D.H. Lawrence: A Man on the Run

Image: Dawn of the Unread

D.H. Lawrence was a man on the run. But what was he looking for and where was he heading? Malcolm Gray, former Chair of the D.H. Lawrence Society, offers some suggestions in this guest blog.

Those of you who know anything about D.H. Lawrence will probably accept that his greatest moment of fame was almost certainly in an English court. Wednesday, 2 Nov 1960 the newspaper headline read “The Innocence of Lady Chatterley”. Penguin Books had won its case against the novel being considered unsuitable for publication and it could now be read by all including ‘wives and servants’.

But, of course, Lawrence was the writer of more than just the ‘mucky book’. Many critics, including F.R. Leavis[1], have described him as the greatest novelist in the English Language. So why do I see him as a man on the run, and what was he running from and what did he seek?

Katherine Mansfield, writer and friend of Lawrence, wrote in one of her letters: “The desire to travel is a great, real temptation. But does it do any good?”  So, what is it that Lawrence runs away from, and what does he seek?[2] And why is it that his search for contentment is so significant when in our own individual and specific ways we all make the same search? I believe that the answer to that question lies in the nature and character of his art. Lawrence records all aspects of his search, and he does so with a keen sense of perception and an extra-ordinary command of language and imagery.

My view is that Lawrence reacted to a number of factors, some specific to his own situation and some common features of all human existence:

  • He moved away from what he felt was a fragmented, dysfunctional family life at home.
  • He turned his back on the strict non-conformist theology that his mother tried to impose on him.
  • Partly for reasons of health he moved geographically to areas where he felt the climate, or the air, might be more conducive to good health. And, of course, he observed the landscape, and the people, in all these places. One sees something of his power of observation in his essay The Crucifix Across the Mountains[3] in the way that he moves from a comment on the form of the ‘wayside crucifixions’ to an analysis of how this reflects the nature of the people in each country.

He disliked what he felt was the sinister decay caused by a ‘new’ mechanised, materialist culture that was creeping across England and Europe. In one sense he pre-dated David Attenborough. He felt men no longer lived ‘with nature’ but increasingly exploited it.

Lawrence loved the concept of man working together with the natural elements, and with his own skills, to produce items that were beautiful in that they contained part of the individual’s creative character. While his mother Lydia went some way towards poisoning Lawrence in his attitude to his father, he later saw the gift his father had for making and mending things and the love his father had for nature. Lawrence wrote a series of poems in which he suggests that ‘We are Transmitters’ and that things made by hands have intrinsic worth. Ironically, he probably would have supported the ‘Arts and Crafts’ movement of William Morris, the Omega Workshop of the Bloomsbury group or Habitat or Dartington Glass. For Lawrence it was a case of ‘Let us Be Men/ not monkeys minding machines’. 

It was very much the case that Lawrence disliked the new emphasis given to the commercial profit motivated culture that he saw encroaching on the traditional values of work undertaken with dignity. Other writers had recognised this change and wrote in protest against it. Thomas Carlyle spoke of ‘mechanical dehumanisation’ and went on ‘Men are grown mechanical in head and in heart as well as in hand. They have lost faith in individual endeavour’[4].

Ruskin would voice the same point in his criticism of what he saw as ‘the rampant triumph of industrial profit and the consequential degradation of the craftsman’[5].

Lawrence was born in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire on 11 September 1885. His father Arthur had worked in the mines since he was seven. His mother Lydia had aspirations to be a teacher. She believed herself superior to her husband in terms of her ambitions. Lawrence describes this conflict in poems such as Discord in Childhood. Lydia was a snob and disliked her husband’s miners’ way of life. In their early courtship she had been captivated by his physical vitality and energy, but this quickly turned sour after their marriage in December 1875. Lawrence’s novel Sons and Lovers is very much autobiographical and at least one of his sisters acknowledged it as being a fairly accurate account of the family life at home.

Lydia’s strong non-conformist religious fervour had a profound influence on Lawrence throughout his life. His relationship with his mother left him seeking a deeper relationship with other women, but his relationship with his mother was strange, and in some ways an unhealthy one. He would admit to Jessie Chambers that he loved his mother not as a son might be expected to love his mother but more as he might love a ‘lover’. In all his relationships with women the shadow of his love for his mother hung over them. He was on the run from what we might call an ‘Oedipus’ type of relationship but I do not believe he ever truly broke that ‘bond’ even when he met, eloped and finally married Frieda Weekley. In writing about her friendship with Lawrence Helen Corke, a fellow teacher in Croydon, and the woman who became the subject (and victim) of Lawrence’s novel The Trespasser would write of how she felt Lawrence viewed their relationship:

‘I feel that his desire at the moment is toward me, and I am glad that he loves me. Yet there is no rest, no assurance in this love of David’s because there comes with it an impossible demand. A demand not merely for passion given and returned, but for the absorption of my being in his.’[6]

Perhaps this absorption of one’s being into his was always at the root of his problems with relationships with women. It was an impossible ask especially from the strong, confident women whose company he seemed to favour. It seems to me that this search for the ‘ideal’ relationship was another example of Lawrence’s searching.

The circumstances surrounding Lawrence’s first meeting with Frieda is interesting. He first met Frieda when he went to see her husband concerning a possible opportunity to live and work in Germany for a while. The Weekleys lived in a very ‘posh’ house in a rather ‘posh’ road in a rather ‘posh’ area of Notts. Frieda was fascinated by the young Lawrence and entertained him while her husband was out on 3 March 1912. By 4 May they were together in Metz after a hasty eloping. Their early days in Metz and Trier were hectic and uncertain but both were keen to be together, though Frieda already had concerns about her three children and missed them.

