Lorenzo in Taos 3: Mabeltown

 

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Mabel Dodge Luhan’s home in Taos, New Mexico.

Born in 1879, Mabel Dodge Luhan (MDL) had a difficult childhood. Her controlling wealthy parents were incapable of affection meaning her childhood was lived ‘in a rigid unlovely inescapable pattern.’ Art offered her the emotional connection missing from family life and would lead to her finding escapism as a patron of the arts in Taos, New Mexico. It was here that she hoped to build a colony that would offer an alternative to the mechanical modernism of Western society. Lawrence arrived in September, 1922 but their relationship would turn sour due to a clash of personalities.

Her memoir of their time together is absolutely bonkers; a mixture of psychic discord and infatuation, laced with snipping comments. Take this early description of Lawrence. She makes it quite clear that he’s not her type, yet throughout her memoir she pines for his attention. ‘(He) is tall, but so slightly built and so stooped that he gives the impression of a small man. His head seems too heavy for his slim body and hangs forward. The whole expression is of extreme fragility…He has very large, wide-apart grey eyes, a long, slender face with a chin that is out of proportion long, a defect that is concealed by the aforesaid beard. His upper lip protrudes from his dainty decoration of the beard in a violent red that makes his beard look pink. In the midst of all this, is a very podgy, almost vulgar, certainly undistinguished nose.’

Lawrence’s slenderness is in stark contrast to Frieda’s solidity, something MDL is keen to point out again and again in their opening encounter (as recorded in our previous blog). But after sending Lawrence out to see an Apache Fiesta with her ever so considerate husband Tony, she has the opportunity to spend a bit of time with Frieda. She observes she is better company when Lawrence isn’t around, ‘as is the case with all wives’.

But MDL isn’t interested in bonding with the earthy Frieda – who prefers fags to fonts – she only has eyes for Lawrence. Hoping that he will pen a novel about her journey from New York to New Mexico, she invites him over to her place but makes the mistake of not getting dressed. Lawrence, despite his reputation as a smutty author, was, by all accounts, a bit of a prude. Her casual attire no doubt made him feel uncomfortable, an unnecessary sexual pressure. In Dorothy Brett’s memoir, she notes how ‘you do not care to be touched, to be pawed. Necking makes you furious. Your sex is not to be played with, nor to be belittled by playfulness. It is serious, a danger to be respected as the tiger is respected, hidden in the jungle.’

It’s not surprising, then, that he immediately reported back to Frieda who from that point onwards insisted they work in their house while she was around. This was immensely frustrating for all involved and denied MDL ‘the opportunity to get at him and give him what I thought he needed’. The lack of privacy meant she was unable to ‘unload my accumulation of power’ on him. And so begins the struggle for possession of Lorenzo that will inevitably end up in tears for all involved, as well as bruises for Frieda.

When Lawrence turns down MDL’s psychic advances, the claws come out. She accuses him of power games, and vacillating between the two women. When siding with Frieda he would ‘sling mud at the whole inner cosmos, and at Taos, the Indians, the mystic life of the mountain’ and when with MDL he would ‘talk just wonderfully, with far reaching implications, of the power of consciousness, the growth of the soul’. She reiterates once more that she wanted Lawrence for his mind rather than his body as ‘he’s not physically attractive to women. I don’t think women want to touch him.’ But rather than being an honest appraisal of her feelings, it reads more like an attack on Frieda for desiring him. Or, perhaps, the bitterness of a woman scorned.

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Image from http://www.dawnoftheunread.com

Throughout their time together, MDL never once saw Lawrence just sit. Meditation wasn’t his thing. On his protracted trip over to New Mexico he stopped off at Ceylon. After getting bad guts he took his frustration out on the Buddha statues, complaining “Oh I wish he would stand up!” He was certainly restless, although MDL observes that it was more than restlessness, he was pernickety, and a bit of a pain in the arse.

MDL was the daughter of Charles Ganson, a wealthy banker from Buffalo, New York. Her upbringing was in stark contrast to that of Lawrence’s in the mining community of Eastwood. It was no wonder he was restless. Leisure wasn’t a luxury of the working classes. ‘(He) really had very little sense of leisure. After the housework was done, he usually crept into a hedge or some quiet corner and wrote something, sitting on the ground with his knees drawn up.’ The problem was, he wasn’t writing about her.

All of this housework enabled Lawrence to instruct others on the virtues of cleanliness. ‘You don’t know your floor until you have scrubbed it on your hands and knees.’ This wasn’t an option for MDL as she had miles of floors. It would take her all day to clean, time better spent on more useful pursuits, such as connecting with the cosmos. She had servants to do the chores for her. Needless to say Lawrence disapproved, believing servants removed contact with life. He would apply the same criticism to cars that sped past through the living world, though he didn’t mind a lift when it suited him.

MDL describes her body as being square and therefore she tried to mask her solidity through loose fitting clothes that hung off the shoulder. Lawrence didn’t approve of this either, believing the female form should be celebrated rather than concealed, proclaiming ‘the kind of clothes my mother wore were the most-lovely pattern any woman could have’.

Despite their clashes over housework and clothing, there were many happy occasions too. MDL taught Lawrence to ride horses which he would be eternally grateful for. He seemed to pick it up really quickly, despite ‘riding as though the saddle hurt’. It meant that they could go on long rides together. But even this backfired when Lawrence taught Dorothy Brett to ride and ended up preferring her company on long journeys, presumably because they often rode in silence on account of her deafness.

mabel big and book

When MDL decided to give marriage a fourth shot, she married Native American Indian Tony Luhan in 1923. He persuaded her to buy a 12-acre (49,000 m2) property which included a ranch up on Lobo Mountain which Lawrence would fictionalise in the novella St. Mawr. The ranch was a present to her son John who was engaged to marry Alice Corbin. Despite her feminist principles, MDL asked Lawrence to give him a bit of advice. John reported he was advised ‘Never to let Alice know my thoughts. To be gentle with her when she was gentle but if she opposed my will, to beat her’. Despite this ‘useful’ advice, the two inevitably soon fell out.

It wasn’t long before Lawrence had had enough of ‘Mabeltown’ and so he and Frieda rented a separate cottage further up on Del Monte Ranch. MDL hoped that corresponding via letters may give her the intimacy with Lawrence that they’d been unable to achieve in person, but again she was wrong. These were shared with Frieda, ‘just to make everything square and open’.

Lorenzo in Taos is a fascinating social document that captures an earnest attempt to forge alternative ways of living in between the Great Wars. Some observations make you cringe and wince and are unintentionally hilarious. But there are some prescient observations too that shed light on life with a notoriously difficult writer.

‘Of course he was often gay. I don’t want you to think that in those first years he was cross or morose all the time. He was all right so long as things went his way. That is, if nothing happened to slight him. He simply couldn’t bear to have anyone question his power, his rightness, or even his appearance. I think his uncertainty, about himself, a vague feeling of inferiority, made him touchy.’

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. How could we represent the tension between Lawrence, Frieda and Mabel Dodge Luhan? If you have an idea about this or other artefacts you think should be included, you can submit ideas here.

