A Memorial Tribute to Rosemary Howard

I’ve recently taken up the post of archivist at the DH Lawrence Society with the aim of putting the DH Lawrence Society newsletter in chronological order and digitizing it so that it’s available to the wider public. Therefore I was very interested, and saddened, to read this glowing tribute from Christopher Pollnitz for Rosemary Howard, the former Lawrence Society secretary and Newsletter editor who recently passed away. Unfortunately, I will never get to meet this inspirational woman but this testament vividly brings her to life as well as cementing her contribution towards DH Lawrence Studies.

Rosemary was always so much fun to be with.  After a meeting with her, I would come away charged with new plans and hopes.  In the decades when she was secretary of the Lawrence Society and editor of the Newsletter, she created an identity for me in the Society.  As someone who lived thirty hours by plane from where the action was, she transformed me into the Newsletter’s “Australian correspondent.”  The role played a key part in the development of my personal academic project.  At the same time Rosemary, with her energy and flair, did not lose sight of her wider goals, of building the Society and Lawrence’s reputation in the UK.  In this tribute I wish to recall how Rosemary’s work on the Newsletter, and on organising the yearly programme of talks and lectures, built bridges between academics and the wider community of Lawrence readers.  She shaped a Society which leading Lawrence scholars felt they could and should address.  A past President like John Worthen gave many of the lectures collected in his volume Experiments at the monthly meetings and annual festivals.  Rosemary had been just as instrumental in forming the Society to which the preceding President, Jim Boulton, gave his farewell address, “A Life in Letters.”

In 1989, during a circuit of the globe on which I visited Lawrence sites in the USA, England, Italy and France, I missed meeting Rosemary.  In the UK I was accessing letters not yet published in the Cambridge edition, and so spent most time in Cambridge with Lin Vasey, though I also visited Jim Boulton in Birmingham.  As I was returning to Australia, Jim Boulton put Rosemary into contact with me.  We exchanged letters about how a copy of the Hiroshige print, Mannen Bridge, came to appear on the cover of Tortoises; for the answer,  I referred Rosemary to Lawrence’s explanation and Lin Vasey’s note in the Letters (v. 175).  Rosemary was curious about every facet of Lawrence research, no matter how abstruse.  Nearby in my files I find a letter asking for a number of Ginette Katz-Roy’s Études Lawrenciennes in which Rosemary had written on Lawrence and Wittgenstein.  Towards the other end of my letter files, in 2006, I am informing Rosemary about discovering some (translated) dialogues of Plutarch that Lawrence had read, and she is setting out for a course at Madingley Park, Cambridge.  There she will be construing speeches from The Peloponnesian War, in Thucydides’ original Greek.

Before my next visit to England, in 1994, Rosemary made a pact.  She would come to hear my Work in Progress paper, on “Death-Paean of a Mother,” at the University of Nottingham, if I joined the Society excursion to Sneinton.  It was a glorious excursion, not least because I got to meet Lawrence’s nieces (and Rosemary’s dear friends), Peggy Needham and Joan King.  The three highlights in Sneinton were William Booth’s birthplace, Lydia Beardsall and Arthur Lawrence’s signatures in the St Stephen’s marriage register, and Green’s Mill.  Recently restored as a working mill, the site was both a science centre and a memorial to George Green (1793-1841).  The nineteenth-century mathematician had come out of nowhere (educationally speaking) to write an Essay in which he proposed the first unified theory of electricity and magnetism.  I wrote my first report for the Newsletter on the excursion.  It shed no light on Green as a mathematician, but it did liken his self-taught genius to that of another son of Nottinghamshire.

