censorship would be a recurring problem for Lawrence in his fiction, poetry and even his paintings.

Lawrence struggled to publish Women in Love (which was the sequel to The Rainbow) for four years after he finished writing it. The novel was then still subject to a string of prosecutions. Amongst many controversial moments, one of the most remembered [and far most entertaining film scenes of all time] is when Birkin and Gerald experiment with naked Japanese wrestling, which has been interpreted by critics and prosecutors as a homosexual act, rather than as an intricate form of art

W. Charles Pilley said in John Bull magazine, “I do not claim to be a literary critic, but I know dirt when I smell it, and here is dirt in heaps—festering, putrid heaps which smell to high Heaven.”

It has been suggested that Lawrence’s fascination with the theme of homosexuality is manifested in Women in Love, and that this could be related to his own sexual orientation, however there is some speculation around these accusations. As I said previously, nothing with Lawrence is ever that simple.

The banning of books is something which doesn’t frequently happen in the UK at current, and as an aspiring-writer myself, I fail to understand on what grounds a court would find it acceptable to try and ban fiction once it has already been published.
[Warning: Lawrence channelled rant coming on] Who is it that has the authority to decide that the public would be better off if they never read the words printed between the covers? The justification behind the censorship of some literature makes me question whether freedom of expression really exists. If people talked about the ‘slew’ topics that are covered in literature then those individuals may be more comfortable with their lives, instead of society being full of depressed, middle aged people who attempt to ban literature that may influence the free expression of people of all ages. [Rant over. PHEW!]

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Image taken from Dawn of the Unread issue 7: D.H.Lawrence Zombie Hunter

The general controversy of a book can sometimes end up doing the opposite, undesired effect, as people are motivated to find out what all the fuss is about. When Lady Chatterley’s Lover was finally published the demand was so great Penguin had to ration out books to shops! Foyles Bookshop sold their entire stock in the first fifteen minutes!

The printers couldn’t keep up with the demand.

Lawrence paved the way forward for the permissive society and greater freedom of expression for all. Writers like E. L. James, author of the Fifty Shades trilogy, has become a household name after writing about the kinky desires of her submissive protagonist Anastasia Steele. Ironically, I suspect Lawrence would be disgusted by E.L. James for vulgarising the bond between man and woman. Although he wrote about sex in his books he was rebelling against the over intellectualisation of culture. Lawrence was actually rather a prudish man himself, believing sex was a connection between two people which can never be reversed. He did, however, believe that a woman should be submissive, but this was nothing to do with whips and chains, rather his odd views on the power relations between the genders.

I would argue that writers like Lawrence, without meaning too, have created a platform for ‘slew’ and ‘naughty’ books, where the public want to read about the exciting and (to be quite frank) sexual relationships of those (somewhat fictional) characters who lead more ‘exciting’ lives than us.

REVIEW: The Trespasser (1912)

dhl and hc

“For my life is burning an invisible flame. The glare of the light of myself, as I burn on the fuel of death, is not enough to hide from me the source and the issue. For what is a life but a flame that bursts off the surface of darkness, and tapers into the darkness again? But the death that issues differs from the death that was the source. At least, I shall enrich death with a potent shadow, if I do not enrich life.” The Trespasser.

The Trespasser was published in 1912, one year after Lawrence’s very weighty debut The White Peacock. Originally titled The Saga of Siegmund, The Trespasser is a romantic story without a happy resolution. A married man sets off for a short break with another woman and on his return he commits suicide: Presumably because he can’t return back to family life, or possibly because he knows there is no longevity in the adulterous affair. Unrequited love is a recurring theme in The White Peacock, which more or less explores three unfulfilling mismatched relationships.

The Trespasser mirrors the real life experiences of Lawrence’s close friend Helen Corke, whom he knew from his school teaching days in Croydon. In August 1909, Corke spent five days on the Isle of Wight with her music teacher, who committed suicide on his return. But there were other parallels for Lawrence that may have affected his writing of the novel, namely that Corke had spurned his advances during an uncharacteristically randy period in his life. In 1912 Lawrence would convince Frieda Weekley, a married woman and mother of three children, to leave her family and elope with him to Europe.

Lawrence persistently drew from real life throughout his career. Sometimes this got him into trouble, other times he had to be bailed out by his agent when libel was threatened. But in this instance he sought permission from Corke, working directly from her 14 page memoir The Freshwater Diary. Lawrence described the memoir as a ‘prose poem’ and urged Corke to publish it for herself. She did this in 1933 as Neutral Ground. She would go on to write several biographical works on Lawrence, including one about his early relationship with Jessie Chambers, entitled D.H. Lawrence’s Princess. In her 90s, Corke would publish In our Infancy which would go on to win the Whitbread Award in 1975.

Of Lawrence’s interest in her tragic love affair, Corke wrote: “Of our five days’ experience in the Island enough has been written. Perhaps it was not unique – perhaps it only anticipated that of many lovers who, during the World War that was coming, were fated to compress the happiness of a lifetime into a few glowing days, and to part under the shadow of death. But something of its intensity and detachment, together with the memory of his own actual proximity to the scene, fired the imagination of D.H Lawrence.”

Jane Heath has suggested that Lawrence’s interest in Corke’s diary and his desire to turn the experience into a novel “had to do with the unparalleled importance literature assumed in their lives. Both writers idealized literature as means of negotiating the difficulties that beset them in their lives.”

Writing can act as a form of therapy, in that it enables us to make sense of the world and exert a level of control on the page that is not always possible in reality. But writing was more than just cathartic for Lawrence. It was at the very essence of his being. He was notoriously restless and would go on to cross continents during his ‘savage pilgrimage’, but he was largely unable to ‘move forwards’ until he had embedded his experiences of place on the page. As Anthony Burgess writes:

“A single week’s visit was enough for him to extract the very essence of the island (Sardinia) and its people, and six weeks were enough to set it all down in words without a single note as an aide-mémoire. This feat anticipates a greater one, which still makes Australian writers gloomy – the recreation of a whole continent, along with a wholly accurate prophecy of its political future, out of a few weeks stay in a suburb of Sydney.”

The same ethos could be applied to the writing of The Tresspasser. Prior to completion, Lawrence broke off his engagement with Louie Burrows, and immediately attempted to lure Helen Corke down to Limpsfield Common for a walk and a sleepover. But she turned him down. A letter to Corke dated 12 July 1911 sees Lawrence dramatically apologising for trying it on once too often, confessing “I’ll never ask you again, nor anybody. It is a weakness of mine.”

Helen Corke allowed Lawrence to fictionalise her relationship because she knew he would do justice to the memory of her dead lover. Although they initially agreed to wait five years before doing this, the date was rushed forward – after much pleading from Lawrence – due to financial difficulties he was experiencing. To this extent, writing served a more basic function: It put food on his plate. It paid his rent.

In the novel Siegmund married Beatrice at seventeen before he’d had time to know himself and now twenty years later, the two are strangers. He can’t return to “fake the old life up” any longer. As things can’t work with Helena, he commits suicide. But even this creates awkwardness, as depicted by the attempted removal of his body: “The man went into the room, trembling, hesitating. He approached the body as if fascinated. Shivering, he took it round the loins and tried to lift it down. It was too heavy.”

