The disruption caused by coronavirus has forced the D.H. Lawrence Society to embrace the digital age and invest in a funky new website, Twitter account and YouTube channel. This means that I am able to share their first online talk here, given by Fiona Fleming. In the four clips below she discusses the respective lives, loves and literary influences of Lawrence and Thomas Hardy. Out of Sheer Joy, I have provided my own summary…
Thomas Hardy (2 June 1840 – 11 January 1928) was a Victorian realist influenced by Romanticism. Born 45 years before Lawrence, his last novel, Jude the Obscure, was published in 1895, when Lawrence was ten. Hardy died the year Lady C was originally published. Both writers confronted controversial topics during their careers, risking censorship due to their interpretations of modernity and the prevailing morality of the time.
In terms of family, Fleming states that the Hardy’s were a tight clan, mainly because they remained together in Dorset throughout their lives. Dorset would be portrayed as the semi-fictionalised region of Wessex in his novels. Lawrence remained in contact with his family, but as he lived abroad from 1919 onwards, visits to the East Midlands were more sporadic. Eastwood and the surrounding mining communities would inform much of Lawrence’s early novels and plays, though he would write, ‘I can be anywhere at home, except home’.
Both writers were subject to the oppressive love of a matriarch whose aspirations for her children exceeded her own achievements. Church was a regular feature of their childhood. In Apocalypse, Lawrence would write, ‘I was brought up on the Bible and seemed to have it in my bones’ – which was read at him rather than to him at Sunday School. The overbearing dogmatism of a non-conformist church would, Fleming argues, lead to Lawrence’s loss of faith. However, he never lost his passion for hymns, adapting their symbolism to suit him where needed.
Hardy was also ushered into church life but was intrigued by ritual rather than any form of spiritual meaning. He would later become agnostic due to his own philosophical and scientific readings. He also loved church music, seeing hymns as a form of poetry. Although they both had very different ideas on what constituted a good hymn, especially ‘Lead Kindly Light’ which Lawrence felt was too sentimental.
In terms of education, FE wasn’t really an option due to financial restrictions. Therefore, they both self-educated as much as possible, drawing influence and education from friends and family around them. I often wonder what kind of person Lawrence would have become if he hadn’t encountered the likes of the Chambers and Hopkins families.
J.M. Barrie was a big influence on Hardy’s posthumous literary success, finding him a burial spot at Poet’s Corner and helping Hardy’s second wife, Florence, publish the definitive collection, The Life and Works of Thomas Hardy. Barrie also has a Nottingham connection. He worked as a journalist at the Nottingham Daily Journal between 1883 – 4. It’s believed that while he was here, he conceived of the character of Peter Pan and based the setting of Neverland on the Arboretum – the park he would walk through each morning on his way to work. Lawrence never met J.M. Barrie, partly because he was abroad but mainly because he detested literary gatherings which tended to attract ‘smoking, steaming shits’. One friend they had in common was literary critic, John Middleton Murry – although friend might be pushing it as far as Lawrence is concerned. Their relationship was doomed after the failed attempt at Rananim in Cornwall in 1916 and Murry’s moral betrayal via his editorship of the Adelphi. But then again, Lawrence fell out with everyone in the end (except perhaps Catherine Carswell).
Another mutual friend was the writer and socialite Lady Cynthia Asquith (1887 –1960) the daughter-in-law of H. H. Asquith, the prime minister whose threat to ennoble Hardy and Barrie (alongside 498 others) so frightened the House of Lords in 1911. Lawrence wrote to her regularly, describing her as a “Pre-Raphaelite ‘dreaming woman'”. Lawrence was intrigued by the aristocracy in terms of their grand families. His wife Frieda, of course, was born to aristocracy, but like Lawrence, had little interest in social status. Lacking Lawrence’s self-confidence, Hardy was desperate to climb the social ladder that his family had so successfully slipped down the previous century. His need to be respected can be found in an amusing anecdote about his morbid self-obsession with his own death. This tale was shared with Asquith by J.M. Barrie:
“[H]e often smiled over Hardy’s preoccupation with his plans for his own burial–plans which were perpetually being changed. “One day,” said Barrie,” Hardy took me to see the place where he wants most to be buried, and the next day he took me to see the place where he would like next best to be buried. Usually he says he is to be buried exactly in between his two wives, but sometimes he is to be so many inches.”
Fleming argues that Hardy’s vulnerability and lamenting for social status can be seen in novels such as Tess of the D’Urbervilles where Tess descends into poverty and obscurity. In the novel, traditional ways of life are slowly eroded by modernity, represented by effete city folk who are only able to ingest milk that has been watered down. Lawrence too wrote about how industry and modernity places a barrier between man and nature. But instead of mopping about, he went in search of primitive cultures and the ‘religion of the blood’. However, when he describes the coastline of Cornwall as belonging “still to the days before Christianity, the days of Druids, or of desolate Celtic magic and conjuring” he could be accused of creating worlds as equal fictional as Hardy’s Wessex.
Indeed, Lawrence’s great skill as a writer was the way he would impose his own values and sense of self into any topic he chose to write about. As he wrote on 5 September 1914: “Out of sheer rage I’ve begun my book on Thomas Hardy. It will be about anything but Thomas Hardy I am afraid – queer stuff – but not bad.”
Source: Fiona Fleming (You can join the D.H. Lawrence Society here) Special thanks also to ivebeenreadinglately.blogspot.com
In the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre we are exploring Lawrence life through artefacts. We officially set sail in November 2019 to mark the centenary of his self-imposed exile, but then a virus came along and everything has been put on hold. You can submit artefacts here, or join in the conversation on Instagram or leave a comment below.