Morgan to his Friends

Denis Donoghue

  • Selected Letters of E.M. Forster: Vol. I: 1879-1920 edited by Mary Lago and P.N. Furbank
    Collins, 344 pp, £15.95, October 1983, ISBN 0 00 216718 2

On 10 February 1915 E.M. Forster visited D.H. and Frieda Lawrence at Greatham. The visit went off reasonably well, by the standards appropriate to those participants. The men, according to Forster, ‘had a two hours walk in the glorious country’ between Greatham and Arundel. Lawrence told Forster ‘all about his people – drunken father, sister who married a tailor, etc: most gay and friendly, with breaks to look at birds, catkins, etc. Last night we painted pill boxes ... ’ and an editorial note explains that these were bee boxes, used for transporting live bees. But the conversation was evidently more searching than Forster’s account suggests. Nearly seven years later, Lawrence writing from Taos assured Forster that ‘Yes, I think of you – of your saying to me, on top of the downs in Sussex – “How do you know I’m not dead?” ’

It was a good question, but nothing in Forster’s letters – or in Lawrence’s – quite explains how it came to be asked. In 1915 Lawrence thought Forster’s life was ‘ridiculously inane’: ‘the man is dying of inanition,’ he told Mary Cannan ten days after the visit.‘He was very angry with me for telling him about himself.’ The main effect of the visit was that Lawrence got steamed up to the point of sending off a long letter to Bertrand Russell denouncing money and demanding a sexual revolution:

The ordinary Englishman of the educated class goes to a woman now to masturbate himself. Because he is not going for discovery or new connection or progression, but only to repeat upon himself a known reaction.

  When this condition arrives, there is always Sodomy. The man goes to the man to repeat this reaction upon himself. It is a nearer form of masturbation. But still it has some object – there are still two bodies instead of one. A man of strong soul has too much honour for the other body – man or woman – to use it as a means of masturbation. So he remains neutral, inactive. That is Forster.

Forster’s ‘thank you’ note to the Lawrences responded to the invitation to come again: ‘As for coming again to Greatham, I like Mrs Lawrence, and I like the Lawrence who talks to Hilda and sees birds and is physically restful and wrote The White Peacock, he doesn’t know why; but I do not like the deaf impercipient fanatic who has nosed over his own little sexual round until he believes that there is no other path for others to take, he sometimes interests & sometimes frightens & angers me, but in the end he will bore me merely, I know.’ (The editorial note says that ‘Hilda’ may have been Hilda Doolittle – the poet H.D. I doubt it.)

Lawrence’s answer to Forster’s question – ‘how do you know I’m not dead?’ – hasn’t survived. There is more in Forster ‘than ever comes out’, he told Russell, ‘but he is not dead yet, I hope to see him pregnant with his own soul.’ Meanwhile ‘he tries to dodge himself – the sight is painful.’

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