Locating Lawrence November 1922.

In November 1922, Lawrence finally got his hands on a copy of Ulysses thanks to Thomas Seltzer. He presumed the book was a loan and was offended when he discovered Seltzer had bought it for him. ‘Please charge them to me, or I feel uneasy[i].’

A week later, Lawrence confides ‘I am one of those people who can’t read Ulysses. Only bits. But I am glad I have seen the book, since in Europe they usually mention us together – James Joyce and D.H. Lawrence – and I feel I ought to know in what company I creep to immortality. I guess Joyce would look as much askance on me as I on him. We make a choice of Paola and Francesca floating down the winds of hell.[ii]

Virginia Woolf was more scathing of the modernist masterpiece, writing in her diary that it was ‘an illiterate, underbred book it seems to me: the book of a self-taught working man, and we all know how distressing they are, how egotistic, insistent, raw, striking, and ultimately nauseating[iii]

Lawrence was finding Mabel Dodge Sterne nauseating on account of her overbearing personality. The only solution was to move on to one of her other properties, ‘a little abandoned ranch… about 16 miles from here – on the Rockies foothills – Lobo[iv]’. Robert Mountsier, who was planning a visit, had hurt his hand. Lawrence doesn’t have much sympathy, warning he best ‘be better’ as ‘we shall have to chop much wood[v]’. However, bad weather meant he had to delay his plans to move further into the abyss.

Despite the set-back, he was clearly glad to be in New Mexico and enjoyed an uncharacteristic splurge on clothing, all detailed meticulously: ‘I actually wildly bought a pair of Justin’s Cowboy boots – 20 dollars – but very nice. You should see me – cowboy hat, good one, $5: sheepskin coat – $12.50 – corduroy riding-breeches, very nice, $5.’[vi]

This seems quite the indulgence, particularly given he had only received a cheque for eight dollars that month for his submissions to Poetry, A Magazine of Verse[vii]. In terms of other writing, he was working through edits on Studies in Classic American Literature. However, his correspondence with Mabel Dodge Sterne was so strained it was reduced to lists of points, the first three of which begin ‘I don’t believe’[viii].

Fortunately, he was provided with another escape route courtesy of Alfred Decker Hawk (1862 – 1950) who lived with his wife Lucy and their daughter Elizabeth at the Del Monte Ranch, about two miles from Mable Dodge Sterne’s Lobo Ranch. They would be the Lawrence’s landlords on the 1000-acre ranch through the winter of 1922. Accompanying them were two impoverished Danish painters, Knud Merrild (1894 –1954) and Kai Gøtzsche (1886-1963).

‘The news at the moment is that we are leaving Mabel Sterne territory,’ Lawrence informs Mountsier, ‘it is unbearable’. And once more he’s fallen on his feet. The ranch is there’s for $100 until March and includes meat and milk. The Hawk’s had about 100 cattle and the Lawrence’s would have access to three or four horses[ix]. He would get to put his cowboy boots to good use.

One thing that is strikingly evident in Lawrence’s letters is how supportive he is of fellow artists and how much influence he exerted over all areas of his published work[x]. Just as he fought to have Jan Juta’s painting included in Sea and Sardinia, so to he begins pitching on behalf of Merrild, who would go on to produce designs for Kangaroo, Studies in Classic American Literature and The Captain’s Doll – all of which were bought by Seltzer, though he would only go on to use the latter.   

His final letter of November is to Tony Luhan, Mabel Dodge Sterne’s future husband, whom he thanks profusely ‘for letting us live in your house’. There is even the offer of an olive branch, ‘come over soon with Mabel and see us at Lobo[xi].’

References


  • [i] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2660)
  • [ii] Letter to Mr. Wubberhorst (L2654)
  • [iii] VW Diary 2, p 188-89
  • [iv] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2646)
  • [v] Letter to Robert Mountsier (L2647)
  • [vi] Letter to Robert Mountsier (L2647)
  • [vii] Letter to The Editor, Poetry, A Magazine of Verse (L2648)
  • [viii] Letter to Mabel Dodge Sterne (L2649)
  • [ix] Letter to Robert Mountsier (L2659)
  • [x] For more explicit example of this see Annalise Grice. DH Lawrence and the Literary Marketplace: The Early Writings. (2021, Edinburg University Press).
  • [xi] Letter to Tony Luhan (L2661)

Locating Lawrence: July 1922

He’s got no money, Ulysses is getting rave reviews, and Australia makes him feel like he’s fallen out of a picture and found himself on the floor staring back at the gods and men left behind in the picture. Welcome to Locating Lawrence, a monthly video based on Lawrence’s letters 100 years ago.

Katharine Susannah Prichard (nee Throssell) was a key figure in Australian literary history although Lawrence was not aware of the three novels she’d written when they corresponded on 3rd of July. She was also a founding member of the Communist Party in Australia, created in 1920, earning her the disparaging nickname of ‘The Red Witch’. Married to Hugo Throssell, a war hero awarded the Victoria Cross at Gallipoli, she proudly shared a newspaper clipping detailing the birth of their son, Ric. Lawrence observed ‘you are up and about wearing your little V.C like a medal at your breast’[i] Ric would also grow to become a writer as well as a diplomat, but his life would be marred by an unproven allegation that he was a Russian spy.

Design James Walker.

