Locating Lawrence: June 1923

In these monthly videos we are locating D.H. Lawrence 100 years ago via his letters. He is currently in Chapala putting the finishing touches to the first draft of what will become The Plumed Serpent...

‘On the hot afternoons one must have something to read[i]’ and so Idella Purnell is given a reading list to source that includes Soeur Philomene (1890) by the Goncourt brothers. Edmund and Jules Goncourt were unique siblings in terms of literary history in that they wrote all their books together and did not spend more than a day apart in their adult lives, until Jules’s death in 1870.

One thing Lawrence doesn’t want to read in his current home of Chapala is John Middleton Murry’s Adelphi magazine which he dismisses as ‘weak, apologetic’ and with ‘nothing to justify its existence.’ Ouch.  

‘Mexico is still much more fun’ than America because it is ‘much wilder’. This is evident by the ‘twenty soldiers’ who ‘guard’ the village meaning that Lawrence is unable to ‘walk outside the village for fear of being robbed or carried off by bandits[ii]’. He informs Knud Merrild that ‘with your revolver, gun and knife’ he would be ‘just right here[iii]’.   

Lawrence is determined to ‘get this novel off my chest’ before returning to Blighty and hopes to have a ‘first rough draft by the end of the month[iv]’. He considers calling it ‘Quetzalcoatl’ after the nature God quetzal – a rattlesnake covered in green feathers – but ever conscious of sales is concerned ‘will people be afraid to ask for a book with that name[v]’.

Adele Seltzer offers to send over some ‘tinned things’ to tide them over but there’s no need as ‘we have bought chickens that lay eggs and then we eat the chickens[vii]’ As he is doing well, Lawrence turns down repayment from S.S. Koteliansky as ‘at present’ we ‘have enough[viii]’. Best save that for when they invariably fall on hard times again.

He looks out for his friends in other ways too. He advises Frederick Carter, who has sent over a manuscript for what will later become The Dragon of the Alchemists, that ‘short pieces of the book’ could appeal to ‘magazines in New York’ and he can ‘arrange that if (he) wished[ix]’. Whereas he acts as a recruitment agent for Spud Johnson, pitching him as a possible ‘man clerk’ to Thomas Seltzer as ‘he’s very reliable and does good work[x]’.  

He ‘intends to leave[xi]’ Mexico and is ‘definitely leaving[xii]’by his next letter, but we’ve been here many times before with literature’s greatest ditherer. Wise to such antics, Catherine Carswell offers up a floor in her Hampstead home should he need it at some point.

Lawrence claims he doesn’t ‘really want to go back to Europe’ but has been forced to because ‘Frieda wants to see her mother[xiii]’ He would much prefer to go ‘round the world again, and try to do a novel in India or China[xiv]’ But the real problem with his current unrest is servitude; without physical work he has no purpose. ‘If we see a place we really like, we will have it and plant bananas – I am already very tired of not doing my own work[xv]’.

The winter of 1922 with the Danish artists Kai Gøtzsche and Knud Merrild was perhaps the closest Lawrence had got to Rananim and so they remain at the forefront of his plans. Therefore, a ‘little farm’ is thrown into the equation and if he can procure one, perhaps ‘you will both come down and help us manage it.[xvi]’ As for their own plans to travel and see the world, there’s no need. Lawrence has done so himself and advises, ‘the ‘world’ has no life to offer. Seeing things doesn’t amount to much’ instead ‘we have to be a few men with honour and fearlessness, and make a life together. There is nothing else, believe me.[xvii]’  

This is based on The Cambridge Edition of The Letters of D.H. Lawrence: Vol IV 1921-4.


[i] Letter to Idella Purnell (L2835)

[ii] Letter to Knud Merrild (L2836)

[iii] Letter to Knud Merrild (L2836)

[iv] Letter to Catherine Carswell (L2837)

[v] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2843)

[vi] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2843)

[vii] Letter to Adele Seltzer (L2841)

[viii] Letter to S.S. Koteliansky (L2840)

[ix] Letter to Frederick Carter (L2842)

[x] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2843)

[xi] Letter to Curtis Brown (L2838)

[xii] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2839)

[xiii] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2843)

[xiv] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2843)

[xv] Letter to Kai Gøtzsche and Knud Merrild (L2845)

[xvi] Letter to Kai Gøtzsche and Knud Merrild (L2845)

[xvii] Letter to Knud Merrild (L2849)

Locating Lawrence: May 1923

In these monthly videos, we are locating D.H. Lawrence 100 years ago via his letters. Mexico is not safe and never will be, he reasons. But at least they are not attached to money and possessions…

Lawrence has found ‘a little house…on Lake Chapala[i]’ which is a couple of hours away from Guadalajara. It has ‘trees and flowers… bananas in the garden’ and despite being hot is ‘not uncomfortably so’ meaning he is able to ‘live out of doors on the verandahs in very little clothing[ii]’. He can ‘read Spanish fairly well[iii]’ on account of living with a Spanish family and embraces the culture by requesting a copy of Bernal Diaz’s True History of the Conquest of New Spain – all five volumes[iv]

Frieda joins him at the beginning of the month and is delighted to have a base once more. But how long this will last is down to the temperament of her husband. ‘You’ll think I do nothing but change my plans,’ Lawrence writes to John Middleton Murry. ‘I can’t help it. I go out to buy my ticket to New York and Europe, then don’t buy it.[v]’ This may explain why he rents the house ‘by the month[vi]’. Various explanations are offered for his dithering. One is related to health ‘When I feel sick I want to go back. When I feel well I want to stay.[vii]’ Another is down to uninspiring correspondence, ‘when I get letters from Europe then I never want to go back.[viii]’But really his length of stay is determined by one thing, writing. ‘It will end, I suppose, in my staying as long as it takes me to write a novel.[ix]’ By the end of the month he has written ten chapters[x] of what will become The Plumed Serpent.

