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Lawrence’s “Best Adventure”: Blood-Consciousness and Cornwall

Jane Costin
p. 151-172

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  • 1 All works by Lawrence will be abbreviated as in the Works Cited.

1Lawrence’s move to Cornwall in December 1915 marks the start of an important episode in his life that had a noteworthy impact on his thinking. In this remote Celtic location he encountered a strange countryside that still showed the visible remains of pre-Christian civilisations, and people who retained vestiges of a link with that past. During this stay, there was a significant development in his ideas as he began to associate blood-consciousness with the primitive. Furthermore, Lawrence saw a connection between blood-consciousness and the particular landscape around Zennor. He had a strong response to some of the granite stones that litter this region, seeing them as places that could store some kind of human essence of previous inhabitants, which created powerful “reverberations” that could affect consciousness. William York Tindall, recognising the link Lawrence was now making between the primitive and his ideas of blood-consciousness, suggests: “He was delighted with Cornwall – in this place above all other British places he could feel the past. The landscape was primeval suggesting the worship of stones, blood-sacrifice and all the mysteries of pre-Christian days” (103). For Lawrence, Cornwall was more than the “substitute for America” L.D. Clark suggests (180) – somewhere he could withdraw to after his upset over the suppression of The Rainbow – it became a place of particular importance and, for a while, it became his homeland. Hence Cornwall should be included amongst those places that made a meaningful contribution to what Lawrence called his “pseudo-philosophy.” His time there also encompasses the beginning of the “best adventure” that Somers hints at towards the end of Kangaroo (1923): his exploration of blood-consciousness in relation to primitive cultures (K 348-9).1 For Lawrence this was an endeavour that eventually led to his journey to America, his stay in Mexico and to his novel The Plumed Serpent (1926), but it began in Cornwall.

2Lawrence had long believed in the duality of human consciousness, seeing a polarity between blood and mental consciousness. For him, mental consciousness was characterised by the exertion of human will, something that was demonstrated by an emphasis on science, mechanisation and materialism. In contrast, he viewed the consciousness of the blood as something inherent and more intuitive; it was as if the blood remembered older religious ideas than those imposed by Christianity, a different kind of relationship between humankind and the cosmos. Thus Lawrence’s particular interest in the notion of blood-consciousness indicates his preference for a more instinctive, rather than scientific, response to questions about man’s place in the world. This should be seen as part of a more general move in religious belief that rejected the emphasis on the “logic of science,” encouraged notably by the findings of Charles Darwin in Origin of Species (1859), in favour of a return to older ideas of intuition and wonder: the “logic of emotion.” John A. Lester Jr. has detailed numerous events in the decades leading up to 1914 that had “severely jarred and shifted the bearings of man’s imaginative life and left him at times bewildered as to how to recover his lost meaning and purpose” (xx-xxi).

3Evidence of Lawrence’s interest in blood-consciousness predates his stay in Cornwall. In his early novels, and notably in The Rainbow (1915), there are references to blood-relationships, blood-intimacy and blood-knowledge. Andrew Skinner has suggested that Lawrence’s interest in blood-consciousness may have arisen in response to his visit to the Tyrol in August 1912 (2007), something that seems to be supported by Lawrence’s declaration in January 1913 that “My great religion is a belief in the blood, the flesh, as wiser than the intellect” (1L 503). However, in a letter written in December 1915 immediately prior to travelling to Cornwall, Lawrence suggests that his ideas of blood-consciousness emerged around 1905, casting doubt on Skinner’s proposal:

I have been reading Frazer’s Golden Bough and Totemism and Exogamy. Now I am convinced of what I believed when I was about twenty – that there is another seat of consciousness than the brain and the nervous system: there is a blood-consciousness which exists in us independently of the ordinary mental consciousness. (2L 470)

4Frazer had confirmed Lawrence’s belief in the polarities of mental-consciousness and blood-consciousness, an idea that Lawrence stressed was “very important: the whole of our future life depends on it” (2L 470). But although this letter goes on to explain his current thinking about blood-consciousness, it does not reiterate the link J.G. Frazer makes between remote civilisations, which in Britain were to a large extent Celtic, and traces of pre-Christian religious beliefs, nor does it suggest any connection between blood-consciousness and primitive cultures or the landscape. At this point, Lawrence associates blood-consciousness with the feminine and with the “sexual connection”:

when I take a woman, then the blood-percept is supreme, my blood-knowing is overwhelming. There is a transmission, I don’t know of what, between her blood and mine, in the act of connection. So that afterwards, even if she goes away, the blood-consciousness persists between us, when the mental consciousness is suspended; and I am formed by my blood-consciousness, not by my mind or nerves at all.