 

FURTHER READING

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Lorenzo in Taos 2: I put a spell on you…

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In the world of electronic media, communication is pretty easy. You type out a text, press send, and voila. But back in the 1920s things were a bit more complex. After trying the traditional route of sending a letter, Mabel Dodge Luhan (MDL), a wealthy American patron of the arts, went for a more unconventional way of luring DH Lawrence to her home in Taos, New Mexico. She willed him to come. ‘I drew myself all in to the core of my being where there is a live, plangent force lying passive…I leaped through space, joining myself to the central core of Lawrence, where he was in India, in Australia…I became the action that brought him across the sea.’

MDL was convinced that Lawrence would be able to help the Pueblo Indians by documenting their lives. Although he was keen to visit, he didn’t share her sense of urgency. Undeterred, MDL asked her husband Tony to help her. Tony Luhan was a Native American Indian who had wooed MDL by setting up a tepee in front of her house, drumming each night until she eventually succumbed to his advances. If they combined magical powers, surely Lawrence would get his arse in gear and fulfil his destiny. Tony was reluctant to use his magic at first, arguing ‘the Indians believe that utterance is loss and that the closed and unrevealed holds power’ but this wasn’t the time for passivity and so MDL, sounding a bit like a business executive, ‘overruled him’.

When Lawrence and the QB finally turned up, Tony and MDL picked them up from Lamy station, 20 miles beyond Santa Fey. The charcoal kilns were burning pinon-wood, filling the air with a smell of incense. But MDL’s descriptions of their initial encounter are far from tranquil. The claws are out immediately. Frieda is described as having ‘a mouth like a gunman’ and Lawrence ‘ran with short, quick steps at her side…his slim fragility beside Frieda’s solidity.’ He is described as ‘scurrying’ to her side, and that he ‘twitches’ as he hides ‘behind her big body’. Given she had previously bragged about controlling her own husband she doesn’t seem to enjoy other women controlling their own.

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Lawrence was ‘agitated, fussy, distraught, and giggling with nervous grimaces’ whereas Frieda ‘immediately saw Tony and me sexually, visualising our relationship.’ MDL is quite perceptive here, recognising Lawrence was uncomfortable with Frieda’s overt sensuality and that he was ‘through with that’. She observes ‘Frieda was complete, but limited. Lawrence, tied to her, was incomplete and limited. Like a lively lamb tied to a solid stake.’ Ouch. Full of hubris and an unhealthy infatuation with Lawrence, MDL believes she has the transformative power ‘that succeeds primary sex…the womb behind the womb’. She can be Lawrence’s emotional and intellectual confident.

As the four set off together in the car, the tensions begin to mount. This is made worst when the car brakes. Tony knows nothing about cars, but has a look under the bonnet – perhaps willing it to work. Frieda tells Lawrence to man up and get out and fix it but instead he starts ranting about these ‘nasty, unintelligent, unreliable things’ – that being the cars, rather than women. Fortuitously, Tony manages to get the car started without the aid of a drum or magic and they head to Sante Fe. But the drama isn’t over yet. The hotels are all booked up. But Witter Bynner and Spud Johnson are ‘always up’, and they host them for the night.

The next day there was a horrendous storm. The hail ‘battering upon the top of the car like cannon balls, cracking open on the ground like splitting shells.’ Unsurprisingly, MDL finds cosmic resonance in the weather, attributing it to her new guest. Although the storm did not last long, it managed to destroy all of the crops resulting in practically no harvests taken in all that year.

When Lawrence and Frieda finally arrived at MDLs, they had food in her dimly lit home and Lawrence, appreciative as ever, commented ‘It’s like one of those nasty little temples in India!’ When talk moved to their boat journey over, Lawrence shared his horror at having to share the deck with a group of Hollywood people. ‘Lawrence made us see that ship; the long slow passage through the blue sea, the reckless, sensational crowd on board, and his own watching angry, righteous, puritanical presence among them.’

And so begins a bizarre, loving, hateful, jealous, bitchy psychodrama that would be played out over campfires, charades, horseback rides and numerous letters up in the Lobo Mountains.

Source: Mabel Dodge Luhan (1932) Lorenzo in Taos (chapter 2). See previous blog on Luhan and Lawrence here.

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. How could we represent Lawrence’s time in Taos or Mabel Dodge Luhan’s quirky personality? If you have an idea about this or other artefacts you think should be included, you can submit ideas here.

Lorenzo in Taos: 1 – Come on Over to my Place

 

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In 1932 Mabel Dodge Luhan published a memoir of her life with the Lawrence’s in Taos, New Mexico. Published two years after his death, it offered a vital insight into the controversial author who had rubbed everyone up the wrong way and consequently caused great intrigue. The opening chapter includes lots of letters from the Lawrence’s and commentary from Luhan. By all accounts Lawrence comes across as a right pain in the arse – indecisive, guttural, and highly sceptical of the community Luhan had built for herself.      

In the preface to Mabel Dodge Luhan’s memoir, Lorenzo in Taos, she warns ‘that I could only tell in these pages how we all were then’. It’s an apology of sorts, recognition that her invitation to Lawrence and Frieda to come experience life in New Mexico ‘does not end happily.’

Luhan invited Lawrence because she wanted him to experience the country before the ugly face of modernity came along and ‘exploited’ and ‘spoiled’ it. She hoped he would be able to record New Mexico ‘in that queer way of his,’ as he had done in Sea and Sardinia. In explaining his vivid skill of capturing ‘the feel and touch and smell of places,’ Luhan observes, ‘perhaps it is because, when he is writing, the experience is more actual to him than when it occurred. He is in the place again, reliving in retrospect more vividly than he was able to do at the time it happened.’ Ouch.

Luhan, a wealthy patron of the arts, was used to getting what she wanted. But just to make sure she sent an Indian necklace to Frieda that carried ‘some Indian magic’ and some Desachey and Osha leaves for Lawrence to lure him over.

Lawrence replied on 5 November 1921, proudly reporting ‘we are very practical, do all our own work, even the washing, cooking, floor-cleaning.’ But this is because he loathes ‘servants creeping around’. Rather than thank Luhan for her kind offer of putting them up, he takes an early prod, enquiring whether he’ll encounter ‘a colony of rather dreadful sub-arty people’.

On reading Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious, Luhan had detected ‘capabilities in him that would enable him to understand the invisible but powerful spirit that hovered over the Taos Valley.’ But getting him over was turning out to be more difficult than she had imagined. Despite accepting her invitation, they were in no hurry. On the 22 January 1922, Frieda wrote to Luhan explaining Lawrence ‘doesn’t feel strong enough’ to face America yet but they had a cunning plan. They would take a detour to Ceylon on their travels as ‘strengthened with Buddha, noisy, rampageous America might be easier to tackle.’ Why not join them?

mabel dodge luhan
Mabel Dodge Luhan

Luhan knew what they really meant. ‘They were scared. They wanted to see me, take a look,’ effectively try before you buy. ‘People were always warning other people about me,’ she confides, suggesting either her fears were justified or that she had an inflated sense of her own self-importance. But it’s not about her. It’s all about him. And the one thing Lawrence can’t stand is the arty literary crowds whom he describes as ‘smoking, steaming shits.’ So he advises Luhan to ‘spit on every neurotic, and wipe your feet on his face if he tries to drag you down.’ Then he calms down a bit and sends a postcard as he sets sail from Naples, thanking Luhan for being ‘so kind’ but that it is his destiny to venture elsewhere for a bit.

