Locating D.H. Lawrence: October 1922

Lawrence won’t tolerate tolerate bullying, even by kindness. Could this be the excuse he needed to move further away from people and begin Rananim?

It didn’t take Lawrence long to fall out with Mabel Dodge Sterne. The griping starts in September but becomes more pronounced over the following months. Until then, she’s sent an 11-point list of questions to get their proposed book collaboration under way[i]. Lawrence must have been feeling very direct on the 6 October as Robert Moutsier also gets a similar-sized list of questions[ii].

Lawrence has a lot of literary business to sort out and is ‘willing to make revisions of all sorts[iii]’ to Kangaroo though is adamant the autobiographical ‘Nightmare’ chapter must remain[iv]. E.M. Forster would describe this as ‘the most heart-rending account of non-fighting that has ever been written.[v]’ There’s ownership rights over Sons and Lovers to deal with, an article written against the Bursum Land Bill[vi],  and he writes his first poem in America, ‘Eagle in New Mexico,’ which will be added to Birds, Beasts and Flowers. Yet he still finds time to help others, sending Mountsier a ‘translation of a Dutch classic, Max Havelaar’ by an Australian he met. ‘Do something with it if you can, will you?’[vii]

Although he has ‘a gay little adobe house on the edge of the desert, with the mountains sitting under the sun’ and visits ‘hots springs’[viii]’ and rides every afternoon ‘till sundown[ix]’ along the sage-brush desert with Frieda, life is far from perfect. There are no egg cups, something Mountsier is able to procure[x]. Mountsier is sent very specific instructions on how to visit them with options and routes that would put Google Maps to shame.[xi] He is also provided with a food budget that recommends a 75-cent meal at a nearby hotel[xii]. If he does turn up, Lawrence requests he ‘bring me a couple of gold ten-dollar pieces and three or four five dollars, from the bank: for the servants at Christmas.[xiii]’    

Lawrence expresses his frustration through his definitions of freedom, which is ‘a tension like a stretched bow, which might snap[xiv]’ He complains that he doesn’t ‘breathe free[xv]’ and that in America ‘people charge at you like trucks coming down on you – no awareness’ and you have to ‘dodge aside in time’ and although this causes a yearning for the ‘mildness of Europe’ he can’t help but like the place too[xvi]. But there’s always a back-up plan. He confides to Witter Brynner, the poet who put the Lawrence’s up during their first night in Sante Fe, that if he ‘find(s) neighbours here oppressive’ he can always escape to Mexico[xvii].

October brings sad news with the death of Sallie Hopkin. She would be buried ‘down Church Street’ in Eastwood near his own family. Lawrence offers condolences to his good friend Willie Hopkin on the 25th while acknowledging ‘one uses words to cover up a crying inside one.[xviii]’ It is also at the end of the month that he begins plans to move further away from Mabel Dodge Sterne who ‘arranges one too much’. He ‘won’t be bullied, even by kindness’[xix]’ But it is her kindness that enables a possible escape in the form of the Kiowa Ranch, roughly 20 miles away. It’s in a pretty-bad state but can be remedied with a bit of love and hard graft and possibly transformed into ‘a central farm.[xx]’Could this be the Rananim he had been dreaming of?

References


  • [i] Letter to Mabel Dodge Sterne, 6 Oct 1922 (L2621)
  • [ii] Letter to Robert Mountsier, 6 Oct 1922 (L2622)
  • [iii] Letter to Thomas Seltzer, 7 Oct 1922 (L2623)
  • [iv] Letter to Thomas Seltzer, 16 Oct 1922 (L2627)
  • [v] In Bill Goldstein, The World Broke in Two, Henry Holt, 2017. p.290.
  • [vi] ‘Certain Americans and an Englishman’ pub New York Times Magazine, 24 Dec 1922. This would later appear in Dial, 1xxiv (Feb 1923 p:144-52.
  • [vii] Letter to Robert Mountsier, 25 Oct 1922 (L2635)
  • [viii] Letter to Amy Lowell, 19 Oct 1922 (L2631)
  • [ix] Letter to William Hopkin, 25 Oct 1922 (L2633)
  • [x] Letter to Robert Mountsier 27 Oct 1922 (L2637)
  • [xi] Letter to Robert Mountsier, 16 Oct 1922 (L2628)
  • [xii] Letter to Robert Mountsier, 18 Oct 1922 (L2630)
  • [xiv] Letter to Harriet Monroe, 4 Oct 1922 (L2620)
  • [xv] Letter to Robert Mountsier, 18 Oct 1922 (L2630)
  • [xvi] Letter to Amy Lowell, 19 Oct 1922 (L2631)
  • [xvii] Letter to Witter Bynner, c. Oct 1922 (L2619)
  • [xviii] Letter to William Hopkin, 25 Oct 1922 (L2633)
  • [xix] Letter to Robert Mountsier, 28 Oct 1922 (L2638)
  • [xx] Letter to Bessie Freeman, 31 Oct 1922 (L2643)

