For the last five years, Paul Fillingham and I have been working on a digital project to celebrate the life of D.H. Lawrence. We’ve done this without any funding (because we haven’t had time to apply) filling up every spare second of our evenings after a hard slog through the day job. Our intention is simple, to bring Lawrence (kicking and screaming) into the 21st century. We don’t claim to be Lawrencian experts and fully expect some of our suggestions to be ripped apart. So please do tell us when and where we have got something wrong and we will consider revisions (although not biases). Our memory theatre will contain the good, the bad and the ugly: the complexities and contradictions of a human life.
It’s taken five years because this is how long we’ve needed to immerse ourselves in Lawrence’s phenomenal literary output – and we still haven’t touched the surface. Lawrence once chided Mabel Dodge Luhan that, ‘You don’t know your floor until you have scrubbed it on your hands and knee’. We’ve taken this attitude with the memory theatre. We don’t know Lawrence until we’ve read every word written by him or about him.
Representation of any author’s work is a challenge because there are so many interpretations of their work. This is particularly true for Lawrence who has been reviled and loved across the decades. We understand how important it is to get things right. This means reading, reading, reading. Lawrence is a complex beast who can easily be misinterpreted. He can be infuriating and unbearable. Then profound and evocative. One thing he is not is mediocre.
To help challenge and cement ideas, the Memory Theatre project has been a dissertation option at Nottingham Trent University for the past four years. This has given me time to select and curate various aspects of Lawrence’s work, to identify recurring themes, and, more importantly, to understand what these themes mean to younger, digitally literate audiences. His ideas on money, industrialization, rananim, and the environment seem increasingly more relevant.
Paul has been constructing the website and coding for the project, thinking about the way the Memory Theatre can be accessed via different devices, developing the logo and branding, and visualising how the artefacts will appear. Due to Coronavirus, the memory theatre will have to be digital for now and so we need this to look right. This takes time.
Our intention was to launch the memory theatre in 2019 to mark the centenary of his self-imposed exile. But instead we are doing this today, on his 135th birthday, where we have our first artefact: Mr. Muscles. This is in recognition of his incredible work ethic, and the good spirit in which he approached life. Juliette Huxley said Lawrence cooked ‘as he did most things, with a radiating creativeness which was contagious. Even washing-up had its own charm, enriched with the satisfaction of putting everything back in its chosen place, glowing with fresh cleanliness.’
Lawrence constantly reminds us that we are transmitters of life and what we transmit has an impact on the way we perceive the world as well as the way we make others feel. Paul and I have given the memory project every ounce of our being. We hope it ‘radiates creativity,’ by pushing the boundaries of digital literary criticism and as an alternative to the linear biography.
You can visit the project website here and read the opening artefact essays using the links below.
DH Lawrence was a man famed for his rage. When I was the literature editor for LeftLion magazine I created a feature called The Endless Rage of DH Lawrence, whereby we had him mouthing off about modern problems. It was great fun to write, and a weird experience as I spent a lot of my time wondering what Lawrence would say if he was asked if he wanted a carrier bag after purchasing a pack of chewing gum in Tescos. How he would loathe the incompetence of modern life.
Lawrence’s rages could consist of an irrational outburst or simply scalding someone because he disagreed with their view point. But often his rage was born out of frustration. Take June of 1912 as an example. Lawrence had fallen in love with Frieda Weekley, a married woman and mother of three children. He persuaded Frieda to run away with him but her husband, Ernest, wasn’t making things easy for them, demanding that his wife return home or else she would never see her children again. Their affair was an absolute scandal, especially given the taboos around divorce and the prevailing morality of the time. Lawrence also had the first draft of his third novel, Sons and Lovers, rejected by William Heinemann. He needed the money in order to provide for Frieda, and so these two issues culminated in an explosive volley of vitriol to Edward Garnett, his friend and literary editor, on 3 July, 1912.
“Curse the blasted, jelly-boned swines, the slimy, the belly-wriggling invertebrates, the miserable sodding rotters, the flaming sods, the snivelling, dribbling, dithering palsied pulse-less lot that make up England today. They’ve got white of egg in their veins, and their spunk is that watery it’s a marvel they can breed. They can but frog-spawn — the gibberers! God, how I hate them! God curse them, funkers. God blast them, wish-wash. Exterminate them, slime.
I could curse for hours and hours — God help me.”
We’ve taken a few extracts from the letter and included it in the video above, which you can also find on our Instagram account. We absolutely love Lawrence when he’s in a rage. Nobody else can do spiteful and witty like him. This scathing attack on his perceived enemies suggests if Lawrence were alive today, he’d hold his own in a rap battle!