Similarly in the transmission from the blood of the mother to the embryo in the womb, there goes the whole blood consciousness. (2L 470)

5Lawrence concludes that “blood-knowledge comes either through the mother or through the sex” (2L 470). But following Lawrence’s experience of Cornwall these ideas evolved. Paul Poplawski recognises that Cornwall presented Lawrence with “another kind of culture rooted in its place in farming and blood-consciousness that links people to the soil and blood sacrifice […] he was getting back beyond Christianity and Jewishness” (“Paradise or Nightmare?” 2008). This development in Lawrence’s thinking is indicated by his letters from Cornwall and by his later writing in which he suggests that the landscape there has the power, concentrated in its rocks, to alter consciousness and to reawaken latent blood-consciousness. Moreover, he indicates a strong connection between blood-consciousness and the primitive.

6Yet critics who have considered Lawrence’s time in Cornwall between 1915 and 1917 have tended to concentrate on the biographical details of his stay rather than its influence on his thinking. For instance, Keith Cushman’s article “Lawrence in Cornwall: The Battle of the Biographies” (2005), compares the different portraits of Lawrence offered by different biographers. Furthermore, critical attention is discouraged by the sparseness of Lawrence’s comments about Cornwall in his letters and the apparent lack of a specifically “Cornish” novel. Whilst Bruce Steele has suggested that Lawrence’s reaction to the Cornish landscape in Kangaroo is “powerful,” critics who have explored Lawrence’s response to place have not chosen to examine it. Clark’s work has an understandably American focus and is primarily interested in analysing Lawrence’s essays on American authors that he partly wrote whilst living in Cornwall. Stefania Michelucci’s consideration of space and place in Lawrence’s writing highlights that he thought “culture is formed by the interaction of inhabitants with place” (90), but her work is focussed on his later responses to Italy and Mexico and does not consider his reaction to Cornwall or the relevance of that place to those later experiences. The boundaries of these enquiries also mean that Lawrence’s earlier thoughts about Cornwall are often overlooked.

7The strength of Lawrence’s wish to go to Cornwall in December 1910 is revealed by a series of letters that he wrote to his fiancée Louie Burrows. He wanted to apply for a teaching post on the north coast of Cornwall, a place drenched in Arthurian associations, but her resistance to the idea provoked a variety of cajoling techniques that reveal his determination to go there. Initially he tried to woo her with romantic images of being together “by the brawling ocean in a land of Cornish foreigners blowing out our lonely candle as the clock quavers ten” (1L 207). When that failed he tried being forceful: “If I should get the school to Cornwall you shall go, or to the Devil” (1L 214). He questioned her disparaging judgement of his idea, confirmed that he wasn’t “rash,” and thought going to Cornwall “wise” (1L 216). Finally, he appears to have succumbed to compromise, even agreeing to get married in church after which she would “have to” follow him there if he got the job (1L 218). But all his best endeavours failed and he never sent the application forms. However, Lawrence’s image of Cornwall that emerges from these letters is one of a romantic place of difference. This impression is endorsed by a letter Lawrence wrote just after his arrival in Porthcothan in December 1915 that associates it with Arthurian ideas and a different reality: “It seems as if the truth were still living here, growing like the sea holly, and love like Tristan, and old reality like King Arthur” (2L 492).

8Lawrence’s desire to find a “new world” was significantly intensified by what he saw as the fragmentation and degeneration of the “old world.” Letters he wrote in late 1915, to a variety of correspondents, reveal his despair and his perceived need for a religious revolution: “We stand on the very brink of oblivion” (2L 425), “The beginning of the end has set in” (2L 426), “ I am so sad, for my country, for this great wave of civilisation, 2000 years, which is now collapsing” (2L 431), “I feel as if the whole thing were coming to an end – the whole of England, of the Christian era” (2L 433). He stated that he longed to participate in “a great change in life: the beginning of a new religious era” (2L 399) and yearned for “the new spring” that would open “the hard little buds that seem like stone, in the souls of people” (2L 388). He was insistent that there “must be a resurrection of the soul” (2L 454), “there must be a new heaven and a new earth, and a new heart and a new soul: all new: a pure resurrection” (2L 455).

