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Lawrence in Cornwall, 1916-1917: The Battle of the Biographies

Keith Cushman

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1The third international D. H. Lawrence conference took place in Montpellier, France, in June 1990. One night during the conference I was sitting with friends at a table on the elegant Place de la Comédie. Mark Kinkead-Weekes ambled by and stopped to chat. I asked him what approach he was taking in the second volume of the Cambridge Biography. He replied that he wanted to demonstrate that Paul Delany’s interpretation of Lawrence’s life in D. H. Lawrence’s Nightmare – a book that he said he admired – was wrong.

2For many decades the standard Lawrence biography was The Intelligent Heart (1954, revised in 1974 as The Priest of Love) by the pioneer Lawrence scholar Harry T. Moore. The two titles of Moore’s biography point to what came to seem his simplified view of the writer. Moore’s portrait of D. H. Lawrence – influential for many years – presented him rather uncomplicatedly as a creative spirit, life-affirmer, and truth-teller. Paul Delany published D. H. Lawrence’s Nightmare: The Writer and His Circle in the Years of the Great War in 1978, just four years after The Priest of Love. Delany’s version of Lawrence during the war years is a much more complex and problematic figure than the subject of Harry Moore’s biography. Surely Delany was looking over his shoulder at Moore. Mark Kinkead-Weekes’s D. H. Lawrence: Triumph to Exile, 1912-1922 followed in 1996. Kinkead-Weekes’s portrait of Lawrence during the Great War is strikingly different from Paul Delany’s, which seems to confirm his remark to me that night in Montpellier almost twenty-six years ago. That brief exchange is also the basis of my paper. I will consider the two biographers’ presentations of Lawrence during his stay in Cornwall from February 1916 until the authorities expelled him and Frieda in October 1917. In many ways the two biographies are not comparable. D. H. Lawrence’s Nightmare is concerned with only the four years of the Great War. The book is 388 pages long, 420 including notes and index. The Cornwall sections take up 136 pages. Kinkead-Weekes’s D. H. Lawrence: Triumph to Exile is the massive middle volume of the standard three-volume Cambridge Biography, each by a different biographer. The book begins with Lawrence setting out for the continent with Frieda von Richthofen Weekley in May 1912 and concludes with their departure for Ceylon in February 1922. Kinkead-Weekes’s text is 718 pages long; appendices, notes, and index bring the page count up to a stunning 943. The section titled “Cornwall” fills 120 pages (though in smaller type than is found in Nightmare).

3Lawrence’s war-time “circle” – e.g., Kot, Katherine Mansfield, Middleton Murry, Lady Ottoline, Bertrand Russell, Philip Heseltine – are present in Delany’s title. He tells their stories in greater detail than does Kinkead-Weekes. Meanwhile Kinkead-Weekes includes much more critical analysis of Lawrence’s writings than does Delany (and not exclusively from a biographical perspective). Obviously Kinkead-Weekes had countless more documents to draw on than Delany did eighteen years earlier. Indeed the first volume of the Cambridge Letters wasn’t published until 1979, the year after D. H. Lawrence’s Nightmare. Delany had to use the not fully reliable texts of Lawrence’s letters in Harry Moore’s edition of the Collected Letters (1962). He also drew – via microfilm – on Gerald Lacy’s Analytical Calendar of the Letters of D. H. Lawrence (the document that was the starting-point for the Cambridge Letters). Of course Lawrence had a good deal to be distressed about during the Great War. He was intensely hostile to the war and did not conceal his hostility. He suffered from poor health and became desperate financially. He and Frieda were often forced to depend on the kindness of friends and family. The Rainbow, published in 1915, was declared obscene and destroyed by court order. Women in Love could not find a publisher. The Lawrences, suspected of being spies, were evicted from Cornwall late in 1917. He grew to hate England, but he and Frieda did not receive permission to leave until the war was over. No wonder the chapter in Kangaroo that fictionalizes Lawrence’s wartime experiences is called “The Nightmare.” As Lawrence wrote in that chapter, “It was in 1915 the old world ended” (K 216). The new world he yearned for was nothing but a fantasy.

