The Letters of D. H. Lawrence

(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

The 768 letters in this volume bring to 4,749 the total published in the new Cambridge University Press edition of D. H. Lawrence’s correspondence. When the seventh and final volume appears, more than 5,600 letters will be available, almost half of which were previously unpublished. Like its predecessors, volume 6 is handsomely produced and graced by such useful editorial aids as a detailed chronology, maps, period photographs, notes on obscure references and foreign phrases, an excellent introduction, and a carefully prepared index. Indispensable to scholars, this edition will only enhance Lawrence’s reputation as one of the premier letter writers in English literature.

A persistent theme in Lawrence’s life since about 1915, when he and his wife Frieda were subjected to rabid xenophobia and censorship during World War I in England, was his ceaseless search for a true home. Preceding volumes followed the Lawrences around the globe after their bitter severance from England in 1919, with significant stays in Sicily, Australia, Old and New Mexico, and various spots in Italy. A sort of recurrent rhythm was apparent in these earlier letters, beginning with Lawrence’s disappointment in and rejection of the familiar locale, his longing for a vitalist paradise in a place remote from the world’s urban centers, the initial impressions of the actual place upon arrival, inevitable disillusionment, an attempt to adjust to and accommodate the anomalous elements, renewed enthusiasm, disappointment and frustration, and the repetition of the cycle as the next locale emerged as the new source of yearning. This restless, open-ended search was the unifying force not only of the letters but also of Lawrence’s postwar fiction in such works as Kangaroo (1923), St. Mawr: Together with the Princess (1925), and The Plumed Serpent (1926).

A change is evident in the period covered by this volume. Although Lawrence still restlessly yearned for a spiritual home and periodically proposed trips to such far-flung spots as India, China, Egypt, and Ireland, as well as return visits to his beloved mountain ranch in New Mexico, he was in fact no longer able to pursue his dream through his travels. In the twenty-one months covered in volume 6, he never left Europe; nor did he even visit his homeland. More than half of the time was spent in the Villa Mirenda, outside Florence, where the Lawrences rented a home for slightly more than two years. Such travels as there were—visits to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland—were comparatively brief and uneventful.

Lawrence’s declining health was largely responsible for this reduced orbit of movement. From childhood on, he suffered from a variety of respiratory ailments, and after a pulmonary hemorrhage nearly killed him in Mexico in 1925, he was diagnosed as tubercular and given a year or two to live. (He would live, it turned out, for another five years, dying of tuberculosis in March, 1930.) A second hemorrhage confined him to bed at the Villa Mirenda for most of July, 1927. His fragile condition clearly ruled out strenuous activities. Still, Lawrence sought a salubrious climate and tried, whenever possible, to pass the winters in sunny locales and summers in the mountains. Preoccupied with his health, yet desperately refusing to admit the severity of his disease, he was prone to extreme mood swings. He was inclined to blame his volatile temperament on the “money-grubbing” values of the day, or the puritanism of the censors, or the rigors of the climate, or a malevolent “spirit of place,” or even male menopause. “I think men have perhaps a greater ‘change of life’ in the psyche, even than women . . . It’s often unpleasant, but the only thing is to let it go on and accept the differences and let go the old.” These letters make clear the extent to which Lawrence’s quest itself was conditioned by the precariousness of his health: “I feel a bit like Noah’s dove who has lost the ark and doesn’t see any sign of an olive bough—and is getting a bit weary on the wing.”

Notwithstanding his weariness, Lawrence managed to rally his energies sufficiently to produce a considerable amount of writing. This brief period saw the publication of Mornings in Mexico (1927), The Woman Who Rode Away and Other Stories (1928), Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928), dozens of journalistic pieces, and a fine short story, “The Man Who Loved Islands.” He also wrote the travel sketches published posthumously as Etruscan Places (1932) and produced a number of paintings later exhibited at the Warren Gallery in...

(The entire section is 1893 words.)