#Monday Blogs: Lawrence and Brett 2: Changing Rooms.

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Artwork: James Walker/Izaak Bosman. Dorothy Brett (L) Frieda Lawrence (M) Mard arse (R)

In March 1924, Lawrence gave New Mexico another go. This time he returned with the deaf painter Dorothy Brett. In our second blog, drawn from Brett’s memoir Lawrence and Brett: A Friendship, we see the friends working tirelessly to renovative cabins in order to create Rananim.  

When Dorothy Brett accompanied Lawrence and the QB to New Mexico, there was a lot of hard graft ahead of them in order to transform dilapidated cabins into liveable homes. The biggest cabin stank as it was full of cow dung and required more than a quick tidying up. Rotten props had to be removed and new ones erected in order to stop the structure from collapsing. This is why Geoff Dyer in Out of Sheer Rage describes Lawrence as ‘perhaps the first great DIYer in English literature’.

During these renovations, everyone had a role during the long and hot days. While Lawrence was working with the Indians, ‘Frieda cooks, lies on her bed smoking, cooks again’. One of the worst jobs was cleaning the roof but Lawrence never shirked his responsibilities. ‘With a handkerchief bound round your mouth, you have been sweeping the rat-dirt and nests out with a small dustpan and brush. You come crawling out, looking white and tired…Nothing will prevent you from doing the same hard work that the Indians do, however dirty and disagreeable. You have to share the worst with the best, even the dirt and heat in the roof. You will not ask the Indians to do anything that you are not willing to do yourself. And you insist on giving them plenty to eat.’

Brett’s role during these early days was to chop up the wood Lawrence had felled for kindling and to collect water from the spring. Mabel and Tony Luhan go to and fro to Taos in the car, returning with ‘pots and pans and comforts’ and more labourers when required. Everyone had a role. In the evening the friends relax by singing old Scotch and English ballads and then invite Candido and the other Indians to join them on realising their crooning was making them feel lonely.

Although Lawrence enjoyed the renovation work, he was equally happy to play ‘mother’. When Candido badly damaged his finger, Brett observes him ‘gently, and with deft, careful fingers, you wash the wound and lay the boiling poultice on the finger. Candido draws back with a cry; you blow on the poultice, lifting it off his finger. Slowly you lower it again.’ During the evening Lawrence renewed the poultice three times, instructing Candido to return the next day for a new one. Another example of his caring side came when Lawrence noticed that their neighbours Rachel and Bill Hawk weren’t back from a trip and he ‘became anxious for the cows’.  He herded them in and milked them, returning each day to repeat the process until the Hawk’s returned. As it turned out their car had broken down and so they were thankful for Lawrence’s foresight, though more shocked that he knew how to milk cows.

Although Lawrence was determined to live self-sufficiently, occasionally he was defeated. On one occasion he tried to make mats out of rope and wire for two stone seats and sat ‘fumbling and struggling, swearing, as you twist the stiff wire round the obstinate rope’. He completed one mat but never bothered to do the second one.

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I love this picture. Mabel Dodge Luhan dressed like a princess, Frieda fagging it, and Dorothy Brett in long boots that concealed a knife.

But of course all of this community building and bonding was temporary. One evening as they are sat around a fire Brett notices Mabel’s eyes are ‘flaring’, Frieda’s eyes are ‘darting about’ and Lawrence is ‘silent’. Her deafness means that she is unable to pick up on exactly what’s triggering the mood, but soon finds out it’s her when Lawrence scalds her for showing no respect to him or Frieda. ‘Your voice is rising higher and higher. I take hold of your wrist, lightly between my finger and thumb, and say very quietly: ‘No, Lawrence, that isn’t so.’ You stop, hesitate; then Frieda pops out of your bedroom and goads you on, shouting at both of us. You begin again, but I still hold your wrist in that light hold, repeating quietly that it is not so. Your anger dies down; you stop suddenly and give me a queer look – it is over.’

Brett gets a very unfair showing in Mabel Dodge Luhan’s memoir, mainly because Luhan saw Brett as a competitor for Lawrence’s affections. She victimised Brett for her deafness, claiming ‘it was not a jolly, sociable ear trumpet that longed to be a part of everything else. I soon saw that it was an eavesdropper. It was a spy upon any influence near Lorenzo.’ But the reality is her deafness created a barrier that meant she was unable to join in group conversations and suddenly found herself under attack. By my interpretation, Brett is a gentle and kind spirit who is scapegoated by the group. This is evident throughout her memoir, though she never explicitly uses this for sympathy. But the reason they became such close friends, as far as I can see, is that her calm demeanour helped to offset Lawrence’s sporadic rages. Like any successful relationship, their differences complimented each other.

One way that Lawrence helped cope with his rages was by chopping wood. ‘You have no idea how soothing to it is to the nerves’ he explained to Brett. ‘When I am in a temper, I like to run out into these quiet woods and chop down a tree; it quiets the nerves. Even chopping wood helps; you’ve no idea, Brett, how much it helps. That’s why I like doing it.’ As Brett joined him on such trips, this increased the jealousy among the women. This wasn’t helped when Frieda accompanied them one day and Lawrence asked her to sit on the wood while he and Brett worked the double saw, ‘as you are the heaviest’.

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Thinking of making a pilgrimage of your own? More info at friendsofdhlawrence.org

Brett would be continually punished for her friendship with Lawrence by the other women in his life. Frieda would eventually limit her visits to the cabin to three times a week whereas Mabel Dodge Luhan would completely exclude Brett by not inviting her to the Hopi Snake Dance, which meant a fortnight on her own. These sporadic bouts of spitefulness must have hurt, yet Brett retains a dignified tone throughout her memoir with none of the sniping that imbues Mabel Dodge Luhan’s account. When Brett does take a pop at Luhan she does it very subtly, describing her flirtatious ways as ‘lying lazily in our chairs…ties a bright cherry coloured ribbon round her hair. Then she lies back and twirls a bit of hair between her fingers’. When Luhan heads off to Taos it’s because ‘her restless energy has little outlet in the quiet life of the Ranch.’

Despite enjoying building a new home together, Frieda naturally pined for her children which antagonised Lawrence. Their arguments would lead to Frieda being nicknamed ‘Angry Winter’ by the Indians. Lawrence, for the record, was ‘Red Fox’. Brett recalls one incident where she and Frieda were disturbed by ‘considerable scuffling’ coming from the chicken house. When they looked out the window, Lawrence emerged with a squawking hen held upside down by her legs. She is swiftly taken to the woodpile and her head is adroitly chopped off. ‘You leave the hen twitching headless on the ground and come in. ‘Damn her,’ you say, ‘She was brooding again; after all the trouble I took hanging her for days up in that box to cool her underneath, she still brooded. So I’ve chopped off her head. Serves her right, too!’ Although Brett does not elude any symbolism to the event, it certainly reads as a curt warning to Frieda.

With most of the work done Lawrence now had more time to write, heading into the woods ‘in the quiet, still morning, with your copybook under your arm and your fountain pen…sometimes one can glimpse you through the trees, sitting leaning up against the trunk of a pine tree in your blue shirt, white corduroy pants and big, pointed straw hat’. It would appear that Lawrence was only able to write if he had other distractions to occupy him. Kai Götzsche could testify to this, having spent the backend of 1923 on a futile trip with Lawrence across Old Mexico. Writing to Knud Merrild on 22 October 1923 he observes:  ‘He needs, in a high degree, something else to think about, and something else to do besides his writings. I am absolutely sure that he would feel happier and live more happily if he could go out for a few hours a day, and have some work to do, milk a cow or plough a field. As he lives now, he only writes a little in the morning and the rest of the day he just hangs around on a bench or drifts over to the market place, hands in pocket, perhaps buying some candy, fruit, or something. If he could only have access to a kitchen, so he could make our food, that would occupy him for a couple of hours.’

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Dorothy Brett’s cabin. Picture taken from The University of New Mexico

In New Mexico, Brett had the smallest cabin of the three friends. But she doesn’t complain about her humble abode: ‘My house has no room at all, except for a bed, the smallest stove imaginable, a table in the window, and a chair squeezed between the table and the bed. It is sunny and warm, but very leaky.’ Brett enjoyed painting the incredible landscape from her cabin, and Lawrence, when he wasn’t offering criticism of her technique, would come and borrow turpentine which he painted onto the horses to help keep off flies. The effect was calamitous, with the horses ‘kicking and rolling and pawing up earth with their front hoofs to try and stop the stinging’. In the future they used salted lard instead.

Although Lawrence loved to get his hands dirty, all of this DIY took its toll on his health. Brett recalls him always spitting, and when he once spat red blood she pretended not to see. This was traumatic for Brett as she had previously witnessed Katherine Mansfield burst a blood vessel while talking to her. Mansfield died of extrapulmonary tuberculosis earlier in the year, on 9 January 1923. Experience had taught Brett not to confront Lawrence, a man always in denial about his health, about such matters. This was left to Frieda, who persuaded him to rest in bed. But when she called for a doctor it put Lawrence in a rage ‘with a violence that is overpowering’. ‘How dare you’ he screamed, before launching an iron egg ring at Frieda’s head.

Brett opted for gentler distractions as a means of helping Lawrence cope with his illness, catching a hummingbird fluttering on her windowsill and presenting it to him. ‘I hurry over to your house and take it to you. ‘What is it?’ you ask. ‘Be careful,’ I reply, ‘and don’t let it fly away. Hold out your hands.’ I place the bird carefully in them, and you sit there holding it. A look of amazement, followed by another of almost religious ecstasy comes into your face as the tiny fluff of feathers sits in your hand, the long beak tapering and sharp, the gorgeous metal splendour of the green and blue throat shimmering. Suddenly, with a laugh, you toss it into the air.’