Lawrence confides to Prichard that there’s plenty to love about Australia and the fact he’s stayed for ‘three months in one place isn’t so bad’[ii]. But it’s a place he can never truly grasp as ‘I feel I slither on the edge of a gulf, reaching to grasp its atmosphere and spirit. It eludes me, and always would’.[iii] Once more he compares it to a Puvis de Chavannes painting, specifically ‘Winter’. But of most interest is Prichard’s rural life in Greenmount: ‘What do you grow on your land? My wife wants a little farm more than anything else, she says. But how should I sit still so long?’[iv]

He uses painting as a metaphor to S.S. Koteliansky to describe the peculiar impact Australia has had on him: ‘It is rather like falling out of a picture and finding oneself on the floor, with all the gods and men left behind in the picture’.[v]

Robert Mountsier is reminded twice in one paragraph that ‘I am now expecting your cable with the money’ as he is only able to get the Tahiti ‘if your cable money arrives’[vi] and that when he arrives in America ‘we will really sit still and spend nothing’[vii]. But he is aware of ‘the depressing accounts of sales’ with Sea and Sardinia selling 685 copies[viii] and Aaron’s Rod 3,000 copies[ix] – though he is keen to emphasise that this has nothing to do with Thomas Seltzer who ‘may be dodgy’ but ‘I believe he does his best.’[x]

Tortoises, 1921, Publisher’s Logo (Thomas Seltzer). Signature from “Best Russian short stories”, Thomas Seltzer, 1917. Superman comic.

Seltzer was Lawrence’s literary agent and helped bring him to an American audience, publishing his work between 1920 to 1923. Fighting censorship in the courts would eventually see his publishing company go bankrupt in 1923.

Lawrence reassures Mountsier that he only has two chapters left to complete Kangaroo and already his mind is focussing on the next location for inspiration (‘I should like, if I could, to write a New Mexico novel with Indians in it’[xi]). No wonder he is so averse to sitting still – his novels are born of perpetual momentum. It’s for this reason he must never get too settled. Thus, he confesses to Koteliansky, ‘If I stayed here for six months I should have to stay here forever.’[xii]

Mabel Dodge Sterne is updated with his desired living requests: ‘I wish we could settle down at – or near – Taos – and have a little place of our own, and a horse to ride. I do wish it might be like that.’[xiii]

Reading Lawrence’s letters, you can’t help but admire his incredible attention to detail. He is constantly wheeling, dealing and instructing. Robert Mountsier is informed that Kangaroo will be sent via the Makura on the 20th July and that he should have it typed up ready for him when he arrives in America so that he can go through it again.[xiv]  

In a letter to Mountsier on 17 July he enquires about a train strike in the USA (he is referring to the Great Railroad Strike that ran from 2 July to 14 September) and predicts ‘you will have bad Labour troubles in the next few years, amounting almost to revolution’. Seems not much has changed in 100 years. But Lawrence isn’t one for democratic solidarity, not when the unrest helps articulate his own frustrations with the public who have committed the cardinal sin of not buying enough of his books. ‘The ‘public’ that now is would never like me any more than I like it. And I hate it – the public – the monster with a million worm-like heads. No, gradually I shall call together a choice minority, more fierce and aristocratic in spirit.’[xv] Oh dear. 

Photo A.D. Forrester (1922)

He strikes a calmer tone with the Brewsters, his Buddhist friends. Achsah is informed that the name of their property in Thirroul – Wyewurk – ‘was as Australian humourism Why Work?’[xvi] The house next door was called Wyewurrie! Frieda has finished a Buddha embroidery and has now moved onto a vase of flowers. It sounds like domestic bliss. But these were difficult times. He was aware that he would arrive in Taos penniless and that this was all too familiar. But this would not stop him embracing a new experience and adding another language to his repertoire: ‘I am now going to start learning Spanish, ready for the Mexicans.’[xvii]

When he arrives in America, he will have time to read ‘this famous Ulysses’.[xviii] James Joyce’s modernist masterpiece had been published in Paris in February 1922 by Sylvia Beach of Shakespeare and Company and was receiving rave reviews. But Lawrence suspects his own novel, Kangaroo, will not receive the same adulation. If anything, ‘even the Ulysseans will spit at it’.[xix]

References


  • [i] Letter to Katherine Throssell, 3 July 1922
  • [v] Letter to S.S. Koteliansky, 9 July 1922
  • [vi] Letter to Robert Mountsier, 7 July 1922
  • [vii] Letter to Robert Mountsier, 17 July 1922
  • [ix] Letter to Thomas Seltzer, 18 July 1922
  • [x] Letter to Robert Mountsier, 17 July 1922
  • [xii] Letter to S.S. Koteliansky, 9 July 1922
  • [xiii] Letter to Mabel Dodge Sterne, 17 July 1922
  • [xiv] Letter to Robert Mountsier, 17 July 1922
  • [xvi] Letter to Achsah Brewster, 24 July 1922
  • [xviii] Letter to S.S. Koteliansky, 9 July 1922

Locating Lawrence: June 1922

It’s June 1922. Adolf Hitler begins serving a prison sentence for assault. Judy Garland is born. And Leopold Bloom wanders around Dublin for the day in a book that many readers will never finish. Meanwhile, Lawrence is in Australia.  

He kicks off June with a letter to Mabel Dodge Sterne, informing her that he’s started a new novel and can’t visit until it’s finished. He estimates the end of August. He’s fed up with his current predicament and craves a change of scenery: ‘I do hope I shall get from your Indians something that this wearily external white world can’t give’[i].

He’s living in Thirroul, New South Wales, in the coal mining region of Illawarra. Consequently, ‘it is rather like the Midlands, the life very familiar and rough’[ii]. Frieda ‘is very happy with her house’[iii] and enjoying the rare pleasure of being settled. Albeit temporarily. As always, he politely reassures his dear Schwiegermutter that they’ll be back in Europe soon: ‘I tell you again, the world is round, and brings the rolling stone home again. And I must go till I find something that brings me peace.[iv]’ By peace he means somewhere he is able to knock out a couple of books, as he was able to do the previous year in Ebersteinburg where he wrote Aaron’s Rod and Fantasia of the Unconscious[v].

