13 Oct 2022

Spooks and Lovers: Halloween With D. H. Lawrence

Although - as far as I'm aware - D. H. Lawrence didn't celebrate Halloween, he did write a number of spooky tales with supernatural elements [1] and he had an abiding interest in the occult and things which go bump in the dark. 
And so, I thought it might be fun to look at what he writes in nine of his letters (and one postcard) dated the 31st of October ... 
[31 October 1903] [2]
On a postcard sent from Peterborough to his childhood friend Gertrude Cooper, Lawrence writes to say he is safe and sound and that he has been to visit the 12th-century cathedral, famous for its Early English Gothic façade featuring three large arches.
However, Lawrence will increasingly grow disillusioned with monumental religious architecture and reach the stage where he is weary of huge stone erections In other words, he will come to believe in the ruins [3] and will, like Deleuze and Guattari, seek to release desire from all that overcodes it, rejecting the myth of wholeness or completion [4]
And that is one of the reasons I so admire Lawrence as a writer: because he anticipates both punk and poststructuralism. 
[31 October 1913] [5]
In a letter to Henry Savage - a minor literary figure who had written a positive review of Lawrence's first novel The White Peacock (1911) - Lawrence sets forth his view that what women fundamentally want is sexual satisfaction:
"A man may bring her his laurel wreaths and songs and what not, but if that man doesn't satisfy her, in some undeniable physical fashion - then in one way or other she takes him in her mouth and shakes him like a cat a mouse, and throws him away. She is not to be caught by any of the catch-words, love, beauty, honour, duty, worth, work, salvation - none of them - not in the long run."
In other words - and in the long run - she simply desires a good fucking; a fairly conventional view which Lawrence holds too for the rest of his life. Less conventional, however, is the claim (and confession) that follows: "And an artist - a poet - is like a woman in that he too must have this satisfaction. [...] He must get his bodily and spiritual want satisfied [...]
Is it just me, or is there not an ambiguity to this sentence which invites a kinky interpretation ...? (Some readers might recall that I've written before on Lawrence's autogynephilia, his perverse tendency to be sexually aroused by the thought of himself as a woman being penetrated by a large cock: click here.)   
In this same long letter, written from Italy, Lawrence also admits that whilst he dislikes Charles Dickens for his mid-Victorian moralising, he's jealous of his characters. 
He closes, in typical Lawrence fashion, by requesting some books, giving an update on his health - he has a rotten bad cold - and by admitting that he wishes he had some money, so needn't work. 
31 October 1914 [6]

In a rather sweet note to his Russian friend S. S. Koteliansky, Lawrence asks the latter if he can do him a favour next time he's in Soho:
"I saw a necklace I wanted to buy for Frieda. It is in a shop almost at the south end of Wardour St near Leicester Square [...] a second hand jeweller's - a necklace of lapis lazuli set in little white enamel clasps - costs 30/- It hangs up at eye level near the doorway. I send you a cheque. If you find the necklace, please buy it me - round beads of lapis lazuli - you can't mistake it - marked 30/-"
Just to be on the safe side, Lawrence even enclosed  a sketch of the necklace. However, unsure of Kot's ability to locate the piece - despite his detailed description and drawing - he then adds a PS to the letter: "If you don't find it you can give me back the cheque."
I suppose that's fair enough - 30 bob might not sound like much, but it would be about £190 today and the averge coal miner in 1914 would only expect to earn about 9 shillings per daily shift. 
Lawrence, of course, had a thing for lapis lazuli - he had once given a piece to the poet Hilda Doolittle (or H.D. as she was known) and readers might also recall that Hermione smashes Birkin's skull with a beautiful crystal ball made of such [7].    
31 October 1916 [8]
Lawrence is in Cornwall and has just finished writing his latest novel, Women in Love. Along with a letter to his literary agent, J. B. Pinker, Lawrence encloses the final part of his manuscript - "all but the last chapter, which, being a sort of epilogue, I want to write later".   
He also encloses the short story called 'The Mortal Coil', which he is clearly proud of, although not optimistic about its commercial prospects:
"It is a first-class story, one of my purest creations, but not destined I fear, like the holy in the hymn, to land On the Golden Strand [...] I really grieve when I send you still another unmarketable wretch of fiction. But bear with me. I will write sweet simple tales yet."  
Poor Lawrence! Always hoping to strike it rich with his writing and find the philosopher's stone, if only so that he can escape to sunnier climes and find better health: "I am tired of being unwell in England." 
[31 October 1919] [9]
It would, however, be three years later before Lawrence was finally able to leave England and head south once more: in a letter to Martin Secker expressing his concern about the Women in Love manuscript which has been sent to the US, Lawrence also adds: "I shall be in [London] Monday, preparatory to going off for Italy". 
He left London on 14 November: to Turin via Paris on the train and then on to Florence (via Spezia). 
Unfortunately, poor health and money worries continue to dog him no matter where he travels, although at times Lawrence affirms his sickness - better than a bourgeois model of good health - and his poverty; for it is preferable, he says, to sit still on a large rock than ride in the car of a multi-millionaire.   