Brett is incredibly perceptive, observing and rationalising Lawrence’s behaviour throughout her memoir to paint a powerful picture of this complex and contradictory man. For example, while riding in single file down the old Questa road to San Cristobal Canyon she wonders why Lawrence is always looking at the ground while she looks up at the trees and the sky ‘and then it suddenly dawns on me: you are looking for flowers – and flowers there are among all the tangled undergrowth’. Their journey takes them along the white and red rocks of Red River to Columbine Lake, which would inform the drama of Lawrence’s short story The Princess.

Lawrence and Brett enjoyed a very close friendship in New Mexico. They enjoyed long horseback rides together, worked well as a team fixing up the cabins, and she was a dab hand at shooting and fishing, thereby providing supper when needed. I’m convinced that her deafness was pivotal to their close friendship, as it enabled them to simply be without the hindrance of words. But Lawrence couldn’t sit still for long and inevitably it didn’t take long before he had the urge to move on.

In order to do this he needed to unsettle himself from the good life he had worked so hard to create. Paranoia and bitter resentment that everyone was out to get him worked well as catalysts for change. As Brett observes: ‘You are bitter, jeering at everyone, turning every thought, every action of all your friends, past and present, to ridicule. Nobody is honest, nobody is anything but a coward, a traitor, utterly false and despicable. Why? God knows…the urge to move, to travel, is on you once more.’

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. How can we capture his DIY skills? Those long horse rides into the San Cristobal Canyon? His friendship with Dorothy Brett? 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.

FURTHER READING

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Lorenzo in Taos 3: Mabeltown

 

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Mabel Dodge Luhan’s home in Taos, New Mexico.

Born in 1879, Mabel Dodge Luhan (MDL) had a difficult childhood. Her controlling wealthy parents were incapable of affection meaning her childhood was lived ‘in a rigid unlovely inescapable pattern.’ Art offered her the emotional connection missing from family life and would lead to her finding escapism as a patron of the arts in Taos, New Mexico. It was here that she hoped to build a colony that would offer an alternative to the mechanical modernism of Western society. Lawrence arrived in September, 1922 but their relationship would turn sour due to a clash of personalities.

Her memoir of their time together is absolutely bonkers; a mixture of psychic discord and infatuation, laced with snipping comments. Take this early description of Lawrence. She makes it quite clear that he’s not her type, yet throughout her memoir she pines for his attention. ‘(He) is tall, but so slightly built and so stooped that he gives the impression of a small man. His head seems too heavy for his slim body and hangs forward. The whole expression is of extreme fragility…He has very large, wide-apart grey eyes, a long, slender face with a chin that is out of proportion long, a defect that is concealed by the aforesaid beard. His upper lip protrudes from his dainty decoration of the beard in a violent red that makes his beard look pink. In the midst of all this, is a very podgy, almost vulgar, certainly undistinguished nose.’

Lawrence’s slenderness is in stark contrast to Frieda’s solidity, something MDL is keen to point out again and again in their opening encounter (as recorded in our previous blog). But after sending Lawrence out to see an Apache Fiesta with her ever so considerate husband Tony, she has the opportunity to spend a bit of time with Frieda. She observes she is better company when Lawrence isn’t around, ‘as is the case with all wives’.

But MDL isn’t interested in bonding with the earthy Frieda – who prefers fags to fonts – she only has eyes for Lawrence. Hoping that he will pen a novel about her journey from New York to New Mexico, she invites him over to her place but makes the mistake of not getting dressed. Lawrence, despite his reputation as a smutty author, was, by all accounts, a bit of a prude. Her casual attire no doubt made him feel uncomfortable, an unnecessary sexual pressure. In Dorothy Brett’s memoir, she notes how ‘you do not care to be touched, to be pawed. Necking makes you furious. Your sex is not to be played with, nor to be belittled by playfulness. It is serious, a danger to be respected as the tiger is respected, hidden in the jungle.’

It’s not surprising, then, that he immediately reported back to Frieda who from that point onwards insisted they work in their house while she was around. This was immensely frustrating for all involved and denied MDL ‘the opportunity to get at him and give him what I thought he needed’. The lack of privacy meant she was unable to ‘unload my accumulation of power’ on him. And so begins the struggle for possession of Lorenzo that will inevitably end up in tears for all involved, as well as bruises for Frieda.

When Lawrence turns down MDL’s psychic advances, the claws come out. She accuses him of power games, and vacillating between the two women. When siding with Frieda he would ‘sling mud at the whole inner cosmos, and at Taos, the Indians, the mystic life of the mountain’ and when with MDL he would ‘talk just wonderfully, with far reaching implications, of the power of consciousness, the growth of the soul’. She reiterates once more that she wanted Lawrence for his mind rather than his body as ‘he’s not physically attractive to women. I don’t think women want to touch him.’ But rather than being an honest appraisal of her feelings, it reads more like an attack on Frieda for desiring him. Or, perhaps, the bitterness of a woman scorned.

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Image from http://www.dawnoftheunread.com

Throughout their time together, MDL never once saw Lawrence just sit. Meditation wasn’t his thing. On his protracted trip over to New Mexico he stopped off at Ceylon. After getting bad guts he took his frustration out on the Buddha statues, complaining “Oh I wish he would stand up!” He was certainly restless, although MDL observes that it was more than restlessness, he was pernickety, and a bit of a pain in the arse.

MDL was the daughter of Charles Ganson, a wealthy banker from Buffalo, New York. Her upbringing was in stark contrast to that of Lawrence’s in the mining community of Eastwood. It was no wonder he was restless. Leisure wasn’t a luxury of the working classes. ‘(He) really had very little sense of leisure. After the housework was done, he usually crept into a hedge or some quiet corner and wrote something, sitting on the ground with his knees drawn up.’ The problem was, he wasn’t writing about her.

All of this housework enabled Lawrence to instruct others on the virtues of cleanliness. ‘You don’t know your floor until you have scrubbed it on your hands and knees.’ This wasn’t an option for MDL as she had miles of floors. It would take her all day to clean, time better spent on more useful pursuits, such as connecting with the cosmos. She had servants to do the chores for her. Needless to say Lawrence disapproved, believing servants removed contact with life. He would apply the same criticism to cars that sped past through the living world, though he didn’t mind a lift when it suited him.

MDL describes her body as being square and therefore she tried to mask her solidity through loose fitting clothes that hung off the shoulder. Lawrence didn’t approve of this either, believing the female form should be celebrated rather than concealed, proclaiming ‘the kind of clothes my mother wore were the most-lovely pattern any woman could have’.

Despite their clashes over housework and clothing, there were many happy occasions too. MDL taught Lawrence to ride horses which he would be eternally grateful for. He seemed to pick it up really quickly, despite ‘riding as though the saddle hurt’. It meant that they could go on long rides together. But even this backfired when Lawrence taught Dorothy Brett to ride and ended up preferring her company on long journeys, presumably because they often rode in silence on account of her deafness.

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When MDL decided to give marriage a fourth shot, she married Native American Indian Tony Luhan in 1923. He persuaded her to buy a 12-acre (49,000 m2) property which included a ranch up on Lobo Mountain which Lawrence would fictionalise in the novella St. Mawr. The ranch was a present to her son John who was engaged to marry Alice Corbin. Despite her feminist principles, MDL asked Lawrence to give him a bit of advice. John reported he was advised ‘Never to let Alice know my thoughts. To be gentle with her when she was gentle but if she opposed my will, to beat her’. Despite this ‘useful’ advice, the two inevitably soon fell out.

It wasn’t long before Lawrence had had enough of ‘Mabeltown’ and so he and Frieda rented a separate cottage further up on Del Monte Ranch. MDL hoped that corresponding via letters may give her the intimacy with Lawrence that they’d been unable to achieve in person, but again she was wrong. These were shared with Frieda, ‘just to make everything square and open’.

Lorenzo in Taos is a fascinating social document that captures an earnest attempt to forge alternative ways of living in between the Great Wars. Some observations make you cringe and wince and are unintentionally hilarious. But there are some prescient observations too that shed light on life with a notoriously difficult writer.

‘Of course he was often gay. I don’t want you to think that in those first years he was cross or morose all the time. He was all right so long as things went his way. That is, if nothing happened to slight him. He simply couldn’t bear to have anyone question his power, his rightness, or even his appearance. I think his uncertainty, about himself, a vague feeling of inferiority, made him touchy.’

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. How could we represent the tension between Lawrence, Frieda and Mabel Dodge Luhan? If you have an idea about this or other artefacts you think should be included, you can submit ideas here.

 

FURTHER READING

#MondayBlogs ‘Fragment of Stained Glass’ Beauvale Priory and DH Lawrence

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The remains of Beauvale Priory. A Fragment of Stained Glass was first published in The English Review in 1911. 

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.

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Photo: Paul Fillingham

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.

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Photo: Paul Fillingham

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.

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Map: TheAA.com

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.

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Malcolm Gray, Stephen Tomlinson and Kim Nguyen. Photo: James Walker

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

dhl-trunkIn 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.

