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.

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]

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. 

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] and that 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

[ii] ibid

[iii] ibid

[iv] ibid

[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

[viii] ibid

[ix] Letter to Thomas Seltzer, 18 July 1922

[x] Letter to Robert Mountsier, 17 July 1922

[xi] ibid

[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

[xv] ibid

[xvi] Letter to Achsah Brewster, 24 July 1922

[xvii] ibid

[xviii] Letter to S.S. Koteliansky, 9 July 1922

[xix] ibid

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, which has a pit nearby. 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.

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 (nee Luhan)

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]

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.