In this guest blog, Tony Simpson, editor of the Spokesman (published by the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation) explores the literary relationships of Garsington Manor, former home to the Bloomsbury Group socialite Lady Ottoline Morrell.
In her memoirs, Ottoline Morrell, née Cavendish-Bentinck, describes how, around Christmastime 1914 and into the New Year, she had been reading some ‘very remarkable books’. The Prussian Officer, a collection of memorable short stories, was one of them. Sons and Lovers and The White Peacock are mentioned specifically; ‘the scenes of which were laid in Nottinghamshire, and they had stirred up my early memories, which had lain dry and curled up’.
She describes riding through the ‘great oaks and grass rides’ of her childhood at Welbeck Abbey, where she lived from age six to her mid-teens. Later, after her mother died, she returned to the great estate, when she drove her ‘black ponies out on the dark dreary roads with their black hedges’. She describes how she would ‘feel excited and even a little nervous’ when she met groups of colliers on their way home from the pit. ‘These men, tall, black and mysterious, appeared rather fierce yet full of laughter and fun, joking together as they hurried pell-mell along the dark roads to tea, the grey winter light, a gleam of setting yellow sun behind them.’
‘Excited and moved’ by the books, Ottoline wanted to get to know Lawrence, ‘whose home had also been in Nottinghamshire’. Their mutual friend, the writer Gilbert Cannan, made the introductions and, one evening in February 1915, Lawrence and his wife Frieda visited:
‘He was a slight man, lithe and delicately built, his pale face overshadowed by his beard and his red hair falling over his forehead, his eyes blue and his hands delicate and very competent. He gave one the impression of someone who had been under-nourished in youth, making his body fragile and his mind too active.’
Later, when Ottoline visited the Lawrences in Sussex, she was ‘extraordinarily happy and at ease’.
‘We at once went back to our memories of Nottinghamshire. We talked of the lovely wild commons, of Sherwood Forest, of the dark pit villages, of the lives of the colliers and their wives … He talked to me in the Nottinghamshire dialect … He also liked to talk of my family in Nottinghamshire … He used to please me by saying that the “Bentincks were always looked up to as being disinterested”.’
Lawrence and Ottoline used to go for long walks over the Sussex Downs. She doesn’t say whether Frieda accompanied them. One day in early spring 1915, they went to the woods ‘still bare of leaves’. Lawrence showed Ottoline the ‘little flame-red buds of the trees not yet in leaf and said, “see, here is the little red flame in Nature”. Ottoline looked at him and thought, ‘in you, too, there certainly dwells that flame.’
On one visit to Sussex, Ottoline took Bertrand Russell with her. Bertie had been her lover for several years, and he had expressed a wish to meet Lawrence after reading the books Ottoline had shown him. On 1 January 1915, Russell noted that he was reading Sons and Lovers, the quintessential novel of Nottingham before the First World War. The first encounter between the two men ‘appeared a great success,’ Ottoline wrote, somewhat portentously.
‘He is infallible,’ Bertie said of Lawrence, on the way home. ‘He is like Ezekial or some other Old Testament prophet, prophesying. Of course, the blood of his nonconformist preaching ancestors is strong in him, but he sees everything and is always right.’
Ottoline had her doubts about such an assessment of Lawrence, and ventured her own reckoning, concentrating on Lawrence’s mother, who was, from what Lawrence had told her:
‘a very remarkable woman, who had great delicacy of feeling and distinction of mind: clear, orderly, dominating towards the children. Anyone who has read Sons and Lovers and Lawrence’s poems to her must have realised how important she was to him … She had so much in her character that satisfied him; she was sharp in retort and had a witty resistance — proud and erect — reserved — above all she had a complete admiration and devotion to him. No doubt as a result of her detachment from her husband she called forth his protective devotion and tenderness … ‘
Ottoline observed that the early habits of Lawrence’s home life were never shaken off:
‘He was quick and competent in cleaning a floor, washing up cups and saucers, cooking, nursing: violent in argument, free in expression and abuse.’
