The Letters of D.H. Lawrence Volume 1: September 1901-May 1913
edited by James T. Boulton
Cambridge University Press, 579 pp., $29.50
D.H. Lawrence’s Nightmare: The Writer and His Circle in the Years of the Great War
by Paul Delany
Basic Books, 420 pp., $15.95
Lives and Letters: A.R. Orage, Beatrice Hastings, Katherine Mansfield, John Middleton Murry, and S.S. Koteliansky, 1906-1957
by John Carswell
New Directions, 307 pp., $15.00
Shortly after the death of D.H. Lawrence in 1930 Aldous Huxley began collecting Lawrence’s letters for publication, and within two years—taking time off from his own writing, working without benefit of grants or Guggenheims or microfilm or an Editorial Board—he was ready to see through the press a volume of nearly 900 pages. A notable achievement: even the late Dr. Leavis (of mixed memory, as somebody said) was moved to acknowledge how valuable a service Huxley had performed on behalf of his friend. As indeed he had. The Letters of D.H. Lawrence (1932) revealed new and powerful aspects of Lawrence’s genius; it quickly took its place, not as a mere annex to his other work, but alongside the best of his essays and travel writing and literary criticism.
Sooner or later, of course, it was bound to be superseded. When Harry T. Moore published a two-volume Collected Letters in 1962 he was able to draw on a great deal of material that had not been available to Huxley; he also printed many letters that Huxley had chosen to omit or passages that he had judged it better to excise. But his edition made no pretense of being definitive, either, while since it appeared still more material has come to light. Over 5,000 letters by Lawrence are now known to have survived, in one form or another: they are all due to be included, down to the last postcard, in the new Cambridge edition of his correspondence, which will eventually run to eight volumes.
A true collected edition at last, then, and one fitted out with all the accouterments of sound scholarship—fully annotated, with every source conscientiously cited and with the texts (as far as one can judge) scrupulously transcribed. How could anyone interested in Lawrence fail to welcome such an undertaking? And yet I must admit that, faced with the first volume, I also felt a pang of affection for earlier, simpler days. The Huxley collection, and the Harry T. Moore collection for that matter, were books, to be bought and read through; with the Cambridge edition we are in the presence of a Project. All the more incongruous in the case of the early letters, since so many of them show the young Lawrence and his friends conducting their own informal—and intense—literary education, seizing on books in whatever cheap edition or reprint they could afford. By contrast, the Cambridge editors are inescapably involved in the task of bringing literature off the streets and into the library or the seminar room.
Still, how could it be otherwise, if we want a complete record of what Lawrence wrote? The statistics speak for themselves: for the period covered by the first volume James T. Boulton reprints over 500 pages of correspondence, where Huxley offered 120 pages and Moore some 200. And the actual editing is very good: the notes are informative without being fussy, the textual apparatus is decently unobtrusive. There is …