Outside the Gate: Sulphurous Politico-Theological Speculations on Lawrence’s The Plumed Serpent

Torpedo the ArkIn this guest blog, Stephen Alexander, author of Torpedo the Ark, offers some sulphurous-theological speculations on Lawrence’s Plumed Serpent. Stephen weaves many philosophical ideas into his writing, prodding, poking and interrogating the “unexplored realm of dangerous knowledge” – but always with a toothy smile. Stephen is one of the commissioned writers for the Memory Theatre

Just as there is a hardening of attitude towards the political question in Nietzsche’s work post-Zarathustra, so too in Lawrence’s fiction and essays during the period 1915-1926 is there a decisive move away from the liberal-humanist and Christian-moral tradition of the West. This move comes to a climax in The Plumed Serpent.

Richard Aldington writes in an introduction to the above that it is a “curious and original novel with no affinities”,[1] but this is not so. For in fact, the novel has many affinities and does not appear to be half so curious if one has knowledge of the cultural, philosophical, and political context in which the book was written and first published (1926). As Frank Kermode indicates in his study of Lawrence, even the novel’s occult preoccupations were surprisingly widespread within modernist circles: “A blend of theosophy, socialism, sexual reformism, evolutionism, religious primitivism, was common enough in the avantgarde thinking of the time”.[2]

It is precisely this blend of anti-democratic politics, pagan religion, and experimental language which makes The Plumed Serpent a highly controversial and disturbing work; as irritating in style as it is disquieting in content.

Throughout the text, Lawrence betrays an increasing frustration with the limitations of language when it comes to expressing those powers and forces (or ‘dark gods’) that move outside of human consciousness. Just as the book’s central character, Don Ramón, has difficulty articulating his new ‘life-urge’, so too does Lawrence struggle to articulate the novel, believing as he does that most readers do not want to hear a new conception uttered in an alien tongue: “For the machine of the human psyche, once wound up to a certain ideal, doesn’t want to stop” and thus treats every new word as “Evil and anti-civilization”.[3]

But Lawrence courageously pushes thought onto new territory regardless, refusing to dwell safely within doxa and revealing how “thought is impoverished when it fails to think relentlessly”.[4] Lawrence also obliges us to adopt an alien viewpoint, for it is only by becoming-Aztec, for example, that we are able to gain a wholly other (and not merely different) perspective upon our own condition and critically examine those presuppositions and prejudices that characterize modernity.

In other words, The Plumed Serpent allows us to interrogate and to loosen “the aura of necessity and sanctity surrounding categories of the present”.[5] And to do this from a position that is paradoxically both in real time and space (the novel is set in the historical Mexico of the 1920s) and yet also unfolds in the fictional and neo-mythical universe that Lawrence creates. The ‘problem’ – and for some commentators it’s a serious concern – is that Lawrence fails to divide these worlds cleanly and clearly enough so that, as Michael Bell points out, he constantly seems to stray beyond accepted aesthetic limits in order to explore new possibilities of action and new realms of knowledge.

Via use of idiosyncratic narrative techniques and radical literary devices which transgress the usual conventions of the novel, Lawrence manages to make plausible that which is improbable and transform the quest for the impossible into an apparently reasonable demand. We are all left as readers asking of the novel “how speculative or literal a spirit its Utopian project is to be understood?”[6]

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Artwork: Dawn of the Unread

Again, for some critics this is deeply problematic. For others, however, “much of Lawrence’s significance lies in his attempts to relate his ontological vision to the everyday and communal realms”.[7] Like Nietzsche, Lawrence endeavours to show how philosophy and art might both have a more profound and congenial relation to life by mixing together elements of prophecy and politics in an attempted substantiation of mystery.

Jürgen Habermas suggests that Nietzsche and his successors become so transfixed by the radiance of the extraordinary that they “contemptuously glide over the practice of everyday life as something derivative or inauthentic”.[8] But this is profoundly mistaken. As we will see, the notion of immanence is of vital importance to Nietzsche and those, like Lawrence, who write after him. For thinking overcomes metaphysics not by transcendence, but by grounding itself in the body and in the phenomenal realm of everyday things.

It is true, however, to say that what such authors understand by the term ‘world’ is much wider than simply the limited and known space in which man acts and his daily existence. This space is simply a little clearing of morality and reason fenced off from the wider, darker, inhuman environment outside the gate. Unfortunately, writes Lawrence, “the wondrous Victorian Age managed to fasten the door so tight, and light up the compound so brilliantly with electric light, that really, there was no outside, it was all in. The Unknown became a joke”[9] and it is still a joke (or a zone of horror) for humanists such as Habermas.

It is because of this – because the outside and the extraordinary remain ludicrous notions to the guardians of the interior who dominate ‘serious’ discourse today – that we still find it difficult to take what Lawrence says seriously. We find his fictional and theoretical analysis of modernity stimulating, stylish, disturbing and so on, but without ever really considering the possibility that he was right: right to invoke the forces of the outside in order to shatter conventional models of political thinking; right to seek out ways in which to enter what Foucault memorably termed the space d’une extériorité sauvage and which Nietzsche had already identified as that “unexplored realm of dangerous knowledge”[10] full of “tigers and palm trees and rattle-snakes”[11] and all the other marvels that the hot sun hatches.

This is the realm where King Kong still bristles in the darkness and human sacrifice remains the most sacred ritual. In The Plumed Serpent, Lawrence challenges us to do our thinking here; thinking which may have tragic results for man, but which might also help to restore to the world an aura of primordial wonder. And that’s why it remains an important – if little loved – novel within Lawrence’s body of work.

This is a revised extract from Outside the Gate (Blind Cupid Press, 2010). You can read more of Stephen’s thoughts at torpedotheark.blogspot.co.uk

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 capture the “unexplored realm of dangerous knowledge”? Or the anti-democratic politics, pagan religion, and experimental language of novels such as The Plumed Serpent? In 2019 we will be 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.

REFERENCES 

[1] Richard Aldington, Introduction to D. H. Lawrence’s The Plumed Serpent, (Penguin Books, 1982), p. 7.

[2] Frank Kermode, Lawrence, (Fontana Press, 1985), pp. 60-1.

[3] D. H. Lawrence, Kangaroo, ed. Bruce Steele, (Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 297.

[4] William E. Connolly, Political Theory and Modernity, (Basil Blackwell, 1988), p. ix.

[5] Ibid., p. 6.

[6] Michael Bell, D. H. Lawrence: Language and Being, (Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 196.

[7] Ibid., p. 205.

[8] Jürgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, trans. Frederick Lawrence, (Polity Press, 1994), p. 339.

[9] D. H. Lawrence, Kangaroo, p. 285.

[10] Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, (Penguin Books, 1990), I. 23, p. 53.

[11] Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, (Penguin Books, 1969), ‘Of Manly Prudence’, p. 165.

Samuel Morley: Philanthropist, political radical, and abolitionist.

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Photo of Samuel Morley bust in the arboretum by James Walker

When DH Lawrence attended Nottingham High School he would most likely have taken a detour from Waverley Street and headed through the arboretum. The arboretum was the first designated public park in Nottingham selected under the authority of the Enclosure Act 1845. It was opened on 11 May 1852 at a cost of £6,554 7s. 10d. At the bottom of the arboretum is a bust of the philanthropist Samuel Morley (15 October 1809 – 5 September 1886) by Joseph Else. In this guest blog, Ali Emm gives us a potted history of this much loved philanthropist and political radical. 

The youngest son of Sneinton-born John Morley, Samuel was born and raised in London where his father had moved to expand his hosiery business, I & R Morley, co-founded with his brothers at the end of the eighteenth century. If you wanted a proper pair of stockings, theirs were what you splashed out on.

John Morley was no stranger to good deeds, himself having been Mayor of Nottingham and a Luddite sympathiser – even though his factories came under attack – as well as being involved in setting up the Mechanics Institute, a place where artisans and mechanics could go to learn, improve their skills and socialise. So it’s no surprise that he raised Samuel and his five siblings to think for themselves from the get-go, telling them, “I will tell you why I am a Nonconformist and why I am a Liberal, and, if you think I am right, you can be as I am and do as I do, but you are perfectly free to form your own conclusions.”

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Map of the arboretum

Samuel was educated until he was sixteen and was considered a methodical student; something that stood him in good stead for when he began working in his father’s business in 1825. His first job at Morley’s was in the counting house, and he stayed there for seven years to learn the business. With factories established across the Midlands and in London, it wasn’t until Samuel left the counting house that Morley’s branched out into flannel under his management. As brave a move as this was – and however much we all love a bit of flannel these days – it wasn’t too successful and he quickly realised that his strength was in numbers, so he returned to the counting house.

Samuel and his brother John took over from their father in 1840, working together until John’s retirement in 1855. It was in 1860, when Samuel’s uncle passed away, that he became the head of the Nottingham business as well. He visited to determine how the business should be handled and employed Thomas Hill as manager. Morley didn’t interfere with the management of the Nottingham businesses, even making Hill a partner in 1870, but made sure he was kept up to date with the welfare of employees, their state of health and all that stuff business owners don’t usually seem to give much of a damn about.

In fact, Morley’s factories in the area were considered the best in the North Midlands: clean, light, well ventilated. He also paid top price for labour and introduced pensions. This might not seem much of a big deal, but his pension scheme was introduced forty years before the Old Age Pension Act was brought in. A nice little anecdote about Morley was when he gave a gift of £5 to a workman. The worker was asked how he reacted, to which he said, “What did I say? I could do nowt but roar.”

Under the Morley/Hill partnership, the Nottingham business was expanded to include a factory on Manvers Street; on the corner of Newark Street. Their choice of location was influenced by Sneinton’s long-established hosiery-making trade, meaning there was a skilled workforce available. They had a bit of bad luck though, with two serious fires in the factory’s early years, the second of which was the costliest blaze in Nottingham’s history at the time. The factory was eventually rebuilt, and went on to employ 500 workers. There was another Morley factory in Daybrook – now, unsurprisingly, a block of flats – and in 1879 the Alfred Street factory, which once created work to a further 350 people, is home to Backlit, an independent gallery and studio space for artists.