There are suggestions that Siegmund has sunstroke, that he’s feeling depressed, but it seemed to me the real problem was that he was unable to maintain his affair and had to return back to his humdrum married life. Helena – whom he has the affair with – has ‘inhibitions’. It’s been suggested that this is because Corke herself was ambiguous about her sexuality. Like her novel, she represented ‘neutral ground.’

Although Helena and Siegmund are lovers, they never quite connect throughout their holiday together. What appears to excite Siegmund the most is the journey, the anticipation of arriving somewhere new. Take this description from the boat: “Standing on the deck, he gave himself to the breeze and to the sea, feeling like one of the ruddy sails—as if he were part of it all. All his body radiated amid the large, magnificent sea-moon like a piece of colour.” Lawrence always seems happiest when homing in on something, when setting off. It’s the finality of arrival that’s the problem. As in all of his novels, nature is the one consistent that never fails to please: “The way home lay across country, through deep little lanes where the late foxgloves sat seriously, like sad hounds; over open downlands, rough with gorse and ling, and through pocketed hollows of bracken and trees.”

For Helena and Siegmund, something is always amiss. They never quite connect. At one point Helena remarks that Sigemund fails to reply to her so often she feels it best to leave him alone with his “sense of tragedy”. Elsewhere they discuss losing each other. Not what you’d expect on a dirty week away which should be full of connections and finding each other. On the rare occasions they do connect it’s an opportunity for Lawrence to develop his manifesto for male – female relationships which would become so integral to his later work: “It was the long, supreme kiss, in which man and woman have one being, Two-in-one, the only Hermaphrodite.”

Language is a problem for these doomed lovers as well. Siegmund is always probing Helena with questions such as “won’t you tell me what is the matter?” so that he can help her resolve them. But for Helena “speech was often difficult to render into plain terms” and so she is unable to articulate exactly what is eating away at her. Helena is, as Jane Heath has argued, “outside language” and therefore she is unobtainable. This is beautifully captured in a sea metaphor.

“The sea played by itself, intent on its own game. Its aloofness, its self-sufficiency, are its great charm. The sea does not give and take, like the land and the sky. It has no traffic with the world. It spends its passion upon itself. Helena was something like the sea, self-sufficient and careless of the rest.”

MSDRAIN EC073
THE RAINBOW, Amanda Donohoe, Sammi Davis, 1989, ©Vestron

Lawrence is fascinated by individuals who are ‘outside language’ and who dare to live life by and on their own terms. As an author who faced censorship throughout his life and chose to live his life in exile, he was consistently outside of language. It is this that would drive him to “express the unspeakable and to hint at the unutterable”, as critic James Douglas wrote in his review of The Rainbow. Lawrence’s fourth novel features a brief lesbian fling between Ursula Bragwen and her school tutor Miss Winifred Inger. Was the casting of this taboo relationship influenced by his friendship with Helen Corke and the awareness that ‘neutral grounds’ exist within sexual identity?

RELATED READING

  • Jane Heath Helen Corke and D.H. Lawrence: Sexual Identity and Literary Relations Feminist Studies Vol. 11, No. 2 (Summer, 1985), pp. 317-342
  • Jane Heath Helen Corke and D.H. Lawrence: The Croydon Years (University of Texas Press, 1965)
  • D.H. Lawrence The Trespasser  (1912)
  • Helen Corke  Neutral Ground: A Chronicle (1933)
  • Helen Corke In Our Infancy Part 1: 1882-1912 (Cambridge University Press, 1975)
  • Lawrence and Apocalypse (William Heinemann, 1933)

Pangbourne-on-Thames “sort of smells”

pangbourne
Source: LYON & TURNBULL on BBC website.

The following guest blog is an extended version of one of Dave Brocks’ columns for the Kimberley and Eastwood Advertiser.  

The refreshing honesty characteristic of D.H. Lawrence continues to get up certain middle-class noses, almost a century on. A letter Lawrence penned to his theatre friend, “Bertie” Herbert Farjeon, whilst staying at Myrtle Cottage, Pangbourne-on-Thames, Berkshire, in the “Monstrous hot” August of 1919, with reference to this otherwise pretty place as “repulsive”, saying it “sort of smells”, due to the river, women wearing scent on their clothes and the petrol, adding “I suffer by the nose”, has recently sold at an Edinburgh auction house for a slightly less than fragrant price. . .one indicating a certain sniffiness on the part of collectors!

The lease on Lawrence’s home at Mountain Cottage, Middleton-by-Wirksworth having ended, he and Frieda began accepting hospitality where they could, at times virtually living out of suitcases. Efforts to obtain passports, permitting Frieda to visit family in Germany and Lawrence to blaze a trail to America, had been thwarted. They must wait until the Peace treaty was ratified, Thomas Cook told them.

So when a friend, since 1915, Rosalind Baynes, an enlightened free-thinker and pacifist with three children and then undergoing a messy divorce, kindly offered to loan them for a while her 18th century cottage, The Myrtles, in Pangbourne, and having other acquaintances in the area, it was there they went. Myrtle cottage had a large garden with apple and pear trees. Drawing on nature, for a display of self-deprecating humour, Lawrence’s letter records that “an old, very seedy-looking shabby old robin attends me perpetually when I work in Ros’s garden. He reminds me too much of myself.”

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Attracted by this southerly location near the Thames, Lawrence’s sisters, Emily and Ada, took the opportunity to visit, bringing the children. There were opportunities to sail, take a cruise to Reading, enjoy picnics and walks on the Downs.

Amazingly, in the midst of so much upheaval, socialising and fun, Lawrence remained focused on his literary career, exploring every outlet for his work. He came closer to finding a publisher for his great novel, Women in Love. Having written his studies of the “classics”, essays on modern American literature were begun. As a favour, he painstakingly refined his loyal friend Koteliansky’s translation of Ukrainian philosopher, Shestov, contributing an introduction to the book. Prefaces for New Poems and his play Touch and Go were produced. He revised his novella, The Fox, although it felt like an act of “mutilation” to him!

These days the good folk of Pangbourne are happy to recall how nice safe author, Kenneth Graham, of Wind in the Willows fame, one lived there, and that it is the setting for the comical Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome, thus boosting tourism. Lawrence’s stay is largely over-looked. When a Pangbourne letter hits the headlines he’s dismissed by one proud resident as a “misery-guts”. Yet, all he’s done is tell the truth – that most perfumes, and all car fumes, are offensive to the undulled senses. The collective madness of war and state opposition to his creative genius were grounds enough for Lawrence to confide in this private correspondence he was feeling “sick of mankind”.

RELATED READING

 

 

Codnor and ‘Tickets, Please’

tickets please

Derbyshire writer Becky Deans has adapted Lawrence’s short story Tickets, Please and would love to see it performed on a tram at Crich Tramway Village. The story has particular resonance for Becky as the route it mentions goes through her home village of Codnor. Tickets, Please tells the tale of John Thomas Raynor (nicknamed Coddy) who flirts with the female conductors on Annie Stone’s line. But the women eventually turn on him and he’s forced to confront the consequences of his behaviour.

My first interest in the story Tickets, Please was the location. The tramline it describes started in Ripley, Derbyshire. The ‘last little ugly place of industry, the cold little town that shivers on the edge of the wild, gloomy countryside beyond’ is where I went to school. I was attracted by Lawrence’s love-hate relationship with the places of his youth and wanted to adapt the story for local people.

