A Poet and Two Painters 5: Thomas Seltzer arrives

Parrot by Darrell Gough at Pexels.

Knud Merrild and Kai Gótzsche were Danish artists who spent the winter of 1922 with Lawrence, high up in the mountains of New Mexico. Their experiences were recorded in Merrild’s memoir A Poet and Two Painters. In the fifth of eight blogs, we see a visit from Thomas Seltzer and the arrival of a violin….

Knud Merrild worked on three book covers for Lawrence: Studies in Classical American Literature, Kangaroo and The Captain’s Doll. Despite Lawrence’s publisher, Thomas Seltzer, paying Merrild $40 for each, he only ever used the artwork for The Captain’s Doll.  

Seltzer and his wife, Adele, visited the ranch over Christmas and left after New Year’s Eve. While Seltzer discussed business with Lawrence, Adele joined the Danes for hikes. Four years after Lawrence’s death in 1930, Merrild wrote to Thomas Seltzer asking him of his memories of the time they spent together in December 1922. Seltzer recalled being struck by how small and sweet Lawrence’s singing of English Christmas carols was. His rendition of ‘Good King Quentin’ had a ‘haunting beauty that gripped you[i].’ Seltzer mentions this because it is an aspect of Lawrence’s personality that is forgotten. It’s worth quoting his letter of November 5, 1934, in full:

‘Lawrence was as great a man as he was a writer. In every aspect of life he was natural, without pose and, at bottom, sane. Follow him in the kitchen when he cooks, when he washes and irons his own underwear, when he does chores for Frieda, observe him when he walks with you in the country, when he is in the company of people whom he likes and to a certain extent respects – how natural he is in every movement and yet how distinguished, how satisfying because he is natural; and in his conversation he is almost always inspiring and interesting because of his extraordinary ability to create a flow, a current between himself and the other person.[ii]’  

Seltzer was hoping to sell Women in Love to the film studios which would bring in big money. But it never materialised. But there was another gift awaiting them, a violin, left by Walter Ufer. Given that the Danes also had an old flute, the cabin would soon be filled with music. After practising for a bit, a concert was arranged where they played Handle’s ‘Largo’. They expected a compliment of sorts but, inevitably, Lawrence hated it. When he voiced this, Frieda scalded him. He was more amenable to the folk music they played as he was quickly able to learn the words and join in with singing. ‘It simply bored Lawrence to listen, and mostly, I think, that he couldn’t participate – he hated to be left out.[iii]’ 

In terms of other forms of entertainment, Lawrence was no good at chess. It required too much concentration and too much scheming. He much preferred educating and enjoyed teaching the Danes Spanish, writing down phrases and setting it for homework. He was a zealous but patient teacher. But his formal approach annoyed Frieda, who complained he reminded her of her schooldays. They needed practical everyday phrases, not ‘mi tia tiene un pajaro’ (my aunt has a parrot). 

During this period Lawrence and the QB got on well, and Merrild didn’t witness the ferocious tantrums that they had grown a reputation for. But he did witness one ‘hysterical outbreak[iv]’ from Lawrence when he snatched a cigarette out of Frieda’s mouth and crumpled up her packet in his hand. The next day Lawrence turned up with a tray of baked goods, his way of apologising. Frieda also had something for them, a carton of emergency fags she wanted them to hide in their hut. And then Frieda made a heartfelt request. She asked Merrild if he would post a letter on her behalf to her kids, as it raged Lawrence so much to see her remain in contact with them. Although this put him in a difficult situation, Merrild agreed. But to ensure there was no way of Lawrence finding out, he handed the letter directly to the mailman. He found Lawrence’s controlling behaviour ‘egotistical and cruel’ and surmised ‘I know it is not for me to know Lawrence. He had plenty of trouble knowing himself.[v]’ 

Indeed, Lawrence acknowledged this contradiction in himself and in humanity. ‘Each of us has two selves. First is this body which is vulnerable and never quite within our control. The body with its irrational sympathies and desires and passions, its peculiar direct communication, defying the mind. And second is the conscious ego, the self I know I am.[vi]

But who are you D.H. Lawrence? Nobody can quite agree…

Merrild, Knud A Poet and Two Painters: A Memoir of D.H. Lawrence. George Routledge & Sons, London, 1938


A Poet and Two Painters 4: Everything in the Human Spectrum.

Design James Walker. Author unknown. D. H. Lawrence Collection, General Collection. Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University. 

Knud Merrild and Kai Gótzsche were Danish artists who spent the winter of 1922 with Lawrence, high up in the mountains of New Mexico. Their experiences were recorded in Merrild’s memoir A Poet and Two Painters. In the fourth of eight blogs, we unravel Lawrence’s complex and contradictory character which represented ‘everything in the human spectrum’.

When Lawrence collected his mail, he’d crumple each envelope and throw it in the fire. Each letter was read ‘with a sort of loathing[i],’ often followed by a sarcastic remark. Then one day he announced, ‘I really don’t care if I ever see any of my friends or relatives any more[ii]’. This was unnerving for the Danes, particularly as this throw away comment might one day apply to them, but they discovered such momentary bouts of intensity were aspects of Lawrence’s complex personality. ‘We soon learned not to take anything for granted or rely on him as far as his feelings were concerned. They were like the wind, blowing in all directions, sometimes like a hurricane, upon you without any warning, blown fiercer by his burning emotions[iii].’ 

It’s quite conceivable that Lawrence had extreme empathy in these moments of isolated fidelity with the Danes and was simply content with the circumstances he currently found himself in. Sentiments that he would later outline in Pansies

But to the folk in Taos who would encounter the Danes when they popped down for supplies, the friendship was one-sided. They were Lawrence’s errand boys, rather than companions. But nothing could be further from the truth. Living in such proximity and cut off from the rest of society, they were all reliant on each other. 

It was a tough winter with snowstorms keeping them inside for days. Lawrence picked up a few colds and was bedridden for a while but, defensive as always, insisted it was a preventative measure rather than a necessity. When Merrild was ill Lawrence displayed his caring side by making sagebrush tea. This was another opportunity to impart wisdom, explaining how the wartime influenza in America wiped out the Whites and Mexicans but the Indians survived because of the sagebrush tea. It was vile. But Lawrence insisted he get it down him, and while it was piping hot.      

One day the Danes decided to go for a hike up to Lobo Peak. It was a tough trek that had to be completed efficiently so that they got back before sunset. Lawrence, despite their polite protestations, insisted on tagging along. It wasn’t long before he was holding them up. It was clear that had to turn back, but despite the disappointment, they didn’t say anything. They were then told off by Frieda for taking him when he clearly didn’t have the stamina. It was only years later that they discovered how weak his chest was.

Lawrence did not like to be told what to do by Frieda, or anyone for that matter. John Middleton Murray in Son of Woman suggested Lawrence hated women. Merrild does not believe in such reductionism, arguing Lawrence was complex and contradictory. He witnessed him often praising women, claiming modern women had more courage than men. Yet he also had his odd views on women submitting to the ‘positive power soul in man, for their being[iv].’

Lawrence’s views on most topics were so complex that Merrild describes him as possessing ‘everything in the human spectrum[v]’. He gives the example that while out on walks, ‘I cannot recall one single instance where he heartedly commended the beauty and grandeur of the landscape [vi].’ He found the overall view oppressive. Yet ‘he was nearly always enthusiastic’ about the individual elements. ‘He would praise the pureness of the air, the clearness of the sky, the formation of the clouds, the gorgeous sunsets, or notice the beauty of a single tree.[vii]

He enjoyed identifying footprints of creatures in the snow and following them to discover their home. During such walks they encountered a whole host of animals, including a coyote, bobcat and lion. The lion was dead, later to be recalled in the poem Mountain Lion. The cabin was full of life and would see Merrild befriend a wildcat (nicknamed Meere) and a persistently present Blue Jay would be told: ‘Yes, I have heard you. You are gossip, flying, blustering gossip itself.[viii]’  

Merrild has been continually asked whether Lawrence was homosexual but in this, and Lawrence’s overall views of sex, there is complexity within the ‘spectrum’. In his novels, Lawrence saw homosexuality ‘as a tentative relief for an antagonism between the sexes, a symptom of a disease that had spread over Europe.[ix]’ But he also saw homosexuality as an ‘illness engulfing the world.[x]’ Yet it is easy to see why people would ask this given the loving descriptions of the male form in novels such as The White Peacock and Women in Love and his desire for ‘men to be at peace with’.

Merrild recounts a tale where he, Gótzsche and Lawrence were having a wash outdoors in a very confined space that meant their bodies touched. However, he is eager to point out that no advances were made and that it is the gossip of others that is the problem. ‘Here in that little pool, rubbing limbs with Lawrence, it was a little different…in consciousness. But I should never have thought of it or been conscious of it, if my mind hadn’t been injected with poison from slanderous evil persons accusing Lawrence of being homosexual.[xi]‘ Merrild is also keen to confirm another rumour, that Lawrence wasn’t a hermaphrodite. 

The only thing that stood out about seeing Lawrence naked was his posture. He ‘stretched out his arms and took a deep breath, shedding off the enclosed feeling of tight woollen underwear, and in the dusky light his body stood out in its ivory whiteness like sculpture. With his outstretched arms he reminded me instantly of a medieval woodcarving of Christ on the cross.[xii]’ 

If anything, Lawrence was puritanical about sexual contact. Once the Danes were visited by Meta Lehmann, an unmarried ’broadminded person, carefree and hospitable[xiii]’ who needed to stay over for the night. Lawrence didn’t want her in with him but neither did he want the scandal of her sleeping in the same cabin as the two Danes.

‘If there is one thing I don’t like it is a cheap and promiscuous sex’ Lawrence would write. ‘If there is one thing I insist on it is that sex is a delicate, vulnerable, vital thing that you mustn’t fool with. If there is one thing I deplore it is heartless sex. Sex must be a real flow, a real flow of sympathy, generous and warm, and not a trick thing, or a moment’s excitation.[xiv]

And in terms of attraction he writes, ‘beauty is an experience; nothing else: it is not a fixed pattern or an arrangement of features… even the plainest person can look beautiful, can be beautiful. It only needs the fire of sex to rise, delicately to change an ugly face to a lovely one. That is real sex appeal: the communicating of a sense of beauty.[xv]’   

These romantic and thoughtful views of sex as a form of communication and connection rather than instant gratification are in stark contrast to the image we have today of the ‘dirty’ author…

Merrild, Knud A Poet and Two Painters: A Memoir of D.H. Lawrence. George Routledge & Sons, London, 1938


Locating Lawrence: March 1923

In these monthly videos, we are locating D.H. Lawrence 100 years ago. In March he leaves New Mexico for Old Mexico and begins his next adventure. But will the spirit of this continent give him what he needs?

It’s time to leave the ranch and begin the next adventure. But first there’s lots of literary matters to sort out. Martin Secker wisely advises that ‘five Lawrence books will be as much as it is advisable to do in one year[i]’ and so delays publication of England, My England and Studies in Classic American Literature.  

Oliver Jenkins, editor of Tempo: A Magazine of Poetry, sends a gushing request for a poem and thanks Lawrence for the pleasure his work has brought him over the years before delivering the inevitable but: ‘Please understand that TEMPO is just starting and is not wealthy…[ii] Tempo would be published irregularly between 1921 and 1923 before being subsumed by Iarus[iii]. Lawrence understands what it means to have no money and instructs Seltzer to ‘fix a mild price for the poor dears.[iv]

Likewise, he feels obliged to help the Danes after spending the winter with them at the Del Monte Ranch. They had recently exhibited work at the Art Museum in Santa Fe, but this hadn’t translated into any sales. To make matters worse, Seltzer doesn’t seem keen on the artwork Merrild has produced for Birds, Beasts and Flowers and is instructed ‘if you don’t really want them, pay for them out of my money.[v]

After sacking Robert Mountsier, Lawrence must contend with his own literary matters. This mainly involves collating contracts for his various work and instructing Seltzer to ‘keep these very carefully till I come to New York and can arrange a safe-deposit for all my papers.[vi]

Lawrence is happiest when fully occupied and so once the literary admin is out of the way he requests a manuscript from Frederick Carter, a painter, etcher and scholar with an interest in religion and mysticism. Towards the end of his life, Lawrence would write the introduction to Carter’s Dragon of Revelation but for now warns, ‘I am more interested in the microcosm than in the macrocosm, and in the gates to the psyche rather than the astrological houses.[vii]

But his main focus is leaving America. Harriett Monroe (1860 –1936), the founding publisher and editor of Poetry, is off to Europe and Lawrence informs ‘I may be there in the summer. May meet you in London, Paris, Munich, Rome or Madrid.[viii]’ But for now, having ‘learnt quite a lot of Spanish’ he’s fixated on Old Mexico.

To get there, he takes part in a familiar routine which involves convincing himself that his current location is untenable. The USA is ‘terribly sterile, even negative. I tell you what, there is no life in the blood there. The blood can’t flow properly. Only nerves, nerve vibration, nerve-irritation. It wearies the inside of my bones. I want to go. Voglio andarmene.[ix]’  

Heading to another country presents numerous logistical considerations, information willingly shared with Witter Bynner and Willard Johnson, who will be joining him at some point. Of priority is avoiding the Easter rush as ‘hotels may then be crowded[x]’. When they do arrive in Mexico he is delighted ‘to get a little wine again[xi]’ after escaping prohibition. This was a nationwide constitutional law in America from 1920 to 1933 that led Jack Mahoney and WM Jerome to fear ‘everyday will be Sunday when the town goes dry.’  

Adjusting to the city is difficult. ‘I feel a bit shut in, after the ranch.[xii]’ This may explain why he feels uncomfortable in the American-run neoclassical Hotel Regis and so switches to the Hotel Monte Carlo, a smaller venture run by an Italian family. ‘The blood flows free again in the veins, not like the Land of Freedom, always in prison. All is quite peaceful, and nice, human folk: no human machines.[xiii]’ Imagine that as a trip advisor review.

