Locating Lawrence: April 1923

In these monthly videos, we are locating D.H. Lawrence 100 years ago via his letters. After witnessing a bullfight and living with revolutionaries in Mexico, Lawrence wonders: Should I stay or should I go?

Lawrence was meticulous with money and ensured every debt was paid off and people were treated fairly. He sends his sister Emily £5 and enquires about the £10 forwarded to his father Arthur.[i] Likewise, Freida’s mother is sent £10 and £5 goes to her sister Else. Both families are treated equally. The Danish artists he spent the winter of 1922 with are informed ‘if ever you get really hard up, let me know at once.[ii]’ Money is to be shared when available.

Lawrence deals in specifics so you sense his frustration with Thomas Seltzer when he is told his royalties amount to about $4,000. ‘I don’t know what his ‘about’ means[iii]’ he complains to Robert Mountsier, his former American literary agent, but ensures he is paid his remaining commission.   

He is furious at the thought of being swindled by Mitchell Kennerley, who, despite relinquishing the contract and copyright to Sons and Lovers, is still selling unsold stock of the book. ‘You will only succeed by fighting: and fighting again’ he informs Seltzer ‘black their eyes[iv]’.

Managing his own literary affairs is challenging when always on the move. ‘When I get to a place where I can unload my trunks, I will let you have what contracts I possess[v]’ he informs Curtis Brown. Mexico City is an early contender for home. It’s ‘very American on the one hand, and slummy on the other: a rather mongrel town.[vi]’ He enjoys excursions out to the pyramids at Teotihucan which ‘seem to have risen out of the earth[vii]’ but is appalled at a bull fight[viii].     

Amy Lowell is informed ‘I would like to sit down and write a novel on the American continent. I don’t mean about it: I mean while I’m here.[ix]’ Some people go on holiday and sunbathe. Their tan evidence of their excursion. Lawrence follows a similar formula, except instead of lounging about, he writes a novel before he can move on. This is why he is able to dismiss previous locations. ‘Spit on Taos for me’ he informs Knud Merrild. ‘How glad I am I need not smell them anymore.[x]’   

He’s offered a house[xi] by Zelia Nuttall (1858-1933) an American archaeologist and author of numerous books on Mexican history. Lawrence would repay her by featuring her as Mrs. Norris in The Plumed Serpent.

Mexico is devoid of the snobbery of England with ‘so few pretences of any sort[xii]’ But it’s also unsafe. There are ‘soldiers everywhere’ and ‘nearly all the big haciendas and big houses are ruins[xiii]’. There is the constant danger of being ‘robbed or murdered by roving bandits and scoundrels who still call themselves revolutionaries.[xiv]

This may explain his rapid outburst to friends that ‘I’ve had enough of the New World[xv]’ and that he wanted to return to England because ‘what’s the good’ of being here ‘if one can’t live safely in the country?[xvi]

This discontent of not knowing where he really wants to be is summed up perfectly in a letter to Amy Lowell.

‘I hesitate here.[xvii]


  • [i] Letter to Emily King (L2782)
  • [ii] Letter to Kai Gotzsche and Knud Merrild (L2798)
  • [iii] Letter to Robert Mountsier (L2801)
  • [iv] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2773)
  • [v] Letter to Curtis Brown (L2795)
  • [vi] Letter to Nina Witt (L2772)
  • [vii] Letter to Nina Witt (L2772)
  • [viii] Letter to William Hawk (L2790)
  • [ix] Letter to Amy Lowell (L2796)
  • [x] Letter to Knud Merrild (L2779)
  • [xi] Letter to Bessie Freeman (L2777)
  • [xii] Letter to S.S. Koteliansky (L2775)
  • [xiii] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2774)
  • [xiv] Letter to Kai Gotzsche and Knud Merrild (L2798)
  • [xv] Letter to John Middleton Murry (L2787)
  • [xvi] Letter to Kai Gotzsche and Knud Merrild (L2798)
  • [xvii] Letter to Amy Lowell (L2796)

A Poet and Two Painters 5: Thomas Seltzer arrives

Parrot by Darrell Gough at Pexels.

