#Mondayblogs Lawrence and Brett 5: You can’t go home again


priest of love
PRIEST OF LOVE (1981): Ian McKellen as D.H. Lawrence, Penelope Keith as Dorothy Brett

As hard as Lawrence tried to create Rananim, it only lasted for short bursts of time. Either he became restless and needed to find new pastures, or some kind of argument would ensue that made living peacefully impossible. For Frieda, two was company and three was most definitely a crowd, and so Dorothy Brett found herself ejected from the latest excursion to Oaxaca and back in New Mexico.

Brett headed back to the DH Lawrence Ranch, as it is now known, a 160-acre (0.65 km2) property located at 8,600 feet (2,600 m) above sea level near Lobo Mountain near San Cristobal in Taos County. Originally named the Lobo Ranch, then the Kiowa Ranch, it was given to Frieda Lawrence as a gift by Mabel Dodge Luhan. Although the Lawrence’s would leave New Mexico in1925, Frieda would return after Lawrence’s death, remarry, and settle in Taos for the rest of her life. Frieda died in Taos on her 77th birthday. Brett, too, would live out her days in Taos, becoming an American citizen in 1938. She died in 1977 at the age of 94.

Lawrence was worried for Brett travelling alone. Although the Mexican Revolution had technically ended after 10 years of civil war (1910-1920), tensions were still high and threatened to break out at any moment. But the severing of ties was necessary if the tension between him and Frieda – brought about by his close friendship with Brett – were to abate. But the parting wasn’t enough for Frieda. Neither did she want Brett on the ranch when she returned. And so Lawrence arranged for her to borrow a cabin from Bill and Rachel Hawk, in the orchard of Del Monte.

Lawrence was very ill in Mexico, and was very close to death. This coincided with an earthquake, the significance of which wasn’t lost on Brett. This led to her having a very strange dream in which Lawrence meets a young man while out walking with Frieda. ‘The young man was yourself as a young man – young, without a beard,’ explains Brett. ‘You had met your youth and fallen in love with it and gone off with it. I do not like this dream. Years later I find out why: I am told it foretells death’.

When Lawrence was feeling slightly better he returned to New Mexico. When Brett got news of this she jumps on her horse, Prince, and gallops over snow and ice to see him. She is greeted by Frieda who informs he’s upstairs, resting. He is frail and ill. Lawrence confides that he was so ill when he reached Mexico City from Oaxaca that Frieda applied rouge to his cheeks to bring some colour to his face.

Mary Dreier, Ida Rauh, Helen Marot, Rena Borky, Yetta Raff, and Mary Effers link arms as they march to City Hall on December 3, 1909 during the New York shirtwaist strike to demand an end to abuse by police. Image: wikipedia

Brett soon receives a visit from Ida Rauh (March 7, 1877 – February 28, 1970). Rauh was a lawyer, suffragist, actress, sculptor, and poet who moved to Santa Fe in 1922. She would make a bust of Lawrence which now resides in the Lawrence Memorial Library in New Mexico. Lawrence wrote the play David for her, which Brett was currently typing up. He would give Brett six copies of his manuscripts as a thank you for her typing services. Once she had finished typing up David, the two friends ride together to see Lawrence and he performs the entire play for them, with only a pause for tea.

During the one man performance, Frieda is fagging it as usual. Brett reminds the QB of her practical worth and hunts down a rabbit which goes in the pot for tea. A compromise is reached and Brett is allowed to see Lawrence again, but no more than three times a week. ‘I won’t have you up here every day. I won’t have you on the place. You are a mischief maker. I hate you, hate you!’ screams Frieda, but Brett finally stands up to her, telling the QB to go to hell and that she won’t be bossed by her. Shocked at this rare outburst, Frieda slams the door in Brett’s face. When Brett later relays this to Lawrence he is highly amused.

These squabbles soon result in the obligatory writing of fierce letters, though ‘you are always gentle and friendly after your angry letters. How tiresome it all is! You are weary of it; so am I. The only difference between us is that I am hopeful and you are pessimistic.’ A lot of this tension was symptomatic of other issues, namely Frieda’s desire to have her children up on the ranch. Perhaps this was one reason why Frieda resented Lawrence’s bonding with Brett: If she couldn’t be close to her children, why should he be allowed to be close to anyone else but her?

ras mooount
Raspberry Mountain is one of the Summits in Colfax County, NM and can be found on the Pine Buttes USGS topographic quad map. The GPS coordinates are 36.5783606 (latitude), -104.2138696 (longitude) and the approximate elevation is 8,077 feet (2,462 meters) above sea level. Image from: nearbymountains.com

Despite these inevitable strains on their friendship, there were many good times together, such as trips up Raspberry Canyon to watch men take honey from the wild bees in the trees. But most of the time, it was just Brett and Lawrence. When they weren’t doing a bit of DIY together, such as building a shed for the pet cow Susan, one favourite pastime was painting together, or, perhaps more accurately, Brett painting and Lawrence correcting her. On one occasion Brett was working on a painting of the desert and their ranch life, which opened up a debate about the process of painting. ‘You insist that landscape without figures is dull’ writes Brett. ‘We are agreed, though, that most pictures should be painted from memory: the imagination works better that way.’ Lawrence is sceptical of artists who feel the need to sit in front of what they paint, arguing ‘they feel nothing inside them, so they must have it before their eyes. It’s all wrong and stupid: it should all be brought from inside oneself’ and then he spits on the floor, as if to reinforce the point.

Frieda had a go at painting once. Lawrence demanded to see what she’d done but she refused. He snatched the painting from her, flung it on the ground and stamped on it. Brett tries to rationalise this irrational behaviour, suggesting it could be the ‘fatigue of his writing’ and that she’d seen the artist Mark Gertler in similar tempestuous moods. Lawrence’s behaviour was violent and vindictive. But the tortured artist, it would appear, could torture other people and get away with it in the 1920s

Lawrence loved to be the teacher, or ‘preacher’ as Knud Merrild observed in his own memoir of their life together. So when Brett takes Lawrence shooting, it is a rare reversal of roles. He is very much the pupil, protesting ‘I have never fired a gun in my life and I hate killing things’. They use the doorknob on the toilet door for fire practice and after a few goes, the lock is blown to smithereens. The toilet door can never be locked properly again. It’s soon after this that Lawrence shoots a porcupine, justifying it on the grounds that they damage the trees. ‘You are immensely proud of yourself in one way, and full of regrets in another’ observes Brett.

Adventure 1911-03

We learn from Brett that Lawrence was an avid reader of the pulp magazine Adventure. First published in November 1910, it ran to 881 issues, ending in 1971. Noted explorer and journalist Trumbull White was the first editor (until 1912) and established two editorial principles: An “adventure” story did not have to be set in an exotic location; the story should be as historically, geographically, and socially accurate as possible. Brett said that Lawrence liked reading it more than anything. ‘It has just plain tales of adventure. Simple, unaffected storytelling, sometimes really very good, too’ he said.

One reason that Frieda disliked Brett and Lawrence’s friendship is because they acted like a spinster and a curate. It infuriated her that they didn’t have the guts to get it on. Despite the common perception of Lawrence as a smutty author, he was actually quite prudish in real life. ‘How untouchable you are, I think to myself’ writes Brett. ‘How true, how important to you is your constant cry of ‘Noli me tangere!’ You do not care to be touched, to be pawed. Necking makes you furious. Your sex is not to be played with, not to be belittled by playfulness. It is serious, a danger to be respected as the tiger is respected, hidden in the jungle.’ Brett feels very much the same and this is something else that brings them closer together.

The biggest sin they commit is coming home late from one of their excursions together, which would send Frieda into a rage. ‘One day she stands, arms akimbo, eyes wild, mouth a long tight slit; her close fitting bodice, pleated, full skirts all arrogant and belligerent. The next, she is a big, warm, bounding creature, eyes blue and free, mouth a broad grin, bodice and skirt colourful and glowing: rough, hearty, and undoubtedly handsome.’

When the summer of 1925 is over and plans for winter start to emerge, Brett does not want to return to London. She considers staying out here on the ranch on her own but Lawrence is worried for her safety. Instead he convinces her to visit Capri, a small island off the coast of Napoli. She is issued with a letter to the Brewsters, guaranteeing her somewhere to stay. Their life together in New Mexico is over. Capri will be their last adventure.

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts.  Lawrence is a complex individual and we need to capture all aspects of his personality if we are to represent him correctly. How do we address his violent bullying of Frieda? Or his guilt at shooting a porcupine? His friendship with the inspirational Ida Rauh? The compassion and gentleness of Dorothy Brett? In 2019 we will be building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact, get involved and submit ideas here.



#MondayBlogs Lawrence and Brett 4: Rosalino the Mozo

desert and mountains outisde of oaxaca 1924 brett
Desert and mountains outside of Oaxaca by Dorothy Brett 1924/5

In our fourth blog exploring Dorothy Brett’s memoir we focus in on Lawrence’s relationship with a young boy called Rosalino, who was his moxo in Oaxaca. A mozo is an assistant, servant or male porter who ‘really goes with the house’. But what was it about the boy that so intrigued Lawrence?    

In Oaxaca, Lawrence developed quite a fatherly relationship with Rosalino, their mozo. In Mornings in Mexico, he describes seeing him ‘lurking in the patio, and glancing furtively under his brows’. This furtive glance is different to the ‘black, incomprehensible, but somewhat defiant stare’ of other Indian boys, leading Lawrence to wonder whether he might be a bit different. ‘The difference lies in a certain sensitiveness and aloneness, as if he were a mother’s boy’ which is in stark contrast to ‘the bold male glare of most of the Indians, who seem as if they had never, never had mothers at all’. This is classic Lawrencian analysis, focussing in on one minor detail to make broader observations of an entire culture.

Rosalino works for four pesos a month, and his food. He owns ‘two cotton shirts, two pairs of calico pantaloons, two blouses, one of pink cotton, one of darkish flannelette, and a pair of sandals.’ His morning duties mainly consist of sweeping the house with ‘a sort of duster made of fluffy reeds’. In the afternoon he lounges about waiting for the wind to blow so that he can go through the process again. In the evenings he sleeps in the doorway to the home, the zaguán, on ‘a low wooden bench about four feet long and eighteen inches wide’.

The only thing keeping Rosalino warm at night is a threadbare serape. When Lawrence expresses his concern for the young boy, a local priest advises that mozos are used to living like this. But just because they are used to living like this doesn’t make it right, and so they head off to the market to rectify the problem. The market is on the Mitla Road which Brett describes as being ‘ageless’ and ‘timeless’ due to the ‘ceaseless flow of silent, trotting people: the slow oxen carts, the little tripping burros, with the large baskets hanging on each side, or with women crouched on their backs with a baby in front and one behind’.

Lawrence instructs Rosalino to choose a new and warmer serape from a pile. ‘For a moment he stares at you incredulously’ observes Brett, ‘then, with a broad smile and a gleam of white teeth, he begins to bargain. He sees the one he wants, and in true Indian fashion he goes about getting it as cheaply as he can. We move off, knowing that the job will be a long one.’ Rosalino succeeds in getting one incredibly cheap. ‘You give him the money and he hurries back, returning with the treasure folded over his shoulder. From that moment, he is your slave.’

Oaxaca master weaver. Photograph from loccal.org

Lawrence was incredibly fastidious when it came to money, largely because he lived so much of his life in poverty. Sea in Sardinia, for example, is full of details about the cost of travel and food, so he no doubt admired Rosalino’s bartering skills. From that point onwards, Lawrence gave him money to bargain for essentials. ‘This he simply loved to do’ he observes. ‘It put him into a temper to see us buying without bargaining, and paying ghastly prices.’

