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Chapter 5: Exile: 1919-1922

Lawrence had left England for a Continent where he was once again a stranger, and (once again) a poor one; this time he had £9 in his pocket, rather than the £11 he had had in 1912. He stopped in Turin for a couple of nights on the way, using a contact he had made in England; his host, the diplomat Sir Walter Becker (1855-1927), later remembered the arrival at the door of "a homespun-clad figure, carrying some sort of travelling bag." Gentlemen don't carry their own bags, of course, or have shabby overcoats: but Lawrence wasn't a gentleman. Becker also recalled having "a good deal of conversation with him ... we appeared to be on terms of friendship and sympathy" (Nehls 1958: 12). But Lawrence had never found the rich English abroad very sympathetic, and remembered "a sincere half- mocking argument, he for security and bank-balance and power, I for naked liberty" (Letters III: 417). Sir Walter would later find a lengthy recreation of his house and the conversations there in Lawrence's novel Aaron's Rod, and strongly objected to them. But it was also characteristic of Lawrence to find his material as a novelist in such a place, and to have no scruple in using it: it had long been his practice to take what he wanted of real-life situations and people, and to recreate them in whatever form he wanted. What he could create as his art mattered more to him than the sensibilities of those who got caught up in the process, or his liking for them. Frieda once remarked that "I like people more than he does ... " (Bynner 1951: 62) while he commented in 1920 that "I don't like people - truly I don't" (Letters III: 491); in consequence, perhaps, he was prepared to be quite ruthless in using in fiction the "secrets of my heart" which Faith (1888-1960), the wife of the novelist Compton Mackenzie (1883-1972), for example, regretted ever allowing him access to (Nehls 1959: 35).

He made, however, no attempt to go back and recover the experience of living in the Italian places he had known before the war. All he did was spend one night in Spezia, near the place Frieda and he had left five years earlier: and that, perhaps, only because his train went that way. He was going on to somewhere new, even if he did not know exactly where it was yet; but he knew he was pausing in Florence, to meet Frieda. In Florence, his raffish old acquaintance the novelist and essayist Norman Douglas (1868-1952) turned out to be a good deal more sympathetic than inhabitants of the house in Turin had been, and Lawrence also met there Douglas's friend the minor American writer Maurice Magnus (1876-1920), who would become the subject of one of Lawrence's greatest pieces of writing, the "Introduction" to Magnus's Memoirs of the Foreign Legion. But for the moment, Lawrence simply enjoyed being out of England in the company of congenial people, even if money were scarce. Italy remained a magical place, and Florence was "so nice: its genuine culture still creating a certain perfection in the town" (Letters III: 450). When Frieda arrived in Florence, he met her train at four o'clock in the morning, and immediately took her for a drive: "þI must show you this town'. We went in an open carriage, I saw the pale crouching Duomo and in the thick moonmist the Giotto tower disappearing at the top into the sky." (Frieda 1935: 92) But they stayed only briefly; they were headed for the wildest part of the Abruzzi mountains, where Rosalind Baynes had her potential house, and where they would stay to see what it was like.

It turned out to be an extraordinary journey into the wilds, which (again) Lawrence recreated at length in The Lost Girl, the novel he would shortly write. After hours of travelling, they arrived well after dark in a house with "one tea-spoon - one saucer - two cups - one plate - two glasses - the whole supply of crockery. Everything must be cooked gipsy- fashion in the chimney over a wood fire. The chickens wander in, the ass is tied to the doorpost and makes his droppings on the doorstep, and brays his head off" (Letters III: 432). The Lawrences could rough it when required, but this was "a bit staggeringly primitive," even for them; after ten days there, nearly getting snowed in just before Christmas, Lawrence sent a strong recommendation to Rosalind never to bring the children there - she would have had to bath them "in a big copper boiling-pan in which they cook the pigs' food" - the Lawrences escaped back over the mountains to Capri, where Compton Mackenzie - whom they had known since before the war - had promised to find them a room if ever they needed it.

Yet another new Italy awaited them: this time an expatriate colony, "the uttermost uttermost limit for spiteful scandal" (Letters III: 444), which Lawrence observed with as much relish as he observed everything else: "All the world's a stage etc." (Letters III: 447). But Frieda didn't like it, and it was not a good place for writing; and Lawrence was further hampered by the Italian postal strike, which stopped him getting hold of the 200 page 1913 novel fragment "The Insurrection of Miss Houghton," which he had tried to recover in 1916 and which he still wanted to work on again. He desperately needed to write and publish, to recover from the war-time slump in his work's reputation, and to re-establish himself. Without an English agent - he had broken with Pinker at the end of 1919 - he entered negotiations with the publisher Secker for the publication of Women in Love (and perhaps the republication of The Rainbow) in England; while Seltzer would be bringing Women in Love out in America before the end of the year, and Robert Mountsier had agreed to act as Lawrence's American agent for the future.