On 10 April, 1922, Luhan receives a letter from Kandy, Ceylon. Needless to say Lawrence is not happy. He complains of ‘the scents that make me feel sick…the nauseous tropical fruits…the little vulgar dens of the temples.’ Charming. And if she thought for one moment the experience had increased his urge to head to Taos, she was wrong. He was now heading to Australia. But he was still excited at the thought of coming to America, expressing these sentiments in his unique fashion. ‘I wish I could come to America without meeting the awful ‘cultured’ Americans with their limited self-righteous ideals and their mechanical love-motion and their bullying, detestable negative creed of liberty and democracy.’ Luhan is clearly a bit frustrated at these ‘silly detours’ and believes that the delay ‘strengthened something in me that he hated’, that being, a strong feminist principle.

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“Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe” Garry Shead, oil on board.

When Lawrence writes from Australia on 9 June he’s keen to emphasise that his visit has been as an anonymous traveller and that when he does finally make it to Taos he doesn’t want her to inform ‘anybody we are coming.’ On the 18 July he is finally ready to come to Taos, not because he wants to but because Australia has nothing left to offer him – ‘Have done my novel and have nothing further to do.’ Frieda, on the other hand, has more pragmatic demands, requesting ‘don’t give us too little a place to live in, we are much too quarrelsome…we mustn’t be too much on top of each other or we get on each other’s nerves.’

At this point, Mabel Dodge Luhan must have regretted invited them over. They’ve delayed their arrival date, disclosed they bicker, and Lawrence has been highly critical of the arty community that Luhan has strived to develop, at her own cost, over the years. But there you have it. One year of fannying around and Lawrence is finally ready to fulfil his ‘real desire to approach America from the West.’ Or is he? ‘I thought of stopping off at Yosemite Valley but feel – Oh Damn scenery…’

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. How could we represent his indecision or his rudeness to Luhan? How could we represent his time in Taos? If you have an idea about this or other artefacts you think should be included, you can submit ideas here.

 

Further Reading

#Mondayblogs: Ottoline, Lawrence and Russell

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In this guest blog, Tony Simpson, editor of the Spokesman (published by the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation) explores the literary relationships of Garsington Manor, former home to the Bloomsbury Group socialite Lady Ottoline Morrell.

In her memoirs, Ottoline Morrell, née Cavendish-Bentinck, describes how, around Christmastime 1914 and into the New Year, she had been reading some ‘very remarkable books’. The Prussian Officer, a collection of memorable short stories, was one of them.  Sons and Lovers and The White Peacock are mentioned specifically; ‘the scenes of which were laid in Nottinghamshire, and they had stirred up my early memories, which had lain dry and curled up’.

She describes riding through the ‘great oaks and grass rides’ of her childhood at Welbeck Abbey, where she lived from age six to her mid-teens. Later, after her mother died, she returned to the great estate, when she drove her ‘black ponies out on the dark dreary roads with their black hedges’. She describes how she would ‘feel excited and even a little nervous’ when she met groups of colliers on their way home from the pit. ‘These men, tall, black and mysterious, appeared rather fierce yet full of laughter and fun, joking together as they hurried pell-mell along the dark roads to tea, the grey winter light, a gleam of setting yellow sun behind them.’

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Welbeck Abbey (image from blog.cassinimaps.co.uk)

‘Excited and moved’ by the books, Ottoline wanted to get to know Lawrence, ‘whose home had also been in Nottinghamshire’. Their mutual friend, the writer Gilbert Cannan, made the introductions and, one evening in February 1915, Lawrence and his wife Frieda visited:

‘He was a slight man, lithe and delicately built, his pale face overshadowed by his beard and his red hair falling over his forehead, his eyes blue and his hands delicate and very competent. He gave one the impression of someone who had been under-nourished in youth, making his body fragile and his mind too active.’

Later, when Ottoline visited the Lawrences in Sussex, she was ‘extraordinarily happy and at ease’.

‘We at once went back to our memories of Nottinghamshire. We talked of the lovely wild commons, of Sherwood Forest, of the dark pit villages, of the lives of the colliers and their wives … He talked to me in the Nottinghamshire dialect … He also liked to talk of my family in Nottinghamshire … He used to please me by saying that the “Bentincks were always looked up to as being disinterested”.’

NPG x144134; Lady Ottoline Morrell by Numa Blanc Fils
Lady Ottoline Morrell by Numa Blanc Fils

Lawrence and Ottoline used to go for long walks over the Sussex Downs. She doesn’t say whether Frieda accompanied them. One day in early spring 1915, they went to the woods ‘still bare of leaves’. Lawrence showed Ottoline the ‘little flame-red buds of the trees not yet in leaf and said, “see, here is the little red flame in Nature”. Ottoline looked at him and thought, ‘in you, too, there certainly dwells that flame.’

On one visit to Sussex, Ottoline took Bertrand Russell with her. Bertie had been her lover for several years, and he had expressed a wish to meet Lawrence after reading the books Ottoline had shown him. On 1 January 1915, Russell noted that he was reading Sons and Lovers, the quintessential novel of Nottingham before the First World War. The first encounter between the two men ‘appeared a great success,’ Ottoline wrote, somewhat portentously.

‘He is infallible,’ Bertie said of Lawrence, on the way home. ‘He is like Ezekial or some other Old Testament prophet, prophesying. Of course, the blood of his nonconformist preaching ancestors is strong in him, but he sees everything and is always right.’

Ottoline had her doubts about such an assessment of Lawrence, and ventured her own reckoning, concentrating on Lawrence’s mother, who was, from what Lawrence had told her:

‘a very remarkable woman, who had great delicacy of feeling and distinction of mind: clear, orderly, dominating towards the children. Anyone who has read Sons and Lovers and Lawrence’s poems to her must have realised how important she was to him … She had so much in her character that satisfied him; she was sharp in retort and had a witty resistance — proud and erect — reserved — above all she had a complete admiration and devotion to him. No doubt as a result of her detachment from her husband she called forth his protective devotion and tenderness … ‘

Ottoline observed that the early habits of Lawrence’s home life were never shaken off:

‘He was quick and competent in cleaning a floor, washing up cups and saucers, cooking, nursing: violent in argument, free in expression and abuse.’

Russell thought Lawrence very young. Thirteen years his junior, Lawrence was 30 years old to Russell’s 43, when they met in 1915. Ottoline was 42. A week after that first meeting in February 1915, Russell wrote to Ottoline:

‘I have had a long long letter from Lawrence – saying it is no good to do anything till we get Socialsm – and thinking (as the young do) that because he sees the desirability of Socialism it can be got by a few years’ strenuous work. I feel his optimism difficult to cope with – I can’t share it and don’t want to discourage it. He is extraordinarily young.’

In his Autobiography, Russell looked back on those times:

‘during the summer of 1915 I wrote Principles of Social Reconstruction, or Why Men Fight as it was called in America without my consent. I had no intention of writing such a book, and it was totally unlike anything I had previously written, but it came out in a spontaneous manner. In fact I did not discover what it was all about until I had finished it. It has a framework and a formula, but I only discovered both when I had written all except the first and last words. In it I suggested a philosophy of politics based upon the belief that impulse has more effect than conscious purpose in moulding men’s lives. I divided impulses into two groups, the possessive and the creative, considering the best life that which is most built on creative impulses. I took, as examples of embodiments of the possessive impulses, the State, war and property; and of the creative impulses, education, marriage and religion [latter two are surprising choices!] Liberation of creativeness, I was convinced, should be the principle of reform. I first gave the book as lectures, and then published it. To my surprise, it had an immediate success. (I had written it with no expectation of its being read, merely as a profession of faith, but it brought me in a great deal of money, and laid the foundation for all my future earnings.)