9Those critics who have considered Lawrence’s move to Cornwall in December 1915 have tended to focus on his reasons for leaving London, rather than what may have drawn him to Cornwall. Mark Kinkead-Weekes and John Worthen have concurred that Lawrence’s move to Cornwall was based on his need to leave London (“Paradise or Nightmare?” 2008). Kinkead-Weekes also suggests that Lawrence’s hurt over the suppression of The Rainbow was the primary motivation for his leaving London in 1915 and in his biography of Lawrence expresses the opinion that, in going to Cornwall, Lawrence was “escaping from a life that had gone wrong” (297). Worthen, whilst agreeing with these comments, also regards the Zeppelin raids and prejudice against Frieda as contributing factors in Lawrence’s decision (“Paradise or Nightmare?” 2008). These are all sound reasons why Lawrence left London but they do not address the question of why he specifically went to Cornwall. To this question, Brenda Maddox appears to voice the consensus opinion: “they needed a cottage somewhere in England. Murry was delegated to finding it, and obliged […] the Lawrences found themselves on the rocky shore of Cornwall” (223). Yet it seems inconceivable that Lawrence, who had such strong feelings about the importance of place to his creativity, would not have had some opinion on where he was to live. In 1927 Lawrence advised a friend, “One’s ambiente matters awfully” (6L 91) and Mark Schorer reminds us: “there is probably no other writer in literary history whose work responded so immediately to his geographical environment” (282). Whilst the offer of Beresford’s cottage in Porthcothan clearly facilitated Lawrence’s swift move to Cornwall, his romantic image of Cornwall and his recent reading of Frazer work should not be discounted as contributing to that decision.

10In her work on The Plumed Serpent Michelucci suggests that Lawrence found “the spirit of the ancient pagan cults buried, but not dead, in the soul of Mexico” (100). But Cornwall was where Lawrence first encountered that spirit. Lawrence’s initial reaction to Cornwall stresses its difference and it’s Celticity: “It belongs still to the days before Christianity, the days of Druids, or of desolate Celtic magic and conjuring” (2L 493). Letters in January 1916 again suggest that he saw it as a place that was distinct from England and that still retained the vestiges of a different spiritual awareness that was linked to the landscape: “It is not England. It is bare and dark and elemental, Tristan’s land […] It is old, Celtic, pre-Christian – Tristan and his boat and his horn” (2L 503), “It has another quality: of King Arthur’s days, that flicker of Celtic consciousness before it was swamped under Norman and Teutonic waves. I like it very much” (2L 505); whilst his description of the shoreline at Porthcothan emphasises its savage, spiritual qualities: “The water that is so white and powerful and incomprehensible under the black rock, that is not of this life. I feel as if there were a strange, savage, unknown God in the foam – heaven knows what God it be” (2L 501). The following month Lawrence again elucidated the connection he was making between Cornwall and the primitive: “Absolutely primeval: those heavy black rocks, like solid darkness, and the heavy water like a sort of first twilight breaking against them, and not changing them. It is really like the first craggy breaking of dawn in the world, a sense of the primeval darkness just behind, before the Creation […] it does one’s soul good to escape […] into this clash of two infinities” (2L 519-20). In the same letter, whilst he criticises the desire of the Cornish for “social advancement” he shows how he associates them with a different, more magical, sensibility: “The old race is still revealed, a race which believed in the darkness, in magic […] Also there is left some of the old sensuousness of the darkness, a sort of softness, a sort of flowing together in physical intimacy” (2L 520). The link Lawrence makes here between the Cornish and pre-Christian religious ideas is reflected in Kangaroo when Somers, in conversation with Trewhella and Kangaroo, is describing the Celts: “They don’t believe in our gods, in our ideals. They remember older gods, older ideals, different gods: before the Jews invented a mental Jehovah, and a spiritual Christ. They are nearer the magic of the old world” (K 206). However, although Lawrence’s reaction to Porthcothan is noteworthy, it was merely a precursor to his more powerful response to the area around Zennor where he moved next.

11Lawrence’s favourable impression of Cornwall is indicated by his decision to remain there after he needed to leave Beresford’s house at the end of February 1916, Kinkead-Weekes observes that: “Lawrence appears never to have considered leaving Cornwall” (311). Possibly attracted by information from Maitland Radford who had a property nearby, Lawrence elected to move to Zennor. He travelled some 50 miles through “terribly cold, and snowy” (2L 552) weather to get there and chose to pay rent, at a time when he could least afford it, in order to stay. Lawrence’s comments on first seeing the place indicate that his attraction to this specific location was based on his belief that it would be conducive to the religious revolution he desired: “When we came over the shoulder of the wild hill, above the sea, to Zennor, I felt we were coming to the Promised Land. I know there will be a new heaven and a new earth take place now: we have triumphed […] this isn’t merely territory, it is a new continent of the soul” (2L 556). This prompts the question of what it was about this particular place that invoked such a strong reaction.