Alas, it doesn’t take long for the blood to coagulate. ‘We’ve been in this city five days…I don’t like the gruesome Aztec carvings. I don’t like the spirit of this continent.[xiv]’ Things must be bad because England is back on the cards. ‘By July I ought to be in England. If you know a decent cottage or place to live, keep it in mind for me. Somewhere quiet. I don’t want people.[xv]

These posts are based on The Cambridge Edition of The Letters of D.H. Lawrence Vol IV. Edited by Warren Roberts, James T. Boulton, Elizabeth Mansfield.

  • [i] Letter from Martin Secker to Curtis Brown, 13 March 1923 (Letter of D.H. Lawrence, Vol IV. p.401)
  • [ii] Letter from Oliver Jenkins to DHL on 3 March 1923 (Letter of D.H. Lawrence, Vol IV. p.407)
  • [iii] See Alan. M. Wald. 1983. The Revolutionary Imagination: The Poetry and Politics of John Wheelwright and Sherry Mangan. University of North Carolina Press pp 79-80
  • [iv] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2745)
  • [v] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2745)
  • [vi] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2739)
  • [vii] Letter to Frederick Carter (L2743)
  • [viii] Letter to Harriet Monroe (L2741)
  • [ix] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2745)
  • [x] Letter to Willard Johnson (L2744)
  • [xi] Letter to Ada Clarke (L2763)
  • [xii] Letter to Knud Merrild (L2764)
  • [xiii] Letter to Baroness Anna von Richthofen (L2767)
  • [xiv] Letter to John Middleton Murry (L2769)
  • [xv] Letter to John Middleton Murry (L2769)

A Poet and Two Painters 3: The Good Life

Two-man felling saw by Eugene Zelenko from wikipedia. 

Knud Merrild and Kai Gótzsche were Danish artists who spent the winter of 1922 with Lawrence, high up in the mountains of New Mexico. Their experiences were recorded in Merrild’s memoir A Poet and Two Painters. In the third of eight blogs, we see how sharing everyday tasks helped bond the group together.    

The Del Monte Ranch consisted of a ranch house and two cabins that formed a sort of triangle – with all three homes a few minutes’ walk from each other. These needed whipping into shape and so they began roofing, carpentering, plastering, glazing, paperhanging, painting, whitewashing and fumigating while Frieda sewed curtains. ‘Lawrence enjoyed himself thoroughly doing all of these odd jobs,’ notes Merrild. Hard graft was gratifying, ‘it felt good to be a labourer.[i]’  

Once the cabins were complete, the next task was to find a dead tree for their winter supply of fuel. They found a 75ft Balsam Pine that was eight to ten feet in circumference and began the arduous grind of sawing it into logs with a crosscut, two-handed saw. It took several days to complete the task. Although Lawrence ‘tired quickly, he stubbornly kept on[ii].’ Naturally, he complained when things didn’t run smoothly, and it was always the fault of the tools or other people. ‘It amused us that he thought himself so clever, when it was he who was at fault.[iii]’ They even raised the question of why when they worked together ‘it runs smoothly all the time; but when either of us saws with you, we get stuck every time[iv].’ Lawrence retorted ‘It’s because you two are doing it wrong.[v]’ ‘He just wouldn’t be told anything; he was preaching and teaching all the time.[vi]’ On the final day they worked into the evening and heard howling coyotes nearby. It tickled their spines. But the job got done, nobody was eaten, and now all that remained was to rent horses and a wagon to get the timber carted to the cabins. 

Meeting obstacles and conquering them was part of the pleasure of their remote lifestyle. But when it came to finely chopping up the wood, it was too much for Lawrence and Frieda stepped in. He bitterly complained ‘Rot. If the Danes can do it, I can do it, too. I don’t want them to saw my wood![vii]’ But they insisted: ‘Nonsense. We are glad to do it for you. You do many other things for us.[viii]’ A compromise was eventually reached. Lawrence would split the kindling. ‘He wanted to do his share. He was a really good sport[ix]’ Merrild acknowledges, sentiments that are repeated throughout his memoir.  

Lawrence was 36, Gótzsche, 34 and Merrild, 28. Despite similarities in age, the Danes were far more athletic. They had previously laboured in construction and so were physically superior. A good bath was needed after their physical excursion and so they took a seventeen-mile trot to the hot springs. Lawrence rode on the only real horse, a tall and athletic Sorrel. The Danes and Frieda had cow ponies. This meant he led the way. ‘Lawrence towered above us, a real general. He looked well on the horse. He had a huge, grey, five-gallon hat, a leather jacket and checkered trousers tucked into a pair of long, high-heeled riding boots. His horse pranced and side stepped, strutting about in a lively manner.[x]

When Gótzsche dared to overtake Lawrence and disrupt the pecking order, he was scalded, and they had their first falling out. Frieda, observant as ever, commented, ‘You are like the horse you are on. You can’t bear to have anybody ahead of you[xi].’   

They couldn’t drink from a nearby water basin at the ranch after a pig fell in and drowned. But it was good enough to wash clothes in. Snow was melted on the stove for cooking and drinking. Limited resources and being a fair distance from town meant food was basic. Oatmeal and porridge became a regular fixture of their diet, sometimes eaten at breakfast and for tea. But a dab of syrup or honey helped make the mush more bearable. When available, salt meat and potatoes made up the evening meal. Apples were in abundance, allowing Lawrence to create cider. The Danes reciprocated by teaching him a classic Danish dish involving fried apples and bacon. Each day brought fresh, newly milked raw milk and fresh churned butter. Lawrence, who did most of the cooking, made the bread. Sometimes the rancher could get his hands on fresh meat. If not, the woods were full of rabbits waiting to be shot. Despite separate living quarters, ‘we spent much time together, seldom less than three to five hours daily and frequently all day, from breakfast to bedtime (…) We were at peace even in disturbances[xii].’

Frieda enjoyed sowing and embroidery and made curtains, pillows and sheets for the Danes as well as woollen hats to keep their ears warm in bed. ‘She took good, motherly care of us[xiii]’. Lawrence loved the simple lifestyle and filling his day with tasks. It was like a religion, with him preaching ‘the more machinery intervenes between us and the naked forces, the more we numb and atrophy our own senses. Every time we turn on a tap to have water, every time we turn a handle to have fire or light, we deny ourselves and annul our being.[xiv]’  

Their evenings were spent sat around the fire with Lawrence expounding his views on a variety of subjects. ‘He had the ‘gift of interest’ and could make one interested in almost anything (…) He had no social, moral or intellectual affectations and was free from any kind of snobbery. He had his fits once in a while, but on the whole, in everyday life he was easy going.[xv].’ And even if they disagreed ‘we were at peace in disturbance…it is these hours I treasure as among the most precious moments of my life.[xvi]

Source: Merrild, Knud A Poet and Two Painters: A Memoir of D.H. Lawrence. George Routledge & Sons, London, 1938


A Poet and Two Painters 2: The Lobo Ranch

‘Los Gallos’ (Mabel Dodge Luhan’s property in Taos).
Mabel Dodge Luhan Papers. Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Knud Merrild and Kai Gótzsche were Danish artists who spent the winter of 1922 with Lawrence, high up in the mountains of New Mexico. Their experiences were recorded in Merrild’s memoir A Poet and Two Painters. In the second of eight blogs, we look at how a strained relationship with Mabel Dodge Sterne led to the friends fleeing Taos and moving into a cabin together.    