Ottoline11Russell acknowledged Lawrence’s influence on Principles of Social Reconstruction:

These lectures were in certain ways connected with my short friendship with D H Lawrence. We both imagined that there was something important to be said about the reform of human relations, and we did not at first realise that we took diametrically opposite views as to the kind of reform that was needed. My acquaintance with Lawrence was brief and hectic, lasting altogether about a year. We were brought together by Ottoline, who admired us both and made us think that we ought to admire each other. Pacifism had produced in me a mood of bitter rebellion, and I found Lawrence equally full of rebellion. This made us think, at first, that there was a considerable measure of agreement between us, and it was gradually that we discovered that we differed from each other more than either differed from the Kaiser.

There were in Lawrence at that time two attitudes to the war: on the one hand, he could not be whole-heartedly patriotic, because his wife was German; but on the other hand, he had such a hatred of mankind that he tended to think both sides must be right in so far as they hated each other. As I came to know these attitudes, I realised that neither was one with which I could sympathise. Awareness of our differences, however, was gradual on both sides, and at first all went merry as a marriage bell. I invited him to visit me at Cambridge and introduced him to Keynes and a number of other people. He hated them all with a passionate hatred and said they were ‘dead, dead, dead’. For a time I thought he might be right. I liked Lawrence’s fire, I liked the energy and passion of his feelings, I liked his belief that something very fundamental was needed to put the world right. I agreed with him that politics could not be divorced from individual psychology. I felt him to be a man with a certain imaginative genius, and, at first, when I felt disinclined to disagree with him, I thought that perhaps his insight into human nature was deeper than mine. It was only gradually that I came to feel him a positive force for evil and that he came to have the same feeling about me.

I was at this time preparing the courses of lectures which was afterwards published as Principles of Social Reconstruction. He, also, wanted to lecture, and for a time it seemed possible that there might be some sort of loose collaboration between us. We exchanged a number of letters, of which mine are lost and his have been published. In his letters the gradual awareness of the consciousness of our fundamental disagreements can be traced. I was a firm believer in democracy, whereas he had developed the whole philosophy of Fascism before the politicians had thought of it. “I don’t believe”, he wrote, “in democratic control. I think the working man is fit to elect governors or overseers for his immediate circumstances, but for no more. You must utterly revise the electorate. The working man shall elect superiors for the things that concern him immediately, no more. From the other classes, as they rise, shall be elected the higher governors. The thing must culminate in one real head, as every organic thing must – no foolish republic with foolish presidents, but an elected King, something like Julius Ceasar …” ’

Ottoline9Russell continued on Lawrence:

‘His letters grew gradually more hostile. He wrote, “what’s the good of living as you do anyway? I don’t believe your lectures are good. They are nearly over, aren’t they? What’s the good of sticking in the damned ship and haranguing the merchant pilgrims in their own language? Why don’t you drop overboard? Why don’t you clear out of the whole show? One must be an outlaw these days, not a teacher or a preacher.” This seemed to me mere rhetoric. I was becoming more of an outlaw than he ever was and I could not quite see his ground of complaint against me. He phrased his complaint in different ways at different times. On another occasion he wrote: “do stop working and writing altogether and become a creature instead of a mechanical instrument. Do clear out of the whole social ship. Do for your very pride’s sake become a mere nothing, a mole, a creature that feels its way and doesn’t think. Do for heavens sake be a baby, and not a savant any more. Don’t do anything more – but for heavens sake begin to be – start at the very beginning and be a perfect baby: in the name of courage.”

“Oh, and I want to ask you, when you make your will, do leave me enough to live on. I want you to live for ever. But I want you to make me in some part your heir …” ’

Mortality notwithstanding, Russell probed deeper, saying of Lawrence:

‘He had a mystical philosophy of “blood” which I disliked. “There is”, he said, “another seat of consciousness than the brain and nerves. There is a blood-consciousness which exists in us independently of the ordinary mental consciousness. One lives, knows and has one’s being in the blood, without any reference to nerves and brain. This is one half of life belonging to the darkness. When I take a woman, then the blood-precept is supreme. My blood-knowing is overwhelming. We should realise that we have a blood-being, a blood consciousness, a blood-soul complete and apart from a mental and nerve consciousness.” This seemed to me frankly rubbish, and I rejected it vehemently, though I did not then know that it led straight to Auschwitz …’

Russell also put on record Lawrence’s positive impact on him:

What at first attracted me to Lawrence was a certain dynamic quality and a habit of challenging assumptions that one is apt to take for granted. I was already accustomed to being accused of undue slavery to reason, and I thought perhaps that he could give me a vivifying dose of unreason. I did in fact acquire a certain stimulus from him, and I think the book that I wrote in spite of his blasts of denunciation was better than it would have been if I had not known him.’

One consequence of their relationship may be the title, as Russell called his lecture outline ‘Philosophy of Social Reconstruction’ when he sent it to Lawrence in July 1915. In reply, Lawrence wrote:

‘Don’t be angry that I have scribbled all over your work. But that which you say is all social criticism: it isn’t social reconstruction. You must take a plunge into another element if it is to be social reconstruction.

Primarily, you must allow and acknowledge & be prepared to proceed from the fundamental impulse in man, for Wholeness of Movement, Unanimity of Purpose, Oneness in Construction. This is the principle of Construction. The rest is all criticism, destruction …’

Bertie seemed to have preferred ‘principle’ to ‘philosophy’ and, as we have heard, paid close attention to ‘impulse’.

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While Russell was writing what became Principles of Social Reconstruction, Lawrence was already working on the novel that became Women in Love, which was eventually published in the United States in 1921. He included a character very like Ottoline (Hermione Roddice), and gave her a terrible drubbing which upset Ottoline greatly. Ottoline wrote:

‘I read it and found myself going pale with horror, for nothing could have been more vile and obviously spiteful and contemptuous than the portrait of me that I found there. It was a great shock, for his letters all this time had been quite friendly, and I had no idea that he disliked me or had any feeling against me. I was called every name from an “old hag”, obsessed by sex-mania, to a corrupt Sapphist. He described me as his own discarded Mistress, who, in my sitting-room, which was minutely described, had tried to bash him over the head with a paper weight, at which he had exclaimed, ‘No you don’t, Hermione. No you don’t.’ In another scene I had attempted to make indecent advances to the Heroine, who was a glorified Frieda [Lawrence’s wife]. My dresses were dirty; I was rude and insolent to my guests.’

Philip, Ottoline’s lawyer husband, threatened to sue. Lawrence duly made a number of changes, including shifting Hermoine’s country home from one modelled on Garsington, the Morrells’ house near Oxford, to Willersley Castle in Derbyshire, which he styled ‘Breadalby’:

‘… a Georgian house with Corinthian pillars standing among the softer, greener hills of Derbyshire, not far from Cromford.’

