The sensuous Celtic type: DH Lawrence, ‘Samson & Delilah’

It’s been a busy time at work, and emotionally fraught (a serious family illness), but I don’t want Tredynas Days to languish. Here then is a short piece based on notes compiled for a course I’m teaching on ‘Sense of Place’: it follows on from several recent posts on DH Lawrence’s letters written in Cornwall,mostly from a rented cottage at Higher Tregerthen, near the village of Zennor, west of St Ives.

Lawrence’s story ‘Samson and Delilah’ tells of a Cornish miner who, like many others in the late Victorian period when tin and copper prices fell, emigrated to America, abandoning his wife and new-born baby. Some 15 Years later he returns to the

Tinners Arms

The Tinners Arms as it looked back in August this year

fictionalised Tinners Arms (called in the story ‘The Tinners Rest’) at Zennor, where his wife is landlady. At first she doesn’t recognise him, but when he insists on staying, and that she is his wife, she calls on some soldiers, stationed there – the story is set early in WWI – to restrain him. He escapes and resumes his attempts to win her over, telling her he has amassed £1000 – a fortune at that time (remember he paid an annual rent of £5 on the Higher Tregerthen cottage!)

Probably written in 1916, it was published in March 1917 as ‘The Prodigal Husband’ in the English Review; a revised, retitled version appeared in a collection of his stories, England, My England (1922 in the US, 1924 in the UK) – Online text here; it was made into a short TV play in 1959 and a short film in in 1985. A longer version was an episode in the ITV ‘Play of the Week’ series in 1966.

img_4302Here at the start of the story the protagonist, Willie Nankervis, arrives in the desolate, economically deprived mining village – a hint at why he left there years earlier – on the Penzance to St Just bus:

Tall, ruined power-houses of tin-mines loomed in the darkness from time to time, like remnants of some by-gone civilization. The lights of many miners’ cottages scattered on the hilly darkness twinkled desolate in their disorder, yet twinkled with the lonely homeliness of the Celtic night… The houses began to close on the road, he was entering the straggling, formless, desolate mining village, that he knew of old.

After ordering drinks at the bar Willie encounters a girl working there; we later discover this is his daughter. Note the characteristic ambiguity in the depiction of the Cornish people (in a letter he’d venomously dismissed them as vermin, insects, in response to what he perceived as their passive acceptance of militarism and ‘King and Country’).

She disappeared. In a minute a girl of about sixteen came in. She was tall and fresh, with dark, young, expressionless eyes, and well-drawn brows, and the immature softness and mindlessness of the sensuous Celtic type…

 

She replied to everybody in a soft voice, a strange, soft aplomb that was very attractive. And she moved round with rather mechanical, attractive movements, as if her thoughts were elsewhere. But she had always this dim far-awayness in her bearing: a sort of modesty. The strange man by the fire watched her curiously. There was an alert, inquisitive, mindless curiosity on his well-coloured face.

‘I’ll have a bit of supper with you, if I might,’ he said.

She looked at him, with her clear, unreasoning eyes, just like the eyes of some non-human creature.

‘I’ll ask mother,’ she said. Her voice was soft-breathing, gently singsong.

Not very complimentary about Willie’s womenfolk, is it. But much of the story is narrated from his skewed point of view – but even his ‘alert, inquisitive…curiosity’ is ‘mindless’, to match the girl’s ‘unreasoning’ gaze. None of these Cornish characters emerges with much dignity. Later the focalisation changes to Willie’s wife. Does she really fail to recognise him, like some kind of inverted form of Penelope, faithless to the returning anti-hero who’d abandoned her and her baby?

The story’s title encourages this interpretation, for it draws attention to the central theme of betrayal by the wife of her husband, who is captured by the military; this act deprives him temporarily of his manhood and independence.It’s about one of DHL’s familiar concerns: the struggle, as he put it in a letter from Cornwall, between the old Adam and the old Eve.

