In 2019, Paul Fillingham and I hope to embark on a digital pilgrimage that will recreate Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage via a memory theatre. Until then, my every waking hour is spent reading and researching this prolific writer. As part of this research I’ve created a 3rd year ‘alternative to the dissertation’ module at Nottingham Trent University in which students have the opportunity to help us think about the aesthetics and functionality of our proposed memory theatre. As part of the module, students create a photo essay about an element of Lawrence’s work or life. The above video (and words below) are by Richard Weare.
During the most prolific period in his career, D H Lawrence wrote two rather peculiar books: Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious (1921) and Fantasia of the Unconscious (1922). Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious was originally written as a retort to the unappreciated psychoanalytic criticism of his third novel Sons and Lovers (1913). It quickly transformed into something much more, becoming a platform for Lawrence to explore his ideas about the psyche and eventually manifesting into the beginnings of his own pseudo philosophy. The video embedded in the top of this page focuses on chapter one: Psychoanalysis Vs Morality.
Immediately, we get a good old dose of Lawrencian rage, as he deals psychoanalysis some articulate blows. Calling Freud a ‘psychoanalytic quack who vehemently demonstrated the serpent of sex coiled round the root of all actions’ and by extension the entire practice know-it-alls who pose as healers and physicians, attempting to be scientists, hoping to become apostles. He is not impressed and remains sceptical of their incentives; seducing the poor public with ‘dreams to sell’.
In a letter to Gordon Campbell sent on September 21 1914 we get the first example of Lawrence’s distaste towards psychoanalysis. Here he tackles the effect the war has had on the psyche of a nation, lamenting upon the mechanical, obsolete, stupidity of war. ‘The war doesn’t alter my beliefs or visions. I am not Freudian and never was – Freudianism is only a branch of medical science.’
Lawrence believes that it has caused expression to ‘become mechanical’ alluding to the effect the outbreak of war has had on the mindset of the masses, who are seemingly transfixed upon the questions it poses. It is due to all of this destruction, he argues, we have a ‘want to realise the tremendous non-human quality of life’. He then signs off with ‘It isn’t one’s conscious self that matters so much. We are conscious mad. But at the back of it all we are healthy and sane individuals.’
The significance of this letter is evident when laid alongside the distrust of psychoanalysis he expresses in his opening chapter. He poses some interesting points about the public’s willingness to accept whatever they are told, rather than discovering it out for themselves, believing that it ‘subtly and insidiously suggested to us, gradually inoculated us’ until it became the norm.
But his real wrath is reserved for Freud. He despises Freud’s perception of the unconscious perceiving it as a cave containing a ‘myriad of repulsive little horrors spawned between sex and excrement’ and questions why it cannot contain anything beautiful. No Freudian criticism would be complete without the inclusion of the psychosexual which allows Lawrence to exposes the paradoxical nature of the Oedipus Complex. If we are willing to admit that the incest craving is a normal part of every man’s development why is it that we inhibit it? Is it not such suppression that causes eventual regression and neurosis? An unsettling but necessary observation. Lawrence, never won to suppress anything, ends the chapter with a damning indictment of Freudian unconscious, describing it as ‘the cellar in which the mind keeps its own bastard spawn.’
In 2019, Paul Fillingham and I hope to embark on a digital pilgrimage that will recreate Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage via a memory theatre. Until then, my every waking hour is spent reading and researching this prolific writer. As part of this research I’ve created a 3rd year ‘alternative to the dissertation’ module at Nottingham Trent University in which students have the opportunity to help us think about the aesthetics and functionality of our proposed memory theatre. As part of the module, students create a photo essay about an element of Lawrence’s work or life. The above video (and words below) are by Rebecca Provines. This is her first ever attempt at recording audio and producing a photo essay.
Welcome to the mind of D H Lawrence, a controversial poet, playwright, painter, essayist and literary critic from Eastwood in Nottingham. His birth home stands at 8a Victoria Street and is now home to the Birthplace Museum, where his story began.
