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Sooner or later, of course, it was bound to be superseded.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 an interesting introduction, too, in which Professor Boulton concentrates (legitimately, I think) on various aspects of Lawrence’s early life which are not immediately apparent from the letters, and which have been largely overlooked by biographers—in particular, his deep debt to the twenty-volume anthology of world literature edited by Richard Garnett which had originally belonged to his dead brother Ernest; the intellectual influence of his German-born uncle by marriage, Fritz Krenkow (a cashier in a hosiery firm in Leicester who turned himself into an Islamic scholar of international repute); his close friendship with a fellow undergraduate at Nottingham, Thomas Smith (who went on to become a distinguished industrial chemist: as a member of the British Control Commission he was put in charge of dismantling the chemical industry in Germany in 1945).
Of the letters which Professor Boulton publishes for the first time, the most striking are the half-dozen addressed to another figure whose influence on Lawrence has generally been neglected or underestimated: the Reverend Robert Reid, minister of the Congregational chapel at Eastwood which the Lawrence family attended. They show Lawrence turning to Reid for help—in getting Latin lessons, for instance; questioning him on points of doctrine; grappling with Renan and Herbert Spencer and J.M. Robertson; moving away from chapel religion toward an unknown destination (“If only we were allowed to look at Scripture in the light of our own experience, instead of having to see it displayed in a kind of theatre, false-real and never developing…”). Other letters which have not appeared in print before include correspondence with Edward Garnett and Walter de la Mare, communiqués dashed off to publishers, an uneasy (and not altogether intelligible) letter about sex written to Helen Corke after what must have been a difficult weekend, by the sound of it. But on the whole the new material is of relatively minor interest. The chief value of this volume is that it brings together and sorts out a mass of correspondence which has previously lain scattered around in many different publications, most of them fairly specialized or obscure.
To read it through in chronological sequence is to be struck by how early Lawrence found his own voice. Here he is in 1908, for instance, just turned twenty-three and writing to his friend Blanche Jennings about a Ruskin-worshiper of their acquaintance: “The deep damnation of self-righteousness sticks tight to every creed, to every ‘ism’ and every ‘ite’; but it lies thick all over the Ruskinite, like painted feathers on a skinny peacock.” There are a few fumblings, inevitably, an occasional patch of stilted prose or gawky over-earnestness; but there hardly seems to have been a time, after adolescence at least, when Lawrence was not ready to come out fighting, with his characteristic quickness and scorn and spontaneity. If he ever went through a period of paralysis, of blank confusion, the evidence for it must be looked for elsewhere.
What we do have in these letters is a record of growth, conflict, inward turmoil, of hard-fought battles to achieve independence. A partial record, since none of Lawrence’s letters to his mother seems to have survived (he wrote to her faithfully once a week during his school-mastering years in Croydon), and his greatest struggle, as every reader of Sons and Lovers knows, was to break the emotional hold that she had over him. But her presence—her countervailing presence, one might almost say—can be felt in many of the letters which he wrote to other people, especially the women friends on whom he was so dependent, and in whom he found it so easy to confide. He had no qualms, either, about diagnosing his own condition. He could even urge Jessie Chambers to read James Barrie’s Sentimental Tommy and Tommy and Grizel: “They’ll help you to understand how it is with me. I’m in exactly the same predicament.”
Jessie Chambers, the Miriam of Sons and Lovers, was very much more than a confidante. So was Louie Burrows, the schoolteacher to whom Lawrence became officially engaged a few days before his mother’s death (though he had known her since he was fifteen or so) and the recipient of a remarkable series of letters which were first published by Professor Boulton some ten years ago. (She died in 1962.) In Louie. Lawrence had allied himself to a girl of exceptional intelligence who attracted him strongly. Only somehow…. In February 1912 he broke off the engagement; the following month he threw up his teaching post; two weeks after that he first set eyes on Frieda Weekley, the wife of a professor at Nottingham—“the finest woman I’ve ever met,” as he was soon writing to Edward Garnett; “she is ripping.” (Agreeable period slang: it goes with the straw boater that Lawrence wore on his wedding day two years later.)