12The tiny village of Zennor clings to a narrow shoulder of land between the sea and the moors in a particularly desolate part of the far west of Cornwall. It was a place that had been isolated from encroaches of modern life and the evidence of its heritage – stretching back into pre-history – was still clearly displayed in its landscape. It was whilst Lawrence was living there that he wrote, “Race is ultimately as much a question of place as of heredity” (SM 20), and this was a place that had been shaped by the granite bedrock of the area. Because of the difficult terrain, until the beginning of the nineteenth century there were no roads in this area, which led to the retention of the Cornish language and a traditional culture for longer than in more accessible parts of Cornwall. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, this drew people such as Robert Hunt and William Bottrell, who were interested in recording ancient myths and legends, to this particular location. The windswept landscape is almost devoid of trees but is littered with numerous, often huge, granite rocks that are the remains of pre-historic constructions, many of which are thought to have been connected with their ritual practices. There are also many granite outcrops and tors that are fantastically shaped. It is thought that ancient people also treated these natural rock formations as sacred places, believing them to be the work of their ancestors (Tilley 2001).

13It is evident from Lawrence’s writing that he experienced a strong reaction to this unusual landscape. On a personal level, he formed a bond to this place. Lawrence is generally regarded as an incessant traveller, but his response to this location profoundly affected this restless tendency. He displayed a growing sense of attachment to Zennor and, for a time, he became rooted there. Even whilst he was staying in Porthcothan he acknowledged that although, “six months is my usual limit,” he had already decided that Cornwall was a place where “I shall stay longer than usual” (2L 525). Whilst it is true that the War precluded him from either travelling to America or returning to Italy, it did not restrict him to Cornwall, and offers of free accommodation from friends in England would have been cheaper than renting even an inexpensive cottage in Zennor. After moving to Cornwall he did not leave the county for over a year, and then only briefly and reluctantly. His serious lack of money could have been a factor in this decision, and was certainly an excuse he used to avoid travelling elsewhere. But Lawrence’s advice to Katherine Mansfield in July 1916, after she and John Middleton Murry had left Higher Tregerthen, demonstrates a remarkable volte-face in his opinions about travelling and makes a startling revelation about his attachment to Zennor: “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” (2L 632). A letter in December 1916 again indicates that he had formed a strong attachment to the place: “this seems like a magic country with invisible walls, and one is kept in by enchantment” (3L 45). In February 1917, when he was thinking of visiting London, he again describes his sense of a powerful force that prevented him from leaving: “there seems a sort of spell on me. What is the invisible force that won’t let one move from Zennor?” (3L 96). Lawrence’s attachment to Cornwall is reflected in Kangaroo when Somers considers “he had begun to feel secure, as if he had sunk some of himself into the earth there, and were rooted forever. His very soul seemed to have sunk into that Cornwall, that wild place under the moors” (245). Lawrence had found the sense of place he desired and, for a time, he became settled in Zennor, it became his homeland. This helps to explain the severity of the shock he received when he was forced to leave. His attachment to this location is also illuminated by the sense of nostalgia that pervades his writing for a considerable time after he was exiled: his frequent use of the word “Heimweh” emphasising the strength of his feelings. Lawrence’s use of this German word – which should convey a greater sense of heartache and loss than its usual English translation of “homesickness” – hints that he felt English words could not communicate the intensity of his emotions. Frieda also recorded the profound effect that their expulsion had on Lawrence: “When we were turned out of Cornwall something changed in Lawrence forever” (84). But in addition to this personal attachment, Lawrence’s experience of Cornwall helped to shape the way he thought about the relationship between humankind and the cosmos, which is relevant to his thinking about blood-consciousness.

14In Apocalypse, written some twelve years after he left Cornwall, Lawrence explained what he saw as the most important distinction between modern and ancient civilisations:

Perhaps the greatest difference between us and the pagans lies in our different relation to the cosmos. With us, all is personal. Landscape and sky, these are to us the delicious background of our personal life, and no more […] To the pagan, landscape and personal background were on the whole indifferent. But the cosmos was a very real thing. A man lived with the cosmos, and knew it greater than himself. (A 21-22)

This makes a sharp distinction between the egocentric focus of modern living and a different way of thinking, which Lawrence identifies as pagan, in which the power of the living cosmos was seen as more important than humankind. Michael Bell’s comments on primitive animism offer a helpful insight into these ideas:

To the animistic mentality the external world is pervaded by spirits or powers, sometimes known collectively as “mana”; the projection from our point of view of human desires and fears […] “Mana” is not an independent spiritual entity so much as an inherent quality of the concrete objects of the environment and yet it provides the focus for attitudes that we can only describe as religious (8-9).