‘Wyewurk’ in Thirroul, NSW. Photo A.D. Forrester

Lawrence is enamored with the cost of meat in Thirroul, eagerly informing: ‘Two good sheep’s tongues, 60 pfennigs – and a great piece of beef, enough for twelve people, two marks’[vi] However, everything else is ‘exorbitantly expensive’[vii]. With only £31 to live off, he gives his literary agent Robert Mountsier a comprehensive breakdown of his living costs and requests a loan of at least £160 for when they set off to America as he can’t travel second class as ‘these boats are so small there is practically no deck accommodation’. All of which means he needs to get Kangaroo[viii] finished as soon as he can.

Lawrence is insistent that nobody is informed of his plans to visit America[ix]  and revels in the splendid isolation of Australia. ‘We live mostly with the sea – not much with the land – and not at all with people…we don’t know a soul on this side of the continent…for the first time in my life I feel how lovely it is to know nobody in the whole country…One nice thing about these countries is that nobody asks questions. I suppose there have been too many questionable people here in the past.[x]

Lawrence is highly critical of democracy throughout his letters in Australia. And ‘the more I see of democracy the more I dislike it. It just brings everything down to the mere vulgar level of wages and prices, electric lights and water closets and nothing else’.[xi] He identifies a frenetic aspect to the culture where people ‘are always vaguely and meaninglessly on the go’ in ‘smart boots’, ‘silk stockings’ – don’t get Lawrence started on stockings – and ‘motor cars’[xii]. Although it’s easy to dismiss Lawrence as a killjoy, things are always more complex and nuanced. ‘That’s what life in a new country does to you: it makes you so material, so outward, that your real inner life and your inner self dies out, and you clatter round like so many mechanical animals’.[xiii] Lawrence doesn’t need anyone or anything as ‘the sea is extraordinary good company’[xiv].

Despite these reservations, he’s intrigued by the place. The landscape reminds him of a Puvis de Chavannes (1824 – 98) painting as it is ‘so apparently monotonous, yet when you look into it, such subtly different distances, in layers, and such exquisite forms – trees, flat hills, – strange, standing as it were at the back of the vision.’[xv] Much has been written about the duality of Lawrence’s personality and so it’s no surprise that he should feel so conflicted about his current abode. ‘Often I hate it like poison,’ he writes to Catherine Carswell, ‘then again it fascinates me, and the spell of its indifference gets me. I can’t quite explain it: as if one resolved back almost to the plant kingdom, before souls, spirits and minds were grown at all: only quite a live, energetic body with a weird face.’[xvi]

Living in such a vast open country which ‘tempts one to disappear’[xvii] both the Lawrence’s are aware that cabin fever awaits them in New Mexico. In a joint letter to Mabel Dodge Sterne, Frieda warns ‘don’t give us too little a place to live in, we are much too quarrelsome – it’s quite fatal’ whereas Lawrence, channeling Basil Fawlty, advises ‘we both like to keep sufficiently clear of one another’.[xviii]

Oh Mabel, what have you let yourself in for?

References


  • [i] Letter to Mabel Dodge Sterne, 3 June 1922.
  • [ii] Letter to S.S. Koteliansky, 5 June 1922.
  • [iii] Letter to Earl Brewster, 5 June. Italicisation of her is my emphasis.  
  • [iv] Letter to Baroness Anna von Richthofen, 9 June 1922.
  • [v] Letter to Baroness Anna von Richthofen, 9 June 1922.
  • [vi] Letter to Baroness Anna von Richthofen, 9 June 1922.
  • [vii] Letter to Else Jaffe, 13 June 1922.
  • [viii] Letter to Thoms Seltzer, 11 June 1922.
  • [ix] Letter to Thomas Seltzer, 11 June 1922.
  • [x] Letter to Else Jaffe, 13 June 1922.
  • [xi] Letter to Else Jaffe, 13 June 1922.
  • [xii] Letter to Else Jaffe, 13 June 1922.
  • [xiii] Letter to Else Jaffe, 13 June 1922
  • [xiv] Letter to Earl Brewster, 13 June 1922.
  • [xv] Letter to Earl Brewster, 13 June 1922.
  • [xvi] Letter to Catherine Carswell, 22 June 1922.
  • [xvii] Letter to Robert Mountsier, 21 June 1922.
  • [xviii] Letter to Mabel Dodge Sterne, 21 June 1921.

Locating D.H. Lawrence: May 1922

On 4 May 1922, Lawrence and Frieda disembarked from the Orsova in Western Australia. They stayed briefly in the east of Perth with Mollie Skinner for whom Lawrence would later collaborate on The Boy in the Bush (1924). A few weeks later they would head to Western Australia on the Malwa. Would Lawrence find happiness in Australia? Hmm.  

His initial observation of Darlington, in a letter to Robert Mountsier, is that of a ‘queer godforsaken place: not so much new as non-existent’[i]. This is followed with the obligatory doubt of how long he will stay and a warning that he may need to cable for more money. At the time he was writing from the Savoy Hotel, Perth which he claims is the most expensive hotel he’s ever stayed in, and he will thus be leaving the next day. Despite money worries, he remains determined: ‘I’ll see this damned world, if only to know I don’t want to see any more of it. – Au revoir[ii].’

Mabel Dodge Sterne is informed they’ll be in Taos ‘easily by August’[iii] but this is unlikely given he has a whole new continent to explore.   