In May 1912 Lawrence and Frieda left for Germany—first Metz, then on to Bavaria. “By the Isar, there we gathered roses….” But the idyll could not last for long. Even if Professor Weekley had not been so beastly and bourgeois, even if Frieda had not had to face the threat of losing her children for good, she and Lawrence were plainly doomed to “quarrel like nuts” (Lawrence’s term for it, September 1912). The freedom which she offered him turned out to include the freedom to trade blows with a new ferocity, and sometimes with a new crudity too.
By December 1912, for instance, Lawrence was embellishing Frieda’s post-scripts to his own letters (they were now in Italy) with such interjected comments—all meticulously reproduced by Professor Boulton—as “shit,” “arse licking,” “bleeder,” “stinker,” “balls aching rot.” Frieda to David Garnett “If you only knew how in Lawrence I discovered abysses of elusive, destructive, spiritual tragedy.” Lawrence: “Balls.” Frieda to Edward Garnett (apropos of her children): “After all they are my flesh and blood and I must trust in the Lord.” Lawrence: “Who’s he? Some new bloke?” It is rather like some ghastly music-hall routine, although to be fair Lawrence was acting under considerable provocation: Frieda had just had a casual affair with a chance acquaintance and made sure that he knew all about it, as she did on at least two similar occasions during their first year together.
Yet the storms came and went, and the partnership withstood them. For Lawrence, certainly, it represented a total commitment, “the best I have known, or ever shall know.” And meanwhile, with the conviction that he could write “bigger stuff than any man in England,” he was also moving forward toward a full mastery of his art, and much wider recognition. Taken by itself, Professor Boulton’s first volume constitutes a success story: it closes with a letter—a firm, self-assured letter—written in May 1913, on the day that Sons and Lovers was published.
At which point, or thereabouts, enter Paul Delany, who has had the excellent idea of writing an account of Lawrence during the First World War, and made an excellent job of it. D.H. Lawrence’s Nightmare is a longish book, but no longer than its complicated subject demands. Professor Delany follows Lawrence’s zigzag progress from cottage to cottage, from book to book, from crisis to crisis, always setting the scene clearly, reconstructing the story with admirable sympathy and objectivity. And detail, with such a story, counts for as much as it would in a novel. The main episodes may be familiar in outline from earlier biographies, but it is the fluctuations and fine shades that give them half their interest.
In August 1914 Lawrence was back in England. He had just got married, and he and Frieda had been planning to return to Italy, where earlier that year he had completed the first version of The Rainbow. As for the war, he was as psychologically ill-prepared for it as most of his countrymen were. True, he had had the experience of being taken for a British spy in Metz (just as he was later to be suspected of being a German spy in Cornwall—a rare double distinction). But that had been a comic-opera incident, while the England of his youth, whatever its empire-building propensities abroad, had been a profoundly unwarlike country to grow up in. No one had had to worry about military service, and there are no premonitions of the cataclysm to come in the early letters. When Lawrence and his family, on holiday on the Isle of Wight in 1909, watch the Home Fleet drawn up for a royal review, it is like an innocent Edwardian snapshot, almost a cliché. When Lawrence reports to Edward Garnett in 1912 that the Italian papers are full of talk about Serbia, he adds—almost another cliché—“but what has England got to do with it?”
From the outset the war seemed horrible to him, but within a day or two of its being declared he was dealt a more immediate blow. The Rainbow was turned down by his publishers, and the next few months were largely to be spent rewriting it—first in Buckinghamshire, where Middleton Murry and Katherine Mansfield were neighbors, then in Sussex. His longest novel, and arguably his finest, it was eventually published in the autumn of 1915, and promptly prosecuted and suppressed: an episode which has lost none of its ugliness in retrospect, and which still makes it easy to thrill, even at this permissive hour of the day, to the idea of Lawrence as liberator.
Children of the future Age
Reading this indignant page,
Know that in a former time
Love! sweet Love! was thought a crime.