The house is now a hotel, and you can refresh yourself in the gardens, beneath the trees, looking towards the sheer cliff opposite. It is a stunning location which Lawrence had studied closely.

‘Lunch was served on the lawn, under the great tree, whose thick, blackish boughs came close down to the grass.’

Those present included

‘… a learned, dry Baronet of fifty [Sir Joshua Mattheson], who was always making witticisms and laughing at them heartily in a harsh, horse-laugh … The attitude was mental and very wearying. Only the elderly sociologist, whose mental fibre was so tough as to be insentient, seemed to be thoroughly happy [some irony here?]. Birkin was down in the mouth. Hermoine appeared, with amazing persistence, to wish to ridicule him and make him look ignominious in the eyes of everybody … ’

Rupert Burkin shares Lawrence’s own insecurity and isolation. At dinner, our three main actors, Sir Joshua (Russell), Hermione (Ottoline) and Rupert (Lawrence), dominate:

‘The talk was very often political or sociological, and interesting, curiously anarchistic. There was an accumulation of powerful force in the room, powerful and destructive. Everything seemed to be thrown into the melting-pot, and it seemed to Ursula [like Frieda Lawrence?] they were all witches, helping the pot to bubble.  There was an elation and a satisfaction in it all, but it was cruelly exhausting for the new-comers, this ruthless mental pressure, this powerful, consuming, destructive mentality that emanated from Joshua and Hermoine and Birkin and dominated the rest.’ (Women in Love, p 101).

Ottoline6

In her memoirs, Ottoline wrote of Women in Love that

‘the setting of the house and garden were altered and some of the worst scenes expunged. But, alas, this was the end of my intimacy with Lawrence. I never saw Lawrence again, although he made several efforts through our mutual friends to see me. I did not think it would be possible for me to behave naturally or unself-consciously in his presence. The hurt that he had done me made a very great mark in my life.’

But that, as it turned out, was not the end of the story. Ottoline later wrote of Lawrence:

‘It was not until 1929, when Garsington had come to an end and when I was very ill, that I had any more communication with him. He then wrote to me some very sympathetic and delightful letters. He was obviously sorry and regretful for what he had done. After twelve years the wound had healed and I was very glad to hear again from someone who obviously was fond of me in a way that shows that his real feeling for me was good and appreciative, while now and always I feel he was a very lovable man.’

In May 1928, Lawrence wrote to Ottoline from Florence:

‘You’ve been an important influence in lots of lives, as you have in mine: through being fundamentally generous, and through being Ottoline. And she has moved one’s imagination. It doesn’t matter what sort of vision comes out of a man’s imagination, his vision of Ottoline. Any more than a photograph of me is me, or even ‘like me’. The so-called portraits of Ottoline can’t possibly be Ottoline – no one knows that better than an artist. But Ottoline has moved men’s imagination, deeply, and that’s perhaps the most a woman can do …’

Ottoline generously gave Lawrence the benefit of any doubt, writing:

‘The telegram from Aldous Huxley that reached me in March 1930, saying that Lawrence died peacefully, scattered all the vague hopes that I had of seeing him again. For I had always thought that we should have a time to laugh over our old quarrels, to disagree and argue, and to plan a new Elysian world.’

In a prefatory note to a later edition, Lawrence described the misery of the characters in Women in Love as occasioned by the war, although he did not expressly refer to the war. The novel was begun in 1913, and reflected the pre-war world, but the experience of war surely coloured its final text, which is shot through with the mutual isolation of the characters.

As we have heard, during summer 1915, Ottoline and Philip Morrell and daughter Julian were settling into Garsington, the manor house near Oxford that they had bought. In her memoirs Ottoline wrote:

‘… Philip had arranged a very comfortable flat at the Bailiff’s House for Bertie Russell, and I finished it and made it very comfortable … In my Journal I find:

“Bertie arrived yesterday and is settled in his rooms. I made them gay and pretty with flowers. He is gloomy and sceptical about everything, and about his own work, but it is really very good – a set of lectures on the New State; Social Reconstruction they are to be called. His brain seems to be working well, indeed very brilliantly … He went on to discuss his lectures and his view of truth – his own, of course, is scientific truth, provable by mathematics and physics, Lawrence’s is a subjective truth, something which is felt to be true, as an inward conviction that such a picture or a view is beautiful.’

Ottoline3

Later, Ottoline remarks of Bertie:

‘He only feels life through his brain, or through sex, and there is a gulf between these two separate departments. It is this that maddens and annoys Lawrence so much in him.’

Bertie wrote to Ottoline, telling her that:

‘ … Lawrence, as was to be foreseen, is disgusted with my lecture-syllabus – it is not mystical and Blakeish enough for him. He says one ought to live from the ‘impulse towards the truth’ which he says is fundamentally in all of us. It seems to me, in him, merely an impulse to mistake his imagination for the truth … Lawrence is just as ferocious a critic as Wittgenstein, but I thought W. right and I think L. wrong.’

Nevertheless, Bertie went to spend the weekend with the Lawrences, and it seemed to go rather well, so that his hopes rose. On Monday 19 July 1915, whilst returning by train, he wrote to Ottoline:

‘We talked of a plan of lecturing in the autumn on his religion, politics in the light of religion, and so on. I believe something might be made of it. I could make a splendid course on political ideas: morality, the State, property, marriages, war, taking them to their roots in human nature, and showing how each is a prison for the infinite in us. And leading on to the hope of a happier world … Lawrence is splendid. I like his philosophy very much now that I have read more. It is only the beginning that is poor.’

Bertie’s enthusiasm for Lawrence and his philosophy, perhaps encouraged by Ottoline’s fondness for her Nottinghamshire fellow, didn’t endure. However, Lawrence also wrote to Ottoline, saying:

‘… We think to have a lecture hall in London in the autumn, and give lectures: he on Ethics, I on Immortality. Also to have meetings, to establish a little society or body around a religious belief, which leads to action. We must centre in the knowledge of the Infinite, of God … You must be president. You must preside over our meetings … We mustn’t lapse into temporality.’

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What was Ottoline’s verdict on the relationship between Lawrence and Russell, whom she had brought together?

‘Could anything have made these two fine passionate men work together for the country and the causes they both so desired? I doubt it – they were both too self-centred and too intolerant of crtiticism. But when Bertie was writing Social Reconstruction they were often together, and Bertie has since told me that he was certainly stimulated by Lawrence’s ideas and introduced some of them into his book. But when Bertie showed the manuscript to Lawrence, his denunciation of it was so violent that Bertie nearly destroyed it, as Lawrence urged him to do. No, their friendship was not a lasting one. There was an instinctive enmity between the natural, impatient, and not profoundly educated man of genius, and the man who was also a genius in another sphere, where mind was the produce of long inherited leisure and discipline – an aristocrat, in fact, who possessed a mind that was a fine and delicate instrument, trained and disciplined in a university where it had had stimulating contacts with other learned men. It was true that Bertie was as great a rebel as Lawrence was, but his rebellion was a more rational one, not the wild, prophetic fury of Lawrence … ’

