Review: Tolkien’s Gown and Other Great Stories of Great Authors and Rare Books.

Over 20 essays, Rick Gekoski provides potted histories and interesting anecdotes of the great authors and rare books he’s encountered during his time as a bookseller. The focus of this blog is on his acquisition of Sons and Lovers, the ‘jewel in the crown’ of his personal Lawrence collection.

‘Collectors are an odd lot, both obsessional and compulsive, secretive and relentless’ writes bookseller Rick Gekoski, but be wary of those who collect T.E. Lawrence and Winston Churchill as ‘their sense of self is fuelled by their association with a hero through whom they feel enlarged’. In Jungian terms this is known as ‘psychic inflation’.

So, what kind of person collects D.H. Lawrence? Well, I’ve certainly met one or two with a messiah complex during my time at the D.H. Lawrence Society and belligerence seems to be a recurring trait too. But these aren’t traits I’d associate with Rick Gekoski, author of Tolkien’s Gown.

The book opens with a scathing attack on Dennis Wheatley, ‘thriller writer, Satanist, erotomane, and bore’. But he also has a first edition of Sons and Lovers in a dust wrapper. ‘One of the striking oddities of the trade in modern books’ he explains is ‘that the dustwrapper of the book is worth ten times – sometimes much more – than the book itself. Books without their wrappers are regarded as incomplete, which seems a little silly, as if they were Chippendale chairs, without legs.’

Lawrence would certainly frown at the commodification of his work. In the essay ‘Pictures on the Wall’ he argues that having the same picture hung on the wall for years produces a ‘staleness in the home’ which ‘is stifling and oppressive to the spirit’. As we change our taste in art changes. Just because something costs a lot of money doesn’t make it irreplaceable. Similar sentiments apply to books. In the 18th century books were expensive and became a form of property that overwhelmed ‘any sense of literary delight’. It was libraries that transformed our relationship with books as they ceased ‘to be looked on as lumps of real estate, and came to be regarded as something belonging to the mind and consciousness, a spiritual instead of a gross material property’.

Gekoski is clearly not in the trade just for ‘gross material property’, though money does help. Books are an integral part of his life, and like children who eventually leave home, he misses them when they move on. Therefore, he provides a sketch of each book he purchases, as well as providing context, analysis and nuggets of literary history. 

The dust wrapper on his newly acquired purchase includes a brief notice which is believed to be by Lawrence and states:

‘Mr. D.H. Lawrence’s new novel covers a wide field: life in a colliery, on a farm, in a manufacturing centre. It is concerned with the contrasted outlook of two generations. The title, Sons and Lovers, indicates the conflicting claims of a young man’s mother and sweetheart for predominance’

Gekoski explains that Sons and Lovers is one of the earliest to ‘use psychoanalysis as an organizing principle’ as well as one of the first working class novels written by someone from the inside. In it, Lawrence plays out his inner conflict of being torn between the ‘fierce ambition’ of his mother and his first love, Jessie Chambers – who had helped his revive some of the text. The mother’s perspective would win out, much to Jessie’s disappointment. The betrayal was too much, and their friendship soured. 

The unfinished novel accompanied Lawrence when he eloped with Frieda von Richthofen in 1912. He wrote to Edward Garnett with great enthusiasm, explaining that Paul Morel – it’s working title then – ‘has got form…It’s a great novel.’

Edward Garnett was also a novelist, but ‘a better editor than he was a writer’ and warned that Heinemann was nervous of publication as ‘the tyranny of libraries is such that a book far less outspoken would certainly be damned’. Lawrence’s responded with his infamous ‘Jelly-Boned Swines’ letter, of which an extract features in the video below. Lawrence’s rage, observes Gekoski, ‘makes Conrad’s Mr Kurtz seem a liberal spirit, doesn’t it?’

Frieda helped Lawrence rewrite some of the passages, something that has been raised more recently in Annabel Abbs’ Frieda and Frances Wilson’s experimental biography The Burning Man. This was an unwanted emotional burden for Frieda who complained, ‘I had to go deeply into the character of Miriam and all the others; and when he wrote his mother’s death he was ill with grief and his grief made me ill too’.

Garnet trimmed the novel down by around 10% and Lawrence complimented him on his pruning, writing, ‘I hope you’ll live a long time, and barber up my novels for me before they’re published.’

Gekoski observes that ‘the finished book is a mélange of the perfectly realized and the inappropriately generalized, like so much of Lawrence’s fiction. Lawrence is never better than when he has his eye firmly fixed on an object. But when he lifts his head to consider, and to generalize, the prose is unrelentingly dead, and false’.

Perhaps Lawrence could have done with 20% of pruning…

Another Lawrence who needed editing was T.E. Lawrence. Garnett offered to abridge his Seven Pillars of Wisdom, a book of such verbosity that E.M. Forster politely concluded it ‘imparts not colour but gumminess’. Verbosity was also a deterrent to some publishers due to the time it would take a typesetter to lay out a book. Author Virginia Woolf, a semi-professional printer who ran the Hogarth Press with her husband Leonard, would have rejected publishing Ulysses not because of the content of the final chapter, but because she ‘estimated that it would have taken a professional typesetter two years just to set it’.

Editing out ‘gumminess’ is a vital part of publishing and entails many unsung heroes who have helped books become masterpieces. ‘Would Lord of the Flies have been so successful’ argues Gekoski ‘if editor Charles Monteith had not cut the first 12 pages describing a nuclear war and insisted deposited the boys directly on the island or the story?’

Sons and Lovers was published in 1913 by Duckworth. For Lawrence, ‘a novel was done when it went to the publishers’. But it was Garnett who requested Lawrence design the dust wrapper. These utilitarian objects were usually disposed of by bookshops on purchase and why dust wrappers before 1919 are so rare. Gekoski explains that Lawrence refused on the ground that it was difficult to illustrate a coalmine when he was living on a lakeside in Italy ‘with no coal mines within miles and miles’. Hence the typographic wrapper with Lawrence’s blurb on the front cover.

In ‘The Bad Side of Books’ Lawrence writes, ‘Books to me are incorporate things, voices in the air…What do I care for first or last editions? I have never reread one of my own published works. To me, no book has a date, no work has a binding’. In a later introduction to a bibliography of his work he wrote ‘A book that is a book flowers once, and seeds, and is gone. First editions or forty-first are only the husks of it.’

Gesoki confesses he is a man who loves the husks and laments selling his copy of Sons and Lovers in his first catalogue in 1982 for £1,850.

Rick Gekoski. 2004. Tolkien’s Gown and Other Great Stories of Great Authors and Rare Books. Constable. Hachette

Related Reading  

‘I was born in September, and love it best of all the months’

I first read Lawrence’s debut novel The White Peacock (1911) about five years ago. I remember being struck by the vivid descriptions of landscape and what felt like a reference to a flower, plant or tree on every page. Flowers will feature in some capacity as an artefact in the Memory Theatre and so I recently reread the book, but this time with a highlighter. As Cyril Beardsall drags you across the fields of Nethermere, you’re presented with a sensory overload that at times felt like it may induce hay fever. Here’s one such example:

“The evening scents began to awake, and wander unseen through the still air. An occasional yellow sunbeam would slant through the thick roof of leaves and cling passionately to the orange clusters of mountain-ash berries. The trees were silent, drawing together to sleep. Only a few pink orchids stood palely by the path, looking wistfully out at the ranks of red-purple bugle, whose last flowers, glowing from the top of the bronze column, yearned darkly for the sun.”

My intention is to create a YouTube video to capture the breadth of such references but given that there are so many, they need to be categorised and ordered first. This is going to take a while and so it’s another project on the backburner. In the meantime, I came across this description of September in the novel which was begging to be made into a short video:

“I was born in September, and love it best of all the months. There is no heat, no hurry, no thirst and weariness in corn harvest as there is in the hay. If the season is late, as is usual with us, then mid-September sees the corn still standing in stook. The mornings come slowly. The earth is like a woman married and fading; she does not leap up with a laugh for the first fresh kiss of dawn, but slowly, quietly, unexpectantly lies watching the waking of each new day. The blue mist, like memory in the eyes of a neglected wife, never goes from the wooded hill, and only at noon creeps from the near hedges.”

John McCarthy, who previously created our Suez Canal video, was up for making another and so eagerly got to work on it, spending a day in a forest to capture the necessary shots. My brief was to create slow lingering shots so that Lawrence’s evocative descriptions took precedence; to not be on the nail when matching images to text but rather to capture the mood and feeling of the season. I find myself swaying as I type this. Once more he’s done a smashing job.    

Lawrence was born on 11 September 1885 and each September sees a variety of events hosted as part of the D.H. Lawrence Festival – of which I am a council member. This year this includes a Lawrence/Leavis Day of talks followed by a birthday lecture by Keith Cushman entitled: ‘Affirmation and Anxiety in Lady Chatterley’s Lover’. As with any work you produce, being time specific is one way of generating interest.

The quote also means a lot to me because of the references to ‘the corn still standing in stook’. I grew up in a mining village south east of Nottingham and our street backed right out onto corn fields. My childhood was spent getting scratches from corn and dodging Combine Harvesters whereas my fiancé would help her father erect stooks when he worked seasonally as a farm labourer.

One of our favourite activities in summer is to laze about in fields listening to birdsong and watching the farmers cut the hay when they know there’s a few days of sunshine and it can be safely left out to dry. On such occasions we’ve witnessed an owl meandering low through the fields on the hunt for field mice and counted the vast array of plants and flowers growing in the hedgerow. All of which helps transport us momentarily from the 24/7 thrust of technocratic culture into a simpler and calmer world where it’s ok to pause and observe. And because of Lawrence, I now want to know the name of every plant and flower I’m looking at. This is what good literature does. It broadens your horizons, it makes you restless and inquisitive, it helps you see the world in a different light.   

Further reading

  • If you want to know why you shouldn’t mess about with Combine Harvesters read Joe Speedboat by Tommy Wieringa
  • For information about the D.H. Lawrence festival see the dhlawrencesociety.com
  • If you want to learn how to identify wild flowers visit nhbs.com
  • Melissa Harrison’s podcast The Stubborn Light of Things is a good starting point for learning more about nature visit melissaharrison.co.uk
  • For an interesting interpretation of Lawrence’s first novel see ‘(R)evolutionary Fears and Hopes in The White Peacock‘ at Études Lawrenciennes

Rick Gekoski, the pickle eating baby, and D.H. Lawrence

Rick Gekoski’s Guarded by Dragons: Encounters with Rare Books and Rare People is an illuminating insight into his fifty years of experience buying and selling rare books. The opening chapter reveals how D.H. Lawrence kickstarted his habit…

Rick Gekoski published his first novel, Darke, at the age of 72. But he is perhaps best known for his half a century selling rare books. As the title of his memoir suggests, the treasure he seeks is scarce, carefully buried, and ferociously guarded. But is he himself a dragon, guarding rare books he’s accumulated, or a heroic slayer? It would seem the latter, because once you’ve got the treasure, you want to trade it in for more. His is a life very much focused on the journey rather than the destination.  

A rare book dealer requires two basic skills: to know when a book is buyable and when to sell it for a higher price. The best way to accumulate this knowledge is to serve an apprenticeship in a bookshop. He didn’t. He entered the rare book world as an academic and a collector. Thus, he becomes frustrated at conferences when young collectors demand he pass down trade secrets. But there is no elixir. Knowledge can’t be passed down. All you can do is go slay your own dragons and see what happens.

This ethos of experience shapes his memoir. Over thirteen chapters we see him play ping pong with Salmon Rushdie, upset a Poet Laureate, and get dragged through the law courts on more than one occasion. But our interest at The Digital Pilgrimage is the opening chapter ‘On Sabbatical with D.H. Lawrence’.

It’s late 1974 and the Gekoski’s and their newborn baby are on a first-class plane to New York to see his ferocious mother who is dying of cancer. He’s taken a much-needed sabbatical and ‘wangled’ a contract with Methuen for a critical book on Lawrence. The problem is, he doesn’t have the energy for sustained academic research. What he enjoys more is collecting the first editions he’s been accumulating for the research he has no intention of finishing. It’s all very Dyeresque – something he alludes to.

Research, however, provides him with the excuse to leave his pickle-eating baby with his wife while he visits a secondhand bookseller called William Hauser. ‘Bill’ is nearing retirement and flogging off his books at bargain prices. He visits him five times and the books get cheaper on each visit. We learn that price is not just determined by the value of the object, there are other variables at play. He pays £41 for 12 books and sells most of them, over the coming years, for £333. This would make him a dealer. But as he invests this in more acquisitions, he is also a collector. The fact that he has the books shipped over to Blighty – so that his wife doesn’t find out what he’s been up to – suggests he is either a shrewd businessman or a bit deceitful.   

In 1975 books were cheap but hard to find. For example, unable to procure his own copy of Warren Roberts’ Bibliography of D.H. Lawrence, he photocopies it from his university library and then annotates it with his acquisitions – who he bought from, who he sold on to. He explains that ‘unlike work on the putative critical book, which was glacially slow and unenthusiastic over these years, my collecting was focused, passionate and highly organized.’