Only it was not quite as simple as that. The Rainbow may have originally been designed to celebrate “Love Triumphant,” but the man who wrote it had a lot of other emotions seething inside him as well. And however many changes may have been made in the final version, its subject matter, as Professor Delany says, remained essentially prewar. By the time it appeared, indeed while he was still rewriting it, Lawrence had entered an entirely new phase of his career.
The early months of the war saw the emergence of Lawrence the prophet. The bearded prophet; and Professor Delany has a stirring passage in which Lawrence’s decision to retain the beard which he had grown during an attack of bronchitis is discussed in exhaustive detail. (He omits to mention, though, that Lawrence bequeathed his discarded razor to Middleton Murry—not, let us hope, as a gesture of Blutbruderschaft.) The mere fact that a beard could represent so many different things is itself a sign of how complex the forces working on Lawrence were. It signified warmth and protection (he had begun spitting blood the previous year); hostility to the war machine (soldiers were clean shaven); masculine self-assertion (he had been engaged in fresh conflicts with Frieda since their marriage). And for someone who was fitfully tempted to identify himself with Christ, it also served as a badge of martyrdom and resurrection—like the Phoenix which Lawrence adopted as his symbol at around this period.
In his messianic mood he dreamed first of founding a utopian colony (“Rananim”), then of forming a little group (at one stage it was to be based on Garsington) which would bring about the full-scale regeneration of English life. That particular vision faded away after his quarrel with Bertrand Russell, and the subsequent course of his ideas defies summary: he propounded a whole series of apocalyptic recipes and prescriptions, often contradictory, and with new ingredients—a pinch of anti-semitism, a sprinkling of theosophy—constantly being added to the brew.
Still, something like a general drift can be discerned, in political terms at least. In the early stages of the war, he veered between anarchic individualism, the attractions (in principle) of an isolated commune, and conventional socialism. As his mood darkened, he swung round and began to preach the need for fixed hierarchies, a strong leader, a state run on authoritarian lines, and the more estranged from England he felt, the harsher his contempt for the liberal-democratic virtues. They were part of the rationalism that he saw as the ruin of Europe, with its denial of instinct and impulse—and with mechanized warfare as its natural culmination. Which meant in turn that he found it impossible to make common cause with other opponents of the war. Pacifists were hypocrites, carnivores trying to pass themselves off as herbivores; when Russell wrote an article arguing in favor of a negotiated peace, he was told that he was really lusting to “jab and strike,” that Admiral von Tirpitz would have been a thousand times preferable in the role of peacemaker.
None of this made the war itself any less hateful. Lawrence liked his wars primitive and picturesque, if wars there had to be; the prospect of conscription, of being consigned to anonymous khaki servitude, made him sick with despair, and the “nightmare” of Professor Delany’s title alludes in the first instance to the chapter called “The Nightmare” in Kangaroo, with its account of the three medical examinations Lawrence was compelled to undergo. Given his poor health he was never in fact a likely candidate for active service, but he knew what it was to have the threat hanging over him, just as he knew what it meant to be badgered by the authorities and kept under surveillance (on the grounds that either he or Frieda might be an enemy agent, flashing messages to submarines and so forth). Neither of the Lawrences was above offering minor provocation—it was not exactly tactful, for instance, to go on getting the Berliner Tageblatt delivered to a remote Cornish hamlet in 1917—and by later standards the harassment to which they were subjected was relatively mild. But one does not want to make light of it on that account, least of all of the eventual decision to expel them from Cornwall without warning and without possibility of appeal.
The war did not simply infect the atmosphere, then; it also impinged on Lawrence in direct and painful ways. But it was only one element in his ordeal. He continued to struggle with his own nature, with personal relationships, with all the preoccupations that went into Women in Love. And if he was consciously dissociating himself from the war when he kept it out of that novel, he certainly did not propose any very soothing or consoling alternative. Make love not war? But love was a battlefield, too, and one of which he had bitter firsthand experience.