In 1996 I sent the Newsletter a report on the Australian Lawrence Society’s excursion to the Loddon Falls, a stream above Thirroul that runs inland from the Bulli Pass.  In the “Adieu Australia” chapter of Kangaroo Richard Lovat Somers hires a “sulky” so that he and Harriett can explore the wildflower-rich bush above the Escarpment.  In biographical fact Lawrence invited the Forresters and Marchbanks, two Nottinghamshire couples whom he and Frieda had met on the ship from Perth to Sydney, to Thirroul for the weekend.  He also hired a motor car and chauffeur for the Sunday, and the three couples were driven to the Falls.  Denis Forrester took photographs of the visit and the outing, two of which appeared in Aldous Huxley’s 1932 edition of the Letters.  The rest were published in Joseph Davis’s D. H. Lawrence at Thirroul (1989).  Using the backdrop of the Falls, Jo Davis and Paul Eggert identified the rocks on which the 1922 party sat, and new photographs were taken with modern counterparts posing on the rocks.

The Australian correspondent never again reached the heights of his first report from down under, but later accounts of a ferry trip to Manly and Narrabeen (corresponding to Chapter 2 of Kangaroo), and of another day – when we sailed on a decommissioned Sydney Harbour ferry, south past the National Park and Thirroul, before putting in at Wollongong Harbour – provided grist for the Newsletter mill.  Rosemary had Australian connections and had visited several times.  Older members of her family had settled in Adelaide, perhaps the most Scottish of Australian cities, and she travelled to the Australian east coast with her beloved Toby.  Toby was one of those heedlessly brave Australian pilots who flew with the RAF on World War II bombing raids over Germany, and one of the lucky few to survive the War.  Whether Toby was a pilot or airman, and whether he flew with the Dambusters, I cannot recall; but Rosemary told me that she still attended RAF reunions to honour his memory.

The Loddon Falls had been a renowned spot for picking wildflowers.  One of the 1922 party, Constance Marchbanks (she has become “Connie” in my mind) was rumoured to have collected and pressed wildflowers.  George Marchbanks was a Society member and there was hope that, if the collection was still in the family, it might be recoverable.  Other Society members, Jean and Tony Temple, had inherited from George Neville the copy of W. T. Gordon’s Our Country’s Flowers and How to Know Them that Lawrence was given as a prize at Nottingham High School.  Wildflowers became a new focus for Lawrence studies, Rosemary giving illustrated lectures on them.

In Cambridge in 2003 I wrote a piece for the Newsletter about the marsh marigolds one sees walking along the Cam to Grantchester.  These favourite flowers Lawrence preferred to call “kingcups” or “mollyblobs.”  When he first arrived in the Isar Valley, he wrote back to Sally Hopkin in Eastwood about the “great hosts of globe flowers, that we call bachelor’s buttons” (L, i. 413), by the river.  I wasn’t sure that “bachelor’s buttons” was another name for kingcups when I sent in a draft of my floral report.  When Rosemary sent back a French postcard of a handsome stand of globe-flowers (Europaeus trollius), I could see at once why Lawrence would compare European globe-flowers, the largest of the ranunculi, with English kingcups.  I have the card still, pinned on my noticeboard.

We shared a love of English and Australian flora.  Rosemary was proud of her cottage garden in Keyworth, and we swapped news of our English country and Australian suburban gardens.  It is a sad irony that her Australian correspondent was not always a punctual letter-writer, a failing she would twit me for; but I could make amends, when she moved to her Cambridge apartment in 2004, by sending her a calendar of Australian wildflowers.

While she was still at Keyworth, she often offered me hospitality in her cottage.  During one visit we drove past the College where she had lectured to the banks of the Trent.  We looked across the river to the further bank, where Paul Morel dug the perilous ledge on which he and Clara Dawes made love.  In a much later airletter she confided her first experiences of D. H. Lawrence.  Because her Edinburgh mentors had discouraged her opening anything by Lawrence, she had been a “late starter,” not beginning to read him until the 1950s.  She had, it struck me, made up for lost time, taking vivacious pleasure in the novels’ erotic passages.

I should mention the January night Rosemary invited me to celebrate Hogmanay at her cottage.  A Scottish tenor was singing Rabbie Burns airs on the record player; there was single malt Scotch whisky; there was haggis on the table and perhaps even some Barossa Valley grenache; there was conversation befitting friends with like minds and a singing of Auld Lang Syne.  Late that night I drove through the lanes of Nottinghamshire to the university hall of residence with great care.  I had had too much haggis, I fear.