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Alfred Street factory, now home to Backlit. Image from Leftlion.co.uk

Although kind and concerned with the wellbeing of his workers, Morley was a stickler who couldn’t tolerate bad work or laziness, and he loathed waste. He also considered drinking to be an unmitigated evil and regularly spoke up about temperance and total abstinence, especially to working men. Challenged once by a labouring man who interrupted Morley’s speech on abstaining, he was asked, “Do you go without yourself? I dare say, if the truth’s known, you take your glass of wine or two after dinner and think no harm of it. Now, sir, do you go without yourself?”

Of course, Morley did like to have a couple of glasses with his dinner. “This rather shut me up for an instant,” Morley said when recounting the story, “but when I looked round at those poor fellows whom I had been asking to give up what they regarded – no matter how erroneously – as their only luxury, I had my answer ready pretty quickly. ‘No’, I said, ‘but I will go without from this hour.’” True to his word, he didn’t touch another drop, with the exception of a couple of ‘medicinal’ drinks during a period of illness on the insistence of his physician.

A dedicated father, Samuel wrote to his eight children regularly when he or they were away from the family home. He kept all correspondence from them, and these letters show an openness in their relationships in that they freely discussed their successes and failures with him. He encouraged his children in all their hobbies – even though he was not partial to any sports or pastimes himself, preferring to work, lobby and help the church – but he drew the line at dancing, which he objected to greatly.

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Image taken from http://www.abolitionseminar.org/before-the-civil-war/

To say that he wouldn’t compromise on his morals would be an understatement. Morley was no wallflower, especially where reform was concerned. In late 1854, the Crimean War was in full swing and, partly as a response to this, the Administrative Reform Association was formed with Samuel Morley as president. A pressure group – of which Charles Dickens was another notable member – aimed to expose abuses of the departments of state, and Morley believed that the necessity for this reform existed long before the war and would exist long after its conclusion.

An abolitionist, Morley helped to free an escaped American slave, Josiah Henson. Henson went on to document his life in Uncle Tom’s Story of His Life: an Autobiography of the Rev. Josiah Henson. This later inspired the classic anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. When asked to join the anti-slavery movement that was part of the American Civil War, he declined stating, “… while the South disgusts me with its shameless advocacy of its ‘peculiar institution’ as the ‘corner-stone’ of its government, I cannot sympathise with the North, for it is, I fear, abolitionist in proxy – only through force of circumstance – and not from the conviction of the inherent immorality in slavery, or humane consideration for the welfare of the slaves.” So no half measures from him then. On the more positive side of things, it wasn’t long after this request that he consented to stand for the town of his ancestors, Nottingham, in 1865.

He was one of two Liberal candidates in the running against the Conservative Sir Robert Clifton. Never one to be associated with anything boring, the election fight was said to be “the most sharp and bitter of any throughout the country.” As is often our way, the borough was once notorious for its lawlessness, and it was during the elections that this old spirit came to the fore in support of Clifton; riots broke out and the mob ruled.

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Samuel Drawing – Samuel Morley Statesman by Mary Evans Picture Library

On one occasion, the magistrate sat in the Exchange Buildings with the entire body of the borough police gathered round for protection, and a reserve set up in another building, while the crowd wielded stones, bludgeons and faggots; bundles of steel to you and me. This crowd then moved on to the hotel where Morley was staying and pelted him with stones, forcing him to remain hidden until they’d passed. These rather unsavoury sorts were the notorious Nottingham Lambs, a right bunch of ruffians who’d do pretty much anything for the price of a couple of pints. Rabble rousing and rioting aside, Morley just swung it with 2,393 votes over Clifton’s 2,352.

Sworn in, his early impressions of parliament weren’t that great, but he hung on to the hope that he could do some good. Morley was unseated by petition after his peers voted him out of parliament in April 1866. A bit of a blow, he questioned if he’d been sufficiently suspicious of friends, but took solace in the fact that he’d maintained integrity. He stated, in regard to the election, that “he never said a word he wished unsaid, or did a deed he wished undone.”

The Bristol branch of the Liberal party still believed in him and made it clear that they still wanted Morley in their corner, so when a seat became available, they approached him. In a case of ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’, when the Nottingham branch heard, they grovelled a bit to try and get him back.

He was defeated in Bristol and the hopes of electors at Nottingham were revived, asking Morley again to represent Nottingham. However, it seemed that the opponent in Bristol had been up to no good, Morley accusing him of “gross and illegal acts”, and in June 1868 his opponent was unseated. Morley – probably really politely and not with a two finger salute – declined to return to Nottingham and stood as Bristol’s representative for seventeen years.

A long-time fan of Gladstone, you’d think he would have been pretty chuffed to be offered a peerage by him. But when Gladstone wrote to him with the offer in 1885, Morley turned it down because he didn’t want to appear to have gained personal advantage from his selfless acts. If only all politicians thought that way, eh? With regards to wealth, Morley also saw this as a means to an end, giving it value based only on its use for noble purposes. He felt that it laid upon him the most binding obligations, and that he was accountable not only for the right use of it, but the best use possible. What a guy.

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William Gladstone (Getty Images)

He received hundreds of letters annually asking him for his help. Allegedly he read each one, and at the top left-hand corner of each is a note in his hand, brief but functional: yes, no, litho (letter of refusal to be sent), inquire further, impossible, sorry, unable, acknowledge, don’t know, apologies for delay, or amounts to be sent in appeals for money. Solely chucking money at things wasn’t what he was about, though. If he gave to societies, he personally acquainted himself with their work, would visit the churches he gave assistance to, and took pains to make sure that the beneficiaries of his help were the right ones, offering his knowledge in tandem with any donations.

One of the reforms that Morley believed in most was the introduction of a National Education scheme. England was behind most ‘great’ countries when it came to educating the lower classes. More than two thirds of children were left without ‘instruction’ and Morley spent 25 years trying to convince the government to change this so that every child received a good education. More locally, in 1881, the University College, Central Library and Natural History Museum on Sherwood Street and Shakespeare Street were opened.

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University College, now part of the Arkwright Building at Nottingham Trent University. Source unknown.

The library, however, was a no-child zone and was only open to those aged fifteen and over, but Morley believed that young ‘uns should have access to libraries. He proposed to the mayor, “Everywhere in our towns the working classes are deluged and poisoned with cheap, noxious fiction of the most objectionable kind, I should be thankful to do something to counteract this mischievous influence, and if young people are to have fictitious literature, and I see no reason why they should not, to do something to ensure that all events, it shall be as pure and wholesome as we can provide for them. I gladly offer £500 as a commencement of a library for children…”

Nottingham Corporation didn’t hang around, and in 1883 a separate library for children was opened about 100 yards from the main library. It was the first of its kind, and although it’s not been used for this purpose for over eighty years now, the building’s still there today.

Later in life, he relaxed a little bit and conceded that entertainment and amusements were, in moderation, no bad thing. He became involved with the ‘Old Vic’ – the Victoria Temperance Music Hall – a theatre that had been reopened by another philanthropist, Emma Cons. Once known for being a place to get sloshed and see a bit of action, Emma Cons reopened it to provide moral and affordable entertainment, a place for temperance meetings and ‘penny lectures’ by eminent scientists.

These lectures helped pioneer adult education, and not just for the wealthy. Morley, satisfied that they were above board and not a den of iniquity, offered them his financial and personal skills. The popularity of the penny lectures led to the opening in 1889 of the Morley Memorial College for Working Men and Women. The college is still going today and maintains a lot of the original ethos it was built on.

Morley passed away in 1886, leaving an estate of £474,000. As you’d imagine, he made sure that this was all distributed and dealt with properly. He left instructions to the executors that they were under moral obligation to fulfil all the promises he had made in life. The money went to all the causes he had supported, plus he also left some legacies to long-serving workers in his firm.

After the publication of this blog we received an email from Carol Mills who believes there may be a more tangible link between Lawrence and Morley. Carol wrote: “The connection is mentioned in May Holbrook’s (nee Chambers) letter to her brother David, dated 28 November 1949, which is held in the Manuscripts & Special Collections at Nottingham University ref. LaCh56. In it she states that from the age of three, their maternal grandmother, Jane Newbold, was brought up by John Morley, of I & R Morley, as his daughter. Apparently, so the story goes, she fell in love with one of the Morley sons but something happened and she left. She had to earn her living by working in the Lace Market and moved in with her married sister. This is confirmed in the 1851 census. However, in the letter, May appears to confuse John Morley with Samuel his son and since that side of the family were based in London in the 1820’s, I wonder if the benefactor was Richard Morley, who remained in Nottingham.

The catalyst, whichever Morley was responsible for Jane’s upbringing, appears to be the suicide of her father, Thomas Newbold, which as far as I have been able to ascertain seems to have occurred in 1826 which fits in with Jane’s age. This tragedy forms the basis of Jessie Chamber’s short story ‘ The Bankrupt’ also held by the Manuscripts Department ref.LaCh/4/6. (Jessie Chambers being Lawrence’s childhood sweetheart and the person credited as kickstarting his writing career). Both Clive Leivers of the HFPS & myself have been researching this death, unable to trace any record but have recently discovered a newspaper report that may be relevant.”

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts.  The arboretum, which hosts Morley’s bust, would have been of great interest to Lawrence given his love of nature. In 2019 we will be 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.

This article was originally published in Leftlion

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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”.’

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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’.

Ottoline8

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).

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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’.

the-dorothy-brett-cabin
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

Poet Becky Cullen on Miriam Leivers

Becky_Cullen DHL

Sons and Lovers has been a massive influence on poet Becky Cullen ever since she came across it at college in 1983-5. But she’s never been happy with the way that Lawrence drew Miriam Leivers. In this guest blog Becky explains how a Creative Writing exercise gave her the chance to tell Miriam’s side of the story

 

Miriam

For Stephen

 

My brothers whooped like savages when they saw you coming up the hill:

romping round the farm with sticks and snares, you boys had a grand time.

I set the tea and waited; later, in our almost private minutes,

you went too far, pushing the swing too high, leaving too late for the train.