I was transfixed by a story that was set in the village that I grew up in. Codnor was on the route of the Ripley Rattler. A painter called Ruth Gray (who is based in Belper) did a whole series of pictures based on the route and I own one of the Codnor originals. She exhibited them at Durban House in 2014.

IMG_0696 ruth
Becky’s beloved Ruth Gray painting of Codnor, still in its cellophane.

I’d read Lawrence before, but to have him prowling on my doorstep, meeting and breaking the hearts of local women, was heaven. For in my eyes, Lawrence is John Thomas, even though I have also created a character called David Herbert to act as narrator within the play. I don’t think Lawrence would be upset at being two characters in a play. I have also added a new character, called George Curzon, who has the function of being the outsider, so can have things explained to him.

The tram that Lawrence describes first set off in 1913 and was retired in 1932 in favour of the trolley bus system. It was known as the Ripley Rattler and took two hours to reach Nottingham. It was the principal way to travel between the mining villages ‘from village to village the miners travel, for a change of cinema, of girl, of pub’. The story immortalises a lifestyle, culture and dialect that largely left the area when technology moved on and the mines closed, something that I wanted to preserve and recreate through a one-act play.

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15th August 1913, one of the first two trams to arrive at Ripley. Image from Midland General Omnibus.

I enjoy Lawrence’s use of dialect within the story. Dialect is something I use in my stories; I revel in the quirks of language. And if we believe the book Ey Up Me Duck, Dialect of Derbyshire and the East Midlands by Richard Scollins and John Titford, we could say it is the same in Nottinghamshire as Derbyshire. In truth there are nuances, even now.  Derby dialect is not quite the same as the Amber Valley dialect, but some of the language of miners seems to be constant. Phrases such as the deep benk seem to be fairly stable – I picked up this phrase from my grandad.

The surnames of the characters are also recognisable. The Birkins used to run the garage my grandad went to in Codnor and there are also many Burgins in the cemetery in Codnor too. I know or have known Housleys, Purdys, Baggaleys and Curzons. There are Meakins throughout the local area too.

I also relish the questions that Lawrence poses about gender and gender in wartime. Wartime allows the girls to step outside their conventional gender roles and become ‘fearless young hussies’. They outnumber and are stronger than the men they work with, who are mainly ‘men unfit for active service: cripples and hunchbacks’. In scene two Nora and Polly almost come to blows over John Thomas, reinforcing the way that wartime has brought out what may be deemed more masculine tendencies. The collectors ‘have all the sang-froid of a non-commissioned officer’: they are the front line of law on the tram and therefore their relationships are characterised by the urgency of wartime.

And wartime allows the ultimately violent conclusion.

I am now seeking a school or community group to work with to help me develop and put on this play and discuss the interesting relationships between men and women within it, as well as the changes to the language and landscape of the coalfields area.

Further Reading

 Biography

Becky Deans is a Derbyshire writer with an MA in Creative Writing from UEA. She published her first novella, Exposé, in 1999 (UEA texts series) and has short stories and poems in various publications, as well as advertisements across the UK press. As a saxophonist with a diploma in saxophone performance, she is currently exploring song writing while singing and playing in a duo and a trio in the pubs of Derbyshire. She has recently been selected for the Derbyshire Residencies: Writing Ambitions Scheme funded by Derbyshire County Council and the Arts Council, and is looking forward to taking her writing forward as she delivers creative writing sessions to a community group.

 

 

“Comes over one an absolute necessity to move…”

rageIn October 2016 a major cyber-attack took down high profile websites such as Paypal, Twitter and Spotify. It also took down 4 lesser known websites: Being Arthur, the Sillitoe Trail, Dawn of the Unread and Memory Theatre. These websites were all hosting digital literature projects by Paul Fillingham and I and are slowly being resuscitated.

The attacks raised an important issue regarding the future of the digital public sphere. Unless you’re a large corporation with a wealth of expert staff at your disposal, or, at the very least, a very competent and computer savvy programmer, such attacks are devastating and can completely wipe out your online presence within seconds. So much for online utopianism. So much for democracy. The more things change, the more they stay the same…

This is why this first blog post is inaccurately dated 18 February 2017. The first blog post for this D.H. Lawrence project was back around September 2015, but now we’re having to start all over again. On our official website I’m reliant on Paul Fillingham to magically restore the website so I can start blogging about our project. But as a freelancer, this is not high on his priority list. There’s the clients and the paid work. But I can’t wait any longer. Like Lawrence I’m impatient, restless, and desperate to move. So restless in fact I’m tempted to start each sentence of this blog with a verb, as Lawrence does in Sea and Sardinia. “Comes over one an absolute necessity to move. And what is more, to move in some particular direction.”

Moving we are then. At last. Not South West, as was Lawrence’s preferred direction in Twilight in Italy, nor East, when he embarked on the RMS Osterley on 26 Feb 1922 for Ceylon and the hope of “a new start.” But into the murky depths of the digital void where there is no sense of direction, no sense of beginning or end, just a kind of digital limbo. Although, technically speaking, this blog is completely fixed in time and space. It has an IPS address and so this is the first call out for visitors (or attackers) to come along.

I wonder what Lawrence would make of the hack. He was, after all, a man who preferred to throw a hand grenade into a room to see what would happen than sit down quietly in the corner. I don’t think he would appreciate the pointlessness of the hack. It would have to serve a purpose and there was no purpose served in bringing down our websites. It was too random. Undirected. But as a writer who despised the dehumanising effects of industrialisation, I think he would be appalled at our digital lives, particularly how complicit we’ve become in giving up our freedom for convenience.

The hack was successful because of our increasing reliance on the Internet of Things. Very simply this is computing devices embedded in everyday objects that are able to send and receive data via the internet. These ‘smart’ devices typically include baby monitors and thermostats, both of which can be controlled via your smartphone, down to the computer maintenance chip in your car that flashes up to tell you when you need a service. With everything increasingly being hooked up to the internet, there are more access points than ever, meaning you only need to leave one window open and boom! Game over.

No, Lawrence would have no sympathy for our plight or for anyone sucked into the glittering lights of the internet. He’d want to get as far away from the digital world as possible. “I’d wipe the machines off the face of the earth again, and end the industrial epoch absolutely, like a black mistake” he famously raged.

I hope he may forgive our “black mistake” in digitising his journey, and instead see it as another voyage of discovery, an attempt to charter unknown waters, a quest to find Rananim somewhere in the digital void before some benign force comes along and wipes us out for good.

REVIEW: Catherine Carswell The Savage Pilgrimage (1932)

catherine-carswell-booksCatherine Carswell first encountered DHL’s work on 18 March 1911 when she reviewed his debut novel The White Peacock for the Glasgow Herald. She began writing to him in 1913 and the two would remain in constant contact throughout his short life. Carswell met DHL in person in June 1914 when he came to England to get married. She was 35 years-old at the time and an established literary critic. From the onset she had a deep and lasting affection for Lawrence: “When I first set eyes on him, the immediately distinguishing thing was his swift and flamelike quality, which was quite unlike anything suggested by even the most fascinating type of British soldier or workman. I was sensible of a fine, rare beauty in Lawrence, with his deep-set jewel-like eyes, thick dust-coloured hair, pointed under lip of notable sweetness, fine hands, and rapid but never restless movements.”

