The recent blocking of the Suez Canal caused a right tiz, bringing global trade to a grinding halt and $1 billion in compensation claims from angry exporters. But 101 years ago life was a bit slower. The above video visualises D.H. Lawrence’s plod along the Suez. Back when life was very different and it was ok to stand and stare.
It was created in collaboration with John McCarthy, a student at Nottingham Trent University who got in contact for some experience of video editing and mentoring. I really admire students who take the initiative and push for that extra experience (this is a voluntary placement and is not assessed). We will begin working on another film at the end of May.
We sat down and I outlined the tone and pace of the film and the need to keep things befitting to the historical period. This was definitely a film that required longer shots and stills rather than flitting between images. Then John had the creative freedom to select the images. We then met up and discussed the first draft which required a minor edit.
His motivation for getting involved with the project was the ‘creative freedom’ and to help with his future career. John said: ‘In the future I would like to be a film editor, I really enjoy editing as its where the project really comes to life. I see it as the last part of directing as you can decide on which shots to use, the pacing, and how the film will end up looking in a final cut. You can really decide how the film will look.’
The benefit of a placement for John is he gets mentoring and advice and a platform to showcase his work. The benefit for us is new content for the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre. It also forces me to come up with a new script and consider ways in which Lawrence’s work can shine a light on contemporary issues.
My hope with these placements is that students learn a bit about putting together a project and then have the confidence to go off and do something similar for themselves. Please find two minutes in your busy schedule to take a look or leave a comment on our YouTube channel. And if you do nothing else, make sure that you pause your 24/7 life for a few moments and enjoy life at 5mph as D.H. Lawrence did in 1922.
Extract of letter used in the film below:
“My Dear Rosalind,
Here we are on the ship – ten days at sea. It is rather lovely – perfect weather all the time, ship steady as can be, enough wind now to keep it cool…
I loved coming through the Suez Canal – 5 miles an hour – takes 18 hours – you see the desert, the sand hills, the low palm trees, arabs with camels working at the side. I like it so much….
Being at sea is so queer – it sort of dissolves for the time being all the connections with the land, and one feels a bit like a sea-bird must feel. It is my opinion that once beyond the Red Sea one does not feel any more that tension and pressure one suffers from in England – in Europe altogether…
It seems difficult in this world to get a new start – so much easier to make more ends.”
The second artefact in the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre is dialect. We’ve been slowly feeding an alphabet of dialect phrases through our Instagram account and producing videos like the above for our YouTube channel. The dialect essays are now on the project website too but will get a makeover as and when we get a chance. Below is some of the transcript for the above ‘mardy’ video.I guess the purpose of the video is to demonstrate (in a quick and accessible way) some of the ways in which Lawrence uses mardy in his work.
Although we’d love to claim mardy as our own, it’s used widely across the country – although it’s meaning varies. In Yorkshire and the Midlands, mardy means to be sulky or whining. This meaning is most likely derived from the dialect marred, which describes a spoilt, overindulged, or badly behaved child.
There are lots of mardy brats in Lawrence’s writing.
However, in the East Midlands, mardy can also mean to be non co-operative, bad tempered or terse in communication. By this definition, D.H. Lawrence was a gigantic sulk on legs. He raged against everyone and everything. And he had plenty of reasons to be mardy, particularly when his books were banned or censored. Take this letter to Edward Garnett in 1912 on finding out his manuscript for Sons and Lovers had been rejected by the publisher Heinemann.
“Curse the blasted, jelly-boned swines, the slimy, the belly-wriggling invertebrates, the miserable sodding rotters, the flaming sods, the sniveling, dribbling, dithering, palsied, pulse-less lot that make up England today.
There are three ways you can pronounce mardy in the East Midlands. Mardeh, mardee or mard. Lawrence was very much of the mard variety on account of growing up in Eastwood which sits smack bang wallop on the border of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. In this region of the country, folk don’t like to fanny about with syllables and trim them off at any given opportunity.
Lawrence flips between these pronunciations in his novels. ‘Mardy’ is mentioned in Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow, and Mr. Noon whereas the harder sounding ‘mard’ appears more frequently in The White Peacock, the short story ‘Rex’, the play The Daughter-in-Law and the poem The Collier’s Wife.
As you would expect from literature’s number one mard arse, there are lots of different words and expressions for being in a bad mood in Lawrence’s work. Here’s a few.
Most mardies happen when you have a row about summat. This is known as a shindy.
If during this shindy you persistently whine, you may be guilty of carneyin’.
Once you’re in a bad mood, you’re likely to go chuntering around the house.
Whining and whimpering is also known as pulamiting
If you are pulamiting in a particularly whining tone you may be accused of grizzling.
Too much grizzling might turn you mean, which can result in mingy behaviour.
This is likely to annoy people, or naggle them.
Most people who have a mardy tend to slope off on their own. But if your mardy has enraged you so much that you start screaming or crying, you have entered the world of scraightin.
Lawrence lived through World War One, survived the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, watched the landscape of his home destroyed by industrialisation, saw his books censored and banned, had his passport confiscated for marrying a German women, experienced persecution for his views, was labelled a pornographer, lived a nomadic life in self-imposed exile, and was plagued by ill health all his life. If anyone earned the right to be mardy, it was he.
As part of our memory theatre project, we have created space for students at Nottingham Trent University to explore their own interpretations of Lawrence’s work. Here Jonathan Lucas explores Lawrence’s use of dialect as part of his final year English dissertation.
DH Lawrence had a special relationship with his native dialect, using the local vernacular speech of the mining community in his hometown Eastwood. Dialect acts as a prominent and dynamic symbol in many of his works, infusing depictions of his childhood experience with a certain raw authenticity that transcends words on a page.
In a late poem entitled ‘Red-herring’, Lawrence describes himself and his siblings as ’in-betweens’ and ‘little nondescripts’ speaking the Received Pronunciation they learned from their mother, Lydia, inside the house and the less respectable dialect, of their father Arthur and the rest of the town, outside it.
The breach between these two forms of speech had a significant impact on Lawrence’s perception of relationships between masculine and feminine, which he expresses in his semi-autobiographical novel, Sons and Lovers. To portray the rift in his upbringing, Lawrence based the characters of Walter and his wife Gertrude on his own parents, featuring intense bi-dialectic confrontations between the two, with Walter speaking in Eastwood dialect and Gertrude speaking in Received Pronunciation.
In both Sons and Lovers and The Rainbow, there is an impulse, largely associated with women, to break out of the parochial community that they feel trapped in. In a community marked off from the wider world through distinctive ways of speaking, characters such as Gertrude provide an alternative to the mould through their speech, mirroring Lydia and her desire to secure respectability for her sons, beyond the community of Eastwood. Lydia’s efforts worked as Lawrence’s ability to code switch from dialect to Received Pronunciation assisted in his transposed success, especially when he won a prestigious Nottinghamshire County scholarship to Nottingham High School, an extraordinary achievement for the son of an Eastwood miner.