Rosalino comes with a complicated history. After refusing to be conscripted for the army, Brett notes he is ‘so severely beaten that his back is permanently injured.’ This means he’s unable to carry heavy weights. This wasn’t an ideal situation for Lawrence given his own poor health, but he admires Rosalino for standing by his principles: ‘He is one of those, like myself, who have a horror of serving in a mass of men, or even of being mixed up with a mass of men. He obstinately refused, whereupon the recruiting soldiers beat him with the butts of their rifles till he lay unconscious, apparently dead.’

oaxaca sign x3
Doorway on the right is Lawrence’s former home in Oaxaca.

After ensuring he was suitably dressed, Lawrence then drew on his experience of teaching to help Rosalino with his self-education. Rosalino had been attending a night school for two years for reading and writing and was set the task of learning and copying a series of long poems. But the problem was ‘he had written the thing straight ahead, without verse-lines or capitals or punctuation at all, just a vast string of words, a whole foolscap sheet full.’ Realising that he was having difficulty, Lawrence stepped in and offered to teach him every morning for one hour. Mozos were not used to this level of kindness and so this latest gesture had a profound effect on Rosalino, leading to mimicry. Lawrence enjoyed a bath every Saturday evening and a clean shirt on a Sunday. So Rosalino goes to the public bath every Saturday and on a Sunday ‘he appears in a gorgeous flowered shirt, spotlessly clean’. But he only has two shirts and so Lawrence buys him some more.

He was fed well too. Instead of the daily diet of tortillas, ‘we started feeding him from our own meals, and for the first time in his life he had real soups, meat-stews, or a fried egg, he loved to do things in the kitchen. He would come with sparkling black eyes: ‘Hé comido el caldo. Grazias!’ (I have eaten the soup. Thank you.’)–And he would give a strange, excited little yelp of a laugh’.

When Rosalino suddenly went missing one day, Lawrence was understandably annoyed. He’d shown the boy fatherly affection and so was offended when he thought this wasn’t being reciprocated. Brett records a typically irrational outburst: ‘Give friendship and they deceive you and go. They don’t really care – they really hate us. It makes me hate them.’ Rosalino had left because he was homesick for his people. This had been brought on by accompanying Lawrence and Frieda on long walks to small and remote villages. But he returned a few days later.

Observing that one minute Rosalino is ‘thrilled and happy’ the next he is imbued with a ‘black, reptilian gloom, and a sense of hatred’ – he could almost be talking about his own erratic mood swings. ‘He didn’t forgive himself for having felt free and happy with us. He had eaten what we had eaten…He had been happy, therefore we were scheming to take another advantage of him. We had some devilish white monkey-trick up our sleeve; we wanted to get at his soul.’

Lawrence had an indifferent relationship to his childhood home of Eastwood. His novels evoke glorious landscapes destroyed by industrialisation. As much as he may have felt the occasional pang to return home, whenever he did he couldn’t get out of there quick enough. It would lead him to observe ‘I can be anywhere at home, except home.’ So too Rosalino found himself conflicted; when they trekked to Huayap, an Indian hill village reminiscent of his former home, ‘the black Indian gloom of nostalgia must have made a crack in his spirits.’

Martin Secker UK 1927 First printing
Martin Secker first print (1927)

In Mornings and Mexico, Lawrence goes into hilarious detail about Rosalino’s indecisiveness which is worth quoting at length.

‘At lunch-time on Monday he said he wanted to leave. Why? He said he wanted to go back to his village.
Very well. He was to wait just a few days, till another mozo was found.
At this a glance of pure, reptilian hate from his black eyes.
He sat motionless on his bench all the afternoon, in the Indian stupor of gloom and profound hate. In the evening, he cheered up a little and said he would stay on, at least till Easter.
Tuesday morning. More stupor and gloom and hate. He wanted to go back to his village at once. All right! No one wanted to keep him against his will. Another mozo would be found at once.
He went off in the numb stupor of gloom and hate, a very potent hate that could affect one in the pit of one’s stomach with nausea.
Tuesday afternoon, and he thought he would stay.
Wednesday morning, and he wanted to go…’

This indecision echoes Lawrence’s own travel plans when he was first invited to New Mexico by Mabel Dodge Luhan, as reported in an earlier blog. He constantly delayed his plans, took detours east to Ceylon and Australia so that ‘strengthened with Buddha, noisy, rampageous America might be easier to tackle,’ and pretty much back tracked on everything he planned and promised to do. No wonder he writes so affectionately about Rosalino’s failure to return to his roots. It was a route he had taken himself many times.

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. How can we capture his friendship with Rosalino? How do we represent his time in Oaxaca? Do we need a serape for visitors to keep warm or should we build in a zaguán so you can snuggle up at night and guard our project? In 2019 we will be building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact, get involved and submit ideas here.


#MondayBlogs Lawrence and Brett 3: Oaxaca and phallic radishes…


In our previous blog, Dorothy Brett identified a wild change in Lawrence’s mood during their stay in New Mexico. He was becoming paranoid, angry, and convinced those closest to him were traitors. This irrational appraisal of his circumstances was a recurring theme that propelled Lawrence to up sticks and move on. His latest quest to find somewhere authentic to live led Lawrence, Brett and the QB to Old Mexico.    

The Mexican Consulate in El Paso is ‘not the most cheerful of places’. While waiting to get passports stamped, comedy ensues when a passport official first believes Brett is Lawrence’s wife and then, adding insult to injury, inquires whether the QB is his mother. Lawrence is not impressed and ‘something in your eye silences him’.

Hotel Monte Carlo

After clearing things up the trio board a train rammed with passengers, many of whom travel on the roof of the carriage. There’s also a heavy military presence. Frieda is dismissive of their new circumstances but Lawrence remains optimistic. Her mood will change when she meets the real locals he reassures her. They arrive in Mexico City four hours later than planned and book into the Hotel Regis, the ‘smartest hotel in the city’. But Lawrence doesn’t like it, so the next night they head to a more familiar haunt, the old Monte Carlo hotel.

dawn unread dhl mexico
Artwork: Dawn of he Unreadissue 7

Then, before you know it, they’re off again, this time to Oaxaca. As always throughout her memoir, Brett paints an evocative picture of their journey: ‘At seven in the morning, we get into the Oaxaca train. Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl, the twin volcanoes, are snow white against the sky. A faint trail of smoke floats out of Popocatepetl. In the vast fields, little men like gnats are working, shining white, crowned by their gigantic hats. The train is crowded, but we don’t care. The excitement of movement, of adventure, of new rhythms, is on you. Your eyes gleam, and you bite your beard; you are alert and happy.’

The Mexican Revolution of 1910-20 was triggered by the failure to find a presidential succession to Porfirio Diaz when his 30 year old dictatorship came to an end. The ensuing political conflict would see vote rigging, assassinations, and the civil war of 1914-15, as various shifting alliances were formed before the establishment of a constitutional republic. What started out as a relatively simple political movement broadened into a major social and economic transformations that ran on until 1940.

When Lawrence and co turned up, they were the first white people to go to Oaxaca since the revolution finished in 1920. In the stifling heat they buy sugar cane and suck it while observing stations pockmarked with bullets. There is an eerie silence at every station: ‘rows of silent men in clean white clothes sit along bits of broken walls, their faces in pools of dark shadow from their big hats. But the glinting eyes watch us unceasingly.’

From Oaxaca station they rattle off on a mule tram. To her horror, Brett discovers she’s lost her beloved Toby – her ear trumpet. They are warned by the owner of the Hotel Francia that theft is rife and so they mustn’t leave anything within reach of the windows as the favourite game of local thieves is a variation on ‘Hook a Duck,’ courtesy of long poles with a nail on the end. A few weeks later Brett catches a thief in action and manages to steal his pole, much to the hotel owner’s delight.

These are uncertain times and Lawrence is worried about the constant rumours of another revolution. The locals here have been isolated in Oaxaca for four years, with the railway the only way in or out. Then there’s the incurable diseases. War, disease, and claustrophobia are things Lawrence had been avoiding all his life, but it was the threat to his precious freedom that worried him the most. Therefore he ignores advice not to walk at night, preferring to risk getting robbed.

The locals are intrigued by the sheer otherness of the new white visitors. Lawrence, with his red beard, pale skin, and piercing blue eyes, quickly earns the nickname of ‘Cristo’. He may look completely alien, but he’s well-travelled and therefore privy to the tricks of local traders. While buying sandals, Lawrence warns Brett that they tan the leather with human excrement and to offer half of whatever price she’s offered. In the market, Brett finds an intelligent tinsmith who is able to craft her a replacement ear trumpet until her replacement arrives from London.

(L) Lawrence lived on Avenido Pino Suarez. It was originally numbered 43, but was later renumbered to 600. The other man in the picture is Father Rickard. His dog Corasmin gets a mention in Mornings in Mexico (R) The Lawrences with friends, Mitla, 1924

Their new accommodation was spacious, consisting of large rooms and a patio ‘with its big, shady trees and flowers and quietness. The scarlet poinsettias are out; the parrots incessantly chatter in their tree; and the little dog snoozes comfortably at your feet. The ducks are fattened and heartlessly eaten one by one”. But the patio also acts as a kind of prison, with Lawrence observing: ‘In spite of the beautiful climate I don’t believe I will ever be able to stand the lack of freedom. I wish we could buy huge revolvers and knives and kill somebody. It’s all so silly and tiresome.’ It didn’t help that Lawrence’s letters were being opened, as they had been in Cornwall, but this is resolved after a complaint to the local Governor.

‘A strange feeling is coming over us; a dual feeling’ writes Brett. ‘One of imprisonment, and then another of a fierce desire to sally forth armed to the teeth and to shoot – to assert ourselves noisily in this noiseless unease. We can find no freedom, for ourselves or in anyone else. Everybody is virtually a prisoner. The Indians are afraid of the Mexicans, the Mexicans are afraid of the Indians, and the Americans are afraid of both’.

The endless Fiestas should have offered escapism from the tensions, but even these were tinged with fear. During the Fiesta of San Felipe, just before Christmas, Lawrence observes ‘the people are not allowed to shout or sing in case of too much excitement rousing more trouble. The rulers want to keep the people quiet’.

The Fiesta of the Rabanos, however, brought about some much needed hilarity. Here large white and pink radishes are hung over booths. ‘No proportion of their anatomy is missing,’ reports Brett ‘and certain unmentionable portions are so exaggerated that I am overwhelmed with embarrassment.’ This, of course, brought great pleasure to the store owners, who relished in the discomfort of outsiders perusing their phallic produce.

In the end Brett buys a ‘fairly modest, unexaggerated radish’ and smuggles it into her coat pocket, but of course everyone is privy to her coyness and lets her know through knowing smiles. During this time, Lawrence has been ill in bed. But Brett’s account of her shopping trip is the perfect remedy for ill health: ‘your eyes twinkle: a gleam of wicked amusement shines in them. I am becoming more and more embarrassed as I tell my tale, and the laughter is dancing in your eyes: they are two gleaming specks of light. You are biting your beard and you are vexed at having missed it all.’ Lawrence insists the radish be hung up on the Christmas tree. When the Indians notice it they explain the story of The Fiesta of the Rabanos. The radish is the delicate way that a young man can declare his love for a woman and his desire for her. In later years Brett would paint the radish festival and send a copy to Lawrence as a gift. As the painting was not signed, it was presumed to be one of Lawrence’s own paintings and incorrectly appears in The Paintings of DH Lawrence.