They would see each other frequently between 1914 and 1919 before he embarked on his ‘savage pilgrimage’. On his infrequent returns to England he would stay with Catherine and her husband Donald. The last time she saw him in the flesh was in the autumn 1925. Of these many encounters she writes: “I have seen Lawrence under many circumstances but I never once saw him heavy or lounging, and he was never idle, just as a bird is never idle.”

The biography is written in a straightforward style and functions as an intimate portrait of a complex and misunderstood figure from somebody who knew him very well. The two kept in constant contact throughout DHL’s short life and so is worth reading for access to these letters. Chapters are prefaced with a list of work belonging to each period to help the reader understand an approximation of composition. Given Lawrence constantly rewrote work, this is useful in helping outline where he was ‘mentally’ at distinct periods of his life.

I want to understand Lawrence with fresh eyes and so I’ve read this biography before the many others (most of which benefit from retrospective analysis) because it was written so soon after his death. Indeed, Carswell states that DHL liked 9 hours sleep a night and was not a “Shavian ‘writing machine’” but he was aware that his life would not be as long as hers and therefore he had to crack on.

There are two things that strike me about this book. Firstly, she clearly had quite a thing for Lawrence but as a married woman was not prepared to push this further. DHL was also a firm believer in marriage and so on occasion it feels a little bit like The Remains of the Day. “Being married I had now one of the chief qualifications for inclusion in the Lawrence exodus. There were to be, if possible, no single males or females in the party – as with the denizens of the Ark.” The closest they get to any kind of affection is when DHL comments she looks ‘quite saucy’ in a small black felt hat. She describes herself as feeling ‘crushed.’

Both of them may have believed in marriage but as is well known, Frieda Lawrence was a very independent and free-spirited woman. Therefore when DHL packs her off “with a malicious grin on her face” to see her mother in Germany, the implication is what is making her smile so much. Carswell is too polite and reserved to state the obvious, whereas future biographers have been more explicit.

Secondly, and most importantly, Carswell wants to correct misleading interpretations of Lawrence’s life and motivations. She’s keen to point out that she does not have an exclusive access to his mind, but then neither does anyone. There are two major culprits in this department: John Middleton Murry and Mabel Dodge Luhan (nee Sterne).

Mabel Dodge Luhan was the wealthy patron of the Arts who invited Lawrence over to Mexico in 1922. She recorded her memories in Lorenzo in Taos, published on 1 January 1932. Carswell is keen to correct misleading and incorrect facts which she deems as innocent rather than malicious. Luhan’s book is “clearly an attempt to set down with care and honesty a personal impression” but “as an objective record, however, it must be regarded with caution.” Carswell finds her “inaccurate in her facts and wrong in her conjectures” and that she “often fails also in understanding the idiom used in talk both by Lawrence and Frieda – especially Frieda.”

Likewise Carswell takes exception to Luhan’s descriptions of Lawrence when preparing to travel as “fussy” or “inefficient.” Instead she found “he always appeared to me as a model of neatness and precision, neither wasting a movement nor permitting even a temporary disorder.” If Lawrence was being “fussy” in Luhan’s presence it was perhaps because he was eager to get away from her as “Mrs Luhan wanted of him what he had made Gudrun want of Gerald in Women in Love – to use him as an instrument for the furthering of her own ideas and purposes – spiritual, political, artistic.” Nothing was more likely to put “Balaam’s Ass in my belly” than Lawrence being moulded into someone else’s vision of himself.

Carswell has no reservations in ripping apart the traitorous accounts of John Middleton Murry whom she perceives as not only completely misrepresenting and misunderstanding Lawrence but utilising him for his own purposes. This took shape in Reminiscences of D.H Lawrence which first helped to fill the pages of the Adelphi magazine Murry was editing together and then in the hagiography Son of a Woman (1931).

There are so many instances of this that it will have to be in a separate blog, but this exchange from the infamous last supper at The Café Royal pretty much captures the feelings between the two. Murry walks over to Lawrence and plonks a smacker on his lips. He then turns to the other guests and says, “Women can’t understand this. This is an affair between men. Women can have no part or place in it.” To which Carswell replies, “Maybe. But anyhow it wasn’t a woman who betrayed Jesus with a kiss.” Ouch!

But perhaps her most prescient skill is to invert Murry’s criticisms by changing a few expressions to create “one of the most important things about Lawrence that can be said.” I’ve highlighted the main changes in red.

Murry’s criticism 

“In practice Lawrence’s belief seemed to mean pretending a harmony between impulses which were verily contradictory; to mean denying the spiritual consciousness and asserting it, to mean loving the world and hating it at the same moment, to mean nailing the flag of civilised consciousness to the mast and hauling it down in a single operation.”

Carswell’s adaption

If replaced with a few expressions, “we have In practice Lawrence’s belief established a harmony between impulses which hitherto have seemed verily contradictory; he has enabled us to deny the spiritual consciousness and to assert it in the same breath, to love the world and hate it at the same moment, to nail the flag of the civilised consciousness to the mast and to haul it down in a single operation.

If you want to save yourself from reading 292 pages then read the following letter which appeared in Time and Tide on 16 March 1930. It can be seen as not only a precursor to the book but an inherited ‘rage’ at unsympathetic and scandalous obituaries that tended to focus on controversy rather than the literary merits of her very close friend. It reads:

“The picture of D.H Lawrence suggested by the obituary notices of ‘competent critics’ is of a man morose, frustrated, tortured, even a sinister failure. Perhaps this is because any other view of him would make his critics look rather silly…Lawrence was as little morose as an open clematis flower, as little tortured or sinister, or hysterical as a humming bird. Gay, skilful, clever at everything, furious when he felt like it but never grieved or upset, intensely amusing, without sentimentality or affection, almost always right in his touch for the content of things or persons, he was at once the most harmonious and the most vital person I ever saw.

As to frustration, consider his achievement. In the face of formidable initial disadvantages and lifelong delicacy, poverty that lasted for three quarters of his life and hostility that survives his death, he did nothing that he did not really want to do, and all that he most wanted to do he did. He went all over the world, he owned a ranch, he lived in the most beautiful corners of Europe, and met whom he wanted to meet and told them that they were wrong and he was right.

He painted and made things, and sang, and rode. He wrote something like three dozen books, of which even the worst page dances with life that could be mistaken for no other man’s, while the best are admitted, even by those who hate him, to be unsurpassed.

Without vices, with most human virtues, the husband of one wife, scrupulously honest, this estimable citizen yet managed to keep free from the shackles of civilisation and the cant of literary cliques. He would have laughed lightly and cursed venomously in passing at the solemn owls – each one secretly chained by the leg – who now conduct the inquest. To do his work and lead his life in spite of them took some doing, but he did it, and long after they are forgotten, sensitive and innocent people – if any are left – will turn Lawrence’s pages and will know from them what sort of a rare man Lawrence was.”

Catherine Carswell (1932) The Savage Pilgrimage. Chatto and Windus. Reissued in 1981 with a memoir by John Carswell (1981) by Cambridge University Press.

A Savage Friendship: Catherine Carswell and John Middleton Murry

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When it comes to literary spats, Catherine Carswell and John Middleton Murry’s squabble over D.H. Lawrence takes some beating. So incensed was Carswell at Murry’s misrepresentation of Lawrence that she quickly responded with The Savage Pilgrimage (1932). At first glance it looks like a biography, an intimate portrait fleshed out from personal letters and experiences, but its primary function is as a corrective to everything Murry stood for.

They began bickering in private shortly after Lawrence’s death in 1930. This became public when Carswell wrote letters to the Adelphi magazine in response to Murry’s Reminiscences of D.H. Lawrence which would eventually materialise into the hagiography Son of Woman (1931).

Murry founded The Adelphi magazine in 1923. It was modernist in outlook and originally aimed to promote Lawrence’s work but it ended up as the mouthpiece for Murry’s own literary and aesthetic values. Murry was establishing himself as a radical Christian literary critic and had already gained editorial experience on Rhythm, Athenaeum and The Signature – the latter a short lived magazine produced in collaboration with Lawrence.   

In The Savage Pilgrimage (1932), Carswell takes Murry to task about his reminiscences to such an extent that he served her with a writ on account of ‘slurs’ contained in the final 10 pages of her biography. These were eventually toned down and the book was reissued in 1933 by Secker. But, as is perhaps befitting of Murry’s vanity, he would go on to publish most of the ‘slurs’ he’d complained about so that he could respond to them in detail in the book publication of Reminiscences of D.H Lawrence (1933).

Carswell’s attacks on Murry come as early as page 19 when it becomes clear her dislike of him had been simmering way before Lawrence’s death. She recalls the story of Murry telling Lawrence his agent had received an advance of £300 for a new novel, The Rainbow (1915), based on the reception of Sons and Lovers (1913). The money was in fact to be paid on publication which could be a very slow process. Neither would this be the full amount once other factors had been taken into consideration (proof corrections, agent fees, etc). This lack of attention to detail infuriated Carswell as she was well aware that Lawrence was fastidious about money and lived a large part of his life in poverty. Fortunately Lawrence’s agent Pinker, a kind man who supported young experimental writers, was on hand to advance £45 out of his own pocket. Shortly afterwards the Royal Literary Fund made a grant of £50.

Murry and his wife Katherine Mansfield were witnesses at the Lawrence’s marriage in 1914. But the two men really began to bond at Greatham, Sussex where Lawrence was living during the first six months of 1915. Katherine Mansfield had gone to Paris and wasn’t well due to influenza and things were tense with Frieda on account of her restricted access to her three children. Murry’s timing was perfect as Lawrence had someone with whom he could share his philosophy of life with which involved a ‘withdrawal from the world’. The bromance was born and Carswell states Lawrence saw in Murry “a colleague and successor who would build up the temple when he, Lawrence, had cut out the ground.”

The Hebrew idea of Rananim had been raised by Koteliansky at a gathering in 1914 and Lawrence was struck by this utopian idea of sharing space with like-minded people. The Murry’s became the first to test this out when they moved in with the Lawrence’s at Zennor, Cornwall, but it didn’t work out. The Lawrence’s were eventually evicted from their cottage on 12 October 1917 after a visit from the military. A series of bizarre events – which included the sinking of a coal boat on the nearby rocks below Tregerthen and the fact that Frieda Lawrence was German – created suspicion that they may be spies. Although they weren’t formally charged they were clearly undesirables. The incident would sharpen Lawrence’s need to leave England and the desire to take his nearest and dearest with him.

The Lawrence’s were forced to live a nomadic existence, being put up by various friends. Money was incredibly tight and Carswell suggests that Murry, then the editor of Athenaeum, could have done more to help him out by commissioning work. He did accept Lawrence’s first contribution, The Whistling of Birds (written under the pseudonym of Grantorto) but rejected his next. Murry claimed he never got sent any more articles, which is contradicted by both Frieda and Koteliansky.

I find this criticism of Murry hard to accept. As an editor he has to select what is right for his readership and Lawrence is certainly not someone who would abide nepotism. But Carswell suggests that his lack of support may have been more malevolent. She argues Murry had already slithered out of reviewing The Rainbow (Carswell review of The Rainbow cost her her job of ten years on the Glasgow Herald) and that “now that he had some standing, we find not only that he could risk nothing to give Lawrence a hand, but that as time went on he lost no opportunity of disparaging Lawrence in public. Murry believed that Lawrence was finished, and he had his own growing reputation as a critic to safeguard. Carswell argues this is why every book by Lawrence that was reviewed was persistently slighted or attacked in the Athenaeum.

Carswell takes exception to various aspects of Murry’s reviews, not least his dismissing of Lawrence’s career as over by 1921. She cities Murry’s ‘The Decay of Mr. D.H Lawrence’ (Dec 17 1920 Athenaeum) as applying the terms ‘tortured’ and ‘neurotic’ to Lawrence’s work for the first time and his review of The Lost Girl (1920) pushing this further through dismissive language such as ‘sub human’, ‘quack terminology’ and ‘corrupt mysticism’. Carswell sees this as a malicious attempt to further his own reputation, declaring: “It was a carefully executed attempt of the very kind which best demonstrated the horror Lawrence believed to be inveterate in ‘Christian love.’ Under the pretence of ‘intellectual sincerity’ it was an effort to annihilate.” Ouch!

Given her intense personal relationship with Lawrence, it is fair to presume that Carswell knew him better than most. Her biggest gripe with Murry is his failure to recognise Lawrence as an experimental artist, for whom “a careless joie de vivre…was as native to him as his anger” and it was stuffy England that deprived him of the joy while feeding the anger.

To illustrate this Carswell analyses the play Touch and Go (1920) where Lawrence “makes the sculptress Anabel incapable of modelling more birds and animals, though she possesses genius, simply because she has lost that joy of life which had once enabled her to render in stone the thistledown lightness of a kitten. Until her joy returns, she will produce nothing lively. Lawrence knew so well what it was to feel inspired, that he could not fail to recognise the lack of inspiration in himself or in others.”

Escaping England became synonymous with survival. Rather than being “a morbid restlessness” Carswell suggests “may it not with quite as much justice be called sanity and courage? Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage was savage on account of his poor health and his determination, via self-medication, to find a climate that would temper his tuberculosis.”

But for Murry, the only savageness was Lawrence’s rebuke to return back to England and help support his new venture, the literary journal the Adelphi. The first issue was published in June 1923, five months after the death of his wife Katherine Mansfield, who too succumbed to tuberculosis. To make matters worse, Lawrence’s letters were critical of the opening issues. What perplexed Murry further was he saw in Aaron’s Rod (1922) and Fantasia of the Unconscious (1922) a cry for another man to help Lawrence create a new world. This world, for Murry, was contained within the pages of the Adelphi. He was obsessed by it, leaving Lawrence to compare him “like a moth, determined to whirl round and round the candle till he had either burnt his wings or understood the nature of light.”

Although extracts from Fantasia were published in the Adelphi, they only served to outrage the readership, with one reader questioning why Murry should want to publish an author who “spat in the face of Jesus”. This of course was the perfect reaction to Lawrence who believed the Adelphi “should attack everything, everything; and explode in one blaze of denunciation.”

Their already strained relationship was not helped when a homesick Frieda returned to England in August 1923 and Lawrence decided at the last minute to stay in Mexico and work on The Plumed Serpent (1926). When he finally made it over he was quick to notice the ‘chumminess’ that had developed between Frieda and Murry. There are numerous reasons for the development of this ‘chumminess’. Frieda was an independent spirit and required no encouragement when it came to developing friendships with men, whereas Murry may very well have seen her as a means of convincing Lawrence to return to England and support his own artistic endeavours. Whatever the reason, Lawrence was furious and Carswell states the attitude of the husband in the short story Jimmy and the Desperate Woman is expressive of his feelings at the time.