Taos is a small town in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It sits in the north-central region of New Mexico, a territory twice the size of England and Wales but with less than half a million inhabitants[i]. As you would expect in a small town, gossip was rife. Number one topic was Mabel Dodge Sterne (Luhan), an ‘eccentric, wealthy, much-married woman[ii]’ and patron of the arts. Yet despite Lawrence’s various rants about her, Knud Merrild was adamant that ‘she had a right to live her own life[iii]’ and that he had no intention of forming opinions based on others experience.   

Lawrence claimed to hate gossip but what he really meant was that he hated people talking about him. He didn’t mind hearing gossip about others. He justified this contradiction on the grounds that ‘it’s a writer’s business to know[iv]’. He was also quite isolated as a guest in Sterne’s ‘prison’ and so had little social interaction with the town. Therefore, the Danes became his ‘news bearers[v]’  

Lawrence’s main gripe with Sterne was her bullying. He hated anyone imposing their will upon him. One example of this was an enormous scarf she had knitted for him that comprised of 45 different colours. Lawrence had previously scalded Sterne for living entirely from her head and so she had attempted to appease him by making something with her hands. But this was ruined by imbuing it with symbolic meaning. He fumed, ‘Look at it. 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, 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![vi]’   

Lawrence gifted the scarf to Merrild, knowing if he flaunted it around town Sterne would get the message to back off. But she wasn’t going to give up on Lawrence that easily and subsequently invited them over to see an Indian fiesta at her studio. But the domestic setting felt artificial and was mocked. Afterwards, Sterne put on the victrola, insisting everyone dance to the modern fox trot. Lawrence hated this kind of ‘tail wagging[vii]’ and especially disliked being touched. He refused Sterne’s attempts to get him on the dancefloor.

‘Oh, come, Lorenzo – try it. Just once. You’ll enjoy it.’

But he snappily refused her, saying, ‘Enjoy! – that ghastly word! Why must people insist on enjoying themselves in these awful ways. Why ‘enjoy’ oneself at all[viii]

The Danes analysed her behaviour and concluded: ‘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.[ix]’ Suspecting it was an excuse to get closer to Lawrence rather than a desire to dance, Merrild asked Sterne if she wanted to dance. She refused. Then, Lawrence got up and danced solo, just to prove he could.  ‘Had he perhaps noticed Sterne refusing me and was he perhaps dancing to spite her?’ wonders Merrild. ‘Nothing ever escaped his observation.[x]’ 

When their relationship became too strained, Sterne offered Lawrence the abandoned Lobo ranch seventeen miles up in the mountains. It was generous but not completely altruistic as it meant Lawrence would still be around. The Danes offered to give the Lawrence’s a lift up to the ranch in their battered old Ford ‘Lizzie’. Lawrence hated automobiles, describing them as ‘nasty, unreliable machine-monsters![xi]’ but he accepted their offer.

The trip was strenuous, and Lizzie proved to be unreliable on more than one occasion. But they eventually made it.  When they reached their destination, Merrild was ‘amazed at the beauty of the place. The dark green trees against a white blanket of snow. There was pine, pinon, spruce, and cedar, and above towered the majestic Lobo Peak…The sky was endless and the air so fine, clear and fresh, virgin air.[xii]

The cabins were less appealing, ‘desolate, dismal and dirty, in a state of decay…and inhabited by rats, squirrels, chipmunks and bats’ and full of ‘the odours of excrement and dead animals, left to rot.[xiii]’ 

Lawrence asked if they would like to spend the winter with them, as guests, in the spare cabin. It required a bit of work, but it was doable. At first, they rejected the offer as they had plans to travel to California to sell work to generate an income. But Lawrence was insistent, pointing out that he had $150 which would provide food and clothes to get them through winter. Lawrence felt very strongly that a more human system based on life values rather than monetary values was needed if society was to progress and his generosity towards them exemplifies these principles. So that they could retain their dignity, he suggested they do chores to ‘pay’ their way.  

It was also an opportunity for Merrild to create covers for Lawrence’s forthcoming books, for which he would be paid. It was a generous offer and the Danes agreed, relishing the opportunity to be ‘pioneerish[xiv]’. But they had reservations about Lawrence’s complex personality and agreed a pragmatic approach was required. ‘Let us promise not to be swept off our feet when he gets one of his fits, and not to be impatient with his desultory moods[xv]’ and instead relish how ‘now we belonged to each other’ and were ‘united in a common life[xvi]’.

This looked and sounded very much like the Rananim Lawrence had been searching for. But the next day their plans received a blow. A messenger arrived on behalf of Sterne stating that the second cabin was not to be used as it was the property of her son, who occasionally used it while on hunting trips. Perhaps flaunting that scarf in her presence had not been such a good idea after all. Lawrence was apoplectic: ‘When she so generously offered me the whole ranch, it was because she thought she would then have me safely put away up here, incommunicable and for her own convenience.[xvii]’ But Lawrence, resourceful as ever, set off the next day with Gotzsche and found two abandoned log cabins on the Del Monte Ranch and immediately rented it. It meant their budget was tighter, but they would get to spend winter together.  

Source: Merrild, Knud A Poet and Two Painters: A Memoir of D.H. Lawrence. George Routledge & Sons, London, 1938    


Locating Lawrence: February 1923

Each month we publish a visual essay exploring Lawrence’s movements one hundred years ago. The following is based on Volume IV of his letters.

You can always rely on Lawrence to be a bit dramatic and so if nobody wants his essay ‘The Future of the Novel’ Thomas Seltzer can ‘burn it[i]’. There was no need. It would find a home in the Literary Digest International Review in April. But perhaps he reacted like this because the censors did want to eradicate his writing. Women in Love had been selling well, but the New York Justice John Ford (1862 – 1941) wanted the ‘loathsome’ book withdrawn after discovering his daughter reading a copy. He’d do best to ‘leave the tree of knowledge alone’ warned Lawrence in a telegram that would be published in the New York Times. ‘The judge won’t succeed in chopping it down, with his horrified hatchet. Many better men have tried and failed.[ii]’   

Up on the Del Monte Ranch in the Lobo mountains, Lawrence was loving life with his two Danish friends Knud Merrild and Kai Gøtzsche. The days were filled with hard graft, the evenings with song and conversation. Frieda informs her mother ‘Lawrence has a cold, chopped ice for hours in a frozen-over brook![iii]

Gøtzsche had been painting Lawrence. He has his arms folded and looks like he’s in a grump. ‘They say it has got my get-rid-of Mountsier face[iv]’ And get rid of his American literary agent he did. This was mainly because Seltzer refused to work with him and because Lawrence felt Mounsier didn’t believe in him, ‘he was against me inwardly.[v]’ Mountsier had visited Lawrence at the ranch in December and was still in Taos, so Lawrence was able to tell him in person. However, Frieda reports that after doing this, Lawrence ‘took some sandwiches and went off’ and ‘I was left alone with him for lunch.[vi]

It’s a productive period for Lawrence. He completes the proofs for The Captain’s Doll and The Fox and requests the proofs for The Ladybird. A complete manuscript of Birds, Beasts and Flowers is sent to Seltzer which ‘when you have time to read it you will agree it is a remarkable collection.[vii]’ And he must make time to read it because he wants to see ‘a perfect MSS (…) before I leave America. And I want to leave soon[viii]’ Concerned at the poverty facing ‘the Danes’ he wants Merrild to do the jacket.

