Lawrence and Brett 6: You, Me and Capri

Capri headerr
Painting on the right is by Gorbatov (1928)

As summer 1925 came to a close, Dorothy Brett considered spending the winter on her own in the ranch in New Mexico. But Lawrence was worried for her safety and insisted she visit Capri, a small island off the Bay of Naples. She is issued with a letter to the Brewsters, and so begins her last adventure with Lawrence in our final blog from Brett’s memoir. 

Capri is a tiny island (10.4 km2) in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the Sorrentine Peninsula, on the south side of the Gulf of Naples. It became a popular refuge for artists, writers and celebrities after the publication of Discovery of the Blue Grotto on the Isle of Capri by the German artist August Kopisch (1838). By the 19th century it had become a haven for gay men and lesbians to live a more open life. One of its most famous residents was Compton Mackenzie, who lived here between 1913 – 1920, and who would later satirise the lesbian colony in his 1928 novel Extraordinary Women.

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Dorothy Brett spent five months with the Brewsters in their villa Quattro Venti, high up on the island. Brett’s initial description of Achsah Brewster conjures an image of an ageing Princess Leia ‘all in white, with a long floating veil draped over her hat and a long white cape that hangs loosely from her shoulders, has a pale face and white grey hair parted in the middle, which sweeps down on each side of her oval face…She is entirely unexpected – of no race and of no time’. Earl Brewster is ‘small, has gray hair, almost white, a sharp, pointed nose, and dark, dark eyes, with a strange, hidden look’.

Portrait of Achsah with Cimbrone Background 1918
Earl Henry Brewster, ‘Portrait of Achsah with Cimbrone Background’ (1918)

When Lawrence eventually turns up he’s looking very dapper to the point that Brett doesn’t recognise him at first in ‘a new brown overcoat, a new gray suit, a brown Homburg hat, brown shoes – heavens!’ During his absence, Brett’s mastered all of the local walks on the tiny island and acts as his guide. But despite admiring the ‘deep ultramarine blue’ of the sea and the olive trees that offer ‘a waving mist of silvery green’ Lawrence is shattered and the long walks are too much for him. He informs the reason for his visit is he has been very ill again and, uncharacteristically defeatist, confides he is becoming so tired of it all. ‘There is such a depth of weariness in your voice, so hurt a look in your eyes, that nothing I can say seems adequate. I look at the bright sea, the faintly smoking mountain; I can hardly bear to look at the weary man beside me – pale, fragile, hopeless.’

On such occasions, Lawrence would usually pick a country and head off to start a new life. But now his restlessness required a more radical solution. ‘I would like to buy a sailing ship and sail among the Greek Islands and be free…free! Just to be free for a little while of it all.’ As always he’s happy to get his hands dirty and just needs a captain and a couple of sailors to guide him. Frieda has also felt the brunt of his frustration and he confides ‘you have no idea, Brett, how humiliating it is to beat a woman; afterwards one feels so humiliated.’ Then he targets his frustration at those who can walk but don’t.

‘People never will discipline themselves enough; and they have absolutely no pride. Their legs mean nothing to them. Think what a beautiful, alive thing a leg is – so narrow and strong, with the sensitive sole of the foot at the end of it. This is why I like to wear thin shoes; I like to feel the earth; I like my feet to be as close to the earth as possible. I used to love to feel the water in the irrigation ditch at the ranch, running over my sandals, round my feet. Sometimes I wish I had never left the ranch, the horses, the ditch. I envy you going back there’

As a result of his illness and the usual struggles for money, Lawrence begins recounting the difficult struggles his parents underwent to survive. He is acutely aware that his sickness as a child would have had a profound effect on their finances as ‘to be sick meant the doctor; that meant any extra shillings went for the doctor’s fee and medicine’. He surmises that his brother Ernest’s death was the result of ‘those early days of semi-starvation, of never having enough clothes, enough warmth, enough to eat’. No wonder he resented money so much when it had the power to determine life itself.

Capri DHL and DB
Artwork is from http://picssr.com/photos/klaus-lelek/page28

It’s in the final chapter of Brett’s memoir that she is explicit about her love for Lawrence and gets a bit gushy. ‘I sit and watch you. The sun pours down relentlessly on your head; a heavy lock of hair falls over your face; your beard glitters red in the sun’. Then things get a bit more surreal as she imagines Lawrence morphing into Pan, ‘As I watch you, the meaningless modern suit seems to drop away. A leopard skin, a mass of flowers and leaves wrap themselves round you. Out of your thick hair, two small horns poke their sharp points; the slender, cloven hoofs lie entangled in weeds. The flute slips from your hand. I stare at you in a kind of trance’.

Their time together is coming to a close. The Brewsters are packing for India and Brett is set to sail to America. She offers to delay her trip but Lawrence insists she goes. They have one last adventure together and head off to Amalfi. Lawrence has been subjected to a vegetarian diet with the Brewsters which has given him a huge appetite. He eagerly wolfs down a large steak with onions and potatoes. They visit Villa Cimbrone in Ravello, sketching a blue Venus in the garden, then sit in the scenic belvedere Terrazzo dell’Infinito and watch the ships pass below.

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Terrazzo dell’Infinito at Villa Cimbrone, Ravello.

Then it is finally time to say goodbye. Lawrence waits on the little stone pier as Brett heads for the awaiting steamer via a row boat. ‘You wave to me. I stand there in my white coat, waving back to you. Something – God knows what – tells me I will never see you again. I am filled with this dread apprehension, as I stand and wave and wave. You lean out of the carriage, a small figure, waving the blue and green scarf I have given you. And, still waving, you are borne round the bend of the road, and are gone…gone forever…’ Brett was wearing a white coat and has never worn white again since.

It’s a terribly sad end to their friendship, particularly as we learn in the epilogue that Brett had left out one important fact that was only allowed to be revealed after her death – she and Lawrence had attempted to match their spiritual relationship with a physical relationship in Ravello but it all went horribly wrong. In fact, it ended rather cruelly, with Lawrence storming out of the room complaining ‘your boobs are all wrong’ which left Brett feeling ‘ashamed, bewildered, miserable’. Lawrence would later fictionalise this incident in the short story Glad Ghosts, but this time the two would successfully get it on.