An upper-class woman having an affair with a working class game keeper!
Lesbian lovers frolicking in the sea.
Naked men wrestling!
Lawrence’s writing tended to cause a stir, as he often wrote about intimacy and connection. Prudish people everywhere campaigned to have his works banned and his descriptions of the people back in Eastwood turned their families against him.
Life for Lawrence was never easy.
Lawrence’s most famous novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover was published in 1928. He was so desperate for it to get out there that he paid for it be printed privately, circulating subscription copies amongst friends. But it wasn’t until 1960, when Penguin Books were acquitted of obscenity at the Old Bailey, that we were finally able to get our hands on it!
So what was all the fuss about?
Well firstly, there were three versions of the book. My favourite is version two which was originally titled John Thomas and Lady Jane, ahem. Then it became Tenderness, ahh. By the time we get to the final version, the novel is notorious for its emotional [and mainly physical] relationship between Constance Reid and Oliver Mellors, which contains the (then-unprintable) explicit descriptions of their sexual relations. There’s lots of F’s. So much in fact that a lawyer in the court case counted them out!!!
The Rainbow is a family-based novel that features three generations of the Brangwen family. On the surface it may seem like a simple plot, but nothing is ever that simple with Lawrence. Consequently it was also banned for its treatment of sexual desire with 1,011 copies seized and burnt.
For Tom Bragwen, sex is between the paragraphs, readers may use their imagination to decode details […] For Anna and Will Brangwen, desires are described and fragments of their bodies alluded to. However it’s Will and Anna’s daughter Ursula that causes the most controversy. By the time she’s a grown woman, she dares to demand spiritual and intellectual freedom. This results in an affair with a soldier, becoming pregnant before marriage, and just to round it off, a lesbian affair with her teacher.
At the time of publication lesbian relationships were unthinkable in a male dominated society, yet Lawrence was no ordinary man and explored this identity freely…
Ursula lay still in her mistress’s arms, her forehead against the beloved, maddening breast. “I shall put you in,’ said Winifred. But Ursula twined her body about her mistress.
“Tell me the parts you think the publisher will decidedly object to,” Lawrence asked his friend Violet Meynell in July 1915 before its eleven-year ban in Britain. But it was declared “unfit for family-fiction”. Censorship would be a recurring problem for Lawrence in his fiction, poetry and even his paintings.
Lawrence struggled to publish Women in Love (which was the sequel to The Rainbow) for four years after he finished writing it. The novel was then still subject to a string of prosecutions. Amongst many controversial moments, one of the most remembered [and far most entertaining film scenes of all time] is when Birkin and Gerald experiment with naked Japanese wrestling, which has been interpreted by critics and prosecutors as a homosexual act, rather than as an intricate form of art
W. Charles Pilley said in John Bull magazine, “I do not claim to be a literary critic, but I know dirt when I smell it, and here is dirt in heaps—festering, putrid heaps which smell to high Heaven.”
It has been suggested that Lawrence’s fascination with the theme of homosexuality is manifested in Women in Love, and that this could be related to his own sexual orientation, however there is some speculation around these accusations. As I said previously, nothing with Lawrence is ever that simple.
The banning of books is something which doesn’t frequently happen in the UK at current, and as an aspiring-writer myself, I fail to understand on what grounds a court would find it acceptable to try and ban fiction once it has already been published.
[Warning: Lawrence channelled rant coming on] Who is it that has the authority to decide that the public would be better off if they never read the words printed between the covers? The justification behind the censorship of some literature makes me question whether freedom of expression really exists. If people talked about the ‘slew’ topics that are covered in literature then those individuals may be more comfortable with their lives, instead of society being full of depressed, middle aged people who attempt to ban literature that may influence the free expression of people of all ages. [Rant over. PHEW!]