Spokesman Books’ website

Sources

  • D H Lawrence, Women in Love, Martin Secker, 1921
  • D H Lawrence, Harry T Moore, D H Lawrence’s Letters to Bertrand Russell, Gotham Book Mart, New York, 1948
  • Ottoline at Garsington, Memoirs of Lady Ottoline Morrell 1915-1918, edited by Robert Gathorne-Hardy, Faber and Faber, London, 1974
  • Bertrand Russell, Autobiography, Routledge, London and New York, 1969
  • Bertrand Russell, Portraits from Memory, George Allen & Unwin, 1956
  • Bertrand Russell, Principles of Social Reconstruction), George Allen & Unwin, 1916, (Why Men Fight in USA)
  • The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell, The Public Years, 1914-1970, edited by Nicholas Griffin, Routledge, London and New York, 2001
  • Miranda Seymour, Ottoline: Life on the Grand Scale,  Hodder & Stoughton, 1992

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rosemary Howard: A Conversation with ‘The Brett’

Ear trumpet

The following article by Rosemary Howard was originally published in the Spring of 1979 in Issue No. 15 of the D.H. Lawrence Newsletter – or ‘Lawrence Country News’ as it was then called. The meeting took place in July 1975. Dorothy Brett died in August 1977. Rosemary died on 25 July 2017.

I was encouraged to call on The Brett by the two ladies who run Taos Book Shop, a delightful sunny shop stuffed full of valuable Lawrence editions as well as an unexpected range of other publications. The fact that I lived in Nottingham and was a member of the D. H. Lawrence Society in Eastwood was apparently sufficient passport. So while I waited for the telephone arrangements to be completed I turned over the pages of a signed copy of ‘Lawrence and Brett’, Dorothy’s autobiographical account of their friendship, now out of print in England. Here I chanced upon the story of Frieda’s lost Navajo (i.e. turquoise) ring, which Brett had offered to look for. ‘You’re no use’, Lawrence had said: ‘You never find anything’.

Dorothy Eugenie Brett, daughter of Viscount Esher, who had ‘come out’ during the coronation celebrations of Edward VII, had her first date, it is said, with Winston Churchill. But she soon turned her back on fashionable Mayfair life and became an art student at the Slade. She first met Lawrence and Frieda on the second of their trips to Taos, New Mexico – the only one of Lawrence’s London circle to remain faithful to his project of founding a community of like souls, ‘where the only riches would be integrity of character’. Here Dorothy spent most of the rest of her life, painting in her charming adobe studio, a few miles to the south of the ranch that Frieda’s third husband built for her after the death of Lawrence. (This was next door to the Lawrence’s Del Monte ranch, originally presented to Frieda by Mabel Dodge Luhan, the rich American artist-writer, married finally to an American Indian, who had summoned Lawrence to New Mexico in the first place).

d brett 3 images
Dorothy Brett’s painting of Lawrence (left) and San Geronimo Day, Taos 1965 (right)

The village of El Prado is out in the sage-scrub desert, several miles from Taos, and commanding a superb view of the Sangre de Cristo mountains that dominate the closing scenes of Lawrence’s St. Mawr (typed page by page as it was written, by the Brett, in 1924). As I approached the house, I caught sight of the incongruous family coat-of- arms roughly blazoned in paint on the wooden gates, and once inside the shady little court-yard I could see tubs of that most English of flowers – violas – in full bloom. Brett greeted me gaily, sitting on a canopied garden-seat and dressed in something pinkish like a bed-jacket, clutching her hearing-aid, which she immediately switched on, declaring that she didn’t waste her batteries on the birds. Soon she was launched upon a round of cheerful reminiscences of her famous contemporaries, delivered in the patrician tones of an Edwardian lady, after the manner of Edith Evans. I first of all mentioned Helen Cork, Lawrence’s Croydon friend (who died in 1978). Brett said how much she had enjoyed a visit from her some years previously. Then she said how charming Maria Huxley had been; Aldous’ wife. ‘It all started at Garsington, you know’. When I asked her about Bertrand Russell she said, ‘Oh – you mean Bertie Russell?…were YOU ever at Garsington?’ I asked about Katherine Mansfield – wasn’t she rather naughty? The Brett said, ‘No. She was adventurous, she had adventures. And of course they made the stories’. When I referred to the tale of Frieda’s Navajo ring she asked me winsomely, ‘And did I find it?’ (As a matter of fact she did – spotted it lying in the middle of the horse-track when they were out riding). Of Lawrence she said, ‘It was all such fun. He was such fun! He had such a way of communicating excitement – feeling’. Lawrence always wanted to exchange horses with her as he couldn’t bear to ride at the back. ‘I had a large horse called Prince – a dear horse. He died.’ I mentioned the wild flowers that Lawrence loved. ‘Yes, I was always gazing up at the sky while he was looking down at the flowers… Lawrence would have lived if he had stayed there. But he would go, he would go. Why do people have to suffer in their life-times and die in penury?’ The talk moved to her home in Christmas Common in the Chilterns, her sister-in-law Zena Dare the actress and her sister Sylvia who married the Rajah of Sarawak.

Brett, aged ninety-one, had rosy cheeks and shining white hair – (‘Yes, I go to the hair-dresser in Taos. He gives me a perm’) – and the same lovely expression that appears in the Taos Gallery portrait dating from the thirties, in which she sits wearing a Mexican hat and holding on her knees a large hearing-aid in a leather case bedizened with chunks of turquoise. She was still painting though she lacked central vision – there was a canvas on her easel, rather green, and smudged. Holly, the lady-companion in a floppy straw hat and speaking in an unexpected American accent, steered me through the untidy sunny rooms. ‘No’, said Brett, ‘I don’t get tired. I look after myself’.

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Dorothy Brett’s cabin, Kiowa Ranch

I called at the low adobe studio next door which houses her paintings in exquisite shady rooms separated by green court-yards and porticos. Here were roomfuls of colourful oils under the curatorship of John Manchester, a friend who was working on her biography. I could have bought a sheet of pen-and-ink sketches of cats in various postures for forty five dollars – but I didn’t. As I left, John Manchester said, ‘To tell you the truth, in Taos we are bored to death with D. H. Lawrence’.

Up at Del Monte Ranch I contemplated the ‘little low cabins’ so vividly described in St. Mawr with the desert ‘Sweeping its great fawn-coloured circle around, away beyond and below like a beach, with a long mountain-side of pure blue shadow closing in the near corner’. In the fields I saw clumps of the large yellow daisies that stand in the foreground of the composite painting done by Lawrence and Brett (with Mabel and Frieda lending a hand, and joining in the squabbling). The little low cabins are now rather over-grown with pine-trees but I remembered the self-effacing words in which the Brett had recorded her choice – ‘I think I will have the little one’. And I remembered that a few pages further on she had written, ‘This evening I curse my deafness as I lie rather cold in bed.’

Rosemary Howard’s funeral is at 12:15pm on Thursday August 31 in the East Chapel at Cambridge City Crematorium. Instead of flowers the family has suggested making donations to Medecins Sans Frontieres, c/o Richard Stebbings Funeral Service Ltd, Kendal House, Cambridge Road, Impington, Cambridge CB24 9YS.  