4Although all biographies have a point of view, I believe that the authorial points of view in D. H. Lawrence’s Nightmare and Triumph to Exile are particularly noticeable. I admire both books. My main goal is to demonstrate how the two biographers’ different readings and presentations of available materials can produce very different portraits of Lawrence. Still, with no disrespect intended toward the late Mark Kinkead-Weekes, I confess upfront that I find Delany’s version of Lawrence more persuasive though sometimes overstated. D. H. Lawrence’s Nightmare, brisk and engaging, remains both readable and credible almost 40 years after it was published. One could wish that Delany had provided more dates to establish more clearly exactly when something was taking place. Triumph to Exile is comprehensive, magisterial, and perhaps a little Olympian. Reviewers criticized the biography’s great length, which eliminated general readers from its audience. But Lawrence scholars can only be grateful for Kinkead-Weekes’s wealth of detail and sympathetic portrait of the writer.

5In my reading of the Cornwall pages of D. H. Lawrence’s Nightmare, Lawrence seems erratic, mercurial, angry, naïve, misanthropic, injudicious, and sometimes something like mad. As Delany observes early in his Cornwall section, “misanthropy, sometimes to the point of mania, became Lawrence’s predominant mood during 1916” (Delany 191). Nothing remotely like this sentence can be found in Triumph to Exile. In contrast Kinkead-Weekes’s Lawrence seems centered, courageous, creative, perceptive, sane, and – against all odds – hopeful about the future. No doubt Kinkead-Weekes was also responding to the decline in Lawrence’s reputation while attempting to prove that Delany’s portrait of Lawrence was wrong.

6Here I can illustrate my readings of the two biographies only selectively. First, I will give examples of the two biographers’ handling of Lawrence’s famously incendiary, violently rhetorical letters during the Cornwall years. Then I will discuss in some detail their very different treatments of the notorious episode in early May 1916 in which Lawrence beat Frieda, as witnessed by Katherine Mansfield and reported in letters to Kot and Lady Ottoline. Kinkead-Weekes points out that this was “the worst instance of marital violence by Lawrence of which we have evidence” (K-W 319).

Letters from Cornwall

7In their Introduction to Volume III of the Letters, James T. Boulton and Andrew Robertson observe that “Lawrence’s virulence and misanthropy are still to be seen [in the letters]. He is in a black fury with the world; humanity is rat-like; he prophesies that man’s self-destructiveness will continue for many generations; and the war itself is stupid, monstrous and contemptible.” These extravagantly angry letters “recall comparable outbursts about the war” in Volume II. Lawrence was aware of the unadulterated rage in many of his letters. On 11 October 1916 he wrote Middleton Murry that he knew Murry understood “all right [his] violent letters” (L ii. 662). Boulton and Robertson also accurately observe that the main characteristics of the war-time letters are not “railing and savage indignation” (L iii, 1, 2). Nevertheless, as John Worthen observes, Lawrence’s “acute hatred of the world at war” could lead to a sense of strangeness, even madness at times” (Worthen 182). The savage letters stand out because of the power and eloquence of their rhetorical excess.

8Late in 1915 the government required all males of military age to “attest” to their willingness to serve King and Country if so required. On 11 December – two weeks before the move to Cornwall – Lawrence went to a recruiting station “to be attested and to get a military exemption.” In the letter Lawrence wrote Lady Ottoline on 12 December he explains that he “hated it so much, after waiting nearly two hours, that [he] came away.” He was struck by his feeling that “the men were very decent.” But Lawrence also “hated the situation almost to madness, so vile and false and degrading, such an utter travesty of action on my part, waiting even to be attested that I might be rejected.” Impulsively, he left the building without being attested. As he climbed onto a bus he felt as if he “had triumphed” and had “the victory” (L ii. 474).

