How do you represent Phallic Tenderness?

The third artefact in the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre is the phallus which we are publishing in September to coincide with both Lawrence (11th) and Millett’s (14th) birthdays. But representing such a divisive symbol as the phallus has been difficult…

If somebody hacked my Google account, they might jump to some fanciful conclusions about who I am. This is because my searches have included ‘penis shaped plants’, ‘penis shaped buildings’, cockerels, etc. Consequently, my Google algorithm is generating a variety of unwelcome suggestions for leisure activities and body enhancing surgery. As always, context is everything.

The third artefact in the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre is phallic tenderness. For this, we’ve commissioned Stephen Alexander, author of Torpedo the Ark, to write twelve mini essays that explore it’s use by Lawrence. I asked Stephen to write twelve as I originally had the idea of creating a Speaking Cock, with a phallus as an hour handle. Visitors to our website would touch the screen, the cock handle would spin around, and one of the generated essays would be read aloud. I even contacted a Flemish woman to see if she would like to read out the essays. She never responded.

Todger talk is very embarrassing for us Brits. Lawrence was acutely aware of this, observing in the essay ‘Introduction to These Paintings’ that British artists are only able to paint the landscape because ‘it doesn’t call up the more powerful responses of the human imagination, the sensual, passional response[i]’thus the English ‘have delighted in landscape, and have succeeded in it well. It is a form of escape for them, from the actual human body they so hate and fear, and it is an outlet for their perishing aesthetic desires[ii]’.

It’s partly for this reason that he painted a phallus into his pictures to ‘shock people’s castrated social spirituality’. I thought the ‘Speaking Cock’ was a fun way of broaching a potentially divisive theme, particularly given the sensitive times we live in, but decided against it for fear of trivialising what was a sacred symbol to Lawrence. This would have turned our project into a cabinet of curiosities, a gimmick to gawp at, rather than a careful curation of artefacts that explore key themes in his work.

Another reason for rejecting the Speaking Cock is technological and related to how users access the memory theatre through different devices. Viewed on a laptop or iPad, our website content can be structured in columns and rows. The Speaking Cock could be broken up into three rows of four, meaning we could emulate a clock face of twelve hours – one for each essay. But when viewed on a phone, each essay would be broken down into a singular row to be scrolled through and so the image wouldn’t make sense.  

Phallus horizontal

In the end I created an image that combines a phallus and a phoenix – Lawrence’s personal emblem of rebirth – and then framed it with a border of flowers. I used the ‘fringe’ filter in Pixlr to distort the colours and create a hallucinogenic effect – to represent the energy flow of this transformative symbol.

Another issue was finding appropriate holding images for each essay. The two previous artefacts in the memory theatre comprised of four essays. As this one included twelve (because they were originally intended to form a clock) it would have looked like we’d gone willy mad if I’d populated it with twelve phallic images. Thus, it took a long time to design appropriate images that reflected the content of each essay.

The essays were initially published between November and December 2021 on our Instagram
I was hoping the essays would appear on the website at the same time but this has not been possible because Paul, my co-producer, has been too busy. He has his hands in various pots and also has his own business, Think Amigo, to run. Fortunately, I was able to secure some funding to lure him away for a bit and he’s produced a superb WordPress interface which means I now have access to the website and can help with layout and design content.

I’ve spent many years as an editor on projects and I become hungrier and hungrier for complete autonomy. Over the past few years, I’ve learned graphic design, video and sound editing, and can even read a bit of code. This not only provides the stimulation and variety to get out of bed each morning, but, on a pragmatic level, means you are less reliant on other people to get a job done. It is our intention to submit a funding bid at some point and bring in other people to help us with the project, but until we have time to do that, learning
new skills is vital to ensure the memory theatre, like Lawrence, keeps moving,
and what’s more, with haste.      

[i] ‘Introduction to these Paintings’ in D.H. Lawrence: Complete Essays, Blackthorn Press.
2009. Page 449

[ii] Ibid

You can read the essays here:

Locating Lawrence: September 1922

Lawrence ‘arrived penniless’[i] in San Francisco with less than $20[ii] to his name. But not all was doom and gloom. Mountsier had sold The Captain’s Doll for $1000 to Hearst International – the most he would ever receive for a story – although they would later release it. Still, he was able to stay in the Palace Hotel which ‘was once a corrugated iron hut where the ox-wagons once unhitched’ but was ‘now a great building with post and shops in it, like a little town in itself’[iii].  

He knew that Taos would ‘cost next to nothing[iv]’ and so this was a good opportunity to help friends or pay off old debts. Eddie Marsh (1839–1915) was sent a cheque for £20 for the generosity he showed Lawrence in November 1915 – seven years ago![v]. In another life, Lawrence would have made an excellent accountant.  