Locating Lawrence: September 1922

Lawrence ‘arrived penniless’[i] in San Francisco with less than $20[ii] to his name. But not all was doom and gloom. Mountsier had sold The Captain’s Doll for $1000 to Hearst International – the most he would ever receive for a story – although they would later release it. Still, he was able to stay in the Palace Hotel which ‘was once a corrugated iron hut where the ox-wagons once unhitched’ but was ‘now a great building with post and shops in it, like a little town in itself’[iii].  

He knew that Taos would ‘cost next to nothing[iv]’ and so this was a good opportunity to help friends or pay off old debts. Eddie Marsh (1839–1915) was sent a cheque for £20 for the generosity he showed Lawrence in November 1915 – seven years ago![v]. In another life, Lawrence would have made an excellent accountant.  

After 25 days or so at sea, Lawrence was feeling ‘landsick’ and complained that ‘the solid ground almost hurts’[vi]. It didn’t help that San Francisco was so noisy, like ‘a sort of never-stop Hades’[vii]. Another headache was the suppression of Women in Love which Thomas Seltzer would successfully defend in the courts along with a couple of his other titles.

After a lot of dilly dallying, Lawrence was finally on his way to Taos on Friday 8 September. He knew the perils of another detour on route: ‘I simply daren’t stop off at Yosemite or Grand Canyon: feel I might drop dead if any more stupendousness assails me[viii]’.

Mabel Dodge Sterne had built the Lawrence’s a ‘lovely adobe house’ and they were both ‘quite overwhelmed[ix]’. But this comes at a cost. She wants him to capture life in New Mexico as he had done in Sea and Sardinia and immediately ships him off to see a dance at the Jicarilla Apache Reservation which would lead to the essay ‘Indians and an Englishman’.

Lawrence captured the American dream in a pithy phrase: ‘shove or be shoved[x]’. But at least the Americans were buying his books, and more importantly, bringing in the money. ‘If America will accept me and England won’t,’ he carped, ‘I belong to America’[xi].  

Their home was 30 miles or so from the nearest railway and accessed via a desert. Frieda could once more revel in the temporary thrill of being still, ‘boiling wild plums that the Indians brought us[xii]’ and making jam, naturally under Lawrence’s supervision. Lawrence could once more become a stranger in unfamiliar surroundings: ‘I feel a great stranger, but have got used to that feeling, and prefer it to feeling ‘homely’. After all, one is a stranger, nowhere so hopelessly as at home[xiii]’ he informed E.M. Forster.  

Then there was the dressing up. ‘You should see me in your white riding breeches, a blue shirt, a cowboy hat, and your white tie, trotting on a bay pony[xiv]’ he informed Earl Brewster.

The environment is often a good signifier of Lawrence’s mood and once it takes on a mystical quality, you know he’s intrigued. Towards the end of September he can feel ‘a curious grudge…in the very soil itself[xv]’ and suggests that if the Taos mountains were a woman she would be Thais[xvi], the prophetess who encouraged Alexander the Great to set fire to the palaces of Persepolis.

At the time, Lawrence was polishing off the proofs of Studies in Classical American Literature whereby he analysed each writer according to his personal set of values and circumstances. The same was happening again now. It was Lawrence who had a grudge. He had a grudge against Mabel Dodge Sterne for her kindness and hospitality, all of which he finds a bit oppressive, thus America is reduced to his specific set of circumstances: ‘everybody seems to be trying to enforce his, or her, will, and trying to see how much the other person or persons will let themselves be overcome. Of course the will is benevolent, kind, and all that, but none the less it is other people’s will being put on me like a pressure[xvii]’.  