 

Which you knew would drive your mother to distraction, bristling,

what’s that Leivers girl got that’s so fascinating? Well, for a start,

I had you, my own exotic mushroom, watching you paint, stopping

myself from smoothing the loose lock of hair behind your pretty ear.

 

I know your mother quaintly warned you not to spoon and do,

but it wasn’t me you took bare-faced, bare-shouldered to the theatre.

In the end, the red carnations you spat out did me a favour.

Now you’re galavanting somewhere hot with someone’s wife called Frieda.

 

This poem was written during my MA in Creative Writing at NTU – our task was to write something using quatrains, a stanza or 4 lines. So it is interesting to me that in trying to produce something with a shape I fell back on Sons and Lovers, a book that shaped my experience of reading so much that it has filtered into my writing.

I read Sons and Lovers for ‘A’ level at Bilborough College in 1983-5, taught by the formidable English and Drama specialist Gilly Archer. It’s no surprise then that my recollections of Sons and Lovers are of the drama of the novel, the tensions between the characters, and Lawrence’s attempts to let the reader know exactly what is simmering under the surface.

This poem deals with the figure of Miriam Leivers, and her relationship with Paul Morel, the novel’s protagonist. Paul visits the family farm I draw into the poem, playing with Miriam’s sturdy brothers. Alone, Paul instigates intense conversations about their relationship, in which Paul criticises Miriam for being too spiritual in her approach. They have an on-off relationship for 7 years, in which time Paul becomes friends with Clara Dawes, taking her out to the theatre, and eventually having a physical relationship with her. Neither of these women please Mrs Morel, Paul’s greatest love, who is disgusted that Paul might ‘spoon and do’ with anyone. So there are details from the novel I’ve drawn on in this poem.

Sons and Lovers is a semi-autobiographical novel, which is another way of saying it’s based on Lawrence’s relationship with Jessie Chambers, a girl from a local farming family who first submitted his work for publication. Fiction is fiction, but tensions still run so high about the representation of Miriam/Jessie, that the Chambers family have allowed no access to their land for Lawrence-related filming and so on. This poem finishes with a similar blend of fictional and factual detail in the final line, a reference to Lawrence’s elopement with Frieda von Richthofen, the wife of his university lecturer.

I always felt that the character of Miriam was drawn rather unfairly. She comes across as being a bit drippy, and Paul is quite cruel to her on occasions – I suppose this poem is an attempt to allow her to voice her side of the story. I recently re-read the novel, which was fascinating, developing a new empathy, as mother of a son myself now, for Mrs. Morel.

baby dhl
Image from http://www.dawnoftheunread.com

Sons and Lovers is so enmeshed in my literary influences that I cannot smell flowers in moonlight without thinking ‘the beauty of the night made her want to shout’, or look down on the lights of Goose Fair without thinking of Paul Morel doing exactly the same thing in the final paragraphs of Sons and Lovers. The novel feels like part of my writing heritage.

Finally, this poem is dedicated to Stephen Lowe, the Nottingham playwright whose play Empty Bed Blues draws on Lawrence’s life and work. Stephen encouraged me to do a Creative Writing MA, and to write every day. His encouragement has been a great gift, so it was appropriate to send him this poem as a birthday present one year. I like the idea that the poem brings together three Nottingham writers in this way, so there is a continuing dialogue in the present, between writers both on and off the page.

Further Reading 

In Search of Joseph Conrad

Conrad and DHL
Image adapted from Dawn of the Unread

Joseph Conrad (3 December 1857 – 3 August 1924) and DH Lawrence (11 September 1885 – 2 March 1930) lived relatively short lives around the same time. But they weren’t fans of each other. Conrad once said of Lawrence that he “had started well, but had gone wrong. Filth. Nothing but obscenities.” He died before the publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but it doesn’t take much to imagine what he would have made of it. Conrad, like Lawrence, had an acerbic tongue, claiming Herman Melville “knew nothing of the seas” to which Lawrence retorted Melville’s “vision is . . . far sounder than Joseph Conrad’s, because Melville doesn’t sentimentalize the ocean and the sea’s unfortunates. Snivel in a wet handy like Lord Jim.” Then just to rub it in a bit, added that pessimism “pervades all Conrad and such folks—the Writers among the Ruins. I can’t forgive Conrad for being so sad and giving in.”

Both writers were subject to glowing accolades from F.R Leavis and are acknowledged for their contribution to modernism. Whereas Conrad highlighted the similarities between London and darkest Africa in Heart of Darkness, the consistently restless Lawrence couldn’t get far enough away from the metropolis, crossing the globe in order to reconnect through primitive cultures.

It is with this in mind we welcome this guest blog from author Ben Zabulis, who, like us here at the digital pilgrimage, is retracing the steps of a literary figure. The following is Ben’s account of Gavin Young’s book on Joseph Conrad.

conrad books

‘I remember my youth and the feeling that will never come back any more – the feeling that I could last for ever, outlast the sea, the earth, and all men; the deceitful feeling that lures us on to joys, to perils, to love, to vain effort – to death; the triumphant conviction of strength , the heat of life in the handful of dust, the glow in the heart that with every year grows dim, grows cold, grows small, and expires, too soon, too soon – before life itself.’

So lamented Joseph Conrad (Polish-British writer) in the short-story Youth and a passage which deeply impressed a 15-year old Gavin Young: ‘Who was this unknown author telling us to wake up and start living?’ G. Young certainly did, becoming a successful writer (Return to the Marshes, Slow Boats to China) after years as a war reporter and foreign correspondent for the Observer.  ‘Conrad had taught me,’ he reasoned, ‘that there was really no question of choice when a romantically inclined young man is faced with adventure and life on the one hand and a battened-down existence on the other.’ In fact, Conrad’s influence was certainly deep-rooted, Young senior bore The Mirror of the Sea as a talisman during WW2, whilst Young junior, not surprisingly, selected Youth when covering more recent upheavals: ‘a reminder that my hectic life was probably on the right track.’

It was the tiresomeness of war which pushed Gavin Young in to writing books, culminating some years later in a little hero worship and a ‘pilgrimage’ through parts of Southeast Asia: ‘a search for scenes and ghosts known to that heavily accented foreigner from Eastern Europe.’ The result, In Search of Conrad, was published in 1991; winner of the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award.

To me, In search of Conrad is a book which works on three levels: firstly, a hugely entertaining travel book in its own right as the journey directs us from Bangkok to Singapore to Indonesia; secondly, an absorbing anecdotal layer of Conrad’s maritime meanderings and, thirdly, a fascinating correlation between people Conrad encountered or had heard of during those years and their subsequent literary reincarnations. ‘Part mariner’s log and part detective story’ reckoned JG Ballard, and so it is.

All the while Gavin Young’s love of Southeast Asia resonates throughout, evidenced by colourful and romantic descriptions of landscape, folk, flora and fauna. With humour he recounts the tackling of surly bureaucracy, dodgy hotels and a number of uncomfortable trips aboard ferries and yachts, island hopping between Java, Borneo and Celebes; exotic out of the way places enriched by well-defined route maps and Salim’s superbly sketched illustrations.

One doesn’t need to be a student of Conrad’s work to enjoy this book. A Dramatis Personae introduces the cast while Gavin Young scours the region skilfully interweaving fact and fiction as to how, when and where Austin Williams became Jim (Lord Jim), while Charles Olmeijer became Kasper Almayer, Syed Abdullah Al Joofree became Syed Abdullah and Captain William Lingard became Captain Tom Lingard (Almayer’s Folly, An Outcast of the Islands and The Rescue). Anguished characters all, rivalry, ruin, love and loneliness; shortcomings in some way relevant to their real-life counterparts. And what of them? What happened next? With library research and the tracking down of surviving descendants we get to know. Immortality? Or a long forgotten resting place in a far off land? – read it and find out!

Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski (1857-1924), Gavin Young (1928-2001): ‘It was strange. I had set out to follow Conrad from his first escape from death as Second Officer Korzeniowski – I could hear Captain Henry Ellis: “Polish? Russian? God knows” – in the Bangka Strait, to malarial Borneo where he had found Almayer, and to the Gulf of Siam where he had become master of the Otago. There had been storms and cholera and pirates on the way, but in the end it had come to this – a peaceful grave in a sunny cemetery in Canterbury in Kent.’

FURTHER READING

DH Lawrence and Arnold Bennett – Men from the North?

DHL and Bennett

This guest blog is an excerpt from Stephen Bailey’s talk to the DH Lawrence Society on 12 October 2016. 

Although Arnold Bennett was not an exact contemporary of Lawrence (born 1867, he was of the previous generation) it’s interesting to compare the two writers. Firstly, there are remarkable similarities in their careers, for example, despite using them repeatedly as settings for fiction, both came to hate their home towns, and rarely returned. Furthermore, Bennett’s career gives insight into and perspective on the literary world that Lawrence entered around 1910, when Bennett was well established.

Family life

Bennett’s upbringing was more middle-class than Lawrence’s, his father being a solicitor, having worked his way up, by great effort, via pawnbroking, from being a potter. Also, Bennett was the eldest of six children, which gave him a strong sense of responsibility. His mother was not the dominant partner in the marriage, and Bennett was far more influenced by his domineering father, who expected him to become a solicitor too. Lawrence was of course heavily influenced by his mother, who passed on her strong ethical code. Was this a crucial difference between the two writers’ development?

Religion

Although both were brought up in a nonconformist atmosphere, there was an important distinction between Lawrence’s Congregationalism and Bennett’ s Methodism. While the young Lawrence appears to have enjoyed attending chapel and relished the theological discussion, Bennett saw nothing but hypocrisy in the chapel, even as a schoolboy. This may be partly explained by the differences between the sects, but was also due to Lawrence’s character, searching for the ideal country, society or community (which he called Ramanin). He is often described as a ‘religious’ writer.

Bennett, by contrast, was essentially a Fabian, aware of the drawbacks of Edwardian England but intent on a programme of steady improvement. But it is notable that both wrote fictional accounts of church and chapel going that heavily satirised the ceremonies, as in Lawrence’s Fanny and Annie, or chapters of The Old Wives’ Tale. There was a world of difference between the emotionalism and sentimentality of Wesleyan Methodism and the harder, more intellectual and tougher culture of Congregationalism.

