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.

DH Lawrence in Cornwall, pt 2: I feel fundamentally happy and free

So, Lawrence has established himself in his ‘Promised Land’ of Cornwall. He’s aware it’s not Florida, where he’d hoped to establish his Utopian ‘colony’ of artist-philosophers, Rananim, with disciple-friends like John Middleton Murry and Katherine Mansfield (‘truly blood kin’, he calls them in a letter to them of 11 March 1916), but it might be just as good. His longing for a peaceful life is almost palpable. [The name Rananim is taken from his Ukrainian-Russian friend the literary patron and translator Samuel Koteliansky’s Hebrew songs.]

He’s found the cheap rented cottage he was looking for: in Higher Tregerthen, a cluster of houses near Zennor, on the coast between St Ives and Penzance. Temporarily he and Frieda stay in the village inn, The Tinner’s Arms – its name reflects the mining heritage that was the subject of my recent posts on the Man Engine in Cornwall.

His flow of almost daily letters continues. Here’s a further selection; I’ve picked out his revealing descriptions to the local scene, which tell as much about his own state of mind, his hopes and feelings, as they do in evoking the sense of place…

Fields near Zennor:

Fields near Zennor

 [5 March 1916, from Tinner’s Arms, Zennor, to Middleton Murry and K. Mansfield] We have been here nearly a week now. It is a most beautiful place: a tiny granite village nestling under high, shaggy moor-hills, and a big sweep of lovely sea beyond, such a lovely sea, lovelier even than the Mediterranean… To Penzance one goes over the moors, high, then down into Mount’s Bay, looking at St Michael’s Mount, like a dark little jewel. It is all gorse now, flickering with flower: and then it will be heather; and then, hundreds of foxgloves. It is the best place I have been in, I think.
…The place is rather splendid. It is just under the moors, on the edge of the few rough stony fields that go to the sea. It is quite alone, as a little colony.

[He goes on to plead with this letter’s recipients to rent the adjoining house to his, ‘the long house with the tower’, establishing two more friends with them, Heseltine and someone else, it will be like ‘a little monastery’. He even tells them who will occupy which rooms. ‘It would be so splendid if it could but come off: such a lovely place: our Rananim.’ There they could ‘strike some sort of root’ because ‘we must buckle to work.’ There must be no more ‘follies and removals and uneasinesses.’ I find his words here redolent of ‘uneasiness’. He concludes:]
…This country is pale grey granite, and gorse: there is something uralt and clean about it.
[His cottage, he proudly confides, ‘is only £5 a year.’ The larger house next door has a rent of £16 p.a. – chickenfeed, even then. Subsequent letters reveal why they were so cheap.]

[11 March? 1916, Tinner’s Arms, to JMM and KM] I told you all about the house: the great grey granite boulders, you will love them, the rough primeval hill behind us, the sea beyond the few hills, that have great boulders half submerged in the grass, and stone grey walls. There are many lambs under your house. They are quite tame. They stand and cock their heads at one, then skip into the air like little explosions…I’m sure we shall live on at Tregerthen a long while, years, a tiny settlement to ourselves. And the war will end before next summer…
[Yeah, right. More wishful thinking all round here. Even the lambs he later revises his opinion about, as we shall see.]

[Letters at this time relate how he’s been making furniture, cupboards, shelves, etc. He loved throwing himself into physical, manual labour; later he helped his farmer neighbours with harvesting and other farm work. This is all about the ‘freedom’ he seeks, not scenery per se. The first letter L. writes from the two-room cottage at Higher Tregerthen is dated 7 April, to Ottoline Morrell, when he says the JMMs have moved in, too, and they were busy decorating and putting things in order. ‘The Murrys like it also’, he claims – prematurely as it turned out.]

Lower Tregerthen farm, their neighbours

Lower Tregerthen farm, their neighbours

[16 April 1916, Higher Tregerthen, to Catherine Carswell] Here, doing one’s own things, in this queer outlandish Celtic country, I feel fundamentally happy and free, beyond.

[Letters now refer to the ominous wartime threats to this Cornish idyll; JMM is arrested by the police for evading conscription; he’s released when he shows rejection certificate. But General Conscription seems increasingly likely; L ruefully suggests he’d be used as a clerk, and often vents his spleen on jingoists and ‘patriotism’]

[18 April 1916, Higher Tregerthen, to O. Morrell] But one is impotent, and there is nothing left but to curse. Only, how one hates one’s King and Country: what a sickening false monster it is! How one feels nauseated with the bloody life, one stodge of lies, and falsehood. I don’t care a straw what the Germans do. Everything that is done nationally, in any sense, is now vile and stinking, whether it is England or Germany. One wants only to be left alone, only that…I hate the whole concern of the nation. Bloody false fools, I don’t care what they do, so long as I can avoid them, the mass of my countrymen: or any other countrymen.
I feel the war must end this year. But in one form or another war will never end now…It is very beautiful, all the gorse coming out on the hillsides. But one feels behind it all the dirty great paw of authority grasping nearer and nearer of jeopardy…the unspoken question all the time is how long do we hold out.

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.