"Giving Yourself Away," Part 2

The Letters and Intertextuality

Letters are the least autarchic of texts: each one, typically, responds to a previous text and expects a subsequent one. Ideally, an edition should print both sides of a correspondence, as in the volume of letters between Pound and Wyndham Lewis. Nigel Nicholson found room only for Woolf’s letters in his edition; Cambridge prints everything by Lawrence, and a small selection of letters to him. (n. 14) Frieda's letters are a special case, and ideally they should all be blended in with Lawrence's; Cambridge prints all jointly written letters, but none written by Frieda independently. Other letters have a strong claim for inclusion, as do closely associated literary texts: letters often provide indispensable comments on Lawrence's fiction, while the fiction often takes observations from the letters and re-works them in novelistic terms. There may be no simple rule for the inclusion of ancillary letters and other documents in the Cambridge edition. If the problem was essentially one of space, it might have been better to include no outside letters, but provide a much fuller system of references to where such materials can be found. Edward Nehls's Composite Biography (1957-59) assumes that intertextuality and mingling of genres are needed to do justice to Lawrence's protean career. But the richness of the Composite Biography entails also the absence of consistent editorial principles.

For an example of the relation between Lawrence’s letters and other documents we may look at the dealings between Lawrence, his American agent Robert Mountsier, and his American publisher Thomas Seltzer, [180] documented in Volume IV of the Letters. Mountsier and Seltzer did not get along well; hoping to reconcile them, Lawrence brought them together for Christmas 1922 at the Del Monte Ranch in New Mexico, along with Frieda and Seltzer's wife Adele. Tensions continued, and early in 1923 Lawrence dismissed Mountsier and affirmed his loyalty to Seltzer. Before long, Seltzer found himself in financial difficulties, and in 1925 Lawrence replaced him with Alfred A. Knopf as his principal American publisher.

Relations between Lawrence, Mountsier, and Seltzer are specially relevant to Lawrence's attitudes towards Jews. In November 1921 Lawrence wrote to S.S. Koteliansky (who was Jewish): “[Mountsier] is one of those irritating people who have generalised detestations: his particular ones being Jews, Germans, and Bolshevists. So unoriginal” (Letters IV 113). Two weeks later, however, he wrote to Mabel Dodge Sterne: “I don't like [Leo] Stein, a nasty, nosy, corrupt Jew” (Letters IV 182). In the confrontation of 1923, Lawrence sided with the Jewish Seltzers against the anti-semitic Mountsier; though in September 1924 he told Mountsier: “We are having the struggle with Seltzer that you warned me about. You were right and I was wrong about him” (Letters V 127). When race or ethnicity is at issue, Lawrence (like others) usually expresses his true feelings to third parties, but conceals them from the person directly involved. In any letter he writes to a Jew, we must read between the lines, supplementing the text with letters written to gentiles. (n. 15)

Evidence relevant to this situation would include all letters exchanged between the persons concerned, but Cambridge's handling of such letters is inconsistent. In general, few letters sent to Lawrence have survived, because it was his habit to destroy them soon after receipt. In the Lawrence/ Mountsier/ Seltzer affair, however, an unusual amount of ancillary correspondence is available and has been published. Letters IV prints two letters from Frieda to Adele Seltzer, one letter from Mountsier to Thomas Seltzer, one letter from Mountsier to Lawrence, and one from Seltzer to Lawrence. Gerald M. Lacy (Lawrence, Letters to Seltzer) adds seven other letters from Frieda to Adele; one from Frieda to Thomas; one from Adele to Lawrence; one from Thomas to Lawrence; six between the Seltzers; and twenty-one from Thomas Seltzer to Mountsier. (n. 16) Cambridge always prints such letters if they are physically linked to Lawrence letters (e.g., Frieda begins a letter and Lawrence continues it; Lawrence writes on the back of a letter he has received and forwards it). But in the absence of a physical connection, there seems to be no clear policy on what other letters will be included. [181]

After the Seltzers had left Del Monte at the beginning of January 1923, Frieda wrote to Adele Seltzer: “Mountsier sits in his room all day and writes another of his beastly European articles - I detest him for it - . . . . as you said his spirit is just opposed to L's! If he is hopeless, we wont have any more of him - ” (Lawrence Letters to Seltzer 57). Although this letter is not included in Letters IV, it is crucial to Lawrence's turn against Mountsier (and also to the mingling of Frieda's interests with Lawrence's). Mountsier's anti-German views clearly got on Frieda's nerves; Adele Seltzer, who came from a German-speaking background, had allied herself with Frieda against Mountsier. (n. 17) When Lawrence sent Mountsier away from the ranch, he made the announcement to Adele before telling her husband - and in German!: “Der Mountsier ist heute weg - fortgegangen - etc. Gott sei dank” (Letters IV 373). Lawrence’s letter needs Frieda’s in order to be understood in its context.

