Our previous five blogs explored Lawrence’s time in New Mexico from the perspective of Mabel Dodge Luhan. Now it’s time to turn our attention to a very different memoir: Brett and Lawrence: A Friendship. The title pretty much sums up Brett’s feelings, though their friendship could have developed into something more but for acute shyness and clumsiness on both sides.
‘Friendship is as binding
As the Marriage Vow –
As important – as Eternal –‘
Born in1883, Dorothy Brett was the third of four siblings. Her grandfather was Queen Victoria’s Master of the Rolls as well as Lord Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals. Her French grandmother had a more challenging start to life, discovered as an abandoned baby on the battlefield at Waterloo, she was adopted by Colonel Gurwood, the personal assistant of Wellington. To complicate matters further, her great grandmother was rumoured to have been the mistress of Napoleon. On her maternal side, writes John Manchester in his prologue to Brett’s memoir, her Belgium grandfather was none other than Van de Weyer, who had helped put Leopold I on the throne, while her maternal grandmother was the daughter of a rich Boston banker. By all accounts she had a completely different social upbringing to Lawrence, yet the two would become very close friends. This is all lovingly shared in Brett’s memoir that is narrated directly to Lawrence, written two years (check) after his death.
The first time Brett met Lawrence was in 1915. They were invited to a gathering at the home of British artist Mark Gertler (1891-1939) in the Vale of Heath, London. Gertler, one of five children to Polish-Jewish immigrants, was a British painter specialising in figure subjects, portraits and still-life. From a young age it was clear that he had a unique talent for drawing but his path to success would be hampered by financial difficulties. Due to his family’s poverty, Gertler was forced to drop out of Regent Street Polytechnic in 1906 and take up employment. In 1908 he successfully applied for a scholarship from the Jewish Education Aid Society (JEAS) and enrolled at the Slade School of Art, London where he would become a contemporary of the likes of Paul Nash and Stanley Spencer. It was at Slade that he met Brett, who studied there from 1910 to 1916, introducing her to artistic and literary circles that included the Bloomsbury Group.
Brett’s description of Gertler ‘with his thick, dark, curly hair, cut like a Florentine boy, the delicate, clear-cut features, the long grey eyes, he was as beautiful as a Botticelli angel or a wild creature of some Keltic myth’ is beautifully evocative. John Manchester credits this due to her artistic background – ‘Brett writes as a painter – she sees it all before her inner eye as though it were happening right now’. Gertler would succumb to the same disease that also took the life of Katherine Mansfield and Lawrence. He would also be immortalised in fiction as the sculptor Herr Loerke in Lawrence’s Women in Love (1920), Gombauld in Huxley’s Crome Yellow (1921) and his early life would inspire Gilbert Cannan’s novel Mendel (1916).
During their first encounter, Lawrence sat upright with his hands tucked under his thighs. He had an immediate impact on Brett ‘gently coaxing me out of my shyness’ as they sat around a fire in Gertler’s front room. She would have appreciated his attentiveness as her deafness was particularly problematic in crowds. In a letter to Bertrand Russell in 1918, Brett reveals her frustration at being surrounded by an arty community at Garsington Manor but being unable to join in: ‘Can you imagine what it means to see life revolving round you – see people talking and laughing, quite meaninglessly! Like looking through a shop window or a restaurant window. It is all so hideous I sometimes wonder how I can go on. I think if it were not for my painting I would end it all.’
When she discovered Lawrence was shortly off to Europe, Brett threw a party at her studio in Earl’s Court Road. It was attended by the usual suspects: Gertler, Kotiliansky, Murry, Mansfield and her friend Estelle Rice, Carrington, and Frieda. But it was ruined by a group of gate crashers and so another, more intimate gathering, was arranged two days later. In quieter surroundings they were able to play charades, with Lawrence ‘trotting round the room riding an imaginary bicycle, ringing the bell.’ She wouldn’t see him again until 1923.
