The writer, essayist and broadcaster Kevin Jackson (3 January 1955 – 10 May 2021) was a true polymath, writing on a diverse range of subjects that ranged from Dante and Ruskin to the birth of Modernism. We commissioned Kevin to create ‘D.H. Lawrence Zombie Hunter’ for our previous digital literary project Dawn of the Unread. Here he explains why Lawrence was so suited to the zombie genre.
I’d really like to brag or moan about how hard it was to come up with the ideas for this comic, but to be frank, compared to a lot of the stuff I have had to research so as to provide material for Hunt Emerson (who is, by the way, one of the very few people I have met who is possessed of genius), this was a doddle.
First of all, Lawrence’s short life was packed with all the action you could need: tough childhood, early struggles, unlikely marriage to an exotic aristocrat whose cousin had been a legend of the Great War, passionate friendships and bitter feuds, then travel, travel, travel, all around the globe… Allowing for a little fantastical license here and there, the account of Lawrence’s life in this strip is pretty accurate. Most of the standard biographies don’t mention zombies, though.
Then you have the fact that DHL was a real Mr Angry – the Basil Fawlty of literary modernism. He has sometimes been called the “High Priest of Love”, because of the notorious sexy bits in his books, but High Priest of Loathe would be more apt. You name it, he was probably driven nuts by it. Among major twentieth century writers, his only rivals in rage were Ezra Pound (who went mad from anger, and not in a pretty way) and Louis Ferdinand Celine (who may also have been mad; if he wasn’t, he’s probably burning in Hell).
Finally – the biggest stroke of luck – the way in which Lawrence wrote about the people and the countries he hated was an almost perfect fit for the required zombie metaphor. He liked to snarl that his enemies were either half-dead (especially in the genital zone) or as good as dead; he described Britain as a giant graveyard, and as a vast open coffin sinking into the seas. Tweak those outbursts just a little and, voila! Lawrence’s “savage pilgrimage” from nation to nation becomes a one-man war against the zombification of the human race.
It might seem odd to say this, but it is this slightly barmy, ranting side of Lawrence that I now find most attractive. Like most people, I first read him as a teenager. For some teenagers, boys and girls alike, he has been one of the great liberating forces. But this was the seventies, when a new wave of feminism was on the rise, and Lawrence became a major villain – Public Male Chauvinist Pig Number One. And then I went to college and studied English, at a time when the previously overpowering presence of DHL’s biggest champion, F.R. Leavis, had finally withered and all but died. No one I respected so much as mentioned him, except with a shrug or a knowing sneer.
This was unfair, and unfortunate. One of the writers I did greatly admire in my teens (and still admire) was someone who seemed the precise opposite of Lawrence: Anthony Burgess. Where Lawrence was humourless and would-be prophetic, Burgess was funny – sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Where Lawrence was ponderous, Burgess was fleet. Lawrence was a bar-room philosopher and a bully; Burgess was a polymath who wore his learning with wit and panache. And so on.
Yet – how odd this seemed – Burgess greatly warmed to this author who was so much unlike him. What Burgess responded to was Lawrence’s distance from the London literary elite – as a Mancunian, Burgess never felt comfortable with the Establishment; and his capacity for sheer hard work; and his sense that to be a writer is to be more than just someone who hawks their goods in the marketplace. Burgess also liked quite a lot of Lawrence’s prose, and explained why in a short, highly readable book about DHL, Flame Into Being.
It was that book which persuaded me to try to be more open-minded about Lawrence. When it comes right down to it, I still don’t like the smell of him, as it were. As a completely soppy dog-lover, I cannot forget the horrible incident in which he kicked a bitch almost to death because she had not obeyed his call. He was self-righteous, and narcissistic, and often very, very boring. I doubt I would have liked him, and I am sure he would have despised me. But, I’ll admit it. The bastard could write.
Original article published by Dawn of the Unread here
- D.H. Lawrence Zombie Hunter (dawnoftheunread.com)
- Kevin Jackson obituary (Guardian.com)
- The Disappearance of Kevin Jackson (bfi.org.uk)
- Kevin Jackson And Modernism: Constellations of Genius (medium.com)
- Modernism with Ali Smith and Kevin Jackson (BBC Radio 4)