For Lawrence, this negative individual and egoistic will ‘seems to be turned against all spontaneous life[xviii]’. And it’s for this reason that ‘America is neither free nor brave, but a land of tight, iron-clanking little wills, everybody trying to put it over everybody else, and a land of men absolutely devoid of the real courage of trust, trust in life’s sacred spontaneity.[xix]’ The Star Spangled Banner is more appropriately ‘Stripes of persecution[xx]’. And with that he declares he wants to return to Europe in the spring, that Italy has his heart, and confesses a slight bit of homesickness for England, ‘though I still feel very angry against it[xxi]’.

He knows that all of this travelling is ‘a form of running away from oneself and the great problems[xxii]’ and that perhaps it is his destiny ‘to try these places’ ‘to know the world[xxiii]’ all of which brings him back to a recurring solution: ‘Only the desert has a fascination – to ride alone – in the sun in the forever unpossessed country – away from man.[xxiv]

References


  • [i] L2578 Robert Moutsier
  • [ii] L2579 Mabel Dodge Sterne
  • [iii] L2580 Baroness Anna von Richthofen
  • [v] L2598 Edward Marsh
  • [vi] L2580 Baroness Anna von Richthofen
  • [vii] L2583 Robert Mountsier
  • [ix] L2594 Thomas Seltzer
  • [x] L2597 S.S. Koteliansky
  • [xi] L2600 Martin Secker
  • [xii] L2605 Anna Jenkins
  • [xiv] L2608 Earl Brewster
  • [xvi] L2612 Harriet Monroe
  • [xx] L2587 Amy Lowell
  • [xxi] L2616 Mary Cannan
  • [xxii] L2617 Catherine Carswell

Locating Lawrence: August 1922

It was finally time to say goodbye to Thirroul and the anonymous lifestyle that had served Lawrence well. He liked the simplicity of life in Australia, with the ‘wood and tin’[i] houses where life was ‘nice’ ‘so easy, and sunny’[ii]. His next stop is America where he suspects he will stay for ‘a month or two’[iii] with a detour via the South Sea Islands.

Katherine Pritchard provided Lawrence with a set of novels, poems and plays from the likes of Louis Esson (1879 – 1943) and Furnley Maurice (1881 – 1942) but he was unimpressed as ‘they all make me feel desperately miserable. My, how hopelessly miserable one can feel in Australia’[iv]. On a more positive note, Pritchard had sent him a copy of The Black Opal – the first of her mining novels – which he kept to read on the voyage.

His correspondence during August is relatively slim, with Katherine Mansfield receiving a one-word card from her birthplace Wellington that read ‘Ricordi’[v] which means remembrances. ‘How like him’ she informed her husband John Middleton Murry.

The Lawrence’s left on the RMS Tahiti on 10 August, a ship he described as ‘like a big boarding-house staggering over the sea’[vi]. And stagger it did, sinking in 1930 after propeller failure. He visits Rarotonga on the Cook Islands for the day and finds it to be a ‘lovely island’ that is ‘tropical almost but not sweltering’ and full of ‘great red hibiscus’[vii]. And although he is gushing about the flowers, the tropics and their ‘reptile nausea’[viii] aren’t for him. ‘These are supposed to be earthly paradises: these South Sea Isles. You can have ‘em.[ix]

Then it’s off to Tahiti for two days. The island may be beautiful but he’s disappointed with the town. Papeete is a ‘poor, dull, modernish place’[x] and angers him so much he fires off a series of xenophobic and racist rants. Compton Mackenzie is warned, ‘if you are thinking of coming here don’t. The people are brown and soft’[xi] whereas Mary Cannan is told ‘Papeete is a poor sort of place, mostly Chinese, natives in European clothes, and fat.’[xii]

Lawrence was a pigeon-chested workaholic who loved hard graft. Presumably, ‘soft’ ‘fat’ people offended his work ethic which may explain why he starts longing for Taormina, so he can once more admire the local peasants working bare chested in the garden, though they inevitably annoyed him too.