 

Further Reading

#MondayBlogs Insouciance is not possible with mobile phones

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Source: geo.msu.edu

I’ve just gone a month without my mobile phone. This wasn’t a digital detox; it was due to appalling customer service from Apple and EE. This has meant that I’ve not been very social on social media. It got me wondering what Lawrence would be like if he had a Twitter account. On one level I think he’d enjoy ranting and raging about whatever took his fancy. He’d probably enjoy the freedom of expression, given he experienced so much censorship during his life. But I don’t think he’d enjoy the hoi polloi having freedom of expression. He’d let them know in no uncertain terms and his account would be closed down before it had ever really began.

While without phone I experienced a very different Nottingham on my walks into work each day. I heard the leaves rustling as I kicked them, I learned to tune into the distant chime of Little John in the Council House so that I knew the time, and I began to notice recurring patterns, such as the three cleaners who fag it every morning at 8.50am after finishing the early shift at the High School. Not having headphones on or tapping away at a device meant I was temporarily connected to the world rather than a device.

We can guess what Lawrence’s feelings about mobile phones would be from the essay Insouciance, which was originally published as ‘Over-earnest Ladies in the Evening News’ on 12 July 1928. It starts with him wandering out barefoot onto a balcony to serenely contemplate the ‘sulky’ mountains in the distance, cherry trees, and two men slushing their scythes downhill.

Unfortunately for Lawrence he’s not ‘allowed to sit like a dandelion on my own stem’ and pleasantly muse over his surroundings because he’s bookended between two white-haired little ladies who have decided today is the day to shed off their shyness and share with him their opinions on Italy, Signor Mussolini, ‘and the empty desert spaces of right and wrong, politics, Fascism and the rest’.

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Lawrence is not interested in ‘abstract liberty’ or any of the other preoccupations that remove him from the here and now. He wonders why ‘modern people almost invariably ignore the things that are actually present in them’. At this exact moment in time he is only interested in one thing, the ‘different amount of effort’ in the mowing techniques of the two men. This reveals a lot about Lawrence the writer and his acute attention to detail, observing that the elderly man in ‘shabby trousers’ deploys a ‘jerky advance’. His stiffness results in ‘crunching the end of his stroke with a certain violent effort’.

Perhaps because he was nearing the end of his life, Lawrence doesn’t want to use up energy worrying about the ‘void of politics’ and ‘abstract caring’ instead he requires a more freer connection with the world.

‘What is actual living? It is a question mostly of direct contact. There was a direct sensuous contact between me, the lake, mountains, cherry trees, mowers, and a certain invisible but noisy chaffinch in a clipped lime tree. All this was cut off by the fatal shears of that abstract word Fascism.’

For the month I was without a phone I started to develop a direct contact with the world and my immediate environment. The world revealed itself as a serious of colours and patterns and I found my place somewhere in it. It is impossible to be insouciant with social media because it demands your constant attention. A medium of 140 characters lends itself to ever more ‘abstract’ words because these are required to stand out in the technological void. This is not freedom of expression. There is nothing free about reducing the meat of the self to lists, tags, and trending topics. This is a shredding of self rather than a direct contact with the world.

‘When it comes to living, we live through our instincts and our intuitions’ concludes Lawrence. It’s instinct that made Lawrence flee from the old white-haired ladies just as it was instinct that told me not to hurry up and get my phone fixed. ‘But it is intuition’ which enabled Lawrence to feel the ‘sulkiness of the mountains’ and each of the scythe-strokes ‘in the silence of the intense light’. Technology attempts to be intuitive but really it’s a right pain in the arse. How can you ever truly feel or understand something that is constantly updating itself and changing just for the sake of it. This is obsolescence. It is very different to the seasonal change of rusting leaves that I was able to observe for one month while my phone was broke.

dhl-trunkIs there a place for ‘Insouciance’ in our DH Lawrence Memory Theatre? Perhaps it could be represented by a dandelion? In 2019 we will be creating a travelling memory theatre that explores Lawrence’s life through artefacts. If you want to submit an idea, you can do so here.    

#MondayBlogs Paint a Vulgar Picture with DH Lawrence

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A friend of mine recently splashed out on a painting by the Nottingham-born artist Paul Waplington. Naturally, this gave me an excuse to photocopy a short essay by Lawrence called Pictures on the Wall and post it through her letterbox. ‘The human race loves pictures,’ declares Lawrence, ‘barbarians or civilised, we are all alike, we straightway go to look at a picture if there is a picture to look at’. This is perfectly true, although my first port of call for distraction and stimulation is the contents of a bookshelf. I remember once being shown around a house I was interested in buying, and being put off by the seller’s book collection. I just couldn’t bring myself to live in a space that had housed such a shabby collection of fiction. My partner at the time was appalled by what she perceived as my lack of sincerity. But I was deadly serious. The space had been polluted and I didn’t want to catch anything. We split up a year or so later.

Lawrence is fascinated by the pictures we hang on our walls. But needless to say they bring as much pleasure as pain. He takes particular offence at painting that have been hanging around for a long time as they represent ‘sheer inertia’ and a ‘staleness in the home is stifling and oppressive to the spirit’. He uses an analogy of fashion to explain these sentiments. Fashion in clothes changes because ‘we ourselves change, in the slow metamorphosis of time,’ consequently it is hard to imagine ourselves in the clothes we bought six years ago because we have since become different people. This is true, although fashion is also a process of aesthetic obsolescence that keeps the greasy wheels of capitalism turning.

Our reason for buying paintings, he argues, is that the painting somehow reflect or respond to some feeling in us. But as we grow (or age) these feelings change. If our feeling for a picture are superficial, our feelings for the picture wears away quickly. This is definitely true and I witness this every year when there’s a poster sale outside Nottingham Trent University for the latest batch of students. There’s only so long you can have a poster of a ‘doh’ing Homer Simpson, Bob Marley toking on a joint, or Tupac ‘God rest his soul’ Shakur on your wall before you feel a bit silly.

Lawrence, as subtle as a flying brick, has a simple solution for dealing with unwanted unfeeling pictures: Burn them.

Now this might seem extreme at first, and it is, but that’s because Lawrence doesn’t like art that’s reduced to materialism. ‘It is fatal to look on pictures as pieces of property. Pictures are like flowers, that fade sooner or later, and die, and must be thrown in the dustbin and burnt’. A picture, therefore, is only useful when it is ‘fresh and fragrant with attraction’. Once the aesthetic emotion is dead, the picture is no more than ‘a piece of ugly litter’.

And there’s more…

It’s a fallacy to see a picture as part of the architectural structure of a house, as somehow opening up the walls and functioning with the same purpose as say, the fire. Oh no. ‘The room exists to shelter and house us, the picture exists only to please us.’ Pictures are decoration, nothing more.

It’s at this point that a lot of readers probably pack in reading this six page essay. Life is too short to be scalded for having a painting on your wall for a decade. Some, good to his word, may even set Lawrence’s essay on fire. But try to have the one thing that Lawrence lacks, patience. He’s toying with you. He’s slowly building up to a bigger idea on how to make art more accessible to the masses. And to do this he brings in the example of public libraries.

In the 18th century books were very expensive. If you asked a gentleman whether he had read so and so he would most likely reply ‘I have a fine example in folio in my library’. Books being expensive rendered them a form of property, thereby overwhelming ‘any sense of literary delight’. It was only the development of the lending library system that changed the direction of the conversation to the contents of the book, the pleasure of reading for readings sake. ‘The great public was utterly deprived of books till books ceased to be looked on as lumps of real estate, and came to be regarded as something belonging to the mind and consciousness, a spiritual instead of a gross material property’.

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Lawrence argues that the same principles apply to art as long as a ‘picture is regarded as a piece of property, and not as a source of aesthetic emotion.’ He suggests that we need a Circulating Picture scheme that follows the principles of the library, where we can hire pictures as we hire books until we’ve ‘assimilated their content’. Obviously he doesn’t offer any practical advice on how to implement such an arrangement, but the sentiments are honourable.

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In 2010 Lord Biro and me created a ‘recession-busting’ Hirst skull covered in jelly tots. You can read about that here.

Money is always a corrupting influence for Lawrence, and he suspects that a man who pays a hundred pounds for a canvas is doing it in the secret belief, or hope, that one day it will be worth thousands of pounds. The world of modern art supports these accusations, not least the vulgarity of Damien Hirst’s diamond encrusted skull. But I think Lawrence’s arguments don’t necessarily apply to my friend. She hasn’t purchased her Waplington painting for financial reward, she’s bought it because he’s a local artist and, perhaps, it helps her feel a sense of home, within her home. And she certainly wouldn’t burn it because that’s wasteful and she’s someone who thinks about her impact on the planet. I’m quite sure she didn’t bother to read Lawrence’s essay on paintings but this doesn’t matter. If we’re still friends in ten years and the Waplington is still on her wall, I’ll post another copy through her door.

dhl-trunkIn 2019 Paul Fillingham and me will be creating a DH Lawrence Memory Theatre. It will include artefacts that address aspects of Lawrence’s life. Perhaps ‘Pictures on the Wall’ will be one of these artefacts. If you’d like to get involved and have any suggestions,  please submit your ideas here.

#MondayBlogs Herd mentality: Attacks of the cows on DH Lawrence’s birthday

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Today is DH Lawrence’s birthday and I intended on celebrating it by going for a stomp across the country of his heart with other members of the DH Lawrence Society. Bert loved to organise walking parties. His childhood friend Jessie Chambers wrote in her memoir DH Lawrence: A Personal Record (1935) that “Lawrence was always the originator and leader” of these “explorations of the countryside.” To celebrate this aspect of his personality a 6 mile circular walk had been arranged as part of the annual DH Lawrence festival to visit the ruined, 13th century Codnor Castle, once the administrative heart of much of the local area and home, for nearly 300 years, of generations of the De Grey family, who were local dignitaries and trusted lieutenants of successive kings of England.