Lawrence would go on to travel the world, escaping the mining community that would become the focus of much of his work. His dialect had personal connotations of primitive, masculine energy that he associated with his father – which he makes reference to in his essay ‘Nottingham and the mining country’: “The life was a curious cross between industrialism and the old agricultural England of Shakespeare and Milton and Fielding and George Eliot. The dialect was broad Derbyshire, and always ‘thee’ and ‘thou.’ The people lived almost entirely by instinct; men of my father’s age could not really read.”
The rudimentary essence of dialect is affectionately expressed in the description of the miners in Women in Love: “Their voices sounded out in strong intonation, and the broad dialect was curiously caressing to the blood. It seemed to envelop and run in a labourer’s caress, there was in the whole atmosphere, a resonance of physical men, a glamourous thickness of labour and maleness surcharged in the air.” The physicality of the miners’ bodies is what makes their dialect speech so powerful that it ‘caresses the blood’. The thick dialect courses through the miners’ veins and evaporates in the vibrations of their voices, creating an atmosphere humid with ‘a resonance of physical men’.
The notion of dialect being embedded into one’s blood as a pulse of instinctive life is something Lawrence was vocal about early on in his career, exemplified in a letter when he tells Blanche Jennings that his “verses are tolerable-rather pretty, but not suave; there is some blood in them.” Referring to the integrity within his use of un-refined words and syntax as ‘blood’ highlights how essential Lawrence considered dialect to be in his body of work. In the same letter, Lawrence goes on to say that he prioritises “sincerity, and a quickening spontaneous emotion” in his writing, a sense of immediate passion which is represented through dialect.
Lawrence’s poem ‘The Drained Cup’ ascribes dialect to a woman to show that the raw primitive instinct of his father is not exclusive to males. By using the same deliberately unrefined and explicit language as before, but through a female persona dealing with her lover’s unfaithfulness, Lawrence criticises masculine primitive instinct: “A man like thee can’t rest till the last of his spunk goes out of ‘im into a woman”. This string of monosyllabic words leading to the disyllabic “woman” illuminates how all of the lover’s masculine energy, his “spunk”, is focused towards women, thereby being impotent in the absence of a woman to direct it to.
This is reinforced later in the poem when ‘spunk’ then yields to ‘blood’: “Tha’rt one o’ th’ men as has got to drain-an I’ve loved thee for it. Their blood in a woman, to the very last vain” – this reduces men to their material substance – ‘spunk’ and ‘blood’ are all that men are good for in this instance.
Using dialect, Lawrence expresses the unrestrainable nature of humans, articulating obsessions with immediate and physical reality, exploring the collective primitive instinct that is shared by all but repressed by some and embraced by others – regardless of gendered boundaries constructed by society.
Dialect is the second artefact in the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre. Visit our project website to see contextual essays by Natalie Braber
The second artefact in the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre is dialect. We will be posting content on our website over the next couple of months. Here’s why we think dialect is important.
During lockdown people have been doing really creative stuff, like playing the mandolin while roller-skating or learning to bake sourdough while blindfolded. We, on the other hand, have been counting how many times D.H. Lawrence uses the greeting ‘duck’ in his work.
On one level, this is the kind of futile distraction that epitomises lockdown. But it has a more serious function as well. How important was dialect in his work? What function did it serve? How successful was he in using it? Geoffrey Trease, for example, believes Lawrence’s best writing was dialogue in his plays. As his earlier plays are set in mining communities, they all use a lot of dialect.
One of the best known examples of dialect in Nottingham is duck. It’s ok to greet anyone with duck – irrespective of their age, gender or any other ism you can think of. This is something I previously explored in the BBC Radio 4 series Tongue and Talk: The Dialect poets. Across his novels, plays, poems and short stories, Lawrence references ‘duck’ 15 times in total. It appears most in his debut novel, The White Peacock, with four mentions.
In the short film above, lovingly edited together by Izaak Bosman, we’ve asked various people to read these quotes out to give you a flavour of the Notts/Derbyshire accent. These voices are drawn from different areas, including Mansfield, Wollaton, Sherwood, Southwell, Eastwood and beyond. Some are read by born and bred locals, others have moved here from different cities and countries.
We’re currently working on another dialect video and have asked members of Lawrence Country, an Alt-Country & folk band from the Bagthorpe Delta, to read it out. We love what they do and how they incorporate the sentiments and landscapes of Lawrence’s life and work into their songs, so this was an excuse to collaborate.
Dialect is the second artefact for our memory theatre and these videos will accompany contextual essays on language by Natalie Braber. We’ve also created a dialect alphabet using words directly used in Lawrence’s work. This is being used in the ‘Questioning the Canon’ module at Nottingham Trent University where students are being asked to create their own stories using words from the alphabet and to find equivalent words from their own region.
The Dialect Alphabet (which is being released on our Instagram and Twitter accounts before the website) has already caused much debate. For example, for ‘A’ we selected addle. However, some people have asked why we didn’t plump for ‘Ayup’ which is the standard greeting for hello in Notts. The reason for this is simple: No matter how ubiquitous this expression is in everyday language it doesn’t appear anywhere in Lawrence’s work.
Dialect serves many functions. It can be used to denote a position of class, education and work. Given these influences, dialect is subject to change. For example, the last operating deep coal mine in the UK, Kellingley colliery, closed in December 2015. As industries decline, the names for tools and working practice slowly lose relevance and a whole way of life is slowly eroded.
For Jackie Greaves, a former guide at the Birthplace Museum, dialect and accent are about belonging. Hearing the Eastwood accent spoken is comforting and integral to identity. But not everyone approves of these sentiments. The philosopher, Stephen Alexander, is suspicious of whether phallic tenderness – the attempt to directly translate feelings and desire through language – can ever be truly authentic. Nor does he like the idea of ‘small groups of people – tribes – retreating into semi-private languages in order to uphold some narrow identity and exclude others’. Stephen has also submitted an artefact to our memory theatre which will be published later next year.
Whatever our thoughts on dialect, Lawrence was arguably the first author to write from the ‘inside’ about life in mining communities. He gave validity to the lives he described, paving the way for critics such as Raymond Williams to later declare that ‘culture is ordinary’. Language is political. On the most basic level, some people have the power to speak and others don’t. But a further nuance of this issue is how you speak – the tone, emphasis, choice of words.
In this visual essay, Josh Whitehead explores Lawrence’s reputation as a controversial author and his fascination with blood and mental consciousness. This was created as part of his English literature dissertation at Nottingham Trent University in the module ENGL30512.
“My great religion is a belief in the blood, as the flesh being wiser than the intellect. We can go wrong in our minds but what our blood feels and believes and says, is always true.”
The sexual energy of D H Lawrence’s works, from Lady Chatterley’s Lover to his controversial nude paintings, were inspired by his belief in the equal importance of body and mind. This caused controversy, which matched his personal life.