The nature of their relationship could be passionate and stormy. Frieda felt needed by Lawrence but still felt able to share some physical sexual relationships with other men after their elopement, as she had done with three men while married to Ernest Weekley. Towards the end of Lawrence’s life Frieda again found herself drawn to another man, Angelo Ravagli. He certainly caught Frieda’s eye in his uniform. Andrew Harrison suggests Lawrence might have described Frieda’s need for sexual experience with other men as ‘her necessary dose of morphia in her struggle away from the old life in England’.[7]

The intense and passionate relationship with his mother might be explained by the fact that D.H. Lawrence was from birth a sickly child. A schoolboy friend of Lawrence J.E. Hobbs described him as ‘delicate’. As he grew up his mother acknowledged that she was unlikely to see him reach manhood and in her fear of his health she over protected him. As a child he preferred the company of girls and rarely mixed in the hard physical games the other boys played. He was described as a ‘girlie boy’, weak and puny. He missed many months at school because of his illnesses.

Despite this sickly nature Lawrence was in many ways energetic—he walked across the Alps with Frieda, he walked regularly from Eastwood to Brinsley and he enjoyed helping on the farm at Haggs Farm with the Chambers family. What he lacked in physical energy he more than made up for in the range of his sensitivity and in his intellectual capacity.

As Lawrence moved into adolescence, he met a number of girls and women, but it is interesting in terms of his attitude to women in his own life, and in his fiction, how he often found relationships with the opposite sex confusing and unsatisfactory. He admired strong, intelligent women but he often could not cope with the demands of a commitment to a ‘giving’ relationship, though in some ways he did with Frieda. He ‘ditched’ Jessie Chambers because, as he told her, ‘he could not love you as I feel I should love a wife’. But he was also something of a pig because he had used her intellectually, he had persuaded her to attempt a sexual experience…which failed…and then he exposed everything they had shared as adolescents in Sons and Lovers, and he made little attempt in that text to disguise people or place names. Lawrence used some of the women that he met in his novels, and he was sometimes cruel in how he caricatured them. He could also be very insensitive in his use of material. He took the tragic events of Helen Cork’s trip to the Isle of Wight with her music teacher, his resulting suicide, her guilt, and turned it into the novel The Trespasser.

Source: Picture the Past

As the young Lawrence sought to establish himself in terms of making his own relationships so he also sought to work out his own theology. His mother tried hard to impose her strict non-conformist faith in the Congregation church in Eastwood – which has since been knocked down and replaced with an Iceland. He rejected this despite Lydia sending him to church and Sunday School three times each Sunday. Initially Lawrence loved the raucous tub-thumping call to God and later spoke of the old hymns and poetry of the Bible as meaning more to him than much of the secular canon of English poetry[8].The evidence of his own writing would suggest that Lawrence read his Bible carefully, knew parts of it off by heart and later brought a critical, discerning eye to much of the Bible teaching he had got as a young man. His play David covers the early years of King David’s life and David’s time as a fugitive from a jealous and angry King Saul.

In subtle ways Lawrence knowledge and familiarity with the Bible influenced the narrative style of his two best novels The Rainbow and Women in Love. They are almost generational narratives, a ‘he begat’ form. What Lawrence could not accept as a young man was the whole Christian emphasis on the divinity of Christ, the sacrifice of the Cross and the hope of a ‘second coming’, though in his final poems he comes back to the idea of a life (or something) after death[9]. Lawrence seems to have felt that traditional theology, and the accepted code of social behaviour, imposed restraints. In a letter to Rev Reid[10] he explained that he could not accept the notion of the divinity of Christ though he would always acknowledge a Creator God. He expresses something of the theology which he struggled with in the poems Only Man can fall from God, God is a great urge that has not found a body, and The Hands of God.

With early friends including Jessie Chambers and Louis Burrow, and with the support of a local council member and local J.P Willie Hopkin, Lawrence read widely from Darwin to Nietzsche. They formed something of an informal group later known as ‘The Pagans’ to discuss the books. The chapel provided Lydia and her family with a spiritual centre but it was also very much the centre of her social life…as the pubs were for her miner husband. The minister, Rev Robert Reid, was no strict evangelical. He encouraged his congregation to read widely and to respond to what they read with an intellectual curiosity. He founded the Eastwood Literary Society. As Lawrence developed his own reading so he honed his religious and political ideas but he felt frustrated by Reid’s teaching, as he later felt frustrated by what he experienced in the teaching at Nottingham University College[11].

Source: Illustrated Guide to the Church Congress 1897 at Wikipedia

To Lawrence the real energy of the universe was as much in the human body as it was concerned with the soul and hence the emphasis on the physical aspect of human relationships, the intimacy of the body as a tactile form and the significance of  human sexual relationships. For Lawrence the core emotion was in the blood and was the emotion of feeling rather than a reaction to the objective thinking of the mind. It is certainly this that we see in the juxtaposition of his responses to the naked body—-he adored the brazen exhibition of Frieda’s bosom[12] in some of his poems in Look we Have Come Through but he was repulsed by some of the promiscuous sexuality he felt existed among some in the Bloomsbury Group and, much later, in Mexico he was forthright in his criticism of the group around Mabel Dodge. He emphasised the beauty of the human body (male and female) but he could be prudish and was certainly angered by the way Frieda flouted her body, and by her promiscuity even after their marriage. One of the tragedies of Lawrence’s own life, and one which is often reflected in his novels is, I feel, the sense of the absence of the mutual satisfaction which the sexual act was supposed to create. I believe that one of the areas that Lawrence was moving away from and constantly seeking to find a fuller meaning was a fulfilling intimacy in sexual experience and in human relationships. One example of this we can see in Aaron’s Rod and in the episode of Aaron’s sexual encounter with the Marchesa: ‘Shall we be lovers?’ ‘Yes, she said….if you wish’.

