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the seventh and final volume appears, more than 5,600 letters will be available, almost half of which were previously unpublished.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.)

The Letters of D. H. Lawrence

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 34)

Like the previous volumes of the Cambridge edition of D. H. Lawrence’s letters, volume 5 is distinguished by outstanding scholarship and bookmaking. Its 889 letters, written over a three-year period between March, 1924, and March, 1927, are attractively presented in full and accurate texts, clearly identified as to date and place of origin, recipient, and the present source or location of the text used. Footnotes concisely explain the identities of the correspondents, translate foreign phrases, and identify unfamiliar references. Equally helpful are the letters to Lawrence, a selection of which appears in the footnotes in order to provide a context for Lawrence’s often heated utterances. Additionally the editors offer a detailed chronology, two maps, a general introduction, and twenty-four black-and-white photographs of persons involved in this correspondence, as well as an excellent index. This volume brings the total of letters published in this edition to 3,980, or almost three-fourths of the more than 5,600 that will be available when all seven volumes have appeared. Without doubt this represents a significant advance over the two previous, incomplete editions of letters published in 1932 (edited by Aldous Huxley) and 1962 (edited by Harry T. Moore). As a result, Lawrence’s reputation as a correspondent par excellence is certain to be reinforced.

To read these letters is to accompany Lawrence and his wife Frieda on their restless travels from the Old World (England in particular), which he had repudiated after World War I; to the Southwestern United States, where he lived on a small ranch in the mountains outside Taos, New Mexico; to Oaxaca, in provincial Mexico, where he completed The Plumed Serpent (1926) and soon thereafter nearly died from tuberculosis complicated by typhoid fever; thence back to New Mexico to recuperate; and finally to Italy, with brief stops in Nottinghamshire to visit his family and in Germany to visit Frieda’s. Most of the last half of this volume is devoted to letters written from a rented villa outside Florence, where the Lawrences had settled” for the time being, and where Lawrence drafted two complete versions of his last major novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928). Such an itinerary, however, scarcely gives a sense of the special flavor that each of these places had for Lawrence, who saw them as stations of an ongoing quest began with his bitter severance from England. He always had a special fondness for Italy, partly because he and Frieda had eloped there in the carefree months right before the war broke out and because it was the place of their first extended postwar sojourn (sixteen months). Italy’s comparatively relaxed way of life, its abundant sunshine, its dark-featured, hot-blooded peasantry—these qualities held an irresistible appeal for one who had been unhappily confined to cold, sodden England for more than four years without respite. That Lawrence had endured censorship and virtual blacklisting among British publishers during these years and had great difficulty making ends meet also contributed to his turning permanently against his homeland. England and the “mechanistic” civilization it represented were dying, he believed, and he looked to other peoples and places—particularly those then conventionally regarded as “primitive”—for a new beginning. This hope had driven him from Italy briefly to Ceylon and Australia before, in September of 1922, he arrived on the North American continent, settling in New Mexico for the better part of the next three years.

As relatively unspoiled” locales where aboriginal beliefs could still be found beneath the paleface overlay,” New and Old Mexico together seemed to Lawrence the revelation for which he had been searching. It seemed at first that this “vestigial” America would provide the site of the utopian community, Rananim, which he had dreamed of founding. His apocalyptic vision, conceived during the war years, centered on aboriginal America—even before he had actually arrived there. Inevitably, these hopes could not survive contact with the real thing. Particularly in provincial Mexico, which he visited twice in 1923, he became quickly frustrated by the clear evidence that Indian peasants were far more responsive to the dual influences of Christianity and socialism (both of which he regarded as destructive) than to the sort of neopagan vitalism that Lawrence had envisioned. Despite this frustration, he had managed to write a nearly complete draft of the novel that would eventually become The Plumed Serpent. Lawrence’s growing doubts about the plausibility of his New World...

(The entire section is 1897 words.)

The Letters of D. H. Lawrence

(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

With the publication of this seventh volume, 5,534 pieces of correspondence have appeared in the monumental Cambridge edition of D. H. Lawrence’s letters. (An eighth volume containing addenda, corrections, and a comprehensive index has been announced.) Written between 1901 and 1930, certain of the letters have long been highlighted in accounts of Lawrence’s life and thought. Earlier general editions of the correspondence appeared in 1932 and 1962, but together they contained only about one-fourth of the extant letters, and many of these in incomplete or inaccurate texts sometimes erroneously dated. In the 1970’s appeared three separate volumes of Lawrence’s correspondence with key individuals such as his principal British...

(The entire section is 2055 words.)

The Letters of D. H. Lawrence

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 16)

One may wonder if yet another edition of Lawrence letters is necessary, for his letters have been with us almost as long as his works. The funeral meats were barely cold when Aldous Huxley brought out the first edition (The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, 1932). Thirty years later, his biographer, Harry T. Moore, published the two volume Collected Letters of D. H. Lawrence. Given the limitations of these earlier editions, the answer is yes, we sorely need a complete, unexpurgated edition. Huxley, in one volume, selected only tidbits and then left out all the interesting names to protect against libel. Moore, working under limitations, again selected and severely edited the letters, not always telling us when he was...

(The entire section is 2030 words.)

The Letters of D. H. Lawrence

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 10)

When complete, the Cambridge edition of D. H. Lawrence’s letters will run to seven volumes (with an eighth volume devoted to addenda, corrections, and a comprehensive index), containing some 5,600 pieces of correspondence written between 1901 and 1930. Considering the relatively short span of Lawrence’s career—he died of tuberculosis in his forty-fifth year—as well as his chronically poor health and his frequent travels to far-flung spots around the globe, this is an astonishing amount of correspondence. Although the Cambridge edition includes every available scrap, from postcards and telegrams to the most ephemeral of notes, the overall quality of the correspondence is such that Lawrence’s reputation as one of the...

(The entire section is 2117 words.)

The Letters of D. H. Lawrence

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 8)

With the publication of the fourth volume of a projected seven, more than half of the known 5,600 pieces of D. H. Lawrence’s correspondence have appeared in the new Cambridge edition. The quality of the scholarship and bookmaking here matches the high standards established in the previous three volumes. Volume IV’s 848 letters, written between June of 1921 and March of 1924, are presented in an attractive format, with full and accurate texts (many having previously appeared in incomplete or inaccurate versions). They are assiduously annotated as to date of composition, identity of correspondent, unfamiliar allusions, translations of foreign phrases, and source of text—information of interest primarily to the specialist...

(The entire section is 2281 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 34)

The Christian Science Monitor. October 14, 1987, p. 20.

The Economist. CCXCIV, January 5, 1985, p. 71.

The Guardian. August 29, 1991, p. 21.

Guardian Weekly. CXLV, September 15, 1991, p. 28.

Library Journal. CXVIII, September 15, 1993, p.74.

Listener. CXIII, January 31, 1985, p. 22.

London Review of Books. VII, February 7, 1985, p. 6.

London Review of Books. XIII, December 5, 1991, p. 14.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. May 12, 1985, p. 11.

Los Angeles Times Book...

(The entire section is 138 words.)