In 1923 Brett had moved to Queen Anne House, Pond Street, Hampstead. The critic Middleton Murry, whose partner Katherine Mansfield had died in January, lived next door. Frieda arrived in the UK first, though she wasn’t entirely sure whether Lawrence would follow her from New Mexico. But he does, arriving six weeks later, and just in time for Christmas. He is immediately affronted by the smallness of Brett’s home, yet astonished she has a Rolls Royce parked outside. Pumped up from his savage pilgrimage across the globe, he immediately announces ‘Brett, I am not a man…I am MAN’ and immediately invites her to join him in Taormina or New Mexico. The same invitation is extended to the rest of their inner circle in the infamous dinner party that left Lawrence with a two day hangover. Only Brett would take him up on the offer.
When Lawrence wasn’t insulting Brett about her humble dwellings, the two made flowers together out of clay and then painted them. Being creative enabled them to bond, which was far more preferable than being asked innumerable questions by people, which bored Lawrence. One evening, while Frieda sat knitting and sowing, Lawrence and Brett made a plasticine tree and an Adam and Eve. Murry contributed a snake. Lawrence took devilish pleasure in the ‘scandalised faces’ of his friends as they peered at his naked Adam ‘so with ironical glee you snip off his indecency, and then mourn for him his loss.’
Brett was immediately attracted by Lawrence’s ‘soft Midland voice’ yet notes his use of ‘thee’ and ‘tha’ – usually attributed to the Yorkshire dialect. She observes the way his mouth pulls down at one corner – ‘the ever ready, amused jeer is on your lips’. But it is his kindness that lures her to him, the way he probes ‘delicately into my life and ideas and feelings, sensitive to my sensitiveness.’ But he is less sensitive in his criticisms of her chosen profession, insisting paintings are dead and that there is no life in still lives. Knud Merrild, in his memoir A Poet and Two Painters, would recall similarly condescending conversations. Yet Lawrence, a man of wonderful contradictions, would find solace in art during his latter years, and, inevitably, his paintings would cause as much controversy as his novels. But for Brett, art had a more pragmatic function. It helped fund her trip to New Mexico.
The friends spent Christmas Day together, but only on condition that they ate goose. Lawrence had had enough of turkey. Always attentive with every task he undertook, he stuffed the goose with sage and onions, laying strips of bacon across the chest. To appease his growing homesickness for New Mexico, they take a trip to The Stand to see The Covered Wagon. During the performance Lawrence hums the song that’s the keynote to the story: ‘Oh, oh, Susanna, don’t you sigh for me, for I’m waiting here in Oregon with my banjo on my knee.’ Brett lovingly adapts these lyrics years later to ‘Oh, oh, Lorenzo, don’t you sigh for me, for I’m waiting here in Kiowa with your Timsy on my knee.’ Timsy being his cat.
When it’s time to finally leave, Lawrence is excited to be sailing on The Aquitania, as he’s never been on such a large ship before. Brett is equally excited, as she has only ever been on a Channel boat. Her servant, who knows her well, mourns Brett’s departure, rightly predicting she will never return, despite Brett’s assurance she’ll only be gone for six months. Her servant was right. Brett would only return back to England for two weeks in 1924. Once on the ship, Frieda retreats to her cabin, leaving Brett and Lawrence to excitedly wander the decks. Adventure and exploration will be a defining trait of their friendship across the Pond. As the two stand on deck watching England fade away, Lawrence remarks ‘I am always a bit sad at leaving England, and yet I am always glad to be gone.’
In the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. How can we capture his love of charades? His voyage on the Aquitania? Or those small gatherings of arty folk in Hampstead? 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.
In this guest blog, Tony Simpson, editor of the Spokesman (published by the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation) explores the literary relationships of Garsington Manor, former home to the Bloomsbury Group socialite Lady Ottoline Morrell.
In her memoirs, Ottoline Morrell, née Cavendish-Bentinck, describes how, around Christmastime 1914 and into the New Year, she had been reading some ‘very remarkable books’. The Prussian Officer, a collection of memorable short stories, was one of them. Sons and Lovers and The White Peacock are mentioned specifically; ‘the scenes of which were laid in Nottinghamshire, and they had stirred up my early memories, which had lain dry and curled up’.