The general controversy of a book can sometimes end up doing the opposite, undesired effect, as people are motivated to find out what all the fuss is about. When Lady Chatterley’s Lover was finally published the demand was so great Penguin had to ration out books to shops! Foyles Bookshop sold their entire stock in the first fifteen minutes!
The printers couldn’t keep up with the demand.
Lawrence paved the way forward for the permissive society and greater freedom of expression for all. Writers like E. L. James, author of the Fifty Shades trilogy, has become a household name after writing about the kinky desires of her submissive protagonist Anastasia Steele. Ironically, I suspect Lawrence would be disgusted by E.L. James for vulgarising the bond between man and woman. Although he wrote about sex in his books he was rebelling against the over intellectualisation of culture. Lawrence was actually rather a prudish man himself, believing sex was a connection between two people which can never be reversed. He did, however, believe that a woman should be submissive, but this was nothing to do with whips and chains, rather his odd views on the power relations between the genders.
I would argue that writers like Lawrence, without meaning too, have created a platform for ‘slew’ and ‘naughty’ books, where the public want to read about the exciting and (to be quite frank) sexual relationships of those (somewhat fictional) characters who lead more ‘exciting’ lives than us.
“For my life is burning an invisible flame. The glare of the light of myself, as I burn on the fuel of death, is not enough to hide from me the source and the issue. For what is a life but a flame that bursts off the surface of darkness, and tapers into the darkness again? But the death that issues differs from the death that was the source. At least, I shall enrich death with a potent shadow, if I do not enrich life.” The Trespasser.
The Trespasser was published in 1912, one year after Lawrence’s very weighty debut The White Peacock. Originally titled The Saga of Siegmund,The Trespasser is a romantic story without a happy resolution. A married man sets off for a short break with another woman and on his return he commits suicide: Presumably because he can’t return back to family life, or possibly because he knows there is no longevity in the adulterous affair. Unrequited love is a recurring theme in The White Peacock, which more or less explores three unfulfilling mismatched relationships.
The Trespasser mirrors the real life experiences of Lawrence’s close friend Helen Corke, whom he knew from his school teaching days in Croydon. In August 1909, Corke spent five days on the Isle of Wight with her music teacher, who committed suicide on his return. But there were other parallels for Lawrence that may have affected his writing of the novel, namely that Corke had spurned his advances during an uncharacteristically randy period in his life. In 1912 Lawrence would convince Frieda Weekley, a married woman and mother of three children, to leave her family and elope with him to Europe.
Lawrence persistently drew from real life throughout his career. Sometimes this got him into trouble, other times he had to be bailed out by his agent when libel was threatened. But in this instance he sought permission from Corke, working directly from her 14 page memoir The Freshwater Diary. Lawrence described the memoir as a ‘prose poem’ and urged Corke to publish it for herself. She did this in 1933 as Neutral Ground. She would go on to write several biographical works on Lawrence, including one about his early relationship with Jessie Chambers, entitled D.H. Lawrence’s Princess. In her 90s, Corke would publish In our Infancy which would go on to win the Whitbread Award in 1975.
Of Lawrence’s interest in her tragic love affair, Corke wrote: “Of our five days’ experience in the Island enough has been written. Perhaps it was not unique – perhaps it only anticipated that of many lovers who, during the World War that was coming, were fated to compress the happiness of a lifetime into a few glowing days, and to part under the shadow of death. But something of its intensity and detachment, together with the memory of his own actual proximity to the scene, fired the imagination of D.H Lawrence.”
Jane Heath has suggested that Lawrence’s interest in Corke’s diary and his desire to turn the experience into a novel “had to do with the unparalleled importance literature assumed in their lives. Both writers idealized literature as means of negotiating the difficulties that beset them in their lives.”