On 15 May, Lawrence writes to his dear Schwiegermutter to inform that Frieda is ‘so disappointed’ as she’d hoped to find ‘much greater space and jollier people’[iv]in Oz. Lawrence’s descriptions of the bush are of an eerie liminal space. It is ‘hoary and unending, no noise, still, and the white trunks of the gum trees all a bit burnt: a forest, a preforest: not a primeval forest: somewhat like a dream, a twilight forest that has not yet seen a day. It is too new, you see: too vast. It needs hundreds of years yet before it can live’. He goes on to describe it as a ‘fourth dimension,’ ‘nervous, neurotic’ inhabited by ghosts[v].

He is slightly more appreciative when he writes to Jan Juta a few days later on 20 May: ‘Australia has a marvellous sky and air and blue clarity and a hoary sort of land beneath it, like a Sleeping Princess on whom the dust of ages has settled. Wonder if she’ll ever get up.[vi]

It’s not somewhere he can imagine settling, unless he ever gave up ‘the literary sponge,’ and could ‘live in the bush for next to nothing’ and with ‘a great free land’ to boot[vii]

Design James Walker.

Although Lawrence ‘hated’ a great deal of his time in Ceylon – his previous location – on reflection he’s grateful for the experience and determined to visit the South Sea Isles or go around the world again and this time visit Africa, the Himalayas, China and Japan.  ‘I love trying things and discovering how I hate them,’ he tells Earl Brewster.[viii]    

Thomas Seltzer was keen for Lawrence to explore more widely and suggested India as a possible location for another Sea and Sardinia type publication with Jan Juta. But Lawrence ‘didn’t feel like it’[ix]. Amy Lowell had informed Lawrence that Seltzer was ‘getting a name as a merely erotic publisher’[x] and so venturing into travelogues may help offset this.

We learn in a letter to Koteliansky on 20 May that Frieda may not share Lawrence’s addiction to momentum: ‘Frieda wants to have a little house and stay a few months. She is tired of moving on. But I like it. I like the feeling of rolling on.’[xi]

And roll on they do, to Thirroul, 50 miles or so south of Sydney, where he takes a little house on the edge of the Pacific, ‘the weirdest place you ever saw’[xii]. Here, ‘the heavy waves break with a great roar all the time…the sky is dark, and it makes me think of Cornwall’[xiii]. Fortunately, it doesn’t cost much to live there, ‘food is quite cheap’ and ‘good meat is only fivepence or sixpence a pound’[xiv].

Soon the novelty starts to wear off. ‘I like Australia less and less. The hateful newness, the democratic conceit, every man a little pope of perfection[xv]’ he informs Robert Mountsier on 25 May. All of which would make good material for a novel

References


  • [i] Letter to Robert Mountsier, 4-7 May 1922.
  • [ii] Letter to Robert Mountsier, 4-7 May 1922.
  • [iii] Letter to Mabel Dodge Sterne, 4-7 May 1922.
  • [iv] Letter to Baroness Anna von Richthofen, 15 May 1922.
  • [v] Letter to Baroness Anna von Richthofen, 15 May 1922.
  • [vi] Letter to Jan Juta, 20 May 1922.
  • [vii] Letter to Robert Mountsier, 26-30 May 1922.
  • [viii] Letter to Earl Brewster, 15 May 1922.
  • [ix] Letter to Jan Juta, 20 May 1922.
  • [x] Letter to Robert Mountsier, 26-30 May 1922.
  • [xi] Letter to Koteliansky, 20 May 1922.
  • [xii] Letter to Robert Mountsier, 28 May 1922.
  • [xiii] Letter to Baroness Anna von Richthofen, 30 May 1922.
  • [xiv] Letter to Baroness Anna von Richthofen, 30 May 1922.
  • [xv] Letter to Robert Mountsier, 25 May 1922.

Locating Lawrence: Ceylon, April 1922

It’s too hot, he doesn’t like the food, and don’t get him started on the temples. Join literature’s hardest to please traveller in Ceylon…

It’s the 3rd April 1922 and Lawrence is in Ceylon. As usual, he’s worrying about money. He informs Robert Mountsier, ‘Travelling itself is hellishly costly, but while we sit here we spend little.’ Lawrence is not someone used to sitting still, but in the heat it’s a necessity: ‘Here it is monstrous hot, like being in a hot bell-glass. I don’t like it a bit. I don’t like the East. It makes me feel sick in my stomach’. The real problem, of course, is it is too hot for him to write: ‘I’m not working and feel I never should work in the east’. As we know, Lawrence needs to convert his experiences into a novel of some sort for a place to have value.  

On the same day he writes to Mary Cannan. The letter comes with an explicit warning: ‘never travel round the world to look at it – it will only make you sick… Take my advice and don’t take far flights to exotic countries. Europe is, I fancy, the most satisfactory place in the end.’  That is, unless Lawrence is in Europe, in which case, he will hate it.

It doesn’t take long for his frustration to manifest into spiteful comments, ‘The east, the bit I’ve seen, seems silly. I don’t like it one bit. I don’t like their…hideous little buddha temples, like decked up pigsties…it’s better to see it on the cinema: you get there the whole effect, without the effort and the sense of nausea.’ Given Lawrence’s disdain for cinema and other forms of mass distraction, this is a backhanded compliment.    

Next up is Catherine Carswell ‘Tropics not really my line…not active enough’ whereas Mabel Dodge Sterne is informed, ‘Ceylon is an experience – but heavens, not a permanence.’ To be fair, nowhere was a permanence for Lawrence. As Catherine Carswell would later observe in her memoir, Lawrence “disliked an air of everlastingness about a home. For him it must have something of the tent about it”.