Knud Merrild and Kai Gótzsche were Danish artists who spent the winter of 1922 with Lawrence, high up in the mountains of New Mexico. Their experiences were recorded in Merrild’s memoir A Poet and Two Painters. In the fifth of eight blogs, we see a visit from Thomas Seltzer and the arrival of a violin….

Knud Merrild worked on three book covers for Lawrence: Studies in Classical American Literature, Kangaroo and The Captain’s Doll. Despite Lawrence’s publisher, Thomas Seltzer, paying Merrild $40 for each, he only ever used the artwork for The Captain’s Doll.  

Seltzer and his wife, Adele, visited the ranch over Christmas and left after New Year’s Eve. While Seltzer discussed business with Lawrence, Adele joined the Danes for hikes. Four years after Lawrence’s death in 1930, Merrild wrote to Thomas Seltzer asking him of his memories of the time they spent together in December 1922. Seltzer recalled being struck by how small and sweet Lawrence’s singing of English Christmas carols was. His rendition of ‘Good King Quentin’ had a ‘haunting beauty that gripped you[i].’ Seltzer mentions this because it is an aspect of Lawrence’s personality that is forgotten. It’s worth quoting his letter of November 5, 1934, in full:

‘Lawrence was as great a man as he was a writer. In every aspect of life he was natural, without pose and, at bottom, sane. Follow him in the kitchen when he cooks, when he washes and irons his own underwear, when he does chores for Frieda, observe him when he walks with you in the country, when he is in the company of people whom he likes and to a certain extent respects – how natural he is in every movement and yet how distinguished, how satisfying because he is natural; and in his conversation he is almost always inspiring and interesting because of his extraordinary ability to create a flow, a current between himself and the other person.[ii]’  

Seltzer was hoping to sell Women in Love to the film studios which would bring in big money. But it never materialised. But there was another gift awaiting them, a violin, left by Walter Ufer. Given that the Danes also had an old flute, the cabin would soon be filled with music. After practising for a bit, a concert was arranged where they played Handle’s ‘Largo’. They expected a compliment of sorts but, inevitably, Lawrence hated it. When he voiced this, Frieda scalded him. He was more amenable to the folk music they played as he was quickly able to learn the words and join in with singing. ‘It simply bored Lawrence to listen, and mostly, I think, that he couldn’t participate – he hated to be left out.[iii]’ 

In terms of other forms of entertainment, Lawrence was no good at chess. It required too much concentration and too much scheming. He much preferred educating and enjoyed teaching the Danes Spanish, writing down phrases and setting it for homework. He was a zealous but patient teacher. But his formal approach annoyed Frieda, who complained he reminded her of her schooldays. They needed practical everyday phrases, not ‘mi tia tiene un pajaro’ (my aunt has a parrot). 

During this period Lawrence and the QB got on well, and Merrild didn’t witness the ferocious tantrums that they had grown a reputation for. But he did witness one ‘hysterical outbreak[iv]’ from Lawrence when he snatched a cigarette out of Frieda’s mouth and crumpled up her packet in his hand. The next day Lawrence turned up with a tray of baked goods, his way of apologising. Frieda also had something for them, a carton of emergency fags she wanted them to hide in their hut. And then Frieda made a heartfelt request. She asked Merrild if he would post a letter on her behalf to her kids, as it raged Lawrence so much to see her remain in contact with them. Although this put him in a difficult situation, Merrild agreed. But to ensure there was no way of Lawrence finding out, he handed the letter directly to the mailman. He found Lawrence’s controlling behaviour ‘egotistical and cruel’ and surmised ‘I know it is not for me to know Lawrence. He had plenty of trouble knowing himself.[v]’ 

Indeed, Lawrence acknowledged this contradiction in himself and in humanity. ‘Each of us has two selves. First is this body which is vulnerable and never quite within our control. The body with its irrational sympathies and desires and passions, its peculiar direct communication, defying the mind. And second is the conscious ego, the self I know I am.[vi]

But who are you D.H. Lawrence? Nobody can quite agree…

Merrild, Knud A Poet and Two Painters: A Memoir of D.H. Lawrence. George Routledge & Sons, London, 1938


A Poet and Two Painters 4: Everything in the Human Spectrum.