No matter how remote his location, Lawrence knows everything that’s going on elsewhere. Bibbles, the dog he was loaned during the Winter of 1922 has been returned to Ralph Miles[xi] and he knows that Mabel Dodge Sterne has just married Tony Luhan. Knud Merrild is instructed ‘Please write me the most interesting points of gossip concerning the event.[xii]’ Frieda is more empathetic towards Mabel, reasoning ‘she has failed somehow in her life, but then it is so easy to fail.[xiii]

Lawrence’s sympathies are with Thomas Seltzer who must be ‘snowed under’ dealing with the ongoing ‘Judge Ford business[xiv]’. His crime? Publishing ‘unclean’ books, one of which is Women in Love. Another concern relates to a very pedantic but helpful reader, Louis Feipel, who writes to inform Lawrence of typos in Sea and Sardinia, Kangaroo, and now The Captain’s Doll. Lawrence thanks him and promises ‘I will try to mend my ways…remembering your eye is on every dot[xv]

Mexico is not safe, and Lawrence is convinced it ‘will never be safe[xvi]’ Somebody tried to break in one night and so ‘we have a young man with a pistol sleep on the terrace outside the door[xvii]’ This means ‘I am not allowed to walk alone outside the narrow precincts of the village: for fear of being stopped, robbed, and what not. It gets awfully boring[xviii]’ This has the adverse effect of viewing everyone as a potential ‘rascal[xix]’ – not the kind of attitude you want when searching for Rananim.

But despite their various faults – ‘they are half civilised, half wild…are inwardly melancholy, live without hope, become suddenly cross, and don’t like to work’ – the Spaniards have a very redeeming characteristic they ‘are not greedy for money. And I find that wonderful, they are so little attached to money and possessions.[xx]’  


  • [i] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2809)
  • [ii] Letter to William Hawk (L2811)
  • [iii] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2819)
  • [iv] Letter to Idella Purnell (L2825)
  • [v] Letter to John Middleton Murry (L2810)
  • [vi] Letter to Emily King (L2813)
  • [vii] Letter to Kai Gotzsche and Knud Merrild (L2812)
  • [viii] Letter to Earl Brewster (L2822)
  • [ix] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2819)
  • [x] Letter to Baroness Anna von Richthofen (L2834)
  • [xi] Letter to William Hawk (L2811)
  • [xii] Letter to Kai Gotzsche and Knud Merrild (L2812)
  • [xiii] Letter to Bessie Freeman (L2833)
  • [xiv] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2809)
  • [xv] Letter to Louis N. Feipel (L2820)
  • [xvi] Letter to Thomas Seltzer (L2819)
  • [xvii] Letter to Adele Seltzer (L2824)
  • [xviii] Letter to Adele Seltzer (L2824)
  • [xix] Letter to Adele Seltzer (L2824)
  • [xx] Letter to Baroness Anna von Richthofen (L2834)

A Poet and Two Painters 8: Anchorless in Mexico

Photo by Miguel á Padriñán at Pexels.

Knud Merrild and Kai Gótzsche were Danish artists who spent the winter of 1922 with Lawrence, high up in the Lobo mountains of New Mexico. Their experiences were recorded in Merrild’s memoir A Poet and Two Painters. In the last of our eight blogs we track Lawrence’s last foray into Mexico before returning to England.

With Lawrence and the QB heading off to Old Mexico, the Danes had time to reflect in Taos. Or, more accurately, take a breather. They needed the break from the intensity of Lawrence’s conversations and to think about their own lives and future. Lawrence wrote to them from El Paso with financial details of his travels – one of his favourite topics: ‘Postage to Mexico costs the same as in USA – letters two cents.[i]‘ When Lawrence heard that Pips, the dog Mabel Dodge Sterne had loaned him on the Del Monte Ranch, wasn’t hers to give away in the first place, he was furious. This led to a vile rant where he declared ‘how glad I am I need not smell them any more[ii]‘. But he had mellowed by the time he had reached an Italian hotel (Hotel Monte Carlo in Mexico City) ‘so good to have a flask of Chianti at one’s elbow again.[iii]‘ And then another mood swing on the 21 April in Orizaba, ‘I’ve had enough of this country and continent. Think we shall sail at the end of the month to New York.[iv]‘  

It was this inability to settle that confirmed to Merrild that Lawrence’s vision of a ‘new life’ would never materialise. How could he be trusted at the helm ‘when he doesn’t even give the thing half a chance, or changes his mind almost overnight[v].’ One month and he’d given up already. But it didn’t take long for him to give up on his alternatives either. Europe was no better and was full of ‘horrible human mistakes’ such as ‘their huge ponderous cathedrals and factories and cities, enormous encumbrances of stone and steel and brick, weighing on the surface of the earth (…) Huge bulks that are called beauty. Beauty seemed to him like some turgid tumour (…) Horrible, inert, man moulded weight. Heavy as death.[vi]

The Danes eventually turned up in Los Angeles on 11 May 1923, with Lizzie clocking in 5726 miles on the speedometer. Lawrence’s letters detailed a country in turmoil. ‘In these states almost every hacienda (farm) is smashed, and you can’t live even one mile outside the village or town:  you will probably be robbed or murdered by roving bandits and scoundrels who still call themselves revolutionaries.[vii]‘ Optimistic as ever, he heads to Jalisco next to see if things will improve.  