9How do the two biographies present this experience? Delany quotes Lawrence’s description of the episode quite fully, including his tart assertion that he “hated the situation almost to madness.” Delany emphasizes that sentence – with its underscored reference to near-madness – by beginning a lengthy extract from the letter with it (Delany 175). In contrast Kinkead-Weekes’s account omits the phrases that begin “hated it so much” and also “hated the situation almost to madness” (K-W 294). The episode seems very different with the sympathy toward the men intact, the hatred and near-madness removed, and Lawrence’s triumph standing alone. This difference epitomizes the two biographers’ portraits of Lawrence during the war years. It is also typical of what Kinkead-Weeks includes and what he leaves out.

10On 27 September 1916 Lawrence responded to a letter from Katherine Mansfield, describinghimself as “Lazarus sitting up very sick in his sepulchre.” This self-portrait leads to a vivid metaphorical rendering of the state of the world:

It is a great and foul beast, this world that has got us, and we are very few. But with subtlety, we can get round the neck of the vast obscenity at last, and strangle it dead. And then we can build a new world, to our own minds: we can initiate a new order of life, after our own hearts. (L ii. 658)

11Delany quotes this passage and says that “[taken] literally, this may seem pure megalomania, like the ‘magic thinking’ of infants or savages who feel they can create and destroy external reality by a simple exercise of their will.” But he surprisingly lends a bit of credence to this “world-changing idea of salvation through spiritual renewal and erotic fulfillment” (Delany 250). Indeed Lawrence often proceeds from jeremiad to a vision of “a new order, a new earth” (L ii. 658). Typically, Kinkead-Weekes quotes the hopeful vision but not the jeremiad. Although Mansfield figures in Triumph to Exile in September 1916, Kinkead-Weekes neither quotes nor refers to this letter.

12On 4 September 1916 Lawrence sent Kot one of the most shocking letters he ever wrote. He seems to take pleasure in getting carried away with his appalling fantasy:

When I see people in the distance, walking along the path through the fields to Zennor, I want to crouch in the bushes and shoot them silently with invisible arrows of death. I think truly the only righteousness is the destruction of mankind, as in Sodom. [….] [The people] creep in, the obstructions, the people, like bugs they creep invidiously in, and they are too many to crush. I see them – fat men in white flannel trousers – pères de famille – and the familles – passing along the field-path and looking at the scenery. Oh, if one could but have a great box of insect powder, and shake it over them, in the heavens, and exterminate them. (L ii. 650).

13Delany quotes this letter at some length and comments that Lawrence’s “perfect androphobia (L ii. 650) “was now a settled dogma of his philosophy” (Delany 249). Kinkead-Weekes neither quotes nor refers to this letter. On 6 November 1916 Lawrence responded with particular virulence to a letter he had received from his fellow novelist E. M. Forster:

There ought to be a flood to drown mankind, for there is no health in it, and certainly no proud courage: Plenty of the slave courage of death, but no proud courage of life [] Lord, let there be a flood to drown them all. (L iii. 20-21)

14After acknowledging that he feels only “malice and spite” and wondering whether the war will end during their lifetimes, Lawrence continues:

I am in a black fury with the world, as usual. One writes, one works, one gives ones hand to people. And the swine are rats, they bite one’s hand. They are rats, sewer-rats, with all the foul courage of death and corruption, darkness and sewers. (L iii. 21)

15Nightmare quotes this letter to Forster at some length. Triumph to Exile neither quotes nor refers to this letter. Let me offer one final example of Delany and Kinkead-Weekes’s treatments of Lawrence’s Cornwall letters. Early in his stay in Cornwall Lawrence wrote J. D. Bereford that he didn’t “like these people here. They have got the souls of insects. One feels, if they were squashed, they would be a whitey mess, like when a black- beetle is squashed. They are all afraid – that’s why they are so mean ” (L ii. 552). Lawrence adds that “the only thing to do is to use them strictly as servants.” But he wishes “you could exterminate all the natives” (L ii. 552). Four days later Lawrence apologized to Beresford’s wife for the letter, politely suggesting that the locals had “a very beautiful softness and gentleness.” Kinkead-Weekes accepts Lawrence’s explanation that he had written the first letter “in a fit of Irritation” (L ii. 559, K-W 311) at the locals (Fair enough). With some irony Delany points to the excessiveness of Lawrence’s fulminations by noting that the “immediate occasions of these sentiments was the high cost of renting houses” (Delany 209).