Brett’s memoir is a loving testament to their troubled but intensely close relationship. Its power lies in being written directly to Lawrence, rendering the reader a voyeur. She ends the memoir with ‘I could go on writing of you forever’ which I believe she could quite happily have done so. But Brett is a remarkable character is her own right. She turned her back on her aristocratic heritage, spent the rest of her life in New Mexico, and during Lawrence’s life acted, as John Manchester rightly points out, as a ‘soul image to Lawrence, a counterpart to his own inner feminine side.’ Together, they are one of the greatest literary love affairs never to have happened.

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts.  Lawrence is a complex individual and we need to capture all aspects of his personality if we are to represent him correctly. How do we capture his relationship with Dorothy Brett? His violenec towards Frieda? His desire to set sail and escape the rest of the world? In 2019 we will be building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact, get involved and submit ideas here.

FURTHER READING

Lawrence and Brett 5: You can’t go home again

 

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PRIEST OF LOVE (1981): Ian McKellen as D.H. Lawrence, Penelope Keith as Dorothy Brett

As hard as Lawrence tried to create Rananim, it only lasted for short bursts of time. Either he became restless and needed to find new pastures, or some kind of argument would ensue that made living peacefully impossible. For Frieda, two was company and three was most definitely a crowd, and so Dorothy Brett found herself ejected from the latest excursion to Oaxaca and back in New Mexico.

Brett headed back to the DH Lawrence Ranch, as it is now known, a 160-acre (0.65 km2) property located at 8,600 feet (2,600 m) above sea level near Lobo Mountain near San Cristobal in Taos County. Originally named the Lobo Ranch, then the Kiowa Ranch, it was given to Frieda Lawrence as a gift by Mabel Dodge Luhan. Although the Lawrence’s would leave New Mexico in1925, Frieda would return after Lawrence’s death, remarry, and settle in Taos for the rest of her life. Frieda died in Taos on her 77th birthday. Brett, too, would live out her days in Taos, becoming an American citizen in 1938. She died in 1977 at the age of 94.

Lawrence was worried for Brett travelling alone. Although the Mexican Revolution had technically ended after 10 years of civil war (1910-1920), tensions were still high and threatened to break out at any moment. But the severing of ties was necessary if the tension between him and Frieda – brought about by his close friendship with Brett – were to abate. But the parting wasn’t enough for Frieda. Neither did she want Brett on the ranch when she returned. And so Lawrence arranged for her to borrow a cabin from Bill and Rachel Hawk, in the orchard of Del Monte.

Lawrence was very ill in Mexico, and was very close to death. This coincided with an earthquake, the significance of which wasn’t lost on Brett. This led to her having a very strange dream in which Lawrence meets a young man while out walking with Frieda. ‘The young man was yourself as a young man – young, without a beard,’ explains Brett. ‘You had met your youth and fallen in love with it and gone off with it. I do not like this dream. Years later I find out why: I am told it foretells death’.

When Lawrence was feeling slightly better he returned to New Mexico. When Brett got news of this she jumps on her horse, Prince, and gallops over snow and ice to see him. She is greeted by Frieda who informs he’s upstairs, resting. He is frail and ill. Lawrence confides that he was so ill when he reached Mexico City from Oaxaca that Frieda applied rouge to his cheeks to bring some colour to his face.

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Mary Dreier, Ida Rauh, Helen Marot, Rena Borky, Yetta Raff, and Mary Effers link arms as they march to City Hall on December 3, 1909 during the New York shirtwaist strike to demand an end to abuse by police. Image: wikipedia

Brett soon receives a visit from Ida Rauh (March 7, 1877 – February 28, 1970). Rauh was a lawyer, suffragist, actress, sculptor, and poet who moved to Santa Fe in 1922. She would make a bust of Lawrence which now resides in the Lawrence Memorial Library in New Mexico. Lawrence wrote the play David for her, which Brett was currently typing up. He would give Brett six copies of his manuscripts as a thank you for her typing services. Once she had finished typing up David, the two friends ride together to see Lawrence and he performs the entire play for them, with only a pause for tea.

During the one man performance, Frieda is fagging it as usual. Brett reminds the QB of her practical worth and hunts down a rabbit which goes in the pot for tea. A compromise is reached and Brett is allowed to see Lawrence again, but no more than three times a week. ‘I won’t have you up here every day. I won’t have you on the place. You are a mischief maker. I hate you, hate you!’ screams Frieda, but Brett finally stands up to her, telling the QB to go to hell and that she won’t be bossed by her. Shocked at this rare outburst, Frieda slams the door in Brett’s face. When Brett later relays this to Lawrence he is highly amused.

These squabbles soon result in the obligatory writing of fierce letters, though ‘you are always gentle and friendly after your angry letters. How tiresome it all is! You are weary of it; so am I. The only difference between us is that I am hopeful and you are pessimistic.’ A lot of this tension was symptomatic of other issues, namely Frieda’s desire to have her children up on the ranch. Perhaps this was one reason why Frieda resented Lawrence’s bonding with Brett: If she couldn’t be close to her children, why should he be allowed to be close to anyone else but her?

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Raspberry Mountain is one of the Summits in Colfax County, NM and can be found on the Pine Buttes USGS topographic quad map. The GPS coordinates are 36.5783606 (latitude), -104.2138696 (longitude) and the approximate elevation is 8,077 feet (2,462 meters) above sea level. Image from: nearbymountains.com

Despite these inevitable strains on their friendship, there were many good times together, such as trips up Raspberry Canyon to watch men take honey from the wild bees in the trees. But most of the time, it was just Brett and Lawrence. When they weren’t doing a bit of DIY together, such as building a shed for the pet cow Susan, one favourite pastime was painting together, or, perhaps more accurately, Brett painting and Lawrence correcting her. On one occasion Brett was working on a painting of the desert and their ranch life, which opened up a debate about the process of painting. ‘You insist that landscape without figures is dull’ writes Brett. ‘We are agreed, though, that most pictures should be painted from memory: the imagination works better that way.’ Lawrence is sceptical of artists who feel the need to sit in front of what they paint, arguing ‘they feel nothing inside them, so they must have it before their eyes. It’s all wrong and stupid: it should all be brought from inside oneself’ and then he spits on the floor, as if to reinforce the point.