He becomes obsessed with Lawrence, detailing all his books sold at auction. Later, he convinces his bank manager to allow his to go further into the red so that he can acquire a collection of Lawrence books from an antiques dealer in Wales that include some rarities, such as signed first editions of Lady Chatterley. The dealer insists on being paid in cash.

Allow me a quick digression. During lockdown, I went a year and a half without drawing out cash. Everything went on my card. Then I went to Yorkshire to visit some relatives. First a pizza take-away in Pateley Bridge refused to accept card and pointed to ‘machine across the road, mate’. Then the following evening, a Thai takeaway would only deliver if we had £42.32 in cash. As a sweetener, they threw in two free bottles of Singha beer and would deliver in 25 minutes.

Back to the dodgy dealer.    

The dealer gives firm instructions to meet him at a train station at 12. He hangs up before checking if this is convenient. ‘He knew I was keen’ explains Gekoski ‘and may well have known that university lecturers have a lot of free time’. Of course, he can’t resist. But takes a friend along with him just in case. The meeting is fraught with danger, but it’s worth it as the dealer’s collection includes some proper treasure, such as Bay – A Book of Poems, published by The Beaumont Press in 1921 and sold in three issues: 500 copies, 50 signed copies, 25 signed copies bound in vellum.

It’s at this point, after he’s been bundled into the back of a car, that he confesses that writers, collectors, raconteurs make ‘our stories smoother, funnier, more revealing’ because it makes for a better story. He is guilty of ‘unconsciously constructing a faux narrative in which I braved dragons, confronted a dragon, returned safely from the hunt with my treasure: a hero, of a modest sort’.

Gekoski may be an unreliable narrator but he’s certainly a compelling one. I only intended to read the opening chapter to get my Lawrence fix but ended up devouring the entire book in one sitting. In doing this I’ve gone on to discover that John Fowles was anti-Semitic and that John Updike had to explain what a blowjob was to Victor Gollancz. All of which, to use an Alan Sillitoe quote, is ‘cheap gossip for retail later’. Wonderful stuff.

This book was kindly leant to me by David Belbin, Chair of Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature. David is also a writer and a collector of first edition books.

Guarded by Dragons is available in HB for £18.99 from Constable at hachette.co.uk

Further Reading

Publishing Sea and Sardinia: Letters to Jan Juta

Jan Juta’s illustrations in Sea and Sardinia (1921)

D.H. Lawrence was more than a prolific writer. He was also fiercely obsessive over every aspect of the publication process as correspondence with Jan Juta and others testifies during the publication of Sea and Sardinia in 1921.

Born in Cape Town, Jan Carel Juta (1897 – 1990) was a South African painter who illustrated Lawrence’s travel book Sea and Sardinia which celebrates its centenary this year. He also specialised as a muralist, designing work in fresco, glass, metal and wood. His commissions varied from book illustrations, such as those produced for his sister Rene’s travel books Concerning Corsica and Cannes and the Hills to murals created for the Cunard liners RMS Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. He also authored the short story collection Look out for the Ostriches, and the memoirs Background in Sunshine and Tilting with the Stars.   

Son of Sir Henry Juta, Judge President of the Union of South Africa, Juta was a former student of the Slade School of Art, London who met Lawrence in 1920 when studying at the British School in Rome where he would go on to produce the oil painting of Lawrence that currently hangs in the National Gallery. He was also a keen traveller himself, with his art taking him to France, Italy and South Africa before he settled in New Jersey, America.

Juta would take on a series of prestigious roles during his career including president emeritus of the National Society of Mural Painters, America and chief of visual information at the United Nations Department of Public Information. He also found time to be a lay preacher and reader for Episcopal churches. He covered a lot during his 95 years of life, but it is the 24-year-old Juta that is of interest here as his correspondence with Lawrence reveals a lot about Lawrence’s guardianship of his work.

After sending Juta a copy of Sea and Sardinia and discovering that he liked it, Lawrence wrote to him on 7 June 1921 expressing his desire to see his portraits of Sardinian life with the intention of including them in his travel book. Although he warned that London publishers were ‘jumping for fright at the thought of colour expense!’ it is clear that Lawrence had every intention of ensuring they were included and what follows is a remarkable series of letters to various people to make that happen. 

Firstly, Lawrence wrote to Curtis Brown – his new UK agent – stating he did not want Thomas Secker to publish the book because ‘it would fall dead flat’ and was keen to stress it was ‘an exact and real travel book: no stunt’ and, perceptive as ever, that ‘time will come when people will want such: when they’re sick of stunts and showing off’. Lawrence goes on to recommend publishers who will make it a colour book ‘and not funk it’. Such was his willingness to have a professionally produced book he was willing to take a ‘very small royalty if cost of production is so alarming to the poor souls’.

By the 12 June Lawrence was more buoyant towards Secker – he had just received the remaining advance for Women in Love from him – and began pleading the case for Sea and Sardinia and Juta’s illustrations. Like a naughty child offsetting the affection of duelling parents, he warns ‘for the Lord’s Sake, don’t let Curtis Brown imagine I write you any business. It is high treason in his eyes’.

Lawrence wrote to Juta on the 23 June informing him the pictures had arrived and that he liked them ‘very much’ and that Frieda was ‘enraptured’. Why he was not ‘enraptured’ is anyone’s guess, but either way the message of approval was delivered.      

Top: Juta. L: Juta. M: Map of Sardinia. R: Juta’s portrait of Lawrence

His next task was to contact the printer Max Schreiber about costs. Frugal as ever, he suggests ‘smuggling’ them out the country to avoid import duty. This is all very fitting as Sea and Sardinia, among other things, is very much about the cost of living and reads in places like a balance sheet. This is understandable given Lawrence lived large bouts of his life in poverty. Writing was not just about sharing his thoughts; it was the thing that put bread and butter on the plate. Hence his prolific output. It’s no surprise, then, that he wanted to be involved in the production of the book and not leave anything to chance. This is evident in his letter to Juta the following day when he begins to consider different formats and costs for the book: ‘12/6 for book and folio together, and book 7/6, pictures 7/6 apart’. 

He was also unhappy with the titles used under the pictures such as ‘Path of the Righteous’ and instead preferred to be ‘exact and local’ and ‘real’ suggesting alternatives such as ‘Sunday Morning’ or ‘Church-Goers’. The final titles were even more pared back, consisting of place names: Orosei, Isili, Tonara, Sorgono, Fonni, Gavoi, Nuoro, Terranova. 