It’s a slight story, but interesting as one of his rare pieces of fiction set in the locale where he spent nearly two years 1916-17. Ch. 12 of his novel Kangaroo (1923) is called ‘Nightmare’, and provides a fictional account of those Cornish years, which culminated in his being arrested with Frieda on suspicion of spying for the Germans and banished from the county. His love affair with the Celtic wildness of Cornwall was over for ever. His ‘savage pilgrimage’ across the world began.

Profound personal engagement with place: Kurt Jackson, artist

Yesterday’s post about my trip with my wife to Penwith, in the far west of Cornwall, ended with a mention of an art gallery in St Just: the Jackson Foundation. Kurt Jackson is one of our favourite artists, and probably one of the finest living British painters of natural phenomena – from flora and fauna to land, sea and riverscapes.

Cape Cornwall

Cape Cornwall, looking west towards Land’s End

Looking at his currently exhibited work at St Just inspired us to deviate from our road home to take a look at a place that is one of his greatest inspirations and which features in much of his artwork, and in a video installation that can be seen in the gallery upstairs: Cape Cornwall. I included some pictures of it in yesterday’s post. Here’s another.

 

You might have seen some lovely reproductions of his work at Paddington Station in London some ten years ago, decorating the wooden boards screening building work that was going on there at the time.

The new Jackson gallery

The new gallery that will open shortly at the Jackson Foundation

In recent years his ‘projects’ have been inspired by a particular route – a river, a prehistoric track way, or a workplace and its inhabitants – quarry, mine, fishermen, farmers; a group of fauna or flora – crows, bees, a tree – or just his personal response to a particular place.

His paintings often include written notes on the sounds, wildlife and other sensual influences that pervade his warm, almost spiritual depictions of the scenes in which he immerses himself in order to capture their living essence and biodiversity – their past and present ‘clamour and silence’, as the catalogue describes his ‘This Place’ exhibition.

Born in Dorset in 1961, he graduated from Oxford in 1983 with a degree in zoology; his love for and deep empathy with living things animates all of his work. A year later he moved to Cornwall with his wife, and settled in St Just, on the marginal edge of mainland Britain, a ‘transitional space’, as he calls it, between the the wild and rugged moorland, granite outcrops and craggy cliffs of west Cornwall, and the Atlantic Ocean.

This is how his gallery website sums up his approach:

A dedication to and celebration of the environment is intrinsic to both his politics and his art and a holistic involvement with his subjects provides the springboard for his formal innovations. Jackson’s practice involves both plein air and studio work and embraces an extensive range of materials and techniques including mixed media, large canvases, print making and sculpture…

Three illustrated monographs on Jackson have been published by Lund Humphries depicting his career so far; A New Genre of Landscape Painting (2010), Sketchbooks (2012) and A Kurt Jackson Bestiary (2015). A Sansom & Company book based on his touring exhibition Place was published in 2014.

His passionate interest in psychogeography – the culture, lived history and precarious ecology of our world – is reflected in his numinous work, but also in his involvement with charities and campaigning organisations, from his role as artist in residence on a Greenpeace ship and at Cornwall’s Eden Project (and at Glastonbury Festival!), to acting as ambassador for Survival International. He has also worked closely with Friends of the Earth, WaterAid, Oxfam and Cornwall Wildlife Trust.

We managed to catch his latest exhibition – ‘Place’ – just before it closed – today. It arose from a collaboration with 32 writers from a varied range of backgrounds, and reveals the physical diversity of the British landscape, whilst providing an insight into the concept of ‘place’ – that ‘collective sense of identity, meaning, longing and nostalgia present within the British psyche’, as his website puts it.

Words are provided by writers Robert Macfarlane and Richard Mabey, as well as by scientists, poets, and others, each providing a personal transcript or evocation of a place they felt connected with. Jackson’s pictures are complemented by these portraits and images in words.

Inside the gallery at the Jackson Foundation

Inside the gallery at the Jackson Foundation

The Foundation will close for a couple of weeks now, reopening to house his next exhibition, from Sept. 14: ‘Obsession – Following the Surfer’. Here’s his website again:

Obsession sees Jackson follow his studio assistant on surfing trips around the Cornish coast.