Gótzsche had created a book jacket for Mastro Don and Merrild for Birds, Beast and Flowers. But the publisher Thomas Seltzer claimed to be unable to find them. Sensing they would be a bit skint and a bit lost in their new city, Lawrence paid them $50 for the jacket designs out of his own money. ‘We were touched to the innermost fibres of our hearts that Lawrence should be so concerned about us.[viii]‘ When people heard that the Danes were in town they wanted to know about life with Lawrence. But they refused to impart gossip.  

When Lawrence wrote on 7 August 1923 from New York to say he was thinking of heading to LA and that Frieda had returned to the UK alone, they became concerned. ‘Lawrence without Frieda was almost unthinkable to us.[ix]‘ They picked him up on 30 August, but he was unsettled. Living in a hotel room did not suit his personality and so it didn’t take long before new plans were hatched for boat rides and trips to Old Mexico. Tempting as it was to join him on a new adventure, Merrild was cautious.  

‘You are talking Lawrence, thinking Lawrence, living and acting like Lawrence, your life, your being is through Lawrence, you are saturated with Lawrence. Shed the burden of Lawrence, his dominating, overpowering influence, and live your own life, get out from under his shadow[x]‘ he rationalised to Gótzsche. 

‘I cannot be content to be a dot of cotton thrown aimlessly about on the waves of the ocean. I must have a compass, a course and a rudder, be it even in a nutshell on the ocean. I want to steer a course, not aimlessly drift around on the waves of emotion or the erratic feelings of D.H. Lawrence. Without Frieda as an anchor, I knew it would be a failure. I must sail my own little ship.[xi]

Lawrence did not relent and neither did Merrild. Even when Lawrence insulted him, ‘you are a failure in America. Why not try Mexico?[xii]‘ He would not be psychologically manipulated. He knew if they refused his offer he would likely go to England and be reunited with Frieda. But Gótzsche was more susceptible and took the plunge. The two headed off to Mexico together in September 1923. The rest of Merrild’s memoir is interspersed with letters from both men, before things inevitably start to go wrong – as Merrild predicted they would.

When Lawrence described part of his new journey as if he had wandered ‘over the brink of existence[xiii]’ it will resonate as a familiar trope to readers of his letters. But this time it was justified. He had endured a ‘strenuous ride on muleback without proper sleep, without food and in the unbearable heat[xiv]’ with pure stubbornness urging him on.

As Merrild had predicted, the unsettled nature of the trip brought out the worst in Lawrence. His humour and energy quickly depleted. When quizzed on his bad mood ‘he excuses himself on the ground that the air is so changeable that it makes him ‘crazy’ once in a while.[xv]

After their intimate months together high-up in the Lobo mountains, Gótzsche knew exactly what was wrong with Lawrence. He had lost his routine and with it his purpose:

‘He needs, in a high degree, something else to think about, and something else to do besides his writings. I am absolutely sure that he would feel happier and live more happily if he could go out for a few hours a day, and have some work to do, milk a cow or plough a field. As he lives now, he only writes a little in the morning and the rest of the day he just hangs around on a bench or drifts over to the market place, hands in pocket, perhaps buying some candy, fruit, or something. If he could only have access to a kitchen, so he could make our food, that would occupy him for a couple of hours.[xvi]’ 

When the adventure drew to a close and the reality of returning to England hit home, he complained, ‘I am sure I will die if I have to see England again.’ Merrild wasn’t fooled by Lawrence’s mithering. He’d seen and heard it all before:

‘Always somewhere else. ‘Somewhere.’ I couldn’t quite understand that restlessness and indecision. He was so purposeful and planned his daily duties around his house with precision and accuracy – but when it came to life itself, he did not plan, he did not control; it seemed he didn’t even try. (…) It seemed to me that he was aimlessly fluttering around in the world, like a moth trying to escape into the artificial light of its desires, enclosed by a shining globe, only to burn its wings of hope on the bright tube. And so Lawrence, despite his denials, was flying his life on the wings of feelings, fluttering against his tube of ideas, the sparkling glass that encloses the bright light of Utopia.[xvii]‘ 

Gótzsche understood exactly why Lawrence was unable to settle, observing on October 22, 1923, from Guadalajara. ‘He is always so concerned about the ‘spirit’ of the place that he isn’t aware, I believe, that it is he, himself, his own mood or frame of mind, that determines his impressions of the moment, or the landscape.[xviii]’ 

On 10 Nov 1923 Gótzsche wrote to Merrild that ‘Lawrence is a queer snail, and impossible to understand. He seems to be absolutely nuts at times, and to have a hard time with himself (…)He makes everything much more artificial and complicated than it is in reality (…) He has a large heart and means well, but his ideas are so impractical that it is doubtful he will get anyone to accept them[xix]’ Perhaps that was the point. It always kept him on the outside. Never lured into the centre where he might get trapped.   

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


A Poet and Two Painters 7: The Holy Ghost of Art

Red Figure (1935), Abstraction 444 (1935) American Beauty (1928) by Knud Merrild.

Knud Merrild and Kai Gótzsche were Danish artists who spent the winter of 1922 with Lawrence, high up in the mountains of New Mexico. Their experiences were recorded in Merrild’s memoir A Poet and Two Painters. Lawrence was never happier than when instructing others on how to do things but as we discover in the seventh of eight blogs, advising artists on how to create art was not always welcome advice.  