When Brett and Lawrence weren’t giggling over phallic radishes, they enjoyed long walks together. Given her deafness, these solitary walks were an opportunity for Brett to open up and discuss how she felt about life. ‘All my ideas come pouring out, easily and simply; and you, eager, gay, sympathetic, with your quick understanding, agree with much of what I say. Somehow we are in harmony’. Lawrence was a good listener, and his personality intrigued Brett. She tries to pinpoint the energy he gives off, his charisma, but it is hard to capture. ‘It is that something from your heart, that has nothing to do with upbringing or training…I can find no word. How describe the real aristocracy of the heart and mind? I watch you now and know that it surrounds you, gives you that strange ‘quality’ that others see and feel as well as I, and which clothes you even from that distance as I watch you drifting lightly across the street and round the corner.’

When they return home Frieda is sat smoking on the patio. A cold and silent tea follows. The next day she is in a rage, attacking Lawrence for his friendship with Brett. Lawrence pens a letter to Brett that ‘is fierce, cruel, telling me that the three of us are no longer a happy combination and that we must stand apart.’ Angry letters had dictated Lawrence’s relationship with Mabel Dodge Luhan, with the two of them venting spleen back and forth. But Brett is a different, more delicate, creature. She is too shocked by this outburst to immediately respond and instead lets it dwell. When Lawrence pops down to see her a few days later he explains the letter is all Frieda’s doing.

dhlawrence cowboy
‘In spite of the beautiful climate I don’t believe I will ever be able to stand the lack of freedom. I wish we could buy huge revolvers and knives and kill somebody. It’s all so silly and tiresome.’

Brett can see the damage this is doing to Lawrence and, selfless as ever, offers to go back to Del Monte Ranch for a while to let things blow over between him and Frieda. Lawrence is appreciative of her gesture, but when he reveals Frieda hates her Brett is astonished. She had no idea it was this personal. When Lawrence asks ‘What do you suppose all our quarrels are about?’ Brett calmly replies ‘but you are famous all over the world for your quarrels! How could I know it was me?’ touché!

Before she leaves, Brett, obliging as ever, does a bit more typing for Lawrence. He doesn’t like her heading back on her own, but she is courageous and independent. Before leaving, Frieda writes Brett a letter and we discover the real reason for her hatred. ‘In it she accuses us, Lawrence and myself, of being like a curate and a spinster; she resents the fact that we do not make love to each other. She says the friendship between man and woman makes only half of the curve. Well, maybe.’ And just in case she was tempted to take advantage, Frieda warns it wouldn’t work as she has the body of an ‘asparagus stick’ and Lawrence likes a more womanly figure!

Frieda was an incredibly liberal minded woman who lived through sexual impulse. Repressing desire was unimaginable to her frame of reference. But Brett was a very different beast and so was bewildered to be criticised for being the dutiful guest. More perplexing was ‘the correct behaviour in a triangle’. Lawrence and Brett did eventually try to get it on but it all went horribly wrong; the details of which were revealed after her death and added to the forward of her memoir. But for now it was time for her to take a momentary break from their company, leaving Lawrence to work on The Plumed Serpent.

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. How can we capture his time spent travelling through Mexico? Do we have room for phallic radishes or a gun to quell Lawrence’s rage? And what’s the best way to represent ‘the correct behaviour in a triangle’? In 2019 we will be building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact, get involved and submit ideas here.


#Monday Blogs: Lawrence and Brett 2: Changing Rooms.

dh lawrence cowboy2
Artwork: James Walker/Izaak Bosman. Dorothy Brett (L) Frieda Lawrence (M) Mard arse (R)

In March 1924, Lawrence gave New Mexico another go. This time he returned with the deaf painter Dorothy Brett. In our second blog, drawn from Brett’s memoir Lawrence and Brett: A Friendship, we see the friends working tirelessly to renovative cabins in order to create Rananim.  

When Dorothy Brett accompanied Lawrence and the QB to New Mexico, there was a lot of hard graft ahead of them in order to transform dilapidated cabins into liveable homes. The biggest cabin stank as it was full of cow dung and required more than a quick tidying up. Rotten props had to be removed and new ones erected in order to stop the structure from collapsing. This is why Geoff Dyer in Out of Sheer Rage describes Lawrence as ‘perhaps the first great DIYer in English literature’.

During these renovations, everyone had a role during the long and hot days. While Lawrence was working with the Indians, ‘Frieda cooks, lies on her bed smoking, cooks again’. One of the worst jobs was cleaning the roof but Lawrence never shirked his responsibilities. ‘With a handkerchief bound round your mouth, you have been sweeping the rat-dirt and nests out with a small dustpan and brush. You come crawling out, looking white and tired…Nothing will prevent you from doing the same hard work that the Indians do, however dirty and disagreeable. You have to share the worst with the best, even the dirt and heat in the roof. You will not ask the Indians to do anything that you are not willing to do yourself. And you insist on giving them plenty to eat.’

Brett’s role during these early days was to chop up the wood Lawrence had felled for kindling and to collect water from the spring. Mabel and Tony Luhan go to and fro to Taos in the car, returning with ‘pots and pans and comforts’ and more labourers when required. Everyone had a role. In the evening the friends relax by singing old Scotch and English ballads and then invite Candido and the other Indians to join them on realising their crooning was making them feel lonely.

Although Lawrence enjoyed the renovation work, he was equally happy to play ‘mother’. When Candido badly damaged his finger, Brett observes him ‘gently, and with deft, careful fingers, you wash the wound and lay the boiling poultice on the finger. Candido draws back with a cry; you blow on the poultice, lifting it off his finger. Slowly you lower it again.’ During the evening Lawrence renewed the poultice three times, instructing Candido to return the next day for a new one. Another example of his caring side came when Lawrence noticed that their neighbours Rachel and Bill Hawk weren’t back from a trip and he ‘became anxious for the cows’.  He herded them in and milked them, returning each day to repeat the process until the Hawk’s returned. As it turned out their car had broken down and so they were thankful for Lawrence’s foresight, though more shocked that he knew how to milk cows.

Although Lawrence was determined to live self-sufficiently, occasionally he was defeated. On one occasion he tried to make mats out of rope and wire for two stone seats and sat ‘fumbling and struggling, swearing, as you twist the stiff wire round the obstinate rope’. He completed one mat but never bothered to do the second one.

I love this picture. Mabel Dodge Luhan dressed like a princess, Frieda fagging it, and Dorothy Brett in long boots that concealed a knife.

But of course all of this community building and bonding was temporary. One evening as they are sat around a fire Brett notices Mabel’s eyes are ‘flaring’, Frieda’s eyes are ‘darting about’ and Lawrence is ‘silent’. Her deafness means that she is unable to pick up on exactly what’s triggering the mood, but soon finds out it’s her when Lawrence scalds her for showing no respect to him or Frieda. ‘Your voice is rising higher and higher. I take hold of your wrist, lightly between my finger and thumb, and say very quietly: ‘No, Lawrence, that isn’t so.’ You stop, hesitate; then Frieda pops out of your bedroom and goads you on, shouting at both of us. You begin again, but I still hold your wrist in that light hold, repeating quietly that it is not so. Your anger dies down; you stop suddenly and give me a queer look – it is over.’

Brett gets a very unfair showing in Mabel Dodge Luhan’s memoir, mainly because Luhan saw Brett as a competitor for Lawrence’s affections. She victimised Brett for her deafness, claiming ‘it was not a jolly, sociable ear trumpet that longed to be a part of everything else. I soon saw that it was an eavesdropper. It was a spy upon any influence near Lorenzo.’ But the reality is her deafness created a barrier that meant she was unable to join in group conversations and suddenly found herself under attack. By my interpretation, Brett is a gentle and kind spirit who is scapegoated by the group. This is evident throughout her memoir, though she never explicitly uses this for sympathy. But the reason they became such close friends, as far as I can see, is that her calm demeanour helped to offset Lawrence’s sporadic rages. Like any successful relationship, their differences complimented each other.

One way that Lawrence helped cope with his rages was by chopping wood. ‘You have no idea how soothing to it is to the nerves’ he explained to Brett. ‘When I am in a temper, I like to run out into these quiet woods and chop down a tree; it quiets the nerves. Even chopping wood helps; you’ve no idea, Brett, how much it helps. That’s why I like doing it.’ As Brett joined him on such trips, this increased the jealousy among the women. This wasn’t helped when Frieda accompanied them one day and Lawrence asked her to sit on the wood while he and Brett worked the double saw, ‘as you are the heaviest’.

Thinking of making a pilgrimage of your own? More info at friendsofdhlawrence.org

Brett would be continually punished for her friendship with Lawrence by the other women in his life. Frieda would eventually limit her visits to the cabin to three times a week whereas Mabel Dodge Luhan would completely exclude Brett by not inviting her to the Hopi Snake Dance, which meant a fortnight on her own. These sporadic bouts of spitefulness must have hurt, yet Brett retains a dignified tone throughout her memoir with none of the sniping that imbues Mabel Dodge Luhan’s account. When Brett does take a pop at Luhan she does it very subtly, describing her flirtatious ways as ‘lying lazily in our chairs…ties a bright cherry coloured ribbon round her hair. Then she lies back and twirls a bit of hair between her fingers’. When Luhan heads off to Taos it’s because ‘her restless energy has little outlet in the quiet life of the Ranch.’

Despite enjoying building a new home together, Frieda naturally pined for her children which antagonised Lawrence. Their arguments would lead to Frieda being nicknamed ‘Angry Winter’ by the Indians. Lawrence, for the record, was ‘Red Fox’. Brett recalls one incident where she and Frieda were disturbed by ‘considerable scuffling’ coming from the chicken house. When they looked out the window, Lawrence emerged with a squawking hen held upside down by her legs. She is swiftly taken to the woodpile and her head is adroitly chopped off. ‘You leave the hen twitching headless on the ground and come in. ‘Damn her,’ you say, ‘She was brooding again; after all the trouble I took hanging her for days up in that box to cool her underneath, she still brooded. So I’ve chopped off her head. Serves her right, too!’ Although Brett does not elude any symbolism to the event, it certainly reads as a curt warning to Frieda.

With most of the work done Lawrence now had more time to write, heading into the woods ‘in the quiet, still morning, with your copybook under your arm and your fountain pen…sometimes one can glimpse you through the trees, sitting leaning up against the trunk of a pine tree in your blue shirt, white corduroy pants and big, pointed straw hat’. It would appear that Lawrence was only able to write if he had other distractions to occupy him. Kai Götzsche could testify to this, having spent the backend of 1923 on a futile trip with Lawrence across Old Mexico. Writing to Knud Merrild on 22 October 1923 he observes:  ‘He needs, in a high degree, something else to think about, and something else to do besides his writings. I am absolutely sure that he would feel happier and live more happily if he could go out for a few hours a day, and have some work to do, milk a cow or plough a field. As he lives now, he only writes a little in the morning and the rest of the day he just hangs around on a bench or drifts over to the market place, hands in pocket, perhaps buying some candy, fruit, or something. If he could only have access to a kitchen, so he could make our food, that would occupy him for a couple of hours.’

Dorothy Brett’s cabin. Picture taken from The University of New Mexico

In New Mexico, Brett had the smallest cabin of the three friends. But she doesn’t complain about her humble abode: ‘My house has no room at all, except for a bed, the smallest stove imaginable, a table in the window, and a chair squeezed between the table and the bed. It is sunny and warm, but very leaky.’ Brett enjoyed painting the incredible landscape from her cabin, and Lawrence, when he wasn’t offering criticism of her technique, would come and borrow turpentine which he painted onto the horses to help keep off flies. The effect was calamitous, with the horses ‘kicking and rolling and pawing up earth with their front hoofs to try and stop the stinging’. In the future they used salted lard instead.