RELATED READING

#MondayBlogs Viola Meynell and a Presentation copy of The Rainbow

In this guest blog Derek Aram attempts to uncover the origins of his presentation copy of The Rainbow, a literary adventure that leads him to Greatham and Viola Meynell’s Rackham Cottage…  

The Rainbow presentation copyI read with interest Jonathan Long’s piece on the known presentation copies of The Rainbow and the possibility of there being others unaccounted for; (‘The Rainbow: A Miscellany’: Jonathan Long: Journal of D.H.Lawrence Studies: Vol 4, No 4). His article caused me to take a closer look at my first edition copy, which I added to my D.H.L. collection a few years ago, since my copy purports to have once belonged to Viola Meynell and indeed is stamped ‘Presentation Copy’ over the Methuen Publisher Address at the bottom of the Title Page.

Regrettably there is no inscription by Lawrence or indeed by Meynell herself – unless they were obliterated by the pasted insertion of a contemporary (1915) newspaper article about the book’s banning, which covers the whole of both sides of the first front endpaper. See illustration 2 and Appendix 2

Of additional relevance to the history of this copy are an inscription in pencil on the inside of the front pastedown by a J A Gatehouse (see illustration 2 and Appendix 1) stating the volume to be a ‘Review Copy’, given to him by Viola Meynell possibly in 1945; and two loose inserts (see illustration 3), one being a contemporary (c 1910) photograph of ‘Miss Viola Meynell’ cut out from a magazine or newspaper and the other a photograph without inscription of a family group in what looks like 1950s dress around a central figure potentially resembling Viola Meynell herself.

The Rainbow presentation copy 2

Illustration 2: New Statesman Article of November 20 1915 and inscription by J A Gatehouse.

The Rainbow presentation copy 3 Viola Meynell

Illustration 3: Loose inserts in volume: Contemporary photograph of Viola Meynell and later unascribed family photograph with strong resemblance to Viola Meynell 2 from R back row.

Like many an enthusiast I love my Lawrence acquisitions to have a ‘story’, be it quirky or historic or whatever; just something that gives that special cachet, that links me in to the man and his time. I have Lawrence works or works about him, which once belonged to E M Forster, Stephen Spender, Moira Shearer, Louie Burrows and even Exhibit No 4 at a certain Central Crown Court trial Regina v Penguin Books; and a couple of summers ago I made a short journey which was to bring some of that cachet, plus a degree of corroboration to the volume under current consideration.

Returning from a visit with grandchildren to the Amberley Chalk Pits Museum near Arundel and realising we were quite near to Greatham I took a short detour to try to locate the cottage loaned to Lawrence and Frieda by Viola Meynell during the first half of 1915, where ‘The Rainbow’ was completed. With the help of the West Sussex A to Z and the photograph of ‘Shed Hall’ in Volume 1 of Edward Nehls’ ‘D H Lawrence- A Composite Biography’ (I knew it would come in handy one day!), my grandson Byron soon spotted the house in question by the configuration of its chimneys. I pulled in to the verge and approached the gate of ‘Rackham Cottage’.

A family group was sitting at a garden bench table enjoying the fine weather; I came to them with some trepidation and apologising for the intrusion asked if they knew anything about the writer D H Lawrence having stayed there in 1915. A lady introduced herself as ‘Hannah’ and confirmed that Lawrence and Frieda had indeed stayed there in the long low building end on to the road, which they called ‘the Shed’.

Delighted to have this confirmation and feeling I owed them some explanation for my invasion I told them of my acquisition of the book and the details including its ownership by Viola Meynell, who had also lived there. ‘Yes’ said Hannah, ‘we knew Viola Meynell’ – she corrected my pronunciation, saying it was ‘Mennell’ not ‘Maynell’ – she was our grandmother!’ I heard these words with not a little frisson of delight accompanied by a favourite saying of my mam passing silently through my head: ‘Well, I’ll gu ta Trent!’

Hannah called her brother Oliver over and recounted my interest, especially in J A Gatehouse’s assertion that Viola Meynell had given him the book in 1945. Oliver thereupon went into his study and brought out his grandmother’s Visits Book from which he was able to demonstrate that Mr Gatehouse had indeed visited in 1945.

So; Meynells (or Dallyns) still occupied Rackham Cottage; the link with that critical time in Lawrence’s career was forged and the mysterious Mr Gatehouse was real and had visited Viola. But my sense of delighted discovery was now being assailed by pressures from two sides; I was acutely aware that my family were still in the car, chafing to go and it was likely I had long overstayed my welcome, so I left with profuse thanks, a couple of photographs, Hannah’s e-mail address and a promise to send her the images of the book, included in this piece.

This I duly did and offered to send the hard copy of the family photograph if they indeed confirmed it to include Viola. Sadly I received no reply, although the message was delivered and a retry a month later similarly elicited no response, so I have had to conclude that the family’s privacy has to be respected (and I didn’t even mention ‘England My England’!). So many further questions will have to wait…

The jury must be out on whether Lawrence physically gave this book to Viola; it is presumably still a possibility it was a Review Copy, although I have never read of a review by Viola; certainly according to Methuen it is a presentation copy and I guess it is possible it escaped the judicial flames by being sent to Viola directly on Lawrence’s instruction.

Whether my volume fills one of the two unaccounted holes referred to in Jonathan’s piece or not I leave up to you but this account may at least provide an interesting slant and a tiny addition to the Lawrence record. Whatever it be, it holds a place of delight in my long appreciation of D H L’s work and life.

Rackham Cottage Greatham

                               illustration 4 ‘The Shed’ Rackham Cottage Greatham

A Savage Friendship: Catherine Carswell and John Middleton Murry

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When it comes to literary spats, Catherine Carswell and John Middleton Murry’s squabble over D.H. Lawrence takes some beating. So incensed was Carswell at Murry’s misrepresentation of Lawrence that she quickly responded with The Savage Pilgrimage (1932). At first glance it looks like a biography, an intimate portrait fleshed out from personal letters and experiences, but its primary function is as a corrective to everything Murry stood for.

They began bickering in private shortly after Lawrence’s death in 1930. This became public when Carswell wrote letters to the Adelphi magazine in response to Murry’s Reminiscences of D.H. Lawrence which would eventually materialise into the hagiography Son of Woman (1931).

Murry founded The Adelphi magazine in 1923. It was modernist in outlook and originally aimed to promote Lawrence’s work but it ended up as the mouthpiece for Murry’s own literary and aesthetic values. Murry was establishing himself as a radical Christian literary critic and had already gained editorial experience on Rhythm, Athenaeum and The Signature – the latter a short lived magazine produced in collaboration with Lawrence.   

In The Savage Pilgrimage (1932), Carswell takes Murry to task about his reminiscences to such an extent that he served her with a writ on account of ‘slurs’ contained in the final 10 pages of her biography. These were eventually toned down and the book was reissued in 1933 by Secker. But, as is perhaps befitting of Murry’s vanity, he would go on to publish most of the ‘slurs’ he’d complained about so that he could respond to them in detail in the book publication of Reminiscences of D.H Lawrence (1933).

Carswell’s attacks on Murry come as early as page 19 when it becomes clear her dislike of him had been simmering way before Lawrence’s death. She recalls the story of Murry telling Lawrence his agent had received an advance of £300 for a new novel, The Rainbow (1915), based on the reception of Sons and Lovers (1913). The money was in fact to be paid on publication which could be a very slow process. Neither would this be the full amount once other factors had been taken into consideration (proof corrections, agent fees, etc). This lack of attention to detail infuriated Carswell as she was well aware that Lawrence was fastidious about money and lived a large part of his life in poverty. Fortunately Lawrence’s agent Pinker, a kind man who supported young experimental writers, was on hand to advance £45 out of his own pocket. Shortly afterwards the Royal Literary Fund made a grant of £50.

