#MondayBlogs Poet Becky Cullen on Miriam Leivers

Becky_Cullen DHL

Sons and Lovers has been a massive influence on poet Becky Cullen ever since she came across it at college in 1983-5. But she’s never been happy with the way that Lawrence drew Miriam Leivers. In this guest blog Becky explains how a Creative Writing exercise gave her the chance to tell Miriam’s side of the story



For Stephen


My brothers whooped like savages when they saw you coming up the hill:

romping round the farm with sticks and snares, you boys had a grand time.

I set the tea and waited; later, in our almost private minutes,

you went too far, pushing the swing too high, leaving too late for the train.


Which you knew would drive your mother to distraction, bristling,

what’s that Leivers girl got that’s so fascinating? Well, for a start,

I had you, my own exotic mushroom, watching you paint, stopping

myself from smoothing the loose lock of hair behind your pretty ear.


I know your mother quaintly warned you not to spoon and do,

but it wasn’t me you took bare-faced, bare-shouldered to the theatre.

In the end, the red carnations you spat out did me a favour.

Now you’re galavanting somewhere hot with someone’s wife called Frieda.


This poem was written during my MA in Creative Writing at NTU – our task was to write something using quatrains, a stanza or 4 lines. So it is interesting to me that in trying to produce something with a shape I fell back on Sons and Lovers, a book that shaped my experience of reading so much that it has filtered into my writing.

I read Sons and Lovers for ‘A’ level at Bilborough College in 1983-5, taught by the formidable English and Drama specialist Gilly Archer. It’s no surprise then that my recollections of Sons and Lovers are of the drama of the novel, the tensions between the characters, and Lawrence’s attempts to let the reader know exactly what is simmering under the surface.

This poem deals with the figure of Miriam Leivers, and her relationship with Paul Morel, the novel’s protagonist. Paul visits the family farm I draw into the poem, playing with Miriam’s sturdy brothers. Alone, Paul instigates intense conversations about their relationship, in which Paul criticises Miriam for being too spiritual in her approach. They have an on-off relationship for 7 years, in which time Paul becomes friends with Clara Dawes, taking her out to the theatre, and eventually having a physical relationship with her. Neither of these women please Mrs Morel, Paul’s greatest love, who is disgusted that Paul might ‘spoon and do’ with anyone. So there are details from the novel I’ve drawn on in this poem.

Sons and Lovers is a semi-autobiographical novel, which is another way of saying it’s based on Lawrence’s relationship with Jessie Chambers, a girl from a local farming family who first submitted his work for publication. Fiction is fiction, but tensions still run so high about the representation of Miriam/Jessie, that the Chambers family have allowed no access to their land for Lawrence-related filming and so on. This poem finishes with a similar blend of fictional and factual detail in the final line, a reference to Lawrence’s elopement with Frieda von Richthofen, the wife of his university lecturer.

I always felt that the character of Miriam was drawn rather unfairly. She comes across as being a bit drippy, and Paul is quite cruel to her on occasions – I suppose this poem is an attempt to allow her to voice her side of the story. I recently re-read the novel, which was fascinating, developing a new empathy, as mother of a son myself now, for Mrs. Morel.

baby dhl
Image from http://www.dawnoftheunread.com

Sons and Lovers is so enmeshed in my literary influences that I cannot smell flowers in moonlight without thinking ‘the beauty of the night made her want to shout’, or look down on the lights of Goose Fair without thinking of Paul Morel doing exactly the same thing in the final paragraphs of Sons and Lovers. The novel feels like part of my writing heritage.

Finally, this poem is dedicated to Stephen Lowe, the Nottingham playwright whose play Empty Bed Blues draws on Lawrence’s life and work. Stephen encouraged me to do a Creative Writing MA, and to write every day. His encouragement has been a great gift, so it was appropriate to send him this poem as a birthday present one year. I like the idea that the poem brings together three Nottingham writers in this way, so there is a continuing dialogue in the present, between writers both on and off the page.

