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Lawrence's tussles

I've put the Victorian Firebrand, biography of J.S. Mill to one side for the time because I've been swayed by the need to read John Worthen's D.H. Lawrence - The Life of an Outsider. Worthen has the most distinctive job title - Professor of D.H. Lawrence studies at Nottingham. (What would I like to be Professor of? What would you like to be Professor of?) I like Lawrence from what I've learnt so far - he comes across as a grumpy old bugger but I like that too - it's a Northern thing! And I can, to a certain degree, relate to his background too - brought up as working-class but wanting more, knowing more. The guilt of feeling that once you leave you are leaving people behind - not wanting to appear as though you are 'getting above yourself' but knowing that such nonsense is often spat by those who haven't managed it and have repressed it, or those who already see themselves above you and who on earth do you think you are? There's also the question of his attitude when he came to London and was, for a while, mingling with the Bloomsbury Group - let's face it, most people would feel on the outside of this coterie - but Lawrence perhaps more than most, which was why he was so deliciously scathing when he described them as being 'little swarming selves', although he was good friends with Katharine Mansfield, perhaps because she too occupied a place in the margins of Bloomsbury and of whom it seemed Woolfe was jealous. Yet anyone who has read Lawrence's brilliant short stories, such as The Odour of Chrysanthemums can understand his scorn - it was his earthy sensual core in shocking contrast to, say, anything by E.M. Forster. There are also his essays... But what got me thinking the moment I opened this biography was the pre-title page, on which there sits a couple of excerpts - one from Sons & Lovers, and the other from a letter Lawrence wrote in 1927, just three years before his early demise:

'Myself, I suffer badly from being so cut-off. But what is one to do? ...At times one is forced to be essentially a hermit. I don't want to be. But anything else is either a personal tussle, or a money tussle: sickening: except, of course, for ordinary acquaintance, which remans acquaintance. One has no real human relations - that is so devastating.'

What gets me is the emotion he conveys - or evokes - forced to be as solitary as possible because it is less painful than the endless tussles of everyday life; the tussles of differing opinions; the tussle inherent in having to swallow so much in the day-to-day struggle of trying to retain some creative integrity whilst frequently compromising at the altar of market considerations and societal convention despite knowing, feeling differently.

But if you said those words - if they did not come from him in 1927 - but you today, or from someone writing, it would, I'm sure, set off a whole diatribe that could be boiled down to six words: Who does he think he is? What makes him so different that he considers himself so sensitive that he has to retreat from the 'real world' where there are no 'tussles'. And I find it sad that one can't even voice those words today and talk more about that real, painful, existential struggle, and yet we are STILL too busy trying to do what is expected - whether it's bowing to the ever-demanding, insatiable god of market considerations, or the ever-demanding boss who keeps changing his mind, or the ever demanding world of celebrity that just wants more and more vapidity. And yet the paradox is that more and more people bitch and whine about nothing very much - they unknowingly feign humility in order to 'confess' their ever more depraved and vacuous antics in the church of present-day slebs, only ever fuelled by greater quantities of whatever because that's the only way one can avoid that altogether nobler, greater calling of the existential struggle that becomes so painful that you have to stay and fight your corner in the 'real world' which means tussle after tussle or, like Lawrence, you have to protect yourself from the pain of those 'tussles'. Aah yes, but Lawrence was sexist! you say, which is laughingly supposed to null and void everything else. One of the lines from his essays that I found striking was his description of the New Woman - 'the silk-legged hordes'. His attitude toward the rise of the New Woman was, perhaps, an attack at their need for an equality - an equal daily battle? One could smell his fear of emasculation - certainly understandable. What man in tune and engaged with his times wouldn't have felt the fear that the New Woman was going to suddenly take over - turn the tables and give the men a good kicking, figuratively speaking? Yet he seems to me to have known this for his portrayal of women in his fiction is mostly admirable. I'm looking forward to finding out what Worthen thinks of his attitudes to women - and fascism and god knows what else and I will post a review of Worthen's biog in due course.

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