She describes riding through the ‘great oaks and grass rides’ of her childhood at Welbeck Abbey, where she lived from age six to her mid-teens. Later, after her mother died, she returned to the great estate, when she drove her ‘black ponies out on the dark dreary roads with their black hedges’. She describes how she would ‘feel excited and even a little nervous’ when she met groups of colliers on their way home from the pit. ‘These men, tall, black and mysterious, appeared rather fierce yet full of laughter and fun, joking together as they hurried pell-mell along the dark roads to tea, the grey winter light, a gleam of setting yellow sun behind them.’
‘Excited and moved’ by the books, Ottoline wanted to get to know Lawrence, ‘whose home had also been in Nottinghamshire’. Their mutual friend, the writer Gilbert Cannan, made the introductions and, one evening in February 1915, Lawrence and his wife Frieda visited:
‘He was a slight man, lithe and delicately built, his pale face overshadowed by his beard and his red hair falling over his forehead, his eyes blue and his hands delicate and very competent. He gave one the impression of someone who had been under-nourished in youth, making his body fragile and his mind too active.’
Later, when Ottoline visited the Lawrences in Sussex, she was ‘extraordinarily happy and at ease’.
‘We at once went back to our memories of Nottinghamshire. We talked of the lovely wild commons, of Sherwood Forest, of the dark pit villages, of the lives of the colliers and their wives … He talked to me in the Nottinghamshire dialect … He also liked to talk of my family in Nottinghamshire … He used to please me by saying that the “Bentincks were always looked up to as being disinterested”.’
Lawrence and Ottoline used to go for long walks over the Sussex Downs. She doesn’t say whether Frieda accompanied them. One day in early spring 1915, they went to the woods ‘still bare of leaves’. Lawrence showed Ottoline the ‘little flame-red buds of the trees not yet in leaf and said, “see, here is the little red flame in Nature”. Ottoline looked at him and thought, ‘in you, too, there certainly dwells that flame.’
On one visit to Sussex, Ottoline took Bertrand Russell with her. Bertie had been her lover for several years, and he had expressed a wish to meet Lawrence after reading the books Ottoline had shown him. On 1 January 1915, Russell noted that he was reading Sons and Lovers, the quintessential novel of Nottingham before the First World War. The first encounter between the two men ‘appeared a great success,’ Ottoline wrote, somewhat portentously.
‘He is infallible,’ Bertie said of Lawrence, on the way home. ‘He is like Ezekial or some other Old Testament prophet, prophesying. Of course, the blood of his nonconformist preaching ancestors is strong in him, but he sees everything and is always right.’
Ottoline had her doubts about such an assessment of Lawrence, and ventured her own reckoning, concentrating on Lawrence’s mother, who was, from what Lawrence had told her:
‘a very remarkable woman, who had great delicacy of feeling and distinction of mind: clear, orderly, dominating towards the children. Anyone who has read Sons and Lovers and Lawrence’s poems to her must have realised how important she was to him … She had so much in her character that satisfied him; she was sharp in retort and had a witty resistance — proud and erect — reserved — above all she had a complete admiration and devotion to him. No doubt as a result of her detachment from her husband she called forth his protective devotion and tenderness … ‘
Ottoline observed that the early habits of Lawrence’s home life were never shaken off:
‘He was quick and competent in cleaning a floor, washing up cups and saucers, cooking, nursing: violent in argument, free in expression and abuse.’
Russell thought Lawrence very young. Thirteen years his junior, Lawrence was 30 years old to Russell’s 43, when they met in 1915. Ottoline was 42. A week after that first meeting in February 1915, Russell wrote to Ottoline:
‘I have had a long long letter from Lawrence – saying it is no good to do anything till we get Socialsm – and thinking (as the young do) that because he sees the desirability of Socialism it can be got by a few years’ strenuous work. I feel his optimism difficult to cope with – I can’t share it and don’t want to discourage it. He is extraordinarily young.’