Frieda had a go at painting once. Lawrence demanded to see what she’d done but she refused. He snatched the painting from her, flung it on the ground and stamped on it. Brett tries to rationalise this irrational behaviour, suggesting it could be the ‘fatigue of his writing’ and that she’d seen the artist Mark Gertler in similar tempestuous moods. Lawrence’s behaviour was violent and vindictive. But the tortured artist, it would appear, could torture other people and get away with it in the 1920s

Lawrence loved to be the teacher, or ‘preacher’ as Knud Merrild observed in his own memoir of their life together. So when Brett takes Lawrence shooting, it is a rare reversal of roles. He is very much the pupil, protesting ‘I have never fired a gun in my life and I hate killing things’. They use the doorknob on the toilet door for fire practice and after a few goes, the lock is blown to smithereens. The toilet door can never be locked properly again. It’s soon after this that Lawrence shoots a porcupine, justifying it on the grounds that they damage the trees. ‘You are immensely proud of yourself in one way, and full of regrets in another’ observes Brett.

Adventure 1911-03

We learn from Brett that Lawrence was an avid reader of the pulp magazine Adventure. First published in November 1910, it ran to 881 issues, ending in 1971. Noted explorer and journalist Trumbull White was the first editor (until 1912) and established two editorial principles: An “adventure” story did not have to be set in an exotic location; the story should be as historically, geographically, and socially accurate as possible. Brett said that Lawrence liked reading it more than anything. ‘It has just plain tales of adventure. Simple, unaffected storytelling, sometimes really very good, too’ he said.

One reason that Frieda disliked Brett and Lawrence’s friendship is because they acted like a spinster and a curate. It infuriated her that they didn’t have the guts to get it on. Despite the common perception of Lawrence as a smutty author, he was actually quite prudish in real life. ‘How untouchable you are, I think to myself’ writes Brett. ‘How true, how important to you is your constant cry of ‘Noli me tangere!’ You do not care to be touched, to be pawed. Necking makes you furious. Your sex is not to be played with, not to be belittled by playfulness. It is serious, a danger to be respected as the tiger is respected, hidden in the jungle.’ Brett feels very much the same and this is something else that brings them closer together.

The biggest sin they commit is coming home late from one of their excursions together, which would send Frieda into a rage. ‘One day she stands, arms akimbo, eyes wild, mouth a long tight slit; her close fitting bodice, pleated, full skirts all arrogant and belligerent. The next, she is a big, warm, bounding creature, eyes blue and free, mouth a broad grin, bodice and skirt colourful and glowing: rough, hearty, and undoubtedly handsome.’

When the summer of 1925 is over and plans for winter start to emerge, Brett does not want to return to London. She considers staying out here on the ranch on her own but Lawrence is worried for her safety. Instead he convinces her to visit Capri, a small island off the coast of Napoli. She is issued with a letter to the Brewsters, guaranteeing her somewhere to stay. Their life together in New Mexico is over. Capri will be their last adventure.

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts.  Lawrence is a complex individual and we need to capture all aspects of his personality if we are to represent him correctly. How do we address his violent bullying of Frieda? Or his guilt at shooting a porcupine? His friendship with the inspirational Ida Rauh? The compassion and gentleness of Dorothy Brett? In 2019 we will be building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact, get involved and submit ideas here.

FURTHER READING

Lawrence and Brett 4: Rosalino the Mozo

desert and mountains outisde of oaxaca 1924 brett
Desert and mountains outside of Oaxaca by Dorothy Brett 1924/5

In our fourth blog exploring Dorothy Brett’s memoir we focus in on Lawrence’s relationship with a young boy called Rosalino, who was his moxo in Oaxaca. A mozo is an assistant, servant or male porter who ‘really goes with the house’. But what was it about the boy that so intrigued Lawrence?    

In Oaxaca, Lawrence developed quite a fatherly relationship with Rosalino, their mozo. In Mornings in Mexico, he describes seeing him ‘lurking in the patio, and glancing furtively under his brows’. This furtive glance is different to the ‘black, incomprehensible, but somewhat defiant stare’ of other Indian boys, leading Lawrence to wonder whether he might be a bit different. ‘The difference lies in a certain sensitiveness and aloneness, as if he were a mother’s boy’ which is in stark contrast to ‘the bold male glare of most of the Indians, who seem as if they had never, never had mothers at all’. This is classic Lawrencian analysis, focussing in on one minor detail to make broader observations of an entire culture.

Rosalino works for four pesos a month, and his food. He owns ‘two cotton shirts, two pairs of calico pantaloons, two blouses, one of pink cotton, one of darkish flannelette, and a pair of sandals.’ His morning duties mainly consist of sweeping the house with ‘a sort of duster made of fluffy reeds’. In the afternoon he lounges about waiting for the wind to blow so that he can go through the process again. In the evenings he sleeps in the doorway to the home, the zaguán, on ‘a low wooden bench about four feet long and eighteen inches wide’.

The only thing keeping Rosalino warm at night is a threadbare serape. When Lawrence expresses his concern for the young boy, a local priest advises that mozos are used to living like this. But just because they are used to living like this doesn’t make it right, and so they head off to the market to rectify the problem. The market is on the Mitla Road which Brett describes as being ‘ageless’ and ‘timeless’ due to the ‘ceaseless flow of silent, trotting people: the slow oxen carts, the little tripping burros, with the large baskets hanging on each side, or with women crouched on their backs with a baby in front and one behind’.

Lawrence instructs Rosalino to choose a new and warmer serape from a pile. ‘For a moment he stares at you incredulously’ observes Brett, ‘then, with a broad smile and a gleam of white teeth, he begins to bargain. He sees the one he wants, and in true Indian fashion he goes about getting it as cheaply as he can. We move off, knowing that the job will be a long one.’ Rosalino succeeds in getting one incredibly cheap. ‘You give him the money and he hurries back, returning with the treasure folded over his shoulder. From that moment, he is your slave.’

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Oaxaca master weaver. Photograph from loccal.org

Lawrence was incredibly fastidious when it came to money, largely because he lived so much of his life in poverty. Sea in Sardinia, for example, is full of details about the cost of travel and food, so he no doubt admired Rosalino’s bartering skills. From that point onwards, Lawrence gave him money to bargain for essentials. ‘This he simply loved to do’ he observes. ‘It put him into a temper to see us buying without bargaining, and paying ghastly prices.’