He adds:

“Often it’s argued that the surfer’s path is a spiritual one – this connection between the individual and the wave, the ocean hosting its rider, but what is certain is that it opens the eyes of that person to the natural world, to an extraordinarily beautiful and powerful side of nature that needs respect and admiration and in the long run our protection and conservation.”

This body of work was produced in partnership with Cornwall-based eco-campaigners Surfers Against Sewage to highlight the charity’s work to protect the UK’s oceans, waves and beaches for everyone to enjoy safely and sustainably.

*****

For reasons of copyright I have been unable to reproduce any images of his artwork here, but the links I’ve included will take you to a number of websites where you can enjoy some beautiful representations. If you’ve never seen his work before, I’d urge you to take a look.

Even better, take a trip down to the land of Lyonesse and man engines, where DH and Frieda Lawrence strode the cliff paths, haunt of the ghosts of countless hard rock Cornish miners who lost their lives or limbs extracting the minerals that transformed this world of Celtic fantasy into an industrial, working, living landscape.

Choughs

Painting of Cornish (red-billed) and yellow-billed Alpine choughs, by J.F. Naumann (via Wikipedia)

PS to yesterday’s notes on Cornish choughs:

legend has it that King Arthur didn’t really die: he was transformed into a chough. For this reason it’s still considered unlucky to kill or harm one of these handsome corvids – one of which I was lucky enough to spot at Cape Cornwall yesterday.

Thanks to Fynn, at the Jackson Foundation, for the photos of the gallery interior.

Asides: Cornish choughs, St Just and Cape Cornwall

My long summer break is coming to an end, so my wife and I are trying to make the most of our beautiful county of Cornwall.

Market Square, St Just

Market Square, St Just (Wikipedia image)

Yesterday we drove down to St Just in Penrith – the most westerly of Cornwall’s regions. It’s the most westerly town in mainland Britain, beyond the tourist honeypot of St Ives, and west even of DH Lawrence’s Zennor – about which I posted several pieces recently. It’s part of the Cornwall AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).

The town’s name is of uncertain provenance: it might be named after the 6th or 7th C Welsh hermit St Iestyn (Latin Justinus) and said to have been a son of a ruler of the Celtic kingdom of Dumnonia in SW England. This confessor-saint is attributed with the founding of St Just’s namesake village in the Roseland peninsula. In the 15C bones found in the church were said to be remains of St Justus of Trieste, a 3rd C Italian martyr.

It’s a rugged, wild part of the peninsula, with huge granite boulders half-buried in the moorland. Fields host brooding standing stones, and massive crags and headlands jut skywards from the land and over the sea. Many of the field wall-boundaries reflect Iron Age  agricultural systems.

This element-battered scenery was once teeming with industrial activity: the Man Engine pieces I posted recently explain about Cornwall’s mining heritage. Penwith is now a post-industrial landscape, with engine-houses and chimneys abundant on the moors and the clifftops. Levant and Botallack nearby still have buildings and working visible, while Geevor, an 18C tin mine which closed in 1990, is open to the public.

The 1861 census recorded that over 9200 people lived in St Just, but the sharp decline in demand for Cornish copper and tin resulted in mass migration of miners to all parts of the globe. The town’s twins in Bendigo, Australia and Nevada City, USA, reflect this mining diaspora. The current population of St Just is just over 4000.

The St Just plen-an-gwari (or playing place – there’s a village of that curious name just outside of my town of Truro) is a large circular space, encircled by a 2-metre high wall of stone, one of only two surviving in the county. It hosted sports and performances of all kinds, including medieval miracle plays such as the Cornish Ordinalia. John Wesley preached there.

The gaunt granite crags of Penwith are the haunt of many kinds of wildlife and seabirds

Red-billed chough

Red-billed or Cornish chough (image from oliversCornwall website

and notably of the iconic red-billed or Cornish choughs. These once-prolific corvids have been associated with the county since the 13C. Their Cornish name ‘palores’ (meaning ‘digger’ – they probe the ground for invertebrates to eat) nearly became extinct down here, but are now starting to flourish again.

