A new selection of essays captures Lawrence’s passion for “the beauty, the marvel of being alive in the flesh”by Catherine Brown / March 15, 2019 / Leave a comment
It was with joy that I saw that Geoff Dyer has made a selection of DH Lawrence’s essays. I first encountered Dyer through his 1997 genre-busting work that described his failure to write a biography of Lawrence, Out of Sheer Rage. Then (full disclosure) in 2013 I made a Culture Show Special with him for the centenary of Lawrence and his wife Frieda’s honeymoon crossing of the Alps, when I experienced first-hand his wittily-heterodox take on the writer who united us in our pilgrimage.
It is high time that Lawrence’s non-fiction had another airing. Since the Leavisite-moralist Lawrence of the 1950s was replaced by the pro-porn Priest of Love of the 1960s, who was in turn displaced by the misogynist-proto-fascist Lawrence of the 1980s, the best of Lawrence has been lost to view. All that’s left in the popular consciousness is a novel (Lady Chatterley’s Lover) that inspires lingerie ranges, and a film in which Oliver Reed and Alan Bates wrestle naked (Women in Love). Life with a Capital L is a much-needed corrective. For anyone who hasn’t read any Lawrence, I would readily recommend it as a good place to start. It presents Lawrence as diverse, brilliant, and strange. He was all these things.
In his introduction Dyer argues that Lawrence is at his strongest in his short forms, which often trouble the boundaries between fiction, autobiography and criticism—rather than those “strenuous” novels, on which Lawrence himself placed such metaphysical burdens. In Lawrence at his best, writes Dyer, “Sensations flicker and blaze into ideas that are presented as though they are data from some instrument calibrated to a pitch of receptivity so extreme as to be abnormal or even pathological”—a phenomenon often displayed in the volume.
The range of the essays is vast: a meditation on Alpine crucifixes; how spring asserts itself even whilst one mourns for the winter; how Indians dance in New Mexico; why he doesn’t like living in London; why, if men are to give women the pattern by which to live, it should at least be a decent one; and why Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor was in the right after all.
The selection is less obviously Dyer-esque (he coins the term “Lawrence-ese”) than one might expect. It includes lengthy extracts from the highly-metaphysical Study of Thomas Hardy, and the piece on Dostoevsky is as intellectually-dense and politically-questionable as anything Lawrence ever wrote. Dyer states…