Queensland-born P. R. (“Inky”) Stephensen is known principally for publishing The Paintings of D. H. Lawrence (1929); his papers are held in the Mitchell Library wing of the Library of New South Wales.  In his papers is an account of Lawrence’s funeral, sent by a London friend, Frank Budgen, who had chanced to be in Vence at the time of Lawrence’s death.  A self-taught painter, Budgen is known principally for his friendship with James Joyce.  When I contacted his daughter, Joan Budgen, she was pleased to allow publication of the letter and even hunted through her father’s papers for further information.  There she found a photograph of the wreath of carnations that Frank Budgen, his friend Louis Sargent and their wives had taken to the grave and propped, headstone-like, against the cemetery wall.

Rosemary advised that an article on Budgen’s description of the funeral was better suited for the Journal of the D. H. Lawrence Society than the Newsletter, and she then helped finalise arrangements for its publication with the Journal’s editor, Catherine Greensmith.  The account came out in 1997, allowing David Ellis to use it in the third volume of the Cambridge biography.

Well ahead of time, Rosemary booked me in to give a paper on “Editing Last Poems” to the February 1999 meeting of the Society.  John Worthen borrowed an overhead projector so that we could all compare images of the “Nettles and Last Poems notebooks and see how errors and omissions in the Florence edition of Last Poems had been transmitted to recent texts of the late poetry.  Bethan Jones and John asked most of the questions, but everyone seemed to follow and enjoy the presentation.  When the paper was published in 2000, I had made a first and decisive step towards the Cambridge edition of The Poems.

On 11 June 2003 – it was Rosemary’s birthday, she told me – she booked me in for another talk to the Society, this time on Kangaroo.  She was concerned how some Society members might react to my chosen themes, homosexuality and violence in the novel, but on the night I went blithely on, confident that nothing I said would shock Rosemary.  Once I’d finished, John leaned across to Bethan and said, “Ask him.”  So my paper came to be published in the 2006-2007 Society Journal, which under Bethan’s editorship had grown into a substantial publication.  Looking at the article again, I notice how much in the opening pages comes from the Australian correspondent’s reports to the Newsletter.

Earlier in 2003 I had driven from Cambridge to hear Andrew Harrison deliver a good  paper on the versions of “England, My England.”  Both Andrew and Bethan were in the audience when I presented a very detailed history of the transmission of Birds, Beasts and Flowers to the March 2006 conference at Université Paris X.  This time I didn’t carry many of my listeners with me on the difficult narrative of composition, revision and variants; but when I spoke with Andrew after the presentation, and asked if he would accept a written-up version of the paper for the first number of the Journal of D. H. Lawrence Studies, he said, “Yes, please.”

I consulted with Rosemary, by then in Cambridge, about writing up the Paris lecture, particularly about variants in “Bibbles.”  In the poem manuscript, after she has disgraced herself by devouring excrement, the master of the little dog decides to “wallop” her “with a juniper twig”; in the corrected typescript, the punishment is to “dust you a bit”; in the corrected proofs, he chooses to “skelp” her with the twig.  The transmission of Birds, Beasts and Flowers told me “skelp” was Lawrence’s preferred verb, but it was good to have this endorsed by Rosemary, who explained what a “skelping” meant in Scotland (and northern England, according to the OED).  Scuffling boys would skelp each other; naughty boys were skelped for indiscipline.

It was still fun to visit and write to Rosemary in Cambridge, and her niece Christina Marshall was sometimes able to help her travel back for Eastwood meetings.  She remained an alert and omnivorous reader.  I received an airletter about her reading up on Peter Warlock (aka Philip Heseltine) and listening to CDs of Elizabethan music.  Some unlucky falls restricted her mobility, but when she couldn’t get to a course on The Rainbow, her fellow students came to her, in Alder Court.  When Andrew Harrison sent me a copy of Molly Mahood’s Poet as Botanist for review – Mahood pronounces Lawrence the “laureate” of the wildflowers – she took a keen interest in a work that brought together two of her great loves.  She remained a feisty critic of Lawrence, denouncing his disparagement of Hamlet in Twilight in Italy.  In vain did I point out that there were at least a dozen references to this Shakespearean tragedy in The Poems, that his disrespect was a pose.  Eventually I made use of Rosemary’s strictures in a paper I gave in Lismore, New South Wales, comparing Lawrence and Joyce’s Hamlets.