16In the middle of the Great War Lawrence “loathe[d] the world outside” and “longed to create a new world, from the spirit” (L. ii. 554). Lawrence’s loathing of the world rarely finds its way into Triumph to Exile.

“I’ll give you a dab on the cheek to quiet you, you dirty hussy.”

17In early April 1916 Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry joined the Lawrences in Zennor. As John Worthen remarks, “the dream of a settled, creative life for the four worked out badly” (Worthen 176). Above all, Mansfield was horrified by Lawrence and Frieda’s behavior. In May she wrote Beatrice Campbell that

once you start talking I cannot describe the frenzy that comes over him. He simply raves, roars, beats the table, abuses everybody – But thats not such a great matter. What makes these attacks insupportable is the feeling one has at the back of one’s mind that he is completely out of control – swallowed up in an acute insane irritation. (KM Letters 261)

18In a letter to Lady Ottoline, Mansfield described what she perceived as Lawrence’s madness: “left to himself Lawrence goes mad. When he is with people he expands to the warmth and the light in them, […] but left to himself he is cold and dark and desolate” (KM Letters 292).Mansfield and Murry departed in mid-June, less than ninety days after they had arrived. On 11 May 1916 Katherine wrote Kot an account of the shocking violent incident that she had witnessed six days earlier. Kinkead-Weekes reproduces the full text of this letter. Delany quotes the subsequent version of the incident that Mansfield wrote to Lady Ottoline on 17 May. Mansfield introduces her account of the episode to Kot by saying that “Lawrence isn’t healthy any more; he has gone a little bit out of his mind. If he is contradicted about anything he gets into a frenzy, quite beside himself and it goes on until he is so exhausted that he cannot stand and has to go to bed and stay there until he has recovered” (KM Letters 262).

19The incident began at teatime with Frieda offering a provoking literary opinion. She said that “Shelleys Ode to a Skylark was false.” When this remark set Lawrence off (“you don’t know anything about it”), Frieda told him to get out of the house, “you little God Almighty you.” Lawrence responded: “I’ll give you a dab on the cheek to quiet you, you dirty hussy.” Frieda showed up at the Mansfield-Murry cottage at dinner time, saying that “it is all over for ever.” Suddenly Lawrence showed up and “beat her – he beat her to death – her head and face and breast and pulled out her hair.” They “dashed into the kitchen and round and round the table,” and he “thumped the big soft woman.” Then Lawrence and Frieda subsided into chairs with neither saying a word and Frieda sobbing. Fifteen minutes later Lawrence “asked Murry a question about French literature.” Murry answered, and then “little by little, the three drew up to the table.” Frieda poured herself some coffee, and she and Lawrence “glided into talk, began to discuss some ‘very rich but very good macaroni cheese’.” The next morning Lawrence was “running about taking her up her breakfast to her bed and trimming her a hat” (KM Letters 263-64).