Lawrence convinced German aristocrat Frieda Weekley to leave her husband and three children to become his wife. They married in 1914, just before the outbreak of World War 1. They attempted to settle down in Cornwall but were forced to leave due to suspicions that they were German spies due to Frieda’s heritage and their reclusive lifestyle. Angered and frustrated, they left Britain and traveled together to Italy, New Mexico and Australia, never staying anywhere for more than two years.
Lawrence believed in the primal connection of energies between two people, effectively displayed in monogamy. Frieda had other ideas and was frequently unfaithful. Her affair with Angelo Ravagli, the man she would marry after Lawrence died, inspired his final major novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover. At the time, critics were disgusted by the sexual acts detailed in the novel, such as sodomy. Although they were equally disgusted to read that a Lady of wealth might be attracted to someone of from the lower order.
In writing freely about sexual relationships was Lawrence attempting to free the chains of censorship? Was he a pornographic pervert? Or was he a free-thinking libertarian who helped usher in the permissive society?
Similar to Freud, Lawrence is commonly accused of finding the sexual in practically everything. However, this common misconception is due to Lawrence’s focus on the primal self, similar to the Romantics belief of having a natural connection to all living things. This living transmission, although occasionally expressed through sexual action, is more to do with the connection of two people as opposed to the pleasures associated with sexual intercourse.
In reference to the Biblical fall of man, Lawrence asks: “Do you imagine Adam had never had intercourse with Eve before that apple episode? Many a time. As a wild animal with his mate. It didn’t become ‘sin’ till the Knowledge-poison entered. That apple of Sodom. We are divided in ourselves, against ourselves.”
The apple is frequently used as an image of temptation and sin, Lawrence used it metaphorically to depict the imbalance between the mental consciousness and the primal; splitting both the mind and the body from one another. This separation, according to Lawrence, becomes the blood and mental consciousness; the view of blood being a sensual connection with the environment and against following the herd; Mechanical thinking leads to war.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover was published privately in Florence in 1928 to avoid the censor. The story consists of a cross-class relationship involving a Lady and her gamekeeper; challenging the establishment “to think of sex fully, completely, honestly, and cleanly”. Lawrence wrote three versions of the novel, the second was called Tenderness, suggesting there was more to their relationship than lust. In the novel, Lady Chatterley is prepared to give up wealth and status to pursue a relationship with her true love.
Lawrence experienced censorship throughout his life but he refused to be silenced. When the critics banned his novels or seized his paintings, he simply ridiculed their prudishness in pithy poems, such as ‘13,000 people’ that I decided to read aloud on the D.H. Lawrence tram in Nottingham as part of my visual essay.
Thirteen thousand people came to see
my pictures, eager as the honey bee
for the flowers; and I’ll tell you what
all eyes sought the same old spot
in every picture, every time,
and gazed and gloated without rhyme
or reason, where the leaf should be
the fig-leaf that was not, woe is me!
And they blushed, they giggled, they sniggered, they leered,
or they boiled and they fumed, in fury they sneered
and said: Oh boy! I tell you what,
look at that one there, that’s pretty hot! —
And they stared and they stared, the half-witted lot
at the spot where the fig-leaf just was not!
But why, I ask you? Oh tell me why?
Aren’t they made quite the same, then, as you and I?
Can it be they’ve been trimmed, so they’ve never seen
the innocent member that a fig-leaf will screen?
What’s the matter with them? aren’t they women and men?
or is something missing? or what’s wrong with them then?
that they stared and leered at the single spot
where a fig-leaf might have been, and was not.
I thought it was a commonplace
that a man or a woman in a state of grace
in puris naturalibus, don’t you see,
had normal pudenda, like you and me.
But it can’t be so, for they behaved
like lunatics looking, they bubbled and raved
or gloated or peeped at the simple spot
where a fig-leaf might have been, but was not.
I tell you, there must be something wrong
with my fellow-countrymen; or else I don’t belong.
To see more visual essays and other interpretations of Lawrence’s work please see our YouTube channel: D.H.Lawrence: A Digital Pilgrimage. We also post one minute films of Lawrence’s writing on our instagram account: dhldigitalpilgrimage In 2019 we will be begin building our memory theatre. You can submit artefacts here.
In this visual essay, created by Sophie Thompson as part of her dissertation at Nottingham Trent University, she applies a psychoanalytic reading to Lawrence’s short story ‘The Rocking Horse Winner’.
D.H. Lawrence’s ‘The Rocking Horse Winner’ is an exploration of the effect that money has upon the lives of those who allow it to control the way they live one’s life. The protagonist, Paul, lives in a house that is haunted by the phrase “There must be more money!”, despite nobody speaking it. This can be understood as a metaphor for the desire for wealth in his mother being so loud that it echoes throughout the entire home. When Paul decides to ask his mother why they don’t have money, she assigns blame to Paul’s father on account of the fact he “has no luck”; to which Paul is quick to insist upon the opposite, asserting, “I’m a lucky person”, and thereby indicating to his mother that he possesses something his father does not.
In this way a Freudian psychoanalytic reading can be applied, specifically with regard to the Oedipus complex. This is with irony as Lawrence himself spoke negatively of psychoanalysis, describing Freud in Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious as “the psychiatric quack who vehemently demonstrated the serpent of sex coiled round the root of all our actions”. The Oedipus Complex is first introduced by Freud within his 1899 text The Interpretation of Dreams, and is said to occur during the latency stage of psychosexual development which spans age six through to puberty. Freud recognises the complex as the experience of an unconscious sexual desire for the parent of the opposite sex, which in turn causes us to compete for the affection of this desired parent with the parent of the same sex; deriving from an unexpected observation of the “part played by [the] father in the earliest sexual impulses of female patients”. The oedipal undertones in this scene in particular are enhanced by Lawrence admitting that “He didn’t even know why he had said it”, reflecting the unconscious desires voicing themselves without Paul being able to account for them.
As the narrative progresses, the oedipal complex within Paul grows more evident. After the interaction with his mother, Paul mounts his rocking horse and orders: “Now! […] Now take me to where there is luck! Now take me!” The mounting of the horse itself possesses an inherently sexual innuendo, but his commands can both be seen as asserting control over something to compensate for the lack of control he has in achieving the sexual interest he desires from his mother; but also the repeating of the word ‘now’ accentuates how desperate he is to obtain it. It is perhaps noteworthy that we do not meet the father within the narrative, and this desire for ‘now’ may therefore be Paul’s anxiety that at any moment his father may return, the prospect of which carries the castration complex. This complex, according to Freud, refers to the fear within the child that they face castration at the hands of the father in response to learning of their desires for the opposing parent, in order to prevent the child from pursuing their sexual interest. In this context, then, Paul is desperate to acquire the luck that his father does not have in order to win the affection of the mother whilst he is out of the picture.
When uncle Oscar learns of Paul’s success, Paul tells him: “I shouldn’t like mother to know I was lucky”, explaining that she’d stop him if she knew. One might apply a Freudian reading to this and infer that Paul’s belief that his mother would stop his luck derives from his unconscious recognition that he must ‘become’ his father in order to win the sexual affection of his mother. To achieve this, he would have to adopt his father’s unluckiness, also. In this way we see these supposedly unconscious human desires conflict with Lawrence’s attitude toward money: Paul’s complex once a domineering force in his life is now secondary to the obsession he has developed to winning money.
This attitude is made even more explicit within the end of the narrative, which sees Paul die after becoming overwhelmed at the news of winning eighty thousand pounds. Leading up to which Paul, who was once haunted by house’s cries for money, is incredibly reluctant to leave. His mother asks: “Why, you curious child, what makes you care about this house so much, suddenly? I never knew you loved it”, illustrating that he now understands the desire to earn money and is, so to speak, ‘deaf’ to the voices, as the ones in his head that now utter the same phrase are far louder.
To see more visual essays and other interpretations of Lawrence’s work please see our YouTube channel: D.H.Lawrence: A Digital Pilgrimage. We also post one minute films of Lawrence’s writing on our instagram account: dhldigitalpilgrimage In 2019 we will be begin building our memory theatre. You can submit artefacts here.
It’s fair to say that British culture is defined by indecision. Presently, this is most evident with Brexit. On June 23, 2016 17.4 million voters (51.9 percent of the votes cast), backed leaving the EU while 16.1 million voters (48.1 percent of votes cast), favoured staying. The referendum proved one thing: the country was completely split. Nobody was entirely sure what they wanted. And so that split continues now, with talk of a second referendum and the countless permutations of possible exits. This has led the Tory party to implode as they squabble over who should be the next non-elected PM. We shouldn’t be surprised, though. This indecision was prevalent during the Civil War. In 1649 we executed Charles I for treason; had a very puritanical republic for eleven years under Oliver Cromwell; then restored Charles II to the throne in 1660.
As a nation, we oscillate with ease between seemingly binary opposites. We switch positions like musical chairs, and when the chairs have gone, we sit on the floor. I mention this because English PEN have launched a crowdfunding campaign to keep an annotated copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the UK. The copy was annotated by Lady Dorothy Byrne, wife of the Hon. Sir Laurence Byrne, the presiding judge of the 1960 obscenity trial against Penguin books.
The Arts minister, Michael Ellis, has determined that the book should stay in the UK and not be exported abroad. It is now deemed a national treasure, part of our literary heritage. The irony is not wasted on Lawrence scholars, given that the British government did everything it could to keep the novel out of print for so long. Lawrence was of regular interest to the censor. Other novels, poetry collections and a set of thirteen painting were all deemed unfit for public purpose, with copies of The Rainbow burned and the paintings locked up in a prison cell. It is little wonder that Lawrence dedicated so much energy towards getting out of England as quickly as he could and as far away as he could – travelling across Europe, Australia, and the Americas.
Philippe Sands QC, President of English PEN, said:
“DH Lawrence was an active member of English PEN and unique in the annals of English literary history. Lady Chatterley’s Lover was at the heart of the struggle for freedom of expression, in the courts and beyond. This rare copy of the book, used and marked up by the judge, must remain in the UK, accessible to the British public to help understand what is lost without freedom of expression. This unique text belongs here, a symbol of the continuing struggle to protect the rights of writers and readers at home and abroad.”
The copy was recently sold at auction to an overseas bidder for £56,250. English PEN have created a ‘Go Fund Me’ page to match the bid and keep it in Blightly. It is with this in mind that we have produced another short film for you that addresses parochialism and Lawrence’s views of the British. Written in 1924, Lawrence was infuriated that “an island no bigger than a back garden” should have such an inflated sense of grandeur. How true that sentiment remains today.
In 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 represent the Lady Chatterley Trial? How do we determine what is obscene and what should be censored? 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
All people dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their mind, Wake in the morning to find that it was vanity.
But the dreamers of the day are dangerous people, For they dream their dreams with open eyes, And make them come true.
According to D.H. Lawrence we all dream, but some dreamers are more unequal than others. There are those who dream at night with their eyes shut, and those who dream in the sun with their eyes wide open. Before we examine this a little deeper, let’s take a moment to reflect on the purpose of sleep given that it has become such a hot topic of late.
Lack of sleep can make us fat. It can increase the risk of a stroke. It can cause depression, etc – you get the picture. Whereas plenty of shuteye can improve concentration and productivity. Sleep functions as a kind of housekeeper that removes toxins in your brain that build up while you are awake. According to neuroscientist Matthew Walker (no relation), lack of suboptimal shut-eye levels can also have an effect on your testicles, and whether you live into your mid 60s. All of this got me thinking about my dad who proudly got by on 4-5 hours a sleep a night. For him, sleeping was an affront to life. You made the most of everyday and maximised the hours. He was overweight, had a stroke and died at 67. But he never suffered from depression and there was nothing wrong with his testicles – he had eight children. He was incredibly productive – running his own business because he hated people telling him what to do. His downfall wasn’t lack of sleep. It was a love of cigars, Mars bars and quadruple whiskies.
I don’t care much for the latest lifestyle tip. I’m old enough to have read that drinking wine is good for your health only for it to be reinvented as middle-class smack. Woe betide anyone taking more than two glugs on a school night. Lawrence would certainly scoff at such advice having lived his entire life in denial at his own poor health. The mere mention of a doctor sent him into a rage. So I doubt he would care to be told how many hours kip he needed to sleep each night.
Dreams, on the other hand, are more complex. They are either a weird by-product of sleep – like plastic is to oil, or some kind of clever programming that functions to preserve the brain, a bit like how a screensaver protects computer monitors from phosphor burn-in when not being used.
Our brains digest so much information throughout the day that it has to be processed somehow. Take this blog. As I type my brain is also observing a messy desk with coffee stains, the picture of a dinosaur pinned to the wall behind the monitor, tuning into overheard Brexit debates in the office. This irrelevant data has to be classified, ordered and expunged. Dreams, then, are a bit like C Cleaner. They defrag. They take all of this collected information and mash it together into a surreal narrative. In this respect, dreams are incredibly democratic as all of the non-essential data gets a more prominent role when we hit the pillow. Tonight I’ll be dreaming of being chased by a coffee slurping dinosaur screaming ‘remain and you’ll die. Leave and you’ll be free’.
Lawrence wasn’t a fan of democracy, believing, like Nietzsche, that levelling down dimmed the light of those destined to lead. As abhorrent as that might sound to modern ears – and clearly it does have its problems – it needs to be seen in context. Lawrence’s work was censored, banned and vilified for daring to offer alternative ways of living on Planet E. The nation as a democratic ideal was responsible for an ugly passivity that brought about harm to the environment and stifled spiritual growth. Modernity claimed to bring about progress but all this meant was the destruction of the natural landscape, as well as producing bullets and bombs that would kill millions of people in the trenches.
