Why World War I cultivated an obsession with insects

Allied forces wearing gas masks at Ypres, 1917.
Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

In this guest blog, originally published in The Conversation, Rachel Murray of University of Bristol explains how a craze for popular entomology developed around World War I with films and popular insect books a source of fascination for modernist writers and thinkers, including Virginia Woolf, DH Lawrence, Ezra Pound, Katherine Mansfield, and Marianne Moore.

“The soldier is no longer a noble figure,” observed the war poet Siegfried Sassoon while serving on the Western Front. “He is merely a writhing insect among this ghastly folly of destruction.” 

It is little surprise that Sassoon turned to insects to express the plight of the World War I soldier. Many did. Bugs – both real and metaphorical – came to shape the way people thought and wrote about the experience of war, and this prompted a surge of popular interest in insects more generally.

This was the first fully industrialised, long-range conflict, in which the enemy was reduced to minute specks. On the front line, soldiers wore bug-like gas masks and camouflage uniforms for the first time, were strapped into new prototypes of military body armour, and crawled through the mud in tanks. The optics of war even caused the modernist writer Wyndham Lewis, who served as an artillery officer, to remark: “These battles are more like ant fights than anything we have done in this way up to now.”

The striking resemblance between humans and insects also stemmed from their close proximity on the battlefield. Lice, mosquitoes and flies thrived in the trenches, quickly becoming one of the main sources of illness and death among soldiers. Faced with the rapid spread of typhus, malaria, and trench fever (spread by lice), the War Office teamed up with entomologists to tackle this enemy within.

This led to a campaign of insect extermination, in which troops were regularly disinfected with chemicals designed to halt the spread of lice. Yet while this was going on, soldiers were also being subjected to poisonous gases from the enemy, some of which had previously been used as insecticides. One Dutch newspaper was quick to notice the parallel treatment of soldiers and insects.

De Groene Amsterdammer, May 9, 1915.
__De Groene Amsterdammer Archive__

In this satirical illustration from May 1915, the female embodiment of Germany, “Germania”, sprinkles insect powder over a tiny group of soldiers. At first glance, she appears to be delousing them, but she is in fact exterminating them with chlorine.

Yet if the conditions of war reduced human beings to bugs, then it was to these life forms that people turned in search of ways of understanding their predicament.

Bug mania

Jean-Henri Casimir Fabre.
_Wikimedia Commons_

Perhaps because people felt closer to insects than ever, in the period around World War I a craze for popular entomology developed.

Studies of insect life were in high demand, with more books devoted solely to bugs than ever before. Of particular interest to the British public was the work of French entomologist Jean-Henri Casimir Fabre, whose groundbreaking and often gruesome studies of the behaviour of wasps, beetles, mantises, and flies sold widely in the years surrounding the war. Fabre was a pioneering figure in the life sciences who demonstrated that more could be learnt about insects as living entities observed in their natural habitats than as dead specimens pinned in display cases.

The development of new film technologies also meant that the sophisticated behaviour of insects could be made visible to the human eye. In November 1908, nature documentary maker F. Percy Smith’s The Acrobatic Fly caused a stir when it was screened at a London cinema. Advertised on the front page of The Daily Mirror, the short film consisted of remarkable footage of a fly juggling various miniature items with its front legs.

After the war, the public appetite for bugs on screen continued to grow. From 1922, a series of nature shorts called Secrets of Nature was screened in British cinemas. Many of the films focused on the hidden lives of ants, wasps and beetles.

Modernist insects

This popular bug interest was also seen in the more canonical cultural output of the period. The films and popular insect books mentioned above were a source of fascination for modernist writers and thinkers, including Virginia Woolf, DH Lawrence, Ezra Pound, Katherine Mansfield, and Marianne Moore, who listed Fabre’s ten-volume collection, Souvenirs entomologiques (Entomological memories), in a list of “great literary works”. The poet William Carlos Williams even remarked: “Henri Fabre has been one of my Gods.”

Some writers were inspired by the remarkable ability of insects to thrive in inhospitable environments. Set during the war, DH Lawrence’s novella The Ladybird draws on Fabre’s account of the “sacred beetle” (also known as the dung beetle), which sculpts the waste products of larger animals into a home for its offspring. The text highlights the ingenuity of the dung beetle, emphasising its ability to transform death and decay into a source of new life.

Scanning electron microscope image of an ant.
Wikimedia commons

Others were drawn to Fabre’s account of the unique ways that insects perceive their surroundings. One of Wyndham Lewis’s characters remarks enviously that “the insect sees a different world to us, and possesses other means of apprehending it”, while in Virginia Woolf’s novel To The Lighthouse, artist Lily Briscoe longs to experience the compound vision of ants: “One wanted fifty pairs of eyes to see with.”

The turn to popular entomology in the years surrounding the war was no coincidence. While insects may have come to represent the degraded nature of human existence, studies of bug life helped writers and artists, as well as the public at large, to look beyond the wartime atmosphere of destruction, and to develop new ways of seeing themselves and the world around them.The Conversation

Rachel Murray, PhD Candidate, University of Bristol. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

dhl-trunk energyIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts to try to understand this complex writer. How do we capture the modernists’ fascination with entomology? What insects should be crawling through our draws? In 2019 we begin 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

 

How huge gamble by Lady Chatterley lawyers changed obscenity law forever

Step this way … PA/PA Archive

In this guest blog, originally published in The Conversation, Sue Rabbitt Roff of University of Dundee, explains how “a watershed in British obscenity law had been achieved without any discussion about the illegal sex acts central to the novel”. Skip to page 258 of Lady Chatterley’s Lover to see if you would have made the same gamble as barrister Jeremy Hutchinson…

Jeremy Hutchinson, who has died at 102, was one of England’s finest criminal barristers. He was counsel of choice for some of the most high-profile cases of his era. He defended the likes of Christine Keeler and Great Train robber Charles Wilson and also obscenity cases against novels like Fanny Hill and Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

Later known as Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, his role defending Penguin Books after it published the unexpurgated version of the DH Lawrence classic is particularly memorable. It remains the landmark case in British obscenity law.