Lawrence’s letter to Juta on the 29 June reads like a printing brochure, with precise detail of costs, exchange rates, sizes, plate engravings, and his determination to ’force the hands of the publishers’ and not ‘let them off’. He then relays similar details to Curtis Brown on 2 July, adding that the prints could also be used in a magazine spread. On 30 July he suggests to Seltzer that Schofield Thayer, editor of The Dial, may opt for a couple of pictures or articles from Sea and Sardinia and that this might ‘help pay for the pictures’ to be printed. He then immediately writes to Thayer suggesting Seltzer or Mountsier will send him a copy of Sea and Sardinia even though ‘you won’t like it’ and then ends with a playful prod suggesting The Dial is a ‘cross, irritable paper’.    

In the introduction to Volume IV of The Letters of D.H. Lawrence, the editors quote Samuel Johnson: ‘In a man’s letters his soul lies naked’. Lawrence’s letters to Juta and those involved in the publication of Sea and Sardinia reveal a writer very much involved in every aspect of the publication process. He is fastidious with detail, pre-empts problems, and is happy to go behind people’s backs to get what he wants. He is pragmatic, informative and deceptive. He fights for Juta’s work to be included because he knows it will enhance his text but he also fights for Juta to be paid because he knows what it is to go without.   

Modern writers today may bemoan the fact that they are expected to have a strong social media presence and promote their own work across platforms, but it is unlikely any are quite so committed as Lawrence was.   

Further reading

Kevin Jackson on ‘The High Priest of Loathe’


The writer, essayist and broadcaster Kevin Jackson (3 January 1955 – 10 May 2021) was a true polymath, writing on a diverse range of subjects that ranged from Dante and Ruskin to the birth of Modernism. We commissioned Kevin to create ‘D.H. Lawrence Zombie Hunter’ for our previous digital literary project Dawn of the Unread. Here he explains why Lawrence was so suited to the zombie genre.

I’d really like to brag or moan about how hard it was to come up with the ideas for this comic, but to be frank, compared to a lot of the stuff I have had to research so as to provide material for Hunt Emerson (who is, by the way, one of the very few people I have met who is possessed of genius), this was a doddle.

First of all, Lawrence’s short life was packed with all the action you could need: tough childhood, early struggles, unlikely marriage to an exotic aristocrat whose cousin had been a legend of the Great War, passionate friendships and bitter feuds, then travel, travel, travel, all around the globe… Allowing for a little fantastical license here and there, the account of Lawrence’s life in this strip is pretty accurate. Most of the standard biographies don’t mention zombies, though.

Then you have the fact that DHL was a real Mr Angry – the Basil Fawlty of literary modernism. He has sometimes been called the “High Priest of Love”, because of the notorious sexy bits in his books, but High Priest of Loathe would be more apt. You name it, he was probably driven nuts by it. Among major twentieth century writers, his only rivals in rage were Ezra Pound (who went mad from anger, and not in a pretty way) and Louis Ferdinand Celine (who may also have been mad; if he wasn’t, he’s probably burning in Hell).

Finally – the biggest stroke of luck – the way in which Lawrence wrote about the people and the countries he hated was an almost perfect fit for the required zombie metaphor. He liked to snarl that his enemies were either half-dead (especially in the genital zone) or as good as dead; he described Britain as a giant graveyard, and as a vast open coffin sinking into the seas. Tweak those outbursts just a little and, voila! Lawrence’s “savage pilgrimage” from nation to nation becomes a one-man war against the zombification of the human race.


It might seem odd to say this, but it is this slightly barmy, ranting side of Lawrence that I now find most attractive. Like most people, I first read him as a teenager. For some teenagers, boys and girls alike, he has been one of the great liberating forces. But this was the seventies, when a new wave of feminism was on the rise, and Lawrence became a major villain – Public Male Chauvinist Pig Number One. And then I went to college and studied English, at a time when the previously overpowering presence of DHL’s biggest champion, F.R. Leavis, had finally withered and all but died. No one I respected so much as mentioned him, except with a shrug or a knowing sneer.

This was unfair, and unfortunate. One of the writers I did greatly admire in my teens (and still admire) was someone who seemed the precise opposite of Lawrence: Anthony Burgess. Where Lawrence was humourless and would-be prophetic, Burgess was funny – sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Where Lawrence was ponderous, Burgess was fleet. Lawrence was a bar-room philosopher and a bully; Burgess was a polymath who wore his learning with wit and panache. And so on.

Yet – how odd this seemed – Burgess greatly warmed to this author who was so much unlike him. What Burgess responded to was Lawrence’s distance from the London literary elite – as a Mancunian, Burgess never felt comfortable with the Establishment; and his capacity for sheer hard work; and his sense that to be a writer is to be more than just someone who hawks their goods in the marketplace. Burgess also liked quite a lot of Lawrence’s prose, and explained why in a short, highly readable book about DHL, Flame Into Being.

It was that book which persuaded me to try to be more open-minded about Lawrence. When it comes right down to it, I still don’t like the smell of him, as it were. As a completely soppy dog-lover, I cannot forget the horrible incident in which he kicked a bitch almost to death because she had not obeyed his call. He was self-righteous, and narcissistic, and often very, very boring. I doubt I would have liked him, and I am sure he would have despised me. But, I’ll admit it. The bastard could write.

Original article published by Dawn of the Unread here

Further Reading

Suez Canal 1922 – when it was ok to stand and stare…

The recent blocking of the Suez Canal caused a right tiz, bringing global trade to a grinding halt and $1 billion in compensation claims from angry exporters. But 101 years ago life was a bit slower. The above video visualises D.H. Lawrence’s plod along the Suez. Back when life was very different and it was ok to stand and stare.

It was created in collaboration with John McCarthy, a student at Nottingham Trent University who got in contact for some experience of video editing and mentoring. I really admire students who take the initiative and push for that extra experience (this is a voluntary placement and is not assessed). We will begin working on another film at the end of May.

We sat down and I outlined the tone and pace of the film and the need to keep things befitting to the historical period. This was definitely a film that required longer shots and stills rather than flitting between images. Then John had the creative freedom to select the images. We then met up and discussed the first draft which required a minor edit.

His motivation for getting involved with the project was the ‘creative freedom’ and to help with his future career. John said: ‘In the future I would like to be a film editor, I really enjoy editing as its where the project really comes to life. I see it as the last part of directing as you can decide on which shots to use, the pacing, and how the film will end up looking in a final cut. You can really decide how the film will look.’