Lawrence had no time for resting his head on a pillow and taking refuge in sleep. There were too many battles to be fought in daylight. We see this in his restlessness, making his way across the globe in search of Rananim, settling nowhere for more than two years, refusing to own property because he knew possessions ended up possessing you. We see it time and again in his novels, not least in Kangaroo where Richard Somers outlines ‘a new religious idea’ that ‘must gradually spring up and ripen before there could be any constructive change. And yet he felt that preaching and teaching were both no good, at the world’s present juncture. There must be action, brave, faithful action: and in the action the new spirit would arise.’
This is why Lawrence remains relevant today. He was a dangerous person in a peaceful sense. He dared to dream with his eyes wide open.
In 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 convey Lawrence’s ideas about dreaming with your eyes wide open when it’s a lot easier to keep them shut? 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
D.H. Lawrence is a writer who divides opinion. He may be part of the literary canon, but he’s there begrudgingly, on the margins, peering in and mocking those revelling in their grandeur. For others he must be removed from the canon with haste. He’s sexist, a fascist and many other ‘ists’ that are often born from a simplistic understanding of his work – though not without reason. He is a complex and contradictory writer, adulated and abhorred in equal measures. Most definitely not average.
Ever since F.R Leavis (1955) labelled D.H Lawrence: Novelist, everyone has put claim to one element of his writing as distilling his essence more than others. Dallas Kenmare (1951), in Fire Bird: A Study of D.H Lawrence, would have us believe that everything that Lawrence had to say was contained solely in his poetry. Geoff Dyer (1997), points us towards his letters in Out of Sheer Rage. For others, his travel writing contains a simplicity and clarity of observation that found a more honest mode of expression than those novels that tend to go on a bit. More recently James Moran (2015), a professor of Modern English Literature and Drama at the University of Nottingham, puts the case forward for Lawrence to be recognised for his plays in his study The Theatre of D.H Lawrence, the first major book-length study of DHL’s plays for four decades.
Whatever our opinion of Lawrence, we can agree to disagree. He’s a complex bugger which is why we continue to gossip about him 89 years after his death. This is evident in the poem ‘We are Transmitters’, which, like much of his work, asks us how we want to live while telling us exactly how we should live. In places, it reads like a religious sermon (‘Give, and it shall be given unto you’) it’s imbued with the Protestant work ethic (have pride in your puddings and stool making) and then there’s that stuff about ‘sexless people transmitting nothing’ that will get the ‘ist’ crowd foaming at the lips because the smutty author is at it again. But Lawrence wasn’t really a smutty author. In many ways he was quite a prude. And of course, when he’s talking about ‘sexless people’ he’s not talking about ‘sex’, he’s talking about blood consciousness; ways of being and connecting with the world, and and and…
We are Transmitters
As we live, we are transmitters of life.
And when we fail to transmit life, life fails to flow through us.
That is part of the mystery of sex, it is a flow onwards.
Sexless people transmit nothing.
And if, as we work, we can transmit life into our work,
life, still more life, rushes into us to compensate, to be ready
and we ripple with life through the days.
Even if it is a woman making an apple dumpling, or a man a stool,
if life goes into the pudding, good is the pudding
good is the stool,
content is the woman, with fresh life rippling in to her,
content is the man.
Give, and it shall be given unto you
is still the truth about life.
But giving life is not so easy.
It doesn’t mean handing it out to some mean fool, or letting the living dead eat
It means kindling the life-quality where it was not,
even if it’s only in the whiteness of a washed pocket-handkerchief.
One of the aims of the D.H. Lawrence memory theatre is to drag Lawrence into the 21st century by transmitting his thoughts across media platforms and in byte-sized chunks that are more accessible to modern audiences. That’s why we’ve started the conversation on Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, here and there. We’re pretty certain he would have hated the digital age, as there’s nothing more sexless and artificial than screens mediating human contact. But he may have enjoyed the freedom of expression it allows, particularly given the lifelong censorship he endured.
Lawrence talked of finding Rananim – a community of like-minded people. He wanted to sail off around the world on a boat, live remotely up mountains, get his hands dirty with peasants in Europe. He was driven to move; attempting to find peace in a post-war world. Now we are doing that virtually and digitally across networks. The usual suspects are still out there trying to influence and manipulate our thoughts, but now they do this more subtly through algorithms. There’s no need to publicly burn books in the age of bots.
In this complex, layered network of digital voices, we were sent a message from poet Karina Bush. Like Lawrence, Karina appears to be unsettled (in a good way). Over the last five years she’s lived in Europe, Asia and the US but is ‘not one of those travellers who jumps into a culture with a GoPro on my head’. Recently, Karina has become frustrated with ‘flat writing’ and the constraints of the physical page and is experimenting more with visual poetry. Consequently, she offered to make the abridged version of ‘We are Transmitters’ at the top of this page.
Lawrence, too, experimented with form. Alongside Joyce et al, he helped define new forms of modernist writing that would help us better understand the human condition. Digital should be seen as continuing this journey, this pushing of boundaries. Paul and I did this in Dawn of the Unreadthrough embedded content, so as to create different layers of meaning in a text. Karina is doing it through visual poetry, and graphics that are constantly moving, refusing to be pinned down. We are all transmitters.
There are so many things wrong with our digital lives but there are so many magical things as well. Lawrence would have hated social media, but he’d have been brilliant on Twitter, scalding and lashing out at his peers as he did with his letters. He’d have hated the democratisation of thought but welcomed the freedom of expression. And although being ‘alone together’ online does not constitute proper community, it would be hard to imagine him not enjoying connecting with fellow Blutsbruders across the digital void. He fled across the world trying to find people, now this is being done on forums and digital spaces. The more things change, the more they stay the same. But, whatever mode of expression we adopt, we must be committed and do it well. We must say yes.
This sentiment, outlined in ‘We are Transmitters’, reminds me very much of why Frieda put up with Lawrence’s tantrums. He was a yes man, and his lust for life was infectious – although I suspect Frieda would have preferred a few more orgasms from him too. Frieda wrote: “To me his relationship, his bond with everything in creation was so amazing, no preconceived ideas, just a meeting between him and a creature, a tree, a cloud, anything. I called it love, but it was something else – Bejahung in German, ‘saying yes’.”
In 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 transmit Lawrence’s ideas and what shape and form should they take? Do we need a bouncer to guard our memory theatre so that sexless people aren’t allowed in? 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
Karina Bush is an Irish writer and visual poet born in Belfast and now living in Rome. She is the author of three books, Brain Lace (BareBackPress, 2018), 50 Euro (BareBackPress, 2017), and Maiden (48th Street Press, 2016). She has a new book, Christo & Nicola, forthcoming from Analog Submission Press. For more, visit her website and Instagram
D.H. Lawrence lived in Cornwall from 30 December 1915 to 15 October 1917 in what he hoped would be a new beginning. It didn’t quite work out as planned. His short tenure on the edge of Britain would have a profound effect on his ideas, not least his developing fascination with cosmic vibrations and the mysterious secrets of primitive cultures emanating from the dark black granite coastline.