In his Autobiography, Russell looked back on those times:
‘during the summer of 1915 I wrote Principles of Social Reconstruction, or Why Men Fight as it was called in America without my consent. I had no intention of writing such a book, and it was totally unlike anything I had previously written, but it came out in a spontaneous manner. In fact I did not discover what it was all about until I had finished it. It has a framework and a formula, but I only discovered both when I had written all except the first and last words. In it I suggested a philosophy of politics based upon the belief that impulse has more effect than conscious purpose in moulding men’s lives. I divided impulses into two groups, the possessive and the creative, considering the best life that which is most built on creative impulses. I took, as examples of embodiments of the possessive impulses, the State, war and property; and of the creative impulses, education, marriage and religion [latter two are surprising choices!] Liberation of creativeness, I was convinced, should be the principle of reform. I first gave the book as lectures, and then published it. To my surprise, it had an immediate success. (I had written it with no expectation of its being read, merely as a profession of faith, but it brought me in a great deal of money, and laid the foundation for all my future earnings.)
Russell acknowledged Lawrence’s influence on Principles of Social Reconstruction:
These lectures were in certain ways connected with my short friendship with D H Lawrence. We both imagined that there was something important to be said about the reform of human relations, and we did not at first realise that we took diametrically opposite views as to the kind of reform that was needed. My acquaintance with Lawrence was brief and hectic, lasting altogether about a year. We were brought together by Ottoline, who admired us both and made us think that we ought to admire each other. Pacifism had produced in me a mood of bitter rebellion, and I found Lawrence equally full of rebellion. This made us think, at first, that there was a considerable measure of agreement between us, and it was gradually that we discovered that we differed from each other more than either differed from the Kaiser.
There were in Lawrence at that time two attitudes to the war: on the one hand, he could not be whole-heartedly patriotic, because his wife was German; but on the other hand, he had such a hatred of mankind that he tended to think both sides must be right in so far as they hated each other. As I came to know these attitudes, I realised that neither was one with which I could sympathise. Awareness of our differences, however, was gradual on both sides, and at first all went merry as a marriage bell. I invited him to visit me at Cambridge and introduced him to Keynes and a number of other people. He hated them all with a passionate hatred and said they were ‘dead, dead, dead’. For a time I thought he might be right. I liked Lawrence’s fire, I liked the energy and passion of his feelings, I liked his belief that something very fundamental was needed to put the world right. I agreed with him that politics could not be divorced from individual psychology. I felt him to be a man with a certain imaginative genius, and, at first, when I felt disinclined to disagree with him, I thought that perhaps his insight into human nature was deeper than mine. It was only gradually that I came to feel him a positive force for evil and that he came to have the same feeling about me.
I was at this time preparing the courses of lectures which was afterwards published as Principles of Social Reconstruction. He, also, wanted to lecture, and for a time it seemed possible that there might be some sort of loose collaboration between us. We exchanged a number of letters, of which mine are lost and his have been published. In his letters the gradual awareness of the consciousness of our fundamental disagreements can be traced. I was a firm believer in democracy, whereas he had developed the whole philosophy of Fascism before the politicians had thought of it. “I don’t believe”, he wrote, “in democratic control. I think the working man is fit to elect governors or overseers for his immediate circumstances, but for no more. You must utterly revise the electorate. The working man shall elect superiors for the things that concern him immediately, no more. From the other classes, as they rise, shall be elected the higher governors. The thing must culminate in one real head, as every organic thing must – no foolish republic with foolish presidents, but an elected King, something like Julius Ceasar …” ’
Russell continued on Lawrence:
‘His letters grew gradually more hostile. He wrote, “what’s the good of living as you do anyway? I don’t believe your lectures are good. They are nearly over, aren’t they? What’s the good of sticking in the damned ship and haranguing the merchant pilgrims in their own language? Why don’t you drop overboard? Why don’t you clear out of the whole show? One must be an outlaw these days, not a teacher or a preacher.” This seemed to me mere rhetoric. I was becoming more of an outlaw than he ever was and I could not quite see his ground of complaint against me. He phrased his complaint in different ways at different times. On another occasion he wrote: “do stop working and writing altogether and become a creature instead of a mechanical instrument. Do clear out of the whole social ship. Do for your very pride’s sake become a mere nothing, a mole, a creature that feels its way and doesn’t think. Do for heavens sake be a baby, and not a savant any more. Don’t do anything more – but for heavens sake begin to be – start at the very beginning and be a perfect baby: in the name of courage.”