But look at the details and something extraordinary emerges: Penguin’s decision to publish 200,000 copies on the advice of Hutchinson and joint lead counsel Gerald Gardiner was a massive gamble. It set up a case that were it not for the incompetence of the prosecution could easily have gone the other way.

Obscenity and England

Lady Chatterley’s Lover had only ever been legally published in abridged versions in the UK, starting in 1932. Though by 1960 the unexpurgated edition was sold in Europe and America and could be obtained under the counter in London if you knew where to go, Penguin co-founder Allen Lane wanted to publish a cheap paperback of the full thing.

The idea was to put it out at 3s 6d, the same price as ten cigarettes, to make it affordable for the “young and the hoi-polloi”. The excuse was the 30th anniversary of Lawrence’s death from tuberculosis at the age of 45.

When Penguin consulted Hutchinson and Gardiner, the lawyers retreated to reflect. A trial under the new Obscene Publications Act seemed inevitable. The act’s first paragraph stated that material will be deemed obscene if it contains elements that tend as a whole “to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely … to read, see or hear” it.

Jeremy Hutchinson. PA/PA Archive

The act included a new defence in cases where the offending segments were “for the public good on the ground that [they are] in the interests of science, literature, art or learning”. In consultation with several literary experts, Hutchinson and Gardiner felt most of the racy scenes and bad language – including (30) “fucks” and (14) “cunts” – could fall under this defence. Lawrence, after all, was one of the most highly regarded writers of his era.

Hutchinson was concerned about page 258, however, where anal sex crops up – albeit obliquely. It has Oliver Mellors, the lover in the book’s title, trying to divorce his wife Bertha Coutts and being accused by her “of all unspeakable things”. Clifford Chatterley writes a letter to his own wife saying that Coutts has aired details about her marriage to Mellors which are “usually buried down in the deepest grave of matrimonial silence”.

But, he comments:

Humanity has always had a strange avidity for unusual sexual postures, and if a man likes to use his wife, as Benvenuto Cellini says, ‘in the Italian way’, well that is a matter of taste.

Lady Chatterley has pause for thought:

Connie remembered the last night she had spent with [Mellors], and shivered. He had known all that sensuality, even with a Bertha Coutts! It was really rather disgusting. It would be well to be rid of him, clear of him altogether.

Her friend Duncan Forbes then makes light of it:

If he’s made love to his wife all ends on, hasn’t he a right to? She ought to be proud of it.

While homosexual anal sex between consenting men was legalised 50 years ago in the UK, the heterosexual equivalent became legal only at the millennium in England and Wales and was highly illegal in 1960. (The 2001 film Bridget Jones’ Diary celebrated legalisation with a pretty explicit scene between Renée Zellweger and Hugh Grant.)

Illegal acts could still potentially use the public good defence, but Hutchinson feared it made the case much harder to win. Gardiner and the experts at the meeting dismissed his fears. In these more innocent times, they were betting that the prosecution wouldn’t grasp the point and omit it from their case. Hutchinson agreed to go ahead and advised Penguin accordingly.

Allen Lane and the edition. PA/PA Archive

Your witness

The defence called 35 professors of literature, authors, journalists, editors, critics, publishers and child education experts, and four Anglican churchmen. Each declared the book had sufficient literary merit to deserve publication for the public good. (Those less convinced of Lawrence’s genius begged off – Enid Blyton declared she had never read the book and “my husband said no at once”.)

Lead prosecutor Mervyn Griffith-Jones cross-examined only 14 of the 35. He lost most of those rounds, and sometimes his temper in the process. It was only in his closing speech he said to the jury:

Would you look at page 258. It is a passage which I have not – and I do not think anybody has – referred to during the course of cross-examination, or indeed at any time during this trial. It … describes what is called the ‘night of sensual passion’.

He read out the whole passage remarking: “Not very easy, sometimes, not very easy, you know, to know what in fact he is driving at in that passage.”

It’s not clear how many jurors understood the passage; some were said to be visibly shocked. Certainly Griffith-Jones had missed the significance entirely, having referenced it only to underline the book’s general depravity. Mr Justice Byrne summed up with no reference to anal sex either. The issues were, he said, promiscuity and adultery described in words that were “normally obscene”.

The jury returned in three hours and found Penguin not guilty. Neither the clergy nor any of the other experts had been examined on anal sex and it is not clear whether they realised they were implicitly defending it or not. A watershed in British obscenity law had been achieved without any discussion about the illegal sex acts central to the novel.

In the wake of this case, publishing in Britain became considerably more liberal. Had Hutchinson not agreed to advise Penguin to take that extraordinary gamble, things could have panned out very differently.

Sue Rabbitt Roff, Part time tutor in Medical Education, University of Dundee.This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 

Lawrence and Brett 2: Changing Rooms.

dh lawrence cowboy2
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.

mabel-1007174
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’.

map
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.’

the-dorothy-brett-cabin
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

Lorenzo in Taos 3: Mabeltown

 

Mabel-Dodge-Luhan-House
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.

Rage
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.

mabel big and book

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

‘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

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’.

Insouciance

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.    

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.

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.  

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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.

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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”.

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