Although Lawrence loved to get his hands dirty, all of this DIY took its toll on his health. Brett recalls him always spitting, and when he once spat red blood she pretended not to see. This was traumatic for Brett as she had previously witnessed Katherine Mansfield burst a blood vessel while talking to her. Mansfield died of extrapulmonary tuberculosis earlier in the year, on 9 January 1923. Experience had taught Brett not to confront Lawrence, a man always in denial about his health, about such matters. This was left to Frieda, who persuaded him to rest in bed. But when she called for a doctor it put Lawrence in a rage ‘with a violence that is overpowering’. ‘How dare you’ he screamed, before launching an iron egg ring at Frieda’s head.

Brett opted for gentler distractions as a means of helping Lawrence cope with his illness, catching a hummingbird fluttering on her windowsill and presenting it to him. ‘I hurry over to your house and take it to you. ‘What is it?’ you ask. ‘Be careful,’ I reply, ‘and don’t let it fly away. Hold out your hands.’ I place the bird carefully in them, and you sit there holding it. A look of amazement, followed by another of almost religious ecstasy comes into your face as the tiny fluff of feathers sits in your hand, the long beak tapering and sharp, the gorgeous metal splendour of the green and blue throat shimmering. Suddenly, with a laugh, you toss it into the air.’

Brett is incredibly perceptive, observing and rationalising Lawrence’s behaviour throughout her memoir to paint a powerful picture of this complex and contradictory man. For example, while riding in single file down the old Questa road to San Cristobal Canyon she wonders why Lawrence is always looking at the ground while she looks up at the trees and the sky ‘and then it suddenly dawns on me: you are looking for flowers – and flowers there are among all the tangled undergrowth’. Their journey takes them along the white and red rocks of Red River to Columbine Lake, which would inform the drama of Lawrence’s short story The Princess.

Lawrence and Brett enjoyed a very close friendship in New Mexico. They enjoyed long horseback rides together, worked well as a team fixing up the cabins, and she was a dab hand at shooting and fishing, thereby providing supper when needed. I’m convinced that her deafness was pivotal to their close friendship, as it enabled them to simply be without the hindrance of words. But Lawrence couldn’t sit still for long and inevitably it didn’t take long before he had the urge to move on.

In order to do this he needed to unsettle himself from the good life he had worked so hard to create. Paranoia and bitter resentment that everyone was out to get him worked well as catalysts for change. As Brett observes: ‘You are bitter, jeering at everyone, turning every thought, every action of all your friends, past and present, to ridicule. Nobody is honest, nobody is anything but a coward, a traitor, utterly false and despicable. Why? God knows…the urge to move, to travel, is on you once more.’

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. How can we capture his DIY skills? Those long horse rides into the San Cristobal Canyon? His friendship with Dorothy Brett? In 2019 we will be building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact, get involved and submit ideas here.


#MondayBlogs Lawrence and Brett 1: A Friendship

Brett, Dorothy Eugenie, 1883-1977; Umbrellas
Umbrellas (1917) by Dorothy Brett features Lady Ottoline Morrell and her court of followers at Garsington Manor.

Our previous five blogs explored Lawrence’s time in New Mexico from the perspective of Mabel Dodge Luhan. Now it’s time to turn our attention to a very different memoir: Brett and Lawrence: A Friendship. The title pretty much sums up Brett’s feelings, though their friendship could have developed into something more but for acute shyness and clumsiness on both sides. 

‘Friendship is as binding
As the Marriage Vow –
As important – as Eternal –‘

Born in1883, Dorothy Brett was the third of four siblings. Her grandfather was Queen Victoria’s Master of the Rolls as well as Lord Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals. Her French grandmother had a more challenging start to life, discovered as an abandoned baby on the battlefield at Waterloo, she was adopted by Colonel Gurwood, the personal assistant of Wellington. To complicate matters further, her great grandmother was rumoured to have been the mistress of Napoleon. On her maternal side, writes John Manchester in his prologue to Brett’s memoir, her Belgium grandfather was none other than Van de Weyer, who had helped put Leopold I on the throne, while her maternal grandmother was the daughter of a rich Boston banker. By all accounts she had a completely different social upbringing to Lawrence, yet the two would become very close friends. This is all lovingly shared in Brett’s memoir that is narrated directly to Lawrence, written two years (check) after his death.

The first time Brett met Lawrence was in 1915. They were invited to a gathering at the home of British artist Mark Gertler (1891-1939) in the Vale of Heath, London. Gertler, one of five children to Polish-Jewish immigrants, was a British painter specialising in figure subjects, portraits and still-life. From a young age it was clear that he had a unique talent for drawing but his path to success would be hampered by financial difficulties. Due to his family’s poverty, Gertler was forced to drop out of Regent Street Polytechnic in 1906 and take up employment. In 1908 he successfully applied for a scholarship from the Jewish Education Aid Society (JEAS) and enrolled at the Slade School of Art, London where he would become a contemporary of the likes of Paul Nash and Stanley Spencer. It was at Slade that he met Brett, who studied there from 1910 to 1916, introducing her to artistic and literary circles that included the Bloomsbury Group.

(L) Self portrait by Mark Gertler (M) Gertler and Brett (R) Portrait of Lawrence by Brett.

Brett’s description of Gertler ‘with his thick, dark, curly hair, cut like a Florentine boy, the delicate, clear-cut features, the long grey eyes, he was as beautiful as a Botticelli angel or a wild creature of some Keltic myth’ is beautifully evocative. John Manchester credits this due to her artistic background – ‘Brett writes as a painter – she sees it all before her inner eye as though it were happening right now’. Gertler would succumb to the same disease that also took the life of Katherine Mansfield and Lawrence. He would also be immortalised in fiction as the sculptor Herr Loerke in Lawrence’s Women in Love (1920), Gombauld in Huxley’s Crome Yellow (1921) and his early life would inspire Gilbert Cannan’s novel Mendel (1916).

During their first encounter, Lawrence sat upright with his hands tucked under his thighs. He had an immediate impact on Brett ‘gently coaxing me out of my shyness’ as they sat around a fire in Gertler’s front room. She would have appreciated his attentiveness as her deafness was particularly problematic in crowds. In a letter to Bertrand Russell in 1918, Brett reveals her frustration at being surrounded by an arty community at Garsington Manor but being unable to join in: ‘Can you imagine what it means to see life revolving round you – see people talking and laughing, quite  meaninglessly! Like looking through a shop window or a restaurant window. It is all so hideous I sometimes wonder how I can go on. I think if it were not for my painting I would end it all.’

When she discovered Lawrence was shortly off to Europe, Brett threw a party at her studio in Earl’s Court Road. It was attended by the usual suspects: Gertler, Kotiliansky, Murry, Mansfield and her friend Estelle Rice, Carrington, and Frieda. But it was ruined by a group of gate crashers and so another, more intimate gathering, was arranged two days later. In quieter surroundings they were able to play charades, with Lawrence ‘trotting round the room riding an imaginary bicycle, ringing the bell.’ She wouldn’t see him again until 1923.

In 1923 Brett had moved to Queen Anne House, Pond Street, Hampstead. The critic Middleton Murry, whose partner Katherine Mansfield had died in January, lived next door. Frieda arrived in the UK first, though she wasn’t entirely sure whether Lawrence would follow her from New Mexico. But he does, arriving six weeks later, and just in time for Christmas. He is immediately affronted by the smallness of Brett’s home, yet astonished she has a Rolls Royce parked outside. Pumped up from his savage pilgrimage across the globe, he immediately announces ‘Brett, I am not a man…I am MAN’ and immediately invites her to join him in Taormina or New Mexico. The same invitation is extended to the rest of their inner circle in the infamous dinner party that left Lawrence with a two day hangover. Only Brett would take him up on the offer.


When Lawrence wasn’t insulting Brett about her humble dwellings, the two made flowers together out of clay and then painted them. Being creative enabled them to bond, which was far more preferable than being asked innumerable questions by people, which bored Lawrence. One evening, while Frieda sat knitting and sowing, Lawrence and Brett made a plasticine tree and an Adam and Eve. Murry contributed a snake. Lawrence took devilish pleasure in the ‘scandalised faces’ of his friends as they peered at his naked Adam ‘so with ironical glee you snip off his indecency, and then mourn for him his loss.’

Brett was immediately attracted by Lawrence’s ‘soft Midland voice’ yet notes his use of ‘thee’ and ‘tha’ – usually attributed to the Yorkshire dialect. She observes the way his mouth pulls down at one corner – ‘the ever ready, amused jeer is on your lips’. But it is his kindness that lures her to him, the way he probes ‘delicately into my life and ideas and feelings, sensitive to my sensitiveness.’ But he is less sensitive in his criticisms of her chosen profession, insisting paintings are dead and that there is no life in still lives. Knud Merrild, in his memoir A Poet and Two Painters, would recall similarly condescending conversations. Yet Lawrence, a man of wonderful contradictions, would find solace in art during his latter years, and, inevitably, his paintings would cause as much controversy as his novels. But for Brett, art had a more pragmatic function. It helped fund her trip to New Mexico.

The friends spent Christmas Day together, but only on condition that they ate goose. Lawrence had had enough of turkey. Always attentive with every task he undertook, he stuffed the goose with sage and onions, laying strips of bacon across the chest. To appease his growing homesickness for New Mexico, they take a trip to The Stand to see The Covered Wagon. During the performance Lawrence hums the song that’s the keynote to the story: ‘Oh, oh, Susanna, don’t you sigh for me, for I’m waiting here in Oregon with my banjo on my knee.’ Brett lovingly adapts these lyrics years later to ‘Oh, oh, Lorenzo, don’t you sigh for me, for I’m waiting here in Kiowa with your Timsy on my knee.’ Timsy being his cat.

When it’s time to finally leave, Lawrence is excited to be sailing on The Aquitania, as he’s never been on such a large ship before. Brett is equally excited, as she has only ever been on a Channel boat. Her servant, who knows her well, mourns Brett’s departure, rightly predicting she will never return, despite Brett’s assurance she’ll only be gone for six months. Her servant was right. Brett would only return back to England for two weeks in 1924. Once on the ship, Frieda retreats to her cabin, leaving Brett and Lawrence to excitedly wander the decks. Adventure and exploration will be a defining trait of their friendship across the Pond. As the two stand on deck watching England fade away, Lawrence remarks ‘I am always a bit sad at leaving England, and yet I am always glad to be gone.’

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. How can we capture his love of charades? His voyage on the Aquitania? Or those small gatherings of arty folk in Hampstead? In 2019 we will be building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact, get involved and submit ideas here.


#MondayBlogs Lorenzo in Taos 5: The Brett

goodbadugly4 Trumpet
Artwork by James Walker and Izaak Bosman

When Lawrence returned to Taos to give it another go, Tony and Mabel Dodge Luhan (MDL) had also recently returned from their first long absence from home. It was the opportunity for a fresh start, or so went the plan. This time Lawrence and the QB had returned with a new guest, Dorothy Brett (10 November 1883 – 27 August 1977). ‘The Brett,’ as she was known, was a former student of the Slade School of Art and of aristocratic ancestry. Partially deaf, she had a brass ear trumpet stuck to her ear, rotating it to listen into conversations. ‘It was not a jolly, sociable ear trumpet that longed to be a part of everything else,’ complained MDL, ‘I soon saw that it was an eavesdropper. It was a spy upon any influence near Lorenzo.’ Oh dear, he we go again…

Brett is dismissed by MDL, rather unfairly, as some kind of commodity who is passed around the literati to satiate their various needs. First, she was Katherine Mansfield’s close confident, then the brief love interest of Middleton Murry, and now Lawrence’s typist. But she was a lot more to Lawrence than mere typist which probably explains MDLs lack of compassion towards her hearing aid. Brett was a threat; another obstacle thwarting the flow between her and Lawrence.