Cape Cornwall

Cape Cornwall: the chimney on top is a remnant of the mine there. Hazy cloud but bright Atlantic light when I took this picture

I could hardly contain my excitement as we walked from the National Trust carpark on to the chimney-capped headland of Cape Cornwall and I saw my first ever wild chough. It watched us approach, then languidly flew off towards the distant hills towards Lands End.

This handsome bird has an ancient association with Cornwall, and features in its coat of arms.

This is from Olivers Cornwall website description:

ARMS: Sable fifteen Bezants in pile within a Bordure barry wavy of eight Argent and Azure.
CREST: On a Wreath Argent and Azure a Chough proper resting the dexter claw upon a Ducal Coronet Or.
Motto ‘ONE AND ALL’.
Granted 5th April 1939.

Old coat of arms for Cornwall:

Old coat of arms for Cornwall: Olivers site image

These ‘bezants’ (an ancient coin, name a corruption of Byzantium) were allegedly raised by loyal Cornishmen (hence the motto) and paid as ransom for the release of Richard, Earl of Cornwall (1209-1272, son of King John), who’d been captured by Saracens. They may also be a visually punning reference to the French for ‘peas’ (pois), as Richard was earl of Poitou.

Duchy of Cornwall crest

Duchy of Cornwall crest

The College of Arms illustration below (from mrssymbols website) shows the shield’s supporters as a pair of choughs (blazoned as ‘beaked and legged gules’), each of which holds an ostrich feather, a badge of the Prince of Wales…The motto below, ‘houmout’, is thought to convey the notion of ‘high mood’ or ‘courage’ (although the similar-sounding German word Hochmut can be translated as ‘arrogance’ or ‘pride’).

Back to St Just, where we had an excellent bowl of broccoli and stilton soup (and a pint of Sharp’s Doom Bar ale – grimly named for the sandbar in the Camel estuary, near to where it’s brewed in Rock) – in the Commercial hotel, one of three (three!) pubs in the market square. I derive disproportionate pleasure from ordering this beer as the locals do: ‘A pint of Doom, please.’

View from Cape Cornwall

View from Cape Cornwall, looking towards the headland of Land’s End

The west of Cornwall has long been associated with the arts – not just in St Ives. There are several good galleries in St Just, and a thriving community of arts and crafts practitioners. We were headed for one that opened just a couple of years ago, featuring the work of one of our favourite local artists: Kurt Jackson. He’s lived in St Just since the 80s, and much of his work  brilliantly depicts the seascapes, land, flora and fauna of this beautiful county.

There’s a useful website about Cornish Choughs HERE; follow them on Twitter @cornishchoughs

Now I am glad and free: DH Lawrence’s response to Cornwall – final part

[5 September 1916, to Dollie Radford,(pen-name of the poet, 1858-1920, real name

View from the moors above Zennor

View from the moors above Zennor

Caroline Maitland), from Higher Tregerthen] The blackberries are ripe: we have made about ten pounds of jam…We have had many many beans out of both gardens, and peas at last…they were very good. But it has been very rainy…The heather is all out on the hills – very beautiful indeed – purple patches. And the young gorse is all in flower again…The bracken is withering, the sunsets are tremendous, almost terrible, the autumn is coming in…The Murrys are both in London.

[In letters quoted in my earlier posts on Lawrence’s letters, he’d expressed his dismay and disappointment at what he saw as the desertion, from the cottage next to his own, by the Middleton Murrys: they found this part of Cornwall too bleak and ‘rugged’, he complained.]

Tinner's Arms, Zennor

The Tinner’s Arms, Zennor, where the Lawrences stayed before moving into Higher Tregerthen nearby. Stopped for a pint of Tinner’s ale there yesterday and took this picture.

[On 11 October L. writes to Murry a conciliatory letter: ‘what I hate in you is an old you that corresponds to an old me which must pass away, the beastly thing. Meanwhile he says he and Frieda continue their ‘long and bloody fight’, but are ‘at one’; ‘it is a fight one has to fight – the old Adam to be killed in me, the old Eve in her – then a new Adam and Eve. Till the fight is finished, it is only honourable to fight. But, oh dear, it is very horrible and agonising.’]