The benefit of a placement for John is he gets mentoring and advice and a platform to showcase his work. The benefit for us is new content for the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre. It also forces me to come up with a new script and consider ways in which Lawrence’s work can shine a light on contemporary issues.

My hope with these placements is that students learn a bit about putting together a project and then have the confidence to go off and do something similar for themselves. Please find two minutes in your busy schedule to take a look or leave a comment on our YouTube channel. And if you do nothing else, make sure that you pause your 24/7 life for a few moments and enjoy life at 5mph as D.H. Lawrence did in 1922.

Extract of letter used in the film below:

“My Dear Rosalind, 

Here we are on the ship – ten days at sea. It is rather lovely – perfect weather all the time, ship steady as can be, enough wind now to keep it cool… 

I loved coming through the Suez Canal – 5 miles an hour – takes 18 hours – you see the desert, the sand hills, the low palm trees, arabs with camels working at the side. I like it so much….  

Being at sea is so queer – it sort of dissolves for the time being all the connections with the land, and one feels a bit like a sea-bird must feel. It is my opinion that once beyond the Red Sea one does not feel any more that tension and pressure one suffers from in England – in Europe altogether…  

It seems difficult in this world to get a new start – so much easier to make more ends.”

Further reading  

Three ways museums are making classic literature more attractive to young readers

Engaging young people is a challenge for museums. Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock

Heather Green, Nottingham Trent University

For many lovers of classic literature, opportunities to devour the works of undiscovered authors can be enough to make people’s eyes light up. For those who aren’t as keen on the genre, the appeal of these titles is a little less obvious. In fact, it’s one of the reasons museum professionals are running into issues when it comes to inspiring new generations to read such works.

Engaging young people is a challenge for museums and the traditional approaches that literary heritage museums take when dealing with classic authors is becoming a problem. This is because literary heritage museums usually focus on presenting the biographical story, personal effects or archival collection of an author. Relevant and interesting perhaps to those already familiar with an author’s works, but perhaps less successful at engaging would-be readers. The language of some of these authors can also be a barrier to new readers, as can the difficulty of reading “a classic” – which might be seen as irrelevant or out of touch with the modern world.

As the community, learning and engagement officer at Wirksworth Heritage Centre in Derbyshire, my role is to engage audiences of all ages with the local history of Wirksworth. A key element to Wirksworth’s heritage is its literary connections to writers (including George Eliot, DH Lawrence and Daniel Defoe) and the inspiration they took from the people and the landscape of Wirksworth. My PhD research considers how literary heritage is presented in museums throughout the country. I have a particular interest in Nottingham, which was awarded the Unesco City of Literature bid in 2015 due to its rich literary heritage, but also has some of the lowest literacy levels in the country.

Since COVID-19, finding new ways to share our literary heritage both inside and outside of museum walls has become incredibly important. So how should museums show that these authors remain relevant in the 21st century? Literary heritage museums are doing this in a whole host of ways, but here are the three examples of approaches I believe are particularly successful.

1. Retelling stories

From the Austen Project to the many graphic novel retellings and classic novels reimagined as text messages, retelling stories with a contemporary twist is a well-trodden (if not always well-reviewed) path. It’s also a method of interpretation that literary heritage museums are beginning to embrace.

Using new and creative formats can remove some of the barriers to young people wanting to experience these stories and can inspire them to try the “real thing”. As part of my own curatorial work with Dorking Museum, I wrote a book entitled Forster in 50 which accompanies the exhibition Forster at 50. The book provides visitors with an overview of five of Forster’s novels in only 50 words with illustrations, providing more of an accessible introduction to EM Forster’s work.

2. Using technology to draw audiences in

Technology and literature may have seemed like a mismatch once upon a time, but more and more museums are using different technologies to engage audiences with their collections. Before its closure in 2016, the DH Lawrence Heritage Centre presented the 1915 censorship trial of Lawrence’s The Rainbow through a series of Twitter posts in their exhibition No Right to Exist: The Rainbow and Other Books Which Shocked. This condensed the complexities of the trial into a series of 140 character posts, allowing younger audiences to explore the debate in a familiar format and go on to consider what we consider scandalous in literature today.

My own work has included the co-production of Walking with Lawrence, a digital walking tour written from Lawrence’s perspective which allows the listener to connect the author with the city they see today. The use of a creative narrative which is listened to rather than read provides a format that’s easier to understand, removing some of the barriers created by large amounts of text.

3. Collaborating with creative partners

Working with creative partners such as artists and writers can help museums to reach new audiences, providing more approachable information for younger generations in particular. Graphic novels and comic books are incredibly helpful in this respect. I’m working with Wirksworth Heritage Centre’s writer in residence Helen Greetham, who’s currently producing a graphic novel about the literary heritage of George Eliot in Wirksworth.

A similar project is underway in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, working with young people to produce their own Lawrence-inspired graphic stories. The Eastwood Comics project aims to engage “700 further young people (who) will learn about the author and his birthplace by taking part in activities inspired by the young writers’ research”. Here, participation in creative projects and reading new stories help new generations to connect with Lawrence’s heritage in more meaningful ways than regurgitating information about the author.

The pandemic has provided an unprecedented challenge to the heritage sector, but the closure of our sites doesn’t mean we can’t continue to connect people to our history. These new and innovative ways that museums have engaged and inspired younger generations can continue regardless of whether physical buildings are open. In the months ahead, I hope more buildings take similar approaches.

Heather Green, PhD Candidate, Literary Heritage, Nottingham Trent University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Five tourist trips in England inspired by classic novels

Heather Green, Nottingham Trent University

Some books can really bring to life the place in which they’re set. Their words knit together in such a way that whole landscapes or entire floorplans of buildings you’ve never visited before spring forth in your mind.

Often these settings are based upon real places. So with domestic travel restrictions set to be relaxed from April, that might be the opportune moment to discover some of the UK’s best literary heritage sites. From violently beautiful windswept moors to boisterous town squares, here are five such places and the books they inspired:

1. Greenway, Devon in Agatha Christie’s Dead Man’s Folly

Poirot commented on the geography of the property, ‘So many paths, and one is never sure where they lead’ … They passed the Folly and zig-zagged down the path to the river.

Agatha Christie’s house at Greenway on the River Dart is the setting for her 1956 novel Dead Man’s Folly. About a charity game of murder that becomes a bit too real, this Hercule Poirot mystery vividly came to life on my visit to Greenway.

Not only is the Georgian house itself perfectly depicted, but the zig-zagging path to the murder scene in the boathouse is so uncannily described that to visit it is chilling. The house and grounds are so evocative that Greenaway was used in ITV’s 2013 adaptation of the book.