The Lawrence’s moved into a two storey house across the alfalfa from MDL. Brett had a studio a few doors away. Brett’s accommodation was tiny, but she was content to sit and paint the Truchas Peaks which lie on the divide between the Rio Grande and the Pecos River. MDL couldn’t accept that this shy, quiet artist was content perfecting her craft, instead she accuses Brett of ‘watching every move of Lorenzo to and fro between our houses.’

Truchas Peaks. Join a campaign to help protectthepecos.org

MDL picks fault with Brett at every opportunity in her memoir. She is keen to point out that although Brett’s father, Viscount Esher, had kept a racing stable; he never let his daughters ride. Whereas, of course, MDL had her own horses. But any hopes she had of long treks out into the mountains with Lawrence on her own are soon scuppered when Lawrence, who revelled in imparting knowledge, taught Brett to ride. They would end up taking long rides together. Given Brett’s deafness, a lot of these horse rides were taken in silence. In her memoir, Lawrence and Brett: A Friendship, she suggests that Lawrence enjoyed the peace and tranquillity of simply trotting along and being at one with his immediate environment, rather than being harassed for his affections by MDL.

To her credit, MDL tries every trick in the book to get close to Lawrence – which makes for unintentionally hilarious reading when it goes sour. One of the most bizarre examples of this is a haircutting incident. Lawrence didn’t want to trudge down to Taos to get his locks chopped, so they decided to do it in-house. MDL, dramatic and desperate as ever, writes: ‘I longed to have him shear me.’ But Lawrence wouldn’t shear anyone, instead Brett, courteous as ever, steps in. Not being a professional hairdresser she accidentally cuts MDL’s ear in the process, which ramps up the paranoia to new heights: ‘She hated me, she was deaf, and she tried to mutilate my ear.’

Brett paints a slightly different version of events in her memoir, recalling that Lawrence – a man not accustomed for his patience – becoming irritated at having to sit still, barking ‘haven’t you finished yet?’ A bowl is placed over his head and ‘I snip and snip as I have seen barbers do, but somehow it is not quite so easy as it looks.’ Needless to say Lawrence is not impressed: ‘For heaven’s sake. Get a man to cut my hair. You’ve given me a debutante bob.’ When it’s MDL’s turn she complains that Brett is pulling her and that it hurts. When she cuts her ear by mistake, Brett recalls a calmer MDL saying ‘It’s all right, Brett; it’s nothing. It’s almost healed and doesn’t matter.’

The latest cabin that MDL provided for the Lawrences required a lot of work. Brett was more than happy to get her hands dirty, passing Lawrence nails as he tacked down the roof. For her troubles she was nicknamed the ‘handmaiden’. Frieda became suspicious of Brett’s intentions, later limiting her home visits to three times a week. At this point Frieda’s relationship with MDL starts to improve, due to their shared distrust of this enthusiastic new guest.

MDL had strong ideas for how the cabin (the former home of Mrs. Sprage) should look and hoped Lawrence would paint the pink house green to blend in with the environment. Instead he painted it cream so that it stood out even more. Then he added a green snake wrapped around the stem of a sunflower. On either side he added a large black butterfly, a white dove, a dark brown bullfrog, and a rooster, followed by the Phoenix rising out of the flames. It was an eyesore that caused scandal with the neighbours. Tony Luhan wouldn’t go near it.

In her memoir, Dorothy Brett recalls Lawrence ‘committing an outrage on the toilet door’ and was under the impression that the reason the design caused so much offence was because of the addition of an Adam and Eve that they painted brown. But this wasn’t the problem. It was the amount of fun they were having together. As Brett recalls, ‘that seems to be the last straw of Mabel’s forbearance…She darts furious glances at us: we giggle and chop and paint. We are, as usual, absorbed, excited and terrifically amused, as doing these silly things amuse us.’

Although MDL was clearly a very difficult woman to be around, you have to admire her perseverance. She, like Lawrence, had an agenda, and was equally stubborn and forceful in trying to realise it. She had given Lawrence the space that he demanded but this affected the ‘psychic flow’ of their relationship, rendering her into a more pragmatic role: ‘Dear Mabel, We need whitewash…turquoise paint, brushes, a packet of tin tacks, a pound of putty, hinges for cupboards and screws. These things whenever anything is coming up, on wheels.’

Understandably, the self-proclaimed ‘Queen of the Indians’ required a more meaningful relationship with her latest project and so heeded Lawrence’s advice at not living life through her head and began building him a great chair. The chair was wide, deep and heavy. ‘I carved it a little and cut up a fine old blanket to upholster it, with shining brass nails. It was intended to become Lawrence’s very own chair. I fancied him always sitting in it and always writing in it…one of those dedicated pieces of furniture that would slowly become associated with him.’ When finished, she hoisted it up on a wagon, ‘where it loomed and swayed like the seat of honour in a triumphal procession.’ Lawrence took an immediate dislike to it, called it ‘the iron maiden,’ and had it send back down the hill.

No matter how hard she tried, MDL ended up annoying Lawrence, largely because she took his advice too literally. In his memoir, A Poet and Two Painters, Knud Merrild recalls a similar incident whereby MDL knitted Lawrence a scarf that comprised 45 different bands of colour. Yes, she had made something with her hands, but the scarf was imbued with symbolic meaning. ‘Look at it’ Lawrence fumed. ‘What a conglomeration of colours! Very bad taste, with no sense of proportion. What an atrocity! Now if she had just knitted a scarf in a few, simple colours, with some feeling in it, it could have been nice. But what does she do? She makes it with her head…the colours, even the proportions, are supposed to have a meaning. It is me and her and Taos!’ Merrild would go on to observe ‘She must be awfully dumb if she doesn’t know that she is annoying Lawrence; or else she is so blindly in love that she can’t see it. And to do it just for the sake of bullying would be too stupid.’


After the Kiowa Ranch was completed, it soon became clear that the idea of communal living wasn’t going to work – no matter how far the distance between the inhabitants. Whenever MDL turned up to say hello she was greeted with a grimace. The tension was exacerbated when Tony shot a porcupine close to Lawrence’s home. MDL claims that this incident would inspire Lawrence’s essay Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine, with him taking credit for the killing. But Knud Merrild confirmed that he taught Lawrence to shoot and he did once shoot a porcupine. Given that his memoir was published 6 years after MDLs, it’s easy to see why MDL may have taken credit for the incident.

Unhappy with running errands for Lawrence, MDL sent up her own errand boy, Clarence, to deliver messages on her behalf. The two men quickly struck up a friendship, enjoying long horseback rides into the desert together. MDL describes Clarence as immediately falling under Lawrence’s spell and that he longed to be ‘victimised’ by Lawrence! Whereas Dorothy Brett notes that Clarence ‘has the impertinence to make googoo eyes at you. You make no sign of having noticed.’ But the bromance didn’t last very long and Clarence soon discovered, via Frieda, that Lawrence wanted to ‘destroy’ MDL. All of this backstabbing, fighting, gossiping, and an almost sado-masochistic desire to get close to a person – who clearly wouldn’t let anyone in – is interspersed with poems and mystic philosophies, all of which helps paint a curious picture of the absolute bonkers life of Bohemians in 1920s New Mexico.

product_thumbnailClearly MDL craved a more ‘spiritual’ relationship with Lawrence and was thwarted at every opportunity. But perhaps the most difficult thing for her to accept was that instead of recording the life of the Pueblo Indians in New Mexico, Lawrence gave everything to Old Mexico. She argues that in The Plumed Serpent ‘he has put the facts of his Taos experience of Indians and drums and dancing, but of actual Indian life there is very little told’. Meanwhile, Mornings in Mexico includes the three essays ‘The Corn Dance,’ ‘Indians and Entertainment,’ and ‘The Snake Dance’. Given she had tried so hard to woo Lawrence to Taos, and that her reasons for doing this were in earnest, the rejection hurt even more. MDL would also inspire the short story The Woman Who Rode Away, in which a naive white woman is sacrificed to an ancient God. It was a damning critique of her own life story, yet she seems more concerned that it’s not set in New Mexico, given she had taken Lawrence to see the ancient cave the story refers to. She argues that the reason he turned from New to Old Mexico in his writing was because ‘he belonged to those centuries of civilisation that come between the bright, true golden age of pure delight and the brilliant age of gold; between these two ‘soulless’ periods when men wandered pitifully wondering what was the matter with the world and with themselves that they should so unaccountably suffer.’

When Lawrence and the QB finally headed back to Europe, it would be the last time that MDL saw them in person. Their relationship would now be left to letters, many of which are published in her memoir. In one letter, Lawrence passes advice on MDL’s own writing, advising her to better disguise the real people she refers to in her script as ‘other people can be utterly remorseless, if they think you’ve given them away.’ And boy did Lawrence give people away in his own books! His depiction of Jessie Chambers as Miriam in Sons and Lovers destroyed their relationship forever. Her brother David Chambers recalls “Lawrence was ruthless. He would make use of anybody. My sister felt that Lawrence had betrayed himself. She felt that he had allowed the animal side of his nature to come to the top.”

Lawrence’s advice to MDL on getting published bitterly reinforced his own experiences: ‘Don’t leave your MSS. to anyone. They’ll all edit them to emasculation. Rouse up and publish them yourself…and don’t have introductions. Don’t be introduced and discussed before you’re there. Don’t have anybody write an introduction. Don’t ask for credentials and letters of recommendation. Publish your things blank straight as they are…have it reviewed in about three good newspapers, and no more. As little publicity as possible…For once put your ego aside. After all, there’s enough of your ego in the book, without having to write your name large on the title page’.

In one letter, after moaning about the weather in Florence, he requested any copyright photographs she might have of Indians for Mornings in Mexico, promising ‘I’ll dedicate the book to you, if you like; to Mabel Dodge Luhan, who called me to Taos’. Lawrence then offset this with some curt advice about her home and land, which he mocked as ‘Mabeltown’: ‘I believe that’s your ambition – to have an earthly kingdom, and rule it. But my dear, it’s an illusion like any other.’

But Lawrence being Lawrence, it’s not long before Europe is getting on his nerves and he’s umming and ahhing about returning to Taos as ‘a change of continent would do me good’ but it all depends on ‘my damned bronchitis’. As always, he’s in denial about his health, claiming ‘it’s partly psychological, of course.’ He is keen to hold onto the ranch, perhaps symbolically, because it gives him some kind of roots. The letters that fill the end of her memoir span his time in Florence, Switzerland, Baden Baden, and finally Bandol, France on 21 Jan 1930, where he seems to have finally mellowed and acknowledged he was equally at fault in their turbulent relationship: ‘if we can manage it, and I can come to New Mexico, then we can begin a new life, with real tenderness in it. Every form of bullying is bad’. He died on 2 March 1930.

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. Do we have room for an ear trumpet to represent ‘The Brett’ or a scarf for Mabel Dodge Luhan? How can we convey the jealousy, paranoia and infatuation aroused during his time in Taos?  If you have an idea for an artefact, please submit ideas here.







Lorenzo in Taos 4: A ‘Centre of Disturbance’ and the Bursum Bill

John Collier (May 4, 1884 – May 8, 1968), Commissioner for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1933-1945. Collier founded AIDI in 1923

When things didn’t work out well for Lawrence in ‘Mabeltown’ he accepted her offer of alternative accommodation higher up in the Del Monte mountains. In her memoir, Lorenzo in Taos, Mabel Dodge Luhan (MDL) claims that Frieda stayed in regular contact by post, primarily requesting that she send cables to her children on her behalf. Frieda would also ask ‘the Danes’ to post letters on her behalf when they joined them for the winter of 1922 (more of them in a future post). Lawrence lacked compassion for Frieda’s maternal instincts, and so MDLs support would have been valued.