The art of painting was a regular evening discussion in the cabin and Lawrence had controversial opinions on the subject. First off was the futility of art. Why bother when ‘everything that can possibly be painted has been painted, every brush stroke that can possibly be laid on canvas has been laid on.[i]‘ The same, or course, could be applied to writing, a fact Lawrence conveniently failed to consider. Lawrence painted watercolours in his youth and in 1929 had an, albeit controversial, exhibition at the Warren Gallery. He was no stranger to this art form, so why claim painting bored him? Merrild rationalised that Lawrence was ‘like a boy hopelessly in love, always denouncing his love[ii].’

Art was clearly important to Lawrence. One of his few possessions was a small portfolio of coloured prints of Renaissance and Italian paintings which he carried around with him. He had also made a copy of Piero Di Cosimo’s Death of Procris, which currently hung on his wall. The Danes weren’t impressed. It was amateurish and they told him so. Lawrence defence was he was a self-taught artist who learned through copying. When Merrild critiqued his use of red in the painting which ‘throws your picture out of balance[iii]’ Lawrence, of course, had a riposte.

‘I could not resist the urge to make it real red-red, only I couldn’t get it bloody enough, the warm, slightly streaming, liquid red blood. I wanted to experience the lust of killing in that picture. Killing is natural to man, you know. It is just as natural as lying with a woman. I often feel I could kill and enjoy it.[iv]‘’ This was delivered while looking Merrild in the eye.   

Merrild was concerned he’d been too brutal in his criticism, but Frieda was absolutely delighted and encouraged him to keep at it. ‘It’s good for him that others beside myself can tell HIM a few things once in a while. All these creatures that always blindly adore him and never dare contradict him, no matter what, make me sick. You keep it up, Merrild. Always have the courage to stick up for your rights and beliefs, even if you hurt him,’ and this was the most important part as ‘he will respect you so much more for it.[v]

Merrild wasn’t convinced by Lawrence’s art criticism either, instead seeing it as a literary approach. He disagreed with just about every view Lawrence had, some of which he found reductive and offensive, particularly his dismissing of the modern and ancient periods. This was particularly difficult for Merrild to hear as he specialised in abstract art – today he is seen as the father of the flux painting technique. For Merrild, abstract art was ‘the purest and simplest of all art expression’ and ‘the foundation of all art and also its essence.[vi]

Lawrence’s response? ‘Abstractions are of the hideous machine industrialism and are only making a memorial to their spiritual impotence. The soul’s disintegration. Abstraction is a picture of nothing, of absolute nothing, and has no relation with life. Life has been made unbearable, and art has become the refuge of people living in fancy.[vii]‘ Ouch.   

Abstract art would not be widely appreciated in Los Angeles until the 1950’s. This meant as a pioneer of this art form, Merrild would be unable to support himself and his future wife exclusively on his career as an artist. In this, his life would mirror that of Lawrence, whose own experimentation with literary forms and themes would see his work censored and banned, resulting in bouts of poverty. The friends had a lot more in common than they perhaps realised.

Lawrence once wrote that ‘art is moral…not didactic[viii]’ yet his tone was often didactic. Friends just had to accept this was how he was. Merrild could cope with Lawrence’s anomalous views on art, but instructing him on how to paint was a red line. When this happened one afternoon Merrild curtly replied that he was painting the picture, not Lawrence. He thought that was the end of the matter. But then Lawrence lunged at him, grabbed his brush, and demanded he paint part of the picture.

There are so many reasons why he would not allow Lawrence to contribute towards his artwork, but most of all it was because art was, to quote Lawrence, his holy ghost.  

‘Man can sin as much as he likes. There is only one penalty: the loss of his own integrity (…) If you want to do a thing, you’ve either got to believe, sincerely, that it’s your true nature to do this thing, or else you’ve got to let it go. Believe in your own Holy Ghost (…) a thing you truly believe in cannot be wrong.[ix]’  

And if that doesn’t work, hide your brushes, and lock the door.

As their stay together finally came to a close, Lawrence asked Merrild to do him a small favour by returning a painting he had been gifted, against his wishes, to an artist in Taos. ‘You can’t do that’ reasoned Frieda, ‘it will hurt the man’s feelings. Give it to someone who might want it[x].’ Lawrence wouldn’t budge. ‘If I do not want the picture, the proper thing to do is return it[xi].’ To which Frieda retorted ‘why must you go out of your way to offend people?[xii]‘ The simple solution would have been to give it away, but Lawrence was adamant. This infuriated Frieda so she questioned why he’d accepted it in the beginning. ‘You accepted it alright, in your meek way, and was humble about it when he was there, but now that he is away you are very brave in your talk, but not brave enough to act and face the man.[xiii]‘ She then tells Merrild not to hand it back on Lawrence’s behalf. He rationalises ‘I thought that perhaps it would be the last mission he would ask of me here, and as I felt greatly indebted to him for what he had meant to me, I wouldn’t want to refuse one of his last wishes and would be only too glad to do him a favour.[xiv]‘ Of course, returning the painting is not enough of an insult: ‘take him this book of mine in appreciation.[xv]‘ Frieda was shocked at her husband’s brazen attitude and goaded ‘I do hope he will refuse your book![xvi]‘ To which Lawrence retorted, ‘I know he won’t!’

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


A Poet and Two Painters 6: Dog Days

Design James Walker. Gloves photo by Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Knud Merrild and Kai Gótzsche were Danish artists who spent the winter of 1922 with Lawrence, high up in the mountains of New Mexico. Their experiences were recorded in Merrild’s memoir A Poet and Two Painters. In the sixth of eight blogs, we explore Lawrence’s contentious relationship with animals.