In the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to think differently about literary criticism. Instead of following a traditional linear narrative, such as a biography, we want to tell Lawrence’s life through artefacts. We believe that this is the best way to represent a complex and contradictory life. But how do we capture this rage? Perhaps we will have a drawer in our memory theatre that doesn’t quite open so that audiences get frustrated trying to interact with it. Or maybe we need a rage-ometer that calculates the velocity of Lawrence’s moods at different periods in his life. And how about your own rage? Do we need some kind of recording device so that the public can vent off about Brexit, zero hour contracts, and being forced to hear about Kim Kardashian every time we switch on the TV?
The above short is our first real promotional video for the project and one that we hope will encourage you to submit an idea that captures this most entertaining element of Lawrence’s life. The video editing was by a very talented 2nd year English student called Izaak Bosman. It was originally created for our instagram account but we’ve also reformatted it to include it on our YouTube channel.
Now get angry…
In the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. Was Lawrence’s rage some kind of coping mechanism, or was he genuinely angered by those around him? Can we trace particular moments when he was at his angriest? Perhaps we could all do with being a bit angrier today instead of hiding behind our glossy online avatars and disingenuous status updates. In 2019 we will be building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact, get involved and submit ideas here.
On Friday I made a literary pilgrimage to Beauvale Priory, the inspiration for Lawrence’s short story A Fragment of Stained Glass. This was originally submitted to the Nottinghamshire Guardian competition in December 1907 as Ruby Glass, under the pseudonym Herbert Richards. To get around rules regarding one entry per person, Lawrence also had two friends submit entries on his behalf. Louie Burrows sent in The White Stocking and Jessie Chambers submitted A Prelude, which would win the £3 prize. During this period, Lawrence was working on Laetitia, which would later be published as his debut novel The White Peacock (1911), as well as a series of poems. Clearly he was ambitious to be published. But the incident also demonstrates another defining trait – his refusal to submit to other people’s rules and expectations.
Beauvale Priory was founded in 1343 by Nicholas de Cantelupe, Lord of Greasley. The Priory was originally home to twelve monks, the third of nine houses of the Carthusian Order established in England. It was here that some Carthusian monks refused to change their faith and became the first martyrs of the Reformation in 1585. They would be known as the Carthusian Martyrs and were canonized in 1970 by Pope Paul VI. One of the martyrs was Robert Lawrence. Although no relation to DHL, not that I know of, he suffered a brutal death standing up for his rights. After a hanging intended to bring maximum pain (rather than death), he was then butchered, mutilated and quartered for his beliefs.
Lawrence opens the story with an evocative image of the changing landscape he famously described as ‘the country of my heart’.
‘Beauvale is, or was, the largest parish in England. It is thinly populated, only just netting the stragglers from shoals of houses in three large mining villages. For the rest, it holds a great tract of woodland, fragment of old Sherwood, a few hills of pasture and arable land, three collieries, and, finally, the ruins of a Cistercian abbey. These ruins lie in a still rich meadow at the foot of the last fall of woodland, through whose oaks shines a blue of hyacinths, like water, in May-time. Of the abbey, there remains only the east wall of the chancel standing, a wild thick mass of ivy weighting one shoulder, while pigeons perch in the tracery of the lofty window.’
My favourite passage is the description of the vicar of Beauvale, a bachelor of forty-two years. Lawrence informs us that ‘quite early in life some illness caused a slight paralysis of his right side, so that he drags a little, and so that the right corner of his mouth is twisted up into his cheek with a constant grimace,’ and then relates this affliction to his personality ‘his soul had some of the twist of his face, so that, when he is not ironical, he is satiric’. Given what we know about Lawrence’s own health, particularly his aversion to naming TB as anything other than an irritating catarrh, I always find his bodily descriptions and their relation to our sense of self fascinating. You only need read a few of his letters to feel the rage of his soul transferred to paper and (temporarily) removed from his being to understand the physicality of his writing.
The story divides critics. For Graham Hough it represents ‘a feeble juvenility’ with a ‘laborious… pointless narration’ whereas Joseph Baim found ‘an essentially religious vision of the redemption of a fallen, mechanical, dead society’. Whatever your interpretation, there are some classic Lawrentian themes in this early offering. Most notable is the obligatory references to nature and landscape. We learn that Martha’s hair ‘was red like beech leaves in a wind’ that the snow is the ‘colour of a moth’s wing’ and ‘the wood seemed to pursue me’. As always, nature is pulsating and alive. We ignore it at our peril. This enables Lawrence to explore the tensions between primitive cultures of the past – in this case, 15th century monks who claim to have seen ‘a malicious covetous Devil’ – with the destructive ugliness of contemporary industrialised Britain. I also sensed a bit of a nod to Robin Hood in the descriptions of outlaws in the forest entering ‘the bounds into faery realm’. Here the liminal space of the forest has mystical spiritual qualities that simply can’t exist in modernity with its emphasis on rationality and logic.