My aim in this tribute to Rosemary has not only been to recall thankfully over three decades of advice, support and friendship.  It is to record how she refashioned and steered the Society to ensure that it preserved a continuity between, on the one hand, readers who admire Lawrence’s works and wish to find out more about him, and on the other, the international band of critics and editors who publish scholarly studies and have produced the Cambridge Edition of Lawrence’s Letters and Works.

The situation in the humanities is not unlike that in the physical sciences.  Astronomers and marine biologists gain much assistance from amateurs with backyard telescopes and scuba divers who daily observe the sex lives of weedy sea dragons.  Literary historians, and historians generally, benefit from having groups of willing readers, enthusiasts and data-entry volunteers.  It is healthy, too, for academics to remember that the studies they write should not only be addressed to other specialists.  As Lawrence Society secretary and Newsletter editor, Rosemary was forever taking one by the hand and saying: come this way, and you’ll find there is no moat, no ivory tower, just a group of readers eager to learn more.  We shall miss her sadly, but she has shown us the way the Society should go forward.

The above testament was sent out to members of the DH Lawrence Society. To join please see the website.

Rosemary Howard died of old age on Tuesday 25 July at Langdon House. Her funeral is at 12:15pm on Thursday August 31 in the East Chapel at Cambridge City Crematorium, Huntingdon Rd, Cambridge CB3 0JJ

Instead of flowers the family suggest making donations to Medecins Sans Frontieres c/o Richard Stebbings Funeral Service Ltd, Kendal House, Cambridge Road, Impington, Cambridge CB24 9YS. 

Read Rosemary’s visit to see Dorothy Brett here

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Rosemary Howard: A Conversation with ‘The Brett’

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The following article by Rosemary Howard was originally published in the Spring of 1979 in Issue No. 15 of the D.H. Lawrence Newsletter – or ‘Lawrence Country News’ as it was then called. The meeting took place in July 1975. Dorothy Brett died in August 1977. Rosemary died on 25 July 2017.

I was encouraged to call on The Brett by the two ladies who run Taos Book Shop, a delightful sunny shop stuffed full of valuable Lawrence editions as well as an unexpected range of other publications. The fact that I lived in Nottingham and was a member of the D. H. Lawrence Society in Eastwood was apparently sufficient passport. So while I waited for the telephone arrangements to be completed I turned over the pages of a signed copy of ‘Lawrence and Brett’, Dorothy’s autobiographical account of their friendship, now out of print in England. Here I chanced upon the story of Frieda’s lost Navajo (i.e. turquoise) ring, which Brett had offered to look for. ‘You’re no use’, Lawrence had said: ‘You never find anything’.

Dorothy Eugenie Brett, daughter of Viscount Esher, who had ‘come out’ during the coronation celebrations of Edward VII, had her first date, it is said, with Winston Churchill. But she soon turned her back on fashionable Mayfair life and became an art student at the Slade. She first met Lawrence and Frieda on the second of their trips to Taos, New Mexico – the only one of Lawrence’s London circle to remain faithful to his project of founding a community of like souls, ‘where the only riches would be integrity of character’. Here Dorothy spent most of the rest of her life, painting in her charming adobe studio, a few miles to the south of the ranch that Frieda’s third husband built for her after the death of Lawrence. (This was next door to the Lawrence’s Del Monte ranch, originally presented to Frieda by Mabel Dodge Luhan, the rich American artist-writer, married finally to an American Indian, who had summoned Lawrence to New Mexico in the first place).