Prior to the move, Lawrence married a German woman called Frieda Weekley, a distant relation of Manfred von Richthofen, the ‘Red Baron’, on 13 July 1914, 15 days before the outbreak of WWI. The Rainbow, published in September 1915 lasted two months in print before being seized under the 1857 Obscene Publications Act. Prosecutor Herbert Musket declared it ‘a mass of obscenity of thought, idea, and action’. Critic JC Squire suggested Lawrence’s characters were under ‘the spell of German psychologists’, for daring to question fundamentals of their life (religion, love, relationships), and by implication were anti-British in nature. Judge Sir John Dickinson therefore ruled that the book ‘had no right to exist in the wind of war’, and that Lawrence was in effect mocking the very principles British men were fighting to defend. With no sense of irony, copies of The Rainbow were publicly burned, while ‘our’ boys fought for freedom on the Western Front.
If this wasn’t enough to rile the easily riled Lawrence, his passport was seized, meaning he was unable to fulfil his dream of moving to Florida to begin a new life, a new way of being. Cornwall represented his stepping stone to this other world. Lawrence described Cornwall as “outside England…Far off from the world”. Nick Ceramella writes that “in those nightmarish Great War years, he thought that Cornwall, with its calm atmosphere, was a welcoming shelter far from the war, the madding London crowd and its intellectuals, and the national institutions.” But he was wrong. He would face more parochial forms of prejudice, and the ignominy of being expelled under the Defence of the Realm Act, all of which would provide material for the ‘Nightmare’ chapter of Kangeroo (1923).
While in Cornwall, Lawrence started to develop his own philosophy of man’s place in the world. He described this as blood consciousness, whereby we should yield to our more inherent and intuitive nature, the opposite of mental consciousness – the kind of logic that resulted in his books being banned. These ideas weren’t new. In 1913 he wrote “My great religion is a belief in the blood, the flesh, as wiser than the intellect”. But now he had time to develop it further.
Jane Costin argues that Lawrence’s views on blood consciousness begin to change during his time in Cornwall. In particular, he senses a life force in the rocks, a latent energy that can connect blood consciousness with the primitive tribes that went before. He describes the landscape as belonging “still to the days before Christianity, the days of Druids, or of desolate Celtic magic and conjuring” (2L 493) and that the water “is so white and powerful and incomprehensible under the black rock, that is not of this life. I feel as if there were a strange, savage, unknown God in the foam – heaven knows what God it be” (2L 501).
Lawrence sounds very much like he is undergoing some form of epiphany, inspired by the landscape that is ‘like the first craggy breaking of dawn in the world, a sense of the primeval darkness just behind, before the Creation’. The phoenix is rising.
Lawrence was under an incredible amount of stress during this period, both financially and creatively, so it’s hardly surprising that the environment took on greater resonance. He was also isolated. His hopes of creating Rananim with John Middleton Murry and Katherine Mansfield were short-lived, forging wounds that never quite healed. It was also difficult for friends to visit due to wartime costs. Two return train tickets from London to Cornwall costs £7 whereas his entire rent of a cottage in 1916 was £5. It is for this reason that Andrew Harrison argues that in analysing Lawrence’s time in Cornwall we must ‘understand how desperately important the idea of Cornwall was to Lawrence.’
When Lawrence and Frieda moved to Zennor, they were effectively isolated between the sea and the Moors. A lack of roads meant their cottage was cut off. This allowed the locals to retain old traditions, languages, and a ‘primitive’ way of life that felt very different to the metropolis. Lawrence, believing he had found new kin, would observe that ‘race is ultimately as much a question of place as heredity’.
The Zennor coastline is home to large lumps of granite that Lawrence felt ‘had its own life force’ and sent out ‘vibrations that could be detected by people who were sensitive to their own blood-consciousness and not dominated by mind-consciousness.’
Lawrence’s essay on Edgar Allen Poe, published in 1918, draws on these feelings developed in Cornwall: ‘Surely all material things have a form of sentience, even the inorganic: surely they all exist in some subtle and complicated tension of vibration which makes them sensitive to external influence and causes them to have an influence on other external objects, irrespective of contact.’
The concept of a vibrating material world would be addressed more thoroughly in Fantasia of the Unconscious (1922), but it also gets a thorough working through in Kangaroo (1923), where we are informed ‘the body has its own rhythm, with the sun and with the moon. The great nerve ganglia and the subtle glands have their regular times and motions, in correspondence with the outer universe’.
The thing is, not everybody is able to tune into these vibrations, as Somers points out in Kangaroo: “I haven’t got only just the two eyes in my head that can tell the kettle from the teapot. I’ve got another set of eyes inside me somewhere that can tell real differences, when there are any. And that’s what these people don’t seem to have at all. They’ve only got the outside eyes.”
Lawrence’s characters, like Lawrence, can be condescending, arrogant and preachy, while warning others not to be condescending, arrogant and preachy. Kangaroo also opens itself up to some pretty harsh criticisms, and rightly so. But if we put the observations of people as ‘ants’ and ‘canaille’ to one side for a moment, the novel is also an attempt to outline a new religious idea. The great ideas of modernity weren’t working and had simply led to war and industrialisation. Radical alternatives were needed, and Lawrence was prepared to offer up suggestions. To do this, he draws heavily on his experiences of Cornwall and WWI in Kangaroo.
Richard Lovat Somers is a bearded ‘thought adventurer’ essayist and poet who has left England after being detained there during World War I. He was harassed for his independent ideas and his political opinions and faced prejudice and suspicion because he was married to a German wife. Sound like someone we know….
Somers is frustrated by his contemporaries who he diplomatically describes as ‘carrion-eating, filthy-mouthed canaille, like dead-man-devouring jackals’. Realising he can’t change the rest of humanity – and that they’re probably not worth saving anyway – he discovers the great secret: ‘to stand alone as his own judge of himself’ and to leave ‘the mongrel-mouthed world’ to ‘say and do what it liked’.
Somers is absolutely seething at how he has been treated by humanity and can feel his spine sending ‘out vibrations that should annihilate them–blot them out, the canaille, stamp them into the mud they belonged to’. But we also learn that having a proper strop is actually very cathartic: ‘the death-hot lava pours loose into the deepest reservoirs of the soul. One day to erupt: or else to go hard and rocky, dead’. i.e. We can either use our rage to transform ourselves or we can allow it to solidify and render us passive.