[On 7 Nov. he writes to Catherine Carswell that he wants ‘to go away from England forever’, to go to ‘a country of which I have hope, in which I feel the new unknown.’ In short, to America, which is ‘monstrous’, ‘falser’ than England, but ‘nearer to freedom’. It is less corrupted than England: ‘my Florida idea was right.’ Cornwall as Rananim, it seems, has failed. To Koteliansky he wrote, on the same day, his Rananim, ‘my Florida idea, was the true one. Only the PEOPLE were wrong…I have done with the Murries, both, for ever…So I have with Lady Ottoline Morrell and all the rest. And now I am glad and free.’]

Zennor moors

Zennor moors

[23 Feb. 1917, to D. Radford] The spring is coming also. Yesterday the lambs were dancing, and the birds whistled, the doves cooed all day down at the farm. The world of nature is wonderful in its revivifying spontaneity…the cooing of the doves is very real, and the blithe impertinence of the lambs as they peep round their mothers. They affect me as the Rainbow, as a sign that life will never be destroyed, or turn bad altogether.

[5 May 1917, to JM Murry! So much for ‘I have done with the Murries’.] I have been gardening very hard: made a new garden just above the little one, and planted also a large corner of a potato field – not with potatoes, but carrots, peas, spinach, etc…The primroses and blackthorn are out…

Zennor moors[11 May 1917, to Koteliansky] Today I have been cutting blackthorn and gorse to make a fence to keep the lambs out of my garden. I loathe lambs, those symbols of Christian meekness. They are the stupidest, most persistent, greediest little beasts in the whole animal kingdom. Really, I suspect Jesus of having very little to do with sheep, that he could call himself the Lamb of God. I would truly rather be the little pig of God, the little pigs are infinitely gayer and more delicate in soul. My garden is very beautiful, in rows. But the filthy lambs have eaten off my broad beans. The salads are all grown, and the scarlet runners are just ready for the sprint.

[Poor lambs! They suffer the same transformation of attitude towards them as many of L’s friends, the Murrys especially]

[23 May, to Murry] I have three gardens: the little one, which is a gem: pansies and columbine and fuchsia as well as veg: then the little field at the back…broad beans, etc., spinach, many beautiful rows: then in the field below, peas, beans, etc. I have worked hard.

Zennor moors[29 August 1917, to D. Radford] My garden was so splendid, thirty nice marrows sprawling and rolling abroad under the leaves, festoons of beans and peas, and myriads of sweet-peas and nasturtiums climbing, to say nothing of endive and beet and spinach and kohlrabi and all the rest….on the speckled melon plant there is a big green melon, lovely. If there were sun, it would ripen.

[23 Sept. 1917, to Koteliansky] We have had fine gardens full of vegetables…There has been a curious subtle mystic invisibleness in the days, a beauty that is not in the eyes.

[In October the Lawrences were ordered out of Cornwall by the military authorities, who suspected Frieda of spying. She was German-born, a von Richthofen, distantly related to the notorious air-ace, the Red Baron.]

I shall end this sequence of posts on how the letters of Lawrence reveal his response to Cornwall with this extract from John Worthen’s DHL biography website:

In spite of what he feared would be the fate of his fiction after The Rainbow, in the spring of 1916 he started again on the Sisters material, and – after an enormous creative effort in which he wrote the whole book twice – in November finished the first version of Women in Love.  But it was rejected by every publisher who saw it; the fact that it contained recognisable re-creations of several people (including Russell, Heseltine and the Morrells) did not help.

He and Frieda stayed in Cornwall, living as cheaply as they could; the English Review published the first versions of what would become Studies of Classic American Literature, his pioneering study of the great nineteenth century American writers.  Early in 1917 the Lawrences made another, more serious attempt to be allowed to go to America, but they could not obtain passports…All the Lawrences could now do was live precariously in friends’ flats and country cottages.  In 1917 he completed a major revision of Women in Love; it was the novel which represented his last comprehensive attempt to write for his country, as it examined and characterised contemporary anxiety and conflict.   In future novels, his voice would often – quite consciously – come from the sidelines: he staged guerrilla attacks as well a full-frontal assaults: his writing was goading, insistent, revelatory.

Photographs all my own.

The magic fades: DH Lawrence’s response to Cornwall, pt 3

DH Lawrence’s response to Cornwall, continued: the idyll fades, disillusion and desertion sets in. Extracts from the Collected Letters, ed. Harry T. Moore, Heinemann, London, 1970, vol. 1

[To Barbara Low, from Higher Tregerthen, nr Zennor (all the following letters were written from there), 1 May 1916] It is very lovely here, with the gorse all gone yellow and the sea a misty, periwinkle blue, and the flowers coming out on the common. The sense of jeopardy spoils it all – the feeling that one may be flung out into the cess-pool of a world, the danger of being dragged into the foul conglomerate mess, the utter disgust and nausea one feels for humanity, people smelling like bugs, endless masses of them, and no relief: it is so difficult to bear.

[As my last set of extracts showed, the military and other state authorities had started to show an unsettling interest in this ménage of the Lawrences: Frieda striding around W. Cornwall in brightly coloured mismatched stockings, speaking English in her heavy German accent, their cottage curtains similarly mismatched. Locals suspected this suspiciously unconventional couple were signalling to the enemy submarines which patrolled the waters off the peninsula. Nevertheless, DHL’s outbursts in letters of this time are disquieting, Nietzschean in their contempt – even if it’s understandable he’s so upset.]

Ottoline Morrell

Lady Ottoline Morrell, society and literary hostess, by Baron Adolf de Meyer, platinum print, 1912. Wikimedia Commons

[To Ottoline Morrell, ?4 May 1916] The country is very beautiful, with tangles of blackthorn and solid mounds of gorse blossom, and bluebells beneath, and myriads of violets, and so many ferns unrolling finely and delicately. I have begun a new novel [this would become Women in Love]

[To OM, 24 May] The country is simply wonderful, blue, graceful little companies of bluebells everywhere on the moors, the gorse in flame, and on the cliffs and by the sea, a host of primroses, like settling butterflies, and sea-pinks like a hover of pink bees, near the water.

[To Catherine Carswell, 19 June] I have nearly done my new novel. It has come rushing out, and I feel very triumphant in it.
The Murrys have gone over to the south side, about thirty miles away. The north side was too rugged for them. And Murry and I are not really associates. How I deceive myself. I am a liar to myself, about people. I was angry when you ran over a a list of my ‘friends’ – whom you did not think much of. But it is true, they are not much, any of them.
I give up having intimate friends at all. It is a self-deception. [He goes on to invite the Carswells to stay in the Murrys’ vacated rooms next door!]
It is very fine here, foxgloves now everywhere between the rocks and ferns. There is some magic in the country. It gives me a strange satisfaction.

[Lack of money – L calls it ‘penuriousness’ – is still a problem, and he smarts at the sense of living off the charity of others – but at least he has been exempted from military service.]

[To Barbara Low, 8 July] I should have died if they had made me a soldier… It is the most terrible madness. And the worst of it all is, that it is a madness of righteousness. These Cornish are most, most unwarlike, soft, peaceable, ancient. No men could suffer more than they, at being conscripted…they believe in their duty to their fellow man. And what duty is this, which makes us forfeit everything, because Germany invaded Belgium? Is there nothing beyond my fellow man? If not, there is nothing beyond myself…because I am the fellow-man of all the world, my neighbour is but myself in a mirror. So we toil in a circle of pure egoism…I know that, for me, the war is wrong…To fight for possessions, goods, is what my soul will not do…All this war, this talk of nationality, to me is false. I feel no nationality, not fundamentally…one fights too hard already, for the real integrity of one’s being.

[L is forced to type up the MS of his new novel, and revisions of The Rainbow, himself; he has only £6 in the world, he writes on 12 July. Next day he writes to thank J.B. Pinker for the cheque for £50 he’d received from him.]