Rosalino comes with a complicated history. After refusing to be conscripted for the army, Brett notes he is ‘so severely beaten that his back is permanently injured.’ This means he’s unable to carry heavy weights. This wasn’t an ideal situation for Lawrence given his own poor health, but he admires Rosalino for standing by his principles: ‘He is one of those, like myself, who have a horror of serving in a mass of men, or even of being mixed up with a mass of men. He obstinately refused, whereupon the recruiting soldiers beat him with the butts of their rifles till he lay unconscious, apparently dead.’

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Doorway on the right is Lawrence’s former home in Oaxaca.

After ensuring he was suitably dressed, Lawrence then drew on his experience of teaching to help Rosalino with his self-education. Rosalino had been attending a night school for two years for reading and writing and was set the task of learning and copying a series of long poems. But the problem was ‘he had written the thing straight ahead, without verse-lines or capitals or punctuation at all, just a vast string of words, a whole foolscap sheet full.’ Realising that he was having difficulty, Lawrence stepped in and offered to teach him every morning for one hour. Mozos were not used to this level of kindness and so this latest gesture had a profound effect on Rosalino, leading to mimicry. Lawrence enjoyed a bath every Saturday evening and a clean shirt on a Sunday. So Rosalino goes to the public bath every Saturday and on a Sunday ‘he appears in a gorgeous flowered shirt, spotlessly clean’. But he only has two shirts and so Lawrence buys him some more.

He was fed well too. Instead of the daily diet of tortillas, ‘we started feeding him from our own meals, and for the first time in his life he had real soups, meat-stews, or a fried egg, he loved to do things in the kitchen. He would come with sparkling black eyes: ‘Hé comido el caldo. Grazias!’ (I have eaten the soup. Thank you.’)–And he would give a strange, excited little yelp of a laugh’.

When Rosalino suddenly went missing one day, Lawrence was understandably annoyed. He’d shown the boy fatherly affection and so was offended when he thought this wasn’t being reciprocated. Brett records a typically irrational outburst: ‘Give friendship and they deceive you and go. They don’t really care – they really hate us. It makes me hate them.’ Rosalino had left because he was homesick for his people. This had been brought on by accompanying Lawrence and Frieda on long walks to small and remote villages. But he returned a few days later.

Observing that one minute Rosalino is ‘thrilled and happy’ the next he is imbued with a ‘black, reptilian gloom, and a sense of hatred’ – he could almost be talking about his own erratic mood swings. ‘He didn’t forgive himself for having felt free and happy with us. He had eaten what we had eaten…He had been happy, therefore we were scheming to take another advantage of him. We had some devilish white monkey-trick up our sleeve; we wanted to get at his soul.’

Lawrence had an indifferent relationship to his childhood home of Eastwood. His novels evoke glorious landscapes destroyed by industrialisation. As much as he may have felt the occasional pang to return home, whenever he did he couldn’t get out of there quick enough. It would lead him to observe ‘I can be anywhere at home, except home.’ So too Rosalino found himself conflicted; when they trekked to Huayap, an Indian hill village reminiscent of his former home, ‘the black Indian gloom of nostalgia must have made a crack in his spirits.’

Martin Secker UK 1927 First printing
Martin Secker first print (1927)

In Mornings and Mexico, Lawrence goes into hilarious detail about Rosalino’s indecisiveness which is worth quoting at length.

‘At lunch-time on Monday he said he wanted to leave. Why? He said he wanted to go back to his village. 
Very well. He was to wait just a few days, till another mozo was found.
At this a glance of pure, reptilian hate from his black eyes.
He sat motionless on his bench all the afternoon, in the Indian stupor of gloom and profound hate. In the evening, he cheered up a little and said he would stay on, at least till Easter.
Tuesday morning. More stupor and gloom and hate. He wanted to go back to his village at once. All right! No one wanted to keep him against his will. Another mozo would be found at once.
He went off in the numb stupor of gloom and hate, a very potent hate that could affect one in the pit of one’s stomach with nausea.
Tuesday afternoon, and he thought he would stay.
Wednesday morning, and he wanted to go…’

This indecision echoes Lawrence’s own travel plans when he was first invited to New Mexico by Mabel Dodge Luhan, as reported in an earlier blog. He constantly delayed his plans, took detours east to Ceylon and Australia so that ‘strengthened with Buddha, noisy, rampageous America might be easier to tackle,’ and pretty much back tracked on everything he planned and promised to do. No wonder he writes so affectionately about Rosalino’s failure to return to his roots. It was a route he had taken himself many times.

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. How can we capture his friendship with Rosalino? How do we represent his time in Oaxaca? Do we need a serape for visitors to keep warm or should we build in a zaguán so you can snuggle up at night and guard our project? In 2019 we will be building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact, get involved and submit ideas here.

FURTHER READING

Lawrence and Brett 2: Changing Rooms.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. How can we capture his DIY skills? Those long horse rides into the San Cristobal Canyon? His friendship with Dorothy Brett? In 2019 we will be building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact, get involved and submit ideas here.

FURTHER READING

Lawrence and Brett 1: A Friendship

Brett, Dorothy Eugenie, 1883-1977; Umbrellas
Umbrellas (1917) by Dorothy Brett features Lady Ottoline Morrell and her court of followers at Garsington Manor.

Our previous five blogs explored Lawrence’s time in New Mexico from the perspective of Mabel Dodge Luhan. Now it’s time to turn our attention to a very different memoir: Brett and Lawrence: A Friendship. The title pretty much sums up Brett’s feelings, though their friendship could have developed into something more but for acute shyness and clumsiness on both sides. 

‘Friendship is as binding
As the Marriage Vow –
As important – as Eternal –‘

Born in1883, Dorothy Brett was the third of four siblings. Her grandfather was Queen Victoria’s Master of the Rolls as well as Lord Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals. Her French grandmother had a more challenging start to life, discovered as an abandoned baby on the battlefield at Waterloo, she was adopted by Colonel Gurwood, the personal assistant of Wellington. To complicate matters further, her great grandmother was rumoured to have been the mistress of Napoleon. On her maternal side, writes John Manchester in his prologue to Brett’s memoir, her Belgium grandfather was none other than Van de Weyer, who had helped put Leopold I on the throne, while her maternal grandmother was the daughter of a rich Boston banker. By all accounts she had a completely different social upbringing to Lawrence, yet the two would become very close friends. This is all lovingly shared in Brett’s memoir that is narrated directly to Lawrence, written two years (check) after his death.