[31 October 1921] [10]

In a Halloween letter sent from Sicily to his literary agent Robert Mountsier, Lawrence says he's thinking of heading out West and trying his luck in the New World: "What's the good of Europe, anyhow?"
It was a particularly busy period for Lawrence as a writer:  
(i) Sea and Sardinia was about to be published, as well as the poetry collection Tortoises ...
(ii) he was rewriting some old short stories and finishing his novella 'The Captain's Doll' ...
(iii) Fantasia of the Unconscious had just been sent off to his American publisher ...
(iv) he was also busy working on Mr Noon, although he confessed that he didn't know whether he'd actually finish writing the novel: "I get so annoyed with everybody that I don't want to tackle any really serious work. To hell with them all. Miserable world of canaille."
Interestingly, this letter also gives us an insight into D. H. Lawrence the wine connoisseur:
"We have been trying the new Fontana Vecchia wine: though it shouldn't be tried till November 11th - I don't very much like it - it's going to be rough. I'm glad I had a barrel of last year's from the Vigna Sagnoula." [11]
31 October 1922 [12]   

The following year, on the same date, Lawrence again wrote to Robert Mountsier ... 
He was now in Taos, New Mexico, and thinking of moving into the ranch that Mabel Sterne was offering him and Frieda; somewhere they could they finally call home and make a real life together.  

Having already invited a friend of Mabel's - Bessie Freeman - to come and live with them, Lawrence now invited his literary agent to do the same:
"M.S. has got a ranch, 180 acres, on Rockies foothills, about 20 miles away, wild. We went there today. It is very lovely. There are two rather poor little houses [...] all rather abandoned. But we think of going there either this week or next, to try it. If we find it possible, move in there. The ranch is utterly abandoned now, so it will be a good thing for it to have somebody there. If we go, come there with us, and we'll make a life. [...] It's a wonderful place, with the world at your feet and the mountains at your back, and pine-trees. [...] You'd have one of the houses: they almost adjoin. We'd have to get a few repairs done."

Obviously, being neither impetuous nor insane, Mountsier wasn't tempted by this offer. 
And one might have imagined that after his experience in Cornwall with Mansfield and Murry, Lawrence would have abandoned plans for communal living, but apparently not; as he said in a letter to Koteliansky from this period, his idea had been sound, but the people invited to build Rananim were not up to the task [13] - which is the bitter conclusion that all utopian dreamers reach.  
[31 October 1925] [14]
And speaking of Jack Murry ... Lawrence wrote to him on Halloween in 1925, whilst staying at his mother-in-law's, on the edge of the Black Forest, which he loved, but always found somewhat spooky; like something from a dream (or nightmare). 
Although obviously a little bored and wishing he'd gone to Paris instead, he nevertheless offers the following observation on Germany at the time:
"Just the same here - very quiet and unemerged: my mother-in-law older, noticeably. I make my bows and play whist [...] Titles still in full swing here, but nothing else. No foreigners [...] and the peasants still peasants, with a bit of the eternal earth-to-earth quality that is so lost in England. Rather like a still sleep, with frail dreams."  
Murry by this stage regarded himself as a radical Christian - he would publish his Life of Jesus the following year - but Lawrence doesn't have much time for this:
"Don't you see, there still has to be a Creator? Jesus is not the Creator, even of himself. And we have to go on being created. By the Creator. More important to me than Jesus. But of course God-the Father, the Dieu-Père, is a bore. Jesus is as far as one can go with god, anthropomorphically. After that, no more anthropos." 
And that's the Lawrence which the pagan me still loves: anti-Christian (or, at the very least, post-Christian) and in search of queer, inhuman gods who inhabit the outer (and inner) darkness ...
31 October 1927 [15]

Not the best of days for poor Lawrence. He wrote to Koteliansky:
"Altogether the world is depressing - and I feel rather depressed. My bronchials are such a nuisance, and I don't feel myself at all. I'm not very happy here [Florence], and I don't know where else to go, and have not much money to go anywhere - I feel I don't want to work -  don't want to do a thing at all the life gone out of me. Yet how can I sit in this empty place and see nobody and do nothing! It's a limit! I'll have to make a change somehow or other - but don't know how."
And as he wrote to the German writer Max Mohr:
"I unfortunately can't yet promise to dance - my bronchials and my cough are still a nuisance. But I want so much to be able to dance again. And I think if we went somewhere really amusing, I should quickly be well. My cough, like your restlessness, is a good deal psychological in its origin, and a real change might cure us both. The sun shines here, but the mornings are foggy. And I no longer love Italy very much - it seems to me a stupid country."
Oh dear, when one falls out of love with Italy that's not a good sign ...