John Middleton Murry is consoled over the death of his wife, Katherine Mansfield, who died on 9 January. Lawrence was pretty nasty to Mansfield which may have been partly because of his own ill health and the subsequent stigma attached to it. He views her dying at one point as a weakness, something she failed to control: ‘One must fight, or die, like Katherine.[ix]’ But he does attempt an apology of sorts: ‘I wish it needn’t all have been as it has been: I do wish it.[x]’ And to prove his sincerity, he instructs Seltzer to send Murry copies of three of his latest books[xi].

After a winter in the Lobo mountains, it’s time to move on again. Mexico is his next intended stop and so Seltzer is asked to send over a copy of Terry’s Guide to Mexico so that he can prepare. (Thomas Philip Terry, 1923) Bessie Freeman is asked whether she can provide useful introductions to ‘anybody nice[xii]’ and Spud Johnson is given a breakdown of travel costs so that he and Witter Bynner can join them.[xiii]

Frieda suggests the reason for their latest move being ‘Lawr wants to go to Mexico, he thinks he might write his American novel there – You know he would like to write a novel of each continent – if possible.[xiv]

England may still be off the cards but there is a suggestion of a reconciliation. ‘At the moment I can’t come to England. Something inside me simply doesn’t let me. I mistrust my country too much to identify myself with it any more. And it still gives me a certain disgust. But this may pass.[xv]


  • [i] Thomas Seltzer (L2703)
  • [ii] Thomas Seltzer (L2708)
  • [iii] Baroness Anna von Richthofen (L2731)
  • [iv] Thomas Seltzer (L2703)
  • [v] Thomas Seltzer (L2707)
  • [vi] Adele Seltzer (L2716)
  • [vii] Thomas Seltzer (L2707)
  • [ix] S.S. Koteliansky (L2718)
  • [x] John Middleton Murry (L27013)
  • [xi] Thomas Seltzer (L2705)
  • [xii] Bessie Freeman (L2728)
  • [xiii] Willard Johnson (L2721)
  • [xiv] Adele Seltzer (L2716)
  • [xv] John Middleton Murry (L2733)

Shelfie: A Poet and Two Painters.

In the 1930s there were a spate of memoirs about D.H. Lawrence. Knud Merrild’s account of his time spent with Kai Gøtzsche on the Del Monte Ranch in the winter of 1922 is one of the most objective, mainly because he didn’t want to write it…   

Knud Merrild opens his account with a disclaimer: He is a painter, not a writer, and this is one of the reasons he put off writing his memoir until 1938. He was also conscious of being lumped into a literary category that Lawrence disparagingly dismissed as ‘smoking, steaming shits[i]’. The subtext is he didn’t want to cash in as numerous others had done. He is bemused by the contradictory accounts written about Lawrence so far and quotes H.C. Orstead that ‘our wishes ought not to determine what we shall accept as truth[ii]’. However, Lawrence was a contradictory character led by his mood, and therefore we should not be surprised he is viewed so differently by various people.  

To avoid misquoting Lawrence from memory, Merrild quotes from books written during the period they knew each other, as he had witnessed the conversations which would be fictionalised in his novels, and because Lawrence ‘wrote as he spoke[iii]’. Quoting from fiction to ensure his memoir is truthful is a contradiction of sorts. But it does work and there is a certain degree of validation to this process. For example, Merrild had not read Lawrence when they met in the winter of 1922. But when he read his work years later, ‘I noticed he talked novels, his own novels, only more elaborately so. In reading most of his books, I have not found anything that was not encountered in our many discussions. To quote Lawrence is to quote his books. To know him, read his books.[iv]’ The inclusion of letters in the memoir provides context and helps Merrild achieve a degree of authenticity. But his main objective is to avoid any psychoanalysis of Lawrence which may further add to his mythology.  

The preface is written by Aldous Huxley, a close friend of Lawrence during his later years. Huxley presents an overview of New Mexico which is scathing in places, particularly how deforesting the lower slopes of the mountains has increased the area of desert and intensified its aridity. ‘The chief result of man’s interference with the New Mexican landscape has been to make it even more alien and anti-human than nature originally intended it.[v]” Less than half a million people inhabit New Mexico, which is a territory twice the size of England and Wales. Yet ‘New Mexico is almost as empty and alien as the moon[vi].’ Above the desert are luscious mountain valleys that seem ‘positively Nordic[vii]’ in comparison. ‘What a relief to find oneself living where nothing has ever happened, where the land is untameable and where nature either ignores its human parasites or is actively hostile towards them[viii].’ To Europeans used to man-modified environments, this wildness could feel alienating, depressing, or freeing – depending on your mood at the time. Lawrence was typically ambivalent. He craved the ‘undomesticated desert’ when in domesticated Europe and resented it when there. This discontent, of course, is what propelled him to move so often.

Huxley notes that Merrild has not cobbled together a story of some eventful months living on the Del Monte Ranch in the winter of 1922. And that the very thing that gives his memoir objectivity is his complete disinterest in writing it. This, he suggests, is in stark contrast to Catherine Carswell, Dorothy Brett, and Mabel Dodge Luhan – the ‘holy women’ to use Philip Heseltine’s expression – whose recollections are distorted on account of their infatuation with their subject.

It is true. There is ‘no devotional sense of proprietorship[ix]’ in Merrild’s account and you get the sense that he feels obliged, out of respect for Lawrence and Lawrence devotees, to share his memories, and therefore the tone over the proceeding seventeen chapters is objective. For example, Merrild details the many ways in which Lawrence liked to instruct on how to ride a horse, tack a roof, or simply live your life, but this did not make him a leader. ‘He was more of a seer or a prophet. And how could he be a leader of men? He contradicted himself at almost every turn. He did not believe in dogmas or doctrines, but he made them himself anyhow, only to break them sooner or later (…) Despite his shortcomings, he had a superiority that one could not deny and one had to admit that he had both straightened and released something in one’s life for which one could have only the deepest veneration[x].’ 

The Danes – Knud Merrild and Kai Gøtzsche – were enamoured by Lawrence’s knowledge and spent many an evening around the fire listening to his views on everything from art to the formation of the universe. But they found his obsession with death a bit wearing. ‘He breathed death, spake and saw death everywhere, and only darkness (…) And when he spoke of new creations, his creations, his gods, his souls, his ideas, they were always shrouded in darkness not yet visible[xi]‘. He even mocked the nearby Sunshine Valley, renaming it Death Valley[xii]. These conversations stayed with them when they returned to their cabin and had to be ironed out before they could sleep. 

