#MondayBlogs Lorenzo in Taos 5: The Brett

goodbadugly4 Trumpet
Artwork by James Walker and Izaak Bosman

When Lawrence returned to Taos to give it another go, Tony and Mabel Dodge Luhan (MDL) had also recently returned from their first long absence from home. It was the opportunity for a fresh start, or so went the plan. This time Lawrence and the QB had returned with a new guest, Dorothy Brett (10 November 1883 – 27 August 1977). ‘The Brett,’ as she was known, was a former student of the Slade School of Art and of aristocratic ancestry. Partially deaf, she had a brass ear trumpet stuck to her ear, rotating it to listen into conversations. ‘It was not a jolly, sociable ear trumpet that longed to be a part of everything else,’ complained MDL, ‘I soon saw that it was an eavesdropper. It was a spy upon any influence near Lorenzo.’ Oh dear, he we go again…

Brett is dismissed by MDL, rather unfairly, as some kind of commodity who is passed around the literati to satiate their various needs. First, she was Katherine Mansfield’s close confident, then the brief love interest of Middleton Murry, and now Lawrence’s typist. But she was a lot more to Lawrence than mere typist which probably explains MDLs lack of compassion towards her hearing aid. Brett was a threat; another obstacle thwarting the flow between her and Lawrence.

The Lawrence’s moved into a two storey house across the alfalfa from MDL. Brett had a studio a few doors away. Brett’s accommodation was tiny, but she was content to sit and paint the Truchas Peaks which lie on the divide between the Rio Grande and the Pecos River. MDL couldn’t accept that this shy, quiet artist was content perfecting her craft, instead she accuses Brett of ‘watching every move of Lorenzo to and fro between our houses.’

truchas-peaks-2
Truchas Peaks. Join a campaign to help protectthepecos.org

MDL picks fault with Brett at every opportunity in her memoir. She is keen to point out that although Brett’s father, Viscount Esher, had kept a racing stable; he never let his daughters ride. Whereas, of course, MDL had her own horses. But any hopes she had of long treks out into the mountains with Lawrence on her own are soon scuppered when Lawrence, who revelled in imparting knowledge, taught Brett to ride. They would end up taking long rides together. Given Brett’s deafness, a lot of these horse rides were taken in silence. In her memoir, Lawrence and Brett: A Friendship, she suggests that Lawrence enjoyed the peace and tranquillity of simply trotting along and being at one with his immediate environment, rather than being harassed for his affections by MDL.

To her credit, MDL tries every trick in the book to get close to Lawrence – which makes for unintentionally hilarious reading when it goes sour. One of the most bizarre examples of this is a haircutting incident. Lawrence didn’t want to trudge down to Taos to get his locks chopped, so they decided to do it in-house. MDL, dramatic and desperate as ever, writes: ‘I longed to have him shear me.’ But Lawrence wouldn’t shear anyone, instead Brett, courteous as ever, steps in. Not being a professional hairdresser she accidentally cuts MDL’s ear in the process, which ramps up the paranoia to new heights: ‘She hated me, she was deaf, and she tried to mutilate my ear.’

Brett paints a slightly different version of events in her memoir, recalling that Lawrence – a man not accustomed for his patience – becoming irritated at having to sit still, barking ‘haven’t you finished yet?’ A bowl is placed over his head and ‘I snip and snip as I have seen barbers do, but somehow it is not quite so easy as it looks.’ Needless to say Lawrence is not impressed: ‘For heaven’s sake. Get a man to cut my hair. You’ve given me a debutante bob.’ When it’s MDL’s turn she complains that Brett is pulling her and that it hurts. When she cuts her ear by mistake, Brett recalls a calmer MDL saying ‘It’s all right, Brett; it’s nothing. It’s almost healed and doesn’t matter.’

The latest cabin that MDL provided for the Lawrences required a lot of work. Brett was more than happy to get her hands dirty, passing Lawrence nails as he tacked down the roof. For her troubles she was nicknamed the ‘handmaiden’. Frieda became suspicious of Brett’s intentions, later limiting her home visits to three times a week. At this point Frieda’s relationship with MDL starts to improve, due to their shared distrust of this enthusiastic new guest.