Murry and his wife Katherine Mansfield were witnesses at the Lawrence’s marriage in 1914. But the two men really began to bond at Greatham, Sussex where Lawrence was living during the first six months of 1915. Katherine Mansfield had gone to Paris and wasn’t well due to influenza and things were tense with Frieda on account of her restricted access to her three children. Murry’s timing was perfect as Lawrence had someone with whom he could share his philosophy of life with which involved a ‘withdrawal from the world’. The bromance was born and Carswell states Lawrence saw in Murry “a colleague and successor who would build up the temple when he, Lawrence, had cut out the ground.”

The Hebrew idea of Rananim had been raised by Koteliansky at a gathering in 1914 and Lawrence was struck by this utopian idea of sharing space with like-minded people. The Murry’s became the first to test this out when they moved in with the Lawrence’s at Zennor, Cornwall, but it didn’t work out. The Lawrence’s were eventually evicted from their cottage on 12 October 1917 after a visit from the military. A series of bizarre events – which included the sinking of a coal boat on the nearby rocks below Tregerthen and the fact that Frieda Lawrence was German – created suspicion that they may be spies. Although they weren’t formally charged they were clearly undesirables. The incident would sharpen Lawrence’s need to leave England and the desire to take his nearest and dearest with him.

The Lawrence’s were forced to live a nomadic existence, being put up by various friends. Money was incredibly tight and Carswell suggests that Murry, then the editor of Athenaeum, could have done more to help him out by commissioning work. He did accept Lawrence’s first contribution, The Whistling of Birds (written under the pseudonym of Grantorto) but rejected his next. Murry claimed he never got sent any more articles, which is contradicted by both Frieda and Koteliansky.

I find this criticism of Murry hard to accept. As an editor he has to select what is right for his readership and Lawrence is certainly not someone who would abide nepotism. But Carswell suggests that his lack of support may have been more malevolent. She argues Murry had already slithered out of reviewing The Rainbow (Carswell review of The Rainbow cost her her job of ten years on the Glasgow Herald) and that “now that he had some standing, we find not only that he could risk nothing to give Lawrence a hand, but that as time went on he lost no opportunity of disparaging Lawrence in public. Murry believed that Lawrence was finished, and he had his own growing reputation as a critic to safeguard. Carswell argues this is why every book by Lawrence that was reviewed was persistently slighted or attacked in the Athenaeum.

Carswell takes exception to various aspects of Murry’s reviews, not least his dismissing of Lawrence’s career as over by 1921. She cities Murry’s ‘The Decay of Mr. D.H Lawrence’ (Dec 17 1920 Athenaeum) as applying the terms ‘tortured’ and ‘neurotic’ to Lawrence’s work for the first time and his review of The Lost Girl (1920) pushing this further through dismissive language such as ‘sub human’, ‘quack terminology’ and ‘corrupt mysticism’. Carswell sees this as a malicious attempt to further his own reputation, declaring: “It was a carefully executed attempt of the very kind which best demonstrated the horror Lawrence believed to be inveterate in ‘Christian love.’ Under the pretence of ‘intellectual sincerity’ it was an effort to annihilate.” Ouch!

Given her intense personal relationship with Lawrence, it is fair to presume that Carswell knew him better than most. Her biggest gripe with Murry is his failure to recognise Lawrence as an experimental artist, for whom “a careless joie de vivre…was as native to him as his anger” and it was stuffy England that deprived him of the joy while feeding the anger.

To illustrate this Carswell analyses the play Touch and Go (1920) where Lawrence “makes the sculptress Anabel incapable of modelling more birds and animals, though she possesses genius, simply because she has lost that joy of life which had once enabled her to render in stone the thistledown lightness of a kitten. Until her joy returns, she will produce nothing lively. Lawrence knew so well what it was to feel inspired, that he could not fail to recognise the lack of inspiration in himself or in others.”

Escaping England became synonymous with survival. Rather than being “a morbid restlessness” Carswell suggests “may it not with quite as much justice be called sanity and courage? Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage was savage on account of his poor health and his determination, via self-medication, to find a climate that would temper his tuberculosis.”

But for Murry, the only savageness was Lawrence’s rebuke to return back to England and help support his new venture, the literary journal the Adelphi. The first issue was published in June 1923, five months after the death of his wife Katherine Mansfield, who too succumbed to tuberculosis. To make matters worse, Lawrence’s letters were critical of the opening issues. What perplexed Murry further was he saw in Aaron’s Rod (1922) and Fantasia of the Unconscious (1922) a cry for another man to help Lawrence create a new world. This world, for Murry, was contained within the pages of the Adelphi. He was obsessed by it, leaving Lawrence to compare him “like a moth, determined to whirl round and round the candle till he had either burnt his wings or understood the nature of light.”

Although extracts from Fantasia were published in the Adelphi, they only served to outrage the readership, with one reader questioning why Murry should want to publish an author who “spat in the face of Jesus”. This of course was the perfect reaction to Lawrence who believed the Adelphi “should attack everything, everything; and explode in one blaze of denunciation.”

Their already strained relationship was not helped when a homesick Frieda returned to England in August 1923 and Lawrence decided at the last minute to stay in Mexico and work on The Plumed Serpent (1926). When he finally made it over he was quick to notice the ‘chumminess’ that had developed between Frieda and Murry. There are numerous reasons for the development of this ‘chumminess’. Frieda was an independent spirit and required no encouragement when it came to developing friendships with men, whereas Murry may very well have seen her as a means of convincing Lawrence to return to England and support his own artistic endeavours. Whatever the reason, Lawrence was furious and Carswell states the attitude of the husband in the short story Jimmy and the Desperate Woman is expressive of his feelings at the time.

In 1926, after his trip around Mexico and back again, Lawrence gave Murry an ultimatum. He either had to stand by him or the Adelphi. Naturally Murry chose the latter. Lawrence’s last contribution to the Adelphi would be Said the Fisherman, printed in January 1927. Carswell believes that this story was a ‘hold-over’ as Lawrence wanted nothing to do with Murry’s vanity project any more.

According to Carswell Murry presents a distorted picture of Lawrence as a man with “a long thin chain round his ankle” unable to fully run away. But in this ‘cheap’ analysis she argues that Murry has omitted two fundamentally important reasons for Lawrence’s need to travel: art and his illness. Lawrence was the first to admit his first trip around the world was a form of running away. “But he needed absolutely to run from the world he knew and to see the world he did not know” most importantly with his own eyes. Carswell believed that Lawrence would eventually have settled down. If this had have been the case, one thing is for certain. She would not have been able to share this space with Murry.

See our previous blog review of Carswell’s The Savage Pilgrimage for more of this feuding.

Further Reading/Sources

  • D .H. Lawrence (1930) John Middleton Murry
  • Son of Woman: The Story of D. H. Lawrence (1931) John Middleton Murry
  • Reminiscences of D.H. Lawrence (1933) John Middleton Murry
  • The Savage Pilgrimage (1932) Catherine Carswell