Design James Walker. Author unknown. D. H. Lawrence Collection, General Collection. Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University. 

Knud Merrild and Kai Gótzsche were Danish artists who spent the winter of 1922 with Lawrence, high up in the mountains of New Mexico. Their experiences were recorded in Merrild’s memoir A Poet and Two Painters. In the fourth of eight blogs, we unravel Lawrence’s complex and contradictory character which represented ‘everything in the human spectrum’.

When Lawrence collected his mail, he’d crumple each envelope and throw it in the fire. Each letter was read ‘with a sort of loathing[i],’ often followed by a sarcastic remark. Then one day he announced, ‘I really don’t care if I ever see any of my friends or relatives any more[ii]’. This was unnerving for the Danes, particularly as this throw away comment might one day apply to them, but they discovered such momentary bouts of intensity were aspects of Lawrence’s complex personality. ‘We soon learned not to take anything for granted or rely on him as far as his feelings were concerned. They were like the wind, blowing in all directions, sometimes like a hurricane, upon you without any warning, blown fiercer by his burning emotions[iii].’ 

It’s quite conceivable that Lawrence had extreme empathy in these moments of isolated fidelity with the Danes and was simply content with the circumstances he currently found himself in. Sentiments that he would later outline in Pansies

But to the folk in Taos who would encounter the Danes when they popped down for supplies, the friendship was one-sided. They were Lawrence’s errand boys, rather than companions. But nothing could be further from the truth. Living in such proximity and cut off from the rest of society, they were all reliant on each other. 

It was a tough winter with snowstorms keeping them inside for days. Lawrence picked up a few colds and was bedridden for a while but, defensive as always, insisted it was a preventative measure rather than a necessity. When Merrild was ill Lawrence displayed his caring side by making sagebrush tea. This was another opportunity to impart wisdom, explaining how the wartime influenza in America wiped out the Whites and Mexicans but the Indians survived because of the sagebrush tea. It was vile. But Lawrence insisted he get it down him, and while it was piping hot.      

One day the Danes decided to go for a hike up to Lobo Peak. It was a tough trek that had to be completed efficiently so that they got back before sunset. Lawrence, despite their polite protestations, insisted on tagging along. It wasn’t long before he was holding them up. It was clear that had to turn back, but despite the disappointment, they didn’t say anything. They were then told off by Frieda for taking him when he clearly didn’t have the stamina. It was only years later that they discovered how weak his chest was.

Lawrence did not like to be told what to do by Frieda, or anyone for that matter. John Middleton Murray in Son of Woman suggested Lawrence hated women. Merrild does not believe in such reductionism, arguing Lawrence was complex and contradictory. He witnessed him often praising women, claiming modern women had more courage than men. Yet he also had his odd views on women submitting to the ‘positive power soul in man, for their being[iv].’

Lawrence’s views on most topics were so complex that Merrild describes him as possessing ‘everything in the human spectrum[v]’. He gives the example that while out on walks, ‘I cannot recall one single instance where he heartedly commended the beauty and grandeur of the landscape [vi].’ He found the overall view oppressive. Yet ‘he was nearly always enthusiastic’ about the individual elements. ‘He would praise the pureness of the air, the clearness of the sky, the formation of the clouds, the gorgeous sunsets, or notice the beauty of a single tree.[vii]

He enjoyed identifying footprints of creatures in the snow and following them to discover their home. During such walks they encountered a whole host of animals, including a coyote, bobcat and lion. The lion was dead, later to be recalled in the poem Mountain Lion. The cabin was full of life and would see Merrild befriend a wildcat (nicknamed Meere) and a persistently present Blue Jay would be told: ‘Yes, I have heard you. You are gossip, flying, blustering gossip itself.[viii]’  