MDL had strong ideas for how the cabin (the former home of Mrs. Sprage) should look and hoped Lawrence would paint the pink house green to blend in with the environment. Instead he painted it cream so that it stood out even more. Then he added a green snake wrapped around the stem of a sunflower. On either side he added a large black butterfly, a white dove, a dark brown bullfrog, and a rooster, followed by the Phoenix rising out of the flames. It was an eyesore that caused scandal with the neighbours. Tony Luhan wouldn’t go near it.

In her memoir, Dorothy Brett recalls Lawrence ‘committing an outrage on the toilet door’ and was under the impression that the reason the design caused so much offence was because of the addition of an Adam and Eve that they painted brown. But this wasn’t the problem. It was the amount of fun they were having together. As Brett recalls, ‘that seems to be the last straw of Mabel’s forbearance…She darts furious glances at us: we giggle and chop and paint. We are, as usual, absorbed, excited and terrifically amused, as doing these silly things amuse us.’

Although MDL was clearly a very difficult woman to be around, you have to admire her perseverance. She, like Lawrence, had an agenda, and was equally stubborn and forceful in trying to realise it. She had given Lawrence the space that he demanded but this affected the ‘psychic flow’ of their relationship, rendering her into a more pragmatic role: ‘Dear Mabel, We need whitewash…turquoise paint, brushes, a packet of tin tacks, a pound of putty, hinges for cupboards and screws. These things whenever anything is coming up, on wheels.’

Understandably, the self-proclaimed ‘Queen of the Indians’ required a more meaningful relationship with her latest project and so heeded Lawrence’s advice at not living life through her head and began building him a great chair. The chair was wide, deep and heavy. ‘I carved it a little and cut up a fine old blanket to upholster it, with shining brass nails. It was intended to become Lawrence’s very own chair. I fancied him always sitting in it and always writing in it…one of those dedicated pieces of furniture that would slowly become associated with him.’ When finished, she hoisted it up on a wagon, ‘where it loomed and swayed like the seat of honour in a triumphal procession.’ Lawrence took an immediate dislike to it, called it ‘the iron maiden,’ and had it send back down the hill.

No matter how hard she tried, MDL ended up annoying Lawrence, largely because she took his advice too literally. In his memoir, A Poet and Two Painters, Knud Merrild recalls a similar incident whereby MDL knitted Lawrence a scarf that comprised 45 different bands of colour. Yes, she had made something with her hands, but the scarf was imbued with symbolic meaning. ‘Look at it’ Lawrence fumed. ‘What a conglomeration of colours! Very bad taste, with no sense of proportion. What an atrocity! Now if she had just knitted a scarf in a few, simple colours, with some feeling in it, it could have been nice. But what does she do? She makes it with her head…the colours, even the proportions, are supposed to have a meaning. It is me and her and Taos!’ Merrild would go on to observe ‘She must be awfully dumb if she doesn’t know that she is annoying Lawrence; or else she is so blindly in love that she can’t see it. And to do it just for the sake of bullying would be too stupid.’

porcupine-featured

After the Kiowa Ranch was completed, it soon became clear that the idea of communal living wasn’t going to work – no matter how far the distance between the inhabitants. Whenever MDL turned up to say hello she was greeted with a grimace. The tension was exacerbated when Tony shot a porcupine close to Lawrence’s home. MDL claims that this incident would inspire Lawrence’s essay Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine, with him taking credit for the killing. But Knud Merrild confirmed that he taught Lawrence to shoot and he did once shoot a porcupine. Given that his memoir was published 6 years after MDLs, it’s easy to see why MDL may have taken credit for the incident.