Further Reading 


#MondayBlogs DH Lawrence: Interpreting literary heritage through creative writing…

heather green

Over the past couple of years we have seen the DH Lawrence Heritage Centre at Durban House converted into a ‘beauty lounge‘ and the subsequent artefacts that comprised the museum are currently homeless. But not all is doom and gloom. Heather Green, a first year PhD student at Nottingham Trent University, is researching the potential of creative writing to interpret literary heritage and thereby engage with new audiences… 

It is often said that texts we consider to be “classics” within English Literature are considered so because they continue to resonate with each coming generation. My research explores how we present these classics within the museums and heritage sites devoted to their authors. Many literary heritage sites struggle to interpret their collections in a way that I feel is engaging enough to inspire new readers. The trouble, I suspect, is with the nature of literary collections: antiquarian books or archives can be displayed, but must be conserved. The easiest story to tell is often the life of the author; interesting in relation to ideas of inspiration, but not really the reason an author would be considered part of our literary heritage. If an author’s legacy is one of stories which stand the test of time, it is surely ideas and themes which you would expect to encounter at a museum devoted to them.

The exploration of Newstead Abbey, Byron’s ancestral seat in Nottinghamshire, was the first inspiration for my research into how literary heritage sites interpret their collections. In my opinion, although much of Newstead was engaging for those who were either already engaged with Byron’s works or simply interested in historic houses, not much was done to explore his legacy for those who were complete novices. This, I felt, was an aspect particularly missing for a younger audience – always a key audience for museums, but not a group ready to directly engage with Byron’s work. It was an ideal audience, however, to explore some of Byron’s heritage. I felt the difficulties of being born with a condition that made you different, the pain of standing out from the crowd and the embracing and exaggerating of individuality were ideal subjects for those younger visitors. But how to do it? How to make it engaging? Research suggests that fictional narrative is more engaging that the didactic, and as a method this seemed appropriate for sites dedicated to the written word.

The result of these musings was a PhD proposal, and a picture book entitled Mad, Bad and Dangerous Crow, which endeavoured (rather clunkily) to take ideas of Byron’s literary heritage and present them through a new piece of creative writing. The text was illustrated by Jonathan Green and printed as a one-off accompaniment to my MA research.


In relation to Lawrence, I recently presented a paper proposing the use of creative practice to respond to Lawrence’s more controversial aspects. It should be noted that by controversial, I was not referring to the salacious and sexual content which causes such scandal on publication, but instead the elements which might raise eyebrows when reading Lawrence today. Lawrence remains difficult, because although so forward thinking in many ways, his writing can also be considered problematic. We are left with a dilemma when heralding him as – for example – a queer modernist writer, because his imagined relationship between Ursula and Miss Ingram in The Rainbow is short-lived, stereotypical and ultimately regretted. This aspects are thus often ignored (or skated over) in sites devoted to his heritage. I suggested that responding to these aspects through new creative fiction could address these issues without negating Lawrence’s impact.

My paper was theoretical, but there was substantial interest about taking the idea further from potential contributors.  Sean Richardson (an English literature PhD student at NTU) and myself are currently aiming to edit and produce an anthology of creative writing which would present various responses to Lawrence’s work; such as female responses to his portrayal of women, or a response by a queer writer to his portrayal of queerness. Our intention is to put out of call for contributions this summer, and perhaps the publication will inspire a cohort of new readers to delve into the unique wonders and frustrations of Lawrence’s works. If it does, I would consider it an effective contribution to Lawrence’s heritage.

Heather was recently commissioned to produce interpretation for children at Beeston Canalside Heritage Centre, which took the form of a children’s picture book. Dog and Duck’s Canal Adventure can be seen at the Canalside Heritage Centre itself and will be available to purchase as a picture book later this year. Heather is also a vital component of the final year English module ENGL30512, where she gives students critical feedback on their proposed designs for our digital ‘memory theatre’. 