“Oh, and I want to ask you, when you make your will, do leave me enough to live on. I want you to live for ever. But I want you to make me in some part your heir …” ’
Mortality notwithstanding, Russell probed deeper, saying of Lawrence:
‘He had a mystical philosophy of “blood” which I disliked. “There is”, he said, “another seat of consciousness than the brain and nerves. There is a blood-consciousness which exists in us independently of the ordinary mental consciousness. One lives, knows and has one’s being in the blood, without any reference to nerves and brain. This is one half of life belonging to the darkness. When I take a woman, then the blood-precept is supreme. My blood-knowing is overwhelming. We should realise that we have a blood-being, a blood consciousness, a blood-soul complete and apart from a mental and nerve consciousness.” This seemed to me frankly rubbish, and I rejected it vehemently, though I did not then know that it led straight to Auschwitz …’
Russell also put on record Lawrence’s positive impact on him:
What at first attracted me to Lawrence was a certain dynamic quality and a habit of challenging assumptions that one is apt to take for granted. I was already accustomed to being accused of undue slavery to reason, and I thought perhaps that he could give me a vivifying dose of unreason. I did in fact acquire a certain stimulus from him, and I think the book that I wrote in spite of his blasts of denunciation was better than it would have been if I had not known him.’
One consequence of their relationship may be the title, as Russell called his lecture outline ‘Philosophy of Social Reconstruction’ when he sent it to Lawrence in July 1915. In reply, Lawrence wrote:
‘Don’t be angry that I have scribbled all over your work. But that which you say is all social criticism: it isn’t social reconstruction. You must take a plunge into another element if it is to be social reconstruction.
Primarily, you must allow and acknowledge & be prepared to proceed from the fundamental impulse in man, for Wholeness of Movement, Unanimity of Purpose, Oneness in Construction. This is the principle of Construction. The rest is all criticism, destruction …’
Bertie seemed to have preferred ‘principle’ to ‘philosophy’ and, as we have heard, paid close attention to ‘impulse’.
While Russell was writing what became Principles ofSocial Reconstruction, Lawrence was already working on the novel that became Women in Love, which was eventually published in the United States in 1921. He included a character very like Ottoline (Hermione Roddice), and gave her a terrible drubbing which upset Ottoline greatly. Ottoline wrote:
‘I read it and found myself going pale with horror, for nothing could have been more vile and obviously spiteful and contemptuous than the portrait of me that I found there. It was a great shock, for his letters all this time had been quite friendly, and I had no idea that he disliked me or had any feeling against me. I was called every name from an “old hag”, obsessed by sex-mania, to a corrupt Sapphist. He described me as his own discarded Mistress, who, in my sitting-room, which was minutely described, had tried to bash him over the head with a paper weight, at which he had exclaimed, ‘No you don’t, Hermione. No you don’t.’ In another scene I had attempted to make indecent advances to the Heroine, who was a glorified Frieda [Lawrence’s wife]. My dresses were dirty; I was rude and insolent to my guests.’
Philip, Ottoline’s lawyer husband, threatened to sue. Lawrence duly made a number of changes, including shifting Hermoine’s country home from one modelled on Garsington, the Morrells’ house near Oxford, to Willersley Castle in Derbyshire, which he styled ‘Breadalby’:
‘… a Georgian house with Corinthian pillars standing among the softer, greener hills of Derbyshire, not far from Cromford.’