In 1926, after his trip around Mexico and back again, Lawrence gave Murry an ultimatum. He either had to stand by him or the Adelphi. Naturally Murry chose the latter. Lawrence’s last contribution to the Adelphi would be Said the Fisherman, printed in January 1927. Carswell believes that this story was a ‘hold-over’ as Lawrence wanted nothing to do with Murry’s vanity project any more.

According to Carswell Murry presents a distorted picture of Lawrence as a man with “a long thin chain round his ankle” unable to fully run away. But in this ‘cheap’ analysis she argues that Murry has omitted two fundamentally important reasons for Lawrence’s need to travel: art and his illness. Lawrence was the first to admit his first trip around the world was a form of running away. “But he needed absolutely to run from the world he knew and to see the world he did not know” most importantly with his own eyes. Carswell believed that Lawrence would eventually have settled down. If this had have been the case, one thing is for certain. She would not have been able to share this space with Murry.

See our previous blog review of Carswell’s The Savage Pilgrimage for more of this feuding.

Further Reading/Sources

  • D .H. Lawrence (1930) John Middleton Murry
  • Son of Woman: The Story of D. H. Lawrence (1931) John Middleton Murry
  • Reminiscences of D.H. Lawrence (1933) John Middleton Murry
  • The Savage Pilgrimage (1932) Catherine Carswell

REVIEW: In Conversation with Amit Chaudhuri

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The award winning author was in Nottingham as part of the Festival of Literature, where he discussed D.H. Lawrence, his love of music, and read from some of his novels.

Amit Chaudhuri’s work spans poetry, fiction, literary criticism, short stories and non-fiction. He’s won loads of awards, including the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award, Indian government’s highest literary honour, in 2002 for his novel A New World. But there was only one thing on my mind, D.H. Lawrence.

In 2003 Chaudhuri published his Oxford doctoral thesis D. H. Lawrence and ‘difference’ : postcoloniality and the poetry of the present. It’s surprisingly poetic for a piece of academic work, and weaves together the ideas of Derrida, Genette, Foucault and Levi Strauss to position Lawrence as a radical risk-taking poet who defies definition. He puts forward an intriguing argument that to understand and appreciate Lawrence is to accept him at his very best and worst. To look at one piece of work and ignore another is to miss the point. It is his very incompleteness which completes him. Therefore his work is best understood intertexually – the way his poems relate to and reference each other.

In his book Chaudhuri argues that Lawrence constructs poetry much like Picasso’s sculpture The She-Goat which is woven together with a wide variety of materials, ranging from wicker basket to palm leaves. Lawrence’s constant revisions, the structural flaws, the irrelevant adjectives, forces the reader to confront the creative process, “the peculiar pathos and joy of gradual creation,” rather than just marvel at the finished product.

These are complex ideas, particularly for those outside academia. But Chaudhuri was able to articulate them in an accessible manner for the attentive audience. He started off by telling us he had been given a tour of Lawrence’s old stomping ground in Eastwood by Andrew Harrison, and visited the Birthplace Museum. He was clearly excited by this literary pilgrimage and eager to share how it felt to pay homage to one of his idols. Given his fondness for connections, there was even more significance for his visit. Enid Goodband, who passed away this month aged 91, persuaded the council to buy 8a Victoria Street and create the museum. Without her intervention it would have been flattened along with the other miner’s terraces.

Chaudhuri first came across Lawrence as an undergraduate. He was given a list of six books he must read, one of which was Sons and Lovers. It ‘opened things up’ for him and so he enthused at his excitement at visiting Nottinghamshire for the first time.

When discussing his own life, Chaudhuri explained his fascination with the ‘unseen noises’ of the streets. His home in India is alive with distant noises. From his window he consumes incomplete conversations, overheard shouts and screams, a city of individuals who blur into one. No wonder he argues Lawrence should be understood as an uncomplete whole, warts and all, when his own mind is so readily connected to his immediate environment.

When Chaudhuri discussed his novels, we found a man of patience. Odysseus Abroad has been bouncing about in his head for ten years, patiently scratching away before finally falling into place thanks to a chance conversation with his Uncle about a piece of art. At first he thought the book would be a memoir but instead it became a Joycean journey that unfolds over the course of a single day on Warren Street, London in 1985. The book is littered with extra meaning, with references to Joyce, Homer and Odysseus. But, he reassured us, you don’t need to get these references to enjoy the novel.

In terms of narrative, he enjoys ‘writing about nothing’. But don’t be fooled by his plotless novels. Silence is deafening. There was also time to talk about his love of music, and his 2004 album This is not Fusion. Chaudhuri is a trained and critically acclaimed singer in the North Indian classical tradition. His music, like his writing, has been praised for its experimentation. Like Lawrence, it’s hard to pin him down.

bat and dhl

In the Q&A I wanted to pin him down to his favourite Lawrence poem. These intertexual references are all very good, but surely there must be one that stands out more than the others. Once more he reiterated the importance of seeing Lawrence’s work as a whole but eventually spoke about Man and Bat whereby a bat suddenly appears through a window and begins “flying round the room in insane circles”. He discussed how both view each other with oddness, and that this alienation, wonder and difference epitomises Lawrence’s approach to life, and clearly his own.

It was at this point I realised Chaudhuri was right about intertextuality. All this bat talk had got me thinking about another Lawrence poem, Snake and how this caused equal bemusement and wonder when man and serpent confronted each other. And then I began to think about Chaudhuri’s Joycean novel Odysseus Abroad again. It’s set on Warren Street. Could this be an unconscious reference to the Warren Gallery where Lawrence’s painting were ‘arrested’ for obscenity? Or am I looking too deeply into things, finding connections that aren’t really there? Trying to put faces to the “unseen noises” instead of listening to them speak…

The following day Chaudhuri visited the Nottingham Writers’ Studio and held a networking session whereby writers could approach him directly to discuss their work or seek general advice on the publishing industry. And what is the first thing you see when you walk in the Writers’ Studio? The beautiful portrait of Lawrence by Nick Humphryes that features on the Rebel Writers banner outside the train station. You just can’t escape him.

An Evening with Amit Chaudhuri, 12 November 2016, Galleries of Justice, as part of the Festival of Literature. This review was originally published in LeftLion.

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REVIEW: Lady Chatterley’s Lover at Sheffield Lyceum

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Jonah Russell (Mellors) Hedydd Dylan (Lady C)

D.H Lawrence wrote eight full length plays during his short life, as well as two incomplete works. Only two of these scripts made it onto the stage during his lifetime. George Bernard Shaw would comment “I wish I could write such dialogue. With mine I always hear the sound of the typewriter.” These sentiments were endorsed in Geoffrey Trease’s biography The Phoenix and the Flame (1970), where Trease noted Lawrence’s ear for dialogue ran throughout his work. This “ear for dialogue” was superbly brought to life in Phillip Breen’s bold adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, performed at the Sheffield Crucible.

Lawrence has been unfairly represented in the media as the poster boy for smut. His novels, poems and paintings all experienced censorship with some of his books being burnt. No wonder he cherished the image of a phoenix rising from the flames. Simplistic readings of his work have led to moral panics and have been used to subvert the real essence of his work – that modernity, largely represented by the dehumanising aspects of industrialisation, has knocked man off his natural course and led to a disconnection with his immediate environment. Given this, I was intrigued to see what version of Lawrence would come though on the stage, particularly as there are three versions of the novel that made it possible for everyone to swear more freely.

Phillip Breen’s adaptation firmly draws the audience to the novel’s original title, Tenderness. The focus here is on relationships, in all of their various forms. Yes, there’s lots of sex on stage but this is treated sensitively, capturing the passion, humour, and awkwardness of bodies clattering together.

The adaptation starts on a barren stage with Lady C (Hedydd Dylan) removing rags covering up pieces of furniture and props. She will be removing much more as the play progresses. This is a minimal set so that our complete focus is on the narrative. When we are later taken out to Mellors (Jonah Russell) hut in the forest, flowers are spread in circles around the stage to signify a new space. A pianist (David Osmond) draws out themes of tenderness through some beautiful pieces of music that help enhance the mood and there are some noisy interludes in the form of bawdy songs from the 1920s such as Masculine Women! Masculine Men! (“Masculine women, feminine men/Which is the rooster? Which is the hen?” “Knickers and trousers baggy and wide/Nobody knows who’s walking inside”)

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Eugene O’Hara as Clifford Chatterley

When we first encounter Clifford Chatterley (Eugene O’Hara) he’s being washed by Lady C on a table. This reminded me of those other great Eastwood plays where women wash the bodies of dead husbands killed down the pit. James Moran recently noted in The Theatre of D.H Lawrence that “Lawrence gives domestic drudgery a kind of dignity by paying close attention to it, with all of its rhythms and conflicts.” Lady C may not suffer the drudgery of those living in poverty within mining communities, but it’s a nod to domestic drudgery all the same.

As Clifford is already in a wheelchair we don’t get the back story of him as an able bodied man heading off to war. This works well. Clifford is also given a more compassionate portrayed than in the novel. There’s a brilliant scene towards the end when he turns to his nurse Ivy Bolton (Rachel Sanders) for comfort. You get a real sense of both his physical and emotional impotence when he attempts to kiss her and instead buries his head between her breasts. He is like a child in desperate need of affection, rather than an adult after a meaningful relationship.

Lady C is accurately represented as a sexually progressive individual, getting it on with the Irish playwright Michaelis (Will Irvine) early on. This is an important part of the novel as it enables Lady C to recognise that Michaelis is a slave to success like the rest of her inner circle, and unable to give her the emotional and intellectual satisfaction she needs. In this, and other areas, the director has been spot on with what he’s kept and left out. Likewise, Breen has wisely shifted Mellors comments about his ex-wife Bertha Coutts ‘bringing herself off’ and given these lines to Michaelis. Breen has also wisely cut out Lawrence’s odd descriptions of female masturbation: “the old rampers have beaks between their legs, and they tear at you with it till you’re sick. Self! Self! Self! All self!… tear, tear, tear, as if she had no sensation in her except in the top of her beak.”

Mellors and Lady C spend quite a lot of time on stage naked and this is absolutely vital. It makes them vulnerable, imperfect, awkward and innocent. This enabled for some fun scenes, such as the naming of genitals (John Thomas) which brought great laughter from the crowd, flashing, and the placing of flowers over body parts in what felt like a pagan ritual. They even pull off a triple sex move without a hint of embarrassment, and have time to do circuits of the stage naked in the rain.

Throughout the production tenderness oozes on the stage. We feel the frustrations of partners poorly matched and are left with the hope that they may be able to find a resolution. The love Lady C and Mellors have for each other, as well as the growing bond between Clifford and Ivy, is superbly juxtaposed against scenes of riots and demonstrations as the outside world protests for better working conditions in a post war world. It’s no wonder Lawrence found sanctuary in the intimate silence of two bodies.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover runs from 22 September – 15 October 2016 at Sheffield Lyceum

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Review: A Novel Trial – Chatterley’s Lover

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The audience take on roles during the reenactment of the trial

On the 2 November 1960 Penguin books was acquitted of obscenity at the Old Bailey. Finally, after a 32 year wait, D.H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover was declared a legitimate read. The novel was deemed controversial due to its explicit language and the openness with which it portrayed sexual acts. But what really rattled the establishment was the suggestion that a toff might wish to commit adultery with someone at the bottom of the pecking order. The fact that Penguin were selling the book for 3/6 – then the equivalent of a packet of ten fags – meant the working classes might get silly ideas in their head. The entire social order was under threat.

The trial lasted six days and so I was curious as to how the Galleries of Justice were going to pull this off given that they had programmed in one hour for their ‘show’, the third Lawrence related performance of the NEAT16 festival: the others being Stephen Lowe’s Altitude Sickness and The Fight for Barbara.

Thirty members of the public were ushered through into the Victorian styled courtroom and we took our seats at the back of the courtroom. I then sat excitedly waiting for a cast of actors to walk through to be given some kind of contextual account of the trial. Instead three members of the Galleries of Justice, dressed in suitable attire, explained that volunteers were required to take on key roles. These roles included: Judge, Court Usher and Clerk; the defendant Penguin Books; two witnesses for the Prosecution – American critic Miss Esther Forbes and Lawrence’s friend/foe, editor and author John Middleton Murray. The Witnesses for the Defence were – Vivian Pinto, a Professor of English at the University of Nottingham, The Sunday Times Literary Editor Jack Walter Lambert, Roy Jenkins MP, Reverend Donald Tytler and the courageous publisher, Sir Allen Lane.

Surprisingly, the audience were very forthcoming and eager to participate and so the roles were quickly taken up. This was largely due to the stern and entertaining direction of the Galleries of Justice staff member playing the part of the Prosecution Barrister. She had a lovely demeanour about her and put all of our nerves at ease. But another reason the audience were so keen to get involved is most of them were members of the D.H Lawrence Society. Consequently, the role of judge was quickly snapped up by David Brock, a keen animal rights activist, who wasted no time in questioning what material his outfit was made from. Oh dear. There’s only one thing more passionate than D.H Lawrence and that’s a fan of D.H Lawrence. But Mr Brock also hammed up his role and was very entertaining.

The participants were issued with a script and on occasion, some chose to deviate in the name of humour and Laurentian education. For example, when it was announced that Penguin had sold over 250 million books and therefore Allen Lane was a very wealthy man, Mr. Brock interjected that money was a corrupting influence and no guarantee of happiness, echoing the sentiments of DH Lawrence.

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Artwork from www.dawnoftheunread.com

The script skimmed over key parts of the trial and gave a broad picture of what went on. Although one member of the D.H Lawrence Society was completely aghast that cultural critic Richard (‘we’re not all the same, us working class lads’) Hoggart wasn’t one of the five witnesses for the defence. This is a fair point as Hoggart’s testimony was deemed a key turning point of the trial. But these criticisms were politely rebuffed by the Prosecuting Barrister.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself and I think this is largely because it went against all of my expectations. Instead of a dry recital of facts and quotes, the audience were completely immersed in the trial through role play; active participation is always the best way to learn. This was signified by the jury being sent out to deliberate and decide for themselves if Penguin were guilty or not. Their verdict was ‘not guilty’, thus history remained on course and the future would still have a place for Malcom Tucker, the 4 minute fuck scene in The Wire and Fifty Shades of Grey.