15I have discussed Lawrence’s feelings about the shoreline in Porthcothan but in Zennor it was the granite in the landscape that prompted a strong response.

16For Lawrence, granite had its own life force that was deposited by the souls of living men, which then sent out “vibrations” that could be detected by people who were sensitive to their own blood-consciousness. Thus the landscape comes to act as a kind of repository of ancient knowledge that can be accessed by those who had thrown off the shackles of dominant mind-consciousness. The letters I have quoted show that Lawrence had a strong reaction to the granite in Cornwall and this is reflected in Kangaroo when Lawrence depicts Somers, during his time in Zennor, moving into a state of blood-consciousness and becoming sensitive to the “savage vibrations” in the environment that are centred on the granite rocks, which Somers believes to be associated with a history of human sacrifice:

He no longer wanted to struggle consciously along […] he preferred to drift into a sort of blood-darkness, to feel in his blood the thrills and presences of the old, moorland dusk, to take up in his veins again the savage vibrations that still lingered round the secret rocks, the place of pre-christian human sacrifice. Human sacrifice! – he could feel his dark, blood-consciousness tingle to it again, the desire of it, the mystery of it. (K 238)

17In Lawrence’s essay on Edgar Allen Poe, which was originally written in February 1918 soon after his expulsion from Zennor, he revealed his own belief in the power of inanimate bodies: “Surely all material things have a form of sentience, even the inorganic: surely they all exist in some subtle and complicated tension of vibration which makes them sensitive to external influence and causes them to have an influence on other external objects, irrespective of contact” (SM 127). In the revised version of this essay, which was published in 1923, Lawrence adds that “It is the souls of living men that subtly impregnate stones, houses, mountains, continents, and give these their subtlest form. People only become subject to the stones after having lost their integral souls” (SCAL 84). Lawrence’s assertion about the necessary prerequisites for becoming sensitive to the stones, reflecting the passage quoted above from Kangaroo, indicates the change in consciousness that he thought was required before a person became aware of the “vibrations” in the landscape. It is this idea that helps to explain the particular significance of Zennor to Lawrence.

18A specific feature of the area around Zennor exemplifies the connections Lawrence made between the Cornish landscape, particularised in its stone, and the primitivistic heritage of humankind, conceptualised as blood-consciousness. Close to Lawrence’s house at Tregerthen is a pathway that he used regularly because it was the quickest way for him to walk to the village. Now known as the Zennor Churchway, its origin is unknown, but Lawrence linked it to the Phoenicians. Remarkably, in this difficult terrain, this pathway runs in a relatively straight line over predominantly flat ground for around ten miles from the mining area of Pendeen to the sea at St Ives. Its modern name is misleading because, as Craig Weatherhill observes that, until it was altered, it did not connect with any of the churches dotted along its route and predates them by several centuries. The path crosses small fields that were first laid out by prehistoric farmers and passes through gaps in the granite stone walled hedges. Weatherhill states that “From the ninth century, the route was marked by round-headed stone crosses, only a few of which survive in situ […] Earlier still, it may have been marked by menhirs […] Close to Zennor, a stone row, the only one currently known in West Cornwall, runs at right angles to the route” (1993). Local folklore identifies this as a path used by a shape-changing witch but there is now a strong local resistance to the idea that previous generations may have considered it as a route for evil spirits. However, this denial raises many questions. Why has an ancient farmhouse that straddles the pathway been known for centuries as Wicca? Why is the adjoining hamlet, where Lawrence lived, called Tregerthen, the Cornish word for rowan tree? Previous generations considered rowan trees a powerful antidote to witches but they are rarely found in this gale-swept landscape. And why, in 1833, did a group of Bible Christians, a movement noted for confronting the devil in all its forms, choose to build a chapel in this remote location between Wicca and Tregerthen—across the route of the pathway—forcing it to deviate? The chapel is distant from both the village and the road and the only access to it is along this pathway. We can only speculate about the answers but Lawrence seems to have been convinced of the spiritual importance of this place.