The most obvious complicating factor was homosexuality. “You have no idea of what he is like,” Frieda told Hilda Doolittle (the poet H.D.). “He does not really care for women. He cares only for men.” Not to be taken literally; but it would be clear from the novels alone—most notoriously from the wrestling match between Birkin and Gerald in Women in Love—that Lawrence was powerfully drawn to other men, and that in his revulsion from homosexuality he tried to evolve his own elevated, semimystical, David-and-Jonathan version of male comradeship. Such feelings were both a source of his antagonism to women, and a consequence—it was when he felt worsted by a woman that he was most inclined to seek refuge in “pure maleness”; and the temptation was at its strongest during the war years, following his move to Cornwall and a savage new outbreak of hostilities with Frieda.
To Murry, in 1916, he offered a pact of blood-brotherhood. (It was around this time that he began writing Women in Love, and the suppressed opening chapter of that novel, first published in 1963, is quite unambiguous about Birkin’s homosexual yearnings.) The invitation was declined, and the following year he found himself attracted by a very different companion, William Henry Hocking, who worked on a neighboring farm. What actually happened with William Henry is obscure, and the affair petered out after a few months; but while it lasted Lawrence’s attachment—to his Mr. W.H., as you might say—undoubtedly ran deep. Professor Delany characterizes it as Whitmanesque, and sees its influence still reverberating in the chapter on Whitman in Studies in Classic American Literature which Lawrence wrote in 1918.
There is no great frisson to be produced by drawing attention to the homosexual aspects of Lawrence nowadays. On the contrary, one is all too likely to come across knowing journalistic references to him as a closet queen or whatever, and it has become necessary to defend him against any such oversimplifications. Necessary, in fact, to spell out the obvious. Lawrence was a man whose dominant wish, and need, was to sustain a lasting heterosexual relationship. His homosexual impulses inevitably complicated his relations with women, and may have damaged them more than he supposed—I leave it to others to assess the full significance of such Lawrentian themes as anal intercourse, as practiced by Birkin and Ursula, and by Will and Anna Brangwen in The Rainbow. But if he chose to live his life and write his books as a heterosexual, it was not because he failed to understand himself, still less through lack of courage, but because he wanted to; and the choice is one which ought to be respected.
How far one can respect some of the claims that have been made for him as a moralist is another matter. It would be easy to collect pious utterances about him which are ludicrously at odds with his real character, and which he would probably have laughed at himself (although I suspect that this is less true of America than it is of England, where he has been taken over and tidied up in a big way by the education system). But many other judgments are genuinely complicated. What, for example, are we to make of the verdict—it is delivered sans phrase in a recent essay by Denis Donoghue—that Lawrence was quite simply “right” when he denounced Bertrand Russell’s Cambridge? Was he right because in some fundamental way his world view was superior to Cambridge rationalism, more penetrating, truer to the facts of experience? Perhaps; at any rate, it seems to me a perfectly tenable proposition.
Was he right to decide that a good deal of what passed for urbanity among the dons and their Bloomsbury acquaintances was twittering self-satisfaction? Undoubtedly. Could he offer Russell the stimulus of a life lived more abundantly than his own, to better effect? Russell himself thought so, for a time; while anyone who has ever come under Lawrence’s spell will recognize what the mathematician G.H. Hardy must have felt, after meeting Lawrence at Trinity, when he went around to tell a colleague that “everybody here was utterly trivial, and at last he had met a real man.”
And yet…. When Lawrence rejected Cambridge, he was not merely casting a vote, but expressing his personality. It was a case where to some extent at least it was the tone that made the music—and what a tone! We will have to wait for Professor Boulton’s second volume to read all the letters that Lawrence wrote in 1915, but meanwhile those we already have give us something to be getting on with. “Horrible and unclean,” “a smell of rottenness,” “black beetles,” “the prevalence of evil,” “putrescence,” beetles again, more evil, “the mind of a rat, as it slithers along in the dark.” Not all Lawrence’s comments are in this vein, of course, but there are enough of them to give one second thoughts about his more telling criticisms of Cambridge, to reconcile one to such humdrum virtues as tolerance and a sense of proportion. They were a portent, too, an early example of many equally ferocious performances to come.