The house is now a hotel, and you can refresh yourself in the gardens, beneath the trees, looking towards the sheer cliff opposite. It is a stunning location which Lawrence had studied closely.
‘Lunch was served on the lawn, under the great tree, whose thick, blackish boughs came close down to the grass.’
Those present included
‘… a learned, dry Baronet of fifty [Sir Joshua Mattheson], who was always making witticisms and laughing at them heartily in a harsh, horse-laugh … The attitude was mental and very wearying. Only the elderly sociologist, whose mental fibre was so tough as to be insentient, seemed to be thoroughly happy [some irony here?]. Birkin was down in the mouth. Hermoine appeared, with amazing persistence, to wish to ridicule him and make him look ignominious in the eyes of everybody … ’
Rupert Burkin shares Lawrence’s own insecurity and isolation. At dinner, our three main actors, Sir Joshua (Russell), Hermione (Ottoline) and Rupert (Lawrence), dominate:
‘The talk was very often political or sociological, and interesting, curiously anarchistic. There was an accumulation of powerful force in the room, powerful and destructive. Everything seemed to be thrown into the melting-pot, and it seemed to Ursula [like Frieda Lawrence?] they were all witches, helping the pot to bubble. There was an elation and a satisfaction in it all, but it was cruelly exhausting for the new-comers, this ruthless mental pressure, this powerful, consuming, destructive mentality that emanated from Joshua and Hermoine and Birkin and dominated the rest.’ (Women in Love, p 101).
In her memoirs, Ottoline wrote of Women in Love that
‘the setting of the house and garden were altered and some of the worst scenes expunged. But, alas, this was the end of my intimacy with Lawrence. I never saw Lawrence again, although he made several efforts through our mutual friends to see me. I did not think it would be possible for me to behave naturally or unself-consciously in his presence. The hurt that he had done me made a very great mark in my life.’
But that, as it turned out, was not the end of the story. Ottoline later wrote of Lawrence:
‘It was not until 1929, when Garsington had come to an end and when I was very ill, that I had any more communication with him. He then wrote to me some very sympathetic and delightful letters. He was obviously sorry and regretful for what he had done. After twelve years the wound had healed and I was very glad to hear again from someone who obviously was fond of me in a way that shows that his real feeling for me was good and appreciative, while now and always I feel he was a very lovable man.’
In May 1928, Lawrence wrote to Ottoline from Florence:
‘You’ve been an important influence in lots of lives, as you have in mine: through being fundamentally generous, and through being Ottoline. And she has moved one’s imagination. It doesn’t matter what sort of vision comes out of a man’s imagination, his vision of Ottoline. Any more than a photograph of me is me, or even ‘like me’. The so-called portraits of Ottoline can’t possibly be Ottoline – no one knows that better than an artist. But Ottoline has moved men’s imagination, deeply, and that’s perhaps the most a woman can do …’
Ottoline generously gave Lawrence the benefit of any doubt, writing:
‘The telegram from Aldous Huxley that reached me in March 1930, saying that Lawrence died peacefully, scattered all the vague hopes that I had of seeing him again. For I had always thought that we should have a time to laugh over our old quarrels, to disagree and argue, and to plan a new Elysian world.’
In a prefatory note to a later edition, Lawrence described the misery of the characters in Women in Love as occasioned by the war, although he did not expressly refer to the war. The novel was begun in 1913, and reflected the pre-war world, but the experience of war surely coloured its final text, which is shot through with the mutual isolation of the characters.
As we have heard, during summer 1915, Ottoline and Philip Morrell and daughter Julian were settling into Garsington, the manor house near Oxford that they had bought. In her memoirs Ottoline wrote:
‘… Philip had arranged a very comfortable flat at the Bailiff’s House for Bertie Russell, and I finished it and made it very comfortable … In my Journal I find:
“Bertie arrived yesterday and is settled in his rooms. I made them gay and pretty with flowers. He is gloomy and sceptical about everything, and about his own work, but it is really very good – a set of lectures on the New State; Social Reconstruction they are to be called. His brain seems to be working well, indeed very brilliantly … He went on to discuss his lectures and his view of truth – his own, of course, is scientific truth, provable by mathematics and physics, Lawrence’s is a subjective truth, something which is felt to be true, as an inward conviction that such a picture or a view is beautiful.’