Unhappy with running errands for Lawrence, MDL sent up her own errand boy, Clarence, to deliver messages on her behalf. The two men quickly struck up a friendship, enjoying long horseback rides into the desert together. MDL describes Clarence as immediately falling under Lawrence’s spell and that he longed to be ‘victimised’ by Lawrence! Whereas Dorothy Brett notes that Clarence ‘has the impertinence to make googoo eyes at you. You make no sign of having noticed.’ But the bromance didn’t last very long and Clarence soon discovered, via Frieda, that Lawrence wanted to ‘destroy’ MDL. All of this backstabbing, fighting, gossiping, and an almost sado-masochistic desire to get close to a person – who clearly wouldn’t let anyone in – is interspersed with poems and mystic philosophies, all of which helps paint a curious picture of the absolute bonkers life of Bohemians in 1920s New Mexico.

product_thumbnailClearly MDL craved a more ‘spiritual’ relationship with Lawrence and was thwarted at every opportunity. But perhaps the most difficult thing for her to accept was that instead of recording the life of the Pueblo Indians in New Mexico, Lawrence gave everything to Old Mexico. She argues that in The Plumed Serpent ‘he has put the facts of his Taos experience of Indians and drums and dancing, but of actual Indian life there is very little told’. Meanwhile, Mornings in Mexico includes the three essays ‘The Corn Dance,’ ‘Indians and Entertainment,’ and ‘The Snake Dance’. Given she had tried so hard to woo Lawrence to Taos, and that her reasons for doing this were in earnest, the rejection hurt even more. MDL would also inspire the short story The Woman Who Rode Away, in which a naive white woman is sacrificed to an ancient God. It was a damning critique of her own life story, yet she seems more concerned that it’s not set in New Mexico, given she had taken Lawrence to see the ancient cave the story refers to. She argues that the reason he turned from New to Old Mexico in his writing was because ‘he belonged to those centuries of civilisation that come between the bright, true golden age of pure delight and the brilliant age of gold; between these two ‘soulless’ periods when men wandered pitifully wondering what was the matter with the world and with themselves that they should so unaccountably suffer.’

When Lawrence and the QB finally headed back to Europe, it would be the last time that MDL saw them in person. Their relationship would now be left to letters, many of which are published in her memoir. In one letter, Lawrence passes advice on MDL’s own writing, advising her to better disguise the real people she refers to in her script as ‘other people can be utterly remorseless, if they think you’ve given them away.’ And boy did Lawrence give people away in his own books! His depiction of Jessie Chambers as Miriam in Sons and Lovers destroyed their relationship forever. Her brother David Chambers recalls “Lawrence was ruthless. He would make use of anybody. My sister felt that Lawrence had betrayed himself. She felt that he had allowed the animal side of his nature to come to the top.”

Lawrence’s advice to MDL on getting published bitterly reinforced his own experiences: ‘Don’t leave your MSS. to anyone. They’ll all edit them to emasculation. Rouse up and publish them yourself…and don’t have introductions. Don’t be introduced and discussed before you’re there. Don’t have anybody write an introduction. Don’t ask for credentials and letters of recommendation. Publish your things blank straight as they are…have it reviewed in about three good newspapers, and no more. As little publicity as possible…For once put your ego aside. After all, there’s enough of your ego in the book, without having to write your name large on the title page’.

In one letter, after moaning about the weather in Florence, he requested any copyright photographs she might have of Indians for Mornings in Mexico, promising ‘I’ll dedicate the book to you, if you like; to Mabel Dodge Luhan, who called me to Taos’. Lawrence then offset this with some curt advice about her home and land, which he mocked as ‘Mabeltown’: ‘I believe that’s your ambition – to have an earthly kingdom, and rule it. But my dear, it’s an illusion like any other.’

But Lawrence being Lawrence, it’s not long before Europe is getting on his nerves and he’s umming and ahhing about returning to Taos as ‘a change of continent would do me good’ but it all depends on ‘my damned bronchitis’. As always, he’s in denial about his health, claiming ‘it’s partly psychological, of course.’ He is keen to hold onto the ranch, perhaps symbolically, because it gives him some kind of roots. The letters that fill the end of her memoir span his time in Florence, Switzerland, Baden Baden, and finally Bandol, France on 21 Jan 1930, where he seems to have finally mellowed and acknowledged he was equally at fault in their turbulent relationship: ‘if we can manage it, and I can come to New Mexico, then we can begin a new life, with real tenderness in it. Every form of bullying is bad’. He died on 2 March 1930.