There’s barely anything left of Beauvale Priory, and the stained-glass window alluded to in the title has long gone. But there’s a nice café now, serving ridiculously large cakes, for those considering a 5.7mile trek through Lawrence’s heartlands. My visit here was part of a day trip that also took in Breach House, the inspiration for ‘The Bottoms’ in Sons and Lovers, and Brinsley Colliery where Lawrence’s father worked as a butty. I was accompanied by two students (Stephen Tomlinson and Kim Nguyen) who are helping me curate artefacts for the Memory Theatre as part of their third year dissertation module ENGL30512 (English and Creative Industries).
If you want to truly understand what Lawrence felt then you have to see the world through his eyes. For example, Sherwood Forest, or more accurately Birklands and Bilhaugh, once formed a much larger, royal hunting forest, which extended into several neighbouring shires and was bordered on the west along the River Erewash and the Forest of East Derbyshire. The Doomsday book (1086) records the forest as covering a quarter of Nottinghamshire in woodland. Although it is still pretty beautiful, with Morning Springs and High Park Woods forming a thick forest that frames the priory, you have to walk and breath in this landscape to understand how it would have felt to see it destroyed and polluted by the 10 collieries that sprung up locally during the turn of the 19th century. Indeed, Nottingham was described by Charles Deering in 1721 as a ‘garden city’ on account of the orchards, parklands and open spaces surrounding well laid out houses. A century later the city had a reputation as the worst slums in Europe on account of the factories that furnaced the industrial revolution.
Our guide for the day was Malcolm Gray, the Chair of the DH Lawrence Society, who kindly gave up his time to show us these important literary locations as well as offering insightful commentary. He even drove us around and bought us all tea and cake. We were also joined by David Amos, a mining historian who gave us the backstory to what life would be like in a mining community, and Paul Fillingham, my partner on digital literary heritage projects, who was there to answer any questions about the launch of our memory theatre in 2019.
In taking time out of the classroom, students got six hours of teaching instead of two. They had access to experts, all of whom have handed over their email addresses and are happy to offer additional support. And we managed to do a bit of psychogeography in order to better understand the complex mind of DH Lawrence: the landscape offers a kind of reading that you can’t get from books alone. In March, Stephen will be producing a short ‘visual essay’ of his visit which will be uploaded to our YouTube channel and the DH Lawrence Society can use this to promote tourism.
Beauvale Priory, New Road, Moorgreen, Nottingham NG16 2AA
In the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. How could we represent Beauvale Priory or Lawrence’s first published short story? If you have an idea about this or other artefacts you think should be included, you can submit ideas here.
Walking in the Steps of Lawrence (5.7miles) theaa.com
When Paul Fillingham and me put together a large scale digital literary heritage project we spend a good couple of years building up a portfolio of interested stakeholders. There are two main reasons we do this. Firstly, if we want to secure funding from the Arts Council then it’s vital that we secure at least 10% of our budgetary costs from private investors. This can either take the form of direct investment or support-in-kind. This reassures the Arts Council that we’re serious and that other organisations believe in what we’re doing. The second motivation concerns broadening audiences and marketing. By building partnerships with a wide variety of organisations we have lots of people promoting our project through their networks. This means a more diverse range of people visit our website and these statistics can then be used to validate funding.
Stakeholder engagement is one of nine processes that underpin UX methodology. UX methodology acts as a framework that enables us to think through each stage in the production and curation of a digital project. The ultimate purpose of UX methodology is to reduce risk, work more efficiently, achieve more value and deliver a better audience experience. If we’re getting funded by an external organisation we have a responsibility to ensure our project is value for money and that it does what it sets out to do.
Stakeholder engagement is stage two in our UX methodology. It appears pretty early on in our plans as there’s no point producing something if there’s no appetite for it. One of the key theorists for explaining this process is R. Edward Freeman of the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. In the video at the top of the page he makes some very interesting points that are worth bearing in mind when putting together a project.
Firstly, he argues: “You can’t look at any one stakeholder in isolation. Their interest has to go together and the job of a manager is to figure out how the interests of customers, suppliers, communities, employees and financiers go in the same direction.” Freeman goes on to argue that business and ethics need to work in harmony. Whereas old school industrial capitalism had a faceless approach to business due to the emphasis on the pursuit of profit, Freeman believes stakeholder theory gives a ‘face’ and ‘name’ to individuals. It humanises working relationships. He even goes as far as to suggest: “what makes capitalism work is our desire to create value for each other. Not our desire to compete. Capitalism is the greatest system of social collaboration ever invented. It’s about how we cooperate together to create value for each other.”