MDL invited John Collier, Commissioner of Indian Affairs during the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, to Taos in the hope that he would do what Lawrence had not – write about the Pueblo Indians. Collier did a better job than Lawrence in terms of direct political engagement, by organising a council meeting on 5 November, 1922, at Santo Domingo Pueblo, to explain how the Bursum Bill would impact on their rights. New Mexico senator Holm Olaf Bursum had proposed a bill in Congress that helped legitimize land claims of ‘non-Indians’ who’d resided for some time on Pueblo lands. An excerpt of testimony in Congress on behalf of the All Indian Pueblos Council stated:

“Now we discover that the Senate has passed a bill, called the Bursum Bill, which will complete our destruction, and that Congress and the American people have been told that we, the Indians, have asked for this legislation. This, we say, is not true. We have never asked for this legislation. We were never given a chance of having anything to say or do about this bill. We have studied the bill over and found that this bill will deprive us of our happy life by taking away our lands and water and will destroy our Pueblo government and our customs which we have enjoyed for hundreds of years, and through which we have been able to be self-supporting and happy down to this day.”

The question of the Indians being usurped from their land led to MDL being visited by the Department of the Interior and her home cited as the ‘centre of disturbance’. When Lawrence heard about this he was characteristically sceptical of the involvement of Collier and his ilk. On 8 Nov, 1923, Lawrence wrote:  ‘He will destroy them. It is his saviour’s will to set the claws of his own White egotistic benevolent volition into them. Somewhere, the Indians know that you and Collier would, with your salvationist but poisonous white consciousness, destroy them….I tell you, leave the Indians to their own dark destiny. And leave yourself to the same.’

Although there are clearly many problems with the ‘white man’s burden’ and representing other cultures instead of allowing them to represent themselves, clearly Collier had good intentions and his intervention would prove to be important. But as MDL acutely observes of Lawrence’s character ‘he was so full of suspicion, it had to be directed somewhere or he couldn’t have contained himself’.

The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, which became known as the Indian New Deal, dramatically changed the federal government’s Indian policy. Although John Collier was largely responsible for the new policy and viewed Indians with great sympathy, not all Native Americans shared his optimism. Tony Luhan, a strong advocate of John Collier, dictated a letter of support to his wife who typed it up. He wanted to persuade other Indians that Collier was their friend and that the reorganization act would bring positive change.

The Society of American Indians (1911–1923) was the first national American Indian rights organization run by and for American Indians

While all of these conversations were starting to emerge in 1922, Lawrence had befriended two stray Danish artists who MDL described as ‘simple, unremarkable characters,’ the suggestion being that she was a complex remarkable creature. She was plainly jealous that he would prefer to head off into the mountains and spend time with them rather than her. Thus, they are barely mentioned in her memoir – despite having a profound effect on Lawrence. Lawrence craved a more simple existence and this meant being as far away from MDL and the arty folk of Taos as possible. They began to correspond by letters, though understandably MDL resented being reduced to a runner of errands to enable Lawrence to live the good life. She wanted something more substantial, craving ‘the daily, rhythmical interchange of power and life with them’

MDL was not a woman used to rejection and so vented her frustration through idle gossip. ‘I turned my tongue loose. I told funny stories about him and emphasized all the weak things in him. He was terribly easy to caricature.’ But she soon discovered he had a wagging tongue of his own and had been belittling her, claiming she tried to make him fall in love with her and that she had attempted to seduce him up on her roof.

Despite the distance between them, Lawrence kept tabs on everything MDL was up to and vice versa. It was a truly odd relationship, best captured by a bizarre event in 1923. After a blazing row, Frieda had headed to New York to sail to England without her husband. Lawrence used the temporary freedom to visit Buffalo, where he met up with Bessie Wilkinson who took him to Lewinston on the Niagara River to visit MDL’s mother who he claimed he wanted to know. Was he doing this to gain information on his nemesis or was he simply curious? But in the present, the visit gave MDL the opportunity to write to him, thereby breaking her vow of silence.

Mabel Dodge Luhan

One recurring theme in memoirs of Lawrence during this period is his wild mood swings. One minute he’s putting in the knife, the next he’s fixing the wound. Distance from his subject tended to foster a more positive appreciation of people and places and was the driving force behind his ability to keep moving from place to place. By 23 October, 1923, he writes ‘we rode over the mountains from Tepic and down the barranca and to Mazatlán, and I thought very much of how you and Tony taught F. and me to ride…for that and many things like that, believe me, I am grateful.’ And from Guadalajara on 8 Nov 1923, he reasoned ‘life made you what you are: I understood so much when I was in Buffalo and saw your mother’.

When Lawrence eventually made it to England he immediately wrote to MDL about how awful it was.  On 17 December 1923 he complained of being ‘in bed with a bad cold’ which Luhan surmises was inevitable as ‘like most people, when he did not like what he was doing, he became ill.’ He then starts to dissect England with typical scorn, ‘I simply detest it. I shan’t stay long’ and began planning his return back to America by March the following year. But despite his antipathy to his home he recognised that ‘England is a tomb to me…I don’t belong here anymore. It’s like being among the dead of one’s previous existence.’ He even does MDL a favour, submitting one of her stories to Middleton Murry to see if he’d like to publish it in the Adelphi. But Murry rejected the piece.

MDL was completely aware of the pain Frieda felt in not being close to her children and had supported her through this by sending letters on her behalf. Yet she conveniently forgets this, complaining ‘if she at least carried him to places that were healthier for him to live in, it would not have been so bad.’ The trips to London had a purpose for Lawrence as well. He may have written that it was ‘like a dog returning to his vomit’ but they were necessary as he was able to catch up with editors and agents. MDL’s complete adulation of Lawrence means she obscures these facts in her retelling of their adventure. She correctly observes ‘he was never more close to me than in those times when Frieda drew him far away.’ But this applies to anyone and anything he is far away from. It wasn’t necessarily due to a quality of hers.

The trip to London resulted in the infamous dinner party where Lawrence gathered together his closest friends and invited them all to come back to New Mexico with him and set up a community together. Only one person would take up the offer, Dorothy Brett. If MDL had found it difficult to get past Frieda to Lawrence it would become almost impossible with another obstacle added to the equation. And what an obstacle The Brett would turn out to be…

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. How could we represent his time spent in Taos, his scepticism, his scathing damnation of people and places?  If you have an idea about this or other artefacts you think should be included, you can submit ideas here.




Lorenzo in Taos 3: Mabeltown


Mabel Dodge Luhan’s home in Taos, New Mexico.

Born in 1879, Mabel Dodge Luhan (MDL) had a difficult childhood. Her controlling wealthy parents were incapable of affection meaning her childhood was lived ‘in a rigid unlovely inescapable pattern.’ Art offered her the emotional connection missing from family life and would lead to her finding escapism as a patron of the arts in Taos, New Mexico. It was here that she hoped to build a colony that would offer an alternative to the mechanical modernism of Western society. Lawrence arrived in September, 1922 but their relationship would turn sour due to a clash of personalities.

Her memoir of their time together is absolutely bonkers; a mixture of psychic discord and infatuation, laced with snipping comments. Take this early description of Lawrence. She makes it quite clear that he’s not her type, yet throughout her memoir she pines for his attention. ‘(He) is tall, but so slightly built and so stooped that he gives the impression of a small man. His head seems too heavy for his slim body and hangs forward. The whole expression is of extreme fragility…He has very large, wide-apart grey eyes, a long, slender face with a chin that is out of proportion long, a defect that is concealed by the aforesaid beard. His upper lip protrudes from his dainty decoration of the beard in a violent red that makes his beard look pink. In the midst of all this, is a very podgy, almost vulgar, certainly undistinguished nose.’

Lawrence’s slenderness is in stark contrast to Frieda’s solidity, something MDL is keen to point out again and again in their opening encounter (as recorded in our previous blog). But after sending Lawrence out to see an Apache Fiesta with her ever so considerate husband Tony, she has the opportunity to spend a bit of time with Frieda. She observes she is better company when Lawrence isn’t around, ‘as is the case with all wives’.

But MDL isn’t interested in bonding with the earthy Frieda – who prefers fags to fonts – she only has eyes for Lawrence. Hoping that he will pen a novel about her journey from New York to New Mexico, she invites him over to her place but makes the mistake of not getting dressed. Lawrence, despite his reputation as a smutty author, was, by all accounts, a bit of a prude. Her casual attire no doubt made him feel uncomfortable, an unnecessary sexual pressure. In Dorothy Brett’s memoir, she notes how ‘you do not care to be touched, to be pawed. Necking makes you furious. Your sex is not to be played with, nor to be belittled by playfulness. It is serious, a danger to be respected as the tiger is respected, hidden in the jungle.’

It’s not surprising, then, that he immediately reported back to Frieda who from that point onwards insisted they work in their house while she was around. This was immensely frustrating for all involved and denied MDL ‘the opportunity to get at him and give him what I thought he needed’. The lack of privacy meant she was unable to ‘unload my accumulation of power’ on him. And so begins the struggle for possession of Lorenzo that will inevitably end up in tears for all involved, as well as bruises for Frieda.

When Lawrence turns down MDL’s psychic advances, the claws come out. She accuses him of power games, and vacillating between the two women. When siding with Frieda he would ‘sling mud at the whole inner cosmos, and at Taos, the Indians, the mystic life of the mountain’ and when with MDL he would ‘talk just wonderfully, with far reaching implications, of the power of consciousness, the growth of the soul’. She reiterates once more that she wanted Lawrence for his mind rather than his body as ‘he’s not physically attractive to women. I don’t think women want to touch him.’ But rather than being an honest appraisal of her feelings, it reads more like an attack on Frieda for desiring him. Or, perhaps, the bitterness of a woman scorned.

Image from http://www.dawnoftheunread.com

Throughout their time together, MDL never once saw Lawrence just sit. Meditation wasn’t his thing. On his protracted trip over to New Mexico he stopped off at Ceylon. After getting bad guts he took his frustration out on the Buddha statues, complaining “Oh I wish he would stand up!” He was certainly restless, although MDL observes that it was more than restlessness, he was pernickety, and a bit of a pain in the arse.

MDL was the daughter of Charles Ganson, a wealthy banker from Buffalo, New York. Her upbringing was in stark contrast to that of Lawrence’s in the mining community of Eastwood. It was no wonder he was restless. Leisure wasn’t a luxury of the working classes. ‘(He) really had very little sense of leisure. After the housework was done, he usually crept into a hedge or some quiet corner and wrote something, sitting on the ground with his knees drawn up.’ The problem was, he wasn’t writing about her.

All of this housework enabled Lawrence to instruct others on the virtues of cleanliness. ‘You don’t know your floor until you have scrubbed it on your hands and knees.’ This wasn’t an option for MDL as she had miles of floors. It would take her all day to clean, time better spent on more useful pursuits, such as connecting with the cosmos. She had servants to do the chores for her. Needless to say Lawrence disapproved, believing servants removed contact with life. He would apply the same criticism to cars that sped past through the living world, though he didn’t mind a lift when it suited him.

MDL describes her body as being square and therefore she tried to mask her solidity through loose fitting clothes that hung off the shoulder. Lawrence didn’t approve of this either, believing the female form should be celebrated rather than concealed, proclaiming ‘the kind of clothes my mother wore were the most-lovely pattern any woman could have’.