At Tahiti he has the misfortune to bump into a ‘Crowd of cinema people who have been making a film.’[xiii] This was Lost and Found on a South Sea Island (1923 dir. R.A. Walsh) and involves Captain Blackbird rescuing his daughter from warring natives on Pago Pago. Nice.  

Lawrence described the cinema people as ‘undistinguished’ and ‘common.’[xiv] This may be because he saw cinema as an emotional barrier that disconnected people from their feelings. ‘The pictures are cheap, and they are easy, and they cost the audience nothing, no feeling of the heart, no appreciation of the spirit[xv]’ he wrote a few years earlier in The Lost Girl (1920). Raymond Williams he was not.

But when we dig a little bit deeper beneath the moaning and insults, we get to the heart of the real problem. For 25 days he has been confined on a boat, albeit in first class, with 60 passengers and ‘one simply aches to be alone, away from them all’ as he had been in Australia. ‘To be alone, and to be still, is always one of the greatest blessings. The more one sees of people, the more one feels it isn’t worth while[xvi]’.

He would soon have his wish. A tiny cabin 8,600 feet above sea level awaited him in high up in New Mexico.    

References 


  • [i] Letter to S.S. Koteliansky, 8 August 1922
  • [iii] Letter to William Siebenhaar, 2 August 1922
  • [iv] Letter to Katherine Pritchard, 6 August 1922
  • [v] Letter to Katherine Mansfield, 20 August 1922
  • [vi] Letter to Lady Cynthia Asquith, 20 August 1922
  • [vii] Letter to Earl Brewster, 20 August 1922
  • [viii] Letter top Mary Cannan, 31 August 1922
  • [x] Letter to Catherine Carswell, 22 August 1922
  • [xi] Letter to Compton Mackenzie, 22 August 1922
  • [xii] Letter to Mary Cannan, 31 August 1922
  • [xv] For an analysis of DHL’s views on cinema see Linda R. Williams (1993) Sex in The Head Visions of Femininity and Film in D.H. Lawrence, Taylor and Francis.
  • [xvi] Letter to Mary Cannan, 31 August 1922

Locating Lawrence: July 1922

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

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

Design James Walker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo A.D. Forrester (1922)

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

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

References


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

Locating Lawrence: June 1922

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh Mabel, what have you let yourself in for?

References


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

Seething and Sardinia

In January 1921, D.H. Lawrence and the ‘Q-B’ left Sicily for Sardinia. Six weeks later Lawrence penned his infamous travel book in which he puts forward a series of fanciful claims about the country he spent a total of nine days in. Lawrence is literature’s number one mard arse, raging against everyone and everything. He has made moaning an art form. The late Kevin Jackson described him as ‘the John Cleese of literary modernism’ in an essay I commissioned for Dawn of the Unread and Geoff Dyer applied what can only be described as ‘method writing’ when he imitated Lawrence’s restlessness in Out of Sheer Rage. Lawrence, however, is also incredibly perceptive, intelligent, and poetic, a writer quite like no other – though not for everyone.

Having read Sea and Sardinia numerous times, not least to mark the centenary of its publication, I created the above video which references Lawrence’s comical raging. There are eleven references to rage in the book, most of which are triggered by impudence – which gets fourteen references.

The video was created in Canva, a graphic design template programme which has a simple drag and drop interface. It uses a fremium model, and so you might want to subscribe to unlock some of the special features, but so far, I’ve managed to cobble stuff together via the basic subscription. The animations are really useful, and you can upload your own images if you can’t find what they have in their database.

In terms of identifying patterns in literary texts, this has become a lot easier with digitisation. The book is out of copyright and available online so you can copy and paste it into Word to find key words. To think that once upon a time, I used to go through a book with a highlighter pen…         

This is our 35th YouTube video. Check out the others at our YouTube channel D.H. Lawrence: A Digital Pilgrimage. If you like the book, you might want to take a look at Return to Sea and Sardinia, a film which retraces Lawrence’s steps via the vivid images of photographer-director Daniele Marzeddu.