The first time Brett met Lawrence was in 1915. They were invited to a gathering at the home of British artist Mark Gertler (1891-1939) in the Vale of Heath, London. Gertler, one of five children to Polish-Jewish immigrants, was a British painter specialising in figure subjects, portraits and still-life. From a young age it was clear that he had a unique talent for drawing but his path to success would be hampered by financial difficulties. Due to his family’s poverty, Gertler was forced to drop out of Regent Street Polytechnic in 1906 and take up employment. In 1908 he successfully applied for a scholarship from the Jewish Education Aid Society (JEAS) and enrolled at the Slade School of Art, London where he would become a contemporary of the likes of Paul Nash and Stanley Spencer. It was at Slade that he met Brett, who studied there from 1910 to 1916, introducing her to artistic and literary circles that included the Bloomsbury Group.

gerandbretDHL
(L) Self portrait by Mark Gertler (M) Gertler and Brett (R) Portrait of Lawrence by Brett.

Brett’s description of Gertler ‘with his thick, dark, curly hair, cut like a Florentine boy, the delicate, clear-cut features, the long grey eyes, he was as beautiful as a Botticelli angel or a wild creature of some Keltic myth’ is beautifully evocative. John Manchester credits this due to her artistic background – ‘Brett writes as a painter – she sees it all before her inner eye as though it were happening right now’. Gertler would succumb to the same disease that also took the life of Katherine Mansfield and Lawrence. He would also be immortalised in fiction as the sculptor Herr Loerke in Lawrence’s Women in Love (1920), Gombauld in Huxley’s Crome Yellow (1921) and his early life would inspire Gilbert Cannan’s novel Mendel (1916).

During their first encounter, Lawrence sat upright with his hands tucked under his thighs. He had an immediate impact on Brett ‘gently coaxing me out of my shyness’ as they sat around a fire in Gertler’s front room. She would have appreciated his attentiveness as her deafness was particularly problematic in crowds. In a letter to Bertrand Russell in 1918, Brett reveals her frustration at being surrounded by an arty community at Garsington Manor but being unable to join in: ‘Can you imagine what it means to see life revolving round you – see people talking and laughing, quite  meaninglessly! Like looking through a shop window or a restaurant window. It is all so hideous I sometimes wonder how I can go on. I think if it were not for my painting I would end it all.’

When she discovered Lawrence was shortly off to Europe, Brett threw a party at her studio in Earl’s Court Road. It was attended by the usual suspects: Gertler, Kotiliansky, Murry, Mansfield and her friend Estelle Rice, Carrington, and Frieda. But it was ruined by a group of gate crashers and so another, more intimate gathering, was arranged two days later. In quieter surroundings they were able to play charades, with Lawrence ‘trotting round the room riding an imaginary bicycle, ringing the bell.’ She wouldn’t see him again until 1923.

In 1923 Brett had moved to Queen Anne House, Pond Street, Hampstead. The critic Middleton Murry, whose partner Katherine Mansfield had died in January, lived next door. Frieda arrived in the UK first, though she wasn’t entirely sure whether Lawrence would follow her from New Mexico. But he does, arriving six weeks later, and just in time for Christmas. He is immediately affronted by the smallness of Brett’s home, yet astonished she has a Rolls Royce parked outside. Pumped up from his savage pilgrimage across the globe, he immediately announces ‘Brett, I am not a man…I am MAN’ and immediately invites her to join him in Taormina or New Mexico. The same invitation is extended to the rest of their inner circle in the infamous dinner party that left Lawrence with a two day hangover. Only Brett would take him up on the offer.

Adam-Eve

When Lawrence wasn’t insulting Brett about her humble dwellings, the two made flowers together out of clay and then painted them. Being creative enabled them to bond, which was far more preferable than being asked innumerable questions by people, which bored Lawrence. One evening, while Frieda sat knitting and sowing, Lawrence and Brett made a plasticine tree and an Adam and Eve. Murry contributed a snake. Lawrence took devilish pleasure in the ‘scandalised faces’ of his friends as they peered at his naked Adam ‘so with ironical glee you snip off his indecency, and then mourn for him his loss.’

Brett was immediately attracted by Lawrence’s ‘soft Midland voice’ yet notes his use of ‘thee’ and ‘tha’ – usually attributed to the Yorkshire dialect. She observes the way his mouth pulls down at one corner – ‘the ever ready, amused jeer is on your lips’. But it is his kindness that lures her to him, the way he probes ‘delicately into my life and ideas and feelings, sensitive to my sensitiveness.’ But he is less sensitive in his criticisms of her chosen profession, insisting paintings are dead and that there is no life in still lives. Knud Merrild, in his memoir A Poet and Two Painters, would recall similarly condescending conversations. Yet Lawrence, a man of wonderful contradictions, would find solace in art during his latter years, and, inevitably, his paintings would cause as much controversy as his novels. But for Brett, art had a more pragmatic function. It helped fund her trip to New Mexico.

The friends spent Christmas Day together, but only on condition that they ate goose. Lawrence had had enough of turkey. Always attentive with every task he undertook, he stuffed the goose with sage and onions, laying strips of bacon across the chest. To appease his growing homesickness for New Mexico, they take a trip to The Stand to see The Covered Wagon. During the performance Lawrence hums the song that’s the keynote to the story: ‘Oh, oh, Susanna, don’t you sigh for me, for I’m waiting here in Oregon with my banjo on my knee.’ Brett lovingly adapts these lyrics years later to ‘Oh, oh, Lorenzo, don’t you sigh for me, for I’m waiting here in Kiowa with your Timsy on my knee.’ Timsy being his cat.

When it’s time to finally leave, Lawrence is excited to be sailing on The Aquitania, as he’s never been on such a large ship before. Brett is equally excited, as she has only ever been on a Channel boat. Her servant, who knows her well, mourns Brett’s departure, rightly predicting she will never return, despite Brett’s assurance she’ll only be gone for six months. Her servant was right. Brett would only return back to England for two weeks in 1924. Once on the ship, Frieda retreats to her cabin, leaving Brett and Lawrence to excitedly wander the decks. Adventure and exploration will be a defining trait of their friendship across the Pond. As the two stand on deck watching England fade away, Lawrence remarks ‘I am always a bit sad at leaving England, and yet I am always glad to be gone.’