When he wasn’t mithering on about death, Lawrence never got tired of talking about the ‘new life’ and his desire for Rananim. ‘He wanted to find a place away from civilisation where he felt that the possibility of growth would be fairly secure[xiii]‘ All they needed was soil. They could grow bananas. It would be the beginning of a colony where, ‘when we have ourselves firmly established, then we can add one or two more of our friends at a time and let the thing grow slowly into full being, and the new life will grow and spread until it embraces the whole world.[xiv]

Although the Danes knew such a venture was destined to fail – as would any with Lawrence at the helm – they did respect his visions for society. ‘There is a great change coming, bound to come, the whole money arrangement will undergo a change: What, I don’t know. The whole industrial system will undergo a change. Work will be different and pay will be different. The owning of property will be different. Class will be different, and human relations will be modified and perhaps simplified. If we are intelligent, alert and undaunted, then life will be much better, more generous, more spontaneous, more vital, less loosely materialistic.[xv]’ 

Despite circulating half the globe, Lawrence still hadn’t found the peace he desired. Thus, plans were made for a trip to Old Mexico in March 1923. But Merrild couldn’t do it. He felt indebted to Lawrence who had done everything he could to look out for them, including commissioning him to produce covers for some of his books. ‘He had such friendly, even fatherly, concern for us, and it touched us deeply[xvi].’ But he had his own ambitions and his own dreams and knew to follow Lawrence would ruin the great experience they had just had. If only Kai Gøtzsche had listened to this advice…

Merrild, Knud A Poet and Two Painters: A Memoir of D.H. Lawrence. George Routledge & Sons, London, 1938  


A Poet and Two Painters 1: Arrival in Taos

Walter Ufer – Self-portrait (1920) Walter Ufer – ‘Jim’ (1918). Source: Wikipedia.

Knud Merrild and Kai Gótzsche were Danish artists who spent the winter of 1922 with Lawrence, high up in the mountains of New Mexico. Their experiences were recorded in Merrild’s memoir A Poet and Two Painters. In this first of eight blogs, we look at their arrival in Taos and their initial encounters with the Lawrences.  

When Knud Merrild (1894 –1954) and Kai Gótzsche (1886-1963) arrived in Taos in their rattling Ford car ‘Lizzy’ they met a fellow painter called Walter Ufer (1876 –1936) who put them up. After plying them with Schnapps, they discussed art together. Ufer, an integral member of the commercial cooperative the Taos Society of Artists, found the Danish painters views ‘too radically modern[i]’ and suggested they meet a ‘world famous writer’ who had recently turned up. They weren’t interested in meeting a writer, presuming writers didn’t understand painters. But they accepted an invitation to a dinner so as not to offend Ufer.

Merrild’s initial observation was of a ‘simple, pleasing and obliging[ii]’ couple who were knowledgeable of cooking and had good table manners. After the meal, Lawrence regaled the painters with details of his recent travels to Australia, his contempt for the ‘unrestrained, care-free lovemaking[iii]’ of the boat passengers, and his stopover at Tahiti. This excited Merrild as he dreamed of making a Gauguin pilgrimage across the South Seas. Lawrence didn’t share his enthusiasm and abruptly informed Merrild that ‘the people were ugly, false, spoiled and diseased. And the so-called blue Pacific, not blue at all, but a big, drowsy, grey and weary emptiness; and those whimpering, poetic palms, just a lot of dirty feather dusters.’ There was ‘nothing to go there for at all[iv].’ He then rounded the evening off by calling the host an ‘ass[v]’. So much for ‘simple’ and ‘pleasing’.

They admired Lawrence’s debating skills and fearlessness, despite the occasional paradox in his line of thinking. Frieda was deemed an individual in her own right who could hold her own. A week later they found themselves invited over to the Lawrences for dinner before replaying the compliment. At the time they were living inside their studio and so had a bit of a tidy up, adorning the walls with their paintings. Lawrence was immediately dismissive, claiming to hate paintings as home decoration – sentiments he would address in the essay Pictures of the Wall in which he advises people to burn their pictures every ten years or so because they cease to have meaning as we change. He is also dismissive of their work, although Merrild does not take offense and concludes that Lawrence ‘just had to be in opposition[vi]’. By the end of the evening Lawrence has calmed down and commissioned Merrild to do an illustration for his next book Birds, Beasts and Flowers.

With plans to travel further into America, they didn’t really expect the friendship to develop much further. But then fate stepped in. They were out riding one afternoon and Merrild slipped off his saddle not far from the Lawrence’s ranch. Lawrence spotted them, offered his support, and then invited himself along for their excursion into the canyon. Although they preferred their own company, they agreed out of politeness and trotted off together into the desert. It wasn’t long before Lawrence was instructing them on how to ride properly. ‘You must learn trotting. Look at me. Hold your rein like this, sit like me…[vii]’ Half annoyed, half amused, they obliged Lawrence.  

The riders burst into song as they trotted along in single file across the Rio Grande Canyon. When they stumbled across hieroglyphic incisions on a rock, Lawrence gave a potted history of the ‘Manby Springs’ – The Indians did not want the White Man bathing in the hot secret springs less he absorbed the sacred power and lived forever. Lawrence was at his happiest when imparting wisdom. Having declined their offer of bringing a gasoline stove – due to his disdain for mechanical contrivances – he taught them how to forage for dry sagebrush to start a fire.

When discussing how and why they had all arrived at Taos, Lawrence explained he was here at the behest of Mabel Dodge Luhan who wanted him to write a book about the Pueblo in the fashion of his travelogue Sea and Sardinia (1921). But he had quickly grown tired of her, complaining of ‘that bullying, evil, destructive, dominating will of hers. Oh, these awful, cultured Americans, how they lack natural aristocracy.[viii]’ 

The Danes had met Mabel once before, at a dinner party at Lawrence’s where she and Frieda had changed the conversation to sex whenever the opportunity arose. But she had completely blanked them. Their slowly developing friendship with her prized asset would not help improve their relationship…

The above blog is based on Knud Merrild. A Poet and Two Painters (1938). George Routledge and Sons.

Locating D.H. Lawrence: January 1923.

Lawrence’s first letter of 1923 is to reassure the artist Jan Juta, who illustrated Sea and Sardinia, that his literary agent Robert Mountsier is due to arrive on the 1st of Jan and he will bring a statement of sales for their joint venture. ‘We both get some money…but not a great deal.[i]’ And then a couple of sentences later he dismisses artists in Taos who ‘paint purely in terms of dollars.[ii]

Lawrence seems quite motherly about Mountsier when he first arrives, hoping the break will enable him to ‘settle down to ranch life and forget literary agency for the time being.[iii]’ But by the time he leaves on 28 January, Lawrence is glad to see the back of him. But more of that another time…

In terms of writing, lots of loose ends are starting to come together. The December issue of The Laughing Horse turns up which includes his review of Ben Hecht’s Fantazius Mallare: A Mysterious Oath[iv]. He’s not content to merely finish writing Birds, Beasts and Flowers but instead wants to know about the intended format of the book: What size it will be, what decoration it will include, all details of which he wants ‘exactly.[v]’ In terms of Studies in Classic America Literature, Seltzer is instructed ‘if you want anything altered or eliminated, tell me the page and line.[vi]’ Despite this productive period of writing, he is becoming increasingly frustrated with Martin Secker (1882 –1978) the London publisher who ‘I don’t trust[vii]’ because he isn’t publishing his books quickly enough.

When not writing and reviewing he’s busy working on translations[viii] of Giovanni Verga (1840 –1922) which would be published in the collection Little Novels of Sicily. Lawrence would have related to many of the themes in Verga’s sketches, not least the class struggle between property owners and tenants, evocative descriptions of the landscape and man’s changing relationship with it.  