The Danes and the Lawrence’s spent an intense amount of time with each other up in the Lobo mountains of New Mexico. With resources scarce, Merrild would shoot rabbits. Lawrence generally disliked this but relished the opportunity to impart knowledge on how to remove entrails and skin a kill.  

‘You have not pulled out its guts. Look here, whenever you have killed a hare, the first thing you do is place it on its back. Then take your knife and make a neat little cut in his belly,’ pointing where to cut, ‘then you lift him up, turn him around, and out comes the guts by themselves. You see it as a preventive measure, in case a shot should have punctured the intestine it is apt to spoil the meat[i].’   

One day Merrild shot Lawrence’s pet rabbit by mistake which led to a bizarre rant: ‘Why not let us go out and kill – not the innocent animals, but some of the beastly humans.[ii]‘ When the Danes protested, Lawrence pointed out that Merrild was already a killer and that ‘to kill a despicable human being’ would be ‘easier’ and ‘more important’ than killing ‘innocent little rabbits’. Lawrence wasn’t interested in their counter arguments that he lay mouse traps and decapitated chickens when hungry, and instead continued with his fascist rant, ‘it is more important for us to kill some of the beastly disdainful bankers, industrialists, lawyers, war makers and schemers of all kinds[iii]‘.

Merrild rationalised that WWI had brought enough death without the need for more. But Lawrence was on one: ‘Quite. I don’t want to kill at random in a war. Men go to war and kill indiscriminately with a feeling of exalted righteousness, but I want to be select and to pick the scum and parasitic fungus of mankind and kill them for the benefit of the world at large to save humanity[iv]‘. When they goaded him on and asked who he would kill first he replied ‘Mabel!’ And not with a gun ‘the weapon of cowardice[v]‘ but with a knife.     

Their cabins were full of animals who brought comfort in the isolation of the mountains. The Danes had a wild cat called Meera who would hide on their cabin and pounce down and eat the birds when they threw food for them. But it was Lawrence’s little black dog ‘Pips’ – a gift from Mabel – who nearly brough their friendship to an end. Bibbles had many names as well as many owners. She was also known as Pips, Pebbles, Bibbles, Bambino, Bipsey, and Bubastis.    

Pips would often enter the Danes cabin and jump up on Merrild’s lap and lick his face which made him laugh. When Lawrence called her and she didn’t immediately return he would scoff, ‘Oh Bibsey, don’t just love everybody…you miserable little dog of lovetricks[vi]’. She was cautioned with a gentle slap.

‘Lawrence had so taken to Pips that she had really become part of him and so it was very annoying that he had to call and scald her.[vii]’ But one day he pushed her too far and she left his cabin and came to live with the Danes. They knew how much the deflection would pain Lawrence, so they took her for a walk. When they neared his cabin, she fled. When Lawrence came for her later, he was furious, but Pips was as stubborn as he and wouldn’t relent. Angered and frustrated, he gifted the dog to the Danes, claiming he didn’t want her. ‘You love one after another, on one condition, that each one loves you most[viii]

A few days later she went back to Lawrence, and everything was calm again. And then came the next fallout. Pips, who hadn’t been spayed, started to get a bit randy and eloped into the forest with the ranch dog, despite Lawrence’s ‘frantic demands[ix]’. Lawrence immediately became gloomy and brooding, before ranting about ill breeding in Pips and in humans. When Pips did this a second time, she stayed out all night, ‘for fright or for love, I don’t know which[x]’ observed Merrild. When she did return, she went to the Danes cabin. When Lawrence came for her, he was raging. 

‘He stopped abruptly, his face pale, eyes on stalks, shivering in rage. He pulled himself erect and burst out in a violent stream of curses…like lightning out of a clear sky, he struck the little dog with all his enraged force, so that it hurtled from Gótzsche’s lap down on the floor where she landed hard and rolled under the table.[xi]

Gótzsche was so appalled he squared up to Lawrence. Pips must have realised this was her chance and pelted out of the cabin. Lawrence followed in hot pursuit. He yelled, kicked, and hurled her back towards his cabin. ‘Lawrence seemed to be drunk with rage; in devilish delight he worked himself up to a still higher pitch.[xii]’ The Danes feared for her safety and stood between him and the dog. ‘I looked into the deepest, whitest boiling Inferno – a pair of burning piercing eyes of such strength that I saw nothing else, only sensed the bloodless, pale blue-pink lips in a wilderness of beard.[xiii]’ 

At this point Merrild realised that Lawrence was up for a fight. ‘I felt that he craved a fight; that he really desired it (…) My mind saw him kick, bite, and scratch me all over in his intensity. He longed to clasp muscles of steel, to feel the hard powerful blows – to give with all his might and receive and enjoy the pain of a fierce battle. Heated to ecstasy, he longed for the warm bodies to roll and struggle in the icy snow.[xiv]

Fortunately, Merrild didn’t take the bait. He was a lot stronger and would easily have won. And this is how they ended up being Pips master for the second time. This lasted for a short spell before she returned once more to Lawrence, much to his delight. They would own the dog for a third and final time when they looked after her for Lawrence when he headed to Old Mexico. But even here there was drama. A local painter claimed the dog was his, that Mabel had originally given it to him only to offer it to Lawrence when he turned up. The Danes refused to hand the dog over, but a while later they eventually caved in when they realised Lawrence wasn’t coming back soon. 

When writing this chapter, Merrild asked a writer to read it as he was concerned at the cruel impression it created of Lawrence. Therefore, he goes someway to point out the cruel incident was not representative of Lawrence’s relationship with animals. He could show the same cruelty to humans as well as himself. He ‘loved animals and humanity more passionately than most of us do, and he who loves much shall be forgiven much[xv]’.