19In Kangaroo, Lawrence chose to use this pathway as the setting for a particularly significant episode in which Somers undergoes an intense psychic experience. While walking along the path back from the post office in Zennor, the thought of leaving Cornwall prompts a death in his soul (K 225). Following this, Somers becomes increasingly sensitive to the essence of ancient civilisations in this specific landscape. Adjoining the pathway at this point is moorland that rises up steeply behind Tregerthen and is littered with large granite rocks. Weatherhill says that this area is known as Burn Downs: “the site of the midsummer moot of all the area’s witches” and that – until it was destroyed in the nineteenth century – this was “where the ‘Witches Rock’ once stood” (1993). Somers hears a voice from the moor prophesying: “It is the end of the old England. It is finished. England will never be England any more” (K 225). The text then clearly establishes a connection between place and altered states of consciousness: “Cornwall is a county that makes a man psychic” (K 226), and it describes the increasingly intense effect that this location has on Somers. In response to the crisis of the death of England, Somers calls back the ancient Celtic gods: “ He would go out into the blackness of the night and listen to the blackness, and call, call softly, for the spirits, the presences he felt coming downhill from the moors in the night. ‘Tuatha de Danann!’ he would call softly. “Tuatha De Danaan! Be with me. Be with me.” And it was as if he felt them come” (K 226).

  • 2 For Hutton, choice of language can indicate varying degrees of engagement with paganism that he gau (...)

20Ronald Hutton has identified this expression as an early example of Lawrence’s using language that comes “very close” to the fourth affirmative language of paganism (160).2 Following Lawrence’s stay in Cornwall his increasing use of pagan language is too consistent to be accidental. Hutton has traced what he regards as the linear progression of Lawrence’s relationship to paganism in his work, and suggests that whilst in The Rainbow “Lawrence is dismissive of the term ‘heathen’ just using it to signify an absence of religion, by the time of Kangaroo in 1923 he was using the first language of paganism” (159). Hutton gives several examples of Lawrence’s use of pagan language in Kangaroo, but considers that the passage, quoted above, demonstrates his increased engagement with paganism. Furthermore, Hutton goes on to identify that in Lawrence’s essay “Pan in America,” written in New Mexico in 1924, Lawrence’s use of the fourth language of paganism “becomes dominant” (160). This illuminates Lawrence’s growing interest in pagan ideas following his stay in Cornwall. However, the particular significance of this scene in which Somers calls back the ancient gods is that it illustrates the connection Lawrence was making between place and consciousness. It also suggests that he saw the way forward for religious belief, and by extension English society, as depending on a return to pre-Christian ideas. Lawrence’s choice of this specific location for the instigation of these significant, pagan ideas again highlights the importance that he attached to this place.

21Hilda Doolittle, better known as H. D., has also recorded Lawrence’s strong reaction to this pathway. H. D. moved to the Zennor area in 1918 to live with Lawrence’s friend Cecil Gray at Bosigran and often walked along the Zennor Churchway. Lawrence’s regard for her and her Imagist ideas is conveyed by his suggestion in 1917 that she represented “a new world, or underworld, of knowledge and being” (3L 180). Unfortunately their correspondence, which discussed the spiritual significance of this path, has been destroyed. However, in her semi-autobiographical novel, Bid Me Live, she records Lawrence’s thoughts about the path, as well as her own, which she intimates Lawrence shared. She describes this pathway as a “hieroglyph” that “spelt something in this land of subtle reverberations,” that “every casual stone was laid there for a reason” and that “Laid flat, unrolled, it would be a huge screen in a temple in Egypt. Then the path and the line of the cliff would be hieratic writing” (146). She also states Lawrence thought that the path had been made by “Phoenician donkeys taking tin from the mines to the ships” (147). More significantly she records that he suggests that, in making the track, the Phoenicians had “trod into the soil more than the imprint of countless sandals” (143). This reflects Lawrence’s thinking in Kangaroo when it is suggested that previous generations can deposit a spiritual essence in the landscape, which has the power to affect later visitors to that specific place: “The spirit of the ancient, pre-christian world, which lingers still in the truly Celtic places, he could feel it invade him in the savage dusk, making him savage too, and at the same time, strangely sensitive and subtle” (237). Furthermore, it is suggested that Somers actively seeks this connection, which here Lawrence associates with blood-consciousness: “He preferred to drift into a sort of blood-darkness […] to take up in his veins again the savage vibrations that still lingered around the secret rocks” (238). Moreover, the quote from Bid Me Live links this particular place to the Phoenicians, a race commonly attributed with the ancient knowledge of the secret of man’s relationship with the cosmos.