The most violent outbursts of the Cambridge phase were triggered off by meetings with Maynard Keynes (who gave offense by turning up at a breakfast party in pajamas) and Francis Birrell. Professor Delany is plainly right to discern in them undercurrents of “panic and hysteria” at being brought into close contact with homosexuals. He also gives a convincing account of Lawrence’s obsessive hatred of beetles, which must have puzzled many readers, coming as it did from a man who could write marvelous poems celebrating the existence of bats and poisonous snakes—and in any case, I would have thought that, as insects go, beetles do not enjoy a particularly sinister reputation. To Lawrence, however, they were something more than a symbol for hardshelled petty egoism (although they were that too, “little swarming selves”). He found them disgusting, as Professor Delany shows, because they copulate by mounting from behind; he probably found it appropriate, in the context, that scarabs feed on dung and gather it up to lay their eggs in; and he may well have been familiar with the ancient Egyptian belief that all scarabs are male, though still capable of reproduction.
To which I would only add the possibility—it would fit in well with his rather masochistic taste for housework—that at some stage, presumably in childhood, he had been fascinated by the idea of beetles being destroyed as domestic pests. Certainly he knew what it was to keep them at bay: in one of the letters which Professor Boulton prints for the first time, for instance, he prophesies that if a certain unduly sensitive reviewer happens to come across Sons and Lovers he “will lie on his back and kick like a black-beetle under Keating’s.” (Keating’s is a well-known British brand of insecticide.) That seems reasonably whimsical; but compare and contrast a letter of 1919 in which he complains about Margaret Radford, the daughter of a friend in whose cottage he is staying, who is “soulful” and “clever” and “witty” and who has begun to get on his nerves: “I wish one could exterminate all her sort under a heap of Keating’s powder.”
So much for “the sweetly-loving Margaret”—and so much for lots of other friends and enemies, and indeed large sections of the human race. For by this time Lawrence was not only prey to frequent homicidal and genocidal fantasies, he had also got into the habit of committing them freely to paper. “The barbarian conquerors were wisest, really. There are very many people, like insects, who await extermination.” “They are all just fat lies, these people…. The cabbage is a nice fat lie. That is why we eat it.” Et cetera. It is almost as though he were setting up in competition with the war, staging his own private massacres to show that he was not going to be outdone.
If our knowledge of Lawrence were limited to his more pernicious doctrines and his death-dealing rhetoric, we might well conclude with Bertrand Russell that he was a man whose ideas pointed the way to Auschwitz. But then he would hardly be worth writing about at all: at most he would deserve a footnote as a minor and ineffectual prophet of “cultural despair.” As it is, I find it difficult to imagine the real, three-dimensional Lawrence falling for Hitler, any more than he fell for Lenin or Mussolini (whom he nicknamed “Big Ben”), or any of the other political leaders who were available for hero-worshiping purposes during his lifetime.* To put the matter at his lowest, he was far too dictatorial to submit willingly to another dictator; to put it at its highest, his vision was far too complex, it contained far too many life-giving elements. The most significant thing about his ideas, good or bad, is that they were worked into his fiction—and in the process they were modified, distanced, explored, given a local context, proved and sometimes disproved on the pulse.
They were not necessarily neutralized, however. Even Women in Love, to take the most important and the most “impersonal” of the later novels, has, if not a message, a strong didactic tendency, and a tendency that looks fairly ominous as soon as we try to translate it into concrete political terms. Fortunately, there is no great call to—unless, that is, we accept some of the larger claims that have been made for it as a social parable; unless we agree with Professor Delany that it is “a full and measured indictment of English society.”
This seems to me a misleading description. For all its fitful sociological insights, and its broad metapolitical assumptions, Women in Love is primarily a novel about individual destinies: a picture of Lawrence’s England with the emphasis on Lawrence, and by extension on the men and women in his immediate circle. In one case, it is true, that of the colliery owner Gerald Crich, he did succeed in fashioning a representative figure out of some highly unrepresentative material; at all events, Gerald is a more convincing embodiment of industrialism, of the Promethean will to power, than a character based partly on Middleton Murry has any right to be. But as for Gudrun, Hermione, Loerke, the hangers-on at the Café Pompadour, they no more add up to “England” than—well, than their real-life counterparts did: Katherine Mansfield, Lady Ottoline Morrell, Mark Gertler, the hangers-on at the Café Royal. By the time he wrote the book, in fact, Lawrence had begun to lose touch with everyday penny-plain England. He was mixing mostly with other writers and artists or would-be artists, with intellectuals and bohemians who may have been more gifted than the friends of his youth, but who were also a good deal more wayward; and something of their oddity and instability rubbed off.
