D H Lawrence as I knew him

Taken from The <em>New Statesman</em> 13 August 1955

D H Lawrence, one of Britain's most controve

EVER since I met Harry T. Moore, some time after my husband’s death, he has been eager to write about Lawrence. All through these years with endless patience he has gone into the highways and byways to trace Lawrence’s footprints, step by step. In previous books he connected Lawrence’s work with its time and place, a labour of love and admiration indeed. But Mr. Moore’s latest book reads almost like fiction, and a great deal is fiction to me.

Lawrence and I lived often for weeks and months in peace in the midst of a terrific turmoil and gossip that we were not aware of. So much spite against two unpretentious people who lived as simply as we did. But somehow it did not matter much; we went on our way in our world. A man’s new ideas are not so easy to grasp right away and it makes people hostile. There were a few like Aldous and Maria Huxley who patiently listened.

We are too near still to Lawrence to get a bird’s eye-view of him and his ultimate significance. The era that he was born into put a great stress on self-conscious emotions. They loomed so large, out of proportion in the scheme of things, and all the social fixtures seemed firmly fixed for eternity. Lawrence helped to change that.

Now many writers tell not about human, all too human stuff, they are sick of it, but write about animals and plants and places and the sea and the sky and winds and it is a relief. Lawrence looked at the elemental part in human beings to write about. So critics, at the time he wrote, said it was nonsense, that he had no form. He was a Fascist, he was a Communist, he was pro-German, he was sex-obsessed, and all he was, was simply pro-human. Sex is such a weary word. It could mean divine urge or a nasty story, but the nasty story always gets a larger audience.

When Lawrence and I first stayed at the ugly place he was born in, I had to think of his rather frail mother, working so very hard to keep the seven people she was responsible for fed and clean and not let them go under into sordidness. I remembered how a twopenny small bunch of

pansies could give her such pleasure. She was a good mother. She trained all her children to be tidy and clean and gave them standards to live by. This sounds trivial but is important for all that. But at the same time from people on the streets and buses of this mining town a strange power emanated. When you thought of the dead elegance of Lady X and the immaculate presence of the Duke of S, how much more alive these men and women on the street were!

As for the Oedipus Complex, it is not an absolute written in words of fire over all time. It was a bitter idea against the power of nature and women. This unnatural desire may occur, but it is not the norm. Whether young bulls have it, I do not know, but doubt it. When you consider that in Russia the State is your mother and your whole family, then I prefer the unlikely possibility of an Oedipus Complex. Lawrence and Freud and others brought the problem of sex out into the open air and sunshine where it can flourish naturally and sanely. It does not have to hide in dark corners of shame and tragedy any more.

I had a great friend, a young Austrian doctor who had been a pupil of Freud’s and had worked with him. Consequently he had been fundamentally influenced by Freud, and through him I was much impressed too. So Lawrence through this friend and me had an almost direct contact with these then new ideas.

He got most of his ideas in this living way, never so much from books, but mostly he used himself as his own guinea pig. That is why I don’t believe the story of the mystery woman who says she “gave Lawrence sex.”

Lawrence was a fastidious and sensitive man, who would not go like a lamb to the slaughter with a woman who expressed herself so unfortunately. We would have heard from him about this strange and unlikely episode, mentioned in The Intelligent Heart.

Lawrence believed in his destiny, and his destiny included me as his wife.

I believed in his power; what he had to say he would say at any price and the price was high. If he had married another woman his work and his life would have been different. Lawrence’s genius, and nobody denies his genius, has so many angles. If there is a Lord who created our universe, He did not do it only by laws and rules. Such prodigal imagination and fantasy went into this overwhelming achievement that is our globe. To Lawrence his surroundings were a mystery, a miracle through all his life.

He had, in his own way, the same uncanny understanding of living creatures as St. Francis of Assisi. When St. Francis says “my little sisters the birds “ and preaches to the fishes, he only voices his awareness of them in their loveliness; and when he preaches to the fishes, it is his love for them. St. Francis was a voice against the spiritual conceit of doctrines and human superiority when he put animals on a level with humans. With the accent on spirituality the animal becomes the evil principle. All that is animal must be suppressed, and God help us!

When you think of a bird in flight, handling its wings with such precision and ease, wonderful as an airplane is, the birds win. But we have come a long way from St. Francis and his little sisters the birds. Now we have chickens in cages, that are fed scientifically, and they mechanically just sit and lay eggs. No air, no sun, no scratching in the dirt. Whether they cackle when they lay an egg I don’t know, but I doubt it.

Lawrence had some of the awareness of the creatures and vegetation around him as St. Francis had. It is there in writing. It gave him his special quality and made him so alive. It fascinated people and they loved to be with him. But very often they tried to turn this quality into a limited, personal, too personal relationship, and it could by the very nature of it not be personal and they were disappointed and Lawrence was angry and the feathers flew, whole clouds of feathers.

When I read Mr. Moore’s book, it seems as if it had all been strife and misery. It was not so. Lawrence could never have done the amazing amount of work in his short lifetime had it been so. There were months of quiet, peaceful living. For instance at the Berkshire cottage, Lawrence would write in the morning, while I fussed around the cottage. After lunch we would go for long walks over the fields and get mushrooms if there were any, and in the Spring through the woods we found clearings where big primroses grew and pools of bluebells. In the Spring we also got baskets full of dandelions and made dandelion wine. Sometimes in the middle of the night the cork of a fermenting dandelion wine bottle would go off with a terrific pop. After our afternoon exploring we came home with our loot, hungry, with muddy boots, changed into slippers and put the kettle on the fire and had tea.

In the cottage next door lived a charming brown-eyed child, Hilda Brown, who would come after school, and we would sing the songs from The Oxford Songbook— “All Through the Night,” “The Camptown Races,” and “My Wife and I Live All Alone.” Then after our evening meal Lawrence would write again. I would embroider or mend. It is still a mystery to me, when I think of our quiet days that flowed along so easily, how it could arouse so much speculation in people and so much spite. It seemed to have so little to do with us and our way of living.

The one time I did not believe in Lawrence’s activities (he was very young then) was when he and Bertrand Russell planned to make some reform in English government. I had listened to talk on politics at my uncle Oswald Richthofen’s in Berlin (he was then Minister of Foreign Affairs), and what Lawrence and Bertie discussed did not seem like politics to me.

I thought they were both off their tracks. But being brought up in the European tradition that women don’t interfere in men’s affairs, I held my tongue. So both being out of their elements, there was the inevitable fiasco and they blamed each other. Lawrence did not mean it when he asked Russell to leave him some money in his will; he knew that Russell wasn’t a rich man.

The story of the mayor of Milan who came to breakfast in Taormina, with Lawrence throwing plates at me, made me weep tears of laughter. I had never heard it before! And we were poor and did not have so many plates!

Also The Intelligent Heart gives a wrong impression of my father. He did slap his young orderly, but it was no “beating.” The Prussian Officer is a story of cruelty, and though it existed in some Germans, cruelty is a plant that grows everywhere. My father was a lovely father who wrote poems for me when I was small: I must have all the virtues of the animals, quick as a bird and gentle as a lamb, and of course busy as a bee “and gay as a Spitz, be my little Fitz,” it ended. He must have read Prescott’s Conquest of Mexico at one time and had such names as “Fitzli-Purzli” for me, and took me to the Officers’ swimming establishment and dived into the Moselle with me from the diving board (that taught me to swim), and much to the astonishment of the officers I emerged dressed in my small girl’s clothes.

Because Lawrence wrote his books, the young people that read them will not be so mixed up in themselves any more. They will have something to think about and have more fun.

There is Harry T. Moore’s Lawrence in The Intelligent Heart. But there is a Lawrence that I knew that is not there.

This article first appeared in the 05 November 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Iraq uncovered