Made in Heaven
- Frieda Lawrence by Rosie Jackson
Pandora, 240 pp, £14.99, September 1994, ISBN 0 04 440915 X
- The Married Man: A Life of D.H. Lawrence by Brenda Maddox
Sinclair-Stevenson, 631 pp, £20.00, August 1994, ISBN 1 85619 243 1
- Kangaroo by D.H. Lawrence, edited by Bruce Steele
Cambridge, 493 pp, £60.00, August 1994, ISBN 0 521 38455 9
- Twilight in Italy and Other Essays by D.H. Lawrence, edited by Paul Eggert
Cambridge, 327 pp, £55.00, August 1994, ISBN 0 521 26888 5
Looking down rather reprovingly from the shelf opposite are the three large volumes of Edward Nehls’s Composite Biography, a version or two of Harry T. Moore’s frequently revised biography, the first and so far the only volume of the three-tier Cambridge biography, and the ample lifework of Emile Delavenay. There are more beside them, and more to come: Rosie Jackson says there are ten in progress. Apart from the full-life biographies there are books covering short periods of Lawrence’s life: his wartime adventures and agonies, his years in Italy, in Australia, in New Mexico and Mexico, and so on. There are also numerous memoirs by people such as Jessie Chambers, Helen Corke, Catherine Carswell, Dorothy Brett, Mabel Dodge, a pair of gay Danes, and of course Frieda Lawrence, who knew the novelist at various times in various parts of the world. (There are naturally books also about Frieda, including this new one by Rosie Jackson, and about the von Richthofen family.) To back all this up we now have the seven lavishly annotated volumes of the Cambridge edition of the Letters, and a dozen or so lavishly annotated editions of the Works. I do not speak of more workaday stuff, all the books which have, possibly in the course of saying something else, to say something about Lawrence’s extraordinary life. Now they must all move over to allow another full-scale life, and an impassioned essay on Frieda, to be squeezed in.
Vol. 16 No. 22 · 24 November 1994
John Worthen said in his inaugural lecture at the D.H. Lawrence Centre at the University of Nottingham a week ago that, unless they are corrected, statements of fact become legend. I see that Frank Kermode in his review of four books about D.H. Lawrence (LRB, 10 November) refers to ‘ten more biographies’. It is true that I, as Lawrence’s literary executor, did say those words, but that was four years ago. Since then biographies by Jeffrey Meyers, John Worthen, Keith Sagar, Brenda Maddox, Rosie Jackson, Elaine Feinstein and one or two others have been published and the only two of those ten which have not yet made an appearance are by Mark Kincaid-Weekes and by Janet Byrne; both are scheduled for 1995. There may well be, as Frank Kermode says, ‘many more’ in due course, but they are not yet on the horizon.
Lawrence Pollinger Ltd,
Vol. 16 No. 23 · 8 December 1994
Frank Kermode quotes (with some approval) the statement of Bruce Steele, Australian editor of the Cambridge edition of Lawrence’s Kangaroo, that the Australian ‘ex-servicemen’s organisations, though anti-socialist, philistine and chauvinist, were not remotely likely to support a right-wing revolution’ (LRB, 10 November). This is a little overconfident. The Right’s paranoia grew alarmingly, the Russian Revolution, recent and frightening, haunted its nightmares.
Keith Amos in his excellent study The New Guard Movement 1931-1935 treats his sources with the most scrupulous objectivity but quotes surviving ex-New Guardsmen: ‘Of course they were prepared to fight … to take over the whole business … they had worked up to the point where they were all prepared to use the bayonet.’ ‘It got to the stage where we were prepared to revolt … prepared, literally, for civil war. I can assure you honestly it was touch and go at that moment of stress.’ The Guardsmen felt both aggrieved and isolated. Empire patriots, they saw trade unions as traitors and any Labour government, state or federal, as Communist and were appalled and perplexed that the police force could support such a government by, as one policeman frankly put it, ‘kicking in a few heads’ of New Guard members who turned a demonstration into a riot. Unlikely to have initiated revolution (their politics being reactive rather than based on any positive political vision), they believed themselves – with militarily organised and armed cells scattered among the suburbs – ready to respond should any right-wing leader, such as Stanley Bruce, call on ‘patriots’ to rise up and kill enemies of the Empire, in the name, of course, of law and order.
Whether any such revolt actually would have happened or just fizzled out is not the point. The point is that this underground force did exist – as the police of the time acknowledged. The New Guard was part-joke, part-myth to my later generation but my long-held scepticism as to their numbers (in the early Thirties some twenty thousand in one city), their organisation and their significance was seriously challenged by Amos’s measured treatment and marshalling of facts. His view that Australian Fascism (he quotes Sir Oswald Mosley’s approval of it) was more influenced by British Fascist movements than by Mussolini is another challenge to Steele’s airy indifference to the mood of the times.
But in 1923 when Lawrence lived on the NSW coast and wrote Kangaroo? In that year a forerunner of the New Guard, the White Guard, a much smaller and more fragmented movement, was formed. As Kermode has Steele suggesting, Lawrence could have read of these manifestations in the press and/or heard them locally discussed (maybe at one of those beach picnics that occur in Kangaroo) as others voiced their opinions on the politics of the day. As any good writer will, he imaginatively developed these hints and intuited much – demonstrations, riots, press controversy and figures such as Eric Campbell, the New Guard’s leader who was openly, even exultantly, Fascist – that was to appear later. Steele’s avowal that Lawrence’s street troops ‘owed more to Italian Fascists than anything he encountered in Australia’ seems an odd gloss on Australian politics and the fear and intensity of political feeling in a turbulent period when (before the Second World War officially made it the enemy) Fascism was regarded by millions as a respectable and desirable political option, indeed as the inevitable next step if democracy were to be saved from Communism. Lawrence’s creative imagination produced – in two months – a book that, whatever its faults, pinned down the feelings in the air and even, in some of the minor characters, caught the specifically Australian way in which those feelings expressed themselves. Exasperating he may have been but D.H. Lawrence was also, sometimes, uncannily accurate in his perceptions.