11 Sept 2022

God Save the King ...? The D. H. Lawrence Birthday Post (2022)

The ghost of D. H. Lawrence observes a relaxed-looking King Charles III  
And all across the land, the great cry goes up: God Save the King! 
The king in this case being Charles III, who has now been formally proclaimed as monarch following the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. 
But, as every year on this day - 11 September - I always like to stop and ask: What would Lawrence think? 

As with many other subjects, it's not easy to pin Lawrence down when it comes to the question of monarchy. 
On the one hand, he was certainly thrilled to see all the king's soldiers stiffly marching past in their red tunics when enjoying a visit to Hyde Park in the summer of 1909. But that might just be a sign of a penchant for pomp and circumstance, or, indeed, of his homoerotic attraction to virile young men in uniform [1].
For when Lawrence actually did see a member of the Royal Family up close and personal - namely, Edward, the Prince of Wales, on a visit to Ceylon in March 1922 - he wasn't particularly impressed. In fact, he seemed far more in awe of the ceremonial elephants and naked devil-dancers, than the pale-faced representative of the British Crown [2].
As Lawrence's biographer David Ellis notes, Lawrence characterises the future king, in both his verse and correspondence, with terms and phrases such as sad, nervous, irritable, worn out, forlorn, etc. [3]
He is particuarly contemptuous of the Prince's motto, Ich dien, and reasserts an older model of kingship based upon the power of rule over - not service to - the people. And that's really the crucial point; Lawrence doesn't much care for modern forms of constitutional monarchy, he wants kings with dark faces and red beards, and who, like the Sons of Enoch, are hung like horses.
In a letter to Mabel Sterne, written in April of 1922, Lawrence states:
"I don't believe either in liberty or democracy. I believe in actual, sacred, inspired authority: divine right of natural kings: I believe in the divine right of natural aristocracy, the right, the sacred duty to wield undisputed authority." [4]    
He develops this line of thinking in several essays from this period [5], as well as the Epilogue (written in September 1924) to Movements in European History (1921). 
Whilst conceding that it is bad to have "greedy, cruel people called 'nobles'" and "rich people squandering money and taking airs" [6], Lawrence argues that, at the same time, we long for those who understand the mysterious responsibility of power, such as the ancient kings; men who were not mere bullies or tyrants and whose kingship was "not a matter of vanity and conceit" [7].      
So, what then would Lawrence make of King Charles III? 
Not much, I suspect. 
But, who knows, Charles may at least be able to "keep up a bluff of royalty and nobleness" [8] for a bit longer. And then, after him, le déluge ...
[1] See D. H. Lawrence, 'Guards!', in The Poems, Vol. I, ed. Christopher Pollnitz, (Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 34-35. And see also my post on this poem: click here
[2] See D. H. Lawrence, 'Elephant', in The Poems Vol. I, pp. 338-343. This poem can also be found online: click here, for example.

[3] See David Ellis, D. H. Lawrence: Dying Game 1922-1930, (Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 16.

[4] D. H. Lawrence, letter to Mabel Dodge Sterne, 10 April 1922, in The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Vol. IV, ed. Warren Roberts, James T. Boulton and Elizabeth Mansfield, (Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 226. 
[5] See, for example, the essays 'Blessed Are the Powerful' and 'Aristocracy', both of which can be found in Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays, ed. Michael Herbert, (Cambridge University Press, 1988).
[6] D. H. Lawrence, Movements in European History, ed. Philip Crumpton, (Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 261.
[7] Ibid., p. 263.    

[8] Ibid., p. 264. 
For a post published in April of this year in which I discuss Lawrence's reaction to Ceylon, click here
For another response to presently unfolding royal events in the UK, click here

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