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”.
- ‘Pangbourne is repulsive’ (bbc.co.uk)
- Letter sells for £1,000 (bbc.co.uk)
- Lawrence letter kicks up a stink (independent.co.uk)
- Pangbourne-on-Thames website (pangbourne-on-thames.com)
- Farewell to Europe (nottingham.ac.uk)
- 100 best novels number 25: Three Men in a Boat (theguardian.com)
- 100 best novels number 38: The Wind in the Willows (theguardian.com)
- Geoff Dyer: Lawrence, a letter and me (theguardian.com)
- Dave Brock resigns from D.H. Lawrence Society over ‘petting zoo’ (independent.co.uk)
- Dave Brock’s columns in the Eastwood & Kimberley Advertiser (eastwoodadvertiser.co.uk)