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. Do we have room for an ear trumpet to represent ‘The Brett’ or a scarf for Mabel Dodge Luhan? How can we convey the jealousy, paranoia and infatuation aroused during his time in Taos?  If you have an idea for an artefact, please submit ideas here.

 

FURTHER READING

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Lorenzo in Taos 4: A ‘Centre of Disturbance’ and the Bursum Bill

John_Collier
John Collier (May 4, 1884 – May 8, 1968), Commissioner for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1933-1945. Collier founded AIDI in 1923

When things didn’t work out well for Lawrence in ‘Mabeltown’ he accepted her offer of alternative accommodation higher up in the Del Monte mountains. In her memoir, Lorenzo in Taos, Mabel Dodge Luhan (MDL) claims that Frieda stayed in regular contact by post, primarily requesting that she send cables to her children on her behalf. Frieda would also ask ‘the Danes’ to post letters on her behalf when they joined them for the winter of 1922 (more of them in a future post). Lawrence lacked compassion for Frieda’s maternal instincts, and so MDLs support would have been valued.

MDL invited John Collier, Commissioner of Indian Affairs during the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, to Taos in the hope that he would do what Lawrence had not – write about the Pueblo Indians. Collier did a better job than Lawrence in terms of direct political engagement, by organising a council meeting on 5 November, 1922, at Santo Domingo Pueblo, to explain how the Bursum Bill would impact on their rights. New Mexico senator Holm Olaf Bursum had proposed a bill in Congress that helped legitimize land claims of ‘non-Indians’ who’d resided for some time on Pueblo lands. An excerpt of testimony in Congress on behalf of the All Indian Pueblos Council stated:

“Now we discover that the Senate has passed a bill, called the Bursum Bill, which will complete our destruction, and that Congress and the American people have been told that we, the Indians, have asked for this legislation. This, we say, is not true. We have never asked for this legislation. We were never given a chance of having anything to say or do about this bill. We have studied the bill over and found that this bill will deprive us of our happy life by taking away our lands and water and will destroy our Pueblo government and our customs which we have enjoyed for hundreds of years, and through which we have been able to be self-supporting and happy down to this day.”

The question of the Indians being usurped from their land led to MDL being visited by the Department of the Interior and her home cited as the ‘centre of disturbance’. When Lawrence heard about this he was characteristically sceptical of the involvement of Collier and his ilk. On 8 Nov, 1923, Lawrence wrote:  ‘He will destroy them. It is his saviour’s will to set the claws of his own White egotistic benevolent volition into them. Somewhere, the Indians know that you and Collier would, with your salvationist but poisonous white consciousness, destroy them….I tell you, leave the Indians to their own dark destiny. And leave yourself to the same.’

Although there are clearly many problems with the ‘white man’s burden’ and representing other cultures instead of allowing them to represent themselves, clearly Collier had good intentions and his intervention would prove to be important. But as MDL acutely observes of Lawrence’s character ‘he was so full of suspicion, it had to be directed somewhere or he couldn’t have contained himself’.

The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, which became known as the Indian New Deal, dramatically changed the federal government’s Indian policy. Although John Collier was largely responsible for the new policy and viewed Indians with great sympathy, not all Native Americans shared his optimism. Tony Luhan, a strong advocate of John Collier, dictated a letter of support to his wife who typed it up. He wanted to persuade other Indians that Collier was their friend and that the reorganization act would bring positive change.