In addition to being unbearably hot, he doesn’t like the food either. ‘Something about it all just makes me sick… I loathe the tropical fruits, except pineapples, and those I can’t digest: because my inside has never hurt me so much in all my 36 years as in these three weeks’ Mary Cannan, 5 April.

He then lists various alternative places he might visit (Sydney, California, England) before a bit of self reflection. ‘I need this bitterness, apparently, to cure me of the illusion of other places’.

Given Lawrence’s love of the natural environment, surely the vibrancy of the jungle would provide solace. Wrong (uh, uh. Wrong answer noise). Mabel Dodge Sterne is informed on 10 April that it’s a colourful racket due to ‘the thick, choky feel of tropical forest, and the metallic sense of palms and the horrid noises of the birds and creatures, who hammer and clang and rattle and cackle and explode all the livelong day’. As for the fruits, the scents make him feel sick and have an ‘undertaste of blood and sweat’.

But there is one positive to his visit. ‘I shall be fulfilling my real desire to approach America from the west, over the Pacific.’ 

Lawrence then calms down a tad, perhaps because he was planning to book tickets for West Australia at the end of the month and so could see a way out. ‘I’ve been in Ceylon a month and nearly sweated myself into a shadow’ he informs Austin Harrison, ‘Still it’s a wonderful place to see and experience.’

It strikes me that Lawrence always feels happiest when he is in transition between places. It’s the journey rather than the destination that matters. ‘One may as well move on, once one has started’ he informs S.S. Koteliansky. But as the next destination draws closer, he becomes anxious and fearful once more, perhaps because it signifies no longer being in limbo: ‘I am not at all sure we shall like Australia either’. (Letter, 17 April to S.S. Koteliansky).

Lawrence found the East draining. He wasn’t wired to sit still and contemplate. He was programmed to move, ‘and what’s more with haste’.

‘It seems to me the life drains away from one here’ he writes to S.S. Koteliansky on 17 April ‘One could quite easily sink into a kind of apathy, like a lotus on a muddy pond indifferent to anything. And that apparently is the lure of the east: this peculiar stagnant apathy where one doesn’t bother about a thing, but drifts on from minute to minute.’

So eager is he to escape the Buddha, he even contemplates settling down permanently in England or Italy if none of this works out.

Yeah, right.

At the end of April, he once more finds himself on the next adventure, this time to Australia. Nothing makes Lawrence happier than the liminal space of the sea: ‘Here we are on a ship again – somewhere in a very big blue choppy sea with flying fishes sprinting out of the waves like winged drops’ and although the East is not for him, his head once more fills with fantastical images and Ceylon gets the ultimate Lawrentian compliment, they are rendered pre-history: ‘the tropics have something of the world before the flood…’

Other Locating Lawrence videos

Crossed Lines: A Celebration of Telephony in Literature

Photo by NEOSiAM 2021 from Pexels. Design James Walker.

A recent online exhibition celebrating the telephone in literature saw references from Mark Twain to Christopher Isherwood suggested by the public. We submitted a letter from Lawrence in 1928 concerning his fears over the publication of Lady Chatterley.

‘Hallo, hallo, hallo… I’m afraid not, we have a crossed line, please hang up… Hallo… You have a wrong number… Oh! Hallo…’ – Jean Cocteau, The Human Voice (1930) 

‘From the receiver’s ‘black mouth’ in Virginia Woolf’s The Waves (1931) to the ‘five hundred-quid worry bead’ in Will Self’s Phone (2017), telephones repeatedly ring, buzz and ping in modern and contemporary literature’ writes Sarah Jackson, in her introduction to Crossed Lines, which explores the ways that the telephone has been conceived by writers from the 19th century onwards. The exhibition was launched in November 2020 when the telephone took on added importance as one of the main ways of communicating while the government enforced a national lockdown.    

Crossed Lines explores the positive and negative possibilities of the telephone within contemporary cultures and communities. Engaging writers, artists, musicians, scientists and members of the public, it incorporates a number of innovative activities including a mobile app, a sound installation in Nottingham, a nationwide student poetry competition, writing workshops and events at the Science Museum in London.

My favourite event was Calling Across Borders, a series of voicemail poems exploring community, loss, resilience, and hope. For this, young refugees left messages for friends and family they would most like to speak to again which was then turned into a short animation which you can watch by clicking this link. This had particular resonance for me as I’ve spent the last two years interviewing Syrian refuges for Whatever People Say I Am and witnessed how What’s App has become integral to families trying to stay connected, functioning as a virtual home.    

Crossed Lines explores the implications of telephony from a range of global contexts, considering how literary telecommunications can help us to find new ways of talking and listening across cultures. The exhibition features eighty works spread over 130 years with submissions selected from an open callout. 

The earliest example submitted is the aptly named The Telephone (1877) by the American transcendentalist poet Jones Very who can see the utopian possibilities of this new form of global communication: ‘Beneath the ocean soon man’s voice may reach/And a new power be given to human speech’. Less than a year before, Alexander Graham Bell had been awarded his patent. More recent uses include the humorous ‘fellytone’ reference in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999) to the more ominous fear of the phone as a surveillance device in Anna Burn’s Booker-winning Milkman (2018)- ‘phones weren’t trusted; indeed we only had one because it had been in the house when we moved in’. 

Telephony as a form of surveillance was something Sarah Jackson uncovered at the BT Archives where she discovered two letters from Sylvia Pankhurst that revealed her concerns over ‘duplicate telephone lines’ – wiretapping – 70 years before the Government disclosed her secret surveillance by MI5 to the public.

One of my favourite entries is from Ulysses (1922) where Kinch (Stephen Dedalus) imagines the umbilicus as a telephone cord.