#MondayBlogs In Search of Joseph Conrad

Conrad and DHL
Image adapted from Dawn of the Unread

Joseph Conrad (3 December 1857 – 3 August 1924) and DH Lawrence (11 September 1885 – 2 March 1930) lived relatively short lives around the same time. But they weren’t fans of each other. Conrad once said of Lawrence that he “had started well, but had gone wrong. Filth. Nothing but obscenities.” He died before the publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but it doesn’t take much to imagine what he would have made of it. Conrad, like Lawrence, had an acerbic tongue, claiming Herman Melville “knew nothing of the seas” to which Lawrence retorted Melville’s “vision is . . . far sounder than Joseph Conrad’s, because Melville doesn’t sentimentalize the ocean and the sea’s unfortunates. Snivel in a wet handy like Lord Jim.” Then just to rub it in a bit, added that pessimism “pervades all Conrad and such folks—the Writers among the Ruins. I can’t forgive Conrad for being so sad and giving in.”

Both writers were subject to glowing accolades from F.R Leavis and are acknowledged for their contribution to modernism. Whereas Conrad highlighted the similarities between London and darkest Africa in Heart of Darkness, the consistently restless Lawrence couldn’t get far enough away from the metropolis, crossing the globe in order to reconnect through primitive cultures.

It is with this in mind we welcome this guest blog from author Ben Zabulis, who, like us here at the digital pilgrimage, is retracing the steps of a literary figure. The following is Ben’s account of Gavin Young’s book on Joseph Conrad.

conrad books

‘I remember my youth and the feeling that will never come back any more – the feeling that I could last for ever, outlast the sea, the earth, and all men; the deceitful feeling that lures us on to joys, to perils, to love, to vain effort – to death; the triumphant conviction of strength , the heat of life in the handful of dust, the glow in the heart that with every year grows dim, grows cold, grows small, and expires, too soon, too soon – before life itself.’

So lamented Joseph Conrad (Polish-British writer) in the short-story Youth and a passage which deeply impressed a 15-year old Gavin Young: ‘Who was this unknown author telling us to wake up and start living?’ G. Young certainly did, becoming a successful writer (Return to the Marshes, Slow Boats to China) after years as a war reporter and foreign correspondent for the Observer.  ‘Conrad had taught me,’ he reasoned, ‘that there was really no question of choice when a romantically inclined young man is faced with adventure and life on the one hand and a battened-down existence on the other.’ In fact, Conrad’s influence was certainly deep-rooted, Young senior bore The Mirror of the Sea as a talisman during WW2, whilst Young junior, not surprisingly, selected Youth when covering more recent upheavals: ‘a reminder that my hectic life was probably on the right track.’

It was the tiresomeness of war which pushed Gavin Young in to writing books, culminating some years later in a little hero worship and a ‘pilgrimage’ through parts of Southeast Asia: ‘a search for scenes and ghosts known to that heavily accented foreigner from Eastern Europe.’ The result, In Search of Conrad, was published in 1991; winner of the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award.

To me, In search of Conrad is a book which works on three levels: firstly, a hugely entertaining travel book in its own right as the journey directs us from Bangkok to Singapore to Indonesia; secondly, an absorbing anecdotal layer of Conrad’s maritime meanderings and, thirdly, a fascinating correlation between people Conrad encountered or had heard of during those years and their subsequent literary reincarnations. ‘Part mariner’s log and part detective story’ reckoned JG Ballard, and so it is.

All the while Gavin Young’s love of Southeast Asia resonates throughout, evidenced by colourful and romantic descriptions of landscape, folk, flora and fauna. With humour he recounts the tackling of surly bureaucracy, dodgy hotels and a number of uncomfortable trips aboard ferries and yachts, island hopping between Java, Borneo and Celebes; exotic out of the way places enriched by well-defined route maps and Salim’s superbly sketched illustrations.

One doesn’t need to be a student of Conrad’s work to enjoy this book. A Dramatis Personae introduces the cast while Gavin Young scours the region skilfully interweaving fact and fiction as to how, when and where Austin Williams became Jim (Lord Jim), while Charles Olmeijer became Kasper Almayer, Syed Abdullah Al Joofree became Syed Abdullah and Captain William Lingard became Captain Tom Lingard (Almayer’s Folly, An Outcast of the Islands and The Rescue). Anguished characters all, rivalry, ruin, love and loneliness; shortcomings in some way relevant to their real-life counterparts. And what of them? What happened next? With library research and the tracking down of surviving descendants we get to know. Immortality? Or a long forgotten resting place in a far off land? – read it and find out!

Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski (1857-1924), Gavin Young (1928-2001): ‘It was strange. I had set out to follow Conrad from his first escape from death as Second Officer Korzeniowski – I could hear Captain Henry Ellis: “Polish? Russian? God knows” – in the Bangka Strait, to malarial Borneo where he had found Almayer, and to the Gulf of Siam where he had become master of the Otago. There had been storms and cholera and pirates on the way, but in the end it had come to this – a peaceful grave in a sunny cemetery in Canterbury in Kent.’



#MondayBlogs DH Lawrence and Arnold Bennett – Men from the North?

DHL and Bennett

This guest blog is an excerpt from Stephen Bailey’s talk to the DH Lawrence Society 12 October 2016. 

Although Arnold Bennett was not an exact contemporary of Lawrence (born 1867, he was of the previous generation) it’s interesting to compare the two writers. Firstly, there are remarkable similarities in their careers, for example, despite using them repeatedly as settings for fiction, both came to hate their home towns, and rarely returned. Furthermore, Bennett’s career gives insight into and perspective on the literary world that Lawrence entered around 1910, when Bennett was well established.

Family life

Bennett’s upbringing was more middle-class than Lawrence’s, his father being a solicitor, having worked his way up, by great effort, via pawnbroking, from being a potter. Also, Bennett was the eldest of six children, which gave him a strong sense of responsibility. His mother was not the dominant partner in the marriage, and Bennett was far more influenced by his domineering father, who expected him to become a solicitor too. Lawrence was of course heavily influenced by his mother, who passed on her strong ethical code. Was this a crucial difference between the two writers’ development?


Although both were brought up in a nonconformist atmosphere, there was an important distinction between Lawrence’s Congregationalism and Bennett’ s Methodism. While the young Lawrence appears to have enjoyed attending chapel and relished the theological discussion, Bennett saw nothing but hypocrisy in the chapel, even as a schoolboy. This may be partly explained by the differences between the sects, but was also due to Lawrence’s character, searching for the ideal country, society or community (which he called Ramanin). He is often described as a ‘religious’ writer.

Bennett, by contrast, was essentially a Fabian, aware of the drawbacks of Edwardian England but intent on a programme of steady improvement. But it is notable that both wrote fictional accounts of church and chapel going that heavily satirised the ceremonies, as in Lawrence’s Fanny and Annie, or chapters of The Old Wives’ Tale. There was a world of difference between the emotionalism and sentimentality of Wesleyan Methodism and the harder, more intellectual and tougher culture of Congregationalism.


Early careers

Lawrence and Bennett followed an early career path that has become well-trodden: fleeing the provinces for the potentialities of London, moving from the non-literary world into writing short stories/ journalism, and then attaining the status of novelist with a largely autobiographical first novel. Bennett was 31 at this point, Lawrence, always more precocious, only 25.

Worth mentioning that Lawrence seems to have had his first sexual experience at this time, in 1910, whereas Bennett appears to have waited till he was about 35, when living in Paris. One suggestion is that Bennett’s strict Methodist upbringing led him to sublimate all his energies into writing, while Lawrence, although quite puritanical, was more sexually adventurous.

Bennett worked initially in a London law office, but started writing and quite soon became editor of a magazine called Woman, as well as writing serials, short stories and assorted journalism. This was in some respects a golden period for young writers, with a wide variety of periodicals buying articles and stories for the newly-literate masses. His work rate was remarkable, as evidenced by his summary for 1899:

‘This year I have written 335,340 words, grand total. 228 articles and stories have actually been published. My total earnings were £592 …’

He became prosperous, renting a large house in Fulham, and providing for several members of his family. He was well aware of the attractions of the middlebrow market, contrasting the difficulty of producing his first serious novel with the rewards of writing a popular handbook (Journalism for Women):

‘How different the reception of this book from the frigid welcome given to A Man from the North! The latter, a serious and laborious work, has waited, after acceptance, nearly two years for publication. Journalism for Women, thrown off in about eight weeks, is to be printed and published in less than a month.’

Both Bennett and Lawrence worked in various genres, producing plays, short stories, reviews, non-fiction articles and textbooks as well as novels. Edwardian writers specialised less than their modern counterparts (Bennett also wrote poetry, but even fans like Margaret Drabble find it terrible).