We know Bert visited the castle thanks to a letter to Blanche Jennings on 30 July 1908: “Wednesday we shall walk to Codnor Castle – we shall be out all day.” I was hoping to be out all day as well. In order to achieve this I had to be at The Lion in Brinsley for 11am. Lawrence’s father Arthur was born in Brinsley at 50 Mansfield Road. He worked at the local colliery which was opened in 1842 and closed in 1934. An accident in 1880 would take the life of Bert’s Uncle James. To get to Brinsley from my house takes about 25 minutes. I gave myself 20 minutes because I like a challenge.

What I hadn’t taken into consideration was the roadworks at the end of my street, the new 20mph speeding restrictions in built up areas, and the sheer volume of traffic on the roads. If you want to know anything about humanity, jump in a car. You’ll witness every gamut of human emotion. Today it was absolute hatred. I wasn’t the only one in a rush and nobody was prepared to budge. Lawrence wasn’t a fan of modernity and I suspect he wouldn’t be sympathetic to the plight of someone trapped in a mechanical horse frantically trying to undercut anyone and everyone on a futile quest to meet an unachievable deadline.

When I finally made it onto the A610 I put my foot down, ignoring the 50mph signs and cranking it up to 70. But there were others in a bigger rush than me, zooming past at 80 and 90 mph. I imagined that they too were rushing to The Lion, desperate to take in some of the Eastwood countryside, perhaps wondering why Lawrence disguised Brinsley pit as ‘Beggarlee’ in Sons and Lovers despite there being a nearby former pit also called Beggarlee. By the time I reached my destination it was 11.15am. There was nobody around. I’d missed the walk. I probably had a speeding ticket.

Undeterred I legged it down Hall Lane and headed to the nearest field where it was signposted Old Brinsley. Given that the average age of membership at the DH Lawrence Society is 70 I niavely presumed I would be able to catch them up. I couldn’t see anyone on the horizon but I carried on. I could hear Lawrence shouting at the QB in my head, as he does in Sea and Sardinia, and vowed to be a better planner in the future. If Lawrence could make it to Ceylon, Australia, and New Mexico, I could catch up with a group of septuagenarians. However, what I hadn’t take into consideration was the cows.

My shouting and swearing attracted the attention of a herd of cows who began to chunter over from an adjacent field. They probably thought I was the farmer rather than a disorganised reader who simply wanted to recite bits of Sons and Lovers at relevant locations on a 6 mile circular walk. Then a few of them began to pick up pace. Some ran into each other. A very excited cow kicked out its legs like it was a rodeo bull. Perhaps it was a bull? I dropped my head and looked for the under carriage. No, it was definitely a cow. But a very excitable cow. Then the whole herd started to run at me. There must have been about sixty but I didn’t have time to count. I made it to a bush towards the end of the field and started to shout at them to go away. They surrounded me. Mooing and staring like they wanted a fight. I tried to walk away calmly, but they followed, less calmly. Then one at the back panicked and began to run which set off the others. I legged it to a nearby tree and clambered up, waving my copy of Sons of Lovers at them, telling them to fuck off so that I could continue my quest to find the septuagenarians. But they were having none of it. They wanted me dead. I could see it in their “wicked eyes.” My fear dissipated for a moment as I tried to figure out what tree I had climbed up. Lawrence could name every flower, plant and tree. I didn’t have a clue what tree it was. I just knew it was prickly and my hands were bleeding.

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Cows from a tree. The brown one with the patch was a particular bastard. Had a right mard on.

As I stared at the cows and the cows stared at me I thought of Birkin in Women in Love when he tells Ursula he wants their connection to be founded on something beyond love, “where there is no speech, and no terms of agreement.” This was definitely a moment of no speech and no terms of agreement. Just a lot of stamping and mooing. This is the wrong book I screamed, waving my copy of Sons and Lovers. FFS! This isn’t Women in Love.

In chapter 14 of Women in Love Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen are invited to the colliery owners annual water party. They decided to escape and borrow a canoe off of Birkin and row off to a secluded island to have their own private gathering. They strip off, have a swim in the sunshine, and end up singing and dancing in front of a herd of Highland cattle. The merriment ends when Gerald Birkin turns up and shouts at the cattle who quickly disperse.

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“I’m frightened,” cried Ursula, in a pathetic voice, watching the group of sturdy short cattle, that stood with their knees planted, and watched their dark, wicked eyes, through the matted fringe of their hair.”

I consider taking my clothes off but decide against it. I’m not giving in to these moody cows. What I need is a Birkin or else I’m going to be stuck up this tree forever. It is at this point that I spot a man in wellies casually mowing his lawn in a garden on the edge of the field. He has to be the farmer. He looks like a farmer. I scream and wave at him from my tree. Eventually he looks up. Too casual for my liking, but at least I have his attention. He has just clicked that it isn’t my intention to hide up a tree with a copy of Sons and Lovers, screaming my head off at a bunch of cows. You ok? he shouts across. Of course I’m not fucking ok. These cows want me dead. Do you want some help? Of course I want some fucking help. He climbs over his fence and casually walks over, clapping his hands at the cows who immediately disperse. I jump down from the tree and immediately want to give him a big cuddle. I decide against it. I’ve made a lot of bad decisions today and it isn’t even noon yet.

He asks if I’d like to be escorted out of the field and I say yes, of course I want to be escorted out of the field. I consider giving him my copy of Sons and Lovers but decide against it as I’ve highlighted my favourite quotes. I tell him it’s DH Lawrence’s birthday today and he nods his head. I don’t elaborate further. I get back to my car and smoke three cigarettes on the bounce and then speed out of Grinsley and Eastwood as fast as I can.

I’m in such a rage that I decide to pull over to call my GF. She’s more of a hornet than a Queen Bee, and delighted by my misfortune. I am always scalding the GF for her poor time management so she revelles in mine. Rightly so. She’ll store this day forever. She’ll never forget it. September 11th will forever be cowgate. Rather than DHL’S birthday. Or the date when two planes flew into the twin towers.

As I head back on the A610 I clock the blue and yellow hell that is Ikea on the outskirts of Eastwood. Lawrence wasn’t a man for flat-packed philosophies but he did love his DIY. I park up in the industrial estate and head to Starbucks, which is where I’m writing now. Two coffees to the good and some more fags and I’m feeling a bit better.

Although I missed the walk I do feel as if I’ve celebrated elements of Lawrence’s personality on his birthday. He hated the herd mentality, despising any group that attempted to force its will upon him. He hated the dehumanising effects of industrialisation and how this slowly removed man from nature. The cows were a curt reminder that nature still has some fight left in it. He couldn’t get out of Eastwood fast enough and this led him across the world in search of Rananim. I’ve driven at 70mph to Starbucks, settling for a cappuccino rather than a utopian community of like-minded people. And I am in such a rage I’m scaring the couple next to me with the thud of my keyboard. Lawrence also fictionalised his experiences to create content for his books. A lot of the time this included vignettes of close friends and local families. Jesse Chambers never forgave Lawrence for his portrayal of her as Miriam in Sons and Lovers. This blog is my version of this process. My GF will go mad when she finds out I’ve described her as a hornet. And then she’ll just moo at me or something similar.

Later that evening I drive back to Eastwood for the Lawrence birthday lecture. I tune into BBC Radio 4 and the first story reports there’s been an increase in tuberculosis in cows. To stop this spreading 33,500 badegrs will be culled this Autumn. Lawrence died of tuberculosis. I discover at the birthday lecture that the topic is The Art of Living. It’s a fascinating talk by Jeff Wallace, exploring the impact of Lawrence’s health on his writing. Perhaps the cows were trying to tell me something. Instead of running I should have listened.

Happy birthday, Bert. I miss you.

 

 

 

 

 

Rosemary Howard: A Conversation with ‘The Brett’

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The following article by Rosemary Howard was originally published in the Spring of 1979 in Issue No. 15 of the D.H. Lawrence Newsletter – or ‘Lawrence Country News’ as it was then called. The meeting took place in July 1975. Dorothy Brett died in August 1977. Rosemary died on 25 July 2017.

I was encouraged to call on The Brett by the two ladies who run Taos Book Shop, a delightful sunny shop stuffed full of valuable Lawrence editions as well as an unexpected range of other publications. The fact that I lived in Nottingham and was a member of the D. H. Lawrence Society in Eastwood was apparently sufficient passport. So while I waited for the telephone arrangements to be completed I turned over the pages of a signed copy of ‘Lawrence and Brett’, Dorothy’s autobiographical account of their friendship, now out of print in England. Here I chanced upon the story of Frieda’s lost Navajo (i.e. turquoise) ring, which Brett had offered to look for. ‘You’re no use’, Lawrence had said: ‘You never find anything’.

Dorothy Eugenie Brett, daughter of Viscount Esher, who had ‘come out’ during the coronation celebrations of Edward VII, had her first date, it is said, with Winston Churchill. But she soon turned her back on fashionable Mayfair life and became an art student at the Slade. She first met Lawrence and Frieda on the second of their trips to Taos, New Mexico – the only one of Lawrence’s London circle to remain faithful to his project of founding a community of like souls, ‘where the only riches would be integrity of character’. Here Dorothy spent most of the rest of her life, painting in her charming adobe studio, a few miles to the south of the ranch that Frieda’s third husband built for her after the death of Lawrence. (This was next door to the Lawrence’s Del Monte ranch, originally presented to Frieda by Mabel Dodge Luhan, the rich American artist-writer, married finally to an American Indian, who had summoned Lawrence to New Mexico in the first place).