But all he wrote in Capri at this stage was the first draft of Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious. Finally, the old novel manuscript arrived, and Lawrence set to work. Yet - although he may have taken from it the starting date and the central character's situation - typically he rewrote and re-conceived it completely. During February, Frieda and he started house-hunting seriously; this time, almost as far south in Europe as they could go, in Taormina in Sicily, where Lawrence discovered the Fontana Vecchia, a house standing away from the town, by itself among fields and gardens, looking over the Ionian sea: "High on the top floor we live, and it feels like a fortress ... Here one feels as if one had lived for a hundred thousand years" - yet it was still "The world's morning" (Letters III: 497-8). Just as in 1912, they had at last found the southern place where they could live happily and cheaply, away from the threat of the north, "with one's back on Europe forever" (Letters III: 491); and now had to remain until Lawrence had earned enough for them to travel on again. But it was also a place they came to love deeply: where Lawrence felt at home "in the garden and up the hills among the goats" (Letters III: 491), and where he wrote some of his best poems about the natural world, including "Snake".

Through the spring and early summer, Lawrence worked energetically away at The Lost Girl, which was what the old 1913 manuscript had turned into; and almost as soon as he had finished it, he started another novel, Mr Noon, the first part also set in a recreated English Midlands, but this time using his own early history with Frieda as the basis for its continuation. It was, however, a sign of how far he had moved as a novelist, a partner and a thinker that the experience of delighted partnership and love of eight years earlier should now be subjected to such wicked sarcasm and detached irony. But just as he used the experience of others, so he would use his own experience as a way of going beyond it: something in which he always believed. As he would shortly write in his Magnus "Introduction," "We have got to realize. And then we can surpass" (Phoenix II 358). Not only did he have Mr Noon underway from the summer of 1920, he also went back to Aaron's Rod, though not yet to finish it. Together with The Lost Girl, the three novels comprize a kind of comic trilogy of disillusionment with English society, with marriage, with love itself: a process also sharply defined in a number of poems written in the sequence Birds, Beasts and Flowers around this time, such as many of the "Fruits" poems, and the "Tortoise" sequence.

And it was perhaps as part of this process of change that in the summer of 1920, while staying in Florence again in the summer, away from the heat of the Sicilian summer, and while Frieda was in Germany, Lawrence had a brief affair with Rosalind Baynes, who had moved to a villa just outside Florence. In no way does the relationship seem to have deflected him from his commitment to his marriage, any more than the relationship of Aaron with the Marchesa in Aaron's Rod deflects his sense of being married: "women will only have lovers now, and never a husband. Well, I am a husband, if I am anything. And I shall never be a lover again, not while I live" (Aaron's Rod 266). The affair seems, though, to have been a confirmation of his own independence within marriage of Frieda; in the words of "Medlars and Sorb-Apples," written at just this time, "Each soul departing with its own isolation, / Strangest of all strange companions, / And best." He does not seem to have seen Rosalind Baynes again, but some of the writing about Constance Chatterley in Lady Chatterley's Lover six years later drew on her background and her appearance.

He and Frieda met up in Venice, and were back in Sicily by mid-October; and shortly copies of The Lost Girl arrived, along with proofs of the English edition of Women in Love. But then, characteristically, things went wrong with his publications in England; the libraries refused to take The Lost Girl as it stood, and Secker wrote imploring for changes. Lawrence made one big one, and Secker added three others of his own. And then Secker asked for changes in Women in Love: and warned Lawrence that he would only be getting an advance of £75 on the book, Secker was so sure it would not be taken by the libraries. These things naturally combined with Lawrence's existing sense of the pusillanimity of England and of the literary establishment in general, and got into his attack on critics in Mr Noon, which he was still working on:

So, darling, don't look at the nasty book any more: don't you then: there, there, don't cry, my pretty. No one really takes more trouble soothing and patting his critics on the back than I. But alas, all my critics are troubled with wind.(Mr Noon 142)

He and Frieda spent the winter of 1920 and the first quarter of 1921 in a very similar way to the year before; securely at home, with Lawrence doing a great deal of writing: only interrupted by a flying visit to Sardinia in January 1921, partly with the idea of looking for a house there, and partly so that Lawrence could get a travel book out of it. The latter he succeeded in doing; a whole book was finished by the start of March, and - with illustrations by the artist Jan Juta (b. 1897) - came out as Sea and Sardinia in 1923. At this point, Lawrence decided to ask the agent Curtis Brown (1866-1945) to act for him in England: the effort of doing all his own work in the placing of his books had, with his new productivity (and the interest taken in his work), become too much for him: and much as he liked the idea of working as a kind of independent spirit, there were practical drawbacks.

