Manuscripts and Special Collections at The University of Nottingham has recently acquired the manuscript of an important unfinished short story by D.H. Lawrence.
'The Flying Fish' was written in March 1925 in Mexico City.
Lawrence, a University of Nottingham alumnus, had been desperately ill and on 11 March a doctor who visited the hotel in which he was staying diagnosed him as suffering from tuberculosis.
He was advised against taking the long sea journey back to Europe, as he had planned, and told to rest, and not to write.
Lawrence did not follow the doctor’s orders. In the following days he dictated the first nine pages of 'The Flying Fish' to his wife Frieda. Then, around 19 March, he felt well enough to write himself, correcting her transcription and continuing to work on the story until it filled thirty-eight manuscript pages. He broke off at the top of the thirty-ninth page.
Dr Andrew Harrison, an expert on DH Lawrence at the University's School of English, said: “Lawrence appears to have stopped working on 'The Flying Fish' at the end of March, on or shortly before his arrival in New Mexico, where he went with his wife to recuperate and convalesce at their ranch in Taos.
“He did not, however, forget the story. He read it aloud to two American friends (Earl and Achsah Brewster) in Gsteig-bei-Gstaad, Switzerland, in the summer of 1928, and they encouraged him to finish it. But on 13 August 1929, in a letter to Earl Brewster, he was forced to admit that: ‘The Flying Fish' remains where it was’. It was never completed.
“Lawrence died on 2 March 1930, and the story was not published until October 1936, from a typescript based on the manuscript. The manuscript of the story was not available to the editor who included it as an appendix in the Cambridge University Press edition of St. Mawr and Other Stories, published in 1983.
“The University of Nottingham’s acquisition of it finally makes the original and most authorial text of this vivid story available to scholars interested in his life and work.”
'The Flying Fish' tells the story of an Englishman in Mexico who is called back to his ancestral home in the English Midlands. He sails from Veracruz, and at the start of his journey enjoys sitting ‘for hours at the very tip of the ship, on the bow-sprit, looking out into the whitish sunshine of the hot Gulf of Mexico’.
Here he sees ‘flocks of flying-fish swept into the air, from nowhere … brilliantly twinkling in their flight of silvery watery wings rapidly fluttering’.
It is ‘a spectacle of the purest and most perfected joy in life that Gethin Day ever saw’. The story ends abruptly with the line ‘But it was an experience to remember’, as the ship sails away from Cuba into the ‘low grey sky’ of a more northerly latitude.
Mark Dorrington, Keeper of Manuscripts & Special Collections, said: "I'm absolutely delighted that University has manged to acquire this important manuscript for its DH Lawrence collection."
The newly-acquired manuscript of DH Lawrence’s 'The Flying Fish' can be viewed by appointment at the Manuscripts and Special Collections reading rooms. A blog has also been written on the acquisition.
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