Russell thought Lawrence very young. Thirteen years his junior, Lawrence was 30 years old to Russell’s 43, when they met in 1915. Ottoline was 42. A week after that first meeting in February 1915, Russell wrote to Ottoline:
‘I have had a long long letter from Lawrence – saying it is no good to do anything till we get Socialsm – and thinking (as the young do) that because he sees the desirability of Socialism it can be got by a few years’ strenuous work. I feel his optimism difficult to cope with – I can’t share it and don’t want to discourage it. He is extraordinarily young.’
In his Autobiography, Russell looked back on those times:
‘during the summer of 1915 I wrote Principles of Social Reconstruction, or Why Men Fight as it was called in America without my consent. I had no intention of writing such a book, and it was totally unlike anything I had previously written, but it came out in a spontaneous manner. In fact I did not discover what it was all about until I had finished it. It has a framework and a formula, but I only discovered both when I had written all except the first and last words. In it I suggested a philosophy of politics based upon the belief that impulse has more effect than conscious purpose in moulding men’s lives. I divided impulses into two groups, the possessive and the creative, considering the best life that which is most built on creative impulses. I took, as examples of embodiments of the possessive impulses, the State, war and property; and of the creative impulses, education, marriage and religion [latter two are surprising choices!] Liberation of creativeness, I was convinced, should be the principle of reform. I first gave the book as lectures, and then published it. To my surprise, it had an immediate success. (I had written it with no expectation of its being read, merely as a profession of faith, but it brought me in a great deal of money, and laid the foundation for all my future earnings.)
Russell acknowledged Lawrence’s influence on Principles of Social Reconstruction:
These lectures were in certain ways connected with my short friendship with D H Lawrence. We both imagined that there was something important to be said about the reform of human relations, and we did not at first realise that we took diametrically opposite views as to the kind of reform that was needed. My acquaintance with Lawrence was brief and hectic, lasting altogether about a year. We were brought together by Ottoline, who admired us both and made us think that we ought to admire each other. Pacifism had produced in me a mood of bitter rebellion, and I found Lawrence equally full of rebellion. This made us think, at first, that there was a considerable measure of agreement between us, and it was gradually that we discovered that we differed from each other more than either differed from the Kaiser.
There were in Lawrence at that time two attitudes to the war: on the one hand, he could not be whole-heartedly patriotic, because his wife was German; but on the other hand, he had such a hatred of mankind that he tended to think both sides must be right in so far as they hated each other. As I came to know these attitudes, I realised that neither was one with which I could sympathise. Awareness of our differences, however, was gradual on both sides, and at first all went merry as a marriage bell. I invited him to visit me at Cambridge and introduced him to Keynes and a number of other people. He hated them all with a passionate hatred and said they were ‘dead, dead, dead’. For a time I thought he might be right. I liked Lawrence’s fire, I liked the energy and passion of his feelings, I liked his belief that something very fundamental was needed to put the world right. I agreed with him that politics could not be divorced from individual psychology. I felt him to be a man with a certain imaginative genius, and, at first, when I felt disinclined to disagree with him, I thought that perhaps his insight into human nature was deeper than mine. It was only gradually that I came to feel him a positive force for evil and that he came to have the same feeling about me.
I was at this time preparing the courses of lectures which was afterwards published as Principles of Social Reconstruction. He, also, wanted to lecture, and for a time it seemed possible that there might be some sort of loose collaboration between us. We exchanged a number of letters, of which mine are lost and his have been published. In his letters the gradual awareness of the consciousness of our fundamental disagreements can be traced. I was a firm believer in democracy, whereas he had developed the whole philosophy of Fascism before the politicians had thought of it. “I don’t believe”, he wrote, “in democratic control. I think the working man is fit to elect governors or overseers for his immediate circumstances, but for no more. You must utterly revise the electorate. The working man shall elect superiors for the things that concern him immediately, no more. From the other classes, as they rise, shall be elected the higher governors. The thing must culminate in one real head, as every organic thing must – no foolish republic with foolish presidents, but an elected King, something like Julius Ceasar …” ’
Russell continued on Lawrence:
‘His letters grew gradually more hostile. He wrote, “what’s the good of living as you do anyway? I don’t believe your lectures are good. They are nearly over, aren’t they? What’s the good of sticking in the damned ship and haranguing the merchant pilgrims in their own language? Why don’t you drop overboard? Why don’t you clear out of the whole show? One must be an outlaw these days, not a teacher or a preacher.” This seemed to me mere rhetoric. I was becoming more of an outlaw than he ever was and I could not quite see his ground of complaint against me. He phrased his complaint in different ways at different times. On another occasion he wrote: “do stop working and writing altogether and become a creature instead of a mechanical instrument. Do clear out of the whole social ship. Do for your very pride’s sake become a mere nothing, a mole, a creature that feels its way and doesn’t think. Do for heavens sake be a baby, and not a savant any more. Don’t do anything more – but for heavens sake begin to be – start at the very beginning and be a perfect baby: in the name of courage.”
“Oh, and I want to ask you, when you make your will, do leave me enough to live on. I want you to live for ever. But I want you to make me in some part your heir …” ’
Mortality notwithstanding, Russell probed deeper, saying of Lawrence:
‘He had a mystical philosophy of “blood” which I disliked. “There is”, he said, “another seat of consciousness than the brain and nerves. There is a blood-consciousness which exists in us independently of the ordinary mental consciousness. One lives, knows and has one’s being in the blood, without any reference to nerves and brain. This is one half of life belonging to the darkness. When I take a woman, then the blood-precept is supreme. My blood-knowing is overwhelming. We should realise that we have a blood-being, a blood consciousness, a blood-soul complete and apart from a mental and nerve consciousness.” This seemed to me frankly rubbish, and I rejected it vehemently, though I did not then know that it led straight to Auschwitz …’
Russell also put on record Lawrence’s positive impact on him:
What at first attracted me to Lawrence was a certain dynamic quality and a habit of challenging assumptions that one is apt to take for granted. I was already accustomed to being accused of undue slavery to reason, and I thought perhaps that he could give me a vivifying dose of unreason. I did in fact acquire a certain stimulus from him, and I think the book that I wrote in spite of his blasts of denunciation was better than it would have been if I had not known him.’
One consequence of their relationship may be the title, as Russell called his lecture outline ‘Philosophy of Social Reconstruction’ when he sent it to Lawrence in July 1915. In reply, Lawrence wrote:
‘Don’t be angry that I have scribbled all over your work. But that which you say is all social criticism: it isn’t social reconstruction. You must take a plunge into another element if it is to be social reconstruction.
Primarily, you must allow and acknowledge & be prepared to proceed from the fundamental impulse in man, for Wholeness of Movement, Unanimity of Purpose, Oneness in Construction. This is the principle of Construction. The rest is all criticism, destruction …’
Bertie seemed to have preferred ‘principle’ to ‘philosophy’ and, as we have heard, paid close attention to ‘impulse’.
While Russell was writing what became Principles of Social Reconstruction, Lawrence was already working on the novel that became Women in Love, which was eventually published in the United States in 1921. He included a character very like Ottoline (Hermione Roddice), and gave her a terrible drubbing which upset Ottoline greatly. Ottoline wrote:
‘I read it and found myself going pale with horror, for nothing could have been more vile and obviously spiteful and contemptuous than the portrait of me that I found there. It was a great shock, for his letters all this time had been quite friendly, and I had no idea that he disliked me or had any feeling against me. I was called every name from an “old hag”, obsessed by sex-mania, to a corrupt Sapphist. He described me as his own discarded Mistress, who, in my sitting-room, which was minutely described, had tried to bash him over the head with a paper weight, at which he had exclaimed, ‘No you don’t, Hermione. No you don’t.’ In another scene I had attempted to make indecent advances to the Heroine, who was a glorified Frieda [Lawrence’s wife]. My dresses were dirty; I was rude and insolent to my guests.’
Philip, Ottoline’s lawyer husband, threatened to sue. Lawrence duly made a number of changes, including shifting Hermoine’s country home from one modelled on Garsington, the Morrells’ house near Oxford, to Willersley Castle in Derbyshire, which he styled ‘Breadalby’:
‘… a Georgian house with Corinthian pillars standing among the softer, greener hills of Derbyshire, not far from Cromford.’
The house is now a hotel, and you can refresh yourself in the gardens, beneath the trees, looking towards the sheer cliff opposite. It is a stunning location which Lawrence had studied closely.
‘Lunch was served on the lawn, under the great tree, whose thick, blackish boughs came close down to the grass.’
Those present included
‘… a learned, dry Baronet of fifty [Sir Joshua Mattheson], who was always making witticisms and laughing at them heartily in a harsh, horse-laugh … The attitude was mental and very wearying. Only the elderly sociologist, whose mental fibre was so tough as to be insentient, seemed to be thoroughly happy [some irony here?]. Birkin was down in the mouth. Hermoine appeared, with amazing persistence, to wish to ridicule him and make him look ignominious in the eyes of everybody … ’
Rupert Burkin shares Lawrence’s own insecurity and isolation. At dinner, our three main actors, Sir Joshua (Russell), Hermione (Ottoline) and Rupert (Lawrence), dominate:
‘The talk was very often political or sociological, and interesting, curiously anarchistic. There was an accumulation of powerful force in the room, powerful and destructive. Everything seemed to be thrown into the melting-pot, and it seemed to Ursula [like Frieda Lawrence?] they were all witches, helping the pot to bubble. There was an elation and a satisfaction in it all, but it was cruelly exhausting for the new-comers, this ruthless mental pressure, this powerful, consuming, destructive mentality that emanated from Joshua and Hermoine and Birkin and dominated the rest.’ (Women in Love, p 101).
In her memoirs, Ottoline wrote of Women in Love that
‘the setting of the house and garden were altered and some of the worst scenes expunged. But, alas, this was the end of my intimacy with Lawrence. I never saw Lawrence again, although he made several efforts through our mutual friends to see me. I did not think it would be possible for me to behave naturally or unself-consciously in his presence. The hurt that he had done me made a very great mark in my life.’
But that, as it turned out, was not the end of the story. Ottoline later wrote of Lawrence:
‘It was not until 1929, when Garsington had come to an end and when I was very ill, that I had any more communication with him. He then wrote to me some very sympathetic and delightful letters. He was obviously sorry and regretful for what he had done. After twelve years the wound had healed and I was very glad to hear again from someone who obviously was fond of me in a way that shows that his real feeling for me was good and appreciative, while now and always I feel he was a very lovable man.’
In May 1928, Lawrence wrote to Ottoline from Florence:
‘You’ve been an important influence in lots of lives, as you have in mine: through being fundamentally generous, and through being Ottoline. And she has moved one’s imagination. It doesn’t matter what sort of vision comes out of a man’s imagination, his vision of Ottoline. Any more than a photograph of me is me, or even ‘like me’. The so-called portraits of Ottoline can’t possibly be Ottoline – no one knows that better than an artist. But Ottoline has moved men’s imagination, deeply, and that’s perhaps the most a woman can do …’
Ottoline generously gave Lawrence the benefit of any doubt, writing:
‘The telegram from Aldous Huxley that reached me in March 1930, saying that Lawrence died peacefully, scattered all the vague hopes that I had of seeing him again. For I had always thought that we should have a time to laugh over our old quarrels, to disagree and argue, and to plan a new Elysian world.’
In a prefatory note to a later edition, Lawrence described the misery of the characters in Women in Love as occasioned by the war, although he did not expressly refer to the war. The novel was begun in 1913, and reflected the pre-war world, but the experience of war surely coloured its final text, which is shot through with the mutual isolation of the characters.
As we have heard, during summer 1915, Ottoline and Philip Morrell and daughter Julian were settling into Garsington, the manor house near Oxford that they had bought. In her memoirs Ottoline wrote:
‘… Philip had arranged a very comfortable flat at the Bailiff’s House for Bertie Russell, and I finished it and made it very comfortable … In my Journal I find:
“Bertie arrived yesterday and is settled in his rooms. I made them gay and pretty with flowers. He is gloomy and sceptical about everything, and about his own work, but it is really very good – a set of lectures on the New State; Social Reconstruction they are to be called. His brain seems to be working well, indeed very brilliantly … He went on to discuss his lectures and his view of truth – his own, of course, is scientific truth, provable by mathematics and physics, Lawrence’s is a subjective truth, something which is felt to be true, as an inward conviction that such a picture or a view is beautiful.’
