D.H. Lawrence and Dialect: The mardy bloke from Eastwood

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.

Ouch.

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.     

Further Reading

Student Essay: Dialect in the work of DH Lawrence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Raight Racket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Collier’s Friday Night

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

A Sick Collier

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

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

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

Rex

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

Sons and Lovers

  • ‘Eh, tha’rtamard-arsed kid’

The Collier’s Wife

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

The Daughter-in-Law

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

The Drained Cup

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

The Lost Girl

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

The Merry-go-Round

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

The White Peacock

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

The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd

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

Whether or Not

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

You Touched Me

Our second artefact is Dialect…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Tongue and Talk: Dialect poetry featuring DH Lawrence

Mard arse

DH Lawrence was a master of dialect. His plays, novels and poetry captured the rawness of mining communities with such precision, it frightened the life out of middle class Edwardian critics. As part of a BBC Radio 4 series Tongue and Talk: Dialect Poets, I’ll be visiting Lawrence’s childhood home Breach House, and exploring ‘pit talk’ and the Nottingham accent with various poets and musicians.    

Like DH Lawrence, I grew up in a mining village. Whereas he was born north east of Nottingham in Eastwood, I was raised in Cotgrave, five miles south east of the city centre. Cotgrave derives from an Old English personal name, Cotta, + grāf, (grove or copse). So over time we went from ‘Cotta’s grove’ to the more sinister Cotgrave. Our respective divides across the city also influence the way we speak and use dialect, even though we might be referring to the same word. This is best illustrated by the commonly used word ‘mardy’. I pronounce this ‘mardeh’ using what Al Needham calls the south Notts ‘eh’ or ‘ah’. Living on the Derbyshire border, Lawrence would have experienced the trimming off of syllables, shortening it to mard as in ‘Eh, tha’rt a mard-arsed kid’ a famous line from his poem The Collier’s Wife.

Mardy is a brilliant word. It means sulky, as in a badly behaved child, and is used throughout the East Midlands as well as parts of Sheffield and Yorkshire. However, it can also mean non cooperative, bad tempered or terse in communication, attributes we can definitely associate with DH Lawrence. In 2017 Toby Campion selected it as his word for Leicester as part of the Free the Word campaign.

cotgrave and Brinsley
The modern headstocks of Cotgrave Colliery and Brinsley Colliery where Lawrence’s father worked.

Lawrence came from a family of coal miners. His father, Arthur, worked as a butty. The butty was popular during the early part of the nineteenth century when the coal miners were not directly employed by the owners. The butty acted as a contractor, putting together a team to mine coal at an agreed price per ton. I had a slightly different experience growing up. My mother was a typist and my stepfather was a manager of a company in Mansfield. But in the eyes of the locals, anyone who didn’t work down the pit was a ‘posho’. Therefore we were fair game for the occasional kicking. These were rough times, particularly during the Strike of 84. Like Lawrence, I couldn’t wait to escape.

Lawrence would vividly capture life growing up in a mining community in novels such as Sons and Lovers, his Eastwood trilogy of plays, and dialect poetry such as The Collier’s Wife. I’ve done this through a BBC Radio 4 series called Tongue and Talk: The Dialect Poets. In episode 2, broadcast on Sunday 20 May at 4.30pm, I’ll be exploring the Notts dialect and the ‘pit talk’ of mining communities.

One of the guests on the programme is David Amos, an eight generation miner and fellow member of the DH Lawrence Society. David has been working as a research assistant with Natalie Braber at Nottingham Trent University on mining heritage projects. He invited me to attend a rehearsal for Songs and Rhymes from the Mines as part of the Nottingham Poetry Festival. Bill Kerry III told me he had discovered that his grandfather had worked down Ormonde Colliery at the same time as Owen Watson, author of Strong I’th’ Arm – The Rhymes of a Marlpool Miner (1975) and so he’s turning his poems into folk songs to make them accessible to new generations. Meanwhile Al Rate (who also uses the pseudonym Misk Hills) has penned some new songs inspired by pit talk, introducing new generations to words such as ‘powder monkey’. This was the poor bogger who had to set off the explosives down the mine. Such songs are a reminder of how dangerous life was down the pit, something beautifully captured in Lawrence’s poem The Collier’s Wife. In this, a miner has had yet another accident down the pit:

It’s a shame as ‘e should be knocked about

Like this, I’m sure it is!

‘E’s ‘ad twenty accidents, if ‘e’s ‘ad one;

Owt bad, an’ it’s his!

Russell-Hopkins-Collier-s-Wife2_900
A visual narrative celebrating D. H. Lawrence’s dialect poem by Russell Hopkins at Cargo Collective.

The wife in the poem has seen and heard it all before and is more bothered about the compensation as food still needs to be put on the plate. You can hear David Amos read the entire poem is one go during our show. I only managed the first verse.

When Lawrence used dialect in his early plays about life in a mining community they were dismissed as a ‘sordid picture of lower class life’ with middle class Edwardian critics unimpressed with ‘its lack of verbal beauty’. Lawrence was a master of dialect, using multiple variations of speech patterns that drew influences from the Erewash Valley, Derbyshire and Notts. By using dialect, Lawrence enabled the reader to understand a collier’s particular social class, their education, and their intelligence. The way his characters spoke represented the history of the community, even down to what street they lived on.

Lawrence’s family moved many times across Eastwood, upscaling each time. So during the programme we visit ‘Breach House’ where the family of seven lived between 1887 until 1891. To enter Breach House is to step back in time to Edwardian Britain. Moleskin trousers hang up above the fireplace, the snap tin is on the table, and the Bible and piano take pride of place in the ‘best’ room. Of course it would have been nice to record the show in Durban House, where a young Lawrence and other miner’s sons would go and collect their father’s wages, but this was sold off by Broxtowe Council and has now been converted into a spa – which I guess is more preferable than a Spar.

david breach
David Amos holding up a pair of Moleskin trousers. Plaque outside Breach House.

Breach House was the inspiration for The Bottoms in Sons and Lovers, my favourite Lawrence novel. It opens with this wonderful description:

‘To accommodate the regiments of miners, Carston, Waite and Co. built the Squares, great quadrangles of dwellings on the hillside of Bestwood, and then, in the brook valley, on the site of Hell Row, they erected the Bottoms. The Bottoms consisted of six blocks of miners’ dwellings, two rows of three, like the dots on a blank-six domino, and twelve houses in a block.”

The novel also helped solve another mysterious word from my childhood: blue. But if you want to know what this means then either read Sons and Lovers or tune into Talk and Tongue on the iPlayer. Let us know what you think on Twitter using the hashtag #TalkandTongue. The programme was a Made in Manchester production.

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. How do we represent his childhood growing up in Eastwood? What role does coal have to play in his writing? How can we incorporate dialect into our memory theatre? 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. Submit ideas here.

RELATED READING