Later, Ottoline remarks of Bertie:
‘He only feels life through his brain, or through sex, and there is a gulf between these two separate departments. It is this that maddens and annoys Lawrence so much in him.’
Bertie wrote to Ottoline, telling her that:
‘ … Lawrence, as was to be foreseen, is disgusted with my lecture-syllabus – it is not mystical and Blakeish enough for him. He says one ought to live from the ‘impulse towards the truth’ which he says is fundamentally in all of us. It seems to me, in him, merely an impulse to mistake his imagination for the truth … Lawrence is just as ferocious a critic as Wittgenstein, but I thought W. right and I think L. wrong.’
Nevertheless, Bertie went to spend the weekend with the Lawrences, and it seemed to go rather well, so that his hopes rose. On Monday 19 July 1915, whilst returning by train, he wrote to Ottoline:
‘We talked of a plan of lecturing in the autumn on his religion, politics in the light of religion, and so on. I believe something might be made of it. I could make a splendid course on political ideas: morality, the State, property, marriages, war, taking them to their roots in human nature, and showing how each is a prison for the infinite in us. And leading on to the hope of a happier world … Lawrence is splendid. I like his philosophy very much now that I have read more. It is only the beginning that is poor.’
Bertie’s enthusiasm for Lawrence and his philosophy, perhaps encouraged by Ottoline’s fondness for her Nottinghamshire fellow, didn’t endure. However, Lawrence also wrote to Ottoline, saying:
‘… We think to have a lecture hall in London in the autumn, and give lectures: he on Ethics, I on Immortality. Also to have meetings, to establish a little society or body around a religious belief, which leads to action. We must centre in the knowledge of the Infinite, of God … You must be president. You must preside over our meetings … We mustn’t lapse into temporality.’
What was Ottoline’s verdict on the relationship between Lawrence and Russell, whom she had brought together?
‘Could anything have made these two fine passionate men work together for the country and the causes they both so desired? I doubt it – they were both too self-centred and too intolerant of crtiticism. But when Bertie was writing Social Reconstruction they were often together, and Bertie has since told me that he was certainly stimulated by Lawrence’s ideas and introduced some of them into his book. But when Bertie showed the manuscript to Lawrence, his denunciation of it was so violent that Bertie nearly destroyed it, as Lawrence urged him to do. No, their friendship was not a lasting one. There was an instinctive enmity between the natural, impatient, and not profoundly educated man of genius, and the man who was also a genius in another sphere, where mind was the produce of long inherited leisure and discipline – an aristocrat, in fact, who possessed a mind that was a fine and delicate instrument, trained and disciplined in a university where it had had stimulating contacts with other learned men. It was true that Bertie was as great a rebel as Lawrence was, but his rebellion was a more rational one, not the wild, prophetic fury of Lawrence … ’
Joseph Conrad (3 December 1857 – 3 August 1924) and DH Lawrence (11 September 1885 – 2 March 1930) lived relatively short lives around the same time. But they weren’t fans of each other. Conrad once said of Lawrence that he “had started well, but had gone wrong. Filth. Nothing but obscenities.” He died before the publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but it doesn’t take much to imagine what he would have made of it. Conrad, like Lawrence, had an acerbic tongue, claiming Herman Melville “knew nothing of the seas” to which Lawrence retorted Melville’s “vision is . . . far sounder than Joseph Conrad’s, because Melville doesn’t sentimentalize the ocean and the sea’s unfortunates. Snivel in a wet handy like Lord Jim.” Then just to rub it in a bit, added that pessimism “pervades all Conrad and such folks—the Writers among the Ruins. I can’t forgive Conrad for being so sad and giving in.”