Writing can act as a form of therapy, in that it enables us to make sense of the world and exert a level of control on the page that is not always possible in reality. But writing was more than just cathartic for Lawrence. It was at the very essence of his being. He was notoriously restless and would go on to cross continents during his ‘savage pilgrimage’, but he was largely unable to ‘move forwards’ until he had embedded his experiences of place on the page. As Anthony Burgess writes:
“A single week’s visit was enough for him to extract the very essence of the island (Sardinia) and its people, and six weeks were enough to set it all down in words without a single note as an aide-mémoire. This feat anticipates a greater one, which still makes Australian writers gloomy – the recreation of a whole continent, along with a wholly accurate prophecy of its political future, out of a few weeks stay in a suburb of Sydney.”
The same ethos could be applied to the writing of The Tresspasser. Prior to completion, Lawrence broke off his engagement with Louie Burrows, and immediately attempted to lure Helen Corke down to Limpsfield Common for a walk and a sleepover. But she turned him down. A letter to Corke dated 12 July 1911 sees Lawrence dramatically apologising for trying it on once too often, confessing “I’ll never ask you again, nor anybody. It is a weakness of mine.”
Helen Corke allowed Lawrence to fictionalise her relationship because she knew he would do justice to the memory of her dead lover. Although they initially agreed to wait five years before doing this, the date was rushed forward – after much pleading from Lawrence – due to financial difficulties he was experiencing. To this extent, writing served a more basic function: It put food on his plate. It paid his rent.
In the novel Siegmund married Beatrice at seventeen before he’d had time to know himself and now twenty years later, the two are strangers. He can’t return to “fake the old life up” any longer. As things can’t work with Helena, he commits suicide. But even this creates awkwardness, as depicted by the attempted removal of his body: “The man went into the room, trembling, hesitating. He approached the body as if fascinated. Shivering, he took it round the loins and tried to lift it down. It was too heavy.”
There are suggestions that Siegmund has sunstroke, that he’s feeling depressed, but it seemed to me the real problem was that he was unable to maintain his affair and had to return back to his humdrum married life. Helena – whom he has the affair with – has ‘inhibitions’. It’s been suggested that this is because Corke herself was ambiguous about her sexuality. Like her novel, she represented ‘neutral ground.’
Although Helena and Siegmund are lovers, they never quite connect throughout their holiday together. What appears to excite Siegmund the most is the journey, the anticipation of arriving somewhere new. Take this description from the boat: “Standing on the deck, he gave himself to the breeze and to the sea, feeling like one of the ruddy sails—as if he were part of it all. All his body radiated amid the large, magnificent sea-moon like a piece of colour.” Lawrence always seems happiest when homing in on something, when setting off. It’s the finality of arrival that’s the problem. As in all of his novels, nature is the one consistent that never fails to please: “The way home lay across country, through deep little lanes where the late foxgloves sat seriously, like sad hounds; over open downlands, rough with gorse and ling, and through pocketed hollows of bracken and trees.”
For Helena and Siegmund, something is always amiss. They never quite connect. At one point Helena remarks that Sigemund fails to reply to her so often she feels it best to leave him alone with his “sense of tragedy”. Elsewhere they discuss losing each other. Not what you’d expect on a dirty week away which should be full of connections and finding each other. On the rare occasions they do connect it’s an opportunity for Lawrence to develop his manifesto for male – female relationships which would become so integral to his later work: “It was the long, supreme kiss, in which man and woman have one being, Two-in-one, the only Hermaphrodite.”
Language is a problem for these doomed lovers as well. Siegmund is always probing Helena with questions such as “won’t you tell me what is the matter?” so that he can help her resolve them. But for Helena “speech was often difficult to render into plain terms” and so she is unable to articulate exactly what is eating away at her. Helena is, as Jane Heath has argued, “outside language” and therefore she is unobtainable. This is beautifully captured in a sea metaphor.
“The sea played by itself, intent on its own game. Its aloofness, its self-sufficiency, are its great charm. The sea does not give and take, like the land and the sky. It has no traffic with the world. It spends its passion upon itself. Helena was something like the sea, self-sufficient and careless of the rest.”
