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Resisting Tragedy: Lawrence, Marriage, Comedy and Art

Jane Costin

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“If life wasn’t funny, it would be tragic”
Stephen Hawking

1On 13 December 1910 Lawrence wrote to Violet Hunt, who had just suffered a nervous breakdown, thanking her for appreciating his play The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd and responding to her criticisms. The date is significant. As he makes clear in his letter, after a gruelling three weeks looking after his mother, whom he describes as “my love of loves,” she had died and he had buried her the previous day. He was wracked with sadness, which must have been intensified by guilt for, as we now believe, he and his sister Ada had administered a lethal dose of morphine to Mrs. Lawrence in order to mercifully end her suffering. However, in telling Hunt about another play (The Merry-Go-Round) he had begun “in the interminable watches of the bedroom,” Lawrence illuminates his determined respond to tragedy. Describing the play as “high comedy,” he suggests this demonstrates his belief, revealed in the same letter, that “When things get too intolerably tragic one flies to comedy, or at least to romance – and is cured, I hope of heavy heroics and Jeremiahishness” (1L 199-200).

2One aspect of Lawrence’s life that can be seen to have tragic elements was his marriage to Frieda. Lawrence suggests this was inevitable. Early on, in June 1912, just after he had eloped with Frieda, Lawrence recognised that it was the relationships between lovers that led to tragedy:

I don’t think the real tragedy is in dying, or in the perversity of affairs, like the woman one loves being the wife of another man – like the last act of Tristan. I think the real tragedy is the inner war which is waged between people who love each other, a war out of which comes knowledge. (1L 419)

3As we know, Lawrence and Frieda’s “inner war” made for a turbulent marriage. However, the knowledge Lawrence gleaned from this provided a basis for his depiction of love and marriage in his novels. Therefore this essay will explore some aspects of his marriage that could be described as tragic and, in looking at how Lawrence used his marriage as a resource for his writing, will suggest how he appears to resist the tragedy in his marriage by “flying” to comedy. This is perhaps most evident in his book Mr. Noon where his conflicts with Frieda are replicated in those that Gilbert has with Johanna. But Lawrence resists the tragedy of these disputes by turning them into comedy. Furthermore, in this mimicking of the battles between him and Frieda, which are reflected in those of Gilbert and Johanna, his reader is coerced into joining battle with the narrator. Thus by portraying what he saw as the inevitable tragedy of marriage in a comedic way, Lawrence created a new kind of reader which, in turn, led to a new form of his art.

4Lawrence became aware of his generally poor reception by critics and the public during and after the war. Therefore, he determined that if the readers he had didn’t appreciate his work, he was going to try and create a new kind of reader who would. Lydia Blanchard observes that Mr. Noon shows Lawrence beginning to “approach his material in a significantly different way” which marks “his important first step in trying to address a new public” (90-1). In Mr. Noon, Lawrence is actively challenging his reader with a novel “in which serious ideas are taken seriously, but also one in which those same ideas are subjected to a kind of furious comedy” (Blanchard 104). But as Paul Eggert notes, the comedy often retains a “brittleness” (138). In other words, Lawrence is forcing his reader to do battle with him, to consider what was tragic and what was comedic and to make judgements. As Lawrence wrote in 1925:

An author should be in among the crowd, kicking their shins or cheering them on to some mischief or merriment […] art, especially novels, are not little theatres where the reader sits aloft and watches […] whoever reads me will be in the thick of the scrimmage, and if he doesn’t like it – if he wants a safe seat in the audience – let him read somebody else. (5L 201)