A few of his literary friends, on the other hand, stand out by virtue of their good sense. One of them was Catherine Carswell, whose son, the historian John Carswell, has recently published an unusual and attractively written study of the freelance literary world in which he grew up. Mr. Carswell recalls Lawrence vividly, and affectionately, from childhood, but in Lives and Letters he has chosen to concentrate on the careers of five lesser figures: Murry, Katherine Mansfield, A.R. Orage, S.S. Koteliansky, Beatrice Hastings. They did not form a group, but they were all part of the same general milieu, with its muddles and inspirations, its crankiness and its intellectual vitality. They were also, in one way or another, all outsiders: Murry and Orage were self-made scholarship boys, Katherine Mansfield came from New Zealand, Beatrice Hastings from South Africa, Koteliansky was a Russian refugee. And they all knew what it was to be short of money. Virginia Woolf called them “the literary underworld,” and although their paths sometimes intersected with those of Bloomsbury, they would have been more at home in Greenwich Village.
In reconstructing this particular chapter of cultural history, Mr. Carswell has not been tempted to exaggerate its importance. If anything, he pitches his claims rather too low. His epigraph is a line from Rostand’s L’Aiglon which has the ring of an epitaph too: “Nous sommes les petits, les obscurs, les sansgrade.” But there is nothing very obscure about Katherine Mansfield, while Murry and Orage were men who wielded considerable influence in their time, as critics, editors, commentators at large. (Orage has had several books devoted to him and his editorship of the New Age, Murry has been accorded a full-dress biography.)
Unlike Katherine Mansfield, they lacked creative gifts, and—perhaps by way of compensation—they tended to strike vatic poses and take up exotic causes: Panhumanism, Metabiology, the funny-money doctrines of Major Douglas, the mumbo-jumbo of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. But the New Age and the Athenaeum under Murry were among the finest literary weeklies of their own or any period; Orage’s scattered writings on literature reveal an original and penetrating mind; and Murry at his best was a much more rewarding critic than he is generally given credit for having been nowadays. At his worst he could be a positive Pecksniff, and Mr. Carswell, whose parents were firmly in the anti-Murry camp, has a keen eye for his duplicities: he is particularly interesting on the period following Lawrence’s death, when Murry published his self-aggrandizing memoir Son of Woman (“malignant hagiography” was Huxley’s phrase for it) and Catherine Carswell published The Savage Pilgrimage by way of riposte. But he is a fair-minded man, and the final verdict on Murry in Lives and Letters takes into account his many excellent qualities as well.
With the two remaining members of his quintet Mr. Carswell really can claim to be reviving forgotten reputations, although Koteliansky is at any rate a familiar name to anyone who knows his Lawrence—the “Kot” who crops up in all the biographies as a rather mysterious but sympathetic presence, whose chanting of a psalm in Hebrew gave rise (through a misunderstanding) to the coinage “Rananim.” He was a Jew from a village near Kiev, who settled in London shortly before the First World War, worked as a translator in a law office, and spent his last forty years living in a house in St. John’s Wood which had originally belonged to Katherine Mansfield. At a time when English intellectuals were eager to learn more of Russia he made a useful literary go-between, but what Lawrence, Leonard Woolf, and his other friends most valued in him were his integrity and a certain loftiness of character. He was a passionate man, who remained hopelessly in love with Katherine Mansfield thirty years after her death; a melancholy man, who kept to himself to avoid inflicting his darker moods on other people. Mr. Carswell’s account of his final years is sad but not disheartening.