‘The cords of all link back, strandentwining cable of all flesh. That is why mystic monks. Will you be as gods? Gaze in your omphalos. Hello! Kinch here. Put me on to Edenville. Aleph, alpha: nought, nought, one.’

One of the most poignant entries is the poem ‘Last Letter’ (2010) by Ted Hughes which was discovered in Hughes’s archives, twelve years after his death and includes the last lines of Hughes’s final ‘letter’ to Sylvia Plath.

I wasn’t expecting to find any kind of references to telephony in Lawrence’s writing because he was such a prolific letter writer. I just couldn’t imagine him embracing something so immediate, modern and vulgar as a telephone. But to my surprise, his letters revealed otherwise. I submitted the below entry which you can also read online. The submission format involved the relevant quote and then some brief context.  

Sarah Jackson’s ‘Dial-a-Poem’ celebrates 50 years since John Giorno’s public art project launched in New York City. View the project at crossedlines.co.uk

‘My dear Enid

Now I’m in more trouble. A beastly firm of book-exporters ordered eighty copies of Lady Chatterley’s Lover—now it turns out that they have a Wesleyan connection—they’ve read the book—and cancelled the order hastily—after Orioli has already posted to them seventy-two copies from Florence. Now unless we’re quick they’ll send the things back to Florence—may even refuse to accept them.—But I warn you, the book is shocking—though, course, perfectly honest and decent.

[…] If you feel like risking it, telephone the Jackson people and ask them if they have copies ready for you to fetch away: say Mr. D. H. Lawrence has asked me—[…] their telephone is Holborn 5824.’

________________________________________

This letter from D.H. Lawrence to Enid Hilton was sent on 29 July 1928 from Kesselmatter, Gstreig b. Gstaad (Bern) Switzerland. Lawrence would be dead a few years later and Lady Chatterley would be banned until 1960. Lawrence was sceptical of technology, particularly that which placed an artificial barrier between people, but here desperation overrides these sentiments. He is almost daring Enid Hilton to call William Jackson Books Ltd, but only if she follows his explicit instructions. Lawrence experienced censorship throughout his short life. This had financial and aesthetic repercussions. Therefore, the telephone has real significance. It represents immediacy, and an opportunity to salvage copies of his novel.

www.crossedlines.co.uk/online-exhibition

Further Reading

  • Newly Discovered Letters Reveal Sylvia Pankhurst’s Wiretapping Fears (ntu.ac.uk)
  • Interview: Dr Sarah Jackson (ahrc.ukri.org)
  • Sherlock and the Smartphone (huffingtonpost.co.uk)
  • Crossed Lines – A crowdsourced exhibition capturing the history of the telephone in literature (ntu.ac.uk)
  • Milkman to Mark Twain: online exhibition celebrates telephones in literature (theguardian.com)

Publishing Sea and Sardinia: Letters to Jan Juta

Jan Juta’s illustrations in Sea and Sardinia (1921). You can purchase a copy from Abe Books here.

D.H. Lawrence was more than a prolific writer. He was also fiercely obsessive over every aspect of the publication process as correspondence with Jan Juta and others testifies during the publication of Sea and Sardinia in 1921.

Born in Cape Town, Jan Carel Juta (1897 – 1990) was a South African painter who illustrated Lawrence’s travel book Sea and Sardinia which celebrates its centenary this year. He also specialised as a muralist, designing work in fresco, glass, metal and wood. His commissions varied from book illustrations, such as those produced for his sister Rene’s travel books Concerning Corsica and Cannes and the Hills to murals created for the Cunard liners RMS Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. He also authored the short story collection Look out for the Ostriches, and the memoirs Background in Sunshine and Tilting with the Stars.   

Son of Sir Henry Juta, Judge President of the Union of South Africa, Juta was a former student of the Slade School of Art, London who met Lawrence in 1920 when studying at the British School in Rome where he would go on to produce the oil painting of Lawrence that currently hangs in the National Gallery. He was also a keen traveller himself, with his art taking him to France, Italy and South Africa before he settled in New Jersey, America.

You can purchase a copy of the book from Abe Books here.

Juta would take on a series of prestigious roles during his career including president emeritus of the National Society of Mural Painters, America and chief of visual information at the United Nations Department of Public Information. He also found time to be a lay preacher and reader for Episcopal churches. He covered a lot during his 95 years of life, but it is the 24-year-old Juta that is of interest here as his correspondence with Lawrence reveals a lot about Lawrence’s guardianship of his work.

After sending Juta a copy of Sea and Sardinia and discovering that he liked it, Lawrence wrote to him on 7 June 1921 expressing his desire to see his portraits of Sardinian life with the intention of including them in his travel book. Although he warned that London publishers were ‘jumping for fright at the thought of colour expense!’ it is clear that Lawrence had every intention of ensuring they were included and what follows is a remarkable series of letters to various people to make that happen. 

Firstly, Lawrence wrote to Curtis Brown – his new UK agent – stating he did not want Thomas Secker to publish the book because ‘it would fall dead flat’ and was keen to stress it was ‘an exact and real travel book: no stunt’ and, perceptive as ever, that ‘time will come when people will want such: when they’re sick of stunts and showing off’. Lawrence goes on to recommend publishers who will make it a colour book ‘and not funk it’. Such was his willingness to have a professionally produced book he was willing to take a ‘very small royalty if cost of production is so alarming to the poor souls’.

By the 12 June Lawrence was more buoyant towards Secker – he had just received the remaining advance for Women in Love from him – and began pleading the case for Sea and Sardinia and Juta’s illustrations. Like a naughty child offsetting the affection of duelling parents, he warns ‘for the Lord’s Sake, don’t let Curtis Brown imagine I write you any business. It is high treason in his eyes’.