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Early careers

Lawrence and Bennett followed an early career path that has become well-trodden: fleeing the provinces for the potentialities of London, moving from the non-literary world into writing short stories/ journalism, and then attaining the status of novelist with a largely autobiographical first novel. Bennett was 31 at this point, Lawrence, always more precocious, only 25.

Worth mentioning that Lawrence seems to have had his first sexual experience at this time, in 1910, whereas Bennett appears to have waited till he was about 35, when living in Paris. One suggestion is that Bennett’s strict Methodist upbringing led him to sublimate all his energies into writing, while Lawrence, although quite puritanical, was more sexually adventurous.

Bennett worked initially in a London law office, but started writing and quite soon became editor of a magazine called Woman, as well as writing serials, short stories and assorted journalism. This was in some respects a golden period for young writers, with a wide variety of periodicals buying articles and stories for the newly-literate masses. His work rate was remarkable, as evidenced by his summary for 1899:

‘This year I have written 335,340 words, grand total. 228 articles and stories have actually been published. My total earnings were £592 …’

He became prosperous, renting a large house in Fulham, and providing for several members of his family. He was well aware of the attractions of the middlebrow market, contrasting the difficulty of producing his first serious novel with the rewards of writing a popular handbook (Journalism for Women):

‘How different the reception of this book from the frigid welcome given to A Man from the North! The latter, a serious and laborious work, has waited, after acceptance, nearly two years for publication. Journalism for Women, thrown off in about eight weeks, is to be printed and published in less than a month.’

Both Bennett and Lawrence worked in various genres, producing plays, short stories, reviews, non-fiction articles and textbooks as well as novels. Edwardian writers specialised less than their modern counterparts (Bennett also wrote poetry, but even fans like Margaret Drabble find it terrible).

But Bennett wasn’t purely interested in producing potboilers. Like Lawrence he was well-read in continental literature, admiring Zola, Maupassant and Chekhov. He saw his serious writing helping to establish his reputation, thereby inflating his wider earnings, and went on to produce Anna of the Five Towns, and then his masterpiece, The Old Wives’ Tale (1908).

There are obvious similarities between this and Women in Love; both are concerned with the fortunes of a pair of sisters, although with Bennett’s book we follow their whole adult lives – lengthy time-scapes are a Bennett speciality. It is notable how both writers seem to be able to present a rounded and complex picture of their female characters, yet, unlike Lawrence, Bennett inhabited a highly masculine, clubby world for the first half of his life.

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Gudrun Brangwen (Glenda Jackson) and Ursula Brangwen (Jennie Linden) from Women in Love

The glaring difference between the two is, of course, financial. Lawrence led a hand-to-mouth existence for most of his life, living in friends’ country cottages or cheaply abroad, at times relying on handouts from friends and family. By contrast, Bennett was one of the most successful writers of an era when taxes were low and luxuries cheap. His Rolls, his yacht and his country house made him an easy target as a ‘champagne socialist’. At the time when Lawrence was publishing his first novel Bennett was earning, in modern money, over £1m per year. Oddly, other successful writers of the period – HG Wells, for instance, or Kipling, were not attacked in the same way. Possibly Bennett’s denigrators were jealous of his sales figures?

Notable that both writers make continued use of their hometowns, long after having moved away and despite the dislike they express for these places. Expatriate experience is used in a similar way, so that Bennett’s Sophia lives in Paris (The Old Wives’ Tale), as he had, while Lawrence’s Alvina (The Lost Girl) and Aaron in Aaron’s Rod move from Eastwood to Italy (as he had).

Lawrence and Bennett

They never met, but were clearly aware of each other’s work and had friends, as well as an agent, in common.

During WW1 Bennett, Wells and Galsworthy protested against the banning of The Rainbow in 1915. In 1918 Bennett worked for the Ministry of Information and Lawrence unsuccessfully applied to him for a job.

Bennett had a generally positive view of L’s work – but it was not reciprocated.

In 1913 Lawrence wrote from Italy:

‘I hate England and its hopelessness. I hate Bennett’s resignation. Tragedy ought really to be a great kick at misery. But Anna of the Five Towns seems like an acceptance – so does all the modern stuff since Flaubert. I hate it.’

Lawrence felt the same about the sisters in The Old Wives’ Tale and apparently wrote The Lost Girl to show that there was an alternative course for women ie marry an Italian and live in rural squalor. But how many modern readers would see this as preferable?

Lawrence seems to have disliked urban life and mainly lived in country (partly for economy). Bennett had a country house but is a distinctly urban writer. Notable that most of Lawrence’s time abroad was spent in rural areas, whereas Bennett lived mainly in Paris.

In December 1915, Lawrence wrote to Pinker (presumably about The Rainbow):

‘Tell AB that all rules of construction hold good only for novels that are copies of other novels. A book which is not a copy of other books has its own construction, and what he calls faults, he being an old imitator, I call characteristics … Still, I think he is generous.’

It was unusual for Lawrence to express gratitude (for defence of his book). Of course, some of Lawrence’s comments can be seen as the younger generation taking a kick at the older – fair game. Professional jealousy seems natural for writers!

Several entries in Bennett’s Journals show that he read Lawrence and had a high opinion of him. Bennett wrote in an Evening Standard review of 1930, just after Lawrence’s death:

‘Lawrence was a novelist, a dramatist, a poet, a critic, a descriptive writer and often first-rate in every branch. And he was a first class journalist too. He chose his subjects well. He handled them well – clearly, succinctly, picturesquely, beautifully. He didn’t flourish his pen before beginning, and when he had finished he knew he had finished, and stopped. Not a word wasted. The subjects chosen were important, elemental, fundamental, and he struck at once deep down into the core of them.’

Stephen Bailey is the author of Heartlands: A Guide to DH Lawrence’s Midland Roots (Troubador, £9.99)

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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.

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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

The International D. H. Lawrence Conference: The Relative and the Absolute in D. H. Lawrence’s Work

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In this guest blog Fiona Fleming reports back on the International D. H. Lawrence Conference: The Relative and the Absolute in D. H. Lawrence’s Work which was held at Paris Nanterre University, 30 March-1 April 2017

Now in its thirty-first year of existence, the Paris conference has become a beloved annual rendez-vous for Lawrence scholars around the world, not only, as Ginette Roy reminded us, for what Lawrence called the “splendours” of the “monumental and handsome” city, but also for the friendly, “informal” atmosphere which characterises the three-day event. This year’s edition was somewhat marked by novelty however, the university having once more changed its name, to Paris Nanterre, and the conference taking place in the brand-new research building, named after German sociologist and philosopher Max Weber, which was rather fitting for this year’s distinctly philosophical topic of “The Relative and the Absolute”. Despite many participants’ slight apprehension of the subject, the twenty-one scholars from Belarus, the UK, Australia, Sweden, the USA, Norway, Lebanon, Italy and France, skilfully rose to the challenge and, to quote Ginette again: “it wasn’t so difficult”.

The papers presented and the enlightening discussions which invariably followed repeatedly highlighted Lawrence’s struggle with the notions of individualism and connectedness, and the ways in which his novels, short stories, poems and essays establish the dual necessity for an isolated absolute self and vital relationships with others.

Marina Ragachewskaya’s opening study of “The Ladybird” linked the relativity of absolute love to Hegelian philosophy and Christian dogmas, to foreground Lawrence’s idea that the absolute is to be felt through human contact. Fiona Fleming focused on the theme of regenerative interconnectedness between the human and the non-human in “The Princess”, Sun and Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Joe Shafer’s comparative approach of Lawrence’s devastating attack on Whitman’s universalising discourse emphasised Lawrence’s struggle with the American poet’s views on sexual difference and the absolute self. Howard Booth’s paper on the 1941 radio adaptation of “The Rocking-Horse Winner” showed how W. H. Auden accentuated the child’s disturbing relationships with the world through the use of voice and subject-object relationships with the furniture.

Women in Love was thoroughly examined in four papers which considered the chiasmus of the relationship and conflict between Birkin and Gerald in the light of the relative and the absolute. Jacqueline Gouirand discussed Lawrence’s exploration of the possibilities of relationships between men and women through the character of Birkin, the prophet-like proclaimer of absolute truths who fails to establish his new ethic of human relationships. Following this analysis, Brigitte Macadré’s close reading of Birkin’s countless aphorisms and the ironical distance created by the other characters’ response to them, suggested that Birkin may be a false prophet, despite his efforts to smash clichés and established truths. Tony Voss argued that while Gerald embodies the absolute as the god of the machine, absolutely committed to his system, and Birkin achieves a kind of relativity by defending the relativism of living, the relativism of the latter is not opposite to the absolutism of the former, but completely other. Taking a more linguistic approach to the matter, Maria Trejling pinpointed Women in Love’s exposition of the limitations of human concepts and the slipperiness of language, revealed by the unstable meaning of the word “inhuman” and Derrida’s neologism “l’animot”.

Élise Brault-Dreux and Theresa Mae Thompson once again delighted us with their meticulous study of Lawrence’s poems: Élise engaged with several poems from Look! We Have Come Through to outline the poetic incarnation of human relativity and the virtues of communion in separateness which they extol. Theresa then demonstrated how the poem “Fish” constructs the (possibly sexual) connection between the fish and the water, while celebrating the elusive oneness of the fish.

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Lawrence’s views on fiction and the novel also received significant attention, from both Jonathan Long, who presented a beautiful photocopy of the Kangaroo dust jacket from Seltzer’s 1923 edition, as well as a useful survey of all the essays which, when put together, give a theory of the novel according to Lawrence; and from Michael Bell, who argued that the novel provides an arena in which the relative and the absolute can find a modus vivendi, and demonstrated how Cervantes and Lawrence parodied or thematised the relativity of life and the absolutism of the human mind.