It’s at this point in the book that some readers will have had enough of Somers tantrums and thrown the novel onto the fire. Mistake. This is the exact moment the novel takes on another layer of sophistication and broadens out into a scathing attack of ideology. ‘Say what you like, every idea is perishable: even the idea of God or Love or Humanity or Liberty–even the greatest idea has its day and perishes. Each formulated religion is in the end only a great idea. Once the idea becomes explicit, it is dead’.
Yes, we must have ideas but ‘persisting in an old, defunct ideal’ is what eventually brought down Rome, Constantinople, the Byzantine Empire, and ‘now our turn’. Can we apply this logic to the current political climate? Is capitalism, monarchy, national identity, gender, or the EU (I voted remain BTW) defunct ideals that are no longer worth persisting in? Answers on a postcard please…
Somers warns us (sounding a bit like a trailer for the new series of Game of Thrones) ‘If you sow the dragon’s teeth, you mustn’t expect lilies of the valley to spring up in sweet meekness’, therefore he decides to cut himself off from humanity altogether, and focus his attention on ‘the old dark gods, who had waited so long in the outer dark’. Winter is definitely coming…
The God in church is an ideal God. A product of mental consciousness. A human, oh so human invention. As is the money God, and modernity with its fallacious claims of progress. We are all wrapped up in our ‘nice, complete, homely universe’, worrying about ‘running their trains and making their wars and saving the world for democracy’ and consequently do not hear the ‘throb-throb-throb’ of something else calling. This throbbing, this vibration, offers a different way of being, a different connection with the world, and a way of acknowledging a dark unknowable God.
In 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 get across these cosmic vibrations and connections with the old dark Gods? Is there a place for blood consciousness and if so, how do we convey this? 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
In our third blog exploring Look! We Have Come Through! we have created a YouTube short (thanks Izaak Bosman) to celebrate the poem ‘Green’. This was originally published in the Poetry Review (1914) and then in an anthology of imagist poetry in 1916, meaning that Lawrence could no longer be simply cast as a Georgian poet.
Lawrence started and ended his career with verse, writing around 750 poems. One of his earliest collections was Look! We have come through! which was written between 1911 and 1917 and followed on the tails of Love Poems and Amores.
In the forward to the collection, Lawrence states ‘These poems should not be considered separately, as so many single pieces. They are intended as an essential story, or history, or confession, unfolding one from the other in organic development, the whole revealing the intrinsic experience of a man during the crisis of manhood, when he marries and comes into himself. The period covered is, roughly, the sixth lustre of a man’s life.’
Graham Hough describes the collection as ‘simply the development of an intelligible train of feeling through a number of fragmentary occasions’. These fragmentary occasions are mainly structured between 1912-14, the period when Frieda Weekley left her husband and three children and eloped with Lawrence, before marrying him once her divorce came through. Consequently, the poems were written on the hoof in Germany, Austria and Italy. Given the scandal their relationship aroused, it’s not surprising that Bertrand Russell chose to snort ‘They may have come through, but I don’t see why I should look.’
The collection includes this somewhat unnecessary ‘argument’ before the poems, detailing Lawrence’s relationship verbatim. ‘After much struggling and loss in love and in the world of man, the protagonist throws in his lot with a woman who is already married. Together they go into another country, she perforce leaving her children behind. The conflict of love and hate goes on between the man and the woman, and between these two and the world around them, till it reaches some sort of conclusion, they transcend into some condition of blessedness.’
Perhaps to get across this struggle, Lawrence uses free verse (which doesn’t adhere to set structures) having previously used closed forms. The flexibility of form allows him to articulate, in the immediate, the trials and tribulations of love as two people struggle to unite their wills. As Joyce Carol Oats notes, ‘For Lawrence, as for Nietzsche, it is the beauty and mystery of flux, of “Becoming,” that enchants us; not permanence, not “Being.” Permanence exists only in the conscious mind and is a structure erected to perfection, therefore airless and stultifying.
One poem in the collection that particularly stands out is ‘Green’. This was published in an anthology of imagist poetry, Des Imagistes (1916), meaning that Lawrence could no longer be simply cast as a Georgian poet. Imagism, according to the British Library, ‘was a small but influential poetry movement that flourished between 1912 and 1917. It was crucial in the development of modernist literature. Rebelling against Romantic and Victorian verbosity, Imagists abandoned poetic metre and traditional narratives. Instead they cultivated short, exact poems in vers libre (free verse) built around distilled, emotionally-intense single images that often depicted the natural world. They drew influence from Japanese haiku as well as ancient Greek lyric poetry’. However, the Modernist Journals Project states that ‘Imagism was anything but a cohesive movement’ and instead ‘resembles a Gerhard Richter painting, a fuzzy work of art undertaken by several artists with different styles over a long period of time, or perhaps a William Burroughs-like cut-up composition aimlessly meandering in search of the “image.”’
The inspiration for ‘Green’ was Frieda’s eyes, which Lawrence compares to dawn. Dawn represents the beginning of an unknown new day, and her eyes represent a new unknown love: ‘For the first time, now for the first time seen.’ The use of assonance throughout the short poem (green, between, seen/ sun, undone) helps weave these elements (love, new day, nature) together through the colour green. If green were to be used in Georgian poetry it would most likely be as a reference to nature and fields. Here it is something more spiritual, more transient, a ‘becoming’ to use Joyce Carol Oates expression.
The imagists were established by Ezra Pound in 1912 in opposition to the perceived parochial outlook of the Georgian poets. Lawrence may very well have been included, along with other established names such as Richard Adlington, as a means of validating this new poetic movement. His books may have been banned and burned, but his reputation was a commodity always ready to be exploited. This was certainly the case with the publication of Look! We Have Come Through! which Andrew Nash has argued was taken on by Chatto and Windus as a means of resurrecting an otherwise dying brand. Frank Swinnerton, part of their new editorial board, agreed to publishing Lawrence ‘on the ground that Lawrence’s name would be valuable to our list’. There is no such thing as a bad reputation.
It’s worth noting that another seminal Nottingham writer, Alan Sillitoe, refers to Doreen’s eyes in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958), as ‘green like novelty matches’. Clearly this colour means a lot to folk from the East Midlands.
In the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts to try to understand this complex writer. Was he a Georgian poet, or an Imagist, or simply someone who defied categorisation? How do we incorporate the colour green into our design? 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.
Ficus carica L., aka the fig, was so popular 9,000 years ago that folk in Palestine lined them up in groves to ensure local supplies were met, thereby predating grain cultivation. D.H. Lawrence would have admired the fig during his Italian sojourn, but it only made its way into Europe during the 15th century after being plundered from Persia, Asia Minor and Syria. The above video was created to celebrate Lawrence’s seductive ode to this sun-ripened fruit, but the fig has been a source of reverence for centuries. Figs have come to symbolise fertility, peace and prosperity in many world religions, including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Buddhism. In Ancient Greece, athletes scoffed as many as they could get their hands on, believing it would enhance speed and strength. King Nebuchadnezzar II had them planted in the hanging gardens of Babylon whereas Egyptian kings were buried with them to please the mother goddess Hathor who would emerge from a mythic fig tree to welcome them into the afterlife. Figs also appear in the Old and New Testament, offering remedies for illness – both medical and social. Hezekiah, King of Judah, recovered from a plague of boils after his servants applied a paste of crushed figs to his skin. Whereas the fig leaf provided Adam and Eve with a bit of dignity after an apple left them rotten to the core. Or as Lawrence puts it: ‘She got the fact on her mind, and quickly sewed fig-leaves/ And women have been sewing ever since’.
