D H Lawrence must stay in US, say family

Rachelle Thackray on a row over repatriating the author's ashes
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The Independent Online
RELATIVES of DH Lawrence have rejected proposals to bring the novelist's remains back to Britain and his home town of Nottingham.

The nieces and nephew of Lawrence, known to his family as "Bert", have dismissed a suggestion by local councillors that his ashes be returned from Taos, New Mexico, to either Nottingham or his birthplace of Eastwood in Nottinghamshire.

The ashes are housed in an 18in thick concrete shrine near the grave of Lawrence's wife Frieda, who bequeathed them to the University of New Mexico in 1956. The couple had a ranch in nearby San Cristobal, and several of his paintings are also kept at the university.

Last week the university admitted it cannot afford to maintain the site, and Nottingham City Council offered to bring the ashes back to a new pavilion at Nottingham University, where Lawrence once taught. It is an about- turn for the city and university, which rejected Lawrence, the author of Women in Love and Lady Chatterley's Lover, after he ran off with Frieda, the wife of the Nottingham professor, Ernest Weekley. Lawrence, in turn, came to loathe the place.

Yesterday, Peggy Needham, 89, the daughter of Lawrence's elder sister Emily, rejected the idea of bringing "Uncle Bert" back to Britain. "I think it is a ridiculous idea. His wife wanted him out there. I can't see the point in trying to bring them back. The money it would cost could be used to renovate it."

Mrs Needham, who has visited the site in Taos, saw her uncle for the last time in 1926 when she was 17. He was also a regular correspondent.

"I remember him as a loving, caring uncle who was always sending little gifts," she said. "Eastwood is proud of him now for the idea of a tourist attraction, but when he was alive, they couldn't say enough against him." The town already has a museum displaying Lawrence memorabilia.

Her sister Joan, 78, added: "There's no real remains because the ashes were mixed in a block of concrete. It seems silly to us. Bert would have been amused by it all."

Another suggestion came from his nephew, Bert Clarke, 74, the son of Lawrence's younger sister Ada. "Lots of people have made millions out of his books and films, and some response should come from them to build a memorial over there."

Aldous Huxley and Frieda were at Lawrence's bedside when he succumbed to tuberculosis in 1930 in Vence, France. His wife Frieda later wrote: "The moment came when the thread of life tore in his heaving chest, his face changed, his cheeks and jaw sank, and death had taken hold of him ... There had been the change, he belonged somewhere else now, to all the elements; he was the earth and sky, but no longer a living man."

Lawrence was buried in the cemetery there, but exhumed five years later and cremated in Marseilles, where his remains were put into a wooden box and taken by Frieda's new lover, Angelo Ravagli, to New Mexico. (Ravagli subsequently claimed he dumped the box between Marseilles and Villefranche to avoid the expense of exporting it, and procured other ashes locally.)

The DH Lawrence Society in Nottingham, which claims 200 members worldwide, is also against the idea. Spokeswoman Rosemary Howard said: "There were various jokes about his ashes being left in a railway station, poor man, and other women were always wanting to steal them, which is why [Frieda] put them in a concrete block. But all of us who are really closely involved in the Lawrence work feel that we ought to respect the family's wishes."

Graham Chapman, leader of Nottingham City Council, said: "I am disappointed to hear the family's reaction. It would be a tremendous attraction to bring all the Lawrence heritage into one place rather than having it scattered across the globe, but ultimately the family's views are paramount." Milan Radulovic, Eastwood town council leader, was born in the same street as Lawrence and is more outspoken. "I feel any memorial should be a fitting and lasting tribute to one of the most important writers of this century.

"Mrs Needham is an elderly and frail person and wouldn't like to go through all the upheaval, but we are not looking at a question of where the ashes should be. It's the fact that they have fallen into disrepair; if they are going to pledge to look after the site properly, the issue is closed. But I would have thought they would be far better off in a place like Eastwood than being allowed to deteriorate in New Mexico."

In corners of foreign fields ...

DH LAWRENCE, the son of a coal miner from Nottinghamshire, is not Britain's only literary son to lie far from his roots.

The romance of it

More than a century before Lawrence, John Keats was dying in Rome. He was buried in 1821 in an unnamed grave in the city's non-Catholic cemetery; at his request, the only clue on his gravestone was that here lay a poet "whose name was writ in water". Percy Bysshe Shelley was drowned at sea and washed up at Viareggio in Italy. His ashes are in the same Roman cemetery as Keats, marked by prominent signposts. Lord Byron expressed a wish to lie next to his dog, Bosun, but in fact died of fever in Missolonghi, Greece. His body was brought back and taken for burial in the family vault at Hucknall Torkard, Nottinghamshire.

Far from home

British writers whose remains have never made it back from France include Richard Aldington, Lawrence Durrell and Aubrey Beardsley

Meanwhile, Beardsley's friend Oscar Wilde, who died in 1900, lies in state near pop star Jim Morrison at Paris's Pere-Lachaise cemetery, marked by an Epstein sculpture. Wilde's grandson Merlin Holland said: "He wasn't actually buried in Paris to begin with: they had to give him a temporary burial in Bagneux, and moved him in 1909. If you were buried in Paris, it had to be a perpetual plot, and they were expensive." The site has been designated a national monument.

Irish novelist James Joyce was also given state honour, being moved to pride of place in Zurich's Fluntern cemetery in 1966, 25 years after his death. Wartime author Robert Graves, born in Wimbledon, was a long-term resident of Deia, Majorca and opted to be buried there, with a rough-hewn gravestone bearing the simple legend "Poet".

Others who died far away include WH Auden, in Vienna; Rupert Brooke, who developed blood poisoning after being bitten by a mosquito and was buried on the Greek island of Skyros; Henry Fielding, who died in Lisbon, Portugal; and Robert Louis Stevenson, who has generated a tourist industry around his grave in Vailima, Western Samoa.