Lawrence is fascinated by individuals who are ‘outside language’ and who dare to live life by and on their own terms. As an author who faced censorship throughout his life and chose to live his life in exile, he was consistently outside of language. It is this that would drive him to “express the unspeakable and to hint at the unutterable”, as critic James Douglas wrote in his review of The Rainbow. Lawrence’s fourth novel features a brief lesbian fling between Ursula Bragwen and her school tutor Miss Winifred Inger. Was the casting of this taboo relationship influenced by his friendship with Helen Corke and the awareness that ‘neutral grounds’ exist within sexual identity?
Jane Heath Helen Corke and D.H. Lawrence: Sexual Identity and Literary Relations Feminist Studies Vol. 11, No. 2 (Summer, 1985), pp. 317-342
Jane Heath Helen Corke and D.H. Lawrence: The Croydon Years (University of Texas Press, 1965)
D.H. Lawrence The Trespasser (1912)
Helen Corke Neutral Ground: A Chronicle (1933)
Helen Corke In Our Infancy Part 1: 1882-1912 (Cambridge University Press, 1975)
The following guest blog is an extended version of one of Dave Brocks’ columns for the Kimberley and Eastwood Advertiser.
The refreshing honesty characteristic of D.H. Lawrence continues to get up certain middle-class noses, almost a century on. A letter Lawrence penned to his theatre friend, “Bertie” Herbert Farjeon, whilst staying at Myrtle Cottage, Pangbourne-on-Thames, Berkshire, in the “Monstrous hot” August of 1919, with reference to this otherwise pretty place as “repulsive”, saying it “sort of smells”, due to the river, women wearing scent on their clothes and the petrol, adding “I suffer by the nose”, has recently sold at an Edinburgh auction house for a slightly less than fragrant price. . .one indicating a certain sniffiness on the part of collectors!
The lease on Lawrence’s home at Mountain Cottage, Middleton-by-Wirksworth having ended, he and Frieda began accepting hospitality where they could, at times virtually living out of suitcases. Efforts to obtain passports, permitting Frieda to visit family in Germany and Lawrence to blaze a trail to America, had been thwarted. They must wait until the Peace treaty was ratified, Thomas Cook told them.
So when a friend, since 1915, Rosalind Baynes, an enlightened free-thinker and pacifist with three children and then undergoing a messy divorce, kindly offered to loan them for a while her 18th century cottage, The Myrtles, in Pangbourne, and having other acquaintances in the area, it was there they went. Myrtle cottage had a large garden with apple and pear trees. Drawing on nature, for a display of self-deprecating humour, Lawrence’s letter records that “an old, very seedy-looking shabby old robin attends me perpetually when I work in Ros’s garden. He reminds me too much of myself.”
Attracted by this southerly location near the Thames, Lawrence’s sisters, Emily and Ada, took the opportunity to visit, bringing the children. There were opportunities to sail, take a cruise to Reading, enjoy picnics and walks on the Downs.
Amazingly, in the midst of so much upheaval, socialising and fun, Lawrence remained focused on his literary career, exploring every outlet for his work. He came closer to finding a publisher for his great novel, Women in Love. Having written his studies of the “classics”, essays on modern American literature were begun. As a favour, he painstakingly refined his loyal friend Koteliansky’s translation of Ukrainian philosopher, Shestov, contributing an introduction to the book. Prefaces for New Poems and his play Touch and Go were produced. He revised his novella, The Fox, although it felt like an act of “mutilation” to him!
These days the good folk of Pangbourne are happy to recall how nice safe author, Kenneth Graham, of Wind in the Willows fame, one lived there, and that it is the setting for the comical Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome, thus boosting tourism. Lawrence’s stay is largely over-looked. When a Pangbourne letter hits the headlines he’s dismissed by one proud resident as a “misery-guts”. Yet, all he’s done is tell the truth – that most perfumes, and all car fumes, are offensive to the undulled senses. The collective madness of war and state opposition to his creative genius were grounds enough for Lawrence to confide in this private correspondence he was feeling “sick of mankind”.