Despite their clashes over housework and clothing, there were many happy occasions too. MDL taught Lawrence to ride horses which he would be eternally grateful for. He seemed to pick it up really quickly, despite ‘riding as though the saddle hurt’. It meant that they could go on long rides together. But even this backfired when Lawrence taught Dorothy Brett to ride and ended up preferring her company on long journeys, presumably because they often rode in silence on account of her deafness.

mabel big and book

When MDL decided to give marriage a fourth shot, she married Native American Indian Tony Luhan in 1923. He persuaded her to buy a 12-acre (49,000 m2) property which included a ranch up on Lobo Mountain which Lawrence would fictionalise in the novella St. Mawr. The ranch was a present to her son John who was engaged to marry Alice Corbin. Despite her feminist principles, MDL asked Lawrence to give him a bit of advice. John reported he was advised ‘Never to let Alice know my thoughts. To be gentle with her when she was gentle but if she opposed my will, to beat her’. Despite this ‘useful’ advice, the two inevitably soon fell out.

It wasn’t long before Lawrence had had enough of ‘Mabeltown’ and so he and Frieda rented a separate cottage further up on Del Monte Ranch. MDL hoped that corresponding via letters may give her the intimacy with Lawrence that they’d been unable to achieve in person, but again she was wrong. These were shared with Frieda, ‘just to make everything square and open’.

Lorenzo in Taos is a fascinating social document that captures an earnest attempt to forge alternative ways of living in between the Great Wars. Some observations make you cringe and wince and are unintentionally hilarious. But there are some prescient observations too that shed light on life with a notoriously difficult writer.

‘Of course he was often gay. I don’t want you to think that in those first years he was cross or morose all the time. He was all right so long as things went his way. That is, if nothing happened to slight him. He simply couldn’t bear to have anyone question his power, his rightness, or even his appearance. I think his uncertainty, about himself, a vague feeling of inferiority, made him touchy.’

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. How could we represent the tension between Lawrence, Frieda and Mabel Dodge Luhan? If you have an idea about this or other artefacts you think should be included, you can submit ideas here.



Lorenzo in Taos 2: I put a spell on you…


‘Lawrence! – this is the best that has been done yet – And yet if you knew what lies untouched behind these externals, unreached by the illuminating vision of a simple soul yet! Oh come!’ Inscription inside a copy of  The Land of Poco Tiempo (1893) by Charles Fletcher Lummis that Mabel sent to Lawrence to entice him to Taos.

In the world of electronic media, communication is pretty easy. You type out a text, press send, and voila. But back in the 1920s things were a bit more complex. After trying the traditional route of sending a letter, Mabel Dodge Luhan (MDL), a wealthy American patron of the arts, went for a more unconventional way of luring DH Lawrence to her home in Taos, New Mexico. She willed him to come. ‘I drew myself all in to the core of my being where there is a live, plangent force lying passive…I leaped through space, joining myself to the central core of Lawrence, where he was in India, in Australia…I became the action that brought him across the sea.’


MDL was convinced that Lawrence would be able to help the Pueblo Indians by documenting their lives. Although he was keen to visit, he didn’t share her sense of urgency. Undeterred, MDL asked her husband Tony to help her. Tony Luhan was a Native American Indian who had wooed MDL by setting up a tepee in front of her house, drumming each night until she eventually succumbed to his advances. If they combined magical powers, surely Lawrence would get his arse in gear and fulfil his destiny. Tony was reluctant to use his magic at first, arguing ‘the Indians believe that utterance is loss and that the closed and unrevealed holds power’ but this wasn’t the time for passivity and so MDL, sounding a bit like a business executive, ‘overruled him’.

When Lawrence and the QB finally turned up, Tony and MDL picked them up from Lamy station, 20 miles beyond Santa Fey. The charcoal kilns were burning pinon-wood, filling the air with a smell of incense. But MDL’s descriptions of their initial encounter are far from tranquil. The claws are out immediately. Frieda is described as having ‘a mouth like a gunman’ and Lawrence ‘ran with short, quick steps at her side…his slim fragility beside Frieda’s solidity.’ He is described as ‘scurrying’ to her side, and that he ‘twitches’ as he hides ‘behind her big body’. Given she had previously bragged about controlling her own husband she doesn’t seem to enjoy other women controlling their own.


Lawrence was ‘agitated, fussy, distraught, and giggling with nervous grimaces’ whereas Frieda ‘immediately saw Tony and me sexually, visualising our relationship.’ MDL is quite perceptive here, recognising Lawrence was uncomfortable with Frieda’s overt sensuality and that he was ‘through with that’. She observes ‘Frieda was complete, but limited. Lawrence, tied to her, was incomplete and limited. Like a lively lamb tied to a solid stake.’ Ouch. Full of hubris and an unhealthy infatuation with Lawrence, MDL believes she has the transformative power ‘that succeeds primary sex…the womb behind the womb’. She can be Lawrence’s emotional and intellectual confident.

As the four set off together in the car, the tensions begin to mount. This is made worst when the car brakes. Tony knows nothing about cars, but has a look under the bonnet – perhaps willing it to work. Frieda tells Lawrence to man up and get out and fix it but instead he starts ranting about these ‘nasty, unintelligent, unreliable things’ – that being the cars, rather than women. However, in Knud Merrild’s memoir A Poet and Two Painters (1938), he recalls Lawrence eagerly jumping out of their beloved but unrealiable car ‘Lizzie’ to help fix it as ‘he couldn’t bear not to be master of the situation.’

Fortuitously, Tony manages to get the car started without the aid of a drum or magic and they head to Sante Fe. But the drama isn’t over yet. The hotels are all booked up. But Witter Bynner and Spud Johnson are ‘always up’, and they host them for the night.

The next day there was a horrendous storm. The hail ‘battering upon the top of the car like cannon balls, cracking open on the ground like splitting shells.’ Unsurprisingly, MDL finds cosmic resonance in the weather, attributing it to her new guest. Although the storm did not last long, it managed to destroy all of the crops resulting in practically no harvests taken in all that year.

When Lawrence and Frieda finally arrived at MDLs, they had food in her dimly lit home and Lawrence, appreciative as ever, commented ‘It’s like one of those nasty little temples in India!’ When talk moved to their boat journey over, Lawrence shared his horror at having to share the deck with a group of Hollywood people. ‘Lawrence made us see that ship; the long slow passage through the blue sea, the reckless, sensational crowd on board, and his own watching angry, righteous, puritanical presence among them.’

And so begins a bizarre, loving, hateful, jealous, bitchy psychodrama that would be played out over campfires, charades, horseback rides and numerous letters up in the Lobo Mountains.

Source: Mabel Dodge Luhan (1932) Lorenzo in Taos (chapter 2). See previous blog on Luhan and Lawrence here.

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. How could we represent Lawrence’s time in Taos or Mabel Dodge Luhan’s quirky personality? If you have an idea about this or other artefacts you think should be included, you can submit ideas here.

#MondayBlogs Victor Hugo and Vianden

window 2
The view from Victor Hugo’s room with Vianden castle in the distance.

It’s been a challenging year for the DH Lawrence Society with the recent closure of Durban House. But there’s reasons to be optimistic. Visit Britain recently announced a funding initiative ‘Destination Britain North America’ hoping to attract tourists from across the pond to the region. Possible locations on their itinerary could include Lawrence’s Birthplace Museum or Breach House in Eastwood. It was with this in mind that I recently headed over to Vianden, Luxembourg to visit Victor Hugo’s former home (37 Rue de la Gare) to see how they preserve their literary heritage.  

Lawrence wasn’t a fan of Victor Hugo’s poetry. In a letter to Henry Savage (11 July 1913) he dismissed it as ‘strutting stuff’ accusing him of being a ‘loud trumpeter’. Lawrence also made short shrift of Hugo’s Les Miserables (1862) complaining ‘the tragic fate of the humble poor was the stunt of that day. Les Miserables stands out as the great monument to this stunt’. It’s the kind of observation that could easily lead to Lawrence being interpreted as a fascist but, as James Moran points out, ‘in Lawrence’s plays the working-class characters refuse pity and certainly avoid humility, instead appearing with complex motives and desires, as the opposite of the tendency that he identified in Hugo’.

Victor Hugo was a political exile who fled France in protest at Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, the Emperor of the French from 1852 to 1870. His 19 years of exile took him across Europe, with Vianden becoming a regular stop off point between 1862 and 1871. Although he didn’t write any novels while here he wrote around 50 poems. But his diaries and letters are what intrigued me the most as they offer important insights into his personality. For example, on 14 July 1871, a fire broke out, setting ablaze the thatched roofs of ten downtown houses. With the Mayor away on business, Hugo took control, organising a line of buckets to pass water through the night.

Hugo bust two images
Bust of Victor Hugo on the bridge. The Fantastic Castle painting. 

Hugo was a keen artist and 60 of his 3,500 wash drawings reference Luxembourg. One of these, The Fantastic Castle (1847), is of a medieval castle and includes a body hanging from a pole. Hugo was highly critical of capital punishment, largely because he had seen so many French Communards executed during the civil war for their beliefs, and so this tiny dangling body juxtaposed against the towering walls of the castle captures the powerlessness of ordinary citizens in the face of brute force.

The Victor Hugo House is on a bridge and runs over two floors. Hugo lived here for two and a half months in 1871, his longest stay in Vianden. He rented one room on the first floor, with three windows overlooking the Our river and the imposing 10th century castle Ville et Château, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Centre. In 2002 a wall was removed to enlarge the room and it now replicates the original room, with a sculpture of Hugo (by Herbert Labusga) sat down writing at a desk. Framing this are various letters as well as a 15 minute audiovisual show (in French) in which professional actors and musicians recreate aspects of his life.

The museum was first conceived of on 30 June 1935 when a Victor Hugo committee was formed. The inaugural speeches didn’t touch on Hugo’s political views given the rise of extremist movements at the time. But this changed a fortnight later when 2000 young people, gathered by the students’ association ASSOSS, demonstrated against the pervasive forces of Nazism and Fascism. Extracts from Hugo’s Chatiments/Punishments (1853) were read out, warning against the dangers of totalitarian socio-political regimes. This struck a chord with the gathered masses, earning Hugo the title of ‘keeper of the Grail of human rights’. The main speaker, Frantz Clement, would later be assassinated at the concentration camp of Dachau.

During the war the house remained open, operating as a library with nationalist books. The bust of Hugo which had been placed on the bridge in 1935 was removed to be kept safe from looters. It was found in a hearse after the war. When the Nazi’s left Vianden on 12 September 1944 they blew up the bridge. The house was so badly damaged it had to be flattened. It was reconstructed to the exact dimensions and opened on 1 August 1948.

HUGO attic and me
The attic in the Victor Hugo museum and me next to one of the many places named after the French author. 

I knew barely anything about Victor Hugo before I visited the museum, and so is yet another reminder of the importance of preserving literary heritage. Audio guides are available which will keep you occupied for a good two to three hours. In the attic are banners with quotations hanging from wood beams, a library containing various editions of his work, and interactive terminals with access to over 500 documents, biographies and a series of literary games to help younger audiences better understand his legacy. One of these is a puzzle game whereby you piece together jumbled up elements of some of his paintings. It’s a clever touch, educating through play.

Vianden is also home to the Caricature and Cartoon Museum (48 Grand-Rue) but is only open between June and August. The Ancien Cinema Cafe-Club (23 Grand-Rue) is also worth a visit. In addition to an eclectic mix of furniture and a range of drinks and sandwiches, it shows silent films in the day, making it a great spot to do some writing. A return to Vianden (50mins on train, 15 mins on bus) is 6 Euros.