Merrild has been continually asked whether Lawrence was homosexual but in this, and Lawrence’s overall views of sex, there is complexity within the ‘spectrum’. In his novels, Lawrence saw homosexuality ‘as a tentative relief for an antagonism between the sexes, a symptom of a disease that had spread over Europe.[ix]’ But he also saw homosexuality as an ‘illness engulfing the world.[x]’ Yet it is easy to see why people would ask this given the loving descriptions of the male form in novels such as The White Peacock and Women in Love and his desire for ‘men to be at peace with’.

Merrild recounts a tale where he, Gótzsche and Lawrence were having a wash outdoors in a very confined space that meant their bodies touched. However, he is eager to point out that no advances were made and that it is the gossip of others that is the problem. ‘Here in that little pool, rubbing limbs with Lawrence, it was a little different…in consciousness. But I should never have thought of it or been conscious of it, if my mind hadn’t been injected with poison from slanderous evil persons accusing Lawrence of being homosexual.[xi]‘ Merrild is also keen to confirm another rumour, that Lawrence wasn’t a hermaphrodite. 

The only thing that stood out about seeing Lawrence naked was his posture. He ‘stretched out his arms and took a deep breath, shedding off the enclosed feeling of tight woollen underwear, and in the dusky light his body stood out in its ivory whiteness like sculpture. With his outstretched arms he reminded me instantly of a medieval woodcarving of Christ on the cross.[xii]’ 

If anything, Lawrence was puritanical about sexual contact. Once the Danes were visited by Meta Lehmann, an unmarried ’broadminded person, carefree and hospitable[xiii]’ who needed to stay over for the night. Lawrence didn’t want her in with him but neither did he want the scandal of her sleeping in the same cabin as the two Danes.

‘If there is one thing I don’t like it is a cheap and promiscuous sex’ Lawrence would write. ‘If there is one thing I insist on it is that sex is a delicate, vulnerable, vital thing that you mustn’t fool with. If there is one thing I deplore it is heartless sex. Sex must be a real flow, a real flow of sympathy, generous and warm, and not a trick thing, or a moment’s excitation.[xiv]

And in terms of attraction he writes, ‘beauty is an experience; nothing else: it is not a fixed pattern or an arrangement of features… even the plainest person can look beautiful, can be beautiful. It only needs the fire of sex to rise, delicately to change an ugly face to a lovely one. That is real sex appeal: the communicating of a sense of beauty.[xv]’   

These romantic and thoughtful views of sex as a form of communication and connection rather than instant gratification are in stark contrast to the image we have today of the ‘dirty’ author…

Merrild, Knud A Poet and Two Painters: A Memoir of D.H. Lawrence. George Routledge & Sons, London, 1938


Locating Lawrence: March 1923

In these monthly videos, we are locating D.H. Lawrence 100 years ago. In March he leaves New Mexico for Old Mexico and begins his next adventure. But will the spirit of this continent give him what he needs?

It’s time to leave the ranch and begin the next adventure. But first there’s lots of literary matters to sort out. Martin Secker wisely advises that ‘five Lawrence books will be as much as it is advisable to do in one year[i]’ and so delays publication of England, My England and Studies in Classic American Literature.  

Oliver Jenkins, editor of Tempo: A Magazine of Poetry, sends a gushing request for a poem and thanks Lawrence for the pleasure his work has brought him over the years before delivering the inevitable but: ‘Please understand that TEMPO is just starting and is not wealthy…[ii] Tempo would be published irregularly between 1921 and 1923 before being subsumed by Iarus[iii]. Lawrence understands what it means to have no money and instructs Seltzer to ‘fix a mild price for the poor dears.[iv]

Likewise, he feels obliged to help the Danes after spending the winter with them at the Del Monte Ranch. They had recently exhibited work at the Art Museum in Santa Fe, but this hadn’t translated into any sales. To make matters worse, Seltzer doesn’t seem keen on the artwork Merrild has produced for Birds, Beasts and Flowers and is instructed ‘if you don’t really want them, pay for them out of my money.[v]

