Tag Archives: DH Lawrence

In the Sweet

I have always been particularly attracted by happy lovers and attached to them: Lawrence and Frieda were more than twice as attractive to me together than they would have been separately. 
—David Garnett, from the forward of Love among the Haystacks by D.H. Lawrence

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The concluding book of my trip to Rome this summer was D.H. Lawrence’s Love among the Haystacks. I bought it in an English-language used book store in Trastevere. The book itself was appealing. A yellow paperback of old thick paper stock. It was published by Phoenix Public Co Ltd out of Berne and on the bottom of the front cover was printed, “not to be introduced into the British Empire or the U.S.A.,” which I read on the tarmac of JFK, so maybe not technically U.S.A.?

During my time in Rome I took many photos. I was alone after all, and through my lens I relished being the observer and used my photos to communicated to my friends at home. When I read the above quote in the forward of Lawrence’s charming book, I realized that I too have always been particularly attracted to happy lovers. The proof was there to see in my photos.

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We were both still. She put her arms round her bright knee, and caressed it, lovingly, rather plaintively, with her mouth. The brilliant green dragons on her wrap seemed to be snarling at me (“Once” 173)

I had not thought I would get to this last book in my plastic bag, but events overtook me. We took off an hour late from Stockholm so landed at JFK at 9pm instead of 8:00. An hour before landing, the airline brought coffee and some packaged bread-like substance to wake us up. I was seated in the middle of the middle of the plane and when the steward reached over to put my coffee on my tray I had a moment of distraction and suddenly the cup was sliding down, off the tray, onto my lap. The hot coffee scalded my legs and I hopped (as much as one can hop while seated and pack like a sardine) and quietly (so as to not wake the baby sleeping in her mother’s arms next to me) cried out “oh! oh! oh!” But what could I do, really? I was trapped in my seat until everyone else was finished and had their trays cleared. So I sat in a literal hot mess for about 30 minutes.

There it was damp and dark and depressing. But one makes the best of things, when one sets out on foot (“A Chapel Among the Mountains,” 115).

Finally, I was able to get up and retrieve my bag. I went to the bathroom, changed my pants for a skirt, asked for a blanket to cover my wet seat and sat back down. It was at this point that I settled in with Lawrence. I thought I might just get a few pages in, but reading is my relaxation go-to.

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His lips met her temple. She slowly, deliberately turned her mouth to his, and with opened lips, met him in a kiss, his first love kiss (“Love among the Haystacks” 98)

I was very much mistaken however, because the night that I landed in JFK was the night that the terminals were shut down due to rumors of a shooter. We sat for hours on the tarmac before anyone even told us what was going on, although, as we all had half-dying cell phones we knew something was up.

The young woman looked at Geoffrey, and he at her. There was a sort of kinship between them. Both were at odds with the world. Geoffrey smiled satirically. She was too grave, too deeply incensed even to smile (“Love among the Haystacks 63).

I ended up reading the entire book. We sat in the plane for just under seven hours. Seven hours. Seven. Luckily, Love among the Haystacks is a collection of endearing love stories. Endearing, that is, in Lawrence’s usual strangled way. Lawrence’s lovers are never fully able to express the raging waters in and between them. Their attempt are often thwarted, frustrated, bitter, and even angry. But when the waters meet—it is sweet.

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Getting Appley

He knew, as an artist, that the only bit of a woman which nowadays escapes being ready-made and ready-known cliché is the appley part of her (205).
– D.H. Lawrence, from essay “Cézanne” in Writers on Artists

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Love is like this. The other day I found myself sitting on the library floor, in between the stacks, pulling every Cézanne book I saw off of the shelves. Okay, I didn’t mysteriously find myself there. But in my defense, it was an unusually slow day at the library. For the first time that I have ever worked there I had shelved every single item and then alphabetized every thing else that had to wait (DVDs that needed security casings, for instance) I was at an awkward impasse- finally I mustered the courage to ask if it would be alright if I read, while maintaining a veneer of readiness should work arrive, of course.

He could not masturbate, in paints or words. And that is saying a very great deal, today; today, the great day of the masturbating consciousness, when the mind prostitutes the sensitive responsive body, and just forces the reactions. The masturbating consciousness produces all kinds of novelties, which thrill for the moment, then go very dead (203).

What joy! I was finally able to get to the essay by D.H. Lawrence on Cézanne that had been the reason I had checked the book out (the book: Writers on Artist is one I came across whilst shelving; I couldn’t resist a perusal, and Lawrence settled the thing. I would have to read it. It is a wonderful compilation edited by Daniel Halpern of some forty essays). The preceding essay had also focused on Cézanne- actually it was not so much an essay as parts of letters written by Rilke to his wife,Clara, relating his frequent, lovingly obsessive visits to the Salon. It was marvelous. Rilke makes me love life, love writing, love art, and not worry so much about the essay length letters I inflict upon my friends…. But – Lawrence. I finished his essay and (may have) let a skipping gait take me deep into the stacks (working in the Arts and Music section has its benefits).