All of this would be enough for most writers, but Lawrence is not like other writers. He wants to know more about the 1888 copyright laws between Italy and U.S.A[ix] and is pitching artwork on behalf of Gøtzsche to the Dial to illustrate his essay ‘Taos’ which would be published in March 1923[x].

Perhaps because he spent so much time focussed on literary matters, he expected his literary connections to help with domestic issues. Adele Seltzer is tasked with sending Frieda some underwear[xi].

The most interesting letter of January is to Thomas Seltzer which reports that Pips, a French bull terrier given to Lawrence by Mabel Dodge Sterne, ‘got well spanked – and so has gone to live with the Danes. There let her stay. She’s got no loyalty[xii]’ This incident would cause great controversy when Knud Merrild recounted it in his memoir A Poet and Two Painters. However, in 1937, on Lawrence’s birthday, there were letters of outrage to the editor of the local Taos newspaper[xiii] for daring to suggest Lawrence had been cruel to an animal. ‘I never saw him ill-treat anything except a teapot and some cups’ scalded Dorothy Brett. ‘Lawrence’s fits of rage were phenomenal’ wrote Spud Johnson but ‘I never saw him anything but gentle and affectionate’ with animals. And on and on the letters went.

The Danes offer good company in the evenings as ‘Merrild has a flute and Gøtzsche a fiddle[xiv]’ Eager to keep the vibe going, Lawrence requests Adele Seltzer send him a copy of The Oxford Song Book. At least up in the mountains, with Taos station 43 miles away, there are no nosey neighbours to report them to the police for singing suspicious lyrics, as had happened when the Lawrence’s lived in Cornwall during WWI.

Despite this, Lawrence continued to be the focus of gossip. Mabel Dodge Sterne had been telling the locals ‘I had to get rid of the Lawrence’s’. He is furious and vows ‘I will never see her again[xv].’ It is no wonder, then, that he wanted to embrace the solitude of the mountains while he could: ‘I want to be alone – as much alone as I am – while I am here[xvi]’.


  • [i] Letter to Jan Juta (L2689)
  • [iii] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2691)
  • [iv] Letter to Willard Johnson (L2690)
  • [v] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2698)
  • [vi] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2694)
  • [viii] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2691)
  • [ix] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2694)
  • [xi] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2698)
  • [xii] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2691)
  • [xiii] Newspaper cuttings in ‘Lawrence Vol. III’. Mabel Dodge Luhan Papers. Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
  • [xiv] Letter to Adele Seltzer (L2700)
  • [xv] Letter to Bessie Freeman (L2699)
  • [xvi] Letter to Mabel Dodge Sterne (L2695)

Shelfie: Geoff Dyer ‘The Last Days of Roger Federer’

Geoff Dyer’s capacious meditation on endings meanders through a broad range of topics that include jazz, Dylan, movies, drugs, Nietzsche, Beethoven and, occasionally, Roger Federer. As disparate as these topics may seem, Dyer feeds them through a kaleidoscope, creating new and repeating patterns each time, so that each observation becomes an echo of a previous point. Or as he later puts it, ‘Knowledge has to be laid down in the brain in overlapping and criss-crossed layers. You need the underlay before you have the carpet.[i]

Endings are determined by numerous factors. There is the realisation that the body can no longer do what the mind wants and, on some occasions, such as quitting, the mind can no longer do what the body desires. The motivation, ambition or stubbornness is gone. There is also knowing when to quit and when you are dragging something out. ‘The purpose of the one-book writer’s second book is to serve as a sort of confirmation that it’s all over[ii]’ he advises. Then there are those who can’t wait for the end, such as Dyer’s family, for whom retirement was ‘practically an ambition’ something ‘to look forward to’ after years of ‘unpleasant and unrewarding work[iii]’.

Dyer’s writing defies classification, shifting between criticism, memoir and repartee. These sudden shifts allow him to toy with his readers. He purports to take them in one direction while leading them in another. Indeed, he has taken the concept of endings and used it to begin his twentieth book. He is an unreliable, but very enjoyable, narrator.

Lawrence’s work is referred to at various places, the most relevant of which is The Ship of Death which Dyer describes ‘as near as we can get, in words, to experiencing the extinction of consciousness[iv]’. This feeds into a discussion of Beethoven which in turn is then linked to a scene in Aldous Huxley’s Point Counter Point (1928) when Mark Rampion, modelled on Lawrence, is listening to op. 132.

Unsurprisingly, Lawrence’s health – or rather his conviction that ‘however sick’ he would ‘become healthy again[v]’ gets a mention. But it is Dyer’s analysis of key lines in Lawrence’s work that gives me pause to put the book down on occasion and let an idea properly sink in. One such example is this wonderful line from Twilight in Italy: ‘we conceive the stars. We are told that they are other worlds. But the stars are the clustered and single gleaming lights in the night-sky of our world.’ Dyer considers this prophetic statement and wonders if the stars still seem like this, ‘not as dead memories of themselves, but living memories of our world.[vi]’     

Nietzsche is central to Dyer’s subject, particularly his concept of the eternal recurrence which first appears in The Gay Science. It is ‘the moments you would happily live, over and over, throughout all eternity[vii]’ For Dyer this includes sex, lost opportunities and whether he remembered to switch the light off in the front room.

Dyer tells and retells the same theme – endings – over and over again from various perspectives which all neatly overlap and fold back into each other. You begin to wonder when the book will end which conjures memories of an observation he made in Out of Sheer Rage in 1997:

‘However much you are enjoying a book you are always flicking to the end, counting to see how many pages are left, looking forward to the time when you can put the book down and have done with it. At the back of our minds, however much we are enjoying a book, we come to the end of it and some little voice is always saying, ‘Thank Christ for that!’’

Fast forward to 2022 and these sentiments are given a darker twist when Dyer asks ‘could it be that our deepest desire is for everything to be over with?[viii]

In some respects, Dyer’s eternal recurrence is the writing process and the conversations this affords with himself. He is happiest when indulging in clever wordplay, misremembering and then correcting himself, and his desire for constant self-reflection as he dismisses his latest book as ‘a diary of what the writer was up to during the period of its composition.[ix]

Of course, completing a book is not an end. It’s the start of something new. ‘I’m not going to think about what to do when I finish it. Because I already know. I’ll fall into idleness, boredom, and depression before eventually and reluctantly embarking on the gruelling rehab of trying to start another.[x]’ And this, of course, is where he is closest in spirit to Lawrence: The compulsive need to record every experience and thought in words. For Lawrence this meant roving, using each new country as material for the latest novel. For Dyer, it is a philosophical conundrum: Do we finish books, or do they finish us?


[i] p.81

[ii] p.140

[iii] p.8.

[iv] p.32

[v] p.66

[vi] p.215

[vii] p.128

[viii] p.102

[ix] p. 173

[x] p. 174     

Locating Lawrence: December 1922.

On 1 December, the Lawrence’s moved to the Del Monte Ranch, a log cabin with four rooms and a kitchen. Nearby are the Danes in a three-room cabin. Lawrence had finally escaped the clutches of Mabel Dodge Sterne whom he acknowledges ‘was always nice – only somewhat blind to anything except her own way[i]’. Hmm, sound familiar.