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Dorothy Brett’s painting of Lawrence (left) and San Geronimo Day, Taos 1965 (right)

The village of El Prado is out in the sage-scrub desert, several miles from Taos, and commanding a superb view of the Sangre de Cristo mountains that dominate the closing scenes of Lawrence’s St. Mawr (typed page by page as it was written, by the Brett, in 1924). As I approached the house, I caught sight of the incongruous family coat-of- arms roughly blazoned in paint on the wooden gates, and once inside the shady little court-yard I could see tubs of that most English of flowers – violas – in full bloom. Brett greeted me gaily, sitting on a canopied garden-seat and dressed in something pinkish like a bed-jacket, clutching her hearing-aid, which she immediately switched on, declaring that she didn’t waste her batteries on the birds. Soon she was launched upon a round of cheerful reminiscences of her famous contemporaries, delivered in the patrician tones of an Edwardian lady, after the manner of Edith Evans. I first of all mentioned Helen Cork, Lawrence’s Croydon friend (who died in 1978). Brett said how much she had enjoyed a visit from her some years previously. Then she said how charming Maria Huxley had been; Aldous’ wife. ‘It all started at Garsington, you know’. When I asked her about Bertrand Russell she said, ‘Oh – you mean Bertie Russell?…were YOU ever at Garsington?’ I asked about Katherine Mansfield – wasn’t she rather naughty? The Brett said, ‘No. She was adventurous, she had adventures. And of course they made the stories’. When I referred to the tale of Frieda’s Navajo ring she asked me winsomely, ‘And did I find it?’ (As a matter of fact she did – spotted it lying in the middle of the horse-track when they were out riding). Of Lawrence she said, ‘It was all such fun. He was such fun! He had such a way of communicating excitement – feeling’. Lawrence always wanted to exchange horses with her as he couldn’t bear to ride at the back. ‘I had a large horse called Prince – a dear horse. He died.’ I mentioned the wild flowers that Lawrence loved. ‘Yes, I was always gazing up at the sky while he was looking down at the flowers… Lawrence would have lived if he had stayed there. But he would go, he would go. Why do people have to suffer in their life-times and die in penury?’ The talk moved to her home in Christmas Common in the Chilterns, her sister-in-law Zena Dare the actress and her sister Sylvia who married the Rajah of Sarawak.

Brett, aged ninety-one, had rosy cheeks and shining white hair – (‘Yes, I go to the hair-dresser in Taos. He gives me a perm’) – and the same lovely expression that appears in the Taos Gallery portrait dating from the thirties, in which she sits wearing a Mexican hat and holding on her knees a large hearing-aid in a leather case bedizened with chunks of turquoise. She was still painting though she lacked central vision – there was a canvas on her easel, rather green, and smudged. Holly, the lady-companion in a floppy straw hat and speaking in an unexpected American accent, steered me through the untidy sunny rooms. ‘No’, said Brett, ‘I don’t get tired. I look after myself’.

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Dorothy Brett’s cabin, Kiowa Ranch

I called at the low adobe studio next door which houses her paintings in exquisite shady rooms separated by green court-yards and porticos. Here were roomfuls of colourful oils under the curatorship of John Manchester, a friend who was working on her biography. I could have bought a sheet of pen-and-ink sketches of cats in various postures for forty five dollars – but I didn’t. As I left, John Manchester said, ‘To tell you the truth, in Taos we are bored to death with D. H. Lawrence’.

Up at Del Monte Ranch I contemplated the ‘little low cabins’ so vividly described in St. Mawr with the desert ‘Sweeping its great fawn-coloured circle around, away beyond and below like a beach, with a long mountain-side of pure blue shadow closing in the near corner’. In the fields I saw clumps of the large yellow daisies that stand in the foreground of the composite painting done by Lawrence and Brett (with Mabel and Frieda lending a hand, and joining in the squabbling). The little low cabins are now rather over-grown with pine-trees but I remembered the self-effacing words in which the Brett had recorded her choice – ‘I think I will have the little one’. And I remembered that a few pages further on she had written, ‘This evening I curse my deafness as I lie rather cold in bed.’

Rosemary Howard’s funeral is at 12:15pm on Thursday August 31 in the East Chapel at Cambridge City Crematorium. Instead of flowers the family has suggested making donations to Medecins Sans Frontieres, c/o Richard Stebbings Funeral Service Ltd, Kendal House, Cambridge Road, Impington, Cambridge CB24 9YS.  

RELATED READING

#MondayBlogs In Search of Joseph Conrad

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Image adapted from Dawn of the Unread

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.

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‘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.’

FURTHER READING

Review – Pie and Peas with DH Lawrence at The Grand Pavilion.

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After being booted out of Cornwall in 1917, DH Lawrence was reliant on the generosity of friends to put him up while he got back on his feet. By 1918 he was in such dire poverty that Arnold Bennett secretly gave his agent Pinker £25 as a crisis fund, knowing Lawrence hated charity. It was these circumstances that led Lawrence and his wife Frieda to take residence of Mountain Cottage, Middleton-by-Wirksworth from 2 May 1918. This was the first time the Lawrences had settled in the Midlands for six years, affording him the opportunity to reconnect with family and old neighbours. He lasted one year.

Lawrence’s time in the Midlands is the main focus of Pie and Peas with DH Lawrence, an amateur dramatic performance that sketches out key elements of his life. As you would expect from a production by the Wirksworth Community Theatre, space is given to Lawrence’s time in the surrounding area. Therefore the performance includes the reading of three of his letters to Katherine Mansfield during the brutal winter of 1918. Mansfield was married to the writer and critic John Middleton Murry. The two couples had briefly lived near each other in Cornwall during the war in an early attempt at Rananim, but it didn’t work out. By 1919 Murry was editing the Athenaeum which featured many of the Bloomsbury Group. This should have been an opportunity to rebuild their friendship while, more importantly, generating a bit of income for Lawrence through commissions. Unfortunately it didn’t work out and it would lead to a simmering mistrust between the two that would intensify over time. This wasn’t touched on in the play because it would have over complicated the narrative. Instead we are reminded that Lawrence was a prolific letter writer and who his circle of friends were at the time.

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Lawrence’s Wintry Peacock was inspired by his time spent in Derbyshire and is partly performed, whereby a suspicious wife asks a man who can speak French to translate the contents of a letter to her husband. This places the man in an awkward situation as he has to decide whether to tell her the truth or spare her feelings. Given the audience were privy to the contents of the letter, this worked very well on stage.

We were also treated to both the reading of War Baby and the song War Baby by Carol Fieldhouse. This poem, which was originally published in the English Review, coincided with the birth of Catherine Carswell’s son, John, on 30 May 1918. Lawrence dedicated the poem to Carswell’s new offspring.

It was during a brief stay in Ripley that Lawrence wrote two short stories about childhood pets, Rex (dog) and Adolf (rabbit). Adolf is the tale of a mischievous pet rabbit that causes chaos in a family home, leaving droppings on saucers while helping himself to the sugar pot. In performing this, the producers celebrated Lawrence’s love of nature and wildlife and led nicely onto a reading of Snake. It also helped touch on another theme that had been explored in the opening half an hour, Lawrence’s parents.

Lawrence had an indifferent relationship with his father, depicting him as an ignorant brute in his third novel Sons and Lovers (1913). He was very much influenced by his overbearing mother who aspired for more and didn’t want her kids going down the pit. Arthur Lawrence may have been down the pit since he was seven but he was also a very charismatic and caring individual. This is perfectly drawn out in Adolf when the father finds one surviving rabbit from a family of dead rabbits. He brings the one surviving (but unmoving) rabbit home in order to nurture it back to life. Whereas Lydia Lawrence is aghast at the havoc the rabbit causes, Arthur prioritises life. Lawrence realised years later that he’d been overly harsh in his portrayals of his father and this is noted in the play when a young Lawrence announces if he’d written Sons and Lovers when he was older the father would have been presented differently. Thankfully he didn’t.

In addition to life in “the country of my heart” the play also explores the Lady C trial, censorship of his paintings, and his relationship with his German wife Frieda. This means that other elements, such as his savage pilgrimage, are omitted. But this works very well, providing a brief sketch of his life and works that are performed through song, poetry, short stories, plays, comedy, letters, court case recitals, and piano ballads. The cast also take on multiple parts, meaning we have different people playing Lawrence and other key figures. This brings out the ethos of ‘community’ theatre as everybody is effectively the star performer.

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Frieda Lawrence (Marie Paurin)

However, there are a few standout performances that deserve mentioning. Getting Frieda Lawrence to read out Lawrence’s damning poem The English Are So Nice was a masterstroke. It’s delivered with the right balance of sarcasm and perfectly weighted in delivery to enable the humour to come through:  The English are so nice/so awfully nice/they are the nicest people in the world./And what’s more, they’re very nice about being nice/ about your being nice as well!

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Sue Watts

A Colllier’s Wife is an incredibly difficult poem to read because of the dialect but Sue Watts was brilliant. She’s like a cross between Ms. Ball-breaker and Nora Batty and delivers this, and other lines, with absolute ferocity. And finally, the gem of the show goes to Andy Miller – a member of the Nottingham Writers’ Studio – for his adapted version of a Monty Python Sketch in which Lawrence and his father switch roles. It was completely unexpected and perfect for getting across the cultural tensions faced by Eastwood’s favourite mard arse.