Lawrence could not tolerate disloyalty or insolence in man or beast. His mood swings were devilish at times and unfortunate for anyone or anything within proximity. Merrild is clear that Lawrence’s treatment of the dog at that specific moment was cruel and wrong. But he is equally eager to stress that this does not mean he was cruel to animals. As always with Lawrence, it’s complicated.    

What is most remarkable about the Pips incident is the failure of Lawrence’s inner circle to believe it had happened. Mabel Dodge Sterne, Dorothy Brett, Spud Johnson and Witter Bynner all wrote to the editor of the local Taos paper to complain about an article Merrild had written about the incident in 1937, a year before his memoir was published. Even Frieda wrote in, though her response was the most telling. She was not present when the incident happened but neither did she deny it. Instead, she reinforced Merrild’s point by rationalising ‘If Lawrence could lose his temper, he could also be patient and gentle.’

Mabel Dodge Luhan Papers. Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

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


Locating Lawrence: April 1923

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I hesitate here.[xvii]


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

A Poet and Two Painters 5: Thomas Seltzer arrives

Parrot by Darrell Gough at Pexels.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Locating Lawrence: March 1923

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Poet and Two Painters 3: The Good Life

Two-man felling saw by Eugene Zelenko from wikipedia. 

Knud Merrild and Kai Gótzsche were Danish artists who spent the winter of 1922 with Lawrence, high up in the mountains of New Mexico. Their experiences were recorded in Merrild’s memoir A Poet and Two Painters. In the third of eight blogs, we see how sharing everyday tasks helped bond the group together.    

The Del Monte Ranch consisted of a ranch house and two cabins that formed a sort of triangle – with all three homes a few minutes’ walk from each other. These needed whipping into shape and so they began roofing, carpentering, plastering, glazing, paperhanging, painting, whitewashing and fumigating while Frieda sewed curtains. ‘Lawrence enjoyed himself thoroughly doing all of these odd jobs,’ notes Merrild. Hard graft was gratifying, ‘it felt good to be a labourer.[i]’  

Once the cabins were complete, the next task was to find a dead tree for their winter supply of fuel. They found a 75ft Balsam Pine that was eight to ten feet in circumference and began the arduous grind of sawing it into logs with a crosscut, two-handed saw. It took several days to complete the task. Although Lawrence ‘tired quickly, he stubbornly kept on[ii].’ Naturally, he complained when things didn’t run smoothly, and it was always the fault of the tools or other people. ‘It amused us that he thought himself so clever, when it was he who was at fault.[iii]’ They even raised the question of why when they worked together ‘it runs smoothly all the time; but when either of us saws with you, we get stuck every time[iv].’ Lawrence retorted ‘It’s because you two are doing it wrong.[v]’ ‘He just wouldn’t be told anything; he was preaching and teaching all the time.[vi]’ On the final day they worked into the evening and heard howling coyotes nearby. It tickled their spines. But the job got done, nobody was eaten, and now all that remained was to rent horses and a wagon to get the timber carted to the cabins. 

Meeting obstacles and conquering them was part of the pleasure of their remote lifestyle. But when it came to finely chopping up the wood, it was too much for Lawrence and Frieda stepped in. He bitterly complained ‘Rot. If the Danes can do it, I can do it, too. I don’t want them to saw my wood![vii]’ But they insisted: ‘Nonsense. We are glad to do it for you. You do many other things for us.[viii]’ A compromise was eventually reached. Lawrence would split the kindling. ‘He wanted to do his share. He was a really good sport[ix]’ Merrild acknowledges, sentiments that are repeated throughout his memoir.  

Lawrence was 36, Gótzsche, 34 and Merrild, 28. Despite similarities in age, the Danes were far more athletic. They had previously laboured in construction and so were physically superior. A good bath was needed after their physical excursion and so they took a seventeen-mile trot to the hot springs. Lawrence rode on the only real horse, a tall and athletic Sorrel. The Danes and Frieda had cow ponies. This meant he led the way. ‘Lawrence towered above us, a real general. He looked well on the horse. He had a huge, grey, five-gallon hat, a leather jacket and checkered trousers tucked into a pair of long, high-heeled riding boots. His horse pranced and side stepped, strutting about in a lively manner.[x]

When Gótzsche dared to overtake Lawrence and disrupt the pecking order, he was scalded, and they had their first falling out. Frieda, observant as ever, commented, ‘You are like the horse you are on. You can’t bear to have anybody ahead of you[xi].’   

They couldn’t drink from a nearby water basin at the ranch after a pig fell in and drowned. But it was good enough to wash clothes in. Snow was melted on the stove for cooking and drinking. Limited resources and being a fair distance from town meant food was basic. Oatmeal and porridge became a regular fixture of their diet, sometimes eaten at breakfast and for tea. But a dab of syrup or honey helped make the mush more bearable. When available, salt meat and potatoes made up the evening meal. Apples were in abundance, allowing Lawrence to create cider. The Danes reciprocated by teaching him a classic Danish dish involving fried apples and bacon. Each day brought fresh, newly milked raw milk and fresh churned butter. Lawrence, who did most of the cooking, made the bread. Sometimes the rancher could get his hands on fresh meat. If not, the woods were full of rabbits waiting to be shot. Despite separate living quarters, ‘we spent much time together, seldom less than three to five hours daily and frequently all day, from breakfast to bedtime (…) We were at peace even in disturbances[xii].’