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. How can we capture his love of charades? His voyage on the Aquitania? Or those small gatherings of arty folk in Hampstead? In 2019 we will be building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact, get involved and submit ideas here.

FURTHER READING

Lorenzo in Taos 5: The Brett

goodbadugly4 Trumpet
Artwork by James Walker and Izaak Bosman

When Lawrence returned to Taos to give it another go, Tony and Mabel Dodge Luhan (MDL) had also recently returned from their first long absence from home. It was the opportunity for a fresh start, or so went the plan. This time Lawrence and the QB had returned with a new guest, Dorothy Brett (10 November 1883 – 27 August 1977). ‘The Brett,’ as she was known, was a former student of the Slade School of Art and of aristocratic ancestry. Partially deaf, she had a brass ear trumpet stuck to her ear, rotating it to listen into conversations. ‘It was not a jolly, sociable ear trumpet that longed to be a part of everything else,’ complained MDL, ‘I soon saw that it was an eavesdropper. It was a spy upon any influence near Lorenzo.’ Oh dear, he we go again…

Brett is dismissed by MDL, rather unfairly, as some kind of commodity who is passed around the literati to satiate their various needs. First, she was Katherine Mansfield’s close confident, then the brief love interest of Middleton Murry, and now Lawrence’s typist. But she was a lot more to Lawrence than mere typist which probably explains MDLs lack of compassion towards her hearing aid. Brett was a threat; another obstacle thwarting the flow between her and Lawrence.

The Lawrence’s moved into a two storey house across the alfalfa from MDL. Brett had a studio a few doors away. Brett’s accommodation was tiny, but she was content to sit and paint the Truchas Peaks which lie on the divide between the Rio Grande and the Pecos River. MDL couldn’t accept that this shy, quiet artist was content perfecting her craft, instead she accuses Brett of ‘watching every move of Lorenzo to and fro between our houses.’

truchas-peaks-2
Truchas Peaks. Join a campaign to help protectthepecos.org

MDL picks fault with Brett at every opportunity in her memoir. She is keen to point out that although Brett’s father, Viscount Esher, had kept a racing stable; he never let his daughters ride. Whereas, of course, MDL had her own horses. But any hopes she had of long treks out into the mountains with Lawrence on her own are soon scuppered when Lawrence, who revelled in imparting knowledge, taught Brett to ride. They would end up taking long rides together. Given Brett’s deafness, a lot of these horse rides were taken in silence. In her memoir, Lawrence and Brett: A Friendship, she suggests that Lawrence enjoyed the peace and tranquillity of simply trotting along and being at one with his immediate environment, rather than being harassed for his affections by MDL.

To her credit, MDL tries every trick in the book to get close to Lawrence – which makes for unintentionally hilarious reading when it goes sour. One of the most bizarre examples of this is a haircutting incident. Lawrence didn’t want to trudge down to Taos to get his locks chopped, so they decided to do it in-house. MDL, dramatic and desperate as ever, writes: ‘I longed to have him shear me.’ But Lawrence wouldn’t shear anyone, instead Brett, courteous as ever, steps in. Not being a professional hairdresser she accidentally cuts MDL’s ear in the process, which ramps up the paranoia to new heights: ‘She hated me, she was deaf, and she tried to mutilate my ear.’

Brett paints a slightly different version of events in her memoir, recalling that Lawrence – a man not accustomed for his patience – becoming irritated at having to sit still, barking ‘haven’t you finished yet?’ A bowl is placed over his head and ‘I snip and snip as I have seen barbers do, but somehow it is not quite so easy as it looks.’ Needless to say Lawrence is not impressed: ‘For heaven’s sake. Get a man to cut my hair. You’ve given me a debutante bob.’ When it’s MDL’s turn she complains that Brett is pulling her and that it hurts. When she cuts her ear by mistake, Brett recalls a calmer MDL saying ‘It’s all right, Brett; it’s nothing. It’s almost healed and doesn’t matter.’

The latest cabin that MDL provided for the Lawrences required a lot of work. Brett was more than happy to get her hands dirty, passing Lawrence nails as he tacked down the roof. For her troubles she was nicknamed the ‘handmaiden’. Frieda became suspicious of Brett’s intentions, later limiting her home visits to three times a week. At this point Frieda’s relationship with MDL starts to improve, due to their shared distrust of this enthusiastic new guest.

MDL had strong ideas for how the cabin (the former home of Mrs. Sprage) should look and hoped Lawrence would paint the pink house green to blend in with the environment. Instead he painted it cream so that it stood out even more. Then he added a green snake wrapped around the stem of a sunflower. On either side he added a large black butterfly, a white dove, a dark brown bullfrog, and a rooster, followed by the Phoenix rising out of the flames. It was an eyesore that caused scandal with the neighbours. Tony Luhan wouldn’t go near it.

In her memoir, Dorothy Brett recalls Lawrence ‘committing an outrage on the toilet door’ and was under the impression that the reason the design caused so much offence was because of the addition of an Adam and Eve that they painted brown. But this wasn’t the problem. It was the amount of fun they were having together. As Brett recalls, ‘that seems to be the last straw of Mabel’s forbearance…She darts furious glances at us: we giggle and chop and paint. We are, as usual, absorbed, excited and terrifically amused, as doing these silly things amuse us.’

Although MDL was clearly a very difficult woman to be around, you have to admire her perseverance. She, like Lawrence, had an agenda, and was equally stubborn and forceful in trying to realise it. She had given Lawrence the space that he demanded but this affected the ‘psychic flow’ of their relationship, rendering her into a more pragmatic role: ‘Dear Mabel, We need whitewash…turquoise paint, brushes, a packet of tin tacks, a pound of putty, hinges for cupboards and screws. These things whenever anything is coming up, on wheels.’

Understandably, the self-proclaimed ‘Queen of the Indians’ required a more meaningful relationship with her latest project and so heeded Lawrence’s advice at not living life through her head and began building him a great chair. The chair was wide, deep and heavy. ‘I carved it a little and cut up a fine old blanket to upholster it, with shining brass nails. It was intended to become Lawrence’s very own chair. I fancied him always sitting in it and always writing in it…one of those dedicated pieces of furniture that would slowly become associated with him.’ When finished, she hoisted it up on a wagon, ‘where it loomed and swayed like the seat of honour in a triumphal procession.’ Lawrence took an immediate dislike to it, called it ‘the iron maiden,’ and had it send back down the hill.