Koteliansky’s name will survive, however dimly, through the Lawrence connection; but who was Beatrice Hastings? Or rather, who was “Beatrice Hastings”?—since she was born (exactly a hundred years ago) Emily Haigh. As with Katherine Mansfield (née Kathleen Beauchamp), changing her name was partly a way of sloughing off a colonial identity, preparing for an assault on the metropolis. The daughter of a prosperous shopkeeper from Port Elizabeth, Cape Province, she came to London when she was still in her teens, and after a few years of obscurity joined forces with Orage, whom she first met at a Theosophical Society lecture. A natural journalist, she played a major part in running the New Age, recruiting contributors, stirring up controversies, writing for it under a rich variety of pseudonyms. There were crusades and quarrels; a fierce debate about the “Woman Question” (Beatrice herself was a feminist who reserved most of her anger for the middle-class hypocrisy, as she saw it, of the official suffragette leadership); a friendship with Katherine Mansfield that went sour and deteriorated into a lifelong feud.
By 1914 there had also been a cooling-off with Orage, and in the spring of that year she left for Paris, where she planned to work on a novel about the menopause to be entitled I Asked for Bread and Ye Gave Me a Stone. Instead, she was quickly drawn into the life of Montparnasse, and before long she had moved in with Modigliani (a “pale and ravishing villain,” “a pig and a pearl”). After two or three turbulent years, including “scènes avec revolvers,” they broke up, and she proceeded on her adventurous way; her last great affair was with the eighteen-year-old Raymond Radiguet, although she had to share his favors with Cocteau. By that time, too, the battering she had taken from illness and alcohol was beginning to show.
When the fancy seized her (and it quite often did) Beatrice Hastings was capable of writing some furious nonsense, but she could also be trenchant, perceptive, even funny: one warms to the woman who said that the trouble with Bernard Shaw was that his brains had gone to his head. At her best—if the passages singled out by Mr. Carswell are any guide—she could hit off a scene or a personality at least as well as Katherine Mansfield. Her comments on issues of the day were sometimes farsighted, frequently acute. But she lacked the one thing needful, the Gift that would have pulled her other gifts together. When someone taxed her with wasting her energy in various bypaths, she could only reply, “I’m afraid I am all bypaths.”
In the early Thirties she drifted back to London, a forgotten woman. She started a crotchety little magazine called the Straight Thinker; brooded on her wrongs and published a forty-page pamphlet after Orage’s death, vehemently attacking him; started another magazine, which was largely devoted to trying to rehabilitate Madame Blavatsky. By the beginning of the Second World War she had moved house to the genteel South Coast resort of Worthing, and it was there that she published and printed (on a hand press) the last of her magazines, the Democrat—a rancorous and fairly crazy-sounding affair, although it had its prescient moments: one of the things that Beatrice hoped to see emerging after the war was “women’s liberation,” and if she did not invent the phrase she must surely have been among the first to use it. Her underlying mood, however, was one of despair, and in 1943 she closed the Democrat down, signing off with an epigram:
Little country, don’t go modern!
If you do, the end of you
Will be to go—that’s modern.
Later that year, already ill with cancer, she offered her papers to the British Museum and received a prompt letter of refusal; shortly afterward she committed suicide, gassing herself in her lodgings along with her pet mouse. The only paper to report her death was the Worthing Gazette, which printed an account of the inquest.
No biography for Beatrice Hastings, no Collected Letters, not even a proper obituary. But now, thanks to Mr. Carswell, she has been decently commemorated at last.
September 27, 1979
Though I am less confident that he would always have opposed him for the right reasons. There is a passage in the memoirs of Ernest Jones which seems to me worth pondering in this connection: “I remember his giving me an original explanation of why we were bound to win the war. It was that the Germans had no true leader; the Kaiser was only a mountebank. With his blue eyes flashing and his red beard bristling, he declaimed: ‘That posturing ape, with his winged helmet, keeps telling his people what a fine fellow he is and what noble followers they are. A real leader would not speak of himself or his followers; he would simply command: “There is the enemy, strike.” ‘ I am afraid, however, that he saw through the Kaiser so well partly because his own personality contained similar elements.” ↩