Musée littéraire Victor Hugo, 37, rue de la Gare, L-9420 Vianden. Tel: (+352) 26 87 40 88 www.victor-hugo.lu  

Lorenzo in Taos: 1 – Come on Over to my Place



In 1932 Mabel Dodge Luhan published a memoir of her life with the Lawrence’s in Taos, New Mexico. Published two years after his death, it offered a vital insight into the controversial author who had rubbed everyone up the wrong way and consequently caused great intrigue. The opening chapter includes lots of letters from the Lawrence’s and commentary from Luhan. By all accounts Lawrence comes across as a right pain in the arse – indecisive, guttural, and highly sceptical of the community Luhan had built for herself.      

In the preface to Mabel Dodge Luhan’s memoir, Lorenzo in Taos, she warns ‘that I could only tell in these pages how we all were then’. It’s an apology of sorts, recognition that her invitation to Lawrence and Frieda to come experience life in New Mexico ‘does not end happily.’

Luhan invited Lawrence because she wanted him to experience the country before the ugly face of modernity came along and ‘exploited’ and ‘spoiled’ it. She hoped he would be able to record New Mexico ‘in that queer way of his,’ as he had done in Sea and Sardinia. In explaining his vivid skill of capturing ‘the feel and touch and smell of places,’ Luhan observes, ‘perhaps it is because, when he is writing, the experience is more actual to him than when it occurred. He is in the place again, reliving in retrospect more vividly than he was able to do at the time it happened.’ Ouch.

Luhan, a wealthy patron of the arts, was used to getting what she wanted. But just to make sure she sent an Indian necklace to Frieda that carried ‘some Indian magic’ and some Desachey and Osha leaves for Lawrence to lure him over.

Lawrence replied on 5 November 1921, proudly reporting ‘we are very practical, do all our own work, even the washing, cooking, floor-cleaning.’ But this is because he loathes ‘servants creeping around’. Rather than thank Luhan for her kind offer of putting them up, he takes an early prod, enquiring whether he’ll encounter ‘a colony of rather dreadful sub-arty people’.

On reading Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious, Luhan had detected ‘capabilities in him that would enable him to understand the invisible but powerful spirit that hovered over the Taos Valley.’ But getting him over was turning out to be more difficult than she had imagined. Despite accepting her invitation, they were in no hurry. On the 22 January 1922, Frieda wrote to Luhan explaining Lawrence ‘doesn’t feel strong enough’ to face America yet but they had a cunning plan. They would take a detour to Ceylon on their travels as ‘strengthened with Buddha, noisy, rampageous America might be easier to tackle.’ Why not join them?

mabel dodge luhan
Mabel Dodge Luhan

Luhan knew what they really meant. ‘They were scared. They wanted to see me, take a look,’ effectively try before you buy. ‘People were always warning other people about me,’ she confides, suggesting either her fears were justified or that she had an inflated sense of her own self-importance. But it’s not about her. It’s all about him. And the one thing Lawrence can’t stand is the arty literary crowds whom he describes as ‘smoking, steaming shits.’ So he advises Luhan to ‘spit on every neurotic, and wipe your feet on his face if he tries to drag you down.’ Then he calms down a bit and sends a postcard as he sets sail from Naples, thanking Luhan for being ‘so kind’ but that it is his destiny to venture elsewhere for a bit.

On 10 April, 1922, Luhan receives a letter from Kandy, Ceylon. Needless to say Lawrence is not happy. He complains of ‘the scents that make me feel sick…the nauseous tropical fruits…the little vulgar dens of the temples.’ Charming. And if she thought for one moment the experience had increased his urge to head to Taos, she was wrong. He was now heading to Australia. But he was still excited at the thought of coming to America, expressing these sentiments in his unique fashion. ‘I wish I could come to America without meeting the awful ‘cultured’ Americans with their limited self-righteous ideals and their mechanical love-motion and their bullying, detestable negative creed of liberty and democracy.’ Luhan is clearly a bit frustrated at these ‘silly detours’ and believes that the delay ‘strengthened something in me that he hated’, that being, a strong feminist principle.

“Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe” Garry Shead, oil on board.

When Lawrence writes from Australia on 9 June he’s keen to emphasise that his visit has been as an anonymous traveller and that when he does finally make it to Taos he doesn’t want her to inform ‘anybody we are coming.’ On the 18 July he is finally ready to come to Taos, not because he wants to but because Australia has nothing left to offer him – ‘Have done my novel and have nothing further to do.’ Frieda, on the other hand, has more pragmatic demands, requesting ‘don’t give us too little a place to live in, we are much too quarrelsome…we mustn’t be too much on top of each other or we get on each other’s nerves.’

At this point, Mabel Dodge Luhan must have regretted invited them over. They’ve delayed their arrival date, disclosed they bicker, and Lawrence has been highly critical of the arty community that Luhan has strived to develop, at her own cost, over the years. But there you have it. One year of fannying around and Lawrence is finally ready to fulfil his ‘real desire to approach America from the West.’ Or is he? ‘I thought of stopping off at Yosemite Valley but feel – Oh Damn scenery…’

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. How could we represent his indecision or his rudeness to Luhan? How could we represent his time in Taos? If you have an idea about this or other artefacts you think should be included, you can submit ideas here.


Further Reading

#MondayBlogs ‘Fragment of Stained Glass’ Beauvale Priory and DH Lawrence

eng review and build
The remains of Beauvale Priory. A Fragment of Stained Glass was first published in The English Review in 1911. 

On Friday I made a literary pilgrimage to Beauvale Priory, the inspiration for Lawrence’s short story A Fragment of Stained Glass. This was originally submitted to the Nottinghamshire Guardian competition in December 1907 as Ruby Glass, under the pseudonym Herbert Richards. To get around rules regarding one entry per person, Lawrence also had two friends submit entries on his behalf. Louie Burrows sent in The White Stocking and Jessie Chambers submitted A Prelude, which would win the £3 prize. During this period, Lawrence was working on Laetitia, which would later be published as his debut novel The White Peacock (1911), as well as a series of poems. Clearly he was ambitious to be published. But the incident also demonstrates another defining trait – his refusal to submit to other people’s rules and expectations.

Beauvale Priory was founded in 1343 by Nicholas de Cantelupe, Lord of Greasley. The Priory was originally home to twelve monks, the third of nine houses of the Carthusian Order established in England. It was here that some Carthusian monks refused to change their faith and became the first martyrs of the Reformation in 1585. They would be known as the Carthusian Martyrs and were canonized in 1970 by Pope Paul VI. One of the martyrs was Robert Lawrence. Although no relation to DHL, not that I know of, he suffered a brutal death standing up for his rights. After a hanging intended to bring maximum pain (rather than death), he was then butchered, mutilated and quartered for his beliefs.

Photo: Paul Fillingham

Lawrence opens the story with an evocative image of the changing landscape he famously described as ‘the country of my heart’.

‘Beauvale is, or was, the largest parish in England. It is thinly populated, only just netting the stragglers from shoals of houses in three large mining villages. For the rest, it holds a great tract of woodland, fragment of old Sherwood, a few hills of pasture and arable land, three collieries, and, finally, the ruins of a Cistercian abbey. These ruins lie in a still rich meadow at the foot of the last fall of woodland, through whose oaks shines a blue of hyacinths, like water, in May-time. Of the abbey, there remains only the east wall of the chancel standing, a wild thick mass of ivy weighting one shoulder, while pigeons perch in the tracery of the lofty window.’

My favourite passage is the description of the vicar of Beauvale, a bachelor of forty-two years. Lawrence informs us that ‘quite early in life some illness caused a slight paralysis of his right side, so that he drags a little, and so that the right corner of his mouth is twisted up into his cheek with a constant grimace,’ and then relates this affliction to his personality ‘his soul had some of the twist of his face, so that, when he is not ironical, he is satiric’. Given what we know about Lawrence’s own health, particularly his aversion to naming TB as anything other than an irritating catarrh, I always find his bodily descriptions and their relation to our sense of self fascinating. You only need read a few of his letters to feel the rage of his soul transferred to paper and (temporarily) removed from his being to understand the physicality of his writing.

b smaller
Photo: Paul Fillingham

The story divides critics. For Graham Hough it represents ‘a feeble juvenility’ with a ‘laborious… pointless narration’ whereas Joseph Baim found ‘an essentially religious vision of the redemption of a fallen, mechanical, dead society’. Whatever your interpretation, there are some classic Lawrentian themes in this early offering. Most notable is the obligatory references to nature and landscape. We learn that Martha’s hair ‘was red like beech leaves in a wind’ that the snow is the ‘colour of a moth’s wing’ and ‘the wood seemed to pursue me’. As always, nature is pulsating and alive. We ignore it at our peril. This enables Lawrence to explore the tensions between primitive cultures of the past – in this case, 15th century monks who claim to have seen ‘a malicious covetous Devil’ – with the destructive ugliness of contemporary industrialised Britain. I also sensed a bit of a nod to Robin Hood in the descriptions of outlaws in the forest entering ‘the bounds into faery realm’. Here the liminal space of the forest has mystical spiritual qualities that simply can’t exist in modernity with its emphasis on rationality and logic.

Map: TheAA.com

There’s barely anything left of Beauvale Priory, and the stained-glass window alluded to in the title has long gone. But there’s a nice café now, serving ridiculously large cakes, for those considering a 5.7mile trek through Lawrence’s heartlands. My visit here was part of a day trip that also took in Breach House, the inspiration for ‘The Bottoms’ in Sons and Lovers, and Brinsley Colliery where Lawrence’s father worked as a butty. I was accompanied by two students (Stephen Tomlinson and Kim Nguyen) who are helping me curate artefacts for the Memory Theatre as part of their third year dissertation module ENGL30512 (English and Creative Industries).

If you want to truly understand what Lawrence felt then you have to see the world through his eyes. For example, Sherwood Forest, or more accurately Birklands and Bilhaugh, once formed a much larger, royal hunting forest, which extended into several neighbouring shires and was bordered on the west along the River Erewash and the Forest of East Derbyshire. The Doomsday book (1086) records the forest as covering a quarter of Nottinghamshire in woodland. Although it is still pretty beautiful, with Morning Springs and High Park Woods forming a thick forest that frames the priory, you have to walk and breath in this landscape to understand how it would have felt to see it destroyed and polluted by the 10 collieries that sprung up locally during the turn of the 19th century. Indeed, Nottingham was described by Charles Deering in 1721 as a ‘garden city’ on account of the orchards, parklands and open spaces surrounding well laid out houses. A century later the city had a reputation as the worst slums in Europe on account of the factories that furnaced the industrial revolution.

field black and white
Malcolm Gray, Stephen Tomlinson and Kim Nguyen. Photo: James Walker

Our guide for the day was Malcolm Gray, the Chair of the DH Lawrence Society, who kindly gave up his time to show us these important literary locations as well as offering insightful commentary. He even drove us around and bought us all tea and cake. We were also joined by David Amos, a mining historian who gave us the backstory to what life would be like in a mining community, and Paul Fillingham, my partner on digital literary heritage projects, who was there to answer any questions about the launch of our memory theatre in 2019.

In taking time out of the classroom, students got six hours of teaching instead of two. They had access to experts, all of whom have handed over their email addresses and are happy to offer additional support. And we managed to do a bit of psychogeography in order to better understand the complex mind of DH Lawrence: the landscape offers a kind of reading that you can’t get from books alone. In March, Stephen will be producing a short ‘visual essay’ of his visit which will be uploaded to our YouTube channel and the DH Lawrence Society can use this to promote tourism.

Beauvale Priory, New Road, Moorgreen, Nottingham NG16 2AA

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. How could we represent Beauvale Priory or Lawrence’s first published short story? If you have an idea about this or other artefacts you think should be included, you can submit ideas here.


Further Reading