5Much of the tragedy in Lawrence’s marriage was instigated by his desire for control. For despite protesting to Frieda that he was innocent of such charges, “I am not a tyrant. If I am, you will always have your own way, so my domain of tyranny isn’t wide” (1L 406), evidence of this trait in Lawrence is easy to find. His sister Ada remembers that, even as a child, Lawrence had an inherent sense that he knew best. Later, Katherine Mansfield remembers Frieda calling him, “little God Almighty” (Tomalin 148). His letters give many detailed instructions to friends on how to make their journeys and long descriptions of how he set up homes for other people. It has also been observed that when Lawrence was staying with Nina Witt in Taos he had a “compulsive habit” of “going into the kitchen to do the dishes and, while spouting his views on the evils of mechanisation and the bloodless American spirit, rearranging all the china and glass on the shelves” (Maddox 336). His books are also full of didactic passages and he was very open about his desire to use his work to change his readers’ perceptions. However, it was in his relationship with Frieda that Lawrence’s desire for control was more problematic because, as he came to learn, she was a woman he could not control. Indeed, for Lawrence, this was part of her attraction. Yet, at the same time, he could not resist trying to control her, which led to heart-ache for them both. But looking at those situations and imaginatively projecting possible alternative outcomes also helped Lawrence to create his fiction.

6Lawrence’s controlling nature emerged early in their relationship. Having probably first met Frieda on 17 March 1912, just over a month later he was urging her to tell her husband of their affair and, with breath-taking naivety, wrote to Edward Garnett on 29 April 1912 in the belief this had been accomplished:

She is going to tell him today […]. He is forty six, and has been handsome, is usually ironic, pessimistic and cynical, nice, I like him. He will hate me, but really he likes me at the bottom. He is forty six, and has had a bad illness a year or two back. He is getting elderly, and a bit tired. He doesn’t want a wife like Frieda, not to monopolise her. But he loves her, and in a jealous monogamistic fashion. (1L 388)

7The repetition of Weekley’s age (fourteen years older than Frieda), the mention of his illness, and getting tired and elderly suggests that Lawrence regarded someone twenty years older than himself as clearly past it and past needing to have a sexual relationship with his wife. The inference seems to be that Frieda has become an unsuitable wife for Weekley, whom she married in 1899 when she was just twenty, because her sexual appetite was greater than his – an idea that Lawrence seems to echo in his later letter to Weekley when he speaks of Frieda’s need to “live largely and abundantly, It is her nature” (IL 392).

8Lawrence’s comment to Garnett about Weekley loving Frieda “in a jealous monogamistic fashion” is also interesting. This suggests that Lawrence was aware that Weekley would not tolerate Frieda having an affair, and that (unlike Lawrence) he was ignorant of her earlier extramarital relationships. Yet although Lawrence knows all this, he is still putting pressure on Frieda to tell Weekley of their affair. Futhermore, history proved this criticism of Weekley to be somewhat hollow because, having discovered that he found Frieda’s commitment to free love difficult to accommodate, a monogamistic marriage with her was exactly what Lawrence wanted, but failed to achieve.

9Nevertheless, despite Lawrence’s confident statement in his letter to Garnett, Frieda didn’t tell Weekley about Lawrence on 29 April. She was undoubtedly more aware of the consequences of doing so, and certainly had far more to lose than Lawrence, whom she initially viewed as yet another welcome distraction from the sterility of her marriage rather than a grand passion. Frieda knew that if she left Weekley, it would cause a scandal following which it would be impossible for her to maintain her position in society; she would be snubbed and become a social outcast. Hence her understandable reluctance to take this irretrievable step. In fact, the telling of Weekley became something of a farcical sketch as was later detailed in Lawrence’s novel Mr. Noon. For, somewhat biblically, Lawrence was thrice denied. On two further occasions Frieda refused to tell her husband about him. About 6 May, Weekley sent Frieda (who was now in Germany) a telegram because he was suspicious that she was with a man. Her vague and ambivalent reply was not the one Lawrence was urging her to send telling Weekley of their affair and that she was going to leave him (EY 397). Then, probably on 7 May, after an embarrassing incident when they were caught in a forbidden area and accused of spying, a situation that was only resolved by the humiliating intervention of Frieda’s father, Lawrence sent Frieda a letter for her to pass on to Weekley telling him of their affair. But it appears that Frieda didn’t send the letter to Weekley or tell him of her affair with Lawrence (EY 398). Therefore, possibly on 8 May, less than two months after they met, Lawrence took control and, without Frieda’s consent, wrote to Weekley informing him of their relationship. Disingenuously, Lawrence stated: “Mrs. Weekley will have told you everything” and he went on to suggest that it was Frieda’s needs that made it necessary to end their marriage; “Mrs. Weekley is afraid of being stunted and not allowed to grow, and so she must live her own life […]. Mrs. Weekley must live largely and abundantly. It is her nature.” Claiming to be Weekley’s “distant friend,” Lawrence ends by suggesting that he doesn’t think they are doing any real wrong (1L 392).