A Novel Trial: Lady Chatterley’s Lover was performed at the Galleries of Justice on 2 June, 6.30-7.30pm £7.50

For more information on other performances, please see the NEAT16 festival guide

REVIEW: D.H. Lawrence & Tennessee Williams – By Night and Day

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Tennessee Williams

D.H Lawrence wrote eight full-length plays, six of which were penned between 1909 and 1913. Of these, only two were performed during his lifetime and only three were published. The Fight for Barbara (1912) was found in an attic in Heidelberg after Lawrence had died. This suggests either he never intended it for public consumption or more likely, it was stored there for a rainy day and he simply forgot about it. For NEAT16 it was performed alongside an unfinished play by Tennessee Williams, which features D. H Lawrence and was unearthed in 2014 at the University of Texas. This was its first ever public performance, so it’s quite a scoop for the NEAT festival.

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The Night of the Zeppelin

Williams’ play kicked off proceedings, and ran for about twenty minutes. This amounts to around ten typewritten pages, consisting of two scenes. The action takes place during WWI and stars two literati couples in D.H Lawrence (Kieran Hardcastle) and Frieda Lawrence (Holly Lucas) and publisher John Middleton Murray (David Beckford) and the novelist Katherine Mansfield (Katherine Morrant).

The unfinished play was billed as The Night of the Zeppelin as this was the title given to the first scene, which opens as follows:

“The room of a shoddy lodging place in London, 1916. The Murrays, John Middleton and Katharine Mansfield are visiting the Lawrences. It is near Christmas. Some German cookies, made by Frieda and a bottle of wine are on a little table and there is a small artificial tree with home-made decorations. The legend, PEACE ON EARTH, crowns the tree.”

Although this was a short piece there was enough in it to keep you intrigued. Air raid sirens are wailing, and orange lights beam up across the top of the middle tier seats so that the audience are plunged into the action. But despite the bombs, Katherine Mansfield has a bigger battle. She is coughing up blood and dramatically claims it’s coming from her heart, and so Williams has us wondering what emotional trauma is she going through.

Mansfield was diagnosed with the dreaded tuberculosis in 1917 and would succumb to it in 1923 at the age of 34. In the play, Lawrence confesses that he too has coughed up blood which brings the two friends closer together. Williams has taken a rare liberty with the facts here as Lawrence was not officially diagnosed with TB until the mid-1920s  – although he did have pneumonia as an adolescent which developed into a lifelong ‘weak chest’. Lawrence largely ignored his symptoms and was to some extend in denial, so I wonder whether he’d have been so forthcoming about his symptoms.

But the group of friends were very close and so the production left me thinking how Williams would have interpreted their friendship. John and Katherine attended the Lawrence’s wedding and shortly after Katherine died, John had an affair with Frieda. This would have been particularly difficult for Lawrence, not least because he’d taken quite a liking to him also. The friends would part ways in 1918 and not see each other in the flesh again, although Lawrence and Katherine would write regularly to each other – something the director, Martin Berry, suggested could make for an interesting future production.

Tennessee Williams never met Lawrence, but he admired him greatly. His plays have been described as being full of ‘lyrical Laurentian outpourings’. In 1939 he wrote to Frieda Lawrence expressing his desire to write a play about Lawrence, ‘dramatizing not so much his life as his ideas or philosophy which strike me as being the richest expressed in modern writing’. The closest he got to achieving this was the one-act play I Rise in Flame, Cried the Phoenix (1951) but this was far from complimentary and instead exposed the contradictions between Lawrence the writer and Lawrence the man.

My only criticism of the production of this play is one of curation. It would have been far better placed with Stephen Lowe’s Altitude Sickness (which kicked off the Neat Festival on17 May) as both start with a game of charades and both deal with an unfinished play.

martin-berry-barbara
Director Martin Berry (left)

The Fight for Barbara (1912)

Lawrence’s plays generally tend to be provincial, focused on the working classes, rich in local dialect, and are fraught with domestic conflict and drudgery. His male characters are proper angry young (Eastwood) men and the action tends to take place around what we would now describe as the ‘kitchen sink’. Perhaps because of his brutal and honest portrayal of working class life, it took a long time for his plays to become fashionable with the ‘mathematical folk’ at the Royal Court Theatre. The Fight for Barbara got its first run at London’s Mermaid Theatre in 1967, and led one critic to observe, ‘If this play had seen the light of day sooner, Look Back in Anger might not have seemed so original.’

The story revolves around Barbara Charlcote (Holly Lucas) who has left her aristocratic husband Fredrick Tressider (David Beckford) for the working class ruffian John Wesson (Kieran Hardcastle). The action takes place in Italy and is yet another highly biographical work that mirrors Lawrence’s personal life: In 1912 Frieda left her husband Earnest Weekley and eloped with Lawrence. They first headed to Germany, then Austria, before eventually settling down in Villa Igea, Gargnano, from 18 September 1912 to 30 March 1913.

Although the play is set in Italy it could easily be one of Lawrence’s Eastwood plays as it has all of the usual ingredients. In particular we have class conflict, represented by Wesson insisting Barbara take off her silly fanciful dress that represents pomposity. When she is dismissive of him for being a miner’s son, Wesson is keen to point out he’s the son of a butty collier. This is an important distinction and a point of pride.

The title of the play suggests that the lead has no agency but this is quite the opposite. Barbara is a fiery character who wants to determine her own destiny and has the confidence to reject advice from her mother Lady Charlcote (the sneering Tanya Myers) as well as the paternalism of Sir William Charlcote (the indignant Robin Simpson).

Barbara then finds herself torn between her suiters when her husband turns up and chides them both for their possessiveness: ‘All men are alike. They don’t care what a woman wants. They try to get hold of what they want themselves, as it were a pipe. As for the woman, she’s not considered – and so – that’s where you make your mistake, gentlemen’.

When both her husband and lover threaten to kill her she dismisses the violence with a matter-of-fact, ‘Not twice in one night.’ Barbara may have been pampered but she can hold her own. She refuses to be ‘swallowed’ up by anyone and mocks Wesson’s masculinity in some superb exaggerated acting when she dives on all fours like a dog and ‘paps’ at him. To be fair, Wesson deserves it. He’s a bit weak and doesn’t have the stage presence of say Robin Simpson, who played Lawrence in Altitude Sickness. This isn’t the actor’s fault. In so accurately mirroring real events, Lawrence the writer has positioned himself in the play as an observer. Therefore Wesson has lost the fire that we associate with Lawrence himself.

As James Moran has observed in the superb The Theatre of D.H Lawrence (which I read in one sitting) ‘Lawrence’s fiction often works by presenting versions of Lawrence in which different aspects of his own life and personality are erased, embellished or invented; revealing a kind of thespian delight in role play and identity change’.

Director Martin Berry has trimmed around 40 minutes off the original play and this works well. I think he’s changed some of the original character’s surnames too. It was billed as a comedy but Lawrence isn’t capable of writing a comedy. He’s far to up his own arse. But he does have a gift for dialogue and like all writers worth their salt he can pin down the motivations of characters, particularly those he’s run off with in real life…

D.H Lawrence, By Day and Night was performed at the Nottingham Playhouse Tuesday 31 May – Wed 1 June. Tickets £11

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