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In 2019 we will launch our D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre to mark the centenary of Lawrence’s self- imposed exile. But what was it about 1919 that led to him turning his back on his country of birth for good? There are many reasons why Lawrence had had enough of the ‘grey ones’ but censorship was particularly frustrating, on both a financial and artistic level. But while his bad boy reputation put off many publishers, it offered a lifeline to Chatto and Windus who hoped to rejuvenise their flagging reputation. This is the first of two blogs exploring the history of Look! We Have Come Through!

WWI had a profound effect on many people, not least the 17 million soldiers and civilians who were killed. Industrialisation and technology, the bastions of modernity, were more accurately bastards, and bloody ones at that. Progress just meant you got to the grave quicker. The Great War, in addition to suppressing individuality for the greater good, would see Lawrence booted out of Cornwall, after he was accused of being a spy. The locals didn’t take kindly to his marriage to a German woman. All in all, he had plenty of reasons to turn his back on Blighty. But driving this desire to flee as far away as possible was his absolute frustration with the censors, the ‘aunties,’ the ‘grey ones’.

Sons and Lovers (1913) had already been banned from public libraries. But The Rainbow, published in September 1915, would only stay in print for two months before it was seized under the 1857 Obscene Publications Act. Unlike Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928) a decade later, the novel didn’t include any obscene words. But as prosecutor Herbert Muskett declared ‘it was in fact a mass of obscenity of thought, idea, and action’.

The novel included a Lesbian relationship, but at the time there wasn’t a law against this behavior (as there was with male homosexuality). Lesbianism was very much a love that dare not speak its name, mainly because men were the only ones allowed to do the talking. Women were only given the right to vote in 1918 and even then, only some women. But this gave publisher Methuen a get out of jail card as they were able to play dumb about what was going on in the novel.

In a review in the New Statesman, JC Squire, suggested the characters in Sons and Lovers were under ‘the spell of German psychologists’, for daring to question fundamentals of their life (religion, love, relationships), and by implication were anti-British in nature. Judge Sir John Dickinson therefore ruled that the book ‘had no right to exist in the wind of war’, and that Lawrence was in effect mocking the very principles British men were fighting to defend. One of these men happened to be Dickinson’s son, who was killed in battle a few weeks before the trial. Lawrence never stood a chance. But just to wind him up a bit more – not that he needed provocation – copies of The Rainbow were burned by a hangman outside the Royal Exchange.

Lawrence faced a dilemma all writers encounter at some point in their career, but one that was particularly pertinent to modernists at the time: Did he continue to experiment and push boundaries, remaining true to himself, or conform in order to sell books and put food on his plate.

However, a recent paper by Andrew Nash suggests the relationship between authors and publishers was more dynamic and that it was Lawrence’s name that attracted Chatto & Windus to publish Look! We Have Come Through! in 1917. The poetry collection details Lawrence’s relationship with his wife, Frieda, and had previously gone under the title of Man and Woman and later Poems of a Married Man.

Look! We Have Come Through! was rejected by Duckworth who had previously published The Prussian Officer and Other Stories (1914), Amores (1916), and Twilight in Italy. These provided a broad range of Lawrence’s work in the form of short stories, poems, and essays, so they couldn’t be accused of being unsupportive.

Chatto & Windus accepted the manuscript and Nash believes this was partly because ‘the firm was entering a period of transition and was soon to regain a position of pre-eminence in British publishing’. These changes were largely brought about by Geoffrey Whitworth (1883–1951) and Frank Swinnerton (1884–1982)’. Arnold Bennett was particularly impressed by Swinnerton who he said had ‘turned Chatto & Windus from a corpse into the liveliest thing of its sort in London’.

‘The editorial dynamics of the firm’ writes Nash ‘manifested itself in a style of publishing that often placed literary concerns before those of business. Swinnerton’s role in the firm was especially significant and illustrates an important trend in literary publishing of the period. Authors were becoming more actively involved in publishing and more closely engaged with policy-making decisions. For writers like Lawrence this was crucial. Swinnerton was an important advocate for his work.’

However, Swinnerton was perceptive enough to see how Lawrence could help elevate the flagging status of the company. His report notes recommend publishing the collection ‘on the ground that Lawrence’s name would be valuable to our list. I could not emphasise this point too strongly. Lawrence has a decided following, and his name has a real distinction’.

Percy Spalding letter

Nash observes that ‘the publishing policy of Chatto & Windus in this period serves to illustrate that, in spite of the constraints of censorship and wartime production costs, there were forces in mainstream publishing that were keen to embrace modern literary forms and issue the work of authors whose subject-matter was challenging and potentially dangerous and whose popular appeal was small.’

Swinnerton had to convince Percy Spalding, who objected to the ‘sexual imagery and the conflation of love and religion’ within the collection and demanded that ‘Song of a Man who is Loved’ and ‘Meeting Among the Mountains’ were omitted from the volume as a condition of publishing. ‘Song of a Man who is Loved’ would be reinstated into the collection in 1928 when Secker published the Collected Poems.

Given his history, Lawrence had to compromise. His agent Pinker got the brunt of his frustrations: ‘Publishers are fools, one wants to spit at them — But it is not worth while making a real breach’. In a letter to Amy Lowell he wrote ‘This is a one bright beam in my publishing sky. But I shall have to go and look for daylight with a lantern’.

But Lawrence being Lawrence there were additional demands, such as the setting of the six-part poem ‘Ballad of a Wilful Woman’ on separate pages, irrespective of what this might cost the publisher or wartime restrictions on paper.

Edward McKnight Kauffer cover

The avant garde cover was designed by Edward McKnight Kauffer whose influences included futurism, cubism, and vorticism, making this a very modern publication that stood out from other publications on the Chatto and Windus list. It wasn’t to everyone’s liking. A reviewer in Sketch complained that the incomprehensible cover ‘looks like a mixture of two broken combs and the fragments of a knife-cleaner’ and that this ‘ought to warn you to expect something desperately eccentric’. This, of course, is exactly what the publishers wanted; literature and art that broke with the prevailing aesthetic and moral conventions of the period. However, this ambition did not translate into sales and it was time for Lawrence to find a new publisher for his next work.

Source: D.H Lawrence and the publication of Look! We have come Through! by Andrew Nash The Library, Volume 12, Issue 2, 1 June 2011, Pages 142–163,

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts to try to understand this complex writer.  How do we capture Lawrence’s relationship with agents and publishers? How important was he to literary modernism? How do we convey his frustration at being constantly censored? In 2019 we will be building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact get involved and submit ideas here.

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