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And now for something completely different: Andy Miller (right) as Lawrence switches roles with his father.

The play was performed as part of the Little Bit Scruffy Festival at the Grand Pavilion Theatre in Matlock. The Theatre is the largest in the Derbyshire Dales but badly in need of repair and renovation. Lynn Allison, a Trustee, Director and Co Chairman of the charity that owns the building said the purpose of hosting the festival here was “to bring new people into the building to hear our rescue and renovation story;  to bring new drama to the area; and to break even”. The Grand Pavilion was built in 1910 but has sustained damage from water over the years. “Because of the condition of the building, we say it is ‘Open – ambitious – and Still a Little Bit Scruffy’ hence the name of the festival.”

Lawrence lived a largely nomadic existence and wasn’t one for materialism. He was renowned for his DIY skills and ‘make do and mend’ attitude, so I’m sure he would approve of his work being celebrated in such shabby, yet homely, surroundings. Just like the rabbit in his short story Adolph, a little love and tenderness is required to help resurrect this old building back to its former glory. But whereas Adolph needed a few sugar cubes, the charity needs a few million. It will be hard slog, but one you can support while being entertained at the same time.

The Little Bit Scruffy Festival runs from 28 May – 2 July and includes other performances and workshops.

RELATED READING 

 

 

 

 

 

Pangbourne-on-Thames “sort of smells”

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Source: LYON & TURNBULL on BBC website.

The following guest blog is an extended version of one of Dave Brocks’ columns for the Kimberley and Eastwood Advertiser.  

The refreshing honesty characteristic of D.H. Lawrence continues to get up certain middle-class noses, almost a century on. A letter Lawrence penned to his theatre friend, “Bertie” Herbert Farjeon, whilst staying at Myrtle Cottage, Pangbourne-on-Thames, Berkshire, in the “Monstrous hot” August of 1919, with reference to this otherwise pretty place as “repulsive”, saying it “sort of smells”, due to the river, women wearing scent on their clothes and the petrol, adding “I suffer by the nose”, has recently sold at an Edinburgh auction house for a slightly less than fragrant price. . .one indicating a certain sniffiness on the part of collectors!

The lease on Lawrence’s home at Mountain Cottage, Middleton-by-Wirksworth having ended, he and Frieda began accepting hospitality where they could, at times virtually living out of suitcases. Efforts to obtain passports, permitting Frieda to visit family in Germany and Lawrence to blaze a trail to America, had been thwarted. They must wait until the Peace treaty was ratified, Thomas Cook told them.

So when a friend, since 1915, Rosalind Baynes, an enlightened free-thinker and pacifist with three children and then undergoing a messy divorce, kindly offered to loan them for a while her 18th century cottage, The Myrtles, in Pangbourne, and having other acquaintances in the area, it was there they went. Myrtle cottage had a large garden with apple and pear trees. Drawing on nature, for a display of self-deprecating humour, Lawrence’s letter records that “an old, very seedy-looking shabby old robin attends me perpetually when I work in Ros’s garden. He reminds me too much of myself.”

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Attracted by this southerly location near the Thames, Lawrence’s sisters, Emily and Ada, took the opportunity to visit, bringing the children. There were opportunities to sail, take a cruise to Reading, enjoy picnics and walks on the Downs.

Amazingly, in the midst of so much upheaval, socialising and fun, Lawrence remained focused on his literary career, exploring every outlet for his work. He came closer to finding a publisher for his great novel, Women in Love. Having written his studies of the “classics”, essays on modern American literature were begun. As a favour, he painstakingly refined his loyal friend Koteliansky’s translation of Ukrainian philosopher, Shestov, contributing an introduction to the book. Prefaces for New Poems and his play Touch and Go were produced. He revised his novella, The Fox, although it felt like an act of “mutilation” to him!

These days the good folk of Pangbourne are happy to recall how nice safe author, Kenneth Graham, of Wind in the Willows fame, one lived there, and that it is the setting for the comical Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome, thus boosting tourism. Lawrence’s stay is largely over-looked. When a Pangbourne letter hits the headlines he’s dismissed by one proud resident as a “misery-guts”. Yet, all he’s done is tell the truth – that most perfumes, and all car fumes, are offensive to the undulled senses. The collective madness of war and state opposition to his creative genius were grounds enough for Lawrence to confide in this private correspondence he was feeling “sick of mankind”.

RELATED READING

 

 

The Long Essay: LITERATURE AND SOCIOCULTURAL CRITICISM: The value of Lawrence and Leavis to a sociologist

leavissssThe following talk by Paul Filmer, an Honorary Research Fellow in Sociology at Goldsmiths University of London, was presented at the Leavis/Lawrence Conference in 2016. 

Leavis offers a succinct account of why a sociologist should want to look at literature as a resource for sociological inquiry:

Without the sensitizing familiarity with the subtleties of language, and the insight into the relations between abstract or generalizing thought and the concrete of human experience, that the trained frequentation of literature alone can bring, the thinking that attends social and political studies will not have the edge and force it should (Leavis, 1962:194)

This recommendation of literature as socially relevant is characteristic of Leavis’s criticism, and is echoed in a later assertion that “it is the great novelists above all who give us our social history; compared with what is done in their work – their creative work – the histories of the professional social historian seem empty and unenlightening” (1972:81-2).

Both statements offer a clear justification for treating literary texts as an important source of sociological information but neither recommends the sociological analysis of literature.  They seem to imply, rather, that the novelist or poet might be better equipped to do the work of social history than the historian, and that social and political studies require a training also in the study of literature and that that training should come from literary criticism – an implication not without foundation, given some of the problems of reductive, sociocultural determinism characteristic of normative approaches in the sociology of literature (Filmer, 1969, 1998a; Hall, 1979). These approaches characteristically treat the context of literary production as more significant than the literary text. One consequence of this is a lack of attention to the language of the text and the range of its possible meanings, in favour of referring to it, if at all, as a source of illustrative material about the society in which it is produced or to which it refers.

Leavis criticised these approaches in his essays on ‘Literature and Society’ and ‘Sociology and Literature’ as well as in his critiques of Marxist approaches to literature, notably the essay ‘Under Which King Bezonian’. His criticisms there are well-formulated and for the most part valid, pointing as they did to characteristics of most established methodologies of social research and schools of sociological theory until almost the middle of the twentieth century, when socio-linguistic and neo-Marxian structuralist methods began to require attention to the relations between language and social structure as constitutive features of all texts – not only literature (Culler, 1975; Eagleton, 1976, 1983, 1989; Filmer, 1978, 1998b; Macherey, 1978; Williams, 1973, 1977, 1980).  This change of approach was grounded in the analysis of the reflexive character of the structures of relations within and between the linguistic contents of the text and the social conditions to which they refer. It is in undertaking this approach to critical literary study and analysis that a sociologist will benefit from attending to Leavis’s criticism – a criticism which is itself couched in the quintessentially social terms of a collaborative creative relationship with the literature to which it attends (Filmer, 1977).

A contrast to dominant normative sociological approaches to literature occurred in the 20th century, more or less concurrently with Leavis’s early work, in the German critical tradition of Literaturwissenschaft, concerned with knowledge that is available for study both in and about literature. One of its major scholars, Leo Loewenthal (1961:xv), defined the “essential task” of the sociology of literature as being

to find that core of meaning which, through artistic images, expresses the many facets of thought and feeling…permitting us to develop an image of a given society in terms of the individuals who composed it…  what the individual felt about it, what he could hope from it, and how he thought he could change it or escape from it…The social meanings of this inner life of the individual are related to the central problems of social change.

He insists, further (1989:15-16), that it:

should interpret what seems most removed from society as the most valid key to the understanding of society and especially of its defects…Of particular importance…is the…analysis of the social ambience of the intimate and the private, the revealing of the sociological determination of such phenomena as love, friendship, the relationship to nature, self-image, and the like…Literature teaches us to understand the success or failure of the socialization of individuals in concrete historical moments and situations.

It is this focus on individuals as constitutive of society, on analysis through the study of literature, in the concrete particulars of specific historical situations, of their feelings, hopes, the adequacy of their socialisation, the social meanings of their inner lives and their relations to social change, that seem to me to come close to Leavis’s contention that literature can give to social and political studies the edge and force that they need. How these specific and apparently private features of human experience are to be interpreted and analyzed sociologically through literature is what I understand to have been asked to discuss in this paper: a concern, that is, with the reflexive character of the structures of relations within and between the linguistic contents of the text and the social conditions to which they refer.

The question ‘How’ predicates issues of method. From a sociological perspective, it is only in terms of their generalisability that the insights and explications, their implications and more explicit consequences of any specific analysis of a literary or sociocultural text can be evaluated for their significance.  And this requires a replicable method that can be applied by others to cognate phenomena in order to demonstrate their comparability.  Until the recent burgeoning of literary theory, with its roots in radical political philosophy, European linguistic and cultural theory and the eclecticism of what passes for much of postmodern literary aesthetics, literary critics seem to have been unsympathetic to attempts to engage them on issues of method.  Leavis’s (1962:212-22) response to Wellek’s invitation to discuss his method for analysing poetry is exemplary of this tendency.  But there is to be found in his work a sense of method nevertheless, which is implicit in the systematic character of the analyses that it offers of the texts which he addresses, though he went no further, in his reply to Wellek, than conceding that he sought to engage a critical response to his analyses (which, he was at pains to point out, were not attempts at what he had termed ‘murdering to dissect’ a text) in the form of qualified agreement that would contribute to developing interpretative debate.