31 October 1928 [16]
Lawrence's final Halloween letter was again written to Koteliansky. 
In it, whilst still feeling poorly - this time with Italian flu given to him by Frieda - Lawrence sounds much perkier than a year ago; more full of fight and ready to take on the British press and customs officials who are united in their opposition to Lady Chatterley's Lover (which had been printed privately in Italy ealier that year).   

"What fools altogether!", writes Lawrence. "How bored one gets by endless mob-stupidity."

Lawrence is holed up on the tiny French island of Port-Cros; only four miles across and covered in pine trees; there's a hotel, a port, and a handful of houses. Nevertheless, Lawrence says that, were it not for his cold, he should like it: "I feel very indifferent to almost everything."
Interestingly, that's not something one expects to hear from Lawrence, who often contrasts indifference negatively with insouciance, arguing that whereas the latter is a refusal to be made anxious by idealists gripped by a moral compulsion to care, the former, indifference, is an inability to care resulting from a certain instinctive-intuitive numbness (often as a consequence of having cared too much about the wrong thing in the past) [17].
Of course, this is just another false dichotomy. At any rate, I'm quite happy to view indifference more positively (within a transpolitical context, for example).
[1] Perhaps the best known of these tales is 'The Rocking Horse Winner', which can be found in The Woman Who Rode Away and Other Stories, ed. Dieter Mehl and Christa Jansohn, (Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 230-244. My take on this story can be found here.
[2]  D. H. Lawrence, letter to Gertrude Cooper, [31 Oct 1903], in The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Vol. I, ed. James T. Boulton, (Cambridge University Press, 1979), p. 23.
[3] See The Rainbow, ed. Mark Kinkead-Weekes, (Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 188-91, where Lawrence writes of Anna's experience of Lincoln Cathedral and see 'Sketches of Etruscan Places', in Sketches of Etruscan Places and Other Italian Essays, ed. Simonetta de Filippis, (Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 32-33, where he writes in favour of small wooden temples rather than enormous stone buildings. I have discussed this material in the post entitled 'Believe in the Ruins' (16 April 2019): click here.
[4] See Deleuze and Guattari; Anti-Oedipus, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane, (University of Minnesota Press, 1983), p. 41, where they write in favour of partial objects, fragments, and heterogenous bits, rather than any kind of totality. 

[5] D. H. Lawrence, letter to Henry Savage, [31 Oct 1913], in The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Vol. II, ed. George J. Zytaruk and James T. Boulton, (Cambridge University Press, 1981), pp. 94-96
[6] D. H. Lawrence, letter to S. S. Koteliansky, 31 Oct 1914, in The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Vol. II, p. 228.    
[7] See Women in Love, ed. David Farmer, Lindeth Vasey and John Worthen, (Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 105. Hermione uses the ball as a paperweight, when not using it as a weapon. 
[8] D. H. Lawrence, letter to J. B. Pinker, 31 Oct 1916, in The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Vol. II, pp. 669-670.    
[9] D. H. Lawrence, letter to Martin Secker, [31 Oct 1919], in The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Vol. III, ed. James T. Boulton and Andrew Robertson, (Cambridge University Press, 1984), p. 408. 
[10] D. H. Lawrence, letter to Robert Mountsier, [31 Oct 1921], The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Vol. IV, ed. Warren Roberts, James T. Boulton and Elizabeth Mansfield, (Cambridge University Press, 1987), pp. 106-108. 
[11] To describe a wine as rough means that it has a coarse texture. It would usually refer to a young tannic red wine, before it has had time to soften or round out.  
[12] D. H. Lawrence, letter to Robert Mountsier, [31 Oct 1922], The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Vol. IV, p. 334.
[13] In 1916, Lawrence invited Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry to come and live in a cottage next door to him and his wife Frieda, in Zennor, near St. Ives; a tiny place, near the moors, full of black rocks, and overlooking the sea. 
      The idea was to establish an artists' colony or commune of some kind, that Lawrence wanted to name Rananim. Of course, it soon led to tension and conflict and ended in tears and tantrums.
[14] D. H. Lawrence, letter to John Middleton Murry, [31 Oct 1925], The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Vol. V, ed. James T. Boulton and Lindeth Vasey, (Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 328.
[15] D. H. Lawrence, letters to S. S. Koteliansky and Max Mohr, 31 Oct 1927, The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Vol. VI, ed. James T. Boulton and Margaret H. Boulton with Gerald M. Lacy, (Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 203- 205. 
[16] D. H. Lawrence, letter to S. S. Koteliansky, 31 Oct 1928, The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Vol. VI, p. 604. 
[17] Readers who are interested in this might like to see the post entitled 'Dandelion' (10 Dec 2015) which addresses the question of care in the thought of D. H. Lawrence: click here.  

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