Sardonic Young Man (D.H.Lawrence)
Lawrence became unhappy masquerading as a teacher on his own door-step and a year later when a Teachers' Training Centre was established at nearby Ilkeston, he enrolled as a pupil-teacher along with Jessie Chambers, her brother Alan, and several other girls including Louie Burrows from Cossall.
Over the next few years they became a close group of travellers, picnicking together, going on excursions, helping with the harvest and calling themselves the 'Pagans', priding themselves on their advanced ideas.
As a student Bertie read voraciously, believing that books were invested with life. As a teacher he was apt to lose his temper, especially if he was made to look a fool. His fear of ridicule was one thing but his aspirations were another and he decided 'he was going to alter the face of the earth in some way that mattered.'
Still regularly visiting Haggs Farm, he and Jessie Chambers (pictured right) fled into books, flowers and nature. They enjoyed each other's company but his contradictory nature could in turn make him aloof and mocking. He sometimes brought her to tears with his unpredictable outbursts. Gentle and sweet one moment, his mood would suddenly change to savage and plunge her into misery when she feared him like a stranger. One time he told her that she lacked a sense of humour. For once she retaliated: 'What comes next when you have finished taking me to pieces? Will you be able to put me back together again?'
Nevertheless, Jessie helped him to begin writing - the previous four years he had spent tinkering with painting. His mother was convinced that without going to University, Bertie would get nowhere in teaching. He tried and won a place on a degree course at the University College, Nottingham - big and quiet 'with a rim of grass and lime trees'.
By the end of the first term he was disillusioned. His Latin wasn't good enough. 'What is Latin? - so much dry goods of knowledge,' he said and transferred to the more mundane Teacher's Certificate Course. It enabled him to concentrate on his own writing - his second version of The White Peacock was underway.
Sometimes he took Jessie to plays and operas at the Nottingham Theatre Royal and visited the Castle Art Gallery. Their enthusiastic collaboration in reading continued but he brutally told her: 'You are absolutely lacking in sexual attraction and that is the truth of the matter.' She thought only of sex in relation to beauty or passion.
One Sunday evening he startled a friend by announcing: 'I am going to be an author.' When cautioned about the rejections he would have to face, he replied: 'I have genius, I know I have.'
At college, Lawrence began to question religion and was turning to agnosticism. He studied Darwin's theory of evolution and concluded that all forms of life were drops in 'the big shimmering sea of life we call God.' His mind thought in symbols, not ideas, and uncertain of his own direction in life, he had to be 'right'. His dogmatic assertions, often made with his soulful females in tow, struck many people as absurd, but he could be abominably rude one minute and tender as a girl the next. He certainly didn't like being told: 'Bert, you were a woman last time you were on earth.'
The shining scholarship boy was turning into a sardonic young man, full of nervous energy with gleaming animal eyes. A school inspector later described him as 'self-opinionated with a pale face, stooping shoulders, a narrow chest, febrile hands and a voice best described as contralto. He coughed occasionally.'
With a glut of teachers in Nottingham, all low-paid, he took a job as a junior master at a school in Croydon. He found excellent digs close-by, getting on well with his landlady and her husband. Straightaway he took to his landlady's two children, and they to him, and was soon baby-sitting and putting them to bed. In the evenings, rapidly, with extraordinary concentration and undisturbed by his landlady's baby on his knee, he would sit by the fire with a pad on his knee and write poems and stories. As to his reading, like everything else in his life, his likes and dislikes were personal and violent.
He made friends, all female, particularly with another teacher, Helen Corke, to whom he dedicated many of his poems. Lawrence was attractive to women with literary ambitions - they felt his appreciation of them and responded to it. Poem-letters and little notes attached to books he regularly sent to Jessie Chambers, urging her to concentrate on this or that. He also corresponded with Louie Burrows (pictured right) at Leicester, and another friend Blanche Jennings at Liverpool. Even while flirting with Louie Burrows he didn't refrain from providing her with critical literary advice: 'I have read your tale . . . I'm sure it will take if you write it out again . . . select the salient details . Try to use words vivid and emotion-quickening . . .'