One formulation of how his approach can be seen as differing from Loewenthal’s recommendation of seeking in literature the social determination of intimate and private phenomena can be seen in his quotation of the passage from Chapter 9 of Lady Chatterleys Lover:

It is the way our sympathy flows and recoils that really determines our lives. And here lies the importance of the novel, properly handled. It can inform and lead into new places the flow of our sympathetic consciousness, and it can lead our sympathy away in recoil from things gone dead. Therefore the novel, properly handled, can reveal the most secret places of life –for it is in the passional secret places of life, above all, that the tide of sensitive awareness needs to ebb and flow, cleansing and refreshing.

The issue of method here is raised in the phrase ‘properly handled’ in relation to the novel, and it seems to imply a proper handling in which both the author and the critical analyst collaborate: the author through the adequacy of the representations of and reflections on society in their writings; the critic in undertaking the responsibility of recognising and evaluating those representations and reflections. This reflexive approach seeks to analyse the sociological knowledge to be found within literary texts.  The normative approach, by contrast, tends to use methods which have been developed in terms of the view that, because literature is produced in a societal context, it is determined by society and so can be treated as a reflection of the social conditions of its production and communication – a mirror of social life which presents society with some image of itself.  Literature can be analyzed and explained in these terms, as an institutional feature of social structure, through sociologies of authorship and readership, of literary production and distribution, and of normative institutional sociologies of literary and artistic occupations.  A major problem with this approach is that it pays relatively little attention to the literary text, except as a resource for illustrating social conditions:  the nineteenth century novel, for example, as a source of illustrations of urbanisation and industrialisation.  As an approach it is criticised both by sociologists and by literary critics.  Sociologists argue that literature offers an unrepresentative account of society because its authors are unrepresentative of typical social positions and experiences and from a sociological point of view are therefore an unreliable guide to the reality of the social life that they write about (Filmer, 1969). Literary critics argue that to treat the contents of literature as illustrations of social life is to misrepresent both literature and its relation to language.  Literature is about the subjective consciousnesses of the individual characters imaginatively created by the writer – as Loewenthal notes. Moreover, a work of literature is open to a range of possible literary critical interpretations because the language that is used to construct the text is chosen by the writer to connote possible meanings for, rather than simply to illustrate the specific features of what it describes.  From both the literary critical and a reflexive sociological perspective, the relations between literature and society are much more complex and subtle than can be conveyed by the idea of straightforward, mirror-like reflection.

A reflexive approach operates quite differently on the grounds that literature is a reflexive feature of the society in which it is produced, engaging with it through critical reflection on social practices.  It argues from the structure of the literary text to parallel structures in the society in which the text is produced, or which it is written about, or in which it is being read.  None of these three formulations of society are necessarily empirically the same, and each of them is seen as being constituted critically and reflexively by and in the literary work – a process with which the critical reader collaborates. The texts may be in part imaginary, but they are constructed to bear a critically reflexive relation to the realities of these formulations of society.  A reflexive methodological perspective, thus, is designed to prevent normative reduction of literary representations to illustration.

I described this creative collaboration between critical reader and writer, as Leavis formulates it, as quintessentially social because it is in being read that the literary text is realised, made actual as a meaningful, critical, imaginative reflection on experience. Lawrence endorses this in his rejection of any critical privileging of authorial intention with his admonition not to trust the writer but the tale itself. And it is by two of his tales that I want to topicalise the concept through which I propose beginning to explore the relevance for sociology and cognate disciplines of Lawrence’s literature and Leavis’s literary critical analysis – that of class.

In his posthumously published Autobiographical Sketch Lawrence prefaces a disquisition on the shallowness and passionlessness of the middle classes with the assertion: ‘Class makes a gulf across which all the best human flow is lost’. One sense of ‘proper handling’ by the novel, or literature in general, is surely in realising such a general, rather abstract contention through the concrete particulars of a specific interactional situation, one example of which Lawrence offers at an important juncture in the narrative of  The Captains Doll. The two principal characters, Hepburn and Hannele are being driven into the mountains:

At a house on a knoll the driver sounded his horn, and out rushed children crying Papa! Papa!-then a woman with a basket. A few brief words from the weaselish man, who smiled with warm, manly blue eyes at his children, then the car leaped forward. The whole bearing of the man was so different, when he was looking at his own family. He could not even say thank-you when Hepburn opened the gates. He hated and even despised his human cargo of middle-class people. Deep, deep is class-hatred, and it begins to swallow all human feeling in its abyss. So, stiff, silent, thin, capable, and neuter towards his fares sat the little driver with the flaps over his ears, and his thin nose cold. (2006:128)

The concrete particulars of the gulf between classes across which human flow are lost are clearly delineated here. The contrast between the hate, even despisal of the ‘weaselish’ driver for the depersonalised ‘human cargo of middle-class people’ that comprise his passengers, and the (anything but weaselish) whole ‘warm, manly smiling… bearing of the man…looking at his own family’. He says just ‘a few brief words’ to them, but to his passengers is silent and ‘could not even say thank-you when Hepburn opened the gates’.

Despite its obvious relevance, it is not in critical analysis of this tale, however, that Leavis chose to discuss at length Lawrence’s “consciousness of class-distinctions”, but rather in the chapter in D.H.Lawrence: Novelist which is focussed on The Daughters of the Vicar.  The consciousness expressed there, Leavis says,

is precisely a consciousness that we have to define as wholly incompatible with snobbery or any related form of class-feeling. Lawrence registers them as facts that play an important part in human life. The part they play in the given tale is a sinister one, and the theme is their defeat – the triumph of them over life. (1964:75)

“Class”, he continues, is

the villain of the drama…The pride of class-superiority…appears as the enemy of life, starving and thwarting and denying, and breeding in consequence hate and ugliness…The superiority that exacts this terrible price is shown to us in all its nothingness. The ugliness bred in the clinging to it appear repellently for what they are. The unbeautiful pride places itself as hateful in its manifestations and as essentially destructive of all fineness and nobility. And yet it appears as having something heroic about it – something almost tragic. That is, the attitude implicit in the presentation of the drama is not one that goes with contemptuous exposure or satiric condemnation; it is more subtle and poised – it is one that is incompatible with complacency or cruelty in any form. (1964:76-7)

For Lawrence, Leavis insists,

class is an important human fact, and he is an incomparable master of it over the whole range of its manifestations. But – or therefore – no writer is more wholly without class-feeling in the ordinary sense of the term. When he presents working-class people or milieu, he doesn’t write up or down; the people are first and last just human beings; his interest in them is an interest in them purely as such. The fact they are working class doesn’t affect them or his attitude towards them.

Again, though class-feeling shows itself in the Lindley parents in most hateful ways, the hatefulness of which is exposed in all its nakedness, there is no animus in the presentment. Class is a major factor in the case presented, but attention focusses on the essential humanity this fact conditions, and the interest informing the attention remains pure and undeflected. And always in Lawrence, whatever the circumstances of class or nationality or race that mark the drama in view, the interest he turns on it is incompatible with condescension, animus, or egotistic deflection of any kind; it has a quality that one has to call fundamental reverence, ‘reverence’ here being something that recommends itself no more to sentimentalists than to cynics…(1964:88-9)

An example of this last point, in relation to race rather than class, is cited by Leavis (1964:226) from The Captains Doll. Hepburn and Hanele have taken shelter from a rainstorm in the uppermost hotel on their trip into the mountains, where they

sat in the restaurant drinking hot coffee and milk, and watching the maidens in cotton frocks and aprons and bare arms, and the fair youths with maidenly necks and huge voracious boots, and the many Jews of the wrong sort and the wrong shape. These Jews were all being very Austrian, in Tyrol costume that didn’t sit on them, assuming the whole gesture and intonation of aristocratic Austria, so that you might think they were Austrian aristocrats, if you weren’t properly listening, or if you didn’t look twice. Certainly they were lords of the Alps, or at least lords of the Alpine hotels this summer, let prejudice be what it might. Jews of the wrong sort. And yet even they imparted a wholesome breath of sanity, disillusion, unsentimentality to the excited “Bergheil” atmosphere. Their dark-eyed, sardonic presence seemed to say to the maidenly-necked youths: “Don’t sprout wings of the spirit too much, my dears.” (2006:140)

In his biography of Lawrence, Worthen (2006:430) has noted that Lawrence “used the words ‘Jew’ and ‘Jewess’ perfectly unselfconsciously, according to the conventions of the time, and without bigotry or contempt”. The potential to offend of the reiterated reference here to ‘Jews of the wrong sort’ is clearly  subverted still further by Lawrence’s conversational address to his readers that they (or anyone) ‘might think they were Austrian aristocrats, if you weren’t properly listening, or if you didn’t look twice’. This conversational intimacy between writer and reader has already been set up in the preceding passage when, whilst walking through the storm, Hepburn and Hannele are engaged in an argument central to the narrative. At its conclusion, they continue in silence, Hannele reflecting on how best to act, Lawrence goes on (2006:138), “as they walked in the rain. The rain, by the way, was abating.”  That ‘by the way’, of course, does not refer to the way in the sense of the path the characters are taking! It is the confident interjection of a writer at the height of his powers, showing his readers with a most engaging attention that he is aware that part of the compelling character of his text is that their background attention may still be contemplating the severity of the weather. And Lawrence is attending to it, as a narrative pause, by saying, effectively, ‘in case you were wondering, because I know the tale I am telling is quite compelling in all its particulars, even the weather, and the weather is part of that compellingness as the dramatic background in a dramatic setting to a dramatic moment, the weather is improving’. This does anything but patronise the readers. Rather it shares with them a sense of humorous reflection both that the narrative is a fiction, but of the best, that is to say the most relevant and absorbing kind. It is, in every sense, being brought to life through the collaborative reading of a carefully and thoughtfully written work of literature, reflecting consummately on the real existential dilemmas of life as it is being experienced in and through all the detail of the present particularities of the text.