Society_of_American_Indians,_1911
The Society of American Indians (1911–1923) was the first national American Indian rights organization run by and for American Indians

While all of these conversations were starting to emerge in 1922, Lawrence had befriended two stray Danish artists who MDL described as ‘simple, unremarkable characters,’ the suggestion being that she was a complex remarkable creature. She was plainly jealous that he would prefer to head off into the mountains and spend time with them rather than her. Thus, they are barely mentioned in her memoir – despite having a profound effect on Lawrence. Lawrence craved a more simple existence and this meant being as far away from MDL and the arty folk of Taos as possible. They began to correspond by letters, though understandably MDL resented being reduced to a runner of errands to enable Lawrence to live the good life. She wanted something more substantial, craving ‘the daily, rhythmical interchange of power and life with them’

MDL was not a woman used to rejection and so vented her frustration through idle gossip. ‘I turned my tongue loose. I told funny stories about him and emphasized all the weak things in him. He was terribly easy to caricature.’ But she soon discovered he had a wagging tongue of his own and had been belittling her, claiming she tried to make him fall in love with her and that she had attempted to seduce him up on her roof.

Despite the distance between them, Lawrence kept tabs on everything MDL was up to and vice versa. It was a truly odd relationship, best captured by a bizarre event in 1923. After a blazing row, Frieda had headed to New York to sail to England without her husband. Lawrence used the temporary freedom to visit Buffalo, where he met up with Bessie Wilkinson who took him to Lewinston on the Niagara River to visit MDL’s mother who he claimed he wanted to know. Was he doing this to gain information on his nemesis or was he simply curious? But in the present, the visit gave MDL the opportunity to write to him, thereby breaking her vow of silence.

mabel-1007178
Mabel Dodge Luhan

One recurring theme in memoirs of Lawrence during this period is his wild mood swings. One minute he’s putting in the knife, the next he’s fixing the wound. Distance from his subject tended to foster a more positive appreciation of people and places and was the driving force behind his ability to keep moving from place to place. By 23 October, 1923, he writes ‘we rode over the mountains from Tepic and down the barranca and to Mazatlán, and I thought very much of how you and Tony taught F. and me to ride…for that and many things like that, believe me, I am grateful.’ And from Guadalajara on 8 Nov 1923, he reasoned ‘life made you what you are: I understood so much when I was in Buffalo and saw your mother’.

When Lawrence eventually made it to England he immediately wrote to MDL about how awful it was.  On 17 December 1923 he complained of being ‘in bed with a bad cold’ which Luhan surmises was inevitable as ‘like most people, when he did not like what he was doing, he became ill.’ He then starts to dissect England with typical scorn, ‘I simply detest it. I shan’t stay long’ and began planning his return back to America by March the following year. But despite his antipathy to his home he recognised that ‘England is a tomb to me…I don’t belong here anymore. It’s like being among the dead of one’s previous existence.’ He even does MDL a favour, submitting one of her stories to Middleton Murry to see if he’d like to publish it in the Adelphi. But Murry rejected the piece.

MDL was completely aware of the pain Frieda felt in not being close to her children and had supported her through this by sending letters on her behalf. Yet she conveniently forgets this, complaining ‘if she at least carried him to places that were healthier for him to live in, it would not have been so bad.’ The trips to London had a purpose for Lawrence as well. He may have written that it was ‘like a dog returning to his vomit’ but they were necessary as he was able to catch up with editors and agents. MDL’s complete adulation of Lawrence means she obscures these facts in her retelling of their adventure. She correctly observes ‘he was never more close to me than in those times when Frieda drew him far away.’ But this applies to anyone and anything he is far away from. It wasn’t necessarily due to a quality of hers.

The trip to London resulted in the infamous dinner party where Lawrence gathered together his closest friends and invited them all to come back to New Mexico with him and set up a community together. Only one person would take up the offer, Dorothy Brett. If MDL had found it difficult to get past Frieda to Lawrence it would become almost impossible with another obstacle added to the equation. And what an obstacle The Brett would turn out to be…

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. How could we represent his time spent in Taos, his scepticism, his scathing damnation of people and places?  If you have an idea about this or other artefacts you think should be included, you can submit ideas here.

 

FURTHER READING

 

Lorenzo in Taos 3: Mabeltown

 

Mabel-Dodge-Luhan-House
Mabel Dodge Luhan’s home in Taos, New Mexico.

