2 May 2022

May Day with D. H. Lawrence (1921 - 1929)

Claude Flight and Edith Lawrence Maypole Dance (1936)
1 May 1921 
Lawrence is back in Germany - staying at a country inn just outside Baden. 
He informs his American literary agent Robert Mountsier that it's lovely, although in a lettter written two days earlier, also to Mountsier, he confesses he doesn't really like Germany - even though things are cheap (always an important consideration for Lawrence). 
He expands upon this in a letter written the following day - May 2nd - to Mary Cannan, the actress wife of the British writer Gilbert Cannan: 
"The country is beautiful, Baden a lovely little town, and there are some exquisite things in the shops. Everybody is very nice with us: and we live for about 5/- a day the pair of us. Food is very good: wonderful asparagus." [1] 
And yet: "Germany is rather depressed and empty feeling [...] The men are very silent and dim." [2] 
To be fair, they had just lost a war and Germany had not fully recovered from the shock caused by the overthrow of the old way of life and the ongoing economic misery caused by the Treaty of Versailles's demand for punitive war reparations. 
Soon, however, the Nazis would be along, promising to address these issues ...
1 May 1923 
Two years later, and Lawrence is in Chapala, Mexico - which he describes in a telegram to Frieda as paradise (whether this is meant ironically or not, I don't know). 
She duly arrives from Mexico City the following day by train and they move into a little house of their own (near but not overlooking Lake Chapala): "It is hot and sunny and nice: lots of room." [3] 
They even have bananas growing in their garden - so much more exotic than the apples growing in mine! 
1 May 1925 
Many of Lawrence's short letters written from Del Monte Ranch, New Mexico, are full of relatively dull domestic details and conventional remarks about the weather and his state of health. 
And this includes his May Day letter to the American modernist painter (and early exponent of Cubism) Andrew Dasburg: thanks for sending a new ribbon for the typewriter; we've got the workmen in laying pipes; the cold winds cause my chest to play up, etc. [4] 
There's really not much one can say about this. But it's reassuring to know that Lawrence wasn't raging or in genius mode all of the time. 
1 May 1926 
Although Lawrence mockingly portrayed Reggie Turner as little Algie Constable in Aaron's Rod (1922), I will forever hold him in high regard due to the fact that he was one of the few friends who remained loyal to Oscar Wilde when he was imprisoned and supported him after his release.
On May Day, 1926, Lawrence wrote to Reggie from the pensione where he was staying, in Florence, hoping to clear up a misunderstanding. Apparently, they had agreed to meet at a popular bar, but, due to some confusion over the day, they managed to miss one another. 
Surprisingly, rather than be angry about this and blame Reggie, Lawrence sincerely regrets the lost evening and confesses that he was involved in a similar mix-up in Mexico City "with the one man I really liked in that damnable town: he said Thursday, and I heard Friday ... But anyhow I'm awfully sorry, and a thousand apologies" [5]. 
This is maybe explained by the fact that, as well as needing spectacles, Lawrence was a little deaf.
1 May 1928 
Harry Crosby, the young American playboy, poet, and publisher, epitomized the Lost Generation and would, in December 1929, commit suicide, aged 30, having first shot his young mistress, Josephine Rotch, through the head as part of an apparent death pact.
Twenty months earlier, however, in the spring of 1928, Lawrence had offered to write an introduction to a collection of poetry by Crosby and he sent this off to him at the beginning of May [6]. 
In a letter of April 29, Lawrence writes: "I have done the introduction to Chariot of the Sun [...] You can cut this introduction, and do what you like with it, for your book. If there is any part you don't like, omit it." [7] 
That's very generous of Lawrence; as was his proposal to promote Crosby's book by trying to get the introduction published separately; "a magazine article would be a bit of an advertisement for you" [8].
Just before Lawrence had the chance to post this letter, however, he received some further poems from Crosby in the mail. Unfortunately, he didn't think much of them - and in a PS written on May 1st, he advised Crosby not to add them to Chariot of the Sun:
"They don't belong; they are another thing. Put them in another book. Leave Chariot as it is. I send my foreword [...] It's good - but it won't fit if you introduce these new, long, unwieldly, not very sensitive poems. Do print Chariot as it stands. The new ones aren't so good." [9] 
1 May 1929
This would be Lawrence's final May Day; he was to die the following year on March 2nd. 
And he spent it in Spain (Palma de Mallorca): "Brilliant sunny May Day here, but wind cool - everything sparkling." [10]
In fact, he liked Mallorca so much he thought about staying the whole month and then do a little tour around Spain: Burgos, Granada, Cordoba, Seville, Madrid ..."I don't expect to like it immensely [...] Yet it interests me." [11]  
In fact, Lawrence had already decided the Spanish were rancid and lifeless: 
"The people seem to me rather dead, and they are ugly, and they have these non-existent bodies that English people often have [...] Dead-bodied people with rather ugly faces and a certain staleness. [...] The Spaniards, I believe, have refused life so long that life now refuses them [...]" [12]
Despite this, Lawrence lingered on in Palma until June 18th, when he finally sailed for Marseille (and from there headed by train to Italy).    
[1] D. H. Lawrence, The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Vol. III, ed. James T. Boulton and Andrew Robertson, (Cambridge University Press, 1984), p. 710. 
      The May Day letter to Robert Mountsier is also on p. 710. 
[2] Letters, III. 711. 
[3] D. H. Lawrence, writing in a letter to Thomas Seltzer (2 May 1923), The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Vol. IV, ed. Warren Roberts, James T. Boulton and Elizabeth Mansfield, (Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 436. 
      The short May Day telegram to Frieda is on p. 435 of this volume. 
[4] See the letter to Andrew Dasburg (1 May 1925), in The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Vol. V, ed. James T. Boulton and Lindeth Vasey, (Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 248. 
[5] Letters, V. 445-46. 
[6] This introduction by Lawrence - entitled 'Chaos in Poetry' - can be found in Introductions and Reviews, ed. N. H. Reeve and John Worthen, (Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp. 107-116. It is one of my favourite pieces of writing by Lawrence and, I think, one of the most important. It was first published in Echanges, in December 1929.  
[7-8] D. H. Lawrence, The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Vol. VI, ed. James T. Boulton and Margaret H. Boulton, with Gerald M. Lacy, (Cabridge University Press, 1991), p. 389.

[9] Letters VI. 390. 

[10] D. H. Lawrence, letter to Nancy Pearn (1 May 1929), in The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Vol. VII, ed. Keith Sagar and James T. Boulton, (Cabridge University Press, 1993), p. 269.
[11] Letter to Maria and Aldous Huxley [9 May 1929], Letters, VII. 276. 

[12] Letters, VII 275-76. 
      Lawrence is still denigrating the Spanish - whom he compares disavourably to both the Italians and the French - in another letter to Aldous Huxley written on the 17th of May [VII. 283]. Just for the record: I love Spain and I love the Spanish.
To read the first part of this post - May Day with D. H. Lawrence (1911 - 1917) - click here.

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