‘I was born in September, and love it best of all the months’

I first read Lawrence’s debut novel The White Peacock (1911) about five years ago. I remember being struck by the vivid descriptions of landscape and what felt like a reference to a flower, plant or tree on every page. Flowers will feature in some capacity as an artefact in the Memory Theatre and so I recently reread the book, but this time with a highlighter. As Cyril Beardsall drags you across the fields of Nethermere, you’re presented with a sensory overload that at times felt like it may induce hay fever. Here’s one such example:

“The evening scents began to awake, and wander unseen through the still air. An occasional yellow sunbeam would slant through the thick roof of leaves and cling passionately to the orange clusters of mountain-ash berries. The trees were silent, drawing together to sleep. Only a few pink orchids stood palely by the path, looking wistfully out at the ranks of red-purple bugle, whose last flowers, glowing from the top of the bronze column, yearned darkly for the sun.”

My intention is to create a YouTube video to capture the breadth of such references but given that there are so many, they need to be categorised and ordered first. This is going to take a while and so it’s another project on the backburner. In the meantime, I came across this description of September in the novel which was begging to be made into a short video:

“I was born in September, and love it best of all the months. There is no heat, no hurry, no thirst and weariness in corn harvest as there is in the hay. If the season is late, as is usual with us, then mid-September sees the corn still standing in stook. The mornings come slowly. The earth is like a woman married and fading; she does not leap up with a laugh for the first fresh kiss of dawn, but slowly, quietly, unexpectantly lies watching the waking of each new day. The blue mist, like memory in the eyes of a neglected wife, never goes from the wooded hill, and only at noon creeps from the near hedges.”

John McCarthy, who previously created our Suez Canal video, was up for making another and so eagerly got to work on it, spending a day in a forest to capture the necessary shots. My brief was to create slow lingering shots so that Lawrence’s evocative descriptions took precedence; to not be on the nail when matching images to text but rather to capture the mood and feeling of the season. I find myself swaying as I type this. Once more he’s done a smashing job.    

Lawrence was born on 11 September 1885 and each September sees a variety of events hosted as part of the D.H. Lawrence Festival – of which I am a council member. This year this includes a Lawrence/Leavis Day of talks followed by a birthday lecture by Keith Cushman entitled: ‘Affirmation and Anxiety in Lady Chatterley’s Lover’. As with any work you produce, being time specific is one way of generating interest.

The quote also means a lot to me because of the references to ‘the corn still standing in stook’. I grew up in a mining village south east of Nottingham and our street backed right out onto corn fields. My childhood was spent getting scratches from corn and dodging Combine Harvesters whereas my fiancé would help her father erect stooks when he worked seasonally as a farm labourer.

One of our favourite activities in summer is to laze about in fields listening to birdsong and watching the farmers cut the hay when they know there’s a few days of sunshine and it can be safely left out to dry. On such occasions we’ve witnessed an owl meandering low through the fields on the hunt for field mice and counted the vast array of plants and flowers growing in the hedgerow. All of which helps transport us momentarily from the 24/7 thrust of technocratic culture into a simpler and calmer world where it’s ok to pause and observe. And because of Lawrence, I now want to know the name of every plant and flower I’m looking at. This is what good literature does. It broadens your horizons, it makes you restless and inquisitive, it helps you see the world in a different light.   

Further reading

  • If you want to know why you shouldn’t mess about with Combine Harvesters read Joe Speedboat by Tommy Wieringa
  • For information about the D.H. Lawrence festival see the dhlawrencesociety.com
  • If you want to learn how to identify wild flowers visit nhbs.com
  • Melissa Harrison’s podcast The Stubborn Light of Things is a good starting point for learning more about nature visit melissaharrison.co.uk
  • For an interesting interpretation of Lawrence’s first novel see ‘(R)evolutionary Fears and Hopes in The White Peacock‘ at Études Lawrenciennes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extract of letter used in the film below:

“My Dear Rosalind, 

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

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

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

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

Further reading  

Student Essay: Dialect in the work of DH Lawrence

As part of our memory theatre project, we have created space for students at Nottingham Trent University to explore their own interpretations of Lawrence’s work. Here Jonathan Lucas explores Lawrence’s use of dialect as part of his final year English dissertation.

DH Lawrence had a special relationship with his native dialect, using the local vernacular speech of the mining community in his hometown Eastwood. Dialect acts as a prominent and dynamic symbol in many of his works, infusing depictions of his childhood experience with a certain raw authenticity that transcends words on a page.

In a late poem entitled ‘Red-herring’, Lawrence describes himself and his siblings as ’in-betweens’ and ‘little nondescripts’ speaking the Received Pronunciation they learned from their mother, Lydia, inside the house and the less respectable dialect, of their father Arthur and the rest of the town, outside it.

The breach between these two forms of speech had a significant impact on Lawrence’s perception of relationships between masculine and feminine, which he expresses in his semi-autobiographical novel, Sons and Lovers. To portray the rift in his upbringing, Lawrence based the characters of Walter and his wife Gertrude on his own parents, featuring intense bi-dialectic confrontations between the two, with Walter speaking in Eastwood dialect and Gertrude speaking in Received Pronunciation.

In both Sons and Lovers and The Rainbow, there is an impulse, largely associated with women, to break out of the parochial community that they feel trapped in. In a community marked off from the wider world through distinctive ways of speaking, characters such as Gertrude provide an alternative to the mould through their speech, mirroring Lydia and her desire to secure respectability for her sons, beyond the community of Eastwood. Lydia’s efforts worked as Lawrence’s ability to code switch from dialect to Received Pronunciation assisted in his transposed success, especially when he won a prestigious Nottinghamshire County scholarship to Nottingham High School, an extraordinary achievement for the son of an Eastwood miner.

Lawrence would go on to travel the world, escaping the mining community that would become the focus of much of his work. His dialect had personal connotations of primitive, masculine energy that he associated with his father – which he makes reference to in his essay ‘Nottingham and the mining country’: “The life was a curious cross between industrialism and the old agricultural England of Shakespeare and Milton and Fielding and George Eliot. The dialect was broad Derbyshire, and always ‘thee’ and ‘thou.’ The people lived almost entirely by instinct; men of my father’s age could not really read.”

The rudimentary essence of dialect is affectionately expressed in the description of the miners in Women in Love: “Their voices sounded out in strong intonation, and the broad dialect was curiously caressing to the blood. It seemed to envelop and run in a labourer’s caress, there was in the whole atmosphere, a resonance of physical men, a glamourous thickness of labour and maleness surcharged in the air.” The physicality of the miners’ bodies is what makes their dialect speech so powerful that it ‘caresses the blood’. The thick dialect courses through the miners’ veins and evaporates in the vibrations of their voices, creating an atmosphere humid with ‘a resonance of physical men’.

The notion of dialect being embedded into one’s blood as a pulse of instinctive life is something Lawrence was vocal about early on in his career, exemplified in a letter when he tells Blanche Jennings that his “verses are tolerable-rather pretty, but not suave; there is some blood in them.” Referring to the integrity within his use of un-refined words and syntax as ‘blood’ highlights how essential Lawrence considered dialect to be in his body of work. In the same letter, Lawrence goes on to say that he prioritises “sincerity, and a quickening spontaneous emotion” in his writing, a sense of immediate passion which is represented through dialect.

Lawrence’s poem ‘The Drained Cup’ ascribes dialect to a woman to show that the raw primitive instinct of his father is not exclusive to males. By using the same deliberately unrefined and explicit language as before, but through a female persona dealing with her lover’s unfaithfulness, Lawrence criticises masculine primitive instinct: “A man like thee can’t rest till the last of his spunk goes out of ‘im into a woman”. This string of monosyllabic words leading to the disyllabic “woman” illuminates how all of the lover’s masculine energy, his “spunk”, is focused towards women, thereby being impotent in the absence of a woman to direct it to.

This is reinforced later in the poem when ‘spunk’ then yields to ‘blood’: “Tha’rt one o’ th’ men as has got to drain-an I’ve loved thee for it. Their blood in a woman, to the very last vain” – this reduces men to their material substance – ‘spunk’ and ‘blood’ are all that men are good for in this instance.

Using dialect, Lawrence expresses the unrestrainable nature of humans, articulating obsessions with immediate and physical reality, exploring the collective primitive instinct that is shared by all but repressed by some and embraced by others – regardless of gendered boundaries constructed by society.

Dialect is the second artefact in the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre. Visit our project website to see contextual essays by Natalie Braber

A Raight Racket: Dialect in D.H. Lawrence’s writing.