It is a strange episode. Aaron can be tender, but he also feels brutality and the affair ends with an element of dissatisfaction. Aaron had originally left his wife and family because he felt trapped, but this new world of freedom also proves frustrating and empty. His friendship with Lilly serves to emphasise this sense of being unfulfilled. Lilly says: ‘What is the use of running after life, when we have got it in us, if nobody prevents us or obstructs us.’ For Lilly Europe is becoming a cage, and certainly Lawrence felt this of the European culture that he knew and had read about.

What we see of Lawrence’s uncertainties and exploration in terms of sex, sexual relations and moral behaviour we also see in terms of his descriptions of the physical environment of England, and the morality and ethos of the culture that he felt was sweeping England and northern Europe. On his last visit to his home town in 1926 he wrote ‘when I was a boy the people lived very much more with the country now they rush….they never seem to touch the reality of the countryside’.[13]

In ‘Nottingham and the Mining Country’ he wrote: ‘The real tragedy of England as I see it, is the tragedy of ugliness. The country is so lovely, the man-made England is so vile’. Lawrence blames the moneyed classes and the promoters of industry. He cites their greed as the cause of ‘ugliness, ugliness’ which has resulted in ‘ugly ideals, ugly religion, ugly hope, ugly love’ as well as ugly relationships between workers and employers. What would he have said of 21st century Britain?

Lawrence sometimes puts the blame for this restlessness with the old rural rustic way of life on the women. The opening of The Rainbow, set on the Brangwen’s farm, sees the men content to live with and enjoy the routine fertility of the earth’s natural cycles. It is the women who look away from the church clock and want more. In his early novel The White Peacock he has George and the farmers working close to the land and with nature while Lettie (the woman that George assumed he would marry) seeks new status and worldly trappings. At the end of the novel both are broken. George is ‘downcast’ and ‘like a condemned man’, Lettie gains prosperity in the gloves and furs she seeks but loses her vitality and became a bored mother. Finally, her husband becomes immersed in his business, and politics. When George comes to see her surrounded by the trappings of her new ‘elevated status’ she reflects a sadness and melancholy. It is not the physical landscape that has caused this ugliness, the landscape may be marred by pits and smoke, but it can still be beautiful if it is not polluted by human greed.

We can see something of Lawrence’s disillusionment with the coming of more mechanisation and the cult of materialism in the story ‘The Woman Who Rode Away’. Here Lawrence draws on the landscape of Mexico and New Mexico which is beautiful and far less spoilt than the Eastwood he had left behind. But even here there is a sense that a conflict exists:

  • The beauty of the landscape
  • The vitality and energy Lawrence found in the primitive religious rituals.
  • The breakdown in the relationship between the woman and her husband.

The villain of the story is the husband. I believe that he epitomises everything that Lawrence despises in the creeping onset of materialism. The woman leaves to explore the world beyond her home. She is bored, she feels her husband is careless of her. He lacks humanity and denies her the passion and vitality that she feels they might have shared. He is successful, a ‘good husband’ and she has a ‘comfortable’ life. But it’s not enough. She has to ride away.

The husband shares characteristics with Clifford Chatterley in Lady C. Both are commercially successful, obsessed with the need for material success, to own things, to control people. Clifford returns from the war in a wheelchair, sexually incapable, but so concerned that his business should continue under his ownership and patronage that he is willing to let Connie take another man – a man he approves of – to produce a son and heir for him. She does take another man, but not the one he would have selected.

So, what is it that Lawrence despises when he speaks of the ugliness of new materialism? It is the emphasis on profit and on the potential power that it gives to the ‘magnates’ and the ‘captains of industry’. It is a complex concept and Lawrence seeks to explore what he holds as the ideal, the harmony of men enjoying the landscape and working with the environment and the natural order.  Modern man has become ‘a mechanical being’ mired in thought, regulation, order and structure and racked with the inhibitions of social expectations and restraints.

I have called my talk ‘A Man on the Run’. In one respect Lawrence is like all of us. He is constantly seeking what is better, what might make life more pleasurable, and he is constantly moving on from what frustrates him and what he finds inadequate. He is looking for ‘the perfect’ and in that sense his search is inevitably bound to fall short.

This is an abridged version of a talk by Malcolm Gray to the Lunar Society on Wednesday 19 Jan 2022.

References


[1] F.R. Leavis. D.H. Lawrence: Novelist. 1930

[2] Edward Nelhs. D.H. Lawrence: a Composite Biography: 1919-1925. United States, University of Wisconsin Press, 1957. P160

[3] D.H. Lawrence. Twilight in Italy. 1916

[4] Thomas Carlyle, “Signs of the Times,” Edinburgh Review, 49 (1829)

[5] N.M. Wells. William Morris Discovering Art: The Life, Times and Work of the World’s Greatest Artists Series

Discovering art. Brockhampton, 1996

[6] Helen Corke. D.H. Lawrence: The Croydon Years. 1965

[7] Andrew Harrison. The Life of D.H. Lawrence. 2016. Wiley

[8] See Hymns in a Man’s Life (1928)

[9] See The Ship of Death or Shadows.

[10]  In a letter to Robert Reid of 27 March 1911 he expresses his gratitude to the minister but explains ‘for me flesh and blood are the scriptures’.

[11] Lydia Lawrence later became concerned about the influence of Rev. Reid, as she became concerned about the emotional influence that Jessie Chambers seemed to have on her young son.

[12] See Glorie de Dijon

[13] ‘Return to Bestwood’ in Late Essays

D.H. Lawrence and the Risen Lord in All of Us.

DHL Easter Egg image

To celebrate Easter, David Brock takes a look at Lawrence’s controversial take on the Crucifixion in the essay ‘Resurrection’ and how Easter eggs led to the novel The Man Who Died.  