Later, Ottoline remarks of Bertie:
‘He only feels life through his brain, or through sex, and there is a gulf between these two separate departments. It is this that maddens and annoys Lawrence so much in him.’
Bertie wrote to Ottoline, telling her that:
‘ … Lawrence, as was to be foreseen, is disgusted with my lecture-syllabus – it is not mystical and Blakeish enough for him. He says one ought to live from the ‘impulse towards the truth’ which he says is fundamentally in all of us. It seems to me, in him, merely an impulse to mistake his imagination for the truth … Lawrence is just as ferocious a critic as Wittgenstein, but I thought W. right and I think L. wrong.’
Nevertheless, Bertie went to spend the weekend with the Lawrences, and it seemed to go rather well, so that his hopes rose. On Monday 19 July 1915, whilst returning by train, he wrote to Ottoline:
‘We talked of a plan of lecturing in the autumn on his religion, politics in the light of religion, and so on. I believe something might be made of it. I could make a splendid course on political ideas: morality, the State, property, marriages, war, taking them to their roots in human nature, and showing how each is a prison for the infinite in us. And leading on to the hope of a happier world … Lawrence is splendid. I like his philosophy very much now that I have read more. It is only the beginning that is poor.’
Bertie’s enthusiasm for Lawrence and his philosophy, perhaps encouraged by Ottoline’s fondness for her Nottinghamshire fellow, didn’t endure. However, Lawrence also wrote to Ottoline, saying:
‘… We think to have a lecture hall in London in the autumn, and give lectures: he on Ethics, I on Immortality. Also to have meetings, to establish a little society or body around a religious belief, which leads to action. We must centre in the knowledge of the Infinite, of God … You must be president. You must preside over our meetings … We mustn’t lapse into temporality.’
What was Ottoline’s verdict on the relationship between Lawrence and Russell, whom she had brought together?
‘Could anything have made these two fine passionate men work together for the country and the causes they both so desired? I doubt it – they were both too self-centred and too intolerant of crtiticism. But when Bertie was writing Social Reconstruction they were often together, and Bertie has since told me that he was certainly stimulated by Lawrence’s ideas and introduced some of them into his book. But when Bertie showed the manuscript to Lawrence, his denunciation of it was so violent that Bertie nearly destroyed it, as Lawrence urged him to do. No, their friendship was not a lasting one. There was an instinctive enmity between the natural, impatient, and not profoundly educated man of genius, and the man who was also a genius in another sphere, where mind was the produce of long inherited leisure and discipline – an aristocrat, in fact, who possessed a mind that was a fine and delicate instrument, trained and disciplined in a university where it had had stimulating contacts with other learned men. It was true that Bertie was as great a rebel as Lawrence was, but his rebellion was a more rational one, not the wild, prophetic fury of Lawrence … ’
- D H Lawrence, Women in Love, Martin Secker, 1921
- D H Lawrence, Harry T Moore, D H Lawrence’s Letters to Bertrand Russell, Gotham Book Mart, New York, 1948
- Ottoline at Garsington, Memoirs of Lady Ottoline Morrell 1915-1918, edited by Robert Gathorne-Hardy, Faber and Faber, London, 1974
- Bertrand Russell, Autobiography, Routledge, London and New York, 1969
- Bertrand Russell, Portraits from Memory, George Allen & Unwin, 1956
- Bertrand Russell, Principles of Social Reconstruction), George Allen & Unwin, 1916, (Why Men Fight in USA)
- The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell, The Public Years, 1914-1970, edited by Nicholas Griffin, Routledge, London and New York, 2001
- Miranda Seymour, Ottoline: Life on the Grand Scale, Hodder & Stoughton, 1992