Lawrence wrote to Juta on the 23 June informing him the pictures had arrived and that he liked them ‘very much’ and that Frieda was ‘enraptured’. Why he was not ‘enraptured’ is anyone’s guess, but either way the message of approval was delivered.      

His next task was to contact the printer Max Schreiber about costs. Frugal as ever, he suggests ‘smuggling’ them out the country to avoid import duty. This is all very fitting as Sea and Sardinia, among other things, is very much about the cost of living and reads in places like a balance sheet. This is understandable given Lawrence lived large bouts of his life in poverty. Writing was not just about sharing his thoughts; it was the thing that put bread and butter on the plate. Hence his prolific output. It’s no surprise, then, that he wanted to be involved in the production of the book and not leave anything to chance. This is evident in his letter to Juta the following day when he begins to consider different formats and costs for the book: ‘12/6 for book and folio together, and book 7/6, pictures 7/6 apart’. 

He was also unhappy with the titles used under the pictures such as ‘Path of the Righteous’ and instead preferred to be ‘exact and local’ and ‘real’ suggesting alternatives such as ‘Sunday Morning’ or ‘Church-Goers’. The final titles were even more pared back, consisting of place names: Orosei, Isili, Tonara, Sorgono, Fonni, Gavoi, Nuoro, Terranova. 

Lawrence’s letter to Juta on the 29 June reads like a printing brochure, with precise detail of costs, exchange rates, sizes, plate engravings, and his determination to ’force the hands of the publishers’ and not ‘let them off’. He then relays similar details to Curtis Brown on 2 July, adding that the prints could also be used in a magazine spread. On 30 July he suggests to Seltzer that Schofield Thayer, editor of The Dial, may opt for a couple of pictures or articles from Sea and Sardinia and that this might ‘help pay for the pictures’ to be printed. He then immediately writes to Thayer suggesting Seltzer or Mountsier will send him a copy of Sea and Sardinia even though ‘you won’t like it’ and then ends with a playful prod suggesting The Dial is a ‘cross, irritable paper’.    

In the introduction to Volume IV of The Letters of D.H. Lawrence, the editors quote Samuel Johnson: ‘In a man’s letters his soul lies naked’. Lawrence’s letters to Juta and those involved in the publication of Sea and Sardinia reveal a writer very much involved in every aspect of the publication process. He is fastidious with detail, pre-empts problems, and is happy to go behind people’s backs to get what he wants. He is pragmatic, informative and deceptive. He fights for Juta’s work to be included because he knows it will enhance his text but he also fights for Juta to be paid because he knows what it is to go without.   

Modern writers today may bemoan the fact that they are expected to have a strong social media presence and promote their own work across platforms, but it is unlikely any are quite so committed as Lawrence was.   

Further reading

Suez Canal 1922 – when it was ok to stand and stare…

The recent blocking of the Suez Canal caused a right tiz, bringing global trade to a grinding halt and $1 billion in compensation claims from angry exporters. But 101 years ago life was a bit slower. The above video visualises D.H. Lawrence’s plod along the Suez. Back when life was very different and it was ok to stand and stare.

It was created in collaboration with John McCarthy, a student at Nottingham Trent University who got in contact for some experience of video editing and mentoring. I really admire students who take the initiative and push for that extra experience (this is a voluntary placement and is not assessed). We will begin working on another film at the end of May.

We sat down and I outlined the tone and pace of the film and the need to keep things befitting to the historical period. This was definitely a film that required longer shots and stills rather than flitting between images. Then John had the creative freedom to select the images. We then met up and discussed the first draft which required a minor edit.

His motivation for getting involved with the project was the ‘creative freedom’ and to help with his future career. John said: ‘In the future I would like to be a film editor, I really enjoy editing as its where the project really comes to life. I see it as the last part of directing as you can decide on which shots to use, the pacing, and how the film will end up looking in a final cut. You can really decide how the film will look.’

The benefit of a placement for John is he gets mentoring and advice and a platform to showcase his work. The benefit for us is new content for the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre. It also forces me to come up with a new script and consider ways in which Lawrence’s work can shine a light on contemporary issues.

My hope with these placements is that students learn a bit about putting together a project and then have the confidence to go off and do something similar for themselves. Please find two minutes in your busy schedule to take a look or leave a comment on our YouTube channel. And if you do nothing else, make sure that you pause your 24/7 life for a few moments and enjoy life at 5mph as D.H. Lawrence did in 1922.

Extract of letter used in the film below:

“My Dear Rosalind, 

Here we are on the ship – ten days at sea. It is rather lovely – perfect weather all the time, ship steady as can be, enough wind now to keep it cool… 

I loved coming through the Suez Canal – 5 miles an hour – takes 18 hours – you see the desert, the sand hills, the low palm trees, arabs with camels working at the side. I like it so much….  

Being at sea is so queer – it sort of dissolves for the time being all the connections with the land, and one feels a bit like a sea-bird must feel. It is my opinion that once beyond the Red Sea one does not feel any more that tension and pressure one suffers from in England – in Europe altogether…  

It seems difficult in this world to get a new start – so much easier to make more ends.”

Further reading  

English PEN launch a crowdfunding campaign to keep an annotated copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Lady C
Photograph: Sotheby’s.