In our so-called ‘Christian country’, we’re told fewer couples choose to marry in church. But let’s welcome this greater honesty. And while Easter is a commercial bonanza now. . .the stores stacked with machine-laid eggs – Easter is symbolic of Oestrus, and the Pagan origin of our great spring festival.

Unsurprisingly, D.H. Lawrence – who was brought up steeped in the Bible and Christian mythology, and has been depicted as a Christ-like figure himself, even described by some as ‘messianic’ – offers some challenging, alternative suggestions when it comes to the Church, the Easter Story and the Resurrection. What he says can help us all to rise up again, achieving fuller being, at this most regenerative time of year.

Inspired by the sight of eggs at Easter, and at first called The Escaped Cock, the subsequent title of Lawrence’s controversial fictional version of Christ coming back to life, and emerging from the tomb, The Man Who Died, tells us quite a lot. This is a mortal ‘Man’, rather than a Saviour, King of Kings or Son of God. This ‘Man’ has died the death of his old self, and his new, individual, flesh and blood self, has returned to life. He is taking the first hesitant steps away from a past he now repudiates, towards his difficult but vital human resurrection. He is becoming ‘The Man Who Lived’, rather than ‘The Christ Who Died’.

In a short essay, ‘Resurrection’, Lawrence berates fellow writer, Tolstoy, for wanting Christ to go on ‘being crucified everlastingly’, and urges all of that ilk to ‘Put away the Cross; it is obsolete.’ For the ‘stigmata’ are ‘healed up’. And ‘The Lord is risen,’

The Cross has become the ‘Tree of Life’ again, Lawrence insists. It has taken root and is issuing buds. However, the multitudes are mistakenly putting their Lord on the Cross again.

Whereas those who are prepared to rise along with the Risen Lord can do so as lords themselves. Facing inwards towards the ‘Whole God’ – which is, our central living integrity, the hub of our being – on the ‘Wheel of fire’, we can all be lit up with ‘bright and brighter and brightest and most-bright faces’, Lawrence believes.

In his poem, ‘The Risen Lord’ Lawrence’s Jesus opens his eyes ‘afresh’, seeing for the first time ‘people of flesh’. Having conquered the fear of death, he must now ‘conquer the fear of life’ – living as a ‘man among men’. He rejects the old denial of substance and physical desires – ‘never can denial deny them again.’

This vision in Lawrence of us all as Lords of Life is infectious. The last of his Pansies, ‘Prayer’, written as his health declined, expresses an extraordinary wish. . .one we might share – ‘Give me the moon at my feet / Put my feet upon the crescent, like a Lord!”

David organises a D.H. Lawrence reading, study and performance group, The Lawrence Players, which meets fortnightly, between 5 and 7 pm in Chapel-en-le-Frith library (18th April, 2nd, 16th, 30th May and so on). The ultimate aim of the group is to raise the profile of this radical exciting author by performing his work on stage.
Any enquiries, please contact David at vegan.lawrentian@gmail.com

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts to try to understand this complex writer. How do we get across Lawrence’s indifferent relationship with religion or the self-deification of his later works? Will chocolate eggs melt inside our memory theatre or hatch and rise from the flames? In 2019 we begin building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact get involved and submit ideas here

 

Insouciance is not possible with mobile phones

farmers-father&son
Source: geo.msu.edu

I’ve just gone a month without my mobile phone. This wasn’t a digital detox; it was due to appalling customer service from Apple and EE. This has meant that I’ve not been very social on social media. It got me wondering what Lawrence would be like if he had a Twitter account. On one level I think he’d enjoy ranting and raging about whatever took his fancy. He’d probably enjoy the freedom of expression, given he experienced so much censorship during his life. But I don’t think he’d enjoy the hoi polloi having freedom of expression. He’d let them know in no uncertain terms and his account would be closed down before it had ever really began.

While without phone I experienced a very different Nottingham on my walks into work each day. I heard the leaves rustling as I kicked them, I learned to tune into the distant chime of Little John in the Council House so that I knew the time, and I began to notice recurring patterns, such as the three cleaners who fag it every morning at 8.50am after finishing the early shift at the High School. Not having headphones on or tapping away at a device meant I was temporarily connected to the world rather than a device.

We can guess what Lawrence’s feelings about mobile phones would be from the essay Insouciance, which was originally published as ‘Over-earnest Ladies in the Evening News’ on 12 July 1928. It starts with him wandering out barefoot onto a balcony to serenely contemplate the ‘sulky’ mountains in the distance, cherry trees, and two men slushing their scythes downhill.

Unfortunately for Lawrence he’s not ‘allowed to sit like a dandelion on my own stem’ and pleasantly muse over his surroundings because he’s bookended between two white-haired little ladies who have decided today is the day to shed off their shyness and share with him their opinions on Italy, Signor Mussolini, ‘and the empty desert spaces of right and wrong, politics, Fascism and the rest’.

Insouciance

Lawrence is not interested in ‘abstract liberty’ or any of the other preoccupations that remove him from the here and now. He wonders why ‘modern people almost invariably ignore the things that are actually present in them’. At this exact moment in time he is only interested in one thing, the ‘different amount of effort’ in the mowing techniques of the two men. This reveals a lot about Lawrence the writer and his acute attention to detail, observing that the elderly man in ‘shabby trousers’ deploys a ‘jerky advance’. His stiffness results in ‘crunching the end of his stroke with a certain violent effort’.

Perhaps because he was nearing the end of his life, Lawrence doesn’t want to use up energy worrying about the ‘void of politics’ and ‘abstract caring’ instead he requires a more freer connection with the world.

‘What is actual living? It is a question mostly of direct contact. There was a direct sensuous contact between me, the lake, mountains, cherry trees, mowers, and a certain invisible but noisy chaffinch in a clipped lime tree. All this was cut off by the fatal shears of that abstract word Fascism.’