20The slightly different version of the incident that Mansfield reported to Lady Ottoline six days later includes more violence. When Lawrence objects to Frieda’s interpretation of “To a Skylark, ”Mansfield straightaway “felt like Alice between the Cook and the Duchess. Saucepans and frying pans hurtled through the air.” In this version Lawrence but not Frieda joins Mansfield and Murry for dinner. Lawrence says, “I’ll cut her throat if she comes near this table.” When Frieda walks “up and down outside the house in the dusk” after dinner, “suddenly, dreadfully – L. rushed at her and began to beat her. They ran up and down out on the road, scuffling.” Frieda screams for Murry and Mansfield, “but Lawrence never said a word. He kept his eyes on her and beat her.” Then follows the scene in the kitchen with Lawrence “quite green with fury” and swinging “his arm forward.” His rage subsides, and the conversation begins, including the “very rich, very good, but very extravagant macaroni cheese they had once eaten.” Mansfield concludes that the Lawrences “have degraded each other and brutalised each other beyond Words, but —all the same—I never did imagine any one so thrive on a beating as Frieda seemed to thrive” (KM Letters 267-68). We are no longer talking about violent rhetoric in letters.

21Biographers typically provide some context for Mansfield’s observations of Lawrence and Frieda. Jeffrey Meyers points out that “Katherine was most disturbed by the fact that [Lawrence’s outbursts] resembled the kind of behavior she hated and feared in herself (Meyers 151), which perhaps contributed to the distress in her letters. Worthen makes the same point in D. H. Lawrence: The Life of an Outsider (Worthen 179). Michael Squires and Lynn Talbot quote Mansfield’s biographer Claire Tomalin, who says that Mansfield “was a bold and elaborate inventor of false versions” (Squires/Talbot 147). No matter what, Lawrence and Frieda’s alarming behavior in Cornwall is difficult for biographers to sort out.

22Delany has surprisingly little to say about the horrifying incident as Mansfield reported it to Ottoline. He rather blandly remarks that Mansfield did not believe in “settling disagreements by confrontation.” He also observes that Mansfield and Murry were “about to pass through a crisis of their own, though in a very different style from the Lawrences’ sadomasochistic “rough-and-tumbles” (Delany 230). The colorful, rather dubious phrase, “sadomasochistic rough-and-tumbles,” seems to suggest that the Lawrences regularly engaged in the behavior that Mansfield witnessed. There is no evidence that that was true during their time in Cornwall. Furthermore, “sadomasochistic” casually places the Lawrences in a particular psychological category without providing evidence for doing so. Like other biographers, Delany acknowledges Mansfield’s fear that she was temperamentally akin to Lawrence. He quotes from her 1918 Journal: “My fits of temper are really terrifying. I had one this (Sunday) morning and tore up a page of the book I was reading – and absolutely lost my head” (KM Journal 146). Nevertheless, Delany does not question the veracity of Mansfield’s account.

23Kinkead-Weekes quotes the full text of Mansfield’s letter to Kot with a particular aim in mind: he wants to ameliorate negative responses to Lawrence’s behavior as presented in the letter. Yes, it is standard for Lawrence biographers to supply some context in their discussions of this letter. In Triumph to Exile the context proceeds for seven-and-a-half pages. Kinkead-Weekes begins with a question: “how are we to understand episodes like this on a level deeper than gossipy anecdote” (K-W 320). “Gossipy anecdote” qualifies as a rather surprising biographer’s phrase. So does “big rumpus”(K-W 321), another phrase Kinkead-Weekes employs to describe the incident.

24How does he answer his question? First, the reader needs to “see through very different points of view” (K-W 320) and consider how Katherine, Murry, Frieda, and Lawrence were relating to each other at this moment in time. Furthermore, Frieda started it! She knew that “To a Skylark” “occupied a crucial role in [Lawrence’s] dialectic thought,” and consequently “she was the aggressor” (322). The reader must also be wary of the fact that Mansfield’s letter is a “story” and creates “a splendidly vivid scene, a little masterpiece of writing” (320, 323). How much fiction went into this fiction writer’s account of the incident? In addition Katherine Mansfield “hid herself behind masks; she constantly played roles and told whoppers” (323). And “it ought to be possible to see, fairly, where gossip is blind, an opposition so radical that neither side could tell the truth about the other” (325-26).