With this in mind I invited Sandy Mahal, the director of UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature, to a module I am teaching at NTU that equips students with the skills to create their own digital literary projects. City of Literature are a vital stakeholder in our project not only because of the prestige and validation their association brings, but also because of the contacts they can offer, the relationships they are able to build, and the knowledge and experience they can share. We also share a common ‘value’ – we believe in Nottingham’s literary heritage. In the short spell that Sandy has been in post she has overseen some very exciting projects, including Story Smash, a collaboration with libraries and the National Video Game Arcade, and, more recently, with Visit Britain. It was this latter project that I was particularly interested in.
The Discover England Fund, administered by Visit England, has made £40 million available to projects that can enhance England’s tourism to overseas visitors through the project ‘Creating England’s Literary Greats‘. Focusing on the US travel trade, the project aims to explore the demand for increased literary themed visits to England, introducing new ideas for itineraries and presenting them to US tour operators to sell in their programmes.
Brendan Moffett, chief executive of Visit Nottinghamshire said:
“This is fantastic news for Nottinghamshire and we’re thrilled to have been awarded this opportunity to test the market to see if there’s an appetite for US tourists to explore our literary legends and their attractions, including DH Lawrence Birthplace Museum and Newstead Abbey.
The concept behind the project is based on research from VisitBritain, which has found that more than a third of overseas visitors want to see places from film and literature, and that almost half visited museums, art galleries, castles or historic houses – demonstrating the significance of the UK’s heritage and culture.
As part of this project, additional research will be commissioned to test if there is a real market for more literary themed visits, and we plan on making the most of this opportunity for Nottinghamshire to learn from experts in this field such as the Shakespeare’s Birthplace Museum and Jane Austen’s House Museum.”
Given that we intend to launch our travelling Memory Theatre in 2019 to mark the hundred year anniversary since Lawrence left England and embarked on his savage pilgrimage, this is a funding opportunity that directly relates to our project on numerous levels. Therefore, inviting Sandy in gave us an opportunity to understand her aims and how our project might support or enhance them.
Historically, Nottingham has been pretty rubbish at promoting and celebrating its literary heritage. We’ve been a lot happier shouting at others rather than shouting up for ourselves. But this is changing thanks to a lot of inspirational people in Nottingham – Henry Normal, Jared Wilson, Norma Gregory, Panya Banjoko, Rob Howie Smith, Leanne Moden, Pippa Hennessy, ‘Lord’ Beestonia and Ross Bradshaw are just a few names that spring to mind. Paul and me have done our bit as well through the Sillitoe Trail, which celebrated the enduring legacy of Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, as well as Dawn of the Unread, a graphic novel celebrating Nottingham’s literary history, which City of Literature have supported by commissioning and publishing it as a learning resource to help improve literacy levels.
So far we’ve not been very good at celebrating DH Lawrence’s heritage. The recent closure of Durban House – and the flippant distribution of subsequent artefacts, as well as the building of a school that obscures a view of ‘the country of my heart’ suggest we’re stripping away our heritage rather than valuing it. This recent allocation of funding might help to address the balance.
Bearing in mind the principles of stakeholder theory and Freeman’s argument that ‘capitalism is the greatest system of social collaboration ever invented’ I think we can embrace these principles and attract tourism by constructing a very simple narrative that draws in a variety of relevant organisations. For example, after visiting the usual haunts in Eastwood, tourists could then be brought over to the Manuscripts and Special Collections department at the University of Nottingham and feast their eyes on the various Lawrence artefacts they’ve acquired over the years as well as Diana Thomson’s life-size bronze statue of Lawrence in the heart of the campus. They might take in a play at Lakeside while they are there as well. Or they could pop on the tram and head back into the city centre to visit the National Justice Museum for (pre-planned) talks on the Lady Chatterley Trial and its subsequent impact on freedom of expression. From here there’s the potential of a literary walk using local storytellers. We already have Chris Richardson (Chartism) and Ade Andrews (Robin Hood) offering bespoke walking tours, but Paul and me would be interested in putting together a Lawrence inspired walk in collaboration with the DH Lawrence Society. If there is a desire for this we could include details of walks in our memory theatre, or create an App…
There’s plenty of Lawrence sites in Nottingham. A good starting point is the Arkwright Building at NTU, formerly University College Nottingham. It was here – shortly after his 21st birthday in 1906 – that Lawrence trained to be a teacher, enrolling on a full-time degree course. Lawrence became disillusioned with the standard of teaching and left in 1908, deciding not to bother with a degree. His disillusionment is captured in the poem ‘Nottingham’s New University’ in Pansies (1929). He would be even more disillusioned at the level of education today on discovering the plaque commemorating his time at the college is wrong!