22Fully understanding Lawrence’s important reaction to Cornwall and, in particular, to the landscape there, can then offer further insights into his novel Kangaroo. The depictions of Somers relationship with Cornwall substantially reflect Lawrence’s experience of the place as described in other writings, leading to the suggestion that the writing of this novel was, in part, a cathartic experience for Lawrence following the trauma that he suffered there. Kangaroo is the work that enabled Lawrence to move beyond his experience of Cornwall and to go forwards in his “best adventure” to explore blood-consciousness in relation to primitive cultures.

23Bruce Steele considers that Kangaroo is “Lawrence’s novel of Australia” but in many ways it is a book about Cornwall. A sense of Cornwall pervades the book, most obviously in the character of Cornishman Jaz Trewhella. Yet Cornwall is also often conspicuous by its absence. It took Lawrence over four and a half years after leaving Cornwall before he could address his feelings about his exile, suggesting the depth of the hurt he suffered. The first two hundred pages are, if anything, a repression of emotion about Cornwall. Somers consciously avoids talking about Cornwall, even though his attachment to the place is made clear. Somers has lived in Cornwall, but does not mention this when telling Victoria of all the places he has been (K 19-20). This is even more remarkable because it has been made clear that her brother-in-law, Trewhella, is Cornish. However, the text enigmatically states that Somers “understood now that the Romans had preferred death to exile” (K 20). Yet, Somers’ instinctive reaction on seeing the Cornish place name St Columb used as a house name: “his heart flew to Cornwall” (K 28), again suggests a reflexive, if not verbal acknowledgement of the importance of the place.

24A later chapter, “Volcanic Evidence,” ends with the scientific “evidence” of the fragility of the earth’s crust in Australia (K 166-168). Whilst it is tempting to read this as reflecting the fragility of Lawrence’s ability to keep his emotions under control, Steele notes that, in one of the few revisions of this speedily written text, Lawrence rewrote a large section of this chapter removing a discussion between Trewhella and Somers about the mystical vision of the Cornish. Lawrence retained the section that portrays Somers’ emotional battle, in which he resists being “swept away by the rush of the world’s outwardness,” in a fight in which his soul would “burn its way once more to the knowledge, the intense knowledge of his ‘dark god”’(K 155). But the omission of the earlier section means that the significance of Cornwall to this inner conflict is obscured.

25Nonetheless, the pervasive presence of Trewhella throughout the text acts as a prick on Somers’ consciousness until, finally, his memories of Cornwall erupt in the “Nightmare” chapter. Lawrence’s publishers wanted him to remove this important key to understanding the rest of the book and his relationship with Cornwall, but Lawrence insisted that it remained. The metaphors around volcanism in this chapter act to convey the intensity of Somers’ feelings and also hint at the “instability” of the earlier chapter. Somers now identifies that the resurgence of his memories about Cornwall was “like a volcanic eruption in his consciousness” (K 259), that he could not “digest” his “hell-rage” about being expelled and could no longer contain his “lava fire of hate and rage”; he needed to “Get rid of it by letting it out” (K 262). At last, he recognises that his expulsion was “one of his serious deaths in belief” (K 247) and, in a statement that seems unavoidably a reference to Lawrence’s restless wandering in Italy, acknowledges that he had been “roaming the face of the earth trying to soothe himself with sops of travel and new experience” (K 262). Nonetheless, Trewhella’s probing of Somers continues, most significantly in the last chapter, until it finally prompts Somers into an instance of momentous self-revelation:

26I’m the enemy of this machine-civilisation and this ideal civilisation. But I’m not the enemy of the deep, self-responsible consciousness in man, which is what I mean by civilisation. In that sense of civilisation, I’d fight forever for the flag, and try to carry it on into deeper, darker places. It’s an adventure, Jaz, like any other. And when you realise what you’re doing, it’s perhaps the best adventure (K348-9).

27Steele concludes that the novel’s primary theme is political, depicting, “Lawrence’s intellectual grappling with the claims of left and right in politics […] an important stage in Lawrence’s argument with democracy” (K xxix-xxx). But, Lawrence’s own conclusion to this novel emphasises another kind of grappling, a spiritual or religious battle, in which Cornwall is implicated. Somers is waving farewell, the last sentence reiterating this sense of disjuncture from everything that has gone before: “The last streamers blowing away, like broken attachments, broken” (K 358). Somers has confronted his hurt over being forced to leave Cornwall. Reliving his experience of that place has enabled him to acknowledge that his relationship with its people and landscape had shown him a different kind of awareness and revitalised his own blood-consciousness. His relationship with Cornwall, as personified by Trewhella, is shown to be instrumental in helping him move beyond his nostalgia for that place and to clarify his ideas about his way forward. Somers is now ready to leave Australia and to undertake the “best adventure” he has outlined: to explore blood-consciousness in the “deeper, darker places” of primitive cultures. After leaving Australia Lawrence eventually travelled to America, his novel, The Plumed Serpent, which emerges from that stay, examines blood-consciousness in relation to the Mexican Indians.

