Radical Egoism

Stuart Hampshire

These are the years of early fame after Sons and Lovers, and of the publication of The Rainbow and its banning, and of Lawrence’s violent and despairing reactions to the war. He was already a fully recognised writer, a probable genius, and his more intimate correspondents include Cynthia Asquith, Ottoline Morrell, Bertrand Russell, Edward Marsh, Middleton Murry and Katherine Mansfield, Philip Heseltine, Mark Gertler. The letters to Russell tell a particularly vivid story. Lawrence harassed Russell relentlessly and at great length, repetitiously and in a wilfully unpleasant tone. He kept on banging away at Russell’s vaunted rationality, his putative concern with peace, his humanitarian sentiments. ‘What you want is to jab and strike, like the soldier with the bayonet, only you are sublimated into words... It is not the hatred of falsehood which inspires you. It is the hatred of people, of flesh and blood.’ Russell endured more, and for a longer time, than his autobiography suggested. His forbearance was astonishing, and it must be interpreted as coming from the respect that Russell believed to be owed to genius. He must have found it tiresome to be told in letter after letter that his pacifism was a cloak for his natural aggressiveness, and that his concern for humanity disguised a cold detachment: particularly tiresome, because the accusations probably had some measure of truth, a nagging plausibility, at least. It is not surprising that he sought a respite and that the friendship finally foundered.

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