No matter how hard she tried, MDL ended up annoying Lawrence, largely because she took his advice too literally. In his memoir, A Poet and Two Painters, Knud Merrild recalls a similar incident whereby MDL knitted Lawrence a scarf that comprised 45 different bands of colour. Yes, she had made something with her hands, but the scarf was imbued with symbolic meaning. ‘Look at it’ Lawrence fumed. ‘What a conglomeration of colours! Very bad taste, with no sense of proportion. What an atrocity! Now if she had just knitted a scarf in a few, simple colours, with some feeling in it, it could have been nice. But what does she do? She makes it with her head…the colours, even the proportions, are supposed to have a meaning. It is me and her and Taos!’ Merrild would go on to observe ‘She must be awfully dumb if she doesn’t know that she is annoying Lawrence; or else she is so blindly in love that she can’t see it. And to do it just for the sake of bullying would be too stupid.’

porcupine-featured

After the Kiowa Ranch was completed, it soon became clear that the idea of communal living wasn’t going to work – no matter how far the distance between the inhabitants. Whenever MDL turned up to say hello she was greeted with a grimace. The tension was exacerbated when Tony shot a porcupine close to Lawrence’s home. MDL claims that this incident would inspire Lawrence’s essay Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine, with him taking credit for the killing. But Knud Merrild confirmed that he taught Lawrence to shoot and he did once shoot a porcupine. Given that his memoir was published 6 years after MDLs, it’s easy to see why MDL may have taken credit for the incident.

Unhappy with running errands for Lawrence, MDL sent up her own errand boy, Clarence, to deliver messages on her behalf. The two men quickly struck up a friendship, enjoying long horseback rides into the desert together. MDL describes Clarence as immediately falling under Lawrence’s spell and that he longed to be ‘victimised’ by Lawrence! Whereas Dorothy Brett notes that Clarence ‘has the impertinence to make googoo eyes at you. You make no sign of having noticed.’ But the bromance didn’t last very long and Clarence soon discovered, via Frieda, that Lawrence wanted to ‘destroy’ MDL. All of this backstabbing, fighting, gossiping, and an almost sado-masochistic desire to get close to a person – who clearly wouldn’t let anyone in – is interspersed with poems and mystic philosophies, all of which helps paint a curious picture of the absolute bonkers life of Bohemians in 1920s New Mexico.

product_thumbnailClearly MDL craved a more ‘spiritual’ relationship with Lawrence and was thwarted at every opportunity. But perhaps the most difficult thing for her to accept was that instead of recording the life of the Pueblo Indians in New Mexico, Lawrence gave everything to Old Mexico. She argues that in The Plumed Serpent ‘he has put the facts of his Taos experience of Indians and drums and dancing, but of actual Indian life there is very little told’. Meanwhile, Mornings in Mexico includes the three essays ‘The Corn Dance,’ ‘Indians and Entertainment,’ and ‘The Snake Dance’. Given she had tried so hard to woo Lawrence to Taos, and that her reasons for doing this were in earnest, the rejection hurt even more. MDL would also inspire the short story The Woman Who Rode Away, in which a naive white woman is sacrificed to an ancient God. It was a damning critique of her own life story, yet she seems more concerned that it’s not set in New Mexico, given she had taken Lawrence to see the ancient cave the story refers to. She argues that the reason he turned from New to Old Mexico in his writing was because ‘he belonged to those centuries of civilisation that come between the bright, true golden age of pure delight and the brilliant age of gold; between these two ‘soulless’ periods when men wandered pitifully wondering what was the matter with the world and with themselves that they should so unaccountably suffer.’

When Lawrence and the QB finally headed back to Europe, it would be the last time that MDL saw them in person. Their relationship would now be left to letters, many of which are published in her memoir. In one letter, Lawrence passes advice on MDL’s own writing, advising her to better disguise the real people she refers to in her script as ‘other people can be utterly remorseless, if they think you’ve given them away.’ And boy did Lawrence give people away in his own books! His depiction of Jessie Chambers as Miriam in Sons and Lovers destroyed their relationship forever. Her brother David Chambers recalls “Lawrence was ruthless. He would make use of anybody. My sister felt that Lawrence had betrayed himself. She felt that he had allowed the animal side of his nature to come to the top.”

Lawrence’s advice to MDL on getting published bitterly reinforced his own experiences: ‘Don’t leave your MSS. to anyone. They’ll all edit them to emasculation. Rouse up and publish them yourself…and don’t have introductions. Don’t be introduced and discussed before you’re there. Don’t have anybody write an introduction. Don’t ask for credentials and letters of recommendation. Publish your things blank straight as they are…have it reviewed in about three good newspapers, and no more. As little publicity as possible…For once put your ego aside. After all, there’s enough of your ego in the book, without having to write your name large on the title page’.

In one letter, after moaning about the weather in Florence, he requested any copyright photographs she might have of Indians for Mornings in Mexico, promising ‘I’ll dedicate the book to you, if you like; to Mabel Dodge Luhan, who called me to Taos’. Lawrence then offset this with some curt advice about her home and land, which he mocked as ‘Mabeltown’: ‘I believe that’s your ambition – to have an earthly kingdom, and rule it. But my dear, it’s an illusion like any other.’

But Lawrence being Lawrence, it’s not long before Europe is getting on his nerves and he’s umming and ahhing about returning to Taos as ‘a change of continent would do me good’ but it all depends on ‘my damned bronchitis’. As always, he’s in denial about his health, claiming ‘it’s partly psychological, of course.’ He is keen to hold onto the ranch, perhaps symbolically, because it gives him some kind of roots. The letters that fill the end of her memoir span his time in Florence, Switzerland, Baden Baden, and finally Bandol, France on 21 Jan 1930, where he seems to have finally mellowed and acknowledged he was equally at fault in their turbulent relationship: ‘if we can manage it, and I can come to New Mexico, then we can begin a new life, with real tenderness in it. Every form of bullying is bad’. He died on 2 March 1930.

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. Do we have room for an ear trumpet to represent ‘The Brett’ or a scarf for Mabel Dodge Luhan? How can we convey the jealousy, paranoia and infatuation aroused during his time in Taos?  If you have an idea for an artefact, please submit ideas here.