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Works by D. H. Lawrence

The Letters of D. H. Lawrence Vol. I 1901-13. Ed. James T. Boulton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

The Letters of D. H. Lawrence Vol. II 1913-16. Ed. George J. Zytaruk & James Boulton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

The Letters of D. H. Lawrence Vol. III 1916-21. Ed. James T. Boulton & Andrew Robertson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

The Letters of D. H. Lawrence Vol. VI 1927-28. Ed. James T. Boulton & Margaret H. Boulton with Gerald M. Lacy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.

Apocalypse. Ed. Mara Kalins. London: Granada Publishing Ltd., 1983.

Kangaroo. Ed. Bruce Steele. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Studies in Classic American Literature. London: Penguin, 1977.

The Symbolic Meaning. Ed. Armin Arnold. Arundel: Centaur Press Limited, 1962.

Sea and Sardinia. Ed. Mara Kalins. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Works by other authors

Becket, Fiona, Paul Poplawski, Mark Kinkead-Weekes and John Worthen, narr. “Paradise or Nightmare? D. H. Lawrence in Cornwall”. BBC Radio 3. 25 May 2008. Radio.

Bell, Michael. Primitivism. London: Methuen & Co Ltd., 1972.

Clark, L. D. The Minoan Distance: The Symbolism of Travel in D. H. Lawrence. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1980.

Cushman, Keith. “Lawrence in Cornwall: The Battle of the Biographies”. Etudes Lawrenciennes 31 (2005): 7-23.

Doolittle, Hilda. Bid Me Live. London: Virago, 1984.

Frazer, J.G. The Golden Bough. (1890) London and Basingstoke: Papermac, 1987.

___, Totemism and Exogamy: A Treatise on Certain Early Forms of Superstition and Society. London: MacMillan & Co. Ltd., 1910.

Hutton, Ronald. The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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

Lawrence, Frieda. Not I, But the Wind. London and Toronto: William Heinemann, 1935.

Lester, John A. Jr., Journey Through Despair 1880-1914: Transformations in British Literary Culture. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1968.

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

Michelucci, Stefania. Space and Place in the Works of D. H. Lawrence. Trans. Jill Franks. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 1998.

Skinner, Andrew. “Through the Tyrol, Aug-Sept 1912: Origins of Lawrence’s Ideas on ‘Blood-consciousness’?” Etudes Lawrenciennes 36 (2007): 59-72.

Schorer, Mark. Modern British Fiction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969.

Steele, Bruce. Introduction. Kangaroo. By D. H. Lawrence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. xix-lvi.

Tilley, Christopher and Wayne Bennett. “An Archaeology of Supernatural Places: The Case of West Penwith”. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 7.2 (2001): 335-362.

Tindall, William York. D. H. Lawrence and Susan his Cow. New York: Cooper Square Publishers Inc., 1972.

Weatherhill, Craig. “The Zennor Churchway”. The Society of Ley Hunters. (1993). Web. 10 October 2007.

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1 All works by Lawrence will be abbreviated as in the Works Cited.

2 For Hutton, choice of language can indicate varying degrees of engagement with paganism that he gauges between one and four. Therefore, Lawrence’s use of this fourth, and most highly developed, language, which presents overtly pagan thinking in a positive manner, indicates his particular familiarity, and sympathy, with pagan ideas.

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Bibliographical reference

Jane Costin, Lawrence’s “Best Adventure”: Blood-Consciousness and CornwallÉtudes Lawrenciennes, 43 | 2012, 151-172.

Electronic reference

Jane Costin, Lawrence’s “Best Adventure”: Blood-Consciousness and CornwallÉtudes Lawrenciennes [Online], 43 | 2012, Online since 20 December 2013, connection on 22 May 2022. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Jane Costin

Jane Costin is a final year PhD student at the Corwall Campus of the University of Exeter. The title of her dissertation is “The significance of Cornwall in the Work of D. H. Lawrence.” In 2009, she has published “The Spire: A Construction of Desire,” William Golding Ltd, published on the William Golding website. (PhD obtained in 2011)

By this author

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Licence Creative Commons
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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