10Whilst by sending Weekley this letter Lawrence finally did control Frieda’s break from her husband, it came at a very high cost. For she lost her children. Frieda knew she ran the risk of not being able to keep her children if she left Weekley. John Worthen notes that in the winter of 1907-8, when Gross was suggesting she left her husband, he advised “first taking her children to her mother in Germany so as to be able to retain them in her care after Weekley learned she had gone” (EY 378). So, left to her own devices, she could have done that. Or, as was possible under English Law, Frieda might have been able to arrange a separation, and then a divorce, and to keep her children, something Rosalind Baynes later achieved. But Lawrence took control and did not give her time to make arrangements to keep her children. He sent his letter to Weekley and by not thinking of the afterwards, an error he later indicated in Mr. Noon, Lawrence handed the legal advantage to Weekley and lost control over what happened next. After, unsuccessfully, trying to use their children as an incentive for Frieda to return to him, Weekley exerted his rights as stipulated by English Law at that time and, as Lawrence’s letter demonstrated that she was now being kept by another man, forbade her to ever see her children again. A decision that forever tainted the relationship between Lawrence and Frieda.

11Lawrence’s desire for control and, as he later admitted, not thinking of the consequences of his actions, resulted in heartbreak for Frieda and her grief over the loss of her children was overwhelming. It is clear that Lawrence recognised this was a tragic situation. In early July 1912, Lawrence wrote to Edward Garnett, to whom he confessed more than most, that he and Frieda “have been through alleys and avenues of tragedy” (1L 424), and just over a month later that “Still the tragedy simmers. This is a bellyful” (1L 440). However, Frieda’s misery over the loss of her children was intensified because Lawrence either could not, or chose not, to be sympathetic to her distress, as is evidenced by many of his letters. This toxic mix provided the basis for many of their vehement arguments. In addition, Frieda’s incessant attempts to provoke Lawrence to anger, which could also be seen as resistance to his control, created even more tension. As time went by, further strains were put on their relationship because Frieda did not conceive the children Lawrence anticipated in his letter to her in May 1912 when she thought she was pregnant:

Never mind about the infant. If it should come, we will be glad, and stir ourselves to provide for it – and if it should not come, ever – I shall be sorry […] I want you to have children to me – I don’t care how soon. I never thought I should have that definite desire. (1L 402-3)

12It is not known why Lawrence and Frieda did not have the children he clearly desired. In hindsight, Lawrence’s poor physical health arouses suspicion, and this may be what he believed. But, equally, it is true that in 1912 Frieda had not conceived for eight years, despite her desperate wish to have a child by her lover Gross (who fathered a child with her sister). Therefore, it is possible that complications in childbirth or some other problem may have rendered her infertile. But whatever the cause, Lawrence’s frustration over his childlessness is clearly revealed by his somewhat curt remark to Lady Cynthia Asquith in May 1919: “I had your letter prescribing childbirth – or rather childbearing – as a cure for all the ills: sorry it is denied me: must think of a substitute” (3L 358). Here, Lawrence finally accepting that he couldn’t control whether he and Frieda had children.

13Furthermore, from early in their relationship, Lawrence also realised that he could not control Frieda’s sexuality. Lawrence’s initial letter to Weekley hints at Frieda’s wantonness when he states that Frieda needed to live abundantly because it was her nature. Unlike Weekley, Lawrence was fully aware of Frieda’s affairs with a string of men during her marriage including Ernst Frick and William Enfield Dowson. However, it was her affair with Otto Gross in 1907 that proved most influential. Having been convinced by Gross that she was destined to become the muse of a genius, she also fully embraced his theories about the redemptive power of free love and her right to be free to love whomever she chose, whenever she chose. Although these ideas were alien to Lawrence’s puritanical nature, he chose to ignore this potential for problems in their relationship and attempted to accommodate Frieda’s philosophy. But his resentment of Frieda’s behaviour often breaks through his good intentions. For example, just a few days after telling Weekley of their affair, Lawrence and Frieda were living separately and he was pleading with her to understand that he did not want to have sex with her because he wanted to prepare himself for the seriousness of entering into a relationship with her:

Like the old knights, I seem to want a certain time to prepare myself – a sort of vigil with myself. Because it is a great thing for me to marry you not a quick, passionate coming together. Dear God, I am marrying you, now, don’t you see […] Give me till next week-end, at least. If you love me, you will understand. (1L 403)

14But it would appear that Frieda was unwilling to wait as Lawrence made further entreaties the following day, “Perhaps it is a bit of a monk in me […] Tell me you understand, and you think it is – at least perhaps best.” It also seems that Frieda was being remarkably frank. For, judging by Lawrence’s response, it would appear that she was telling him about her intention to have an affair with an old friend, Udo von Henning:

If you want Henning, or anybody, have him. But I don’t want anybody, till I see you. But all natures aren’t alike. But I don’t believe that even you are at your best, when you are using Henning as a dose of morphia – he’s not much else to you. But sometimes one needs a dose of morphia. I’ve had many a one. So you know best. Only, my dear, because I love you don’t be sick, do will to be well and sane. (1L 404)

15Lawrence’s alignment here of Henning with morphia is blatantly disparaging of both Frieda and Henning and there is even a suggestion that this proposed affair could be linked to sickness and insanity. However, Lawrence’s argument clearly failed to dissuade Frieda from her proposed course of action. This resulted in further comments from Lawrence the next day which, whilst praising Frieda’s tenacity in their argument, belittled her relationship with Henning and suggested that she had a rival for his affections:

You fling Henning in my teeth. I shall say Hannah is getting fonder and fonder of me […] So there! […] I think you’re rather horrid to Henning. You make him more babified – baby-fied. Or shall you leave him more manly?

16Lawrence then recounts a Maupassants story to Frieda of how a woman with breasts, painfully full of milk, and a hungry young workman “relieved each other and went their several ways” sourly commenting “Only where is Henning to get his next feed?” (1L 407). Lawrence ends his diatribe by attempting to elicit sympathy, “Am I horrid?” but his disapproval is clear and his emotional conflict is laid bare. Whilst he believed that Frieda should be free to live her life as she saw fit, and her sexually liberated ideas strongly attracted him at the same time, because her thinking was so opposed to his own puritanical nature and commitment to fidelity, he struggled with the implications of her theories.

17However, only a few weeks later, in August 1912, Lawrence contained his feelings somewhat better when Frieda told him, notably after the event, that she had sex with Harold Hobson during their walk through the Alps. Mark Kinkead-Weekes considers that this “must have been a painful blow to Lawrence, who had so recently come to believe that she was committed to him at last.” But if Mr. Noon is to be believed, much to Johanna’s/Frieda’s annoyance, Lawrence dismissed the significance of this relationship by labelling it as meaningless sex (Triumph to Exile 35 MN 276-7). Nevertheless, there is an indication that private discussions about Frieda’s theories of free love took place between her and Lawrence prior to Hobson joining them in Italy for Christmas that year. For whilst Lawrence recorded that they all had a good time, Frieda confessed to Garnett: “Yes, my theories have sadly altered, there are 2 sides to human love, one that wants to be faithful, the other wants to run, my running one was uppermost, but its going to be faithful now” (1L 498). But, as we know, Frieda did not alter her theories.

18The pain Frieda’s serial infidelity caused Lawrence is also suggested by an incident that took place, many years later, in Taos when Lawrence was uncharacteristically cruel to his dog Bibbles, who abandoned Lawrence by running off to see other dogs when she came into season. Describing this event in his poem “Bibbles,” Lawrence suggests he “dusted the dog with a juniper twig.” However, according to Knud Merrild’s detailed account, the reality was far more ugly and brutal and “almost resulted in a free-for-all fight between us” (Merrild 160-176). Both Merrild and Elaine Feinstein recognise the dog’s lack of “Fidelity, loyalty and attachment” as triggering Lawrence’s more personal, memories of betrayal (Feinstein 189). For Lawrence could not control Bibbles’s sexuality any more than he could control Frieda’s. Furthermore, as he had painfully learnt, he could not control their ability to have children together either, or persuade Weekley to allow Frieda access to her children.