To celebrate ‘dialect,’ the second artefact in the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre, I’ve written this short story using dialect referenced in Lawrence’s work. It’s read out by members of Lawrence Country, providing a blend of accents from the Notts/Derbyshire border. The video is edited together by Izaak Bosman, a talented lad from Wollaton who is currently doing a PhD at Cambridge.

I heard a raight racket outside and thought to mysenwhat’s a gait now’. From mi window I gorped at a Bertie Willie arguing with a batchy gel. I decided to go out and see what wor happening and put mi coat on because it wor a bit nippy.

She looked like a raight besom to mi. The kind that would bezzle a week’s wages down her neck in one innings before blorting. But it was no wonder she turned to drink, given the chelp and bully-ragging she was getting from this young jockey.

Folk are always caffling and chuntering on our street. It’s usually summat to do with spending too much time with someone you shouldn’t be spending any time with which leads to a bit of colley-foglin’ . They should get it out their system before bobbling off down the aisle, if you ask mi.

But love makes a gaby of us all in the end, unless you’re a mean wizzen hearted stick. So, there’s no point tip callin’ on others. You can grizzle as much as you like and mard away the evening on your own, but we all know us would lief be with a lover than without. There in’t owt we can do to change it.  

Anyway, that’s my harporth on the matter. I maun skedaddle. And remember mi words. Don’t be mingy with the ones you love. Life is too short to skinch on emotions. Sometimes you’ve got to be a bit slikey other times you need a drop o’ the lashins. Just do what works for yersen. Now, stop listening to me wafflin on and ger whoam.

The references in this dialect story all appear in Lawrence’s work. See below for the full list.

  • ‘I’ll stand no more of your chelp
  • ‘He thinks himself slikey’

A Collier’s Friday Night

  • ‘What am I to wesh mysen for?’
  • ‘Tha s’lt go whoam, Willy, tha s’lt go whoam’
  • ‘Tha’rt skinchin!’
  • ‘You may back your life Lena an’ Mrs. Severn’ll be gorping, and that clat-fartin’ Mrs. Allsop’

A Sick Collier

  • ‘They’re the mingiest set of ladylike snipe ever invented’

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

  • ‘I’ll teach you, my jockey! Do you think I’m going to spend my life darning after your destructive little teeth!’

Rex

  • ‘Three haporth o’ pap’
  • ‘A mean, wizen-hearted stick’
  • ‘I’d as lief be neighbours with a vixen’
  • ‘An’ has ter eaten owt?’
  • ‘There’s money to bezzle with if there’s money for nothin’ else’

Sons and Lovers

  • ‘Eh, tha’rtamard-arsed kid’

The Collier’s Wife

  • ‘Tha wor blortin’ an’ bletherin’ down at th’ office a bit an’ a mighty fool tha made o’ thysen’
  • ‘Tha has a bit too much chelp an’ chunter
  • ‘An they would ha’ believed it, but for Hewett bully-raggin‘ Bettesworth ‘cos he knowed he was a chappil man’
  • ‘Thinks I to myself, she’s after a town johnny, a Bertie-Willie an’ a yard o’ cuffs’
  • ‘I thought tha’d bobbled off ter Manchester ter be i’ safety’
  • ‘Serve her right, for tip callin‘ wi’m all those years’
  • ‘What’s ‘er grizzlin’ about?’
  • ‘What’s a-gait now?’ 

The Daughter-in-Law

  • ‘Go then, sin’ tha maun’
  • ‘Listen, I’m tellin’ thee summat

The Drained Cup

  • ‘If ever Alvina entered a clean house on a wet day, she was sure to hear the housewife chuntering’
  • ‘If you share nivver a drop o’ the lashins’
  • ‘Seems yer doin’ yersen a bit o’ weshin’

The Lost Girl

  • ‘Swimming, like – like a puff o’ steam wafflin
  • ‘It’s not many as can find in their heart to love a gaby like that’
  • ‘To think of that brazen besom telling us to go home and go to bed’
  • ‘Soft, batchy, sawney’

The Merry-go-Round

  • ‘It’s raight for thaigh, said a fat fellow with an unwilling white moustache’
  • ‘An’ I reckon there wor a bit of a to-do between ‘em, worn’t there, Maggie?’
  • ‘No – an’ mi mower says, Dun gie ‘t ‘im’