Although Lawrence’s naughty poem has become synonymous with the fig, it appears elsewhere in literature. In The Bell Jar (1963), Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel about a young woman’s descent into madness, Esther encounters a fig tree and later reflects ‘I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story’. But it is best known in the 5th century epic poem The Mahavamsa, which covers the early history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, and sees the Buddha gaining enlightenment under a fig tree.
Lawrence writes that ‘The fig is a very secretive fruit,’ so secretive in fact that it defies definition. Ben Crair, writing in The New Yorker, explains ‘a clever botanist would sell them at the florist, with the fresh-cut roses’. This is because a fig is technically a ball of flowers, with enclosed flowers that bloom inwards or as Lawrence writes ‘There was a flower that flowered inward, womb-ward;/ Now there is a fruit like a ripe womb’.
This unique fruit, I mean flower – or more accurately a syconium, requires pollination to reproduce and this can only be done by a fig wasp which is just small enough to crawl inside. And not just any fig wasp by the way! Each of the 750 varieties has its own unique species of fig wasp to do the business. So next time you sink your teeth into the ‘glittering, rosy, moist, honied, heavy-petalled’ interior, remember you are most likely chomping into a female fig wasp that got stuck.
Mike Shanahan in Ladders to Heaven explains that this process of codependent evolution has been going on for sixty million years. The fig, unlike seasonal fruit, can be found all year round, making it a vital food source for over 1300 bird and mammal species. High in potassium, iron, fiber, and plant calcium, it has also been essential to survival of certain species in times of want. A 2003 study of Uganda’s Budongo Forest found that figs were ‘the sole source of fruit for chimpanzees at certain times of year’. I doubt these species would care to be instructed on the best way to eat this keystone fruit as Lawrence does in his poem, taking the Italians to task: ‘But the vulgar way/ Is just to put your mouth to the crack, and take out the flesh in one bite.’
Mike Shanahan is particularly enamoured with the Strangler breed of fig which grows ‘from seeds dropped high on other trees by passing birds and mammals. By starting out high in the forest canopy instead of on its gloomy floor, the strangler seedlings get the light they need to grow with vigour. As they do, they send down aerial roots that become thick and woody, encasing their host trees in a living mesh. They can even smother and kill giant trees, growing into colossal forms’. Shanahan also points out that the struggles faced by the Strangler fig would inspire the British biologist Alfred Russel Wallace to develop his own theory of evolution by natural selection, independently of Charles Darwin. High-energy figs may also have helped our ancestors to develop bigger brains.
However you eat yours, and for whatever purpose, we hope you enjoy our short video, lovingly put together by Izaak Bosman.
In 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 Lawrence’s playfulness in poems such as Figs? Does the poem draw out important issues regarding nudity and shame or does the idea that ‘ripe figs won’t keep’ chide with modern attitudes towards female sexual identity? Just as Figs have been around for centuries, so to women have faced centuries of insults. 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.
The proper way to eat a fig, in society,
Is to split it in four, holding it by the stump,
And open it, so that it is a glittering, rosy, moist, honied, heavy-petalled four-petalled flower.
Then you throw away the skin
Which is just like a four-sepalled calyx,
After you have taken off the blossom, with your lips.
But the vulgar way
Is just to put your mouth to the crack, and take out the flesh in one bite.
Every fruit has its secret.
The fig is a very secretive fruit.
As you see it standing growing, you feel at once it is symbolic :
And it seems male.
But when you come to know it better, you agree with the Romans, it is female.
The Italians vulgarly say, it stands for the female part ; the fig-fruit :
The fissure, the yoni,
The wonderful moist conductivity towards the centre.
The flowering all inward and womb-fibrilled ;
And but one orifice.
The fig, the horse-shoe, the squash-blossom.
There was a flower that flowered inward, womb-ward ;
Now there is a fruit like a ripe womb.
It was always a secret.
That’s how it should be, the female should always be secret.
There never was any standing aloft and unfolded on a bough
Like other flowers, in a revelation of petals ;
Silver-pink peach, venetian green glass of medlars and sorb-apples,
Shallow wine-cups on short, bulging stems
Openly pledging heaven :
Here’s to the thorn in flower ! Here is to Utterance !
The brave, adventurous rosaceæ.
Folded upon itself, and secret unutterable,
And milky-sapped, sap that curdles milk and makes ricotta,
Sap that smells strange on your fingers, that even goats won’t taste it ;
Folded upon itself, enclosed like any Mohammedan woman,
Its nakedness all within-walls, its flowering forever unseen,
One small way of access only, and this close-curtained from the light ;
Fig, fruit of the female mystery, covert and inward,
Mediterranean fruit, with your covert nakedness,
Where everything happens invisible, flowering and fertilization, and fruiting
In the inwardness of your you, that eye will never see
Till it’s finished, and you’re over-ripe, and you burst to give up your ghost.
Till the drop of ripeness exudes,
And the year is over.
And then the fig has kept her secret long enough.
So it explodes, and you see through the fissure the scarlet.
And the fig is finished, the year is over.
That’s how the fig dies, showing her crimson through the purple slit
Like a wound, the exposure of her secret, on the open day.
Like a prostitute, the bursten fig, making a show of her secret.
That’s how women die too.
The year is fallen over-ripe,
The year of our women.
The year of our women is fallen over-ripe.
The secret is laid bare.
And rottenness soon sets in.
The year of our women is fallen over-ripe.
When Eve once knew in her mind that she was naked
She quickly sewed fig-leaves, and sewed the same for the man.
She’d been naked all her days before,
But till then, till that apple of knowledge, she hadn’t had the fact on her mind.
She got the fact on her mind, and quickly sewed fig-leaves.
And women have been sewing ever since.
But now they stitch to adorn the bursten fig, not to cover it.
They have their nakedness more than ever on their mind,
And they won’t let us forget it.
Now, the secret
Becomes an affirmation through moist, scarlet lips
That laugh at the Lord’s indignation.
What then, good Lord ! cry the women.
We have kept our secret long enough.
We are a ripe fig.
Let us burst into affirmation.
They forget, ripe figs won’t keep.
Ripe figs won’t keep.
Honey-white figs of the north, black figs with scarlet inside, of the south.
Ripe figs won’t keep, won’t keep in any clime.
What then, when women the world over have all bursten into affirmation?