From here the tour could continue up the hill to Nottingham High School, situated upon a steep sandstone ridge. Founded in 1513, it’s the former school of Lawrence, Geoffrey Trease – author of 113 books, and more recently the playwright Michael Eaton. Around the High School are various locations that would inspire Lawrence’s debut novel The White Peacock. For those feeling energetic, a 30 minute walk down Mansfield Rd into Carrington will eventually lead to Private Road, where Lawrence met Frieda Weekley and convinced her to leave her husband and children and elope with him. The walk could finish at the Nottingham Writers’ Studio – a potential home for our memory theatre – where local writers could discuss issues from Lawrence’s life, such as the censorship they may feel as a result of their gender, ethnicity or world outlook.
All of these things are possible with proper planning and consultation. Together, Nottingham can bring real ‘value’ if people and organisations are brought into the conversation. But you can only be part of a conversation if you don’t know it’s happening, which is why I invited Sandy to come and talk to students today and why I will be inviting many other people as well. And if I haven’t invited you, dear reader, please get in touch.
In the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. We want to bring ‘value’ to his heritage and to do this we need as many collaborators as possible. If you have an idea you can submit ideas here.
In October 2016 a major cyber-attack took down high profile websites such as Paypal, Twitter and Spotify. It also took down 4 lesser known websites: Being Arthur, the Sillitoe Trail, Dawn of the Unread and Memory Theatre. These websites were all hosting digital literature projects by Paul Fillingham and I and are slowly being resuscitated.
The attacks raised an important issue regarding the future of the digital public sphere. Unless you’re a large corporation with a wealth of expert staff at your disposal, or, at the very least, a very competent and computer savvy programmer, such attacks are devastating and can completely wipe out your online presence within seconds. So much for online utopianism. So much for democracy. The more things change, the more they stay the same…
This is why this first blog post is inaccurately dated 18 February 2017. The first blog post for this D.H. Lawrence project was back around September 2015, but now we’re having to start all over again. On our official website I’m reliant on Paul Fillingham to magically restore the website so I can start blogging about our project. But as a freelancer, this is not high on his priority list. There’s the clients and the paid work. But I can’t wait any longer. Like Lawrence I’m impatient, restless, and desperate to move. So restless in fact I’m tempted to start each sentence of this blog with a verb, as Lawrence does in Sea and Sardinia. “Comes over one an absolute necessity to move. And what is more, to move in some particular direction.”
Moving we are then. At last. Not South West, as was Lawrence’s preferred direction in Twilight in Italy, nor East, when he embarked on the RMS Osterley on 26 Feb 1922 for Ceylon and the hope of “a new start.” But into the murky depths of the digital void where there is no sense of direction, no sense of beginning or end, just a kind of digital limbo. Although, technically speaking, this blog is completely fixed in time and space. It has an IPS address and so this is the first call out for visitors (or attackers) to come along.
I wonder what Lawrence would make of the hack. He was, after all, a man who preferred to throw a hand grenade into a room to see what would happen than sit down quietly in the corner. I don’t think he would appreciate the pointlessness of the hack. It would have to serve a purpose and there was no purpose served in bringing down our websites. It was too random. Undirected. But as a writer who despised the dehumanising effects of industrialisation, I think he would be appalled at our digital lives, particularly how complicit we’ve become in giving up our freedom for convenience.
The hack was successful because of our increasing reliance on the Internet of Things. Very simply this is computing devices embedded in everyday objects that are able to send and receive data via the internet. These ‘smart’ devices typically include baby monitors and thermostats, both of which can be controlled via your smartphone, down to the computer maintenance chip in your car that flashes up to tell you when you need a service. With everything increasingly being hooked up to the internet, there are more access points than ever, meaning you only need to leave one window open and boom! Game over.
No, Lawrence would have no sympathy for our plight or for anyone sucked into the glittering lights of the internet. He’d want to get as far away from the digital world as possible. “I’d wipe the machines off the face of the earth again, and end the industrial epoch absolutely, like a black mistake” he famously raged.
I hope he may forgive our “black mistake” in digitising his journey, and instead see it as another voyage of discovery, an attempt to charter unknown waters, a quest to find Rananim somewhere in the digital void before some benign force comes along and wipes us out for good.