Mr Noon University Press
by D.H. Lawrence, edited by Lindeth Vasey
Cambridge Edition of the Letters and Works of D.H. Lawrence, Cambridge, 370 pp., $24.95
A novelist has his winners in the stable, but what happens to those that go lame and never finish the course? There is the semi-mystery of a short novel, Mr Noon, which D.H. Lawrence began in 1920 following The Lost Girl, The White Peacock, The Rainbow, and Sons and Lovers: it seems he was alternating with work on Aaron’s Rod. But Mr Noon was put aside by Lawrence or rejected by publishers and was not published until 1934, four years after his death, in a left-over collection of stories called A Modern Lover and, in 1968, in the collection of other pieces in Phoenix II.
No great mystery so far. But Frieda Lawrence was sure she had seen the manuscript of a second part to the Noon story, which Lawrence thought of calling “Lucky Noon.” And indeed she had. It seems that Lawrence’s American publisher had passed the manuscript and typescript of this second part to a nephew in payment of a debt and that they were sold to one Urling Iselin in 1936. They remained in that family’s possession until purchased at auction by the University of Texas. For fifty years Mr Noon (part two) was unknown. Hard luck on Lawrence: he had written Mr Noon when he was desperately short of money.
Noon is an unpromising name: there is a suggestion of No One—the Mister kills the suggestion of an invention. We are in for perhaps a pastiche of the sentimental comedy of “a little man,” a story that might have been done more competently by best-selling realists like Arnold Bennett or H.G. Wells in the Twenties. (Lawrence disliked the condescending realism of Bennett’s provincial novels.) He saw Mr Noon as a popular money-making serial, dwelling on “Life’s little ironies” and possibly running to three parts. But publishers were frightened of him by now. The Rainbow had been suppressed in 1915 under the British obscenity laws of the time; he was liable to write the unprintable sentence about sex and love. Even in Mr Noon (part one) he felt the call to introduce a jaunty set piece on “spooning” and cuddling in provincial back alleys or in allotment gardens after chapel on moonless Sunday nights: girls known to be hot on “spooning” sometimes got pregnant or said they were, young men were “caught” and had either to marry them or to go to ingenious lengths to avoid the trap. The chapel did not forgive.
In fact Mr. Noon was lucky: his girl was a collector of engagement rings, and although he was marked down as her seducer by her raging father and lost his job as a schoolteacher, she did not choose him. She opted for a respectable bank clerk who, she said, was one of nature’s born husbands. She rejected the clever boy of the town, a mathematician who had won a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge (no less), and whose German was good. So Mr. Noon was …