It’s fair to say that British culture is defined by indecision. Presently, this is most evident with Brexit. On June 23, 2016 17.4 million voters (51.9 percent of the votes cast), backed leaving the EU while 16.1 million voters (48.1 percent of votes cast), favoured staying. The referendum proved one thing: the country was completely split. Nobody was entirely sure what they wanted. And so that split continues now, with talk of a second referendum and the countless permutations of possible exits. This has led the Tory party to implode as they squabble over who should be the next non-elected PM. We shouldn’t be surprised, though. This indecision was prevalent during the Civil War. In 1649 we executed Charles I for treason; had a very puritanical republic for eleven years under Oliver Cromwell; then restored Charles II to the throne in 1660.

As a nation, we oscillate with ease between seemingly binary opposites. We switch positions like musical chairs, and when the chairs have gone, we sit on the floor. I mention this because English PEN have launched a crowdfunding campaign to keep an annotated copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the UK. The copy was annotated by Lady Dorothy Byrne, wife of the Hon. Sir Laurence Byrne, the presiding judge of the 1960 obscenity trial against Penguin books.

The Arts minister, Michael Ellis, has determined that the book should stay in the UK and not be exported abroad. It is now deemed a national treasure, part of our literary heritage. The irony is not wasted on Lawrence scholars, given that the British government did everything it could to keep the novel out of print for so long. Lawrence was of regular interest to the censor. Other novels, poetry collections and a set of thirteen painting were all deemed unfit for public purpose, with copies of The Rainbow burned and the paintings locked up in a prison cell. It is little wonder that Lawrence dedicated so much energy towards getting out of England as quickly as he could and as far away as he could – travelling across Europe, Australia, and the Americas.

Philippe Sands QC, President of English PEN, said:

“D.H. Lawrence was an active member of English PEN and unique in the annals of English literary history. Lady Chatterley’s Lover was at the heart of the struggle for freedom of expression, in the courts and beyond. This rare copy of the book, used and marked up by the judge, must remain in the UK, accessible to the British public to help understand what is lost without freedom of expression. This unique text belongs here, a symbol of the continuing struggle to protect the rights of writers and readers at home and abroad.”

The copy was recently sold at auction to an overseas bidder for £56,250. English PEN have created a ‘Go Fund Me’ page to match the bid and keep it in Blightly. It is with this in mind that we have produced another short film for you that addresses parochialism and Lawrence’s views of the British. Written in 1924, Lawrence was infuriated that “an island no bigger than a back garden” should have such an inflated sense of grandeur. How true that sentiment remains today.

dhl-trunk

In 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 represent the Lady Chatterley Trial? How do we determine what is obscene and what should be censored?  In 2019 we begin building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact get involved and submit ideas here

Promo video: Jelly-boned swines

DH Lawrence was a man famed for his rage. When I was the literature editor for LeftLion magazine I created a feature called The Endless Rage of DH Lawrence, whereby we had him mouthing off about modern problems. It was great fun to write, and a weird experience as I spent a lot of my time wondering what Lawrence would say if he was asked if he wanted a carrier bag after purchasing a pack of chewing gum in Tescos. How he would loathe the incompetence of modern life.

Lawrence’s rages could consist of an irrational outburst or simply scalding someone because he disagreed with their view point. But often his rage was born out of frustration. Take June of 1912 as an example. Lawrence had fallen in love with Frieda Weekley, a married woman and mother of three children. He persuaded Frieda to run away with him but her husband, Ernest, wasn’t making things easy for them, demanding that his wife return home or else she would never see her children again. Their affair was an absolute scandal, especially given the taboos around divorce and the prevailing morality of the time. Lawrence also had the first draft of his third novel, Sons and Lovers, rejected by William Heinemann. He needed the money in order to provide for Frieda, and so these two issues culminated in an explosive volley of vitriol to Edward Garnett, his friend and literary editor, on 3 July, 1912.

“Curse the blasted, jelly-boned swines, the slimy, the belly-wriggling invertebrates, the miserable sodding rotters, the flaming sods, the snivelling, dribbling, dithering palsied pulse-less lot that make up England today. They’ve got white of egg in their veins, and their spunk is that watery it’s a marvel they can breed. They can but frog-spawn — the gibberers! God, how I hate them! God curse them, funkers. God blast them, wish-wash. Exterminate them, slime.

I could curse for hours and hours — God help me.”

We’ve taken a few extracts from the letter and included it in the video above, which you can also find on our Instagram account. We absolutely love Lawrence when he’s in a rage. Nobody else can do spiteful and witty like him. This scathing attack on his perceived enemies suggests if Lawrence were alive today, he’d hold his own in a rap battle!

In the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to think differently about literary criticism. Instead of following a traditional linear narrative, such as a biography, we want to tell Lawrence’s life through artefacts. We believe that this is the best way to represent a complex and contradictory life. But how do we capture this rage? Perhaps we will have a drawer in our memory theatre that doesn’t quite open so that audiences get frustrated trying to interact with it. Or maybe we need a rage-ometer that calculates the velocity of Lawrence’s moods at different periods in his life. And how about your own rage? Do we need some kind of recording device so that the public can vent off about Brexit, zero hour contracts, and being forced to hear about Kim Kardashian every time we switch on the TV?

The above short is our first real promotional video for the project and one that we hope will encourage you to submit an idea that captures this most entertaining element of Lawrence’s life. The video editing was by a very talented 2nd year English student called Izaak Bosman. It was originally created for our instagram account but we’ve also reformatted it to include it on our YouTube channel.

Now get angry…

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts.  Was Lawrence’s rage some kind of coping mechanism, or was he genuinely angered by those around him? Can we trace particular moments when he was at his angriest? Perhaps we could all do with being a bit angrier today instead of hiding behind our glossy online avatars and disingenuous status updates. 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.

Other short Promo videos from our YouTube channel D.H. Lawrence: A Digital Pilgrimage.