Both writers were subject to glowing accolades from F.R Leavis and are acknowledged for their contribution to modernism. Whereas Conrad highlighted the similarities between London and darkest Africa in Heart of Darkness, the consistently restless Lawrence couldn’t get far enough away from the metropolis, crossing the globe in order to reconnect through primitive cultures.
It is with this in mind we welcome this guest blog from author Ben Zabulis, who, like us here at the digital pilgrimage, is retracing the steps of a literary figure. The following is Ben’s account of Gavin Young’s book on Joseph Conrad.
‘I remember my youth and the feeling that will never come back any more – the feeling that I could last for ever, outlast the sea, the earth, and all men; the deceitful feeling that lures us on to joys, to perils, to love, to vain effort – to death; the triumphant conviction of strength , the heat of life in the handful of dust, the glow in the heart that with every year grows dim, grows cold, grows small, and expires, too soon, too soon – before life itself.’
So lamented Joseph Conrad (Polish-British writer) in the short-story Youth and a passage which deeply impressed a 15-year old Gavin Young: ‘Who was this unknown author telling us to wake up and start living?’ G. Young certainly did, becoming a successful writer (Return to the Marshes, Slow Boats to China) after years as a war reporter and foreign correspondent for the Observer. ‘Conrad had taught me,’ he reasoned, ‘that there was really no question of choice when a romantically inclined young man is faced with adventure and life on the one hand and a battened-down existence on the other.’ In fact, Conrad’s influence was certainly deep-rooted, Young senior bore The Mirror of the Sea as a talisman during WW2, whilst Young junior, not surprisingly, selected Youth when covering more recent upheavals: ‘a reminder that my hectic life was probably on the right track.’
It was the tiresomeness of war which pushed Gavin Young in to writing books, culminating some years later in a little hero worship and a ‘pilgrimage’ through parts of Southeast Asia: ‘a search for scenes and ghosts known to that heavily accented foreigner from Eastern Europe.’ The result, In Search of Conrad, was published in 1991; winner of the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award.
To me, In search of Conrad is a book which works on three levels: firstly, a hugely entertaining travel book in its own right as the journey directs us from Bangkok to Singapore to Indonesia; secondly, an absorbing anecdotal layer of Conrad’s maritime meanderings and, thirdly, a fascinating correlation between people Conrad encountered or had heard of during those years and their subsequent literary reincarnations. ‘Part mariner’s log and part detective story’ reckoned JG Ballard, and so it is.
All the while Gavin Young’s love of Southeast Asia resonates throughout, evidenced by colourful and romantic descriptions of landscape, folk, flora and fauna. With humour he recounts the tackling of surly bureaucracy, dodgy hotels and a number of uncomfortable trips aboard ferries and yachts, island hopping between Java, Borneo and Celebes; exotic out of the way places enriched by well-defined route maps and Salim’s superbly sketched illustrations.
One doesn’t need to be a student of Conrad’s work to enjoy this book. A Dramatis Personae introduces the cast while Gavin Young scours the region skilfully interweaving fact and fiction as to how, when and where Austin Williams became Jim (Lord Jim), while Charles Olmeijer became Kasper Almayer, Syed Abdullah Al Joofree became Syed Abdullah and Captain William Lingard became Captain Tom Lingard (Almayer’s Folly, An Outcast of the Islands and The Rescue). Anguished characters all, rivalry, ruin, love and loneliness; shortcomings in some way relevant to their real-life counterparts. And what of them? What happened next? With library research and the tracking down of surviving descendants we get to know. Immortality? Or a long forgotten resting place in a far off land? – read it and find out!
Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski (1857-1924), Gavin Young (1928-2001): ‘It was strange. I had set out to follow Conrad from his first escape from death as Second Officer Korzeniowski – I could hear Captain Henry Ellis: “Polish? Russian? God knows” – in the Bangka Strait, to malarial Borneo where he had found Almayer, and to the Gulf of Siam where he had become master of the Otago. There had been storms and cholera and pirates on the way, but in the end it had come to this – a peaceful grave in a sunny cemetery in Canterbury in Kent.’