19Yet despite all these problems – and their numerous arguments – when looking at Lawrence and Frieda’s turbulent marriage it becomes clear that Lawrence believed that Frieda was necessary to his life. Early on, Lawrence made a somewhat dramatic declaration to Garnett, “I do love her. If she left me, I do not think I should be alive six months hence […] I can’t bear it when she is away” (1L 421). Whilst such a tempestuous relationship had, perhaps inevitably, episodes when the strain became too much and one or the other of them left and it seemed as if they might part for ever, they never did. They both seemed to recognise their mutual dependency on each other. Perhaps even more importantly, they both seemed to be convinced that their relationship and their conflicts, were necessary to the creation of Lawrence’s art. For, in his writing, Lawrence can be seen resisting the tragedy of his marriage by flying to comedy and poking fun at his relationship with Frieda, and what was tragic becomes funny, and becomes art.

20Very relevant to this idea is John Worthen’s perceptive discussion in D. H. Lawrence in Context, of Lawrence’s autobiographical method of writing which explains how this process involved Lawrence’s use of multiple, autobiographical selves in his fiction. Observing that, in his writing, Lawrence “really enjoys tearing himself to shreds,” Worthen goes on to describe how “his writing not only recalled himself and his experiences, but identified the person he had been at various times and hoped he had moved on from” (28). Worthen sees this as, “one of the things that Lawrence meant by ‘one sheds ones sickness in books – repeats and presents again ones [sic] emotions, to be master of them’” (2L 90) (29). This idea of multiple selves is also closely tied to Lawrence’s preoccupation with rebirth. Furthermore, in writing about these selves, Lawrence makes many of them intentionally comedic. For example, when fictionally examining the early days of his relationship with Frieda in Mr. Noon, Lawrence appears to reconsider his statement to Garnett, quoted above, which suggested that Weekley was past having a satisfactory sexual relationship with Frieda. Instead, in this novel written in the early 1920s, Lawrence suggests that both Ernest Weekley and Frieda’s lover, Ernst Frick, were good lovers, by giving the two characters in the book who represent Ernest and Ernst, the names of Eberhard and Everard: obvious and amusing sexual puns on “ever hard.”

21Lawrence’s comedic take on his marriage is also seen in Kangaroo in the very humorous chapter “Harriett and Lovatt at Sea in Marriage,” when the controlling narrator gives advice to other married couples by suggesting possible roles for the male in sailing the perilous boat of marriage. Setting out three possible options; Lord and Master, Perfect Lover, and True Friend and Companion, the narrator goes on to amusingly discount all of them. The idea of a Lord and Master is dismissed because the narrator reasons it is “now rather out of date” as women had proved that a Lord and Master was no more than a grown-up child to be tolerated only so long as he was amusing. The narrator then points out that the second option, where the male tries to be the perfect lover, is even more of a fiasco failing “ninety-nine times out of a hundred.” However, the narrator considers that the last option, for the male to try and be the True Friend and Companion, takes the boat of marriage into “grey waters,” for although this option is recommended to “all those married couples who truly and sincerely want to get on,” Lawrence’s description of this kind of marriage as “a very nearly perfect limited liability Company” indicates that this relationship, although stable, is passionless, lacking in true emotion and ultimately stultifying (K 169-171). The narrator concludes, that for a happy married life, after the first couple of years of “perfect love” it is necessary for the woman to take the helm of the ship of marriage, and for the male to revert to a form of Lord and Master in which the woman is in control, but allows the male a semblance of domination, but only when it suits her (170). In all this, it is hard not to see Lawrence as the narrator and the advice as what he had learnt from his relationship with Frieda. It is presented as comedy, yet it also has its dark side as it suggests that the dreams of young, passionate lovers, seemingly inevitably, turn to ashes.