[To K. Mansfield, 16 July; she has returned to Mylor, nr Falmouth, on the ‘soft’ south coast. L is benign and adopts a cheerful tone, gossiping about visitors and repairs and improvements being made to the leaking, damp house she and Middleton Murry had so precipitously abandoned. L generously hides his disappointment at this perceived desertion.] The corn is very high, the hay is out…the Tremeada [nearby farm] corn full of the most beautiful corn-marigolds…The foxgloves are really wonderful…full like honeycombs, with purple wells.
[Then his tone shifts:] Really, one should find a place one can live in, and stay there. Geographical change doesn’t help one much. And people go from bad to worse. I think I shall be staring out from Higher Tregerthen when I am a nice old man of seventy.
[He doesn’t try to disguise the rebuke.]

DH Lawrence in Cornwall, pt 1 – The Promised Land

“When we came over the shoulder of the wild hill, above the sea, to Zennor, I felt we were coming into the Promised Land. I know there will be a new heaven and a new earth take place now: we have triumphed. I feel like a Columbus who can see a shadowy America before him: only this isn’t merely territory, it is a new continent of the soul”. Letter of 25 Feb. 1916 to Ottoline Morrell, from The Collected Letters of D.H. Lawrence, ed. Harry T. Moore (Heinemann, London: 1962, repr. 1970), vol. 1, p. 437

My last two posts dealt with the mining heritage of Cornwall, where I live, embodied and celebrated in the form of the Man Engine, and the songs associated with the industrial toil of the working people of this county, especially in the nineteenth century, when tin and copper mining were at their peak of production. Thereafter the mining industry collapsed, and no working mines survive. A Cornish diaspora ensued, so that there are now pockets of Cornish Celts in S. and Central America, the USA, Australia – and many more far-flung places.

One of the writers with the closest affiliation to Cornwall, even though he stayed here only a short time, is D.H. Lawrence.

DHL passport photo

DHL passport photo, undated, from the Beinecke Rare Book and MS Library, Yale: public domain

After staying in a house at Porthcothan near St Merryn, lent to him by the novelist J.D. Beresford, DHL sought a cheap place of his own to rent. He was looking forward to being joined by his close friends (at the time; they later fell out) the literary Middleton Murry couple: John, and his wife, the New Zealander, Katherine Mansfield, to form a Rananim or ideal artistic-philosophical haven in Zennor, west Cornwall. If it could not be in his longed-for ‘Florida’ – or anywhere in the USA of Melville and other admired American writers like JF Cooper, where Lawrence felt there was a less constrained national spirit, then Zennor might serve, he believed.

His spirits were probably raised as much by his excited discovery of Melville’s Moby-Dick as they were by the Murrys; he was fast falling out with John, who’d been highly critical of Lawrence’s recent, controversial novel The Rainbow (1915), which had quickly been banned and taken out of circulation.

I’d like to offer a few extracts from the letters Lawrence wrote at this time, to try to give an insight into his developing state of mind at this critical time in his life, when he was finding England, embroiled in the catastrophic slaughter of WWI, so uncongenial that he began to hate it and its jingoistic, small-minded spirit. At first he loved Cornwall for its alien, dark, pagan, unEnglish quality, but gradually Kernow, too, lost its allure, and he began to hanker for distant lands again. He was a prodigious and gifted letter-writer, as I hope these brief extracts will show.

[Jan. 1916, Porthcothan, to J.B. Pinker]: Already, here in Cornwall, it is better: the wind blows very hard, the sea all comes up from the cliffs in smoke. Here one is outside England, the England of London – thank God…The Cornish sea is lovely, so wild.

Porthcothan coast

At low tide, this long narrow bay has great expanses of sand, rock pools and sea caves exposed. To get an idea, see photo SW8572 : Porthcothan Bay at low tide
© Copyright Val Pollard and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

At low tide, this long narrow bay has great expanses of sand, rock pools and sea caves exposed. To get an idea, see photo SW8572 : Porthcothan Bay at low tide

  © Copyright Val Pollard and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

[Jan. 1916, Porthcothan, to J.D. Beresford]: We have been here a week…We love being here. There have been great winds, and the sea has been smoking white above the cliffs – such a wind that it made one laugh with astonishment…I do like Cornwall. It is still something like King Arthur and Tristan. It has never taken the Anglo-Saxon civilisation, the Anglo-Saxon sort of Christianity. One can feel free here, for that reason – feel the world as it was in that flicker of pre-Christian Celtic civilisation, when humanity was really young – like the Mabinogion – not like Beowulf and the ridiculous Malory, with his grails and his chivalries.
But the war has come.

