Monday, 16 September 2019

Recent Reading - Assorted Articles by DH Lawrence

I cannot say DH Lawrence is complete rubbish, because I found The Rainbow and Women in Love striking and intriguing when I read them many years ago - and still remember them as remarkable and unlike anything I'd encountered before, as well as far from amateur. They are each an achievement of some kind, possibly masterpieces, although flawed ones. Kangaroo is also much admired, and I vaguely remember reading White Peacock, which once again was more than competent and certainly full of intensity, (and yes, I know what Yeats said about that).

I think now that the flaws that undoubtedly exist in DH Lawrence's fiction arise from a lack of clarity and rationality in his thought. I came to this conclusion after reading a book called Assorted Articles by DH Lawrence. Sadly, Lawrence's lack of clear thinking becomes horribly obvious when he tries his hand at the essay form. In fact, the result is almost total drivel. Reading this book has been one of my less happy experiences. I picked it up in a secondhand bookshop a while back and I have to admit that I have been regretting it ever since.

I cannot say that I wasn't warned though; I only had to look at the table of contents to see what I was getting myself into, as the titles of the pieces included in the collection provide a pretty good flavour of the book's overall tone:

Do Women Change?
Master in his Own House
Is England Still a Man's Country?
On Being a Man
Sex versus Loveliness

Essentially, for large chunks of the book I felt as if I were in a crowded pub being bellowed at by a man who hates his opposite sex.

"The real trouble about women..." is the opening sally with which Lawrence begins one essay.

"Women are just part of the human show ... they were never anything but women, and they are nothing but women today, whatever they may think of themselves ... Women are women", he insists in another piece, (is it not breathtaking that anyone paid him to write this stuff - and actually published it? At least Alf Garnett was satire).

"When women start coming to the point, they don't hesitate", Lawrence ventures next, "They pick a daisy, and they say: There must be a point to this daisy, and I'm going to get at it. So they start pulling off the white petals, till there are none left. Then they pull away the yellow bits of the centre, and come to a mere green part, still without having come to the point. Then in disgust they tear the green base of the flower across, and say: I call that a fool flower. It had no point to it!"

Bloody women. 

As Lawrence points out:

"Women didn't make England. And women don't run England today, in spite of the fact that nine-tenths of the voices on the telephone are female voices. Women today, wherever they are, show up; and they pipe up. They are heard and they are seen. No denying it. And it seems to get on the men's nerves. Quite! But that doesn't prove that the women own England and run England. They don't. They occupy, on the whole rather inferior jobs, which they embellish with flowered voile and artificial silk stockings and a number of airs and graces, and they are apt to be a drain on a man's cigarettes."

I think Lawrence may think he is being humorous. Comedy is so often oddly limited to its own time.

But in the last passage I quote above there is something interesting, I think. It seems to me that in it a faint trace of verve is detectable, when Lawrence touches on the subject of clothing. Once again my suspicion that his real vocation was as a dress designer raises its eau-de-nil crepe de chine head. 

And more evidence to support my theory appears when we come to an essay called Red Trousers, (yes, really). In it, Lawrence addresses the problem of "dullness", which he claims someone has suggested in a letter to him is caused by smoking. Lawrence, after several paragraphs of hollering moronically in the manner of the above quotations, suddenly comes alive when he decides that the problem of dullness can be counteracted by deciding to wear bright clothing. And, with the arrival of the topic of clothing, just as in Women in Love when he got going on the Brangwen sisters' stockings, et cetera, Lawrence's writing transforms, becoming relatively vivid and, if not exactly witty, at least not that of a Speakers' Corner bore:

"In the really great periods like the Renaissance ... the young men swaggered down the street with one leg bright red, one leg bright yellow, doublet of puce velvet and yellow feather in silk cap. Now that is the line to take. Start with externals and proceed to internals ... If a dozen men would stroll down the Strand and Piccadilly tomorrow, wearing tight scarlet trousers fitting the leg, gay little orange-brown jackets and bright green hats, then the revolution against dullness, which we need so much, would have begun."

Move over Jean Paul Gaultier, Yves Saint Laurent - David Herbert Lawrence and his "gay little orange-brown jackets" are going to be the next big thing.


  1. Gay's the word! Always good to be reminded of what a complete barking dingbat DHL was. Surely the world would have been a better place, all in all, if he'd pursued his true vocation...

  2. I'm reading The Dyer's Hand by WH Auden and to my surprise he has a whole chapter on Lawrence. In normal circumstances I would embrace the barking dingbat theory without hesitation, but now I will wait until I've seen what Auden has to say, (as he is one of my great heroes and I find it hard to disagree with him on anything). Who knows though, this may turn out to be the moment when the Auden scales fall from my eyes. On the whole, I hope not. It is so hard to find heroes

  3. Oh dear, I didn't know Auden had written about him...
    I think it's hard for us now to realise quite how high DHL's reputation was, not all that long ago, and how very seriously he was taken. This was still the case when I was at university, but Lawrence mania has certainly died down since then (tho whether he's been replaced in the pantheon by anyone better is an open question). Larkin, rather amazingly, was a huge fan in his early years, and even in later life he used to wear a D.H. Lawrence tee shirt while mowing that legendary lawn...

    1. Larkin wore a tee shirt! What?
      Don't worry, so far in what I've read of the book, Auden is not immensely enamoured of Lawrence's poems. When I was at university, Lawrence and George Bernard Shaw were almost equally highly esteemed. I actually find Shaw's plays more boring now than I find Lawrence's fiction - and I've caught myself wondering whether Stoppard's work won't age into the same, (to me anyway), rather clunking, didactic tedium that Shaw's work has. Which I suppose has rather got off the point