Many scholars alluded to Lawrence’s stance towards the religious absolute and highlighted the gradual change in his opinions towards religion. Mélanie Lebreton spoke of the “nauseating fixity” of religion which impelled Lawrence to track down the absolute all over the world in a quest to shape his own religious views and rewrite biblical symbolism. Peter Fjågesund explained that Lawrence sought alternatives to religion in art, where man and woman are reconciled in a dialectical relationship. Paul Poplawski retraced Lawrence’s move from the absolute crucified Christ in the Tyrol essays of Twilight in Italy, through the philosophised Christ opposed to God the Father in “The Crown”, to the resurrected Christ in The Man Who Died, who reawakens to the world and becomes relative, dependent on relationships. This late work by Lawrence also underwent close scrutiny by Jane Costin, who illustrated the importance of touch as a way for the soul to live on after death by referring to Sketches of Etruscan Places and the beautiful engravings by John Farleigh in the 1935 edition of The Man Who Died.

Shifting the focus to the question of “absolute music”, Sue Reid considered the contrasting views of Wagner, Haweis, Hanslick, Beethoven and Lawrence on how music relates to life, nature and man. Papers and discussions recurrently revolved around Lawrence’s theory of polarity in duality, which Nick Ceramella described in his comparative study of Lawrence and Blake. Benjamin Bouche explored the meanings of “absolute”, “existence” and “being” to demonstrate that Lawrence understood the absolute to mean completion, the realisation of each individual’s own nature, through vital relationships, not separateness. Soha El Samad linked Einstein’s principle of light with Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome to show that Lawrentian characters, like the rhizome, grow amidst relationships and follow the light to blossom and reach completion. Stefania Michelucci concluded the three-day programme with a reflection on the relationships between the human and non-human characters in The Fox and the complexity which surrounds Banford’s death.

Besides the large variety of topics and the stimulating complexity of the philosophical considerations they entailed, which once again treated us to Cornelius Crowley’s extraordinary gift for association (including a much appreciated connection between Aeolian harps and G-strings), this year’s conference will remain memorable for the exceptionally warm weather which Ginette must have divined as she arranged for our delicious meal in the appropriately named, Provençal-themed restaurant Le Sud. Interdependence and vital relationships are indeed the sure paths to the absolute of fulfilment for thankful Lawrentian friends who were delighted with Ginette’s announcement of next year’s topic: “Resisting tragedy” – for further details please contact Ginette Roy (ginette.katz.roy@gmail.com) and Cornelius Crowley (crowley@u-paris10.fr).

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The Long Read: Messiah and Apostle? Messianic Consciousness as Response to World War, in Lawrence, and Leavis

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Heward Wilkinson is a member of the F.R. Leavis Society. He has a special interest in the interface between religion, philosophy, the arts, and psychotherapy. This is the last of three thought provoking guest blogs he has kindly shared with us.  

‘Zwei Jahrtausende beinahe und nicht ein einziger neuer Gott!’

‘Nearly 2000 years and not a solitary new god.’

Thus Nietzsche in The AntiChrist, §19, duly blaming Christianity in the process ­ ‘this pitiful god of Christian monotono-­theism!’. In The Will to Power, in his invocation of nihilism, he hints that it is to do with the rise of science: ‘Since Copernicus man has been rolling from the center toward X.’ In the more complex analysis in The Genealogy of Morality he argues that science indeed arose from the truth­ seeking drive of Christianity. Complex ­ as usual with Nietzsche.

The Post-­Copernican Dimension

This, post-­Copernican vision of a world succumbed to science, is the background to the post­Sons and Lovers works of Lawrence, particularly the post-­war novels, Aaron’s Rod, Kangaroo, The Plumed Serpent, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover. And it takes the form, gradually, of reclaiming the Old Gods, most centrally in The Plumed Serpent, in Messianic or Shamanic mode. What he does in The Plumed Serpent is almost unique, except, perhaps, in Science Fiction, which has less inhibitions than classically trained novelists do, yet without the primal creativity of the classically trained novelist. Tentative and delicate in Quetzalcoatl, almost arrogant in The Plumed Serpent, not even Joseph and his Brethren, amazing historical Re­-Creation as it is, has the God-­Creating impetus of The Plumed Serpent. The versions of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (together with A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover) are just as Messianic in a very different way. The Messianic had come to stay, right up to the work on which he was working at the end, Apocalypse.

Historicity

Later on I shall suggest that the source of the Messianic impulse in these works of Lawrence lies in historicity, in living, not antiquarian, history, that Leavis, despite his Apostolic stance in relation to Lawrence, also possesses, in his profound grasp of historicity, a version of the Messianic insight. Historicity might be, over­ simplifyingly, defined as: that in a moment of history which defines its irreversible uniqueness, inherently in communicative relation to past and future. But this Leavis could never quite lay hold of, because of his ambivalence about creative novelty, (however massively he celebrates it theoretically), as opposed to his preoccupation with creating a canon of achieved works. It is apparently a paradox that the supreme exponent of the canonical achieved work, Leavis, should have so celebrated ­ yet in this very way distorted! ­ the supreme master of the improvisatory novel, and short rhapsodic novel, Lawrence.

But once one realises the links between historicity and the Messianic impulse, one is then entirely free to recognise the wider Messianic impulse in most of the works of Modernism and Post­-Modernism ­ think of, for instance: The Wasteland, The Rainbow, A la recherche du temps perdu, Being and Time, Interpretation of Dreams, Process and Reality, Philosophical Investigations, Of Grammatology, The Wheel of Fire, Ulysses, Nostromo, The Magic Mountain, The Glass Bead Game, The Golden Bough, The Goddess of Complete Being (Ted Hughes), Commentary on Romans (Barth), History of the Synoptic Tradition (Bultmann).

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Garry Shead, Lawrence and Kangaroo, DH Lawrence Series 1993.

The Account of the War in Kangaroo

Most of these are written either after War or under the lurking shadow of inevitable War to Come. That is almost what defines them as modern works, or as the precursors, such as Nietzsche. And the link is made in an absolutely paradigmatic way in Kangaroo, in the chapters, The Nightmare, and the following chapter, Revenge Timotheus Cries, which prepare the way for The Plumed Serpent. In The Nightmare chapter, Lawrence relates, with meticulous fidelity, his experience of the transition from the gentlemanly world of the Asquith Premiership up till 1916, and then the Lloyd George and Horatio Bottomley years and the death of the gentlemanly pre­war world in favour of a kind of, as he evokes, indirect mob rule and mentality, and his and Frieda’s and their friends’ increasing humiliation and loss of privacy and autonomy at its hands, which had come near the point of destroying them, when the war ended. In Revenge Timotheus Cries he recognises both 1. the profound collective impulse of revenge, to be enacted on the grand scale in WW2:

‘One thing he realized, however: that if the fire had suddenly erupted in his own belly, it would erupt one day in the bellies of all men. Because there it had accumulated, like a great horrible lava pool, deep in the unconscious bowels of all men. All who were not dead. And even the dead were many of them raging in the invisible, with gnashing of teeth. But the living dead, these he could not reckon with: they with poisonous teeth like hyaenas.’

and, 2. the desire, Messianic or Shamanic, to delve into the realms older and deeper beneath modern consciousness and its wounds and need to retaliate:

‘Humanity could do as it liked: he did not care. So long as he could get his own soul clear. For he believed in the inward soul, in the profound unconscious of man. Not an ideal God. The ideal God is a proposition of the mental consciousness, all­too­limitedly human. “No,” he said to himself. “There IS God. But forever dark, forever unrealisable: forever and forever. The unutterable name, because it can never have a name. The great living darkness which we represent by the glyph, God.”

There is this ever-­present, living darkness inexhaustible and unknowable. It IS. And it is all the God and the gods.

And every LIVING human soul is a well­head to this darkness of the living unutterable. Into every living soul wells up the darkness, the unutterable. And then there is travail of the visible with the invisible. Man is in travail with his own soul, while ever his soul lives. Into his unconscious surges a new flood of the God­-darkness, the living unutterable. And this unutterable is like a germ, a foetus with which he must travail, bringing it at last into utterance, into action, into BEING.’

And this is then realised, primarily, in The Plumed Serpent. This vision comes to fruition in The Plumed Serpent.

Leavis’s recoil?

Leavis recoils from the actuality of The Plumed Serpent with, it seems to me, something near to contempt. Leavis’s final words on it in Thought Words and Creativity are:

‘But Mexico was not isolated or insulated; Ramon couldn’t realistically count on its remaining for long immune from outside interference.

I will say no more on this head; I will merely add to my adverse criticism this general observation: ‘important’, used by Lawrence in the way in the way he uses it in his evaluative placing of The Plumed Serpent, is a betraying word. It means that even Lawrence can be in a sense a victim of the absence of any sharp boundary between his discursive thought and his fully creative art.’

Leavis dismisses such a passage as the following:

‘Only from the flowers there is commingling. And the flowers of every race are the natural aristocrats of that race. And the spirit of the world can fly from flower to flower, like a humming­bird, and slowly fertilize the great trees in their blossoms. Only the Natural Aristocrats can rise above their nation; and even then they do not rise beyond their race. Only the Natural Aristocrats of the World can be international, or cosmopolitan, or cosmic. It has always been so. The peoples are no more capable of it than the leaves of the mango­tree are capable of attaching themselves to the pine.­­So if I want Mexicans to learn the name of Quetzalcoatl, it is because I want them to speak with the tongues of their own blood. I wish the Teutonic world would once more think in terms of Thor and Wotan, and the tree Igdrasil. And I wish the Druidic world would see, honestly, that in the mistletoe is their mystery, and that they themselves are the Tuatha De Danaan, alive, but submerged. And a new Hermes should come back to the Mediterranean, and a new Ashtaroth to Tunis; and Mithras again to Persia, and Brahma unbroken to India, and the oldest of dragons to China. Then I, Cipriano, I, First Man of Quetzalcoatl, with you, First Man of Huitzilopochtli, and perhaps your wife, First Woman of Itzpapalotl, could we not meet, with sure souls, the other great aristocrats of the world, the First Man of Wotan and the First Woman of Freya, First Lord of Hermes, and the Lady of Astarte, the Best­Born of Brahma, and the Son of the Greatest Dragon? I tell you, Cipriano, then the earth might rejoice, when the First Lords of the West met the First Lords of South and East, in the Valley of the Soul. Ah, the earth has Valleys of the Soul, that are not cities of commerce and industry. And the mystery is one mystery, but men must see it differently.’