But Bennett wasn’t purely interested in producing potboilers. Like Lawrence he was well-read in continental literature, admiring Zola, Maupassant and Chekhov. He saw his serious writing helping to establish his reputation, thereby inflating his wider earnings, and went on to produce Anna of the Five Towns, and then his masterpiece, The Old Wives’ Tale (1908).

There are obvious similarities between this and Women in Love; both are concerned with the fortunes of a pair of sisters, although with Bennett’s book we follow their whole adult lives – lengthy time-scapes are a Bennett speciality. It is notable how both writers seem to be able to present a rounded and complex picture of their female characters, yet, unlike Lawrence, Bennett inhabited a highly masculine, clubby world for the first half of his life.

Gudrun Brangwen (Glenda Jackson) and Ursula Brangwen (Jennie Linden) from Women in Love

The glaring difference between the two is, of course, financial. Lawrence led a hand-to-mouth existence for most of his life, living in friends’ country cottages or cheaply abroad, at times relying on handouts from friends and family. By contrast, Bennett was one of the most successful writers of an era when taxes were low and luxuries cheap. His Rolls, his yacht and his country house made him an easy target as a ‘champagne socialist’. At the time when Lawrence was publishing his first novel Bennett was earning, in modern money, over £1m per year. Oddly, other successful writers of the period – HG Wells, for instance, or Kipling, were not attacked in the same way. Possibly Bennett’s denigrators were jealous of his sales figures?

Notable that both writers make continued use of their hometowns, long after having moved away and despite the dislike they express for these places. Expatriate experience is used in a similar way, so that Bennett’s Sophia lives in Paris (The Old Wives’ Tale), as he had, while Lawrence’s Alvina (The Lost Girl) and Aaron in Aaron’s Rod move from Eastwood to Italy (as he had).

Lawrence and Bennett

They never met, but were clearly aware of each other’s work and had friends, as well as an agent, in common.

During WW1 Bennett, Wells and Galsworthy protested against the banning of The Rainbow in 1915. In 1918 Bennett worked for the Ministry of Information and Lawrence unsuccessfully applied to him for a job.

Bennett had a generally positive view of L’s work – but it was not reciprocated.

In 1913 Lawrence wrote from Italy:

‘I hate England and its hopelessness. I hate Bennett’s resignation. Tragedy ought really to be a great kick at misery. But Anna of the Five Towns seems like an acceptance – so does all the modern stuff since Flaubert. I hate it.’

Lawrence felt the same about the sisters in The Old Wives’ Tale and apparently wrote The Lost Girl to show that there was an alternative course for women ie marry an Italian and live in rural squalor. But how many modern readers would see this as preferable?

Lawrence seems to have disliked urban life and mainly lived in country (partly for economy). Bennett had a country house but is a distinctly urban writer. Notable that most of Lawrence’s time abroad was spent in rural areas, whereas Bennett lived mainly in Paris.

In December 1915, Lawrence wrote to Pinker (presumably about The Rainbow):

‘Tell AB that all rules of construction hold good only for novels that are copies of other novels. A book which is not a copy of other books has its own construction, and what he calls faults, he being an old imitator, I call characteristics … Still, I think he is generous.’

It was unusual for Lawrence to express gratitude (for defence of his book). Of course, some of Lawrence’s comments can be seen as the younger generation taking a kick at the older – fair game. Professional jealousy seems natural for writers!

Several entries in Bennett’s Journals show that he read Lawrence and had a high opinion of him. Bennett wrote in an Evening Standard review of 1930, just after Lawrence’s death:

‘Lawrence was a novelist, a dramatist, a poet, a critic, a descriptive writer and often first-rate in every branch. And he was a first class journalist too. He chose his subjects well. He handled them well – clearly, succinctly, picturesquely, beautifully. He didn’t flourish his pen before beginning, and when he had finished he knew he had finished, and stopped. Not a word wasted. The subjects chosen were important, elemental, fundamental, and he struck at once deep down into the core of them.’

Stephen Bailey is the author of Heartlands: A Guide to DH Lawrence’s Midland Roots (Troubador, £9.99)