2. Nottingham in Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

Market Square lights danced all around him.

Sillitoe’s cult novel set among the working class in Nottingham follows Arthur Seaton (rebel, thinker, drinker and womaniser) after he puts away 11 pints and seven gins one Saturday night.

Town sqyare with fountain, bordered by shops.
Nottingham’s Market Square. Destinos Espetaculares/Shutterstock

Nottingham might have changed somewhat since 1958, but Sillitoe’s detailed descriptions of the city’s streets are still wonderfully recognisable. Nothing says Nottingham like wondering amid the drunken revellers in Market Square or experiencing the cacophony of the annual Goose Fair, one of the largest funfairs in the UK. The many locations Seaton visited over his fateful weekend can be further explored on The Sillitoe Trail.

3. Wirksworth, Derbyshire in George Eliot’s Adam Bede

Look at the canals, an’ th’ acqueducs, an’ th’ coal-pit engines, and Arkwright’s mills there at Cromford.

George Eliot’s Adam Bede (1859) provides a snapshot of the rural Midlands at the beginning of the 18th-century. Eliot’s aunt was a Methodist preacher in Wirksworth, and the local landscape, coupled with her aunt’s reminiscences, became the germ of the novel

Waterways at Arkwright's Mill, Cromford, Derbyshire.
Arkwright’s Mill, Cromford, Derbyshire. Daniel Matthams/Alamy

Thoough Eliot irritably rejected suggestions that any of her characters or settings were carbon copies of real life, Wirksworth can certainly be found in the industrial landscape that she conjures. Arkwright’s mills can be still be explored, the canal strolled along, and the remains of the mining industry discovered.

4. The West York Moors in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights

But it was one of their chief amusements to run away to the moors in the morning and remain there all day, and the after-punishment grew a mere thing to laugh at.

Wuthering Heights (1847) is a tale of obsessive love. Divided in life, Cathy and Heathcliff are finally joined in death and their spirits roam the Yorkshire moors. For me, Emily Brontë’s classic is more about the landscape than love. When first reading the novel, my interest in Cathy and Heathcliff’s undying love was secondary to my imaginings of the moorland that is their playground and escape. The windswept barren landscape feels synonymous with freedom.

Aeiral shot of the ruins of the Top Withins farmhouse
The ruins of the Top Withins farmhouse. Julian Hodgson/Shutterstock

You can walk in the Brontë sisters’ footsteps by following the Brontë Stones, which are situated between Thornton, where the girls were born, and Haworth, where they wrote their classic novels. The Emily Walk is marked by a poem carved into a rocky outcrop from Kate Bush, whose 1978 number one Wuthering Heights was inspired by the novel. The walk leads you away from civilisation and takes in the lovely ruins of Top Withins farmhouse, which is believed to be the inspiration for the Earnshaw home in Wuthering Heights.

5. Eastwood, Nottinghamshire in DH Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers

The Bottoms consisted of six blocks of miners’ dwellings, two rows of three, like the dots on a blank-six domino, and twelve houses in a block.

Lawrence’s most autobiographical novel, Sons and Lovers (1913), follows the fates of a mining family in Nottinghamshire.

The once coal-mining town of Eastwood and the surrounding landscape has been recreated in detail gleaned from Lawrence’s memories of his childhood, from The Breach where his family lived (“The Bottoms” in the novel) to descriptions of the Moon and Stars pub (actually the Three Tuns). Visiting The DH Lawrence Birthplace Museum, visitors can step inside a typical mining family home of the period.

Heather Green, PhD Candidate, Literary Heritage, Nottingham Trent University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

D.H. Lawrence and Dialect: The mardy bloke from Eastwood

The second artefact in the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre is dialect. We’ve been slowly feeding an alphabet of dialect phrases through our Instagram account and producing videos like the above for our YouTube channel. The dialect essays are now on the project website too but will get a makeover as and when we get a chance. Below is some of the transcript for the above ‘mardy’ video. I guess the purpose of the video is to demonstrate (in a quick and accessible way) some of the ways in which Lawrence uses mardy in his work.

Although we’d love to claim mardy as our own, it’s used widely across the country – although it’s meaning varies. In Yorkshire and the Midlands, mardy means to be sulky or whining. This meaning is most likely derived from the dialect marred, which describes a spoilt, overindulged, or badly behaved child.

There are lots of mardy brats in Lawrence’s writing.

However, in the East Midlands, mardy can also mean to be non co-operative, bad tempered or terse in communication. By this definition, D.H. Lawrence was a gigantic sulk on legs. He raged against everyone and everything. And he had plenty of reasons to be mardy, particularly when his books were banned or censored. Take this letter to Edward Garnett in 1912 on finding out his manuscript for Sons and Lovers had been rejected by the publisher Heinemann.

“Curse the blasted, jelly-boned swines, the slimy, the belly-wriggling invertebrates, the miserable sodding rotters, the flaming sods, the sniveling, dribbling, dithering, palsied, pulse-less lot that make up England today.

Ouch.

There are three ways you can pronounce mardy in the East Midlands. Mardeh, mardee or mard. Lawrence was very much of the mard variety on account of growing up in Eastwood which sits smack bang wallop on the border of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. In this region of the country, folk don’t like to fanny about with syllables and trim them off at any given opportunity.  

Lawrence flips between these pronunciations in his novels. ‘Mardy’ is mentioned in Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow, and Mr. Noon whereas the harder sounding ‘mard’ appears more frequently in The White Peacock, the short story ‘Rex’, the play The Daughter-in-Law and the poem The Collier’s Wife

As you would expect from literature’s number one mard arse, there are lots of different words and expressions for being in a bad mood in Lawrence’s work. Here’s a few.

Most mardies happen when you have a row about summat. This is known as a shindy.

If during this shindy you persistently whine, you may be guilty of carneyin’.

Once you’re in a bad mood, you’re likely to go chuntering around the house.

Whining and whimpering is also known as pulamiting

If you are pulamiting in a particularly whining tone you may be accused of grizzling.

Too much grizzling might turn you mean, which can result in mingy behaviour. 

This is likely to annoy people, or naggle them.

Most people who have a mardy tend to slope off on their own. But if your mardy has enraged you so much that you start screaming or crying, you have entered the world of scraightin. 

Lawrence lived through World War One, survived the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, watched the landscape of his home destroyed by industrialisation, saw his books censored and banned, had his passport confiscated for marrying a German women, experienced persecution for his views, was labelled a pornographer, lived a nomadic life in self-imposed exile, and was plagued by ill health all his life. If anyone earned the right to be mardy, it was he.     