Frieda enjoyed sowing and embroidery and made curtains, pillows and sheets for the Danes as well as woollen hats to keep their ears warm in bed. ‘She took good, motherly care of us[xiii]’. Lawrence loved the simple lifestyle and filling his day with tasks. It was like a religion, with him preaching ‘the more machinery intervenes between us and the naked forces, the more we numb and atrophy our own senses. Every time we turn on a tap to have water, every time we turn a handle to have fire or light, we deny ourselves and annul our being.[xiv]’  

Their evenings were spent sat around the fire with Lawrence expounding his views on a variety of subjects. ‘He had the ‘gift of interest’ and could make one interested in almost anything (…) He had no social, moral or intellectual affectations and was free from any kind of snobbery. He had his fits once in a while, but on the whole, in everyday life he was easy going.[xv].’ And even if they disagreed ‘we were at peace in disturbance…it is these hours I treasure as among the most precious moments of my life.[xvi]

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


A Poet and Two Painters 2: The Lobo Ranch

‘Los Gallos’ (Mabel Dodge Luhan’s property in Taos).
Mabel Dodge Luhan Papers. Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Knud Merrild and Kai Gótzsche were Danish artists who spent the winter of 1922 with Lawrence, high up in the mountains of New Mexico. Their experiences were recorded in Merrild’s memoir A Poet and Two Painters. In the second of eight blogs, we look at how a strained relationship with Mabel Dodge Sterne led to the friends fleeing Taos and moving into a cabin together.    

Taos is a small town in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It sits in the north-central region of New Mexico, a territory twice the size of England and Wales but with less than half a million inhabitants[i]. As you would expect in a small town, gossip was rife. Number one topic was Mabel Dodge Sterne (Luhan), an ‘eccentric, wealthy, much-married woman[ii]’ and patron of the arts. Yet despite Lawrence’s various rants about her, Knud Merrild was adamant that ‘she had a right to live her own life[iii]’ and that he had no intention of forming opinions based on others experience.   

Lawrence claimed to hate gossip but what he really meant was that he hated people talking about him. He didn’t mind hearing gossip about others. He justified this contradiction on the grounds that ‘it’s a writer’s business to know[iv]’. He was also quite isolated as a guest in Sterne’s ‘prison’ and so had little social interaction with the town. Therefore, the Danes became his ‘news bearers[v]’  

Lawrence’s main gripe with Sterne was her bullying. He hated anyone imposing their will upon him. One example of this was an enormous scarf she had knitted for him that comprised of 45 different colours. Lawrence had previously scalded Sterne for living entirely from her head and so she had attempted to appease him by making something with her hands. But this was ruined by imbuing it with symbolic meaning. He fumed, ‘Look at it. What a conglomeration of colours! Very bad taste, with no sense of proportion. What an atrocity! Now if she had just knitted a scarf in a few, simple colours, with some feeling in it, could have been nice. But what does she do? She makes it with her head…the colours, even the proportions, are supposed to have a meaning. It is me and her and Taos![vi]’   

Lawrence gifted the scarf to Merrild, knowing if he flaunted it around town Sterne would get the message to back off. But she wasn’t going to give up on Lawrence that easily and subsequently invited them over to see an Indian fiesta at her studio. But the domestic setting felt artificial and was mocked. Afterwards, Sterne put on the victrola, insisting everyone dance to the modern fox trot. Lawrence hated this kind of ‘tail wagging[vii]’ and especially disliked being touched. He refused Sterne’s attempts to get him on the dancefloor.

‘Oh, come, Lorenzo – try it. Just once. You’ll enjoy it.’

But he snappily refused her, saying, ‘Enjoy! – that ghastly word! Why must people insist on enjoying themselves in these awful ways. Why ‘enjoy’ oneself at all[viii]

The Danes analysed her behaviour and concluded: ‘She must be awfully dumb if she doesn’t know that she is annoying Lawrence; or else she is so blindly in love that she can’t see it. And to do it just for the sake of bullying would be too stupid.[ix]’ Suspecting it was an excuse to get closer to Lawrence rather than a desire to dance, Merrild asked Sterne if she wanted to dance. She refused. Then, Lawrence got up and danced solo, just to prove he could.  ‘Had he perhaps noticed Sterne refusing me and was he perhaps dancing to spite her?’ wonders Merrild. ‘Nothing ever escaped his observation.[x]’ 

When their relationship became too strained, Sterne offered Lawrence the abandoned Lobo ranch seventeen miles up in the mountains. It was generous but not completely altruistic as it meant Lawrence would still be around. The Danes offered to give the Lawrence’s a lift up to the ranch in their battered old Ford ‘Lizzie’. Lawrence hated automobiles, describing them as ‘nasty, unreliable machine-monsters![xi]’ but he accepted their offer.

The trip was strenuous, and Lizzie proved to be unreliable on more than one occasion. But they eventually made it.  When they reached their destination, Merrild was ‘amazed at the beauty of the place. The dark green trees against a white blanket of snow. There was pine, pinon, spruce, and cedar, and above towered the majestic Lobo Peak…The sky was endless and the air so fine, clear and fresh, virgin air.[xii]

The cabins were less appealing, ‘desolate, dismal and dirty, in a state of decay…and inhabited by rats, squirrels, chipmunks and bats’ and full of ‘the odours of excrement and dead animals, left to rot.[xiii]’ 

Lawrence asked if they would like to spend the winter with them, as guests, in the spare cabin. It required a bit of work, but it was doable. At first, they rejected the offer as they had plans to travel to California to sell work to generate an income. But Lawrence was insistent, pointing out that he had $150 which would provide food and clothes to get them through winter. Lawrence felt very strongly that a more human system based on life values rather than monetary values was needed if society was to progress and his generosity towards them exemplifies these principles. So that they could retain their dignity, he suggested they do chores to ‘pay’ their way.  

