D H Lawrence letter kicks up a stink in Pangbourne

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Pangbourne has always enjoyed rather an agreeable reputation in the world of literature. Kenneth Grahame whiled away the last two years of his life there after completing The Wind in the Willows, and the characters in Jerome K Jerome's Three Men in a Boat messed about a bit there without any complaints.

Pangbourne has always enjoyed rather an agreeable reputation in the world of literature. Kenneth Grahame whiled away the last two years of his life there after completing The Wind in the Willows, and the characters in Jerome K Jerome's Three Men in a Boat messed about a bit there without any complaints.

For D H Lawrence, however, it was another story. He fiercely rejected the Edwardian village, finding the place "repulsive". As for the womenfolk, they smelt, he complained.

In a letter written during his stay at Myrtle Cottage in the Berkshire village in the summer of 1919, nearly a decade before the publication of Lady Chatterley's Lover, Lawrence was in typically irascible form. Writing to the theatrical writer Herbert Farjeon, he pleads for help to find somewhere to live. "We like Myrtle Cottage - but Pangbourne is repulsive - it sort of smells - women use scent on their clothes, & petrol plus river plus pavement plus women - I suffer by the nose," he wrote. His one consolation was "in the garden one has peace".

There was something approaching outrage in the village yesterday at the late author's view. "I am appalled. I find his comments extremely insulting, said Joanna Knott, 59, who has lived here for 29 years. "We are an extremely fragrant lot, I can assure you."

Nowadays, Pangbourne is a self-assured place, nestling grandly on the confluence of the Thames and the Pang which marks the border with neighbouring Oxfordshire. Estate agents comfortably outnumber pubs and restaurants in the high street and a detached riverside house costs up to £1m. The train to London takes just over an hour, making it a sought-after location for commuters. Perhaps the times had soured the view of the writer and his wife, Frieda. They were accused of spying for the Germans in 1916 and had been drummed out of Cornwall. Then they were refused permission to emigrate to the US.

The result was an unhappy peripatetic existence around England, living in borrowed houses. "But Faugh! - humanity - I can't bear to be mixed up with it ... I'm so sick of mankind," he confides in the letter, which fetched nearly £600 at Dominic Winter Book Auctions this week.

The present incumbent of the four-bedroom cottage, a charming whitewashed mid-18th century home, which still boasts a beautiful garden, was surprised yesterday to discover her home had such a remarkable literary heritage. Emma Barker, 34, a teacher, has lived at Myrtle Cottage with her husband, Guy, a solicitor, and their two children for five years.

But she rejected Lawrence's view of the place and its inhabitants. "What a misery-guts. This is a fantastic place to live and we don't smell. We wouldn't want to live anywhere else."

John Worthen, emeritus professor of Lawrence studies at Nottingham University, said that what was really affecting the literary giant was not scent, but something akin to class hatred, perhaps not surprising in the man who wrote the poem "How Beastly the Bourgeoisie Is".

"Lawrence couldn't stand middle-classness," Professor Worthen said. "Where he grew up in Eastwood [Nottinghamshire] was extremely working class. He got on with people living there very well, but here he just wasn't happy. He disliked gentility intensely."

Another theory which may explain his fury is that the summer of 1919 was a particularly hot one, said Professor Worthen, whose new biography of Lawrence, The Life of An Outsider, was published this week. The Met Office reports that temperatures soared above 30C for much of August.

Pangbourne, for its part, appears to have airbrushed Lawrence out of its folklore. Jean Debney, a local historian, admitted she had never heard of his sojourn in Pangbourne. "He is not celebrated by any means," she said. "I'm sure the village community would have accepted him. They are very friendly, although they would have still treated him as an outsider."

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