Further Reading

Student Essay: Dialect in the work of DH Lawrence

As part of our memory theatre project, we have created space for students at Nottingham Trent University to explore their own interpretations of Lawrence’s work. Here Jonathan Lucas explores Lawrence’s use of dialect as part of his final year English dissertation.

DH Lawrence had a special relationship with his native dialect, using the local vernacular speech of the mining community in his hometown Eastwood. Dialect acts as a prominent and dynamic symbol in many of his works, infusing depictions of his childhood experience with a certain raw authenticity that transcends words on a page.

In a late poem entitled ‘Red-herring’, Lawrence describes himself and his siblings as ’in-betweens’ and ‘little nondescripts’ speaking the Received Pronunciation they learned from their mother, Lydia, inside the house and the less respectable dialect, of their father Arthur and the rest of the town, outside it.

The breach between these two forms of speech had a significant impact on Lawrence’s perception of relationships between masculine and feminine, which he expresses in his semi-autobiographical novel, Sons and Lovers. To portray the rift in his upbringing, Lawrence based the characters of Walter and his wife Gertrude on his own parents, featuring intense bi-dialectic confrontations between the two, with Walter speaking in Eastwood dialect and Gertrude speaking in Received Pronunciation.

In both Sons and Lovers and The Rainbow, there is an impulse, largely associated with women, to break out of the parochial community that they feel trapped in. In a community marked off from the wider world through distinctive ways of speaking, characters such as Gertrude provide an alternative to the mould through their speech, mirroring Lydia and her desire to secure respectability for her sons, beyond the community of Eastwood. Lydia’s efforts worked as Lawrence’s ability to code switch from dialect to Received Pronunciation assisted in his transposed success, especially when he won a prestigious Nottinghamshire County scholarship to Nottingham High School, an extraordinary achievement for the son of an Eastwood miner.

Lawrence would go on to travel the world, escaping the mining community that would become the focus of much of his work. His dialect had personal connotations of primitive, masculine energy that he associated with his father – which he makes reference to in his essay ‘Nottingham and the mining country’: “The life was a curious cross between industrialism and the old agricultural England of Shakespeare and Milton and Fielding and George Eliot. The dialect was broad Derbyshire, and always ‘thee’ and ‘thou.’ The people lived almost entirely by instinct; men of my father’s age could not really read.”

The rudimentary essence of dialect is affectionately expressed in the description of the miners in Women in Love: “Their voices sounded out in strong intonation, and the broad dialect was curiously caressing to the blood. It seemed to envelop and run in a labourer’s caress, there was in the whole atmosphere, a resonance of physical men, a glamourous thickness of labour and maleness surcharged in the air.” The physicality of the miners’ bodies is what makes their dialect speech so powerful that it ‘caresses the blood’. The thick dialect courses through the miners’ veins and evaporates in the vibrations of their voices, creating an atmosphere humid with ‘a resonance of physical men’.

The notion of dialect being embedded into one’s blood as a pulse of instinctive life is something Lawrence was vocal about early on in his career, exemplified in a letter when he tells Blanche Jennings that his “verses are tolerable-rather pretty, but not suave; there is some blood in them.” Referring to the integrity within his use of un-refined words and syntax as ‘blood’ highlights how essential Lawrence considered dialect to be in his body of work. In the same letter, Lawrence goes on to say that he prioritises “sincerity, and a quickening spontaneous emotion” in his writing, a sense of immediate passion which is represented through dialect.

Lawrence’s poem ‘The Drained Cup’ ascribes dialect to a woman to show that the raw primitive instinct of his father is not exclusive to males. By using the same deliberately unrefined and explicit language as before, but through a female persona dealing with her lover’s unfaithfulness, Lawrence criticises masculine primitive instinct: “A man like thee can’t rest till the last of his spunk goes out of ‘im into a woman”. This string of monosyllabic words leading to the disyllabic “woman” illuminates how all of the lover’s masculine energy, his “spunk”, is focused towards women, thereby being impotent in the absence of a woman to direct it to.

This is reinforced later in the poem when ‘spunk’ then yields to ‘blood’: “Tha’rt one o’ th’ men as has got to drain-an I’ve loved thee for it. Their blood in a woman, to the very last vain” – this reduces men to their material substance – ‘spunk’ and ‘blood’ are all that men are good for in this instance.

Using dialect, Lawrence expresses the unrestrainable nature of humans, articulating obsessions with immediate and physical reality, exploring the collective primitive instinct that is shared by all but repressed by some and embraced by others – regardless of gendered boundaries constructed by society.

Dialect is the second artefact in the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre. Visit our project website to see contextual essays by Natalie Braber

A Raight Racket

To celebrate ‘dialect,’ the second artefact in the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre, I’ve written this short story using dialect referenced in Lawrence’s work. It’s read out by members of Lawrence Country, providing a blend of accents from the Notts/Derbyshire border. The video is edited together by Izaak Bosman, a talented lad from Wollaton who is currently doing a PhD at Cambridge.

I heard a raight racket outside and thought to mysenwhat’s a gait now’. From mi window I gorped at a Bertie Willie arguing with a batchy gel. I decided to go out and see what wor happening and put mi coat on because it wor a bit nippy.

She looked like a raight besom to mi. The kind that would bezzle a week’s wages down her neck in one innings before blorting. But it was no wonder she turned to drink, given the chelp and bully-ragging she was getting from this young jockey.

Folk are always caffling and chuntering on our street. It’s usually summat to do with spending too much time with someone you shouldn’t be spending any time with which leads to a bit of colley-foglin’ . They should get it out their system before bobbling off down the aisle, if you ask mi.

But love makes a gaby of us all in the end, unless you’re a mean wizzen hearted stick. So, there’s no point tip callin’ on others. You can grizzle as much as you like and mard away the evening on your own, but we all know us would lief be with a lover than without. There in’t owt we can do to change it.  

Anyway, that’s my harporth on the matter. I maun skedaddle. And remember mi words. Don’t be mingy with the ones you love. Life is too short to skinch on emotions. Sometimes you’ve got to be a bit slikey other times you need a drop o’ the lashins. Just do what works for yersen. Now, stop listening to me wafflin on and ger whoam.

The references in this dialect story all appear in Lawrence’s work. See below for the full list.