This, of course, is none other than the doctrine Lawrence articulates in his magnificent review of Dostoievski’s parable, Ivan Karamazov’s parable. of The Grand Inquisitor , in which he defends the Inquisitor’s position, of affirming, (against what he sees as the too humanly demanding doctrine of freedom of the Gospel Christ), Miracle, Mystery, and Authority. Leavis never deals with this, and he also only occasionally refers to Dostoievski’s admirer, and paralleler, Nietzsche. Did he find this all too outlandish in a rather basic sense? In certain ways, despite himself, he remains within the ambit of the Whig Interpretation of History.

What is the recoil about?

So, does he, then, also recoil from the very possibility Lawrence is exploring? Does his viscerally Englightenment mind actually recoil from the essence itself of what Lawrence is trying to do, the summoning up of the old Gods of Mexico ­ or of anywhere, back behind Christianity? Countering Leavis, in this context, one is tempted to apply Dr Johnson’s dictum about women preaching to what Lawrence is doing in The Plumed Serpent: “Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.” Who else even came anywhere near this possibility? For instance, Nietzsche’s prophetic utterance in the face of the Copernican dilemma is an utterance which is undoubtedly in the full lineage of Messianic or Shamanic evocation: for instance, in the articulation of the Eternal Return in the section entitled The Vision and the Riddle.

Past Based Knowledge, Apprehension of the Future: Illustrations of the Messianic

If, in a very brief shorthand, ­ but following the Birkin of Women in Love, responding to the fictional Sir Joshua Matheson, the Bertrand Russell figure, ­ I were to argue that scientific knowledge essentially deals with the past, in patterned and law­-governed repetition of principles based on past data (a concept confirmed by Hume’s puzzles about causality and related matters, the black hole of empiricism), then, unless we radically review our conception of science, a direction in which Quantum Physics may be pushing us, to be sure, science contrasts with historicity, in that historicity deals in the unique and indeterminate in situations, which gives them their historicity, and which is connected with the reality that, for us, the future remains open, not totally, but still always in intrinsically unforeseeable ways, and that this is, as Lawrence always emphasises, at the core of our sense of life.

In the light of this, what happens in The Vision and the Riddle is revealing indeed. Nietzsche assumes as premise ­ as the dwarf with whom Zarathustra is contesting takes for granted! ­ that the cycle of existence is totally determinate, totally constrained by what has already happened, as deterministic as Spinoza. And then he precedes to attribute it to himself, as a volitional decision:

‘Must not whatever CAN run its course of all things, have already run along that lane? Must not whatever CAN happen of all things have already happened, resulted, and gone by?

And if everything have already existed, what thinkest thou, dwarf, of This Moment? Must not this gateway also—have already existed?

And are not all things closely bound together in such wise that This Moment draweth all coming things after it? CONSEQUENTLY—itself also? [my italic]’

‘With one mighty bound he was free’, as an episode of Flash Gordon, doomed in some ghastly situation in the previous episode, once began! In effect, Nietzsche is saying that, by an act of will, we actually turn the past into the future. And, of course, into our own unique subjectivity inthe process. It is the possession of a future which is the criterion.

Similarly, in The Future of Hegel, Catherine Malabou argues that, far from embodying the fixed finality of knowledge of which Heidegger accuses him, at the heart of Hegel is a plasticity which enables him to be open to a future ­ and philosophically therefore to have a future! -­ which is both, in a sense, absolute, yet indeterminate. And that this is what gives him his Messianic fascination for those who, in every epoch since he wrote, have found him hugely compelling and all-­influential. And in Spectres of Marx Derrida extracts from the political defeat of Marxism a Messianic promise, since now our relation with Marx has become open once more, and therefore full of seeds for the future. In the masterly The Goddess of Complete Being, Ted Hughes even finds in Shakespeare himself a creative and self-­transforming, a plastic, open-­ended patterning of transformations, which is Messianic, and directed at the profoundest and most paradigmatic faultlines of the epoch to which Shakespeare is writing in relation.

In them all, it is the reclaiming of a future which is, fatefully, at stake.

Leavis’s Canon as also historicity: Apostle into Messiah

But I end with the surprising, or, in light of historicity, not so surprising, recognition that, in this sense, Leavis himself becomes more than Apostolic in relation to Lawrence; he becomes, in his own right, Messianic. No one has a stronger sense of historicity than Leavis. His reshaping of the canon, in the footsteps of TS Eliot’s dissociation of sensibility, as such is dominated by historicity, and it is his legacy. It is not, in Nietzsche’s terms, an antiquarian legacy of historicity; it is a monumental one, in Nietzsche’s jargon; it is directed towards constituting an assured reservoir out of which the future may be forged. Whatever disagreements we may have with Leavis, this concept is of massive importance; that the concept of the possibility of a canon be taken forward to the future. Without a canon, there is no foundation of historical awareness and reflexivity from which even the dark Gods may emerge.

It is not an either/or. The canon is the opening from which a future may emerge, and, whilst Leavis and Lawrence, ­ or any of us, ­ may have different emphases regarding the nature of a canon, the minimum condition of a Leavisite dialogue with Lawrence is that we continue to claim the existence of a canon. The canon is foundational, in a Kantian transcendental sense. With the conception of a canon, we gather to ourselves once more a living conception of historicity as our creative source. This is the recognition implicit in Leavis’s work, especially his later work; even though, once the conception of historicity has dawned upon us, it opens up to Nietzschean or Hegelian or Lawrentian magnitudes, it is the Leavisian concept which remains ever potent, the more creatively its plasticity and historicity is released into life and force.

In The Plumed Serpent Lawrence uniquely dared to imagine a dialogue with historicity and primal history. Without this element in his creative imagination, he is domesticated, even neutered, and, whatever Leavis was, leaping towards life out of historicity, he too was neither domesticated nor neutered.

RELATED READING

 

The Long Read: A little Lawrence is a dangerous thing – Leavis on Lawrence on Shakespeare

Heward Wilkinson is a member of the F.R. Leavis Society. He has a special interest in the interface between religion, philosophy, the arts, and psychotherapy. This is the first of three thought provoking guest blogs he has kindly shared with us.  

The title of Lawrence’s, ostensibly counter-Nordic, Twilight in Italy (TW) is nevertheless Germanic, derived from Wagner, Twilight of the Gods, or Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, or both. The extended reflections on Shakespeare, and Shakespeare’s Hamlet, in the Theatre chapter, like A Study of Thomas Hardy, and The Rainbow, are also one of those parts of Lawrence’s writing indirectly most influenced by Jung, channelled by Otto Gross and Frieda. And, like so many others then, including TS Eliot, Freud and Jung, he was also buried in the depths of JG Frazer’s crypto-Casaubon-ish Key to All Mythologies, Also Known As The Golden Bough. There is, accordingly, a dialectical spaciousness, and a capacity to live with contradiction – as Keats and Whitman recommend – in all this, and in contemporary writings, such as A Study of Thomas Hardy – something which returns in full measure in the final work, Apocalypse, and other late non-fictional writings.

This (TW) is the work which then Leavis picked up and used in English Literature in Our Time and The University (ELU). I believe – if we put on one side the post-Richmond Lecture politicking – this is his critically most quintessentially perfect book after Revaluation. In it he comments compellingly on this chapter of Lawrence’s. Following his extraordinary and masterful account of TS Eliot’s significance as poet and critic, and his defence of Eliot’s highly relevant, and indeed parallel, concept of ‘dissociation of sensibility’, he then suggestively juxtaposes – or opposes! – Eliot with Lawrence in terms of their accounts of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  This juxtaposition/opposition, as so often with Leavis, the master of critical epitome, is potently elegant and coercively compelling. For a long time, I felt that it resolved the critical issues. But now I am asking myself, what if, for powerful and indeed intractable reasons, it actually simply holds them, masterfully, at bay? This is the dilemma I now find in this dialectic. If this is true, what are the reasons for it, and in what way might they, in a manner, be valid? And what does he, in some sense, miss about (or hold at bay) what Lawrence actually sees in Shakespeare?

I begin with a caveat. Leavis makes upon Lawrence the, to me, extraordinary comment (one among several significantly deprecatory, even hesitantly academic, ones in the same vein) on this chapter of Lawrence’s, that (ELU, p. 161):

The emphases are not those of criticism.

But perhaps, paradoxically, that does, however, apply to Leavis himself, in part, in the sense that this is a partly polemical and partly teaching text, where, indeed, he is not trying to give, what he says of Lawrence (ELU, p. 161):

….an essay on the play, concerned to give a balanced account of it.

So, thus cautioned, let us see what we can infer from both what he does say, and what he does not say.

Leavis takes one of Lawrence’s emphases and makes it central: the contrast between the mediaeval, divine right, ‘old’ King Hamlet, and the ‘modern’, ‘introverted’, Montaigne-influenced, ‘young’ Prince Hamlet. (And likewise, – implying, inter alia, a necessarily very deep relationship between life and work, – also the Montaigne-influenced author of Hamlet.) First he remarks:

I’m bound to add that I don’t see why it should be dismissed offhand as gratuitously Laurentian and obviously absurd. (ELU, p. 163)

Coming after all those disclaimers, do we perhaps wonder about this, with Freud, whether there may not be no ‘not’ in the unconscious? Why all this caution here, what does it mean? Perhaps! but continuons!

The murdered elder Hamlet is insistently and potently evoked as essentially the King, the ideal King and Father – worthy embodiment of the traditional idea and potency. No acceptable account of the Shakespearian significance can ignore that datum. Young Hamlet idolizes his father, but is presented, surely, as, in the qualities which make him what he is, essentially inconceivable as a second god-like Hamlet…… Shakespeare, having undertaken to rewrite the old Hamlet, could with profound imaginative force realise Hamlet the King, but he was also, as we say, a ‘modern’ – certainly not in the lag of his age. Shakespeare’s Prince Hamlet didn’t – couldn’t – ‘in his involuntary soul’ (I use Lawrence’s phrase) want to be King and Father, supreme I, Hamlet the Dane, the Danish Fortinbras. (ELU, pp. 163-4)

Pausing for a moment, we wonder, in passing, whether the device of the Ghost is not, paradoxically, part of that modernity, and whether the egotism, and unconcern about his supposed son, a callousness transferred osmotically to Hamlet, the ostensible Ghost displays, is not an essential part of Hamlet’s problem? And whether, whatever its excesses, psychoanalysis has not taught us, at least, that we are prone to idealise where, in another mode of ourselves, we hate, fear, and resent?

