It was finally time to say goodbye to Thirroul and the anonymous lifestyle that had served Lawrence well. He liked the simplicity of life in Australia, with the ‘wood and tin’[i] houses where life was ‘nice’ ‘so easy, and sunny’[ii]. His next stop is America where he suspects he will stay for ‘a month or two’[iii] with a detour via the South Sea Islands.
Katherine Pritchard provided Lawrence with a set of novels, poems and plays from the likes of Louis Esson (1879 – 1943) and Furnley Maurice (1881 – 1942) but he was unimpressed as ‘they all make me feel desperately miserable. My, how hopelessly miserable one can feel in Australia’[iv]. On a more positive note, Pritchard had sent him a copy of The Black Opal – the first of her mining novels – which he kept to read on the voyage.
His correspondence during August is relatively slim, with Katherine Mansfield receiving a one-word card from her birthplace Wellington that read ‘Ricordi’[v] which means remembrances. ‘How like him’ she informed her husband John Middleton Murry.
The Lawrence’s left on the RMS Tahiti on 10 August, a ship he described as ‘like a big boarding-house staggering over the sea’[vi]. And stagger it did, sinking in 1930 after propeller failure. He visits Rarotonga on the Cook Islands for the day and finds it to be a ‘lovely island’ that is ‘tropical almost but not sweltering’ and full of ‘great red hibiscus’[vii]. And although he is gushing about the flowers, the tropics and their ‘reptile nausea’[viii] aren’t for him. ‘These are supposed to be earthly paradises: these South Sea Isles. You can have ‘em.[ix]’
Then it’s off to Tahiti for two days. The island may be beautiful but he’s disappointed with the town. Papeete is a ‘poor, dull, modernish place’[x] and angers him so much he fires off a series of xenophobic and racist rants. Compton Mackenzie is warned, ‘if you are thinking of coming here don’t. The people are brown and soft’[xi] whereas Mary Cannan is told ‘Papeete is a poor sort of place, mostly Chinese, natives in European clothes, and fat.’[xii]
Lawrence was a pigeon-chested workaholic who loved hard graft. Presumably, ‘soft’ ‘fat’ people offended his work ethic which may explain why he starts longing for Taormina, so he can once more admire the local peasants working bare chested in the garden, though they inevitably annoyed him too.
At Tahiti he has the misfortune to bump into a ‘Crowd of cinema people who have been making a film.’[xiii] This was Lost and Found on a South Sea Island (1923 dir. R.A. Walsh) and involves Captain Blackbird rescuing his daughter from warring natives on Pago Pago. Nice.
Lawrence described the cinema people as ‘undistinguished’ and ‘common.’[xiv] This may be because he saw cinema as an emotional barrier that disconnected people from their feelings. ‘The pictures are cheap, and they are easy, and they cost the audience nothing, no feeling of the heart, no appreciation of the spirit[xv]’ he wrote a few years earlier in The Lost Girl (1920). Raymond Williams he was not.
But when we dig a little bit deeper beneath the moaning and insults, we get to the heart of the real problem. For 25 days he has been confined on a boat, albeit in first class, with 60 passengers and ‘one simply aches to be alone, away from them all’ as he had been in Australia. ‘To be alone, and to be still, is always one of the greatest blessings. The more one sees of people, the more one feels it isn’t worth while[xvi]’.
He would soon have his wish. A tiny cabin 8,600 feet above sea level awaited him in high up in New Mexico.
[i] Letter to S.S. Koteliansky, 8 August 1922
[iii] Letter to William Siebenhaar, 2 August 1922
[iv] Letter to Katherine Pritchard, 6 August 1922
[v] Letter to Katherine Mansfield, 20 August 1922
[vi] Letter to Lady Cynthia Asquith, 20 August 1922
[vii] Letter to Earl Brewster, 20 August 1922
[viii] Letter top Mary Cannan, 31 August 1922
[x] Letter to Catherine Carswell, 22 August 1922
[xi] Letter to Compton Mackenzie, 22 August 1922
[xii] Letter to Mary Cannan, 31 August 1922
[xv] For an analysis of DHL’s views on cinema see Linda R. Williams (1993) Sex in The Head Visions of Femininity and Film in D.H. Lawrence, Taylor and Francis.
[xvi] Letter to Mary Cannan, 31 August 1922