After sacking Robert Mountsier, Lawrence must contend with his own literary matters. This mainly involves collating contracts for his various work and instructing Seltzer to ‘keep these very carefully till I come to New York and can arrange a safe-deposit for all my papers.[vi]

Lawrence is happiest when fully occupied and so once the literary admin is out of the way he requests a manuscript from Frederick Carter, a painter, etcher and scholar with an interest in religion and mysticism. Towards the end of his life, Lawrence would write the introduction to Carter’s Dragon of Revelation but for now warns, ‘I am more interested in the microcosm than in the macrocosm, and in the gates to the psyche rather than the astrological houses.[vii]

But his main focus is leaving America. Harriett Monroe (1860 –1936), the founding publisher and editor of Poetry, is off to Europe and Lawrence informs ‘I may be there in the summer. May meet you in London, Paris, Munich, Rome or Madrid.[viii]’ But for now, having ‘learnt quite a lot of Spanish’ he’s fixated on Old Mexico.

To get there, he takes part in a familiar routine which involves convincing himself that his current location is untenable. The USA is ‘terribly sterile, even negative. I tell you what, there is no life in the blood there. The blood can’t flow properly. Only nerves, nerve vibration, nerve-irritation. It wearies the inside of my bones. I want to go. Voglio andarmene.[ix]’  

Heading to another country presents numerous logistical considerations, information willingly shared with Witter Bynner and Willard Johnson, who will be joining him at some point. Of priority is avoiding the Easter rush as ‘hotels may then be crowded[x]’. When they do arrive in Mexico he is delighted ‘to get a little wine again[xi]’ after escaping prohibition. This was a nationwide constitutional law in America from 1920 to 1933 that led Jack Mahoney and WM Jerome to fear ‘everyday will be Sunday when the town goes dry.’  

Adjusting to the city is difficult. ‘I feel a bit shut in, after the ranch.[xii]’ This may explain why he feels uncomfortable in the American-run neoclassical Hotel Regis and so switches to the Hotel Monte Carlo, a smaller venture run by an Italian family. ‘The blood flows free again in the veins, not like the Land of Freedom, always in prison. All is quite peaceful, and nice, human folk: no human machines.[xiii]’ Imagine that as a trip advisor review.

Alas, it doesn’t take long for the blood to coagulate. ‘We’ve been in this city five days…I don’t like the gruesome Aztec carvings. I don’t like the spirit of this continent.[xiv]’ Things must be bad because England is back on the cards. ‘By July I ought to be in England. If you know a decent cottage or place to live, keep it in mind for me. Somewhere quiet. I don’t want people.[xv]

These posts are based on The Cambridge Edition of The Letters of D.H. Lawrence Vol IV. Edited by Warren Roberts, James T. Boulton, Elizabeth Mansfield.

  • [i] Letter from Martin Secker to Curtis Brown, 13 March 1923 (Letter of D.H. Lawrence, Vol IV. p.401)
  • [ii] Letter from Oliver Jenkins to DHL on 3 March 1923 (Letter of D.H. Lawrence, Vol IV. p.407)
  • [iii] See Alan. M. Wald. 1983. The Revolutionary Imagination: The Poetry and Politics of John Wheelwright and Sherry Mangan. University of North Carolina Press pp 79-80
  • [iv] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2745)
  • [v] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2745)
  • [vi] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2739)
  • [vii] Letter to Frederick Carter (L2743)
  • [viii] Letter to Harriet Monroe (L2741)
  • [ix] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2745)
  • [x] Letter to Willard Johnson (L2744)
  • [xi] Letter to Ada Clarke (L2763)
  • [xii] Letter to Knud Merrild (L2764)
  • [xiii] Letter to Baroness Anna von Richthofen (L2767)
  • [xiv] Letter to John Middleton Murry (L2769)
  • [xv] Letter to John Middleton Murry (L2769)