Leavis then reverts to his argument with TS Eliot about the reductionist concept of significance involved in the ‘objective correlative’ formulation, which is part of his diminishing of Eliot by comparison with Lawrence (ELU, p. 64):

….who today will suggest that such a significance can’t be…. in the play….?

Could this, valid as far as it goes, but not necessarily decisive enough to underpin an entire critical indictment, (especially as Eliot, as we shall see, flips the other way up by the end of his essay), be a red herring, an inadvertant displacement and distractor from something Eliot and Lawrence have in common?

To be sure, Leavis goes on (ELU, p. 164):

Of course, there is more in Hamlet, which is certainly very complex, and in such a way, that the difficulty in arriving at an account of it which satisfies one’s total sense of it, justifies one’s thinking of it as peculiarly a ‘problem’. 

– the sort of remark which indeed makes one think wistfully of Leavis’s never-to-be-written book about Shakespeare. But it makes one, as well, be cautious about what his account may, or may not, implicitly exclude. But this disclaimer does not tell us, so we must infer from other indicators.

So, earlier Leavis has, – very rightly and impressively, in my view, – appealed to Gilbert Murray’s Hamlet and Orestes British Academy address of 1914 and to Dame Bertha Philpotts’ The Elder Edda (1920), as invoking a second ritual/dramatic origin of tragedy in the North, to parallel the Greek (with JG Frazer in the background, in the process arguably implicating Shakespeare in a living knowledge of Greek drama):

Miss Philpotts’ book…. establishes that there was a second ritual origin of tragedy in the North, and that a continuity of dramatic traditions runs down through the Middle Ages to Shakespeare, who therefore is at the point of intersection – or junction – of the two lines. (ELU pp. 162/3) [my italic] 

He then says (ELU p. 163):

Now Murray is delicately and very intelligently suggestive. But the student won’t, from reading his lecture, have learnt how the significance of what he finds there can be shown to be important for the appreciation of Shakespearian tragedy – how it can enter into the understanding of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The only help towards that I know is Lawrence. No one approaching that chapter in the spirit of my suggestion will be in danger of taking it anything but critically – but the finding essential insight in work about which one has to have critical reserves is a most important order of educational experience. And there is insight, decisive prompting insight, in Lawrence’s commentary on Hamlet.             

It seems to me there is a strong suggestio falsi here, the implication that Murray is the mere academic, who does not engage with the life issues, the existential issues, the living issues. But this, prima facie, enables Leavis to by-pass something which is to be found in all four of Murray, Philpotts, Lawrence, and TS Eliot – and also in the Wagner Der Ring der Nibelungen (huge influence on Nietzsche and Jung and Lawrence) which (as Levi-Strauss recognised) profoundly redacts the Norse materials, and also again, more recently, but congruently with all these, Ted Hughes, in Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being.

This something is what Murray brings out by drawing attention to the huge difficulties both Orestes and Hamlet are portrayed as having with women, a partial and certainly ambivalent, but also itself murderous (c.f., Sonnet 129) misogyny, which is, however, also present in King Lear and Macbeth, and Othello. On all this Lawrence writes (TW) in Twilight, making it clear as he does that this in Shakespeare is not a mere external taking over of elements from the traditionary materials:

Hamlet’s father, the King, is, like Agamemnon, a warrior-king. But, unlike Agamemnon, he is blameless with regard to Gertrude. Yet Gertrude, like Clytemnestra, is the potential murderer of her husband, as Lady Macbeth is murderess, as the daughters of Lear. The women murder the supreme male, the ideal Self, the King and Father.

This is the tragic position Shakespeare must dwell upon. The woman rejects, repudiates the ideal Self which the male represents to her. The supreme representative, King and Father, is murdered by the Wife and the Daughters.

What is the reason? Hamlet goes mad in a revulsion of rage and nausea. Yet the women-murderers only represent some ultimate judgement in his own soul. At the bottom of his own soul Hamlet has decided that the Self in its supremacy, Father and King, must die. [my italic] It is a suicidal decision for his involuntary soul to have arrived at. Yet it is inevitable. The great religious, philosophic tide, which has been swelling all through the Middle Ages, had brought him there.

The question, to be or not to be, which Hamlet puts himself, does not mean, to live or not to live. It is not the simple human being who puts himself the question, it is the supreme I, King and Father. To be or not to be King, Father, in the Self supreme? And the decision is, not to be.

And again:

The King, the Father, the representative of the Consummate Self, the maximum of all life, the symbol of the consummate being, the becoming Supreme, Godlike, Infinite, he must perish and pass away. This Infinite was not infinite, this consummation was not consummated, all this was fallible, false. It was rotten, corrupt. It must go. But Shakespeare was also the thing itself. [my italic] Hence his horror, his frenzy, his self-loathing.

‘The thing itself’ – significantly taken from the kenotic, self-emptying, moment (KL, III, iv) when Edgar as poor Tom, as ‘unaccomodated man’,  is confronted by the now mad King Lear – is here, for Lawrence, not pure unaccomodated man, but the apparent reverse, mediaeval aristocracy. (But, in that kenosis, it is aristocracy, noblesse oblige, which is emptied – c.f., ‘poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are’ etc, just a moment before, – and ‘poor Tom’ is of course really Edgar.) Shakespeare is therefore by Lawrence conceived as either an aristocrat – one of the ‘wolfish earls’ themselves, – or some ‘born descendant and knower’, as Whitman puts it, concerning the History Plays, in November Boughs:

Conceiv’d out of the fullest heat and pulse of European feudalism – personifying in unparallel’d ways the mediæval aristocracy, its towering spirit of ruthless and gigantic caste, with its own peculiar air and arrogance (no mere imitation) – only one of the “wolfish earls” so plenteous in the plays themselves, or some born descendant and knower, might seem to be the true author of those amazing works – works in some respects greater than anything else in recorded literature.

Shakespeare, too, is also ‘the thing itself’. So, psychologically, was Lawrence – a ‘born descendant and knower’, – although Lawrence’s life does fit his works, in spades, as William of Stratford’s manifestly fails to.

This recoil is associated by Lawrence with the interiorisation of woman-ness as Other, as not-Self, as Thou, as alter. Indeed, we recognise certain notes in this as ones presented more personally in Women in Love, Kangaroo, and elsewhere:

This is the tragic position Shakespeare must dwell upon. The woman rejects, repudiates the ideal Self which the male represents to her. [my italic] The supreme representative, King and Father, is murdered by the Wife and the Daughters.

These are elements which are writ large by Middleton Murry in Son of Woman, and which are clearly registered by TS Eliot in his responses to Lawrence, along with the more favourable and fascinated ones, such as CE Baron (Lawrence’s Influence on Eliot, Cambridge Quarterly, Spring 1971) noted in recognising how deeply Four Quartets is pervaded by Lawrentian echoes and resonances. We may add, they are in part expressed also in After Strange Gods itself, where Fantasia of the Unconscious is recognised as a masterly critique, to be read and re-read, of the modern world. (Once more, Eliot is here again endorsing a stance Murry has taken.)

It seems to me that Lawrence is quite clearly implicating himself, in the Coleridgean mode Eliot purports to repudiate, in this dialectic, when he says:

For the soliloquies of Hamlet are as deep as the soul of man can go, in one direction, and as sincere as the Holy Spirit itself in their essence. But thank heaven, the bog into which Hamlet struggled is almost surpassed.

To be sure this is a moment of his relative optimism, as in later chapters of Women in Love, but surely ‘as deep as the soul of man can go, in one direction’ must imply that Lawrence’s own soul has been there? Without going all the way with Middleton Murry’s partly lop-sidedly bereaved and rageful analysis, we can surely go so far as to say, this complex of issues was a lifelong struggle, never fully resolved, for Lawrence?!

One might say, Leavis has a certain tendency to idealise Lawrence, and only to see the archetypal and Frazerian dimension of Lawrence – but one which, as such, is neutralised in a peculiar way I shall come to. Thus, he hesitates to follow Lawrence into his animism!! In A Study of Thomas Hardy Lawrence writes (amongst similar notes, invoking the cosmic archetypal power of Egdon Heath):

Oedipus, Hamlet, Macbeth, set themselves up against, or find themselves set up against the unfathomed moral forces of nature, and out of this unfathomed force comes their death. Whereas Anna Karenina, Tess, Sue and Jude find themselves up against the established system of human government and morality, they cannot detach themselves and are brought down.

But it is clear from such a work as Twilight – and A Study of Thomas Hardy itself – that Lawrence does not think this is in antithesis to the personal, rather that we should not merely see the personal. In parts of Fantasia of the Unconscious, and Apocalypse, Lawrence endorses a degree of animistic belief into which Leavis cannot follow him. Consequently Leavis is drawn into a degree of transmuting Lawrence into a kind of Lawrentian Humanism, to set against the Christian nihilism, as Leavis sees it, of TS Eliot (Leavis turns Bunyan, and Cecil Sharpe’s Appalachian Puritans, into Humanists also). This is more George Eliot than TS Eliot; something of Lawrence is lost or neutralised here (Nietzsche has relevant comment on George Eliot in Twilight of the Idols). And therefore Leavis’s stance has elements of a belief position, rejecting the degree of affinity between TS Eliot and Lawrence, in the Flaubertian dimension, and in the archetypal dimension, and in their conjunction. TheAeschylus/Orestes note explored in Eliot’s The Family Reunion, which picks up just where the last part of Eliot’s essay on Hamlet left off, is relevant here, and I will just refer to that ending in passing (where Eliot duly and typically clearly reverts to his own variant of the Coleridgean position, overtly repudiated at the start of the essay) before stating what I think is Leavis’s essential dilemma:

We must simply admit that here Shakespeare tackled a problem which proved too much for him. Why he attempted it at all is an insoluble puzzle; under compulsion of what experience he attempted to express the inexpressibly horrible, we cannot ever know. We need a great many facts in his biography; and we should like to know whether, and when, and after or at the same time as what personal experience, he read Montaigne, II. xii., Apologie de Raimond Sebond. We should have, finally, to know something which is by hypothesis unknowable, for we assume it to be an experience which, in the manner indicated, exceeded the facts. We should have to understand things which Shakespeare did not understand himself.      