Born in 1879, Mabel Dodge Luhan (MDL) had a difficult childhood. Her controlling wealthy parents were incapable of affection meaning her childhood was lived ‘in a rigid unlovely inescapable pattern.’ Art offered her the emotional connection missing from family life and would lead to her finding escapism as a patron of the arts in Taos, New Mexico. It was here that she hoped to build a colony that would offer an alternative to the mechanical modernism of Western society. Lawrence arrived in September, 1922 but their relationship would turn sour due to a clash of personalities.

Her memoir of their time together is absolutely bonkers; a mixture of psychic discord and infatuation, laced with snipping comments. Take this early description of Lawrence. She makes it quite clear that he’s not her type, yet throughout her memoir she pines for his attention. ‘(He) is tall, but so slightly built and so stooped that he gives the impression of a small man. His head seems too heavy for his slim body and hangs forward. The whole expression is of extreme fragility…He has very large, wide-apart grey eyes, a long, slender face with a chin that is out of proportion long, a defect that is concealed by the aforesaid beard. His upper lip protrudes from his dainty decoration of the beard in a violent red that makes his beard look pink. In the midst of all this, is a very podgy, almost vulgar, certainly undistinguished nose.’

Lawrence’s slenderness is in stark contrast to Frieda’s solidity, something MDL is keen to point out again and again in their opening encounter (as recorded in our previous blog). But after sending Lawrence out to see an Apache Fiesta with her ever so considerate husband Tony, she has the opportunity to spend a bit of time with Frieda. She observes she is better company when Lawrence isn’t around, ‘as is the case with all wives’.

But MDL isn’t interested in bonding with the earthy Frieda – who prefers fags to fonts – she only has eyes for Lawrence. Hoping that he will pen a novel about her journey from New York to New Mexico, she invites him over to her place but makes the mistake of not getting dressed. Lawrence, despite his reputation as a smutty author, was, by all accounts, a bit of a prude. Her casual attire no doubt made him feel uncomfortable, an unnecessary sexual pressure. In Dorothy Brett’s memoir, she notes how ‘you do not care to be touched, to be pawed. Necking makes you furious. Your sex is not to be played with, nor to be belittled by playfulness. It is serious, a danger to be respected as the tiger is respected, hidden in the jungle.’

It’s not surprising, then, that he immediately reported back to Frieda who from that point onwards insisted they work in their house while she was around. This was immensely frustrating for all involved and denied MDL ‘the opportunity to get at him and give him what I thought he needed’. The lack of privacy meant she was unable to ‘unload my accumulation of power’ on him. And so begins the struggle for possession of Lorenzo that will inevitably end up in tears for all involved, as well as bruises for Frieda.

When Lawrence turns down MDL’s psychic advances, the claws come out. She accuses him of power games, and vacillating between the two women. When siding with Frieda he would ‘sling mud at the whole inner cosmos, and at Taos, the Indians, the mystic life of the mountain’ and when with MDL he would ‘talk just wonderfully, with far reaching implications, of the power of consciousness, the growth of the soul’. She reiterates once more that she wanted Lawrence for his mind rather than his body as ‘he’s not physically attractive to women. I don’t think women want to touch him.’ But rather than being an honest appraisal of her feelings, it reads more like an attack on Frieda for desiring him. Or, perhaps, the bitterness of a woman scorned.

Rage
Image from http://www.dawnoftheunread.com

Throughout their time together, MDL never once saw Lawrence just sit. Meditation wasn’t his thing. On his protracted trip over to New Mexico he stopped off at Ceylon. After getting bad guts he took his frustration out on the Buddha statues, complaining “Oh I wish he would stand up!” He was certainly restless, although MDL observes that it was more than restlessness, he was pernickety, and a bit of a pain in the arse.

MDL was the daughter of Charles Ganson, a wealthy banker from Buffalo, New York. Her upbringing was in stark contrast to that of Lawrence’s in the mining community of Eastwood. It was no wonder he was restless. Leisure wasn’t a luxury of the working classes. ‘(He) really had very little sense of leisure. After the housework was done, he usually crept into a hedge or some quiet corner and wrote something, sitting on the ground with his knees drawn up.’ The problem was, he wasn’t writing about her.