25Each of these contextualizations raises questions. The fact that Frieda was taunting Lawrence with her criticism of “To a Skylark” surely does not qualify her to be declared the “aggressor.” Lawrence did the beating. Mansfield’s skill and instinct as a fiction writer color her accounts of the incident, but that does not mean that she was not reporting what she had witnessed. She wrote essentially the same account of the incident six days apart. Although Mansfield was psychologically fragile, her horror is unmistakably genuine. And although she “constantly played roles and told whoppers,” there is no reason to believe that she was playing a role or telling a “whopper” in her accounts of Lawrence’s violence on that day in Cornwall. What evidence suggests that Mansfield’s eyewitness letters to Kot and Lady Ottoline can be characterized as “gossip”? Kinkead-Weekes’s effort to “explain” the incident reads as an attempt to explain it away. The length and variety of his explanations only seem to underscore this motive.

26One other contextualization merits further discussion. Kinkead-Weekes observes that Mansfield and Murry simply didn’t understand the dynamic of Lawrence and Frieda’s relationship.

Lawrence wanted […] a spontaneous opposition-and-relation of contraries who nevertheless remained committed to each other; even the sort of violence, if it came to that, which could blow the sky clean of friction, and let comradeship and tenderness revive; whereas repression bred malice and treachery – did it not? So it was that the Murrys found “degrading,“disgusting and “indecent, not merely the absence of the gentleness and restraint they prized but, even more, that for the Lawrences violence did not imply severance.[…] (Kinkead-Weekes 327)

27And besides that, Frieda “too, of course, could be physically as well as verbally violent” (327).

28In Literary Lives: Biography and the Search for Understanding, David Ellis (author of Dying Game, the third volume of the Cambridge Biography) discusses “D. H. Lawrence’s famous rages, and the tendency he had in them to hit his wife.” Ellis offers “four approaches to making sense” of this behavior by way of illustrating the multiplicity of possible biographical explanations. Perhaps Lawrence’s “attachment to his mother” and the “way his feelings progressed from passionate devotion to bitter resentment” were the cause. Perhaps the violence can “be assigned to the [tuberculosis] bacillus,” for in Lawrence’s day tuberculosis was associated “with ungovernable rage.” Perhaps the “domestic violence” that was sometimes part of the “mining culture of Nottinghamshire” (Ellis Lives 28) was to blame.

29Ellis devotes twice as much space to the fourth possibility as he does to these three. Like Kinkead-Weekes, he points out that “Lawrence and Frieda made obedience to true feeling the cornerstone of their moral system. Anything that was genuinely felt could not by definition be wrong.” Lawrence understood that “obedience to true feeling” would sometimes lead to the acceptance of violent behavior. Taking Lawrence and Frieda’s views on repression into account, “one could argue that there was far more involved in their famous quarrels, plate-throwing, etc. than bad temper” (Ellis Lives 29). Once the fight was over, Lawrence and Frieda were soon enough reminiscing about that “very rich but very good macaroni cheese.” The next day – guiltily, one surmises – Lawrence was taking Frieda breakfast in bed and trimming a hat for her. Mansfield had witnessed a particularly brutal example of a pattern of behavior, not an alarming incident on the path to marital “severance.”

30Kinkead-Weekes remarks that “we can perhaps see through [Mansfield’s] eyes how the Lawrences’ lack of control would horrify.” Mansfield “recoiled from” violence (K-W 323). In my opinion this practically non-stop violent behavior would have been horrifying to anyone. Kinkead-Weekes also implies that Mansfield would not have been horrified if she had only understood that the Lawrences’ shocking behavior was grounded in their belief that true feeling, no matter how extreme, must be expressed. Calmly comprehending the unfolding scene from that perspective would have been a formidable task indeed.

31Kinkead-Weekes devotes seven-and-a-half pages to contextualizing, explaining, and arguing for deeper understanding of the incident because he wants to recover Lawrence in Cornwall into the community of the always sane. In my opinion he tries too hard and too long, while his motive is all too clear. His treatment of the Cornwall period is not the only part of Triumph to Exile in which he seems committed to sanitizing Lawrence. I believe that this sub rosa aim detracts from Kinkead-Weekes’s great biographical accomplishment.

32And what of Delany’s D. H. Lawrence’s Nightmare? While Kinkead-Weekes totally shies away from the language of madness and mania, Delany hones in on it. For example, Kinkead- Weekes briefly quotes Lawrence’s letter to Lady Cynthia of 3 August 1915, six months before the move to Cornwall. He includes one sentence that quotes from and paraphrases Lawrence’s diatribe about the uncleanness “we have super-imposed on the clean world.” In contrast Delany quotes most of two full paragraphs from this letter with its vivid disease imagery.

33Lawrence complains that

One can no longer live with people: it is too hideous and nauseating. Owners and owned, they are like the two sides of a ghastly disease. One feels a sort of madness come over one, as if the world had become hell. (L ii. 376)

34Lawrence’s feeling of “a sort of madness com [ing] over one” is not in Kinkead-Weekes. In a letter to Bertrand Russell on 19 February 1916 Lawrence says that he feels “as if we were all living on the edge of a precipice.” He adds that if he is forced to do non-military work for the war effort, he would “end [his] days in prison or a madhouse” (L ii. 547). Kinkead-Weekes quotes from this letter, but neither the precipice nor the madhouse appears in his excerpt. Choices such as these – and they are regular – make for a sanitized Lawrence.

35Delany also quotes letters about Lawrence that refer to his “madness.” Needless to say, Lawrence’s acquaintances – and Lawrence himself – bandied about the term “madness” in a loose, totally unclinical way. On 22 April 1916 Philip Heseltine wrote in a letter to the composer Frederick Delius that “the man really must be a bit mad” (Nehls 351). Murry’s letter to Ottoline about his and Katherine’s decision to move to the south coast of Cornwall mentions that “there have been scenes between him and Frieda which were simply nervous mad, which, having once happened, should have made it inconceivable that they should still live together” (Delany 232). Delany also quotes at length from a letter that Esther Andrews wrote Mabel Dodge Sterne (not yet Luhan) about Lawrence in 1922 when the Lawrences were en route to Taos. Andrews described Lawrence as “one of the most fascinating men I ever met” but warned Mabel that “at the slightest touch of adverse criticism or hostility, Lawrence becomes violent. His vituperation is magnificent” (Delany 295). These sentences cannot be found in Triumph to Exile.

36It is not as if the subtitle of D. H. Lawrence’s Nightmare should be A Portrait of the Author as a Temporary Madman. Delany’s presentation of the Cornwall period is punctuated by times when Lawrence has gone over the edge, but otherwise he seems stable and in control. Nevertheless, Nightmare does strongly suggest that – in Delany’s words – the stresses Lawrence experienced during the Great War brought “both his physical health and his sanity to the verge of breakdown” (Delany 17-18). Delany’s periodic references to Lawrence’s “madness” are crucial to leaving this impression. I have already quoted his observation that “misanthropy, sometimes to the point of mania, became Lawrence’s predominant mood during 1916” (191). Delany also speaks of Lawrence’s “skirmish with madness” (84) in April 1915. At Porcothan early in 1916 he was “on the verge of a breakdown” (187). Delany sums up Lawrence’s time in Porcothan by observing that “as the level of violence and ruthlessness at the front increased from month to month, so did Lawrence’s expressions of hatred for mankind, and even for many of his acquaintances, rise to a higher and higher pitch” (211). The “sadomasochistic rough-and-tumbles (230) come to mind once more. Furthermore, Lawrence “seems to have decided, in autumn 1916, that his contempt for his fellowmen justified him ignoring the slaughter they were inflicting on each other” (249).

37Some of the above comments read as questionable editorializing. It can be argued that Delany comes down a little hard on the side of Lawrence’s having to cope with something like madness during his time in Cornwall. Certainly Mark Kinkead-Weekes thought so. That is how I have always interpreted his remark to me in Montpellier that he wanted to prove Paul Delany wrong. But of course that is only interpretation.