22Nevertheless, Lawrence has the narrator continue the somewhat black comedy with a discussion of what kind of vessel this ship of marriage was and, although no decision is made, the narrator’s insistence that it is not a steam boat seems to offer a rather risqué image that condemns infidelity in marriage: “she was not a steam boat with a funnel, as most vessels are nowadays, sailing because they are stoked” (K 171).

23In discussing Lawrence’s comedic writing in Kangaroo and elsewhere, Eggert points out that, contrary to many critics’ assumptions, Lawrence’s philosophy, “did not come from a single speaking position” and considers that his writing was “more chameleon, mercurial, even at time slippery, than has been recognised.” This leads to a difficulty in determining where the implied author stands, for as Wayne Booth observes, “again and again Lawrence simply surrenders the telling of the story to another mind, a mind neither clearly approved nor clearly repudiated yet presented in a tone that demands judgement.” Yet, drawing on Bakhtin’s concept of dialogism – the contrary voices within the texture of novelistic prose – Eggert explains that “behind the often earnest and passionate engagement with ideas and intense emotions – which, for so many people, is the Lawrentian trademark – lurks a form of comedy,” although he identifies that often “there remains a brittleness in the comedy” (Eggert 134-8). Thus we see that Lawrence’s early encouragement to trust the tale not the teller, as Eggert highlights here, is untrustworthy because “the reader finds reliable ground neither with the tale nor the teller. Lawrence’s relationships with his material and audience are too slippery or unpredictable – too comic – for that” (Eggert 144).

24Eggert also points to Mr. Noon as a novel which displays Lawrence’s “comic-contemptuous attitude to his audience and its expectations” (Eggert 138). Naturally, this is a fictionalised account and, particularly in the light of the earlier discussion about the slipperiness of Lawrence’s writing, a reader must exercise care in assimilating the details and opinions given in the text. But the amount of detail given also encourages a reader to join battle with the narrator and form an opinion. For, in the second part of Mr. Noon we find many details of the arguments between Lawrence and Frieda. For example, the dispute over the telegraph Frieda sent Weekley not telling him about her affair with Lawrence (MN 147-151); the arguments she had with Lawrence regarding her commitment to free love (MN 164-166); squabbles about their sexual incompatibility (MN 189-192), male love (MN 210); and the constrictions of sexual desire (MN 212). Interestingly, there is also a degree of circumspection; perhaps most obviously in the emphasis Gilbert places on the need to think of the afterwards – something Lawrence spectacularly failed to do when he wrote to Weekley.

25Whilst the many arguments Mr. Noon depicts might point to a tragic relationship between Gilbert and Johanna, that view is strongly resisted by the style of writing, which is very humorous and also evidences the slipperiness of the narrator. For example, when Johanna’s older sister Louise is concerned that Gilbert and Johanna’s relationship “will be a tragedy for both of you,” Gilbert firmly replies, “I’m not tragical. I don’t believe in tragedy” (MN 195). This declaration is meant to be funny – and ludicrous – as is repeatedly underlined, firstly by Louise’s response, “Can there be no tragedy without a belief in tragedy?”, then by the narrators observation that Gilbert “had never thought of it” and finally by Johanna’s resigned and patronising riposte, delivered partially in German – perhaps to mask her criticism, “Ha-a! Poor Everard! Er ist doch so scher” [But he is so difficult] (MN 195). However, Gilbert’s hopelessly naive comment can also be seen as a defiant statement of intent; he was not going to submit to tragedy, whatever the cicumstances. Similarly, Lawrence was not going to submit to tragedy – in his marriage or elsewhere. Furthermore, in literarily resisting the tragedy in his marriage by turning it to comedy, Lawrence created a new form of his art, which, perhaps, gives some justification to the means of its production.

