Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Twas on the Isle of Capri that I met him. (Lawrence and Mackenzie)

To balance and really ‘fair and balanced’ is a worthy goal, we must completely ignore the daft elements in the, well, not thought but visceral responses, or ‘gut reactions’ of David Herbert Lawrence. Compton Mackenzie in his novel The West Wind of Love (publ.1941) introduces us to the prating of one Daniel Rayner who requires no key to be seen as D.H.L. Only the names have been changed to protect the boring. This was literary revenge for the inclusion of the Mackenzies in two stories from the Collection The Woman who Rode Away. They were Two Blue Birds and The Man Who Loved Islands.

They met on the Isle of Capri IRL and the meeting in the novel is on Citrano somewhere in the South of Italy just after the end of the Kaiser War. Mackenzie best known now for Whisky Galore and Monarch of the Glen describes ‘our Davey’. Was he called that. I’m making it up. Why not? The sketch in ‘West’ is I think fair and represents the impression he might have had on a lot of people. Ford Madox Ford, who first published him, wasn’t much taken either.

In the first place he had sprung from the people, preserving the Midland accent of his upbringing among the ribbon-and-lace makers of Warwickshire and his education at a council school. Neither should have been a handicap at the University of Birmingham, but that English respect even for the synthetic gentility that is painfully manufactured by third –rate public-schools pretending to the authentic tradition of the historical factories of the English gentleman implanted in him early a resentment against the reminders, sometimes real but often imaginary, of his humble origin. The natural result was that conscious of his own genius he became aggressive and self-assertive.
(John Ogilvie’s, the protagonist of ‘West’, view of Rayner)

They discuss industrialisation:

”Man went off the track long before machinery was developed” Rayner replied contemptuously. “Man went off the track when he started to think here,” he tapped his forehead, “instead of here,” he pointed to the generative centre. “I want to find people who think here,” he declared passionately, and somewhat to the surprise of passing country-folk stood still in the middle of the alley with his long white index finger directed like a signpost towards the fly of his trousers.

On a personal note this is precisely the opposite of the advise given to me by the Clareman on the building job long handled shovel
“Use your head and not your lad”.

With a note of despair we are told:

Day and night for nearly a month John and Rayner talked, and then early on a June morning Rayner came to the tower when John was still in bed and announced that he and Hildegarde were leaving Citrano that morning.
“I’m choked here,” he announced. “These small bright people get on my nerves. It’s like watching a butterfly on the inside of a greenhouse fluttering up and down with the glass between him and the sun.”

A week later John received a postcard from Monte Cassino. This place is rotten with the past. A year later a postcard from Rarotonga: If you are thinking of coming here, don’t. These soft brown people are dissapointing.


Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

I have been enjoying your DH Lawrence series. This post is especially full of surprises.

If I were a big Lawrence fan, I might be upset.

Your Heaney story was a pleasure, too.

ombhurbhuva said...

Thanks Tom. One feels with D.H.L. that he always has a thumb on the scales. He's still a good writer although deficient in irony and humour. I may write on the related stories from The Woman who Rode Away (Birds and Islands).

argumentativeoldgit said...

I think it is fair to say that Lawrence was an odd person, to say the least. It is apparent in much of his writing as well - especially his later novels (even so ardent an admirer as Leavis describes "The Plumed Serpent" as "a regrettable performance"). And no, I can't detect much humour in him, but I can't say that bothers me: I can always go to Wodehouse if I want a few laughs.

But ... but despite everything, I do feel he is worth the trouble. the short stories I have been reading lately pierce beyond the "pasteboard masks", as Melville called them, and there are very few writers who do that.

Which is not to say that we can't read about Lawrence the man and think to ourselves, "What a looney!"

ombhurbhuva said...

I always think of Auden on Yeats: You were silly like us, your gift survived it all
There's no doubt but that Lawrence is a good writer but it is the case that powerful ideology can act like an iron mountain to throw your compass off. It's the King Charles's head. Probably he would have been better off keeping well away from the middle class literati that he spent too much time with. He picked up verminous notions like eugenics from them.

Of the two stories with Mackenzie themes I think The Two Bluebirds is the better. It's sharp, clear and direct with nicely modulated venom. The Man who Loved Islands wanders between narrative and fable.

I have The Rainbow lined up for my first reading of it.