In this guest blog, David Brock explains how the phoenix became an iconic symbol of Lawrence’s intellectual and spiritual struggles, as well as being a familiar sign used by local businesses close to his birthplace of Eastwood. David also discusses how he came to become the owner of a phoenix tapestry created by Lawrence and Frieda during their troubled stay in Cornwall.
The phoenix was a frequently employed symbol in D. H. Lawrence’s day. Insurance companies, in particular, favoured it. There were Phoenix Cottages in Eastwood, and a Phoenix Coffee Tavern. The famous mythical bird featured in the catalogue produced by Haywoods, the surgical goods factory in Nottingham, where Lawrence worked as a clerk for a few months, in 1901, before leaving due to illness.
Owing to its association with Lawrence, the phoenix is still a familiar sight to Eastwood residents and visitors, clearly visible on canopies, set as metal studs into the pavement and as the name of the local snooker hall. And many companies large and small throughout the country employ it, even those as seemingly mundane as Phoenix Mould Tools Ltd. or Phoenix Damp Proofing!
But, Lawrence was first seriously struck by this ancient symbol, and drawn to adopt it as his life-long and dearly-held symbol of regeneration, on being given a book containing Christian iconography. From being connected to the sun-god in Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilisations, the pagan phoenix becomes an image of resurrection used by Christianity, representing the triumph of life over death, as in the Easter story.
It became D.H. Lawrence’s own great religion of life that man must die away from the disastrous living-death of mass industialism in order to be reborn into a more complete existence, and the phoenix represented his hope for this regeneration of humanity splendidly. In Lawrence’s fiction, many of his characters break down and lose their former consciousness before achieving individual renewal. The central character and eponymous hero of Aaron’s Rod, for instance, must undergo the phoenix experience, having “to go to destruction to find his way through from the lowest depths”.
A century ago, in order to distance himself from horrendous critical attacks – his great novel, The Rainbow, had been prosecuted, banned and burned in the streets of London, outside the courthouse, by the Public Hangman, rather deterring publishers from taking on any other of his works – Lawrence moved to that most pagan part of the country, Cornwall. While living near Zennor, and helping on the farm at Higher Tregerthen, Lawrence embroidered a tapestry of a phoenix. It represented his deep desire to found a new community, leading to a new civilisation, from what he regarded as the ashes of the old. He gave this phoenix to his young farmer friend, William Henry Hocking, who was very much impressed by Lawrence and Frieda, never having previously come across such lively free spirits. I am now the proud owner of the tapestry phoenix, as you can see in the picture, which I purchased from an auction a long time ago.
David organises a D.H. Lawrence reading, study and performance group, The Lawrence Players, which meets fortnightly, between 5 and 7 pm in Chapel-en-le-Frith library (16th, 30th May and so on). Any enquiries, please contact David at firstname.lastname@example.org
In 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 represent the phoenix or Lawrence’s ideas on community and creating a new civilisation? In 2019 we begin 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