26For as Lydia Blanchard astutely observes, in part two of Mr. Noon Lawrence used uncomfortable aspects of his relationship with Frieda to challenge his reader in a similar way to how Frieda challenged him. Blanchard recognises that Noon’s, insistence that Johanna, “write the truth to her husband,” reflects Lawrence’s desire in wanting “the truth for his reader to confront […] and be confronted by” (Blanchard 99-100). To do this, Lawrence begins in Part I of the novel with a seemingly comforting address of “dear reader” or “gentle reader,” a literary device he also used in Aaron’s Rod written in 1918. As Blanchard observes “the narrator mostly suggests a kind of sarcastic bond with his reader – ‘Don’t you agree, dear reader?’” (MN 26), suggesting a “common ground in their values” and “concern for what his reader might be learning from the text” (Blanchard 93). Indeed, as she notes, “In Part I the narrator had argued that life should imitate art, that we should all learn to spoon from Noon and Emmie” (Blanchard 96). However, this all changes in part two of the novel when Lawrence “asks for a different relationship,” readers discovering that “the narrator “will not fulfil the readers expectations” and “will not be intimidated by his reader and even refuses (at times) to play the conventional explanatory role of the omnipresent narrator” (Blanchard 96-7). Instead, Lawrence “creates a conflict between the narrator and narratee similar to Noon’s conflict with Johanna, as well as Lawrence’s conflicts with Frieda” and “the battle between the narrator and the narratee has become, explicitly, as important as the battle between Noon and Johanna” (Blanchard 96,98). As Blanchard notes, in the final paragraph of the novel Lawrence makes it quite clear that he is attempting to create a new reader for his work from the rebirth of his “gentle reader” and she concludes that “Part II rejects art in favour of life, specifically the lesson Lawrence had learned from life” (Blanchard 99). Thus Mr. Noon develops into an experiment in confrontation where Lawrence has the narrator interrogating the motives of the characters and directly questioning the reader. Blanchard concludes that Part II of Mr. Noon marks an important step for Lawrence in trying to address a new public by trying to create the readers he wanted, which led to a new form of his art: “Lawrence consciously creates a reader adversary […] who will join issues with him in the creation of life and art” (Blanchard 96).

27It is a pity that Part II of Mr. Noon waited over sixty years before finally being published in 1984 because, as Blanchard observes, it “shows Lawrence entering into what Robert Alter has called ‘The Other Great Tradition’: the tradition of the playful, self-conscious, richly comic novel of writers such as Fielding, Sterne and Joyce” (Blanchard 90). In that Lawrence also used the details of his relationship with Frieda as one basis for the creation of this fiction, it also suggests how Lawrence resisted the tragedy in his marriage by flying to comedy.

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Eggert, Paul. “Comedy and provisionality: Lawrence’s address to his audience and material in his Australian novels,” in Lawrence and Comedy. Eds Paul Eggert and John Worthen. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996.

Feinstein, Elaine. Lawrence’s Women: The Intimate Life of D. H. Lawrence. London: Flamingo, 1994.

Kinkead-Weekes, Mark. Triumph to Exile 1912-1922. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Lawrence, D. H. The Letters of D. H. Lawrence Volume I: September 1901 – May 1913. Ed. James T. Boulton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

—. The Letters of D. H. Lawrence Volume III: October 1916 – June 1921. Eds. James T. Boulton and Andrew Robertson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

—. Kangaroo. Ed. Bruce Steele. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

—. Mr. Noon. Ed. Lindeth Vasey. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

Maddox, Brenda. The Married Man: A Life of D.H. Lawrence. London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1994.

Merrild, Knud. A Poet and Two Painters: A Memoir of D. H. Lawrence. London: George Routledge & Sons Ltd., 1938.

Tomalin, Claire. Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life. London: Penguin, 2012.

Worthen, John. “The Life in the Writing,” in D.H. Lawrence in Context. Ed. Andrew Harrison. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

—. D. H. Lawrence: The Early Years 1885-1912, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

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Jane Costin, « Resisting Tragedy: Lawrence, Marriage, Comedy and Art »Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 52 | 2021, mis en ligne le 21 janvier 2021, consulté le 28 novembre 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Jane Costin

Independent Scholar, UK

Jane Costin’s particular interests are in Lawrence and place and the connections between his work and the visual arts. Her recent publications include an article on Lawrence and Henry Moore and a contribution to a book concerning Lawrence’s cultural translation of one of Verga’s stories. Jane was a guest editor for the 2017 edition of the Journal of D.H. Lawrence Studies which published papers from the international conference she organised in Cornwall in 2016.

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