It was also an opportunity for Merrild to create covers for Lawrence’s forthcoming books, for which he would be paid. It was a generous offer and the Danes agreed, relishing the opportunity to be ‘pioneerish[xiv]’. But they had reservations about Lawrence’s complex personality and agreed a pragmatic approach was required. ‘Let us promise not to be swept off our feet when he gets one of his fits, and not to be impatient with his desultory moods[xv]’ and instead relish how ‘now we belonged to each other’ and were ‘united in a common life[xvi]’.

This looked and sounded very much like the Rananim Lawrence had been searching for. But the next day their plans received a blow. A messenger arrived on behalf of Sterne stating that the second cabin was not to be used as it was the property of her son, who occasionally used it while on hunting trips. Perhaps flaunting that scarf in her presence had not been such a good idea after all. Lawrence was apoplectic: ‘When she so generously offered me the whole ranch, it was because she thought she would then have me safely put away up here, incommunicable and for her own convenience.[xvii]’ But Lawrence, resourceful as ever, set off the next day with Gotzsche and found two abandoned log cabins on the Del Monte Ranch and immediately rented it. It meant their budget was tighter, but they would get to spend winter together.  

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


Locating Lawrence: February 1923

Each month we publish a visual essay exploring Lawrence’s movements one hundred years ago. The following is based on Volume IV of his letters.

You can always rely on Lawrence to be a bit dramatic and so if nobody wants his essay ‘The Future of the Novel’ Thomas Seltzer can ‘burn it[i]’. There was no need. It would find a home in the Literary Digest International Review in April. But perhaps he reacted like this because the censors did want to eradicate his writing. Women in Love had been selling well, but the New York Justice John Ford (1862 – 1941) wanted the ‘loathsome’ book withdrawn after discovering his daughter reading a copy. He’d do best to ‘leave the tree of knowledge alone’ warned Lawrence in a telegram that would be published in the New York Times. ‘The judge won’t succeed in chopping it down, with his horrified hatchet. Many better men have tried and failed.[ii]’   

Up on the Del Monte Ranch in the Lobo mountains, Lawrence was loving life with his two Danish friends Knud Merrild and Kai Gøtzsche. The days were filled with hard graft, the evenings with song and conversation. Frieda informs her mother ‘Lawrence has a cold, chopped ice for hours in a frozen-over brook![iii]

Gøtzsche had been painting Lawrence. He has his arms folded and looks like he’s in a grump. ‘They say it has got my get-rid-of Mountsier face[iv]’ And get rid of his American literary agent he did. This was mainly because Seltzer refused to work with him and because Lawrence felt Mounsier didn’t believe in him, ‘he was against me inwardly.[v]’ Mountsier had visited Lawrence at the ranch in December and was still in Taos, so Lawrence was able to tell him in person. However, Frieda reports that after doing this, Lawrence ‘took some sandwiches and went off’ and ‘I was left alone with him for lunch.[vi]

It’s a productive period for Lawrence. He completes the proofs for The Captain’s Doll and The Fox and requests the proofs for The Ladybird. A complete manuscript of Birds, Beasts and Flowers is sent to Seltzer which ‘when you have time to read it you will agree it is a remarkable collection.[vii]’ And he must make time to read it because he wants to see ‘a perfect MSS (…) before I leave America. And I want to leave soon[viii]’ Concerned at the poverty facing ‘the Danes’ he wants Merrild to do the jacket.

John Middleton Murry is consoled over the death of his wife, Katherine Mansfield, who died on 9 January. Lawrence was pretty nasty to Mansfield which may have been partly because of his own ill health and the subsequent stigma attached to it. He views her dying at one point as a weakness, something she failed to control: ‘One must fight, or die, like Katherine.[ix]’ But he does attempt an apology of sorts: ‘I wish it needn’t all have been as it has been: I do wish it.[x]’ And to prove his sincerity, he instructs Seltzer to send Murry copies of three of his latest books[xi].

After a winter in the Lobo mountains, it’s time to move on again. Mexico is his next intended stop and so Seltzer is asked to send over a copy of Terry’s Guide to Mexico so that he can prepare. (Thomas Philip Terry, 1923) Bessie Freeman is asked whether she can provide useful introductions to ‘anybody nice[xii]’ and Spud Johnson is given a breakdown of travel costs so that he and Witter Bynner can join them.[xiii]

Frieda suggests the reason for their latest move being ‘Lawr wants to go to Mexico, he thinks he might write his American novel there – You know he would like to write a novel of each continent – if possible.[xiv]

England may still be off the cards but there is a suggestion of a reconciliation. ‘At the moment I can’t come to England. Something inside me simply doesn’t let me. I mistrust my country too much to identify myself with it any more. And it still gives me a certain disgust. But this may pass.[xv]


  • [i] Thomas Seltzer (L2703)
  • [ii] Thomas Seltzer (L2708)
  • [iii] Baroness Anna von Richthofen (L2731)
  • [iv] Thomas Seltzer (L2703)
  • [v] Thomas Seltzer (L2707)
  • [vi] Adele Seltzer (L2716)
  • [vii] Thomas Seltzer (L2707)
  • [ix] S.S. Koteliansky (L2718)
  • [x] John Middleton Murry (L27013)
  • [xi] Thomas Seltzer (L2705)
  • [xii] Bessie Freeman (L2728)
  • [xiii] Willard Johnson (L2721)
  • [xiv] Adele Seltzer (L2716)
  • [xv] John Middleton Murry (L2733)