The White Peacock

  • ‘He’d got a game on some- where- toffed himself up to the nines, and skedaddled off as brisk as a turkey- cock’

The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd

  • ‘Then what art colley- foglin’ for?’
  • ‘To think I should ‘ave ter ‘affle an’ caffle
  • ‘My gel, owt’U do for a man I’ the dark, Tha’s got it flat’

Whether or Not

  • ‘Outside in the street there was a continual racket of the colliers and their dogs and children’

Our second artefact is Dialect…

The second artefact in the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre is dialect. We will be posting content on our website over the next couple of months. Here’s why we think dialect is important.

During lockdown people have been doing really creative stuff, like playing the mandolin while roller-skating or learning to bake sourdough while blindfolded. We, on the other hand, have been counting how many times D.H. Lawrence uses the greeting ‘duck’ in his work.

On one level, this is the kind of futile distraction that epitomises lockdown. But it has a more serious function as well. How important was dialect in his work? What function did it serve? How successful was he in using it? Geoffrey Trease, for example, believes Lawrence’s best writing was dialogue in his plays. As his earlier plays are set in mining communities, they all use a lot of dialect.

One of the best known examples of dialect in Nottingham is duck. It’s ok to greet anyone with duck – irrespective of their age, gender or any other ism you can think of. This is something I previously explored in the BBC Radio 4 series Tongue and Talk: The Dialect poets. Across his novels, plays, poems and short stories, Lawrence references ‘duck’ 15 times in total. It appears most in his debut novel, The White Peacock, with four mentions.

In the short film above, lovingly edited together by Izaak Bosman, we’ve asked various people to read these quotes out to give you a flavour of the Notts/Derbyshire accent. These voices are drawn from different areas, including Mansfield, Wollaton, Sherwood, Southwell, Eastwood and beyond. Some are read by born and bred locals, others have moved here from different cities and countries.

We’re currently working on another dialect video and have asked members of Lawrence Country, an Alt-Country & folk band from the Bagthorpe Delta, to read it out. We love what they do and how they incorporate the sentiments and landscapes of Lawrence’s life and work into their songs, so this was an excuse to collaborate.

Dialect is the second artefact for our memory theatre and these videos will accompany contextual essays on language by Natalie Braber. We’ve also created a dialect alphabet using words directly used in Lawrence’s work. This is being used in the ‘Questioning the Canon’ module at Nottingham Trent University where students are being asked to create their own stories using words from the alphabet and to find equivalent words from their own region.

Design James Walker.

The Dialect Alphabet (which is being released on our Instagram and Twitter accounts before the website) has already caused much debate. For example, for ‘A’ we selected addle. However, some people have asked why we didn’t plump for ‘Ayup’ which is the standard greeting for hello in Notts. The reason for this is simple: No matter how ubiquitous this expression is in everyday language it doesn’t appear anywhere in Lawrence’s work.   

Dialect serves many functions. It can be used to denote a position of class, education and work. Given these influences, dialect is subject to change. For example, the last operating deep coal mine in the UK, Kellingley colliery, closed in December 2015. As industries decline, the names for tools and working practice slowly lose relevance and a whole way of life is slowly eroded.

For Jackie Greaves, a former guide at the Birthplace Museum, dialect and accent are about belonging. Hearing the Eastwood accent spoken is comforting and integral to identity. But not everyone approves of these sentiments. The philosopher, Stephen Alexander, is suspicious of whether phallic tenderness – the attempt to directly translate feelings and desire through language – can ever be truly authentic. Nor does he like the idea of ‘small groups of people – tribes – retreating into semi-private languages in order to uphold some narrow identity and exclude others’. Stephen has also submitted an artefact to our memory theatre which will be published later next year.

Whatever our thoughts on dialect, Lawrence was arguably the first author to write from the ‘inside’ about life in mining communities. He gave validity to the lives he described, paving the way for critics such as Raymond Williams to later declare that ‘culture is ordinary’. Language is political. On the most basic level, some people have the power to speak and others don’t. But a further nuance of this issue is how you speak – the tone, emphasis, choice of words.   

Please visit www.memorytheatre.co.uk to see the artefacts in our memory theatre