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Dorothy Brett’s painting of Lawrence (left) and San Geronimo Day, Taos 1965 (right)

The village of El Prado is out in the sage-scrub desert, several miles from Taos, and commanding a superb view of the Sangre de Cristo mountains that dominate the closing scenes of Lawrence’s St. Mawr (typed page by page as it was written, by the Brett, in 1924). As I approached the house, I caught sight of the incongruous family coat-of- arms roughly blazoned in paint on the wooden gates, and once inside the shady little court-yard I could see tubs of that most English of flowers – violas – in full bloom. Brett greeted me gaily, sitting on a canopied garden-seat and dressed in something pinkish like a bed-jacket, clutching her hearing-aid, which she immediately switched on, declaring that she didn’t waste her batteries on the birds. Soon she was launched upon a round of cheerful reminiscences of her famous contemporaries, delivered in the patrician tones of an Edwardian lady, after the manner of Edith Evans. I first of all mentioned Helen Cork, Lawrence’s Croydon friend (who died in 1978). Brett said how much she had enjoyed a visit from her some years previously. Then she said how charming Maria Huxley had been; Aldous’ wife. ‘It all started at Garsington, you know’. When I asked her about Bertrand Russell she said, ‘Oh – you mean Bertie Russell?…were YOU ever at Garsington?’ I asked about Katherine Mansfield – wasn’t she rather naughty? The Brett said, ‘No. She was adventurous, she had adventures. And of course they made the stories’. When I referred to the tale of Frieda’s Navajo ring she asked me winsomely, ‘And did I find it?’ (As a matter of fact she did – spotted it lying in the middle of the horse-track when they were out riding). Of Lawrence she said, ‘It was all such fun. He was such fun! He had such a way of communicating excitement – feeling’. Lawrence always wanted to exchange horses with her as he couldn’t bear to ride at the back. ‘I had a large horse called Prince – a dear horse. He died.’ I mentioned the wild flowers that Lawrence loved. ‘Yes, I was always gazing up at the sky while he was looking down at the flowers… Lawrence would have lived if he had stayed there. But he would go, he would go. Why do people have to suffer in their life-times and die in penury?’ The talk moved to her home in Christmas Common in the Chilterns, her sister-in-law Zena Dare the actress and her sister Sylvia who married the Rajah of Sarawak.

Brett, aged ninety-one, had rosy cheeks and shining white hair – (‘Yes, I go to the hair-dresser in Taos. He gives me a perm’) – and the same lovely expression that appears in the Taos Gallery portrait dating from the thirties, in which she sits wearing a Mexican hat and holding on her knees a large hearing-aid in a leather case bedizened with chunks of turquoise. She was still painting though she lacked central vision – there was a canvas on her easel, rather green, and smudged. Holly, the lady-companion in a floppy straw hat and speaking in an unexpected American accent, steered me through the untidy sunny rooms. ‘No’, said Brett, ‘I don’t get tired. I look after myself’.

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Dorothy Brett’s cabin, Kiowa Ranch

I called at the low adobe studio next door which houses her paintings in exquisite shady rooms separated by green court-yards and porticos. Here were roomfuls of colourful oils under the curatorship of John Manchester, a friend who was working on her biography. I could have bought a sheet of pen-and-ink sketches of cats in various postures for forty five dollars – but I didn’t. As I left, John Manchester said, ‘To tell you the truth, in Taos we are bored to death with D. H. Lawrence’.

Up at Del Monte Ranch I contemplated the ‘little low cabins’ so vividly described in St. Mawr with the desert ‘Sweeping its great fawn-coloured circle around, away beyond and below like a beach, with a long mountain-side of pure blue shadow closing in the near corner’. In the fields I saw clumps of the large yellow daisies that stand in the foreground of the composite painting done by Lawrence and Brett (with Mabel and Frieda lending a hand, and joining in the squabbling). The little low cabins are now rather over-grown with pine-trees but I remembered the self-effacing words in which the Brett had recorded her choice – ‘I think I will have the little one’. And I remembered that a few pages further on she had written, ‘This evening I curse my deafness as I lie rather cold in bed.’

Rosemary Howard’s funeral is at 12:15pm on Thursday August 31 in the East Chapel at Cambridge City Crematorium. Instead of flowers the family has suggested making donations to Medecins Sans Frontieres, c/o Richard Stebbings Funeral Service Ltd, Kendal House, Cambridge Road, Impington, Cambridge CB24 9YS.  

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