It seems to me that this is nearer than Leavis allows to Lawrence here (the final sentence, which I emphasise, being the clearest affinity to Eliot’s struggle):

For the soliloquies of Hamlet are as deep as the soul of man can go, in one direction, and as sincere as the Holy Spirit itself in their essence. But thank heaven, the bog into which Hamlet struggled is almost surpassed. [my italic]

So now I come to Leavis’s unsolved dilemma, which I believes makes sense of both the awareness of incompleteness in this criticism, with his attempts to resolve it by polarisations, – and the extraordinary recognition of the modern dilemma which underlies it, if we pass beyond the polarisations.

As with DH Lawrence: Novelist, even here, Leavis’s Lawrence remains more Eliot – George Eliot – than Lawrence. A little Lawrence is a dangerous thing. What do I mean?

Bertrand Russell once published a book entitled: Why I am not a Christian! Is the ultimately dismissive analysis of Four Quartets in The Living Principle Leavis’s version of this?!

But, thinking next of Lawrence, one might add, in relation to Leavis’s reserve about The Plumed Serpent: Why I am not a Pagan!

Thinking of Kangaroo, and the essay on Dostoievsky’s Grand Inquisitor, also of Yeats and Heidegger, one might add: Why I am not a proto-Fascist!

Thinking of Russell himself, one can add again, emphatically: Why I am not an Enlightenment Rationalist or Empiricist!

But, then, also, one may add, against TS Eliot: Why I am not a Feudal Mediaevalist! Leavis’s contempt for ersatz mediaevalism, and all erstaz archaism, is obvious.

But the problem is: Leavis is Enlightenment Man, but he is one with a Feudal-Pagan analysis, apart from his, always superb, recognition of those supreme moments of conjunction, transcending single epochs, which make possible the greatest poetry or poetic writing, for instance, that of Donne, that of TS Eliot, the author of Portrait of a Lady, and that of Mark Twain, the author of Huckleberry Finn and Pudd’nhead Wilson. 

But, because of Leavis’s implicit doctrine of ‘enactment’, ‘realisation’, or ‘creating realities’, or however we choose to label it, Leavis is enabled to both keep many of his positions in a tacit, implied, phenomenological epoche, mode, and, secondly, not to draw the logical conclusions of certain of the things he says, and of the positions he does take up. One might call this methodology Socratic, or an expression of Negative Capability, if it were not for the fact that Leavis so often assumes his own positions are actually unassailable, and can be taken as implied, since the process further does not actually put them in question.

But there is also a genuine Socratic element, and it comes out in the ‘letting the poetry speak for itself’ of his greatest criticism – such as: Judgement and Analysis (in The Living Principle); the chapter on Little Dorrit in Dickens the Novelist; and this critique of Eliot in ELU, though not the one in The Living Principle, which certainly does have ‘an axe to grind’.  

How to look through three lenses at once, through Leavis, through Lawrence, and through Lawrence to Shakespeare?! Yet is there a connection between this enigmatic, one-part-Socratic, aspect of Leavis, which one does not always associate with him, yet is, once noticed, clearly there, – and the present attempt (which indeed mirrors his own) to see through the three lenses at once? Leavis, overtly, is associated in the popular mind with a strident opinionatedness and categorical definiteness of attitude. But what we have here, in this enigmatic half-realisedness of his expressed vision, is something intrinsically elusive, and this we would associate with Eliot, and Eliotic post-modernism, stoicism, which Leavis relates to Flaubert, rather than associating it with Lawrence. But, then, if we look at Lawrence, at least in part, through Middleton Murry’s lens – yes, for sure lop-sided indeed as being part of his mourning Lawrence’s death, his coming to terms with his relation to Lawrence, and also primarily personal, mostly disregarding, crucially, the cosmic-archetypal dimension – then the Flaubertian dimension, the dimension of the intractably creative life-flaw, applies to Lawrence also.

On the one hand, despite Leavis’s critical genius, and his brilliant ability to catch on the wing some of the most marvellous features of Lawrence’s writing, and the huge service he did for Lawrence, is there an aspect of Lawrence, the primally cosmic conjoined with the human flaw, the gothically gruesome, and uncanny, element, the ‘tentacular roots reaching down to the deepest terrors and desires’ (TS Eliot, Ben Jonson in The Sacred Wood), which, unacknowledged, is essentially alien or foreign to Leavis, something he simply cannot stomach? Is this an element of enshrining Lawrence in Leavis? Yet, on the other hand, does he, in his implicit profound critical positioning of the modern dilemma, indeed take us to a point where Moses-Leavis himself cannot follow, but yet we can see Canaan, the promised land?

Is he, in fact, more at home with  Eliot, and with Eliot’s ‘overwhelming question’? Dare I ask, if some of his animus against Eliot is a recoil from something in himself? But does he at the same time evoke the protean dilemmas Lawrence, – who plays with them all one by one! – raises in us, by enacting the questions? In coming to grips with Lawrence, and Lawrence’s Shakespeare, though Leavis’s lens, are we even driven into moving to a more post-modern, and pluralistic, Leavisian-ism?

Having just been to the Globe King Lear, when the sole previous King Lear I had been to was the great Paul Schofield/Peter Brook King Lear of, I think, 1962, at the Aldwych, I say with deep  conviction, that it is hard, in a thoroughgoingly democratic and populist epoch, to recognise the actuality of Shakespeare, or of DH Lawrence, who are, or whose vision is, in a broad sense, aristocratic.

These things have become virtually undiscussible. Perhaps this post-modern Leavis we may have glimpsed, can take us towards becoming able to discuss them again.

Heward Wilkinson’s website

 

Codnor and ‘Tickets, Please’

tickets please

Derbyshire writer Becky Deans has adapted Lawrence’s short story Tickets, Please and would love to see it performed on a tram at Crich Tramway Village. The story has particular resonance for Becky as the route it mentions goes through her home village of Codnor. Tickets, Please tells the tale of John Thomas Raynor (nicknamed Coddy) who flirts with the female conductors on Annie Stone’s line. But the women eventually turn on him and he’s forced to confront the consequences of his behaviour.

My first interest in the story Tickets, Please was the location. The tramline it describes started in Ripley, Derbyshire. The ‘last little ugly place of industry, the cold little town that shivers on the edge of the wild, gloomy countryside beyond’ is where I went to school. I was attracted by Lawrence’s love-hate relationship with the places of his youth and wanted to adapt the story for local people.

I was transfixed by a story that was set in the village that I grew up in. Codnor was on the route of the Ripley Rattler. A painter called Ruth Gray (who is based in Belper) did a whole series of pictures based on the route and I own one of the Codnor originals. She exhibited them at Durban House in 2014.

IMG_0696 ruth
Becky’s beloved Ruth Gray painting of Codnor, still in its cellophane.

I’d read Lawrence before, but to have him prowling on my doorstep, meeting and breaking the hearts of local women, was heaven. For in my eyes, Lawrence is John Thomas, even though I have also created a character called David Herbert to act as narrator within the play. I don’t think Lawrence would be upset at being two characters in a play. I have also added a new character, called George Curzon, who has the function of being the outsider, so can have things explained to him.

The tram that Lawrence describes first set off in 1913 and was retired in 1932 in favour of the trolley bus system. It was known as the Ripley Rattler and took two hours to reach Nottingham. It was the principal way to travel between the mining villages ‘from village to village the miners travel, for a change of cinema, of girl, of pub’. The story immortalises a lifestyle, culture and dialect that largely left the area when technology moved on and the mines closed, something that I wanted to preserve and recreate through a one-act play.

7176331_orig
15th August 1913, one of the first two trams to arrive at Ripley. Image from Midland General Omnibus.

I enjoy Lawrence’s use of dialect within the story. Dialect is something I use in my stories; I revel in the quirks of language. And if we believe the book Ey Up Me Duck, Dialect of Derbyshire and the East Midlands by Richard Scollins and John Titford, we could say it is the same in Nottinghamshire as Derbyshire. In truth there are nuances, even now.  Derby dialect is not quite the same as the Amber Valley dialect, but some of the language of miners seems to be constant. Phrases such as the deep benk seem to be fairly stable – I picked up this phrase from my grandad.

The surnames of the characters are also recognisable. The Birkins used to run the garage my grandad went to in Codnor and there are also many Burgins in the cemetery in Codnor too. I know or have known Housleys, Purdys, Baggaleys and Curzons. There are Meakins throughout the local area too.

I also relish the questions that Lawrence poses about gender and gender in wartime. Wartime allows the girls to step outside their conventional gender roles and become ‘fearless young hussies’. They outnumber and are stronger than the men they work with, who are mainly ‘men unfit for active service: cripples and hunchbacks’. In scene two Nora and Polly almost come to blows over John Thomas, reinforcing the way that wartime has brought out what may be deemed more masculine tendencies. The collectors ‘have all the sang-froid of a non-commissioned officer’: they are the front line of law on the tram and therefore their relationships are characterised by the urgency of wartime.

And wartime allows the ultimately violent conclusion.

I am now seeking a school or community group to work with to help me develop and put on this play and discuss the interesting relationships between men and women within it, as well as the changes to the language and landscape of the coalfields area.

Further Reading

 Biography

Becky Deans is a Derbyshire writer with an MA in Creative Writing from UEA. She published her first novella, Exposé, in 1999 (UEA texts series) and has short stories and poems in various publications, as well as advertisements across the UK press. As a saxophonist with a diploma in saxophone performance, she is currently exploring song writing while singing and playing in a duo and a trio in the pubs of Derbyshire. She has recently been selected for the Derbyshire Residencies: Writing Ambitions Scheme funded by Derbyshire County Council and the Arts Council, and is looking forward to taking her writing forward as she delivers creative writing sessions to a community group.