All of this housework enabled Lawrence to instruct others on the virtues of cleanliness. ‘You don’t know your floor until you have scrubbed it on your hands and knees.’ This wasn’t an option for MDL as she had miles of floors. It would take her all day to clean, time better spent on more useful pursuits, such as connecting with the cosmos. She had servants to do the chores for her. Needless to say Lawrence disapproved, believing servants removed contact with life. He would apply the same criticism to cars that sped past through the living world, though he didn’t mind a lift when it suited him.

MDL describes her body as being square and therefore she tried to mask her solidity through loose fitting clothes that hung off the shoulder. Lawrence didn’t approve of this either, believing the female form should be celebrated rather than concealed, proclaiming ‘the kind of clothes my mother wore were the most-lovely pattern any woman could have’.

Despite their clashes over housework and clothing, there were many happy occasions too. MDL taught Lawrence to ride horses which he would be eternally grateful for. He seemed to pick it up really quickly, despite ‘riding as though the saddle hurt’. It meant that they could go on long rides together. But even this backfired when Lawrence taught Dorothy Brett to ride and ended up preferring her company on long journeys, presumably because they often rode in silence on account of her deafness.

mabel big and book

When MDL decided to give marriage a fourth shot, she married Native American Indian Tony Luhan in 1923. He persuaded her to buy a 12-acre (49,000 m2) property which included a ranch up on Lobo Mountain which Lawrence would fictionalise in the novella St. Mawr. The ranch was a present to her son John who was engaged to marry Alice Corbin. Despite her feminist principles, MDL asked Lawrence to give him a bit of advice. John reported he was advised ‘Never to let Alice know my thoughts. To be gentle with her when she was gentle but if she opposed my will, to beat her’. Despite this ‘useful’ advice, the two inevitably soon fell out.

It wasn’t long before Lawrence had had enough of ‘Mabeltown’ and so he and Frieda rented a separate cottage further up on Del Monte Ranch. MDL hoped that corresponding via letters may give her the intimacy with Lawrence that they’d been unable to achieve in person, but again she was wrong. These were shared with Frieda, ‘just to make everything square and open’.

Lorenzo in Taos is a fascinating social document that captures an earnest attempt to forge alternative ways of living in between the Great Wars. Some observations make you cringe and wince and are unintentionally hilarious. But there are some prescient observations too that shed light on life with a notoriously difficult writer.

‘Of course he was often gay. I don’t want you to think that in those first years he was cross or morose all the time. He was all right so long as things went his way. That is, if nothing happened to slight him. He simply couldn’t bear to have anyone question his power, his rightness, or even his appearance. I think his uncertainty, about himself, a vague feeling of inferiority, made him touchy.’

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. How could we represent the tension between Lawrence, Frieda and Mabel Dodge Luhan? If you have an idea about this or other artefacts you think should be included, you can submit ideas here.

 

FURTHER READING

Lorenzo in Taos 2: I put a spell on you…

mabel

‘Lawrence! – this is the best that has been done yet – And yet if you knew what lies untouched behind these externals, unreached by the illuminating vision of a simple soul yet! Oh come!’ Inscription inside a copy of  The Land of Poco Tiempo (1893) by Charles Fletcher Lummis that Mabel sent to Lawrence to entice him to Taos.