Cézanne felt it in paint, when he felt for the apple. Suddenly he felt the tyranny of the mind, the white, worn-out arrogance of the spirit, the mental consciousness, the enclosed ego in its sky-blue heaven self-painted. He felt the sky-blue prison (201).

Sitting on the floor, I took down one of the large heavy books and it fell open to Apples and Biscuits. I gasped. It’s not that I haven’t seen Cézanne’s work, of course I have seen many works in books, some works in actuality, but…something about this one – I could have spent hours gazing at it- so much for my veneer of readiness- I sank into the floor.

But we have to remember, in his figure paintings, that while he was painting the appleyness he was also deliberately painting out the so-called humanness, the personality, the “likeness,” the physical cliché.[…] Try as he might, woman remained a known ready-made cliché object to him […] Except his wife – and in his wife he did at least know the appelyness (206).

And what woman doesn’t want her appleyness known? Indeed, what person doesn’t long to share one’s appleyness with another? Curiously this particular painting was not to be found in any of the other books. But this was the one. This one sang sweetly right into my ear, piercing my soul. The hard floor and artificial light fell away as the apples teased, excited and calmed my heart in imperceptible turns. The joyful humor of the domesticity of the plate of biscuits, and that beautiful wall…it was love at first sight.

It was not Zola who understood what the point was; Balzac had sensed long ahead that, in painting, something so tremendous can suddenly present itself, which no one can handle. –Rainer Maria Rilke “The Cézanne Inscape”

Maybe this comes close (it certainly does if you have to pleasure to sing it, as I will this Saturday):

That appleyness is our very worth, the core of our humanity, the rounded ripe beauty of our souls. When it is discovered and felt, a sort of primordial roar is released. When we see it or hear it, the tremendous truth is awing. The veneer, cliché, and inauthentic are blasted away. The struggle to maintain what we instinctively feel in the face of cynical convention or mawkish insincerity never really ends – if we can just maintain some space of clarity within (through music, through art) so that when we come across the appelyness – we know we were right all along.

It’s the real appelyness, and you can’t imitate it. Every man must create it new and different out of himself: new and different (Lawrence 206). 

 

Under This Sun

It would flood her, steal her breath.
But then it would pass. The moment would pass. Leave her deflated, feeling nothing but a vague
restlessness.
-Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns (168)

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I took a short break from reading Giovanni Verga’s Little Novels of Sicily to read a book my daughter gave me, A Thousand Splendid Suns. It was after Verga’s Story of the Saint Joseph’s Ass, when there, written in faint cursive script, someone had written, “depressing.” I laughed out loud because this story fell in the middle of the book and to be honest, we were well beyond depressing. D.H. Lawrence translated the novel of the Sicilian novelist and playwright born in Catania in 1840. The stories are like parables, except there is no consolation of sorrows to be found, rather a confirmation of pities. Each story is a wry, subtle social criticism pointing out the grinding down of humanity under the hard stone of poverty.

However, wherever there is malaria there is earth blessed by God. – Little Novels of Sicily, Malaria (70)

A Thousand Splendid Suns is not exactly a cheerful romp however, the story of two women’s lives amidst the upheaval and cruelties of Afghanistan 1960-2003… you kind of know going in that it’s going to be heartbreaking.

And it is, but as my daughter said, “Keep reading.” Some days are more splendid than others, and there’s just no knowing.

The attachment to the land of one’s birth is a strong component in each book, and one that I have difficulty relating to. As far as I can tell, the sun shines with equal beauty in all directions. To me it seems just one more chain of self imposed rigidity. Nationality, race, religion, should not a man make. But we do so need to belong….if not to someone, than to something.

A striking difference between these two books  is that one, Hosseini’s, is ultimately a hopeful story, because where there is love, there is always hope. Signor Verga, on the other hand, tempts my cynical misanthropic side: the greedy folly of men, the slow but sure slide into a dust of nothingness, helplessness that sours into hopelessness over the centuries are the realities that he builds his tales upon. His characters, like many people’s actual lives, are sadly lacking in love, the pursuit of a piece of bread is all consuming. Ignorance is all damning. Mere existence is a kind of purgatory, where the shock of lovelessness has worn off. In Hosseini’s story the rays of love, even if they are intermittent shards reflecting bits of warmth in between the horrors, are all sustaining.

Hosseini’s redemptive tale, in the end, is beautifully heart warming. The appeal of the Verga tales, on the other hand, for me, and perhaps for Lawrence, (based on what I’ve read of his works) is the cautionary aspect, the dry humor, a kind-hearted condolence to the unfortunate, and angry outrage at those that abuse their power. Lawrence’s writing is full of a call to love, of finding the meaning and worth of our lives in the connections made to other people. Through Lawrence’s translation of Verga’s stories we see the alternative, we feel the chill of our inhumanity that has the power to blot out our shared sun.

My children’s Sicilian grandmother would sometimes wag her finger and say, “Shamey, shamey, shamey.” Verga’s Little Novels of Sicily is just such a pointing finger.