For the month I was without a phone I started to develop a direct contact with the world and my immediate environment. The world revealed itself as a serious of colours and patterns and I found my place somewhere in it. It is impossible to be insouciant with social media because it demands your constant attention. A medium of 140 characters lends itself to ever more ‘abstract’ words because these are required to stand out in the technological void. This is not freedom of expression. There is nothing free about reducing the meat of the self to lists, tags, and trending topics. This is a shredding of self rather than a direct contact with the world.

‘When it comes to living, we live through our instincts and our intuitions’ concludes Lawrence. It’s instinct that made Lawrence flee from the old white-haired ladies just as it was instinct that told me not to hurry up and get my phone fixed. ‘But it is intuition’ which enabled Lawrence to feel the ‘sulkiness of the mountains’ and each of the scythe-strokes ‘in the silence of the intense light’. Technology attempts to be intuitive but really it’s a right pain in the arse. How can you ever truly feel or understand something that is constantly updating itself and changing just for the sake of it. This is obsolescence. It is very different to the seasonal change of rusting leaves that I was able to observe for one month while my phone was broke.

dhl-trunkIs there a place for ‘Insouciance’ in our DH Lawrence Memory Theatre? Perhaps it could be represented by a dandelion? In 2019 we will be creating a travelling memory theatre that explores Lawrence’s life through artefacts. If you want to submit an idea, you can do so here.    

Paint a Vulgar Picture with DH Lawrence

burning-photograph dhl

A friend of mine recently splashed out on a painting by the Nottingham-born artist Paul Waplington. Naturally, this gave me an excuse to photocopy a short essay by Lawrence called Pictures on the Wall and post it through her letterbox. ‘The human race loves pictures,’ declares Lawrence, ‘barbarians or civilised, we are all alike, we straightway go to look at a picture if there is a picture to look at’. This is perfectly true, although my first port of call for distraction and stimulation is the contents of a bookshelf. I remember once being shown around a house I was interested in buying, and being put off by the seller’s book collection. I just couldn’t bring myself to live in a space that had housed such a shabby collection of fiction. My partner at the time was appalled by what she perceived as my lack of sincerity. But I was deadly serious. The space had been polluted and I didn’t want to catch anything. We split up a year or so later.

Lawrence is fascinated by the pictures we hang on our walls. But needless to say they bring as much pleasure as pain. He takes particular offence at painting that have been hanging around for a long time as they represent ‘sheer inertia’ and a ‘staleness in the home is stifling and oppressive to the spirit’. He uses an analogy of fashion to explain these sentiments. Fashion in clothes changes because ‘we ourselves change, in the slow metamorphosis of time,’ consequently it is hard to imagine ourselves in the clothes we bought six years ago because we have since become different people. This is true, although fashion is also a process of aesthetic obsolescence that keeps the greasy wheels of capitalism turning.

Our reason for buying paintings, he argues, is that the painting somehow reflect or respond to some feeling in us. But as we grow (or age) these feelings change. If our feeling for a picture are superficial, our feelings for the picture wears away quickly. This is definitely true and I witness this every year when there’s a poster sale outside Nottingham Trent University for the latest batch of students. There’s only so long you can have a poster of a ‘doh’ing Homer Simpson, Bob Marley toking on a joint, or Tupac ‘God rest his soul’ Shakur on your wall before you feel a bit silly.

Lawrence, as subtle as a flying brick, has a simple solution for dealing with unwanted unfeeling pictures: Burn them.

Now this might seem extreme at first, and it is, but that’s because Lawrence doesn’t like art that’s reduced to materialism. ‘It is fatal to look on pictures as pieces of property. Pictures are like flowers, that fade sooner or later, and die, and must be thrown in the dustbin and burnt’. A picture, therefore, is only useful when it is ‘fresh and fragrant with attraction’. Once the aesthetic emotion is dead, the picture is no more than ‘a piece of ugly litter’.

And there’s more…

It’s a fallacy to see a picture as part of the architectural structure of a house, as somehow opening up the walls and functioning with the same purpose as say, the fire. Oh no. ‘The room exists to shelter and house us, the picture exists only to please us.’ Pictures are decoration, nothing more.

It’s at this point that a lot of readers probably pack in reading this six page essay. Life is too short to be scalded for having a painting on your wall for a decade. Some, good to his word, may even set Lawrence’s essay on fire. But try to have the one thing that Lawrence lacks, patience. He’s toying with you. He’s slowly building up to a bigger idea on how to make art more accessible to the masses. And to do this he brings in the example of public libraries.

In the 18th century books were very expensive. If you asked a gentleman whether he had read so and so he would most likely reply ‘I have a fine example in folio in my library’. Books being expensive rendered them a form of property, thereby overwhelming ‘any sense of literary delight’. It was only the development of the lending library system that changed the direction of the conversation to the contents of the book, the pleasure of reading for readings sake. ‘The great public was utterly deprived of books till books ceased to be looked on as lumps of real estate, and came to be regarded as something belonging to the mind and consciousness, a spiritual instead of a gross material property’.

FirstFoliosFolgerShakespeareLibrary-banner

Lawrence argues that the same principles apply to art as long as a ‘picture is regarded as a piece of property, and not as a source of aesthetic emotion.’ He suggests that we need a Circulating Picture scheme that follows the principles of the library, where we can hire pictures as we hire books until we’ve ‘assimilated their content’. Obviously he doesn’t offer any practical advice on how to implement such an arrangement, but the sentiments are honourable.

LORD-BIRO
In 2010 Lord Biro and me created a ‘recession-busting’ Hirst skull covered in jelly tots. You can read about that here.