In the world of electronic media, communication is pretty easy. You type out a text, press send, and voila. But back in the 1920s things were a bit more complex. After trying the traditional route of sending a letter, Mabel Dodge Luhan (MDL), a wealthy American patron of the arts, went for a more unconventional way of luring DH Lawrence to her home in Taos, New Mexico. She willed him to come. ‘I drew myself all in to the core of my being where there is a live, plangent force lying passive…I leaped through space, joining myself to the central core of Lawrence, where he was in India, in Australia…I became the action that brought him across the sea.’

poco

MDL was convinced that Lawrence would be able to help the Pueblo Indians by documenting their lives. Although he was keen to visit, he didn’t share her sense of urgency. Undeterred, MDL asked her husband Tony to help her. Tony Luhan was a Native American Indian who had wooed MDL by setting up a tepee in front of her house, drumming each night until she eventually succumbed to his advances. If they combined magical powers, surely Lawrence would get his arse in gear and fulfil his destiny. Tony was reluctant to use his magic at first, arguing ‘the Indians believe that utterance is loss and that the closed and unrevealed holds power’ but this wasn’t the time for passivity and so MDL, sounding a bit like a business executive, ‘overruled him’.

When Lawrence and the QB finally turned up, Tony and MDL picked them up from Lamy station, 20 miles beyond Santa Fey. The charcoal kilns were burning pinon-wood, filling the air with a smell of incense. But MDL’s descriptions of their initial encounter are far from tranquil. The claws are out immediately. Frieda is described as having ‘a mouth like a gunman’ and Lawrence ‘ran with short, quick steps at her side…his slim fragility beside Frieda’s solidity.’ He is described as ‘scurrying’ to her side, and that he ‘twitches’ as he hides ‘behind her big body’. Given she had previously bragged about controlling her own husband she doesn’t seem to enjoy other women controlling their own.

lamb

Lawrence was ‘agitated, fussy, distraught, and giggling with nervous grimaces’ whereas Frieda ‘immediately saw Tony and me sexually, visualising our relationship.’ MDL is quite perceptive here, recognising Lawrence was uncomfortable with Frieda’s overt sensuality and that he was ‘through with that’. She observes ‘Frieda was complete, but limited. Lawrence, tied to her, was incomplete and limited. Like a lively lamb tied to a solid stake.’ Ouch. Full of hubris and an unhealthy infatuation with Lawrence, MDL believes she has the transformative power ‘that succeeds primary sex…the womb behind the womb’. She can be Lawrence’s emotional and intellectual confident.

As the four set off together in the car, the tensions begin to mount. This is made worst when the car brakes. Tony knows nothing about cars, but has a look under the bonnet – perhaps willing it to work. Frieda tells Lawrence to man up and get out and fix it but instead he starts ranting about these ‘nasty, unintelligent, unreliable things’ – that being the cars, rather than women. However, in Knud Merrild’s memoir A Poet and Two Painters (1938), he recalls Lawrence eagerly jumping out of their beloved but unrealiable car ‘Lizzie’ to help fix it as ‘he couldn’t bear not to be master of the situation.’

Fortuitously, Tony manages to get the car started without the aid of a drum or magic and they head to Sante Fe. But the drama isn’t over yet. The hotels are all booked up. But Witter Bynner and Spud Johnson are ‘always up’, and they host them for the night.

The next day there was a horrendous storm. The hail ‘battering upon the top of the car like cannon balls, cracking open on the ground like splitting shells.’ Unsurprisingly, MDL finds cosmic resonance in the weather, attributing it to her new guest. Although the storm did not last long, it managed to destroy all of the crops resulting in practically no harvests taken in all that year.

When Lawrence and Frieda finally arrived at MDLs, they had food in her dimly lit home and Lawrence, appreciative as ever, commented ‘It’s like one of those nasty little temples in India!’ When talk moved to their boat journey over, Lawrence shared his horror at having to share the deck with a group of Hollywood people. ‘Lawrence made us see that ship; the long slow passage through the blue sea, the reckless, sensational crowd on board, and his own watching angry, righteous, puritanical presence among them.’

And so begins a bizarre, loving, hateful, jealous, bitchy psychodrama that would be played out over campfires, charades, horseback rides and numerous letters up in the Lobo Mountains.

Source: Mabel Dodge Luhan (1932) Lorenzo in Taos (chapter 2). See previous blog on Luhan and Lawrence here.

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. How could we represent Lawrence’s time in Taos or Mabel Dodge Luhan’s quirky personality? If you have an idea about this or other artefacts you think should be included, you can submit ideas here.