 

FURTHER READING

 

 

 

 

Rosemary Howard: A Conversation with ‘The Brett’

Ear trumpet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dorothy Brett’s cabin, Kiowa Ranch

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

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

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

RELATED READING

Stephen Lowe on ‘Altitude Sickness’

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Photograph by James Walker in Stephen’s study.

Stephen Lowe has dramatised and fictionalised the life of D.H. Lawrence many times over the year. His most recent play explores Lawrence’s life in Taos, where he found himself surrounded by three very independent women: Mabel Dodge Luhan, Dorothy Brett and Frieda Lawrence. 

Why is DH Lawrence important to you?
The easy answer is I’m a working class lad from Nottingham who wanted to be a writer and you can’t grow up not reading Lawrence. Lady Chatterley’s Lover came out when I was thirteen and I’ve spent my whole life living with and thinking about him. I’ve written about him so much he’s like family now. But sometimes we fall out.

Your new play Altitude Sickness deals with an area of Lawrence’s writing that’s problematic…
It deals with his notions about the submission of women and how the stronger the woman is the more she has to place herself, like The Taming of the Shrew, under the foot of the master. His notions of wills between relationships I now think are rather silly, particularly the phases through which this play looks at: when an artist makes a move from being an artist to a prophet and then a messiah.

What’s the context to the play?
Mabel Dodge Luhan was a wealthy heiress and patron of the Arts. The American equivalent of Lady Ottoline Morrell in that she came from that tradition of holding soirées for artists of all kinds. In 1923 she pays for Lawrence to come over to Taos, New Mexico along with a selection of arty folk to help set up her dream artistic community. She wanted Lawrence to write about her life.

He doesn’t strike me as someone who’d settle down into an ‘Arvon’ type commune.
Lawrence sees art as being like a grenade. It blows the world up and some will rise from the ashes with the phoenix. For him, art must have this tremendous revolutionary action that moves from the head to the blood to the pagan again. That’s what he wants from this meeting of people. He doesn’t want a commune with everyone writing poems on their own. He wants a commune in which he can lead as a revolutionary God. Which is what the play is about. It’s very funny, honest.

How does the play start?
Lawrence loved playing charades, which I find most curious. The problem was he had to win, and increasingly, he had to play all of the parts as well. I got this idea for this playful but significant game of charades that they’re setting up before breakfast in Mexico. The twenty minute script that Lawrence actually wrote – on which this play is based – is not important. What’s interesting is why he didn’t finish it.

Which has something to do with women…
Altitude Sickness explores what happened around the time that this opening scene is written and how Lawrence coped with having three powerful women vying for his attention. These were Mabel Dodge Luhan, aristocratic painter Dorothy Bret and, of course, his wife Frieda. It’s exactly what he would have liked, the three women fighting over him. It’s a classic play about sex and the relationship between a man and a woman. It’s important to look at the three women and how they represent challenges and changes to Lawrence.

Lawrence met his match in Frieda. A strong-willed woman…
There’s a famous story about how Lawrence and Frieda met in 1912. Lawrence went around to see his old tutor Ernest Weekley on Private Road, who Frieda was married to at the time. Weekley was out. The debate that goes around is whether it took her 20 or 25 minutes to get Lawrence into bed. Frieda had been the mistress of Otto Gross, one of Europe’s most notorious sexual revolutionaries and was an advocate of free love. Everything Lawrence knew about sex, Frieda taught him. But he found it very difficult to accept the consequences of her liberalism. He was very rarely unfaithful, she was determinedly so.

How did Lawrence cope with this?
Initially when they were on the move, Frieda carried on as she always said she would. As an advocate of free love. But eventually, when she sees the pain it causes him, she stays quiet about her affairs. Instead she says she is ‘visiting’ her mother in Baden Baden. Frieda is an incredible woman. Her principles and history are amazing.

She’s been unfairly derided by critics and painted as a heartless mother who abandoned her children…
When Frieda was married to Ernest Weekley she would take male friends to Germany to have her fun and always returned home. When she took Lawrence on one such trip, he wrote to her husband saying she wasn’t coming back. When Weekley got this letter he quickly got the lawyers and stopped Frieda from coming back and seeing her three children. Lawrence was very manipulative and I’m sure this caused their relationship friction over the years. But there’s no doubt that as much as they argued, they genuinely cared for each other.

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Helmut Naumer, Sr. (1935-36) Taos Pueblo

Lawrence was a restless beast who travelled the world in search of Rananim, a kind of utopian community of like-minded people. Did he find this in Taos?

Everywhere he’d gone before where he’d met the ‘natives’, he ended up disliking them, for not living up to his expectations. This wasn’t prejudice, it was Lawrence’s own personal ideology. But, from the Pueblo Indians of Taos, he felt there was something to be learned. I explore this in the play through the Hopi Indian dance, but beware of the snake…

Why was he searching for Rananim in New Mexico?
Taos is cut off. It’s up in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico. It’s about communing with nature. Lawrence yearned desperately for that pagan way of living; running naked into the forest when it rained. This wasn’t unusual in the twenties. People were seeking completely different ways of living after WWI. You either went hedonistic, like the bright young things of Evelyn Waugh’s novels – who Lawrence detested – or you went pagan. You went backwards to see if native cultures had something.

Have you visited the ranch?
I was offered a place to write there thirty years ago when I was a shepherd in Yorkshire. But I couldn’t afford the air fare at the time. I got to go five years ago when they were doing my play Empty Bed Blues, which is about a dying Lawrence trying to find a publisher for Lady Chatterley. It’s pretty basic and freezing in winter because it’s 6-7,000 feet up. Lawrence and Frieda were terrific about being poor. Frieda made the worst dresses you can imagine out of old curtains and didn’t give a damn.

Do you think he was truly happy in Taos?
Lawrence was massively influenced by the philosopher and transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, who was into simple living in natural surroundings. Lawrence wanted somewhere without a divide so that when you opened your door you were straight into wilderness. Primitive. With a cow. Lawrence loved milking his cow every day. It was this that led to the ‘prophet’ notion. So landscape and place was crucial to him. The cruel irony is that after travelling all over the world to find this spot, he finally finds it and he’s told he has to move out because it’s bad for his health.

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The cast discuss the play after the performance.

Altitude Sickness, Lakeside Arts Centre as part of NEAT16, Tuesday 17 May 2016, 2pm & 8pm, £5.

Steven Lowe’s website