In mid-April 1921 he and Frieda left Sicily to go north, this year before the heat really struck; in Capri they met an American couple, Earl (1878-1957) and Achsah (1878-1945) Brewster, who would be good friends to them for the rest of the decade. And in Germany, where he had gone with Frieda on her visit to her mother, writing away in the woods, Lawrence at last managed to finish Aaron's Rod, the novel he had been struggling with since the winter of 1917. It became, like all his novels, the final statement (for the moment) of how he saw relationship and marriage. The individual must stand apart, married or unmarried: must only admit subordination to a being he or she knows to be superior. It was not a position Lawrence would remain with; but it was what he believed, for the moment. It was a position which he further developed in the second of his Psychoanalysis books, Fantasia of the Unconscious, which he also drafted in the woods in Germany that summer: the theory growing (as he always said it did) out of the passional experience of fiction, both a confirmation of it and a development away from it.

After their time in Germany, he and Frieda went to visit her sister Johanna in Austria, where she was with her children and the banker - Emil von Krug (1870-1944) - who would be her new husband. This was a visit that provided the background for the second part of Lawrence's short novel "The Captain's Doll," another work concerned with a marriage abandoned and a new relationship, without love, attempted. Back in Florence, Lawrence wrote poems, including "Bat" and "Man and Bat," before he and Frieda travelled on to Sicily, and Lawrence experienced a renewed onrush of love for the place: "But how lovely it is here! ... the great window of the eastern sky, seaward, I like it much the best of any place in Italy" (Letters IV: 90). But Europe itself continued to annoy him: "my heart - and my soul are broken, in Europe. It's no use, the threads are broken." He found, for example, that Secker, the English publisher of Women in Love, which had come out in June, had capitulated to threats of a libel action from Philip Heseltine, and needed the descriptions of Halliday and the Pussum in the novel altered. With a very bad grace, Lawrence made the changes he was asked to: and the novel went back on sale. But such things confirmed his prejudice that his novels would never do very well in England; and he was well aware that "Nowadays I depend almost entirely on America for my living" (Letters IV: 114). Once again, he was convinced that America was his land of the future. He was "tired of Europe. There seems no hope in it" (Letters IV: 141). During the autumn and winter of 1921 he made continual enquiries about places to live in America; and a letter from the American society hostess and patron of the arts Mabel Dodge Sterne (1879-1962), inviting him to Taos in New Mexico, effectively settled the matter. That was where he would go first, at any rate.

But committing himself to America - something he had been trying to do for six or seven years - was not as easy as it had looked: he had a strong sense that America would be barbaric and that he would hate it. Even Taos had a colony of artists - "Evil everywhere. But I want to go - to try" (Letters IV: 151). During the winter of 1921-22, he wavered between going to Taos, and following his friends the Brewsters to Ceylon, where Earl would be studying at a Buddhist temple. He finally resolved the dilemma by deciding to do both; to go first to Ceylon, and thence to America. For a long time Sicily had seemed like the last of Europe: "it all seems so far off, here in Sicily - like another world. The windows look east over the Ionian sea: somehow I don't care what happens behind me, in the north west" (Letters III: 486).

He was very conscious of the significance, and the pain of leaving Europe: "the wrench of breaking off" (Letters IV: 191). To leave Europe was, in a way, finally to demonstrate the abandonment of his belief in things - in society's progress, and especially in himself as a writer who could make some significant difference to his society. "But I want to go." He readied himself by getting all the short pieces he could finish into a final state, and posted off to Curtis Brown; out of this burst of work came the final version of Fantasia of the Unconscious, his book of short stories England, My England and the short novel collection The Fox, The Ladybird and The Captain's Doll.

With his European work behind him, he could leave. He was thirty-six-and-a-half; a moderately successful writer, but fundamentally disillusioned with the literary world; and eager for experience of what lay outside the Europe he had written about for so long. Writing for him was inevitably linked with his sense of place, of what a particular place could bring him, what it was like to live in, and of how it might be seen to symbolise the lives of the human beings who inhabited it. He was going away to write, not just to travel: to find the place which was satisfying to live in, as a writer. But he was also going to see if he could find a place where he wanted to live; where he could find a way of living which would satisfy his complex nature and needs. Frieda and he sailed away from Europe, for Ceylon, on 26th February 1922: a symbolic move, if ever they made one.

© "Biography of D.H. Lawrence" John Worthen, 1997

 

Next page: Chapter 6: Round the world and back again: Ceylon, Australia, America, Mexico, Europe, America 1922-1924

 

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