Tuesday 19 October 2010

What are you reading? Dr. Howard Booth

Like Professor Duncker, I’m currently on research leave. I’m writing on Kipling again, which this time means mugging up on his early writing. (I still think his late stories are his best work.) And I too am reading DH Lawrence, this time the novella ‘The Captain’s Doll’. My response to Lawrence differs from Dr Turner’s. Lawrence is at once frighteningly radical – everything about the way we live and relate to one and other is damaged and needs to change – and also self-aware and self-ironising. Much is lost if we just take Lawrence ‘straight’. An example from Women in Love: during a country house weekend, the hostess Hermione tries to kill Rupert, with whom she has long been in love, by creeping up on him and trying to hit him on the head with a paperweight (a lump of lapis lazuli). At the last moment Rupert saves himself by interposing a volume of Thucydides. Yes, there are some characteristic Lawrentian themes in play here: emotions should be brought to the surface and not repressed, and love and hate are closer than we would like to think. But it also knows its own staginess and is sending up a world of rich patrons and artist sets that Lawrence knew well. When Cambridge University Press published a collection of essays entitled Lawrence and Comedy in 1996 some eyebrows were raised, but I think the editors and contributors were onto something. Perhaps this explains my discomfort at the first sentence of the letter in last Sunday’s Observer by Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis et al protesting about the proposed closure of the Lawrence Heritage Centre in Eastwood: ‘We are united in our belief that DH Lawrence is one of the world’s most important writers and that he has a unique place in British culture that should be celebrated.’ I’m glad they wrote the letter and fully support their cause, but the way they express themselves sounds much more ‘earnestly in earnest’ than Lawrence usually allowed himself to be.

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