  • ‘I’ll stand no more of your chelp
  • ‘He thinks himself slikey’

A Collier’s Friday Night

  • ‘What am I to wesh mysen for?’
  • ‘Tha s’lt go whoam, Willy, tha s’lt go whoam’
  • ‘Tha’rt skinchin!’
  • ‘You may back your life Lena an’ Mrs. Severn’ll be gorping, and that clat-fartin’ Mrs. Allsop’

A Sick Collier

  • ‘They’re the mingiest set of ladylike snipe ever invented’

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

  • ‘I’ll teach you, my jockey! Do you think I’m going to spend my life darning after your destructive little teeth!’

Rex

  • ‘Three haporth o’ pap’
  • ‘A mean, wizen-hearted stick’
  • ‘I’d as lief be neighbours with a vixen’
  • ‘An’ has ter eaten owt?’
  • ‘There’s money to bezzle with if there’s money for nothin’ else’

Sons and Lovers

  • ‘Eh, tha’rtamard-arsed kid’

The Collier’s Wife

  • ‘Tha wor blortin’ an’ bletherin’ down at th’ office a bit an’ a mighty fool tha made o’ thysen’
  • ‘Tha has a bit too much chelp an’ chunter
  • ‘An they would ha’ believed it, but for Hewett bully-raggin‘ Bettesworth ‘cos he knowed he was a chappil man’
  • ‘Thinks I to myself, she’s after a town johnny, a Bertie-Willie an’ a yard o’ cuffs’
  • ‘I thought tha’d bobbled off ter Manchester ter be i’ safety’
  • ‘Serve her right, for tip callin‘ wi’m all those years’
  • ‘What’s ‘er grizzlin’ about?’
  • ‘What’s a-gait now?’ 

The Daughter-in-Law

  • ‘Go then, sin’ tha maun’
  • ‘Listen, I’m tellin’ thee summat

The Drained Cup

  • ‘If ever Alvina entered a clean house on a wet day, she was sure to hear the housewife chuntering’
  • ‘If you share nivver a drop o’ the lashins’
  • ‘Seems yer doin’ yersen a bit o’ weshin’

The Lost Girl

  • ‘Swimming, like – like a puff o’ steam wafflin
  • ‘It’s not many as can find in their heart to love a gaby like that’
  • ‘To think of that brazen besom telling us to go home and go to bed’
  • ‘Soft, batchy, sawney’

The Merry-go-Round

  • ‘It’s raight for thaigh, said a fat fellow with an unwilling white moustache’
  • ‘An’ I reckon there wor a bit of a to-do between ‘em, worn’t there, Maggie?’
  • ‘No – an’ mi mower says, Dun gie ‘t ‘im’

The White Peacock

  • ‘He’d got a game on some- where- toffed himself up to the nines, and skedaddled off as brisk as a turkey- cock’

The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd

  • ‘Then what art colley- foglin’ for?’
  • ‘To think I should ‘ave ter ‘affle an’ caffle
  • ‘My gel, owt’U do for a man I’ the dark, Tha’s got it flat’

Whether or Not

  • ‘Outside in the street there was a continual racket of the colliers and their dogs and children’

You Touched Me

How to celebrate heritage when your subject is ‘nomadic to the point of frenzy’

In November 2020 I gave a talk to the London Group of the D.H. Lawrence Society about progress of the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre. This is a project that Paul Fillingham and I have been working on for five years or so now. But the main purpose of the talk was to discuss the best way to celebrate heritage. This is a subject I’m very passionate about. Here’s a couple of examples of how it can go horribly wrong.

Culture imposed from above

Culture that’s imposed from above can cause antagonism and resentment. An example of this would be a sculpture plonked into a community with little consultation or awareness of those left to gawp at it every day. Instead of inspiring individuals, it becomes a totem of discontent: ‘the money would have been better spent cleaning up graffiti’; ‘they could have built a playpark for kids’, etc. An example of this is Jean-Pierre Raynaud’s Dialogue with History (1987) which attempted to commemorate the arrival of French settlers to Canada through a series of white cubes but looked like a Rubik’s Cube with the colour stickers peeled off. Nicknamed the toilet, it was criticized for failing to fit in with its 18th century surroundings. It was flattened in 2015.

Vanity projects for the artist

Some heritage is so divisive that discussions focus on the artist rather than the subject. An example of this is Maggi Hambling’s naked statue of feminist pioneer Mary Wollstonecraft, author of the A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). It is appalling. Can you imagine someone commissioning a naked statue of Winston Churchill or Oliver Cromwell? Of course not. It wouldn’t happen. Hambling argued that her Silver Surfer statue wasn’t meant to represent Wollstonecraft, rather it’s for her. “Clothes define people,” she said, “As she’s Everywoman, I’m not defining her in any particular clothes.” But she’s not everywoman. She is slender, well- toned and perfectly formed. She is drawn from the male gaze, reinforcing the perfect body types that have oppressed women for decades. In terms of arousing public disgust, it is more offensive than Vasile Gorduz’s naked monument to Romania’s stray dogs, which is quite a feat…

The same old same old

Blue plaques and statues are great for selfies but rarely serve their purpose –capturing the spirit or essence of the person they claim to be celebrating. There is also a danger of over celebrating the life of a famous individual, and this is a problem I have with D.H. Lawrence’s birthplace of Eastwood.

Eastwood is in danger of becoming a Disney Park to Lawrence. Café’s, the Rainbow bus line, the Phoenix snooker hall, the local Wetherspoon, all bear some relation to his life and work. Some of this is done well, others not so. It must be suffocating for the locals to be constantly reminded of the man who couldn’t wait to get away from the place they are all stuck in during lockdown.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that we are celebrating our literary heritage and the Midlands should definitely aim for an equivalent of Bronte country or Hardy’s Wessex. But I just don’t think another statue will do it– the idea banded about by each new incoming Broxtowe MP. I explained why in a recent talk via Zoom to the London branch of the D.H. Lawrence Society.

Literary heritage requires imagination. D.H. Lawrence was a writer who was, according to Geoff Dyer, ‘nomadic to the point of frenzy’. He never settled in one place for more than two years and never owned any property. Despite this, heritage determines we render him static in perpetuity. If we are to celebrate Lawrence’s life, we need the form to reflect the content. We need something mobile, not static. This is the rationale behind the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre. It is a moveseum if you will; a travelling art exhibition modelled on Lawrence’s personal travel trunk, that curates Lawrence’s life through artefacts. It will retrace Lawrence’s steps across Europe and beyond, if and when we ever send Covid packing…

This project is not imposed from above but from within. It is a conversation. We want to create a space for many voices to think through the life of this contradictory and complex character. One artefact I want to include in the memory theatre is rage and so the talk helped generate reasons for Lawrence’s rage as well as ways that we can represent this as an artefact. You can read more about the talk in Catherine Brown’s review here.

Further Reading