This intratextual device is sustained as Hepburn and Hanele await the motor car at the conclusion of their expedition,

watching the tourists and the trippers and the motor-car men. There were three Jews from Vienna: and the girl had a huge white woolly dog, as big as a calf, and white and woolly and silly and amiable as a toy. The men of course came patting it and admiring it, just as men always do, in life and in novels. And the girl, holding the leash, posed and leaned backwards in the attitudes of heroines on novel-covers. She said the white woolly monster was a Siberian steppe-dog. Alexander wondered what the steppes made of such a wuffer. And the three Jews pretended they were elegant Austrians out of popular romances. (2006:144-5)

The collusive/contrastive relation between writer and reader, fiction and reality is again invoked playfully here as a series of commonplace behavioural poses and pretences which are both resourced by and reflect fictional representations of them: the men’s patting and admiring of the dog; the girl’s backward leaning, emulatory poses; the Jews pretending to be ‘elegant Austrians’; even Hepburn’s reference to the dog as a ‘wuffer’.

I have deliberately sought to develop, through the selection of these passages from Lawrence and Leavis, not just the proper handling of literature in their collaborative/creative, critical reflections on the concrete particulars of the experiences of social differentiation through class and race/ethnicity. I have suggested also that in Lawrence’s reflective representations, in the example of The Captains Doll, there is a collusive, reflexive engagement with readers, intended to sensitise them to the experience and responsibilities of their own creative roles as readers. This sensitising parallels the rather different, but comparable sensitising in the critic’s discourse that evaluates the representational adequacies of the text to show why the text is worth reading. Both ways of sensitising are also proper handlings of the text in requiring critical reflection on it through, and as representation of, the concrete, particular experiences of class.

This critical reflection on and analysis of the representation of individual and collective experience is key to what social scientists can gain from Lawrence’s work and its critical explication by Leavis. I want to demonstrate this by drawing on the work of Raymond Williams whose reflexive formulations of class seem to me clearly to resonate with the literary and literary critical instances I have given. He is concerned to represent the meaning of the experience of class as the basis for its sense and critical adequacy as an analytical concept, and in doing so to reject tendencies in normative social scientific analyses of class to subsume stratifying practices in social interaction within a priori concepts.

Williams (1968:313) writes of class as particular, historically changing language practices in such modes of speech as literature, criticism and politics. He formulates this sense of class as

A collective mode (of being, feeling, acting) of that part of a group of people, similarly circumstanced, which has become conscious of its own position and of its own attitude to this position. (my italics)

It is a group conscious not only of its specific, particular shared circumstances but conscious also of its sense of these circumstances. This shared consciousness is made possible by what he describes (1968:13) as

A general pattern of change (in) a number of words, which are now of capital importance (and which) came for the first time into common  English use (in the late 18th century), or, where they had already been generally used…acquired new and important meanings. (The changes) bear witness to a general change in our characteristic ways of thinking about our common life: about our social, political and economic institutions; about the purposes which these institutions are designed to embody; and about the relations to these institutions and purposes of our activities in learning, education, and the arts.

Williams’s (1968:18) way of examining the meanings and changes in meanings of words is “not only to distinguish meanings but to relate them to their sources and effects”. This stems from his commitment “to the study of actual language: that is to say, to the words and sequences which particular men and women have used in trying to give meaning to their experience”. His method is to study “actual individual statements and contributions”; its purpose is to ‘understand and value’ these statements. These are the terms of literary critical practice and bear a strong resemblance to Leavis’s own terminology – not surprisingly as Williams was one of Leavis’s students. But the critical practice is committed here, not to literature but to the ‘actual language’ used in trying to give meaning to experience. Understanding is made possible through the commonness of language, a shared understanding of ‘the words and sequences of words’ – the sense in which Leavis insists that a language is a life. The uses to which the shared language(s) are put provide the grounds for understandability, for the communicable sense they make. Further, in seeking to value shared language and the changing meanings of its constitutive sequences of words, Williams invokes tradition as the location of the general patterns of change in the use and meaning of words like class. The valuations of these general patterns of change provide ‘a special kind of map by which it is possible to look again at the wider changes in life and thought to which the changes in language evidently refer’. One word in particular encapsulates and organizes class and all other key words (amongst which it is itself included): the word culture. In its meaning are concentrated

questions directly raised by the great historical changes which the changes in industry, democracy, and class, in their own way, represent, and to which the changes in art are a closely related response. (It)…is a record of…important and continuing reactions to…changes in…social, economic, and political life…(I)n its structure of meanings, is a wide and general movement in thought and feeling (exemplified in the) complex and radical response…to the new problems of social class. (1968:16)

Whereas, for Williams, both the sense of structural cohesion and shared consciousness of each class is provided for by its culture, ‘the body of intellectual and imaginative work which each generation receives as its traditional culture is always, and necessarily, something more than the product of a single class’. And this is so, not only on historical grounds, but also because

Even within a society in which a particular class is dominant, it is evidently possible both for members of other classes to contribute to the common stock, and for such contributions to be unaffected by or be in opposition to the ideas and values of the dominant class The area of a culture, it would seem, is usually proportionate to the area of a language rather than to the area of a class…(people) who share a common language share the inheritance of an intellectual and literary tradition which is necessarily and constantly revalued with every shift in experience. (1968:308)

The particularity of these experiential shifts are in a reflexive relation with tradition which is mediated through language, and eventually produces changes in the institutional structures of social order. Williams both formulates and makes possible detailed analysis of these generative processes of social change through his concept of structures of feeling (Filmer, 2003). But in the outline of his initial analysis of class that I have given here can be seen the possibility of recovering, from within critically reflexive linguistic and literary textual representations of historically particular experiences, viable discursive accounts of its sociological significance modelled clearly on a sense of literature and language that is, in Lawrence’s sense, properly handled.

 

REFERENCES

Culler, J. (1975): Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics and the Study of Literature, London, Routledge

Eagleton, T. (1976): Criticism and Ideology: A Studyin Marxist Literary Theory. New Left Books, London

Eagleton, T. (1983): Literary Theory: An Introduction, Oxford, Basil Blackwell

Eagleton, T. (1989): ‘Two Approaches in the Sociology of Literature’ in Desan, P. et al (eds): Literature and Social Practice, Chicaago and London, U. of Chicago Press

Filmer, P. (1969): ‘The Literary Imagination and the Explanation of Socio-cultural Change in Modern Britain’, European Journal of Sociology, X(2): 271-291

Filmer, P. (1975): ‘Sociology and Social Stratification: Issues of Reflexivity and Tradition’ in Sandywell, Barry et al: Problems of Reflexivity and Dialectics in Sociological Inquiry: Language Theorizing Difference, London, Routledge

Filmer, P. (1977): ‘Literary Study as Liberal Education and as Sociology in the Work of F.R.Leavis’, in Jenks, C. (ed): Rationality, Education and the Social Orgaanization of Knowledge: Papers for a Reflexive Sociology of Education, London, Routledge

Filmer, P. (1978): ‘Dickens, Pickwick and Realism’ in Laurenson, Diana (ed): The Sociology of Literature: Applied Studies: Sociological Review Monograph 26, Keele, Staffordshire, University of Keele

Filmer, P. (1998a): ‘Analysing Literary Texts’ in Seale, C. (ed.): Researching Society and Culture, London, Sage

Filmer, P. (1998b): ‘Image/Text’ in Jenks, C. (ed.): Core Sociological Dichotomies, London, Sage

Filmer, P. (2003): ‘Structures of feeling and socio-cultural formations: the significance of literature and experience to Raymond Williams’s sociology of culture’, The British Journal of Sociology, 54(2):199-219

Hall, J. (1979): The Sociology of Literature, London, Longman

Lawrence, D.H. (2006): The Fox/The Captains Doll/The Ladybird, London, Penguin Books

Leavis, F.R. (1962): The Common Pursuit, Harmondsworth, Peregrine Books

Leavis, F.R. (1964): D.H. Lawrence/Novelist, Harmondsworth, Peregrine Books

Leavis, F.R. (1972): Nor Shall My Sword: Discourses on Pluralism, Compassion and Social Hope, London, Chatto & Windus

Leavis, F.R. (1986): Valuation in Criticism and other essays (collected and edited by G. Singh), Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

Loewenthal, L. (1961): Literature, Popular Culture and Society, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall

Loewenthal, L. (1989): ‘Sociology of Literature in Retrospect’ in Desan, P. et al (eds): Literature and SocialPractice, Chicago and London, U. of Chicago Press

Macherey, P. (1978): A Theory of Literary Production (translated by G. Wall), London, Routledge

Williams, R. (1968): Culture and Society, 1780-1950, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books

Williams, R. (1973): The Country and the City, London, Chatto & Windus

Williams, R. (1977): Marxism and Literature, Oxford, Oxford University Press

Williams, R. (1980): Problems in Materialism and Culture: Selected Essays, London, Verso Editions

Worthen, J. (2006): D.H.Lawrence: The Life of an Outsider, London, Penguin Books