He gossips away about her to his dear Schwiegermutter, ‘rich – only child – 42 year’s old – short, stout – looks young – has had three husbands…Has now an Indian, Tony, a fat fellow….hates the white world, and loves the Indians out of hate…We are still ‘friends’ with Mable. But don’t take this serpent to our bosom.[ii]

The new home required some D.I.Y and so Knud Merrild is instructed to bring some ‘indiarubber boots, the white ones $4.50 a pair… some fumigating stuff… two pieces of glass’ and ‘a pound of cheese[iii]’ To keep warm, the wife of Jerry Mirabal (aka the ‘famous Taos Indian’) is ‘tanning five skins for Frieda[iv]’.

‘It is snow here,’ he informs Mary Cannan ‘coyotes howl at night – sun very hot during the day. America makes one feel one has swallowed a rather big pebble.[v]

Now that he is living remotely, others are expected to come to him. First up is his publisher Thomas Seltzer ‘a nice tiny man[vi]’ who would publish seven of Lawrence’s books, soon to be followed by his American literary agent Robert Mountsier.

There are invites to go East and make a fortune doing a lecture tour of America, as Gilbert Canny and Hugh Walpole (1884 –1941) had done. Like Lawrence, Walpole was a prolific writer, producing at least one book every year after his debut novel The Wooden Horse (1901). But the literary circuit did not appeal to Lawrence.

Women in Love is doing well. ‘Has sold 10,000 in the cheap edition, 3,000 in the other[vii]’ and there’s always time to read books to review for The Dial[viii]. Once more he is supportive of other writers, such as Frederick Carter (1883 – 1967), whose manuscript he offers to submit to ‘a suitable publisher’ and then provides relevant journals he should read. Carter’s esoteric research would be published four years later as The Dragon of the Alchemists (1926). 

Lawrence has the simple life that he claims he needs – ‘Life has been just a business of chopping wood, fixing doors, putting up shelves, eating and sleeping[ix]’ with culture coming in the form of evening debates with the Danes and the Christmas dance at the pueblo to see the Taos Indians perform either the buffalo dance or the deer dance. But despite having everything he wanted, he’s not happy.

‘There is no inside life-throb here’ he complains to Catherine Carswell ‘all empty – people inside dead’. He claims to ‘truly prefer Europe’ and that even ‘the Indians are very American – no inside life’. The solution is simple: ‘I know now I don’t want to live anywhere very long’ and thus, a mere 17 days into his latest residence, he begins hatching new adventures. ‘I belong to Europe. Though not to England. I think I should like to go to Russia in the summer. After America, it appeals to me[x]

Although the reason for this mood has nothing to do with country or culture: ‘Am not writing here[xi]’   


  • [i] Letter to Thomas Seltzer L2667
  • [ii] Letter to Baroness Anna von Richthofen L2669
  • [iii] Letter to Knud Merrild L2664
  • [iv] Letter to Mabel Dodge Sterne L2665
  • [v] Letter to Mary Cannan, L2670
  • [vi] Letter to John Middleton Murry L2687
  • [vii] Letter to Mary Cannan L2670
  • [viii] Lawrence received a copy of Americans by Stuart Pratt Sherman. It would be published in the May 1923 edition of The Dial.
  • [ix] Letter to Mabel Dodge Sterne L2677
  • [x] Letter to Catherine Carswell L2682
  • [xi] Letter to Catherine Carswell L2682

The cost of living crisis: communal living with D.H. Lawrence

Even as a teenager, Lawrence advocated for communal living. But in 2022, people may be forced to live with each other for less noble causes than Rananim...

D.H. Lawrence spent his life searching for Rananim. But as with most pursuits it was the journey rather than the destination that mattered. During pragmatic times, Rananim took the shape of living remotely in a cottage, and later dreams of buying up a farm in America and living off the land. In more difficult periods of his life, more desperate options emerged, such as living out at sea in a boat – completely free of borders. Of course, we know who would be captain.

Lawrence’s desire for communal living can be traced back to when he was seventeen, at least according to Jessie Chambers, when he professed to her a desire to live in ‘one of the big houses in Nottingham Park[i]’. This point is then expanded on and recorded by May Chambers:

‘Don’t you think it would be possible, if we were rich, to have a large house, really big, you know, and all the people one likes best live together? All in the one house? Oh, plenty of room inside and out, of course, but a sort of centre where one could always find those one wanted, a place all of us could come to as a home. I think it would be heaps nicer than to be all scattered and apart. Besides, there’d always be someone one liked near at hand. I know I should love something of the sort. Haven’t you often felt sad at the thought of the gradual breakup of families or groups of friends like ours? I have – and it could be avoided, if we had the means. I should like to be rich and try it, shouldn’t you?[ii]

In many ways this is typically adolescent; mourning those intimate moments among friends that will be reduced as the world of work kicks in. But it’s also interesting that Lawrence believes you need to be rich for communal living to happen, that there’s no way friends can simply club together and find somewhere to live. This may be because he had the confidence to believe that he might be ‘a bit more than ordinary[iii]’ and so would require a bigger home, presumably to accommodate his growth in stature.

But whether he had fulfilled this dream in a large house or a small house, it wouldn’t have worked, reflects Jessie Chambers, because ‘I had no faith in his success as head of a house full of friends. He would criticize them as he criticized us[iv]’ And how right she was. Nobody in their right mind would be able to stand communal living with someone with such exacting demands – though to be fair, Knud Merrild and Kai Gøtzsche enjoyed their cabin building experience with Lawrence in the winter of 1922[v] – but this was for a few months, not a lifetime. Likewise, even living close to friends – such as John Middleton Murray and Katherine Mansfield in Cornwall in 1917 – was disastrous and short-lived.

We should never forget, though, that Lawrence was a writer and as such a fantasist in the best possible sense of the word. In Cornwall it was romantic to imagine one a ‘pirate’ or an ‘outlaw[vi]’ or even a ‘highwayman[vii]’ cut away from the rest of society and rebelling against the prevailing morality. And there was a lot to rebel about thanks to the dehumanising effects of industry, modernity, and WWI.

In 2022, communal living may become a necessity for many of us. The cost of living crisis and the fear of putting on the heating may force neighbours and families to take it in turns to host each other on alternate nights to share the cost of heating or watching the TV. Or we may rent out the spare room to help cover costs as living alone becomes a luxury. This isn’t quite the Rananim Lawrence longed for  – a community of like-minded people – but it is community, albeit one united though fuel poverty.  


  • [i] Emile Delavenay, D. H. Lawrence: lHomme et la Genèse de son Oeuvre (1885–1919) (Paris: Librairie C. Klincksieck, 1969) p. 665
  • [ii] D. H. Lawrence: a Composite Biography, ed. Edward Nehls, vol. III: 1925–1930 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1959) p. 601.
  • [iii] Zytaruk, G.J. (1988). ‘Rananim: D. H. Lawrence’s Failed Utopia’. In: Salgādo, G., Das, G.K. (eds) The Spirit of D. H. Lawrence. Palgrave Macmillan p. 267.
  • [iv] IBID: p. 267.
  • [v] See Merrild, K A Poet and Two Painters: A Memoir of D.H. Lawrence (George Routledge & Sons, London, 1938)