Without telling him, Jessie sent some of Lawrence's poems to the editor of the English Review. They were favourably received. Lawrence rushed off to see the editor, Ford Madox Hueffer, who later described Lawrence as 'an exciting, slightly dangerous, fundamentally incomprehensible intruder from that other England north of the Trent he had heard rumours about.'
|The White Peacock
The English Revue gave Lawrence a real splash with his sequence of poems, and excitedly, Lawrence invited Jessie down to London where they lunched, along with champagne, with Ezra Pound. Later he met H. G. Wells at his home, and pompously told Jessie: 'He is a funny little chap; his conversation . . . amusing, but not expansive.' The English Review also published his short story Goose Fair and when Heinemann accepted his story The White Peacock for publication he believed he was not doomed to be a teacher forever, and was on the way to being an author.
At Christmas he returned home with a certain status as a contributor to the English Review. His love affairs were unresolved and chaotic. He was trying to fuse Louie Burrows' sexuality with Jessie's soulfulness, shuttling to and fro between the two of them. And of course, there was his mother.
In August 1910, his mother became ill with cancer. He came up to Eastwood from Croydon every other weekend. By the October, realising that nothing would save her, he stayed home to nurse her. Two weeks before she died he wrote to a woman friend: 'My sister and I do all the nursing. My sister is only 22. I sit upstairs hours and hours till I wonder if it were ever true that I was in London. I seem to have died since . . . There has been this kind of bond between me and my mother . . . We knew each other by instinct . . . We have been like one, so sensitive to each other that we never needed words. It has been rather terrible and has made me, in some respects, abnormal.'
When he put an advance copy of The White Peacock into his mother's hands she merely looked at the title page and put it aside. His father asked: 'And what dun they gi'e for that, lad?'
'£50!' he exclaimed. 'An' thou's never done a day's work in thy life!'
As if in compensation for his mother's loss he proposed to Louie Burrows 'who has always been warm for me . . . she is big and dark and handsome.' But he did tell her: 'I must feel my mother's hand slip out of mine before I can really take yours.'
Lawrence broke this news to Jessie in a letter: 'I can't help it, I am made this way.' His mother had always hated Jessie but liked Louie.
|Sons and Lovers
After the funeral he returned to Croydon, rudderless and driving himself into his teaching pointlessly. He did work fitfully at his new novel Sons and Lovers but by turns he was crass and derisive of the people around him, stamping them as types. When The White Peacock was launched the Nottinghamshire Guardian hailed him as an author of note but it was in morbid isolation that he carried on teaching, forever with a cold that made him sound like 'a croaking crow.'
'I was twenty-five and from the death of my mother the world began to dissolve around me, beautiful, iridescent, but passing away substanceless. Till I almost dissolved away myself . . .'
His elder sister Emily put him up for a spell in the summer holidays but in November he caught a chill which rapidly turned into pneumonia - a repetition of the illness of his youth. Ada hurried down from Eastwood to nurse him and when Jessie called to see him at Christmas he 'was sitting by the fire in his bedroom, grievously thin, but yet somehow so vital.' The doctor warned him against any more teaching if he wanted to avoid being consumptive.
The bracing air of Bournemouth restored his strength and his new literary friend Edward Garnett - he saw promise in the budding author - kept him fed with letters and books. With his recovery he returned to writing his new novel The Trespasser in a more confident, satirical style. His aunt's sister-in-law, who lived in Germany, had invited him over and he was toying with the idea.
Returning to Eastwood early in 1912 as a determined, angry young man, a professional writer, he told an old schoolteacher friend: 'Think of the stories you could write if only you would let yourself go. Don't you see that each of us must be prepared to take the responsibility for our own actions? How can anyone complain so long as the narrator tells the truth?' Lawrence later wrote a letter about his 'belief in the blood, the flesh, as being wiser than the intellect. The real way of living is to answer one's wants.'
After declaring to friends: 'The family man was nothing but a cart horse and I'm not going to be a cart-horse,' he broke off his engagement to Louie Burrows. He took her to an art exhibition at Nottingham Castle then had tea and toast in a cafe where she cried, then laughed, then cried again while he sat there with 'a sort of cloud over my mind.'
To his great relief she went off in an angry huff.
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