Money is always a corrupting influence for Lawrence, and he suspects that a man who pays a hundred pounds for a canvas is doing it in the secret belief, or hope, that one day it will be worth thousands of pounds. The world of modern art supports these accusations, not least the vulgarity of Damien Hirst’s diamond encrusted skull. But I think Lawrence’s arguments don’t necessarily apply to my friend. She hasn’t purchased her Waplington painting for financial reward, she’s bought it because he’s a local artist and, perhaps, it helps her feel a sense of home, within her home. And she certainly wouldn’t burn it because that’s wasteful and she’s someone who thinks about her impact on the planet. I’m quite sure she didn’t bother to read Lawrence’s essay on paintings but this doesn’t matter. If we’re still friends in ten years and the Waplington is still on her wall, I’ll post another copy through her door.

dhl-trunkIn 2019 Paul Fillingham and me will be creating a DH Lawrence Memory Theatre. It will include artefacts that address aspects of Lawrence’s life. Perhaps ‘Pictures on the Wall’ will be one of these artefacts. If you’d like to get involved and have any suggestions,  please submit your ideas here.

Why DH Lawrence would never ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’

keep-calm-and-carry-on DHL

Keep Calm and Carry On was a motivational poster designed by the Ministry of Defence in 1939 in preparation for the outbreak of World War II. The poster was intended to raise the morale of the British public, but no doubt it would have infuriated Lawrence, if he’d still been alive, as he hated instructions for emotions. In his essay Nobody Loves Me, which sounds a bit like a Morrissey song, he remembers the time he was curt with a friend who visited him in the Swiss Alps and gushingly declared ‘These mountains! – well! – I’ve lost all my cosmic consciousness, and all my love of humanity.’

Lawrence scalded his friend for her ‘exasperated frenzy of the moment’, finding her sentiments a bit too gushing. But later, after he’d had a few years to calm down, he acknowledged he’d been a bit spiteful and that his friend was simply trying to find a bit of inner peace. He is only able to come to this conclusion after rationalising that by ‘love of humanity’ she really means ‘being at one with the struggling soul…of our fellow man’. There’s nowt wrong with that, but of course there are rules…

The young have ‘shed the cerebral husk of generalisation from their emotional state’ as well as ‘the flower that was inside the husk’. Consequently the young say they care for ‘unseen people’ but really, they don’t care. And Lawrence sympathises with them for not caring. He goes as far to say that all of this caring for ‘the wrongs of unseen people has been rather overdone.’

It’s this kind of talk that often gets him into trouble. But it’s worth persevering with Lawrence as the hole he appears to be digging for himself will eventually bore through to the other side and reward you with light.

Although we can never really understand what it is to be one of the ‘unseen people’ – the collier, a cotton worker in Carolina or a rice-grower in China, ‘in some depth of us, we know that we are connected vitally…we dimly realise that mankind is one, almost one flesh’. But we lose this connection, this vibration, when we kill the ‘sensitive responses in ourselves’. All encompassing, pronounced benevolence – do gooders – are nothing more than a ‘form of self-assertion and of bullying’. Later on in the essay he develops this idea further, suggesting the last generation who claimed to care for humanity, for the plight of the Irish, Armenians and Congo Rubber negroes, were fake, self-conceited and only interested in proving they were far superior.

The way to kill any feeling is ‘to insist on it, harp on it, exaggerate it,’ criticisms which could quite easily be applied to Lawrence’s novels. But I digress. He simply hates generalisations and instructions for emotions: ‘Insist on loving humanity, and sure as fate you’ll come to hate everybody.’

Any kind of forced emotion imposes a tyranny on humanity as people don’t like to be forced to do things they don’t believe in. And this is why he would hate the Keep Calm and Carry On posters. ‘The slogan Keep smiling! Produces at last a sort of savage rage in the breast of all smilers, and the famous ‘cheery morning greeting’ makes the gall accumulate in all the cheery ones.’

If you force your feelings you end up damaging yourself. It creates ignorance and kills off real sensitivity.

Likewise the couple who claim to love England and would die for England are quite safe at the moment because ‘England does not seem to be in any danger of asking them’. But what about when England does need them? And what is England anyway? Lawrence rips these sentimentalised perceptions of an imagined nation apart, which is why he believes in the specific.

The rest of the essay delves into some generalisations about the role of men and women in marriage and gives Lawrence the excuse to justify the numerous arguments and fights he had with his wife Frieda. They were an odd couple who would never say anything like ‘I love you’ or ‘Keep calm and carry on’ just for the sake of it. They were brutally honest with each other. A sign of love is to confess ‘I could murder him, and that’s a fact. But I suppose I’d better not.’

It’s lucky Lawrence isn’t around today. He’d be fuming. To Kill a Mocking Bird has been removed from the school syllabus because difficult issues concerning race and identity might cause offence. Social media is nurturing a form of digital narcissism  that panders so deeply to the ego that our eyes are in danger of rotating and facing inwards. Slogans have long been the preserve of advertising but now they’re infiltrating everyday life. In Nottingham you’ll find graffiti instructing people to have  ‘a lovely day’  which makes me feel so miserable I return home when ever I read it. And even in Wilkos, the last bastion of poverty shopping, checkout staff insist on insisting you leave feedback about how well they’ve performed in scanning your Mars bar and a packet of bin liners. When this happens to you think of Lawrence and rage to the very smithy of your soul. Spit, scream and shout.  On no condition, whatsoever, should you remain calm and carry on.

dhl-trunkIn 2019 we are launching a memory theatre to celebrate Lawrence’s self imposed exile from Britain. It will include artefacts that explore various facets of his life. Perhaps ‘cosmic consciousness’ will be one of them. Or rage. If you have ideas for artefacts we can include and would like to be involved in the project you can submit here

Lawrence Essays: ‘Getting On’ (1927)

lawrence eastwood

I am 44. The same age as Lawrence was when he died. So far I have a couple of digital projects on my CV: The Sillitoe Trail, Being Arthur and Dawn of the Unread (see image above). Lawrence wrote 12 novels, 4 travel books, 8 plays, numerous short stories and 12 poetry collections published during his life. And that’s not including the non-fiction, forays into psychoanalysis, and the eight volumes of his letters published posthumously. It will probably take me my entire life to work my way through them, let alone replicate his phenomenal output.