38In the first paragraph of his Foreword Paul Delany interestingly observes that “one cannot write about Lawrence without in some measure writing about oneself” (Delany ix). Is Delany covertly letting the reader know that temperamentally he will be presenting a harsher portrait of Lawrence than is found in Harry Moore’s The Priest of Love? Should one consequently wonder whether Mark Kinkead-Weekes’s kind portrait of Lawrence is partly a function of his own personality? Perhaps it is unwise to draw any such conclusion.

39Nevertheless, David Ellis in his Guardian obituary of his friend and fellow Cambridge biographer says that Kinkead-Weekes’s “critical method was a reflection of his personality (try as hard as he might, he found it difficult to see the bad side in anybody)” (Ellis Guardian ).

40In a 1992 interview Michael Holroyd – the biographer of Lytton Strachey and Bernard Shaw – said that biography is like a marriage “in that you commit yourself at the beginning but you don’t really know how it will turn out” (Salwak 33). But I believe that the authors of both D. H. Lawrence’s Nightmare and Triumph to Exile knew from the beginning how their biographical narratives would “turn out.” Delany’s Lawrence periodically struggles with rage, misanthropy, and something like madness during the Great War; this is a major emphasis of Delany’s narrative. Kinkead-Weekes’s Lawrence – despite all the immense difficulties he experiences during the war – remains centered, courageous, and sane. In the end Mark Kinkead-Weekes did not prove Paul Delany wrong. Instead he created a D. H. Lawrence all his own, as every Lawrence biographer does.

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Delany, Paul. D. H. Lawrence’s Nightmare: The Writer and His Circle in the Years of the Great War. New York: Basic Books, 1978.

Ellis, David. Literary Lives: Biography and the Search for Understanding. New York: Routledge, 2000.

Ellis, David. “Mark Kinkead-Weekes obituary.” The Guardian, 17 April 2011.

Holroyd, Michael. “Literary Biography.” Literature Matters (Newsletter of the British Council’s Literature Department), No. 9 (1991). 4. Qtd. in Salwak, The Literary Biography.

Kinkead Weekes, Mark. D. H. Lawrence: Triumph to Exile 1912-1922. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996.

Lawrence, D. H. Kangaroo. Ed. Bruce Steele. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994.

…… The Letters of D. H. Lawrence. Volume II, 1913-16. Ed. George J. Zytaruk and James T. Boulton. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1981.

…… The Letters of D. H. Lawrence. Volume III, 1916-21. Ed. James T. Boulton and Andrew Robertson. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984.

Mansfield, Katherine. The Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield. Volume One, 1903-1917.Ed. Vincent O’Sullivan and Margaret Scott. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984.

…… The Journal of Katherine Mansfield 1904-1922. Ed. John Middleton Murry. London: Constable, 1954.

Meyers, Jeffrey. D. H. Lawrence: A Biography. New York: Knopf, 1990.

Nehls, Edward. D. H. Lawrence: A Composite Biography. Volume I: 1885-1919. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1957.

Salwak, Dale, ed. The Literary Biography: Problems and Solutions. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1996.

Squires, Michael and Lynn K. Talbot. Living at the Edge A Biography of D. H. Lawrence and Frieda von Richthofen. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 2002.

Worthen, John. D. H. Lawrence: The Life of an Outsider. New York: Counterpoint, 2005.

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Keith Cushman, « Lawrence in Cornwall, 1916-1917: The Battle of the Biographies », Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 50 | 2019, mis en ligne le 02 octobre 2019, consulté le 23 octobre 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/lawrence.889

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Keith Cushman

Keith CUSHMAN has broad interests in modern and contemporary drama and British poetry and fiction. He is the author of D. H. Lawrence at Work: The Emergence of the “Prussian Officer” Stories. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 1978 and has  published over 60 essays in collections of essays and academic journals on various authors.

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Études lawrenciennes est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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