After 25 days or so at sea, Lawrence was feeling ‘landsick’ and complained that ‘the solid ground almost hurts’[vi]. It didn’t help that San Francisco was so noisy, like ‘a sort of never-stop Hades’[vii]. Another headache was the suppression of Women in Love which Thomas Seltzer would successfully defend in the courts along with a couple of his other titles.

After a lot of dilly dallying, Lawrence was finally on his way to Taos on Friday 8 September. He knew the perils of another detour on route: ‘I simply daren’t stop off at Yosemite or Grand Canyon: feel I might drop dead if any more stupendousness assails me[viii]’.

Mabel Dodge Sterne had built the Lawrence’s a ‘lovely adobe house’ and they were both ‘quite overwhelmed[ix]’. But this comes at a cost. She wants him to capture life in New Mexico as he had done in Sea and Sardinia and immediately ships him off to see a dance at the Jicarilla Apache Reservation which would lead to the essay ‘Indians and an Englishman’.

Lawrence captured the American dream in a pithy phrase: ‘shove or be shoved[x]’. But at least the Americans were buying his books, and more importantly, bringing in the money. ‘If America will accept me and England won’t,’ he carped, ‘I belong to America’[xi].  

Their home was 30 miles or so from the nearest railway and accessed via a desert. Frieda could once more revel in the temporary thrill of being still, ‘boiling wild plums that the Indians brought us[xii]’ and making jam, naturally under Lawrence’s supervision. Lawrence could once more become a stranger in unfamiliar surroundings: ‘I feel a great stranger, but have got used to that feeling, and prefer it to feeling ‘homely’. After all, one is a stranger, nowhere so hopelessly as at home[xiii]’ he informed E.M. Forster.  

Then there was the dressing up. ‘You should see me in your white riding breeches, a blue shirt, a cowboy hat, and your white tie, trotting on a bay pony[xiv]’ he informed Earl Brewster.

The environment is often a good signifier of Lawrence’s mood and once it takes on a mystical quality, you know he’s intrigued. Towards the end of September he can feel ‘a curious grudge…in the very soil itself[xv]’ and suggests that if the Taos mountains were a woman she would be Thais[xvi], the prophetess who encouraged Alexander the Great to set fire to the palaces of Persepolis.

At the time, Lawrence was polishing off the proofs of Studies in Classical American Literature whereby he analysed each writer according to his personal set of values and circumstances. The same was happening again now. It was Lawrence who had a grudge. He had a grudge against Mabel Dodge Sterne for her kindness and hospitality, all of which he finds a bit oppressive, thus America is reduced to his specific set of circumstances: ‘everybody seems to be trying to enforce his, or her, will, and trying to see how much the other person or persons will let themselves be overcome. Of course the will is benevolent, kind, and all that, but none the less it is other people’s will being put on me like a pressure[xvii]’.  

For Lawrence, this negative individual and egoistic will ‘seems to be turned against all spontaneous life[xviii]’. And it’s for this reason that ‘America is neither free nor brave, but a land of tight, iron-clanking little wills, everybody trying to put it over everybody else, and a land of men absolutely devoid of the real courage of trust, trust in life’s sacred spontaneity.[xix]’ The Star Spangled Banner is more appropriately ‘Stripes of persecution[xx]’. And with that he declares he wants to return to Europe in the spring, that Italy has his heart, and confesses a slight bit of homesickness for England, ‘though I still feel very angry against it[xxi]’.

He knows that all of this travelling is ‘a form of running away from oneself and the great problems[xxii]’ and that perhaps it is his destiny ‘to try these places’ ‘to know the world[xxiii]’ all of which brings him back to a recurring solution: ‘Only the desert has a fascination – to ride alone – in the sun in the forever unpossessed country – away from man.[xxiv]


  • [i] L2578 Robert Moutsier
  • [ii] L2579 Mabel Dodge Sterne
  • [iii] L2580 Baroness Anna von Richthofen
  • [v] L2598 Edward Marsh
  • [vi] L2580 Baroness Anna von Richthofen
  • [vii] L2583 Robert Mountsier
  • [ix] L2594 Thomas Seltzer
  • [x] L2597 S.S. Koteliansky
  • [xi] L2600 Martin Secker
  • [xii] L2605 Anna Jenkins
  • [xiv] L2608 Earl Brewster
  • [xvi] L2612 Harriet Monroe
  • [xx] L2587 Amy Lowell
  • [xxi] L2616 Mary Cannan
  • [xxii] L2617 Catherine Carswell