Katherine Mansfield

Katherine Mansfield

[7 Jan. 1916, Porthcothan, to Katherine Mansfield]:…I love being here in Cornwall – so peaceful, so far off from the world…a fine thin air which nobody and nothing pollutes. [But he’d been very ill with the respiratory disease later diagnosed as TB, as well as suffering a deep spiritual depression that he struggled to vanquish in his admiration of the Celtic otherness of Cornwall, ‘bare and dark and elemental’, as he described it in another letter, to Catherine Carswell].

[17 Jan. 1916, Porthcothan, to J. Middleton Murry and K. Mansfield]: I still like Cornwall…The landscape is bare, yellow-green and brown, dropping always down to black rocks [this sounds to me like Chaucer, The Franklin’s Tale, with its ‘rokkes blake’ of Brittany, which topographically resemble those of W. Cornwall] and a torn sea. All is desolate and forsaken, not linked up. But I like it.

DHL Letters vol1[24 Feb. 1916, Porthcothan, to JM Murry and K. Mansfield] We went out looking for a house, and I think we have found one that is good. It is about 7 miles from St Ives, towards Land’s End, very lonely, in the rocks on the sea, Zennor the nearest village: high pale hills, all moor-like and beautiful, behind, very wild: 7 miles across country to Penzance. [They stayed briefly at the village pub there, The Tinner’s Arms – it’s still there, next to the church dedicated – a rare instance of this – to St Senara, with its pew-end carved famously in the form of the Mermaid of Zennor. He goes on:]

Primroses and violets are out, and the gorse is lovely. At Zennor one sees infinite Atlantic, all peacock-mingled colours, and the gorse is sunshine itself, already. But this cold wind is deadly. [His health was precarious, and this climate would not be good for him, as he soon found. But he clearly longed for this move to work.]

I’ll leave him there, on his way to the village inn. In his next letter, to Ottoline Morrell, he wrote the passage I placed at the head of this post.

Next time we’ll see how he fared in his new Zennor home.

Welcome to Tredynas Days!

This is my first entry after a few trial posts over the last few weeks.  If you follow me on Twitter – @TredynasDays – or view my Facebook page with the same name you’ll have an idea what kinds of things I’m interested in: books, literature, creative writing, mostly, but also football, dogs, cricket, Cornwall (where I live); sometimes all of these at the same time.  My first piece reflects the wonderful material the internet can throw up; I came across earlier today a wonderful site called Public Domain Review.  It’s a free online journal showcasing the most interesting out-of-copyright material available digitally.  There’s a wonderful article, for example, on Dog Stories from The Spectator by J St Loe Strachey (1895), which contains stories of dogs who could shop for cakes, distinguishing halfpennies from pennies (two cakes for a penny; he wouldn’t leave the shop until the second cake appeared after he’d eaten the first); a dog who would bury live frogs in his garden; hospital dogs, syllogistic and sermonising dogs…you get the picture.   There’s a link to the original text: highly recommended.  Check out the article on Mary Toft, a Surrey woman who in 1726 claimed she’d given birth to a litter of bunnies.  It’s an absolute treasure-trove of the kind Walter Benjamin would have loved; and yes, there’s an article about him and his posthumously published masterpiece, the fascicles (he called them ‘convolutes’) that make up The Arcades Project, a MS of which he had in his bag when he committed suicide at the border town of Port Bou in 1940, having been fleeing the Nazis. Here’s an image from the article by Anca Pusca of a ‘passage’ mentioned in the book; many of Benjamin’s writings have now entered the public domain, and there are links to them after her piece on him.

Arcades Project: Galerie Vivienne c. 1820

Galerie Vivienne Paris