A Genius, But…

Frieda Lawrence: The Memoirs and Correspondence

edited by E.W. Tedlock Jr.
Knopf, 479 pp., $7.50

The Paintings of D. H. Lawrence

edited by Mervyn Levy, with essays by Harry T. Moore and Jack Lindsay and Herbert Read
Viking, 104, (16 plates in color, 31 monochromes) pp., $12.50

The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence

edited by Vivian de Sola Pinto, edited by F. Warren Roberts
Viking, (2 vols.) 576 & 516 pp., $15.00

D. H. Lawrence
D. H. Lawrence; drawing by David Levine

Frieda Lawrence to Mabel Luhan. I April 1930: “Lawrence is dead for a month, but he doesn’t seem dead, not a bit. They are arguing and quarreling about him just as ever.” All the arguing and quarreling is summed up in the cumbrous but memorable title of Richard Aldington’s life of Lawrence: Portrait of a Genius, But…Lawrence would have been as lacerated by the praise as by the withholding. “They never called Lawrence a professional writer—always a genius. That made him angry. ‘That’s my label—a genius—and with that I am dismissed.’ ” To dismiss him seems now unthinkable, but there is still the question of the size of that But…By the end of her life. Frieda was understandably weary of all the arguments and counter-arguments, but how can anybody possibly hold his tongue about Lawrence? If a man has nothing new to say about Dickens or Conrad, then he can with equanimity merely listen to what everybody else is saying. But none of us can be expected to sit silent in front of Lawrence’s woundingly personal accusations. Not to reply to his cry of J’accuse would be to admit our guilt. The crucial question—one that is of course secondary to our duty to read and to admire—is whether or not we are nearly as guilty as Lawrence insisted.

Meanwhile here are three important books to make sure that we go on caring about it. Frieda Lawrence’s Memoirs and Correspondence is more than simply a vivid self-portrait and a notable re-creation of Lawrence the man. Her own attitudes and beliefs have the added interest that they are altogether Lawrentian and yet unprotected by Lawrence’s compelling words. She was clearly a remarkable person, and she certainly could strike some bitterly accurate phrases. But all the same the absence of Lawrence’s genius with words does give us more of a chance to judge the ideas as ideas. She seems to have been a very faithful exponent of what he most believed. Much of it we too ought to believe, but the rest of it we have a better chance to judge when we are out of the immediate range of Lawrence’s glittering eye. E. W. Tedlock Jr. has made a good job of the editing. The fragmentariness of her Memoirs (“And the Fullness Thereof…”) is frankly conceded, but the text is then neatly organized into coherence. Next comes the Correspondence (1890-1956), immediate, revealing, sympathetic, and wonderfully informative. No novelist would have dared to devise so novelettish a contrast as that between the settled husband Ernest Weekley, writer about words, and the young D. H. Lawrence, writer of words. Weekley’s letters after Frieda deserted him, and her later letters to her children, are unforgettable. But they are not so strange as a later series of exchanges in middleage between Frieda and John Middleton Murry—his letters an extraordinary combination of openness and inaccessibility. The last…

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