The mail supremacist

THE SELECTED LETTERS OF D H LAWRENCE ed James T Boulton, CUP pounds 29. 95

The Arrival of a letter from D H Lawrence must have been a remarkable event. Passionate, hectoring, tender, funny, tragic, angry, calm, silly, wise, these are letters charged with a sense of self, yet - as the finest are - exquisitely attuned to the recipient. If his furious vatic rage could on occasion seem egotistical or self-dramatising, he never forgot the person he was addressing and mixed eager enquiries about their own lives with his own fiercely lived and fiercely expounded life philosophy.

James Boulton has chosen 330 letters from the massive eight-volume Cambridge edition of well over 5,000, making this substantial selection something like a new addition to the Lawrence canon, a book to have on the shelf alongside The Rainbow and Women in Love. Boulton's editing is deft and helpful (though perhaps we didn't need a footnote explaining what it means to keep one's pecker up) and there are brief - yet necessary - notes on all Lawrence's correspondents, only a minority of whom now are famous names.

A constant theme in these letters, whose provenance maps the pilgrimage of this restless spirit across Europe and several other continents, is Lawrence's angry engagement with England. In his last months he wrote to the American poet Witter Bynner: "I do believe the root of all my sickness is a sort of rage ... it's Europe that has made me ill. One gets so innerly angry with the dull sort of hopelessness and deadness there is over there." Nearly 20 years earlier, he had exclaimed to Edward Garnett over Heinemann's rejection of the manuscript of Sons and Lovers on the grounds that the public (and the circulating libraries) would not stand for it: "Why, why, why was I born an Englishman!"

Lawrence had plenty of reason to be exasperated with his fellow-countrymen, of course. His books were turned down by timorous publishers. When published they were banned by magistrates or seized by customs officials. His paintings were declared obscene, and even his poems fell foul of officialdom. He was driven out of Cornwall during the First World War by locals who spread rumours that he and his German wife were spies. There was an inevitability about the start of the writer's "savage pilgrimage" that ended with premature death from tuberculosis in 1930 in France.

There were, however, deeper sources for Lawrence's rage. "My great religion is a belief in the blood, the flesh, as being wiser than the intellect," he wrote to the artist Ernest Collings as early as 1913. If some of his correspondents, like Lady Ottoline Morrell, found all this Lawrentian philosophising to be "deplorable tosh", it was at the root of his later obsession with "the phallic consciousness" and his diagnosis of a sick civilisation that could not trust its feelings and instincts. He despised Chekhov ("Willy wet-leg") and Dostoevsky as "Murryish", his code-word for the self-pitying angst of writers like John Middleton Murry. And, sounding like an inferior Nietzsche, he screamed in one letter: "Down with the poor in spirit!". One by one, the countries he visited were rejected as they were discovered to be bourgeois or mechanistic or cut off from their true sources of being: "Everything in America goes by will," he complained.

The letters are unsparing and savage. Middleton Murry, told he was "a dirty little worm", declared his intention to "hit you in the face" at their next meeting. Bertrand Russell, accused of masking "repressed desires" in the sheep's clothing of pacifism, for 24 hours contemplated suicide. But this was Lawrence's style. "Don't take any notice of my extravagant talk," he cautioned Lady Ottoline Morrell "- one must say something." He was just as often thoughtful and understanding, particularly to his young niece, Peggy King, notwithstanding his harsh view that Twenties youth was detached from life and cynical.

"I am essentially a fighter - to wish me peace is bad luck," Lawrence told the youth-camp pioneer Rolf Gardiner in another letter. His last years, contending with publishers, booksellers, and customs officials to get Lady Chatterley's Lover out, or battling over his pictures, gave him plenty of opportunity for struggle in spite of his failing health. Whatever one's view of his sometimes woozy philosophising, especially in his "phallic" phase - which issued too frequently in absurdities like: "Why do men only thrill to a woman who'll rape them?" - one is forced to admire the sheer energy and passionate commitment of Lawrence to what he believed in, his refusal to go quietly.

And in spite of his loathing of polite, effete, indifferent Englishness, he thought often of the English Midlands - "the country of my heart" - he had left behind. The 1926 miner's strike and the sufferings of the miners in the Depression affected him deeply. Writing at the end of his life to David Chambers, younger brother of Jessie, the original of Miriam in Sons and Lovers, he said that he would love to be 19 again and catching once more a glimpse of the Chambers' farm, the Haggs: "Because whatever else I am, I am somewhere still the same Bert who rushed with such joy to the Haggs."

It would be wrong to leave an impression of these letters as a prolonged jeremiad. They contain vivid, unbuttoned descriptions of scenes and places that recall Lawrence the poet; they are full of liveliness and humour - one letter sketches out a proposal for a publication, The Squib, that sounds like a prototype Private Eye - and record many instances of generosity, particularly to unknown writers. With Frieda, Lawrence lived for many years hand to mouth. But as soon as he came into money he gave it away, having no desire to buy property or bequeath it. "We only live once, and must use every opportunity of living," he wrote. Scourge of modern industrial and bourgeois society that he was, he never gave in to despair. "I think the world must be fought, not retreated from," he told the artist Earl Brewster. The exhilaration of these letters, which at 500 pages never flag, is to be allowed a ringside seat at that lively bout.

Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada
    Birthplace of Arab Spring in turmoil as angry Tunisians stage massive sit-in over lack of development

    They shall not be moved: jobless protesters bring Tunisia to a halt

    A former North African boom town is wasting away while its unemployed citizens stick steadfastly to their sit-in
    David Hasselhoff's new show 'Hoff the Record': What's it like working with a superstar?

    Hanging with the Hoff

    Working with David Hasselhoff on his new TV series was an education for Ella Smith
    Can Dubai's Design District 'hipster village' attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?

    Hipsters of Arabia

    Can Dubai’s ‘creative village’ attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?
    The cult of Roger Federer: What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?

    The cult of Roger Federer

    What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?
    Kuala Lumpur's street food: Not a 'scene', more a way of life

    Malaysian munchies

    With new flights, the amazing street food of Kuala Lumpur just got more accessible
    10 best festival beauty

    Mud guards: 10 best festival beauty

    Whether you're off to the Isle of Wight, Glastonbury or a local music event, we've found the products to help you
    Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe

    A Different League

    Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe, says Pete Jenson
    Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey - Steve Bunce

    Steve Bunce on Boxing

    Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey
    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf