DH Lawrence

Biography

Farewell to Europe

The first four months of Lawrence's return to Europe saw him going steadily further south.  After a return visit to Fiascherino, he went on to Florence, making contact with the writer Norman Douglas and the latter's friend the American writer Maurice Magnus; he met up with Frieda and then together they tried Picinisco, in the Abruzzi mountains; an English friend, Rosalind Baynes, had thought of living there.  But it proved impossibly cold and remote: they went further south still, to Capri, where the English writing colony, including Compton Mackenzie and Francis Brett Young, made them welcome; and finally, in February 1920, they went down to Sicily, to the Fontana Vecchia on the outskirts of Taormina.  Here, Lawrence and Frieda lived for almost two years, and he got down to some serious work.  He had been writing the essays of Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious; he now wrote The Lost Girl (which drew on the 1913 Insurrection novel), and arranged for the publication of Women in Love in America with a new publisher, Thomas Seltzer, and in England with Secker.  He also worked at a novel unfinished since 1917, Aaron's Rod, and started Mr Noon, but did not finish that either.  In its fragmentary state it constitutes a sardonic attack on the novel reading public as well as an extraordinary recreation of those first months in love with Frieda, back in 1912, seen from the perspective of a writer who no longer believed in love.  In the summer of 1920 he had a very brief affair with Rosalind Baynes, now living near Florence, but such a relationship made no difference to his commitment to marriage; nor would it have had anything (he hoped) to do with love.   A number of his poems in Birds, Beasts and Flowers, especially in the section 'Tortoises', drew on it. 


The Calendar of Modern Letters

The Calendar of Modern Letters (Lawrence Collection)

In January 1921, he and Frieda visited Sardinia and he wrote the second of his travel books, Sea and Sardinia, an acute and often very funny diary of the trip.  He also found himself able that spring to complete Aaron's Rod, the novel he been struggling with, in which a working-class musician manages to leave his wife, family and England, and to live by his art.  Some new friends, Earl and Achsah Brewster, were added around this time to those whose company he enjoyed.

He had applied himself to a sustained attack on Freud in his book Psychoanalysis and the Unconsciousness; in the autumn of 1921 he wrote its lighter-hearted successor (and response to the critics of the first book), Fantasia of the Unconscious.   At the end of 1921, his thorough revision of the short novels The Fox, The Captain's Doll and The Ladybird showed him working in a new form and with an extraordinary intensity.  He also revised all his stories of the war years to create the collection England, My England: a way of coming to terms with the past, and putting it behind him.  And he wrote his 'Memoir of Maurice Magnus' (Magnus having recently committed suicide): one of his finest pieces of writing, about a man who as a writer struggled to articulate what he experienced, and who lived by his wits on the outskirts of conventional society.

Lawrence found Sicily wonderful, perhaps because it represented a final toe-hold on Europe: the Fontana Vecchia, the garden, the sun, the prospect out over the Mediterranean made it the place where he had been happier to live than anywhere since Cornwall.  But at the end of 1921, he was determined to move on and go to America, his ambition for eight years now.  In the event, the contact he had with the American hostess Mabel Dodge Sterne and her friends in the artists' colony of Taos made him decide to go first to Ceylon, to visit the Brewsters.  In February 1922, he and Frieda set out for Ceylon, intending to approach America from the west coast.

© Professor John Worthen, 2005

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