Jan Juta’s illustrations in Sea and Sardinia (1921)

D.H. Lawrence was more than a prolific writer. He was also fiercely obsessive over every aspect of the publication process as correspondence with Jan Juta and others testifies during the publication of Sea and Sardinia in 1921.

Born in Cape Town, Jan Carel Juta (1897 – 1990) was a South African painter who illustrated Lawrence’s travel book Sea and Sardinia which celebrates its centenary this year. He also specialised as a muralist, designing work in fresco, glass, metal and wood. His commissions varied from book illustrations, such as those produced for his sister Rene’s travel books Concerning Corsica and Cannes and the Hills to murals created for the Cunard liners RMS Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. He also authored the short story collection Look out for the Ostriches, and the memoirs Background in Sunshine and Tilting with the Stars.   

Son of Sir Henry Juta, Judge President of the Union of South Africa, Juta was a former student of the Slade School of Art, London who met Lawrence in 1920 when studying at the British School in Rome where he would go on to produce the oil painting of Lawrence that currently hangs in the National Gallery. He was also a keen traveller himself, with his art taking him to France, Italy and South Africa before he settled in New Jersey, America.

Juta would take on a series of prestigious roles during his career including president emeritus of the National Society of Mural Painters, America and chief of visual information at the United Nations Department of Public Information. He also found time to be a lay preacher and reader for Episcopal churches. He covered a lot during his 95 years of life, but it is the 24-year-old Juta that is of interest here as his correspondence with Lawrence reveals a lot about Lawrence’s guardianship of his work.

After sending Juta a copy of Sea and Sardinia and discovering that he liked it, Lawrence wrote to him on 7 June 1921 expressing his desire to see his portraits of Sardinian life with the intention of including them in his travel book. Although he warned that London publishers were ‘jumping for fright at the thought of colour expense!’ it is clear that Lawrence had every intention of ensuring they were included and what follows is a remarkable series of letters to various people to make that happen. 

Firstly, Lawrence wrote to Curtis Brown – his new UK agent – stating he did not want Thomas Secker to publish the book because ‘it would fall dead flat’ and was keen to stress it was ‘an exact and real travel book: no stunt’ and, perceptive as ever, that ‘time will come when people will want such: when they’re sick of stunts and showing off’. Lawrence goes on to recommend publishers who will make it a colour book ‘and not funk it’. Such was his willingness to have a professionally produced book he was willing to take a ‘very small royalty if cost of production is so alarming to the poor souls’.

By the 12 June Lawrence was more buoyant towards Secker – he had just received the remaining advance for Women in Love from him – and began pleading the case for Sea and Sardinia and Juta’s illustrations. Like a naughty child offsetting the affection of duelling parents, he warns ‘for the Lord’s Sake, don’t let Curtis Brown imagine I write you any business. It is high treason in his eyes’.

Lawrence wrote to Juta on the 23 June informing him the pictures had arrived and that he liked them ‘very much’ and that Frieda was ‘enraptured’. Why he was not ‘enraptured’ is anyone’s guess, but either way the message of approval was delivered.      

Top: Juta. L: Juta. M: Map of Sardinia. R: Juta’s portrait of Lawrence

His next task was to contact the printer Max Schreiber about costs. Frugal as ever, he suggests ‘smuggling’ them out the country to avoid import duty. This is all very fitting as Sea and Sardinia, among other things, is very much about the cost of living and reads in places like a balance sheet. This is understandable given Lawrence lived large bouts of his life in poverty. Writing was not just about sharing his thoughts; it was the thing that put bread and butter on the plate. Hence his prolific output. It’s no surprise, then, that he wanted to be involved in the production of the book and not leave anything to chance. This is evident in his letter to Juta the following day when he begins to consider different formats and costs for the book: ‘12/6 for book and folio together, and book 7/6, pictures 7/6 apart’. 

He was also unhappy with the titles used under the pictures such as ‘Path of the Righteous’ and instead preferred to be ‘exact and local’ and ‘real’ suggesting alternatives such as ‘Sunday Morning’ or ‘Church-Goers’. The final titles were even more pared back, consisting of place names: Orosei, Isili, Tonara, Sorgono, Fonni, Gavoi, Nuoro, Terranova. 

Lawrence’s letter to Juta on the 29 June reads like a printing brochure, with precise detail of costs, exchange rates, sizes, plate engravings, and his determination to ’force the hands of the publishers’ and not ‘let them off’. He then relays similar details to Curtis Brown on 2 July, adding that the prints could also be used in a magazine spread. On 30 July he suggests to Seltzer that Schofield Thayer, editor of The Dial, may opt for a couple of pictures or articles from Sea and Sardinia and that this might ‘help pay for the pictures’ to be printed. He then immediately writes to Thayer suggesting Seltzer or Mountsier will send him a copy of Sea and Sardinia even though ‘you won’t like it’ and then ends with a playful prod suggesting The Dial is a ‘cross, irritable paper’.    

In the introduction to Volume IV of The Letters of D.H. Lawrence, the editors quote Samuel Johnson: ‘In a man’s letters his soul lies naked’. Lawrence’s letters to Juta and those involved in the publication of Sea and Sardinia reveal a writer very much involved in every aspect of the publication process. He is fastidious with detail, pre-empts problems, and is happy to go behind people’s backs to get what he wants. He is pragmatic, informative and deceptive. He fights for Juta’s work to be included because he knows it will enhance his text but he also fights for Juta to be paid because he knows what it is to go without.   

Modern writers today may bemoan the fact that they are expected to have a strong social media presence and promote their own work across platforms, but it is unlikely any are quite so committed as Lawrence was.   

Further reading

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