When I was the literature editor of LeftLion magazine I once interviewed a self-published author who proudly informed me that he had written his novel in 25 days and then pressed the publish button on Kindle. Although Lawrence may have welcomed the ease with which we are now able to get our work out into the public domain, particularly given the censorship he experienced throughout his life, I suspect he would also be suspicious of the instant gratification offered by digital technology. This is evident in the short essay Getting On, unpublished during his brief life. In this essay he reveals that he struggled for five years to get his debut novel, The White Peacock (1911), “out of the utterly unformed chaos of my consciousness, having written some of it eleven times, and all of it four times”. Lawrence didn’t just bang out books, he worked tirelessly on them, perfecting and correcting until they were ready. The self publish button on Kindle does not encourage such discipline.

Due to his work being so heavily censored, many of Lawrence’s books were either banned, burned or deemed too controversial to read by respectable society. Consequently, he lived large periods of his life in abject poverty. He could have churned out more edifying narratives in order to live a comfortable life but he wasn’t interested in comfort. He had a message to tell and nothing would detract him from this. From 1919 he lived his life in self-imposed exile, travelling the globe in what he described as his ‘savage pilgrimage’. He addresses this in the opening lines of Getting On: “They talk about home, but what is home? I find I can be at home anywhere, except at home.”

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Sun Inn, Derby Road, Eastwood, 1920s. Source: Picture the Past (AP Knighton)

On briefly returning home, Lawrence reflects on his parent’s relationship. His father, Arthur, was a collier “who drank, who never went to church, who spoke broad dialect”. He was a commoner and this annoyed Lawrence’s mother Lydia, a well-spoken city girl who enjoyed chapel and derived pleasure from temperance. Growing up, Lawrence sidled with his mother. His father would be brutally portrayed in his novels. In his latter years, Lawrence realised his mother was a snob and that her aspirations were not born out of a desire for spiritual self-improvement, rather the more mundane and obvious desire to climb social ladders. He notes this in her admiration of Henry Saxon, a “burly bullying fellow” who owned a shop and would provide the model of Paxton, the elderly paralysed tyrant in Lady Chatterley’s Lover. What seems to infuriate Lawrence the most about his mother’s admiration of Saxton, who “wore his gold watch and chain on his full stomach as it gave off royal rays”, was it represented an underselling of herself. She was better bred and better educated. She didn’t have a shop, though, and she was married to a collier.

“Now I am forty I realise that my mother deceived me. She stood for all that was lofty and noble and delicate and sensitive and pure, in my life. And all the time, she was worshipping success, because she hadn’t got it.”

As a child, Lawrence prayed that his father might be converted to the chapel or die from a bad mining accident. But “they were not my own prayers. They were a child’s prayers for his mother, who has captured him and in whom he believes implicitly”. He recognises that his mother was conflicted. That she “begrudged and hated her own love” for her husband and that this had an impact on her feelings for Lawrence and his siblings as “we were her own, therefore she loved us. But we were ‘his,’ so she despised us a little”.

Lawrence’s writing, particularly his letters, are full of contradictions and conflicts. One moment he craves the simplicity of life in Italy. The next they’re all ignorant peasants. Amit Chaudhuri picks up on this in DH Lawrence and ‘Difference’, arguing for an intertextual reading of his poetry, suggesting Lawrence’s works cannot be read in isolation. Perhaps this is why he constantly revised his work: He was constantly revising his life. He was “divided”. Andrew Harrison, in his critical biography of Lawrence, notes that Lawrence addresses these profound divisions in the family home in his poem Red Herring, where he describes himself and his siblings as being “in betweens” and “little non-descripts”.

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Lydia Lawrence had a profound effect on Lawrence. He adulated her. But he resented her snobbery as well. She was proud when he won his scholarship to the Nottingham High School because he was going to be “a little gentleman”, he would find a respectable profession above ground rather than an unrespectable life in the bowels of the earth. For a while he lived up to her expectations as a teacher, but education bored him. He quit and pursued a life as a writer which is why his debut novel went through so many drafts: “I hewed it out with infinitely more labour than my father hewed out coal.”

The great tragedy of Lawrence’s life is that he never got the recognition he deserved during his 44 years on this planet. He would enter the Canon decades after his death in 1930. The White Peacock was published when he was twenty five and his mother was dying of cancer. She held the book in her hands and then died two days later. It was probably for the best as the controversy surrounding his novels would no doubt have brought shame to the family name. He would never be a Henry Saxton, thank goodness. But at least she was able to witness “the delicate brat with a chest catarrh and an abnormal love for her” begin to carve out a career that, at the very least, meant clean fingernails.

“Perhaps she thought it spelled success. Perhaps she thought it helped to justify her life. Perhaps she only felt terribly, terribly bitter that she was dying, just as the great adventure was opening before her. Anyhow she died.”

There is no way of knowing the exact date Lawrence wrote Getting On as it was unpublished during his lifetime. James T Boulton has traced a duplicate copy of the essay being sent to Nancy Pearn in a letter dated 9 January 1927. He suggests it was probably a personal article written for the German publishing house Insel Verlag and that it most likely refers to his visit to Eastwood in September 1926.

In the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. If you can think of a way that we can address the “divided” conflict of his homelife or his perception of his siblings and he being “in betweens” please get involved. You can submit ideas here.

Getting on is published in The Cambridge Edition of the Works of DH Lawrence: Late Essays and Articles, edited by James T Boulton.

