Lawrence’s first letter of 1923 is to reassure the artist Jan Juta, who illustrated Sea and Sardinia, that his literary agent Robert Mountsier is due to arrive on the 1st of Jan and he will bring a statement of sales for their joint venture. ‘We both get some money…but not a great deal.[i]’ And then a couple of sentences later he dismisses artists in Taos who ‘paint purely in terms of dollars.[ii]’
Lawrence seems quite motherly about Mountsier when he first arrives, hoping the break will enable him to ‘settle down to ranch life and forget literary agency for the time being.[iii]’ But by the time he leaves on 28 January, Lawrence is glad to see the back of him. But more of that another time…
In terms of writing, lots of loose ends are starting to come together. The December issue of The Laughing Horse turns up which includes his review of Ben Hecht’s Fantazius Mallare: A Mysterious Oath[iv]. He’s not content to merely finish writing Birds, Beasts and Flowers but instead wants to know about the intended format of the book: What size it will be, what decoration it will include, all details of which he wants ‘exactly.[v]’ In terms of Studies in Classic America Literature, Seltzer is instructed ‘if you want anything altered or eliminated, tell me the page and line.[vi]’ Despite this productive period of writing, he is becoming increasingly frustrated with Martin Secker (1882 –1978) the London publisher who ‘I don’t trust[vii]’ because he isn’t publishing his books quickly enough.
When not writing and reviewing he’s busy working on translations[viii] of Giovanni Verga (1840 –1922) which would be published in the collection Little Novels of Sicily. Lawrence would have related to many of the themes in Verga’s sketches, not least the class struggle between property owners and tenants, evocative descriptions of the landscape and man’s changing relationship with it.
All of this would be enough for most writers, but Lawrence is not like other writers. He wants to know more about the 1888 copyright laws between Italy and U.S.A[ix] and is pitching artwork on behalf of Gøtzsche to the Dial to illustrate his essay ‘Taos’ which would be published in March 1923[x].
Perhaps because he spent so much time focussed on literary matters, he expected his literary connections to help with domestic issues. Adele Seltzer is tasked with sending Frieda some underwear[xi].
The most interesting letter of January is to Thomas Seltzer which reports that Pips, a French bull terrier given to Lawrence by Mabel Dodge Sterne, ‘got well spanked – and so has gone to live with the Danes. There let her stay. She’s got no loyalty[xii]’ This incident would cause great controversy when Knud Merrild recounted it in his memoir A Poet and Two Painters. However, in 1937, on Lawrence’s birthday, there were letters of outrage to the editor of the local Taos newspaper[xiii] for daring to suggest Lawrence had been cruel to an animal. ‘I never saw him ill-treat anything except a teapot and some cups’ scalded Dorothy Brett. ‘Lawrence’s fits of rage were phenomenal’ wrote Spud Johnson but ‘I never saw him anything but gentle and affectionate’ with animals. And on and on the letters went.
The Danes offer good company in the evenings as ‘Merrild has a flute and Gøtzsche a fiddle[xiv]’ Eager to keep the vibe going, Lawrence requests Adele Seltzer send him a copy of The Oxford Song Book. At least up in the mountains, with Taos station 43 miles away, there are no nosey neighbours to report them to the police for singing suspicious lyrics, as had happened when the Lawrence’s lived in Cornwall during WWI.
Despite this, Lawrence continued to be the focus of gossip. Mabel Dodge Sterne had been telling the locals ‘I had to get rid of the Lawrence’s’. He is furious and vows ‘I will never see her again[xv].’ It is no wonder, then, that he wanted to embrace the solitude of the mountains while he could: ‘I want to be alone – as much alone as I am – while I am here[xvi]’.
- [i] Letter to Jan Juta (L2689)
- [ii] Ibid.
- [iii] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2691)
- [iv] Letter to Willard Johnson (L2690)
- [v] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2698)
- [vi] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2694)
- [vii] Ibid.
- [viii] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2691)
- [ix] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2694)
- [x] Ibid.
- [xi] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2698)
- [xii] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2691)
- [xiii] Newspaper cuttings in ‘Lawrence Vol. III’. Mabel Dodge Luhan Papers. Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
- [xiv] Letter to Adele Seltzer (L2700)
- [xv] Letter to Bessie Freeman (L2699)
- [xvi] Letter to Mabel Dodge Sterne (L2695)