#30WildBooks Lawrence, otherness and Moby Dick

30dayswild Moby Dick

Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust are hoping to increase our understanding of the value of nature and issues facing wildlife by suggesting 30 books to read throughout June (#30WildBooks). One writer not on their list is DH Lawrence. If he were to be included in a future campaign I would recommend Birds, Beasts and Flowers (1923) which, based on his experiences of the Mediterranean and the American Southwest, explores the poetry of nature and the otherness of the non-human world. But pick up any work by Lawrence and you’ll find a writer completely connected to his immediate environment. His Midlands novels explore the destruction of “the country of my heart” and the dehumanising effects of industrialisation, whereas his debut novel, The White Peacock (1911) includes references to over 140 different plants, flowers and trees.

“Under the froth of flowers were the purple vetch-clumps, yellow milk vetches, and the scattered pink of the wood-betony, and the floating stars of marguerites. There was a weight of honeysuckle on the hedges, where pink roses were waking up for their broad-spread flight through the day. Morning silvered the swaths of the far meadow, and swept in smooth, brilliant curves round the stones of the brook; morning ran in my veins; morning chased the silver, darting fish out of the depth, and I, who saw them, snapped my fingers at them, driving them back.” The White Peacock.

Lawrence’s short stories Adolf (rabbit) and Rex (dog) explore his childhood relationship with animals. In Adolf his father brings home a nearly-dead rabbit he’d found on his walk home. Through pure tenderness the rabbit is saved but goes on to cause havoc in the house, leaving droppings on saucers while helping itself to the sugar pot, much to the displeasure of his house-proud mother. Rex explores the naming of a dog donated to the family by an uncle. Like Adolf, the dog disrupts the order of the house and the mother wants him out. But he returns, “wagging his tail as if to say ‘Yes, I’ve come back. But I didn’t need to. I can carry on remarkably well by myself.'” It’s classic Lawrence, forcing us to see things from a different perspective.

One book on the Wildlife Trust’s recommended reading list is Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Lawrence helped establish Melville’s reputation after an essay published in Studies in Classical American Literature in 1923. It’s an incredible piece of literary criticism about the “tiresome New Englander of the ethical mystical- transcendentalist sort” and the #30WildBooks project gave me the opportunity to revisit it once more.

Moby Dick quote

You can feel Lawrence’s excitement reading this seminal book. It’s like it’s written in real time, becoming more frenetic as he jumps on the ship with Ahab on “the last great hunt”. He’s intrigued as to the symbolism of this “warm-blooded” and “lovable” Leviathan and suggests that the reason the whale was never worshipped by the South Sea Islanders, Polynesians, and Malays, was because “the whale is not wicked. He doesn’t bite. And their gods had to bite”.

Lawrence is fascinated by the other and how people change when placed in isolation. Here is it the wilderness of the sea that has a profound effect on Captain Ahab’s character.

“For with sheer physical vibrational sensitiveness, like a marvellous wireless-station, he registers the effects of the outer world. And he records also, almost beyond pain or pleasure, the extreme transitions of the isolated, far-driven soul, the soul which is now alone, without any real human contact.”

argonauts new

Lawrence analyses the “incredible crew” on the Pequod, exploring their relationships to each other and the outer world. They make The Argonauts seem like “mild lambs in comparison” as they’re “a collection of maniacs fanatically hunting down a lonely, harmless white whale.” Never one to overplay things, he is equally irked by “the sonorous mysticism” that “gets on one’s nerves”. As much as he recognises the novel as being unequalled in terms of “esoteric symbolism” it is also one of “considerable tiresomeness”, accusations that could equally be levelled at Lawrence’s later work, particularly The Plumed Serpent (1926). Kettle black, etc.

Lawrence’s is always able to see things from the non- human perspective: “Moby Dick, the great white whale, tore off Ahab’s leg at the knee, when Ahab was attacking him. Quite right, too. Should have torn off both his legs, and a bit more besides.” Touché .

Lawrence being Lawrence, he uses Melville as a prism through which to explore his own favourite topics, most notably; blood consciousness, the spinal cord, primordial cultures, spirituality and the obligatory bromance. This was picked up by critic John Middleton Murry: “He is not concerned with Melville in and for himself, in his own quiddity. Melville exists only as a paradigm for Lawrence. But the projection of himself that Lawrence makes by means of Melville is amazing (…) It does not matter in the least whether this is a true interpretation of Moby Dick: its importance lies in the self-revelation of Lawrence.”

It’s all about me…

Damn right.

Biographer Andrew Harrison (2016) takes this further, suggesting “the attempt to understand the Americans and, through them, his own work, implied an incipient desire to imagine an audience for (Women in Love).”

One other area of controversy is Lawrence’s assumption that Ishmael does not survive the wreck of the Pequod. Research by JoEllyn Clarey (1986) suggests this was because he was using the original English edition of Moby Dick that omitted the epilogue. Things are never simple with Lawrence, are they?

RELATED READING

  • 30 Wild Books to Read in June (dawnoftheunread.wordpress.com)
  • Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust website (nottinghamshirewildlife.org)
  • DH Lawrence – Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (xroads.virginia.edu)
  • Charles Olson, Call me Ishmael (San Francisco, 1947)
  • Michael J. Colacurcio, “The Symbolic and the Symptomatic: D. H. Lawrence in Recent American Criticism,” American Quarterly 27 (1975): 488. 28/Chase, p. 24.
  • Ren Wellek, “The Literary Criticism of D. H. Lawrence,” Sewanee Review 91 (1983): 598-613
  • JoEllyn Clarey “D. H. Lawrence’s “Moby-Dick”: A Textual Note,Modern Philology Vol. 84, No. 2 (Nov., 1986), pp. 191-195