Annotating the Cambridge Letters

It is now a general rule that modernist letters will be published with explanatory notes and commentary; but the Preface to Volume One of the Cambridge Letters (which sets out editorial policy) says nothing at all about principles guiding the annotation. The economic realities of publishing (even for a university press) require that commentary must be fairly restricted, and a casual inspection of the Cambridge volumes indicates that the commentary does not exceed ten percent of the primary text of the letters. Such a limited space should be used as concisely and effectively as possible, but the Cambridge editors could have made better use of their short rations. First, Cambridge prints a very large amount of information that its readership - predominantly scholars - either already know or can easily find in standard reference works. Rather than trudging through dozens of notes to make this point, I will examine just the notes on pages 47 to 49 of Letters IV. In this sample, the editors give the full names and dates of birth and death of six painters, including Durer and Rembrandt. To understand Lawrence's letter, do we need to know that Rembrandt's middle name was Harmensz? Lawrence's reference to a “farm near Cannes” is annotated “Mougins, Alpes Maritimes, France”; why tell us the Département and country? Another five-line note quotes from Curtis Brown's archives about Jan Juta's illustrations for Sea and Sardinia; the English edition did not use these illustrations, and I cannot see any real use for the information supplied. [182]

More important, however, is what the editors leave out. Lawrence's reference to “the awful Rembrandts” suggests that he disliked Rembrandt as a painter. In fact, he is criticizing a proposed selection of Rembrandts for a schoolbook; elsewhere, to take only one example, he speaks of the “great Rembrandt . . . I loved him intensely” (Phoenix II 606). Also needing explanation are Lawrence's apparently callous remarks to Mary Cannan: “No, I hadn't heard of the boy's drowning. What was he doing to get drowned? J.M. [Barrie] has a fatal touch for those he loves. They die.” The note on this reads: “Michael Llewelyn Davies (1900-1921) was drowned in Sandford Pool, near Oxford, in May 1921, while bathing with another undergraduate.” Another note lists four friends and family of Barrie who died suddenly between 1867 and 1895; but it is unlikely that Lawrence knew of these deaths. The first note is typical of Cambridge's belt-and-suspenders style in telling us twice in one sentence that Davies died in 1921. But what, we wonder, was he doing to get drowned? And whose deaths did Lawrence hold Barrie responsible for?

Michael was one of five sons of the beautiful Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and her husband; Barrie, infatuated with Sylvia and her children, had become pathologically possessive towards them. The husband died young in 1907; Sylvia three years later; one of the sons, George, was killed in the war. Michael Davies's death occurred under suspicious circumstances, and may have been suicide caused by an unhappy love affair. Peter Davies, the original of Peter Pan, completed the family curse by killing himself in 1960. The story of the Davies family and Barrie is long and complex; but all Cambridge needed to do was cite the authoritative book on it, Andrew Birkin's J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys. However, it is Cambridge’s (silent) policy to avoid referencing secondary literature. (n. 18) As for Lawrence's apparent over-reaction, we need to know, first, that it was more than a casually snide comment or shot in the dark: he knew Barrie’s emotional history well because Mary Cannan had been married to him and Lady Cynthia Asquith was his secretary. Lawrence’s comments also suggest two of his master-ideas: that possessive love was a deathly force, (n. 19) and that “accidents” really come from a deep intentionality in both perpetrators and victims. A relevant example for the Davies case would be the drownings at the Crich water-party in Women in Love.

My commentary here is speculative; it suggests a biographical context for Lawrence's jeering at Barrie; it cites relevant secondary literature; and it links some casual remarks in a letter to Lawrence's fictional themes. Under the Cambridge convention of editorial self-restraint, these are all [183] reasons for the commentary to be excluded. “Objective” annotation, such as Rembrandt's dates or mention of the place where Davies drowned, is unassailable (if correct) and will never become obsolete. “Interpretive” commentary is personal, vulnerable to challenge by critics who disagree with it or would choose a different emphasis. The “facts” are complete in themselves; whereas an interpretation might take us to fifty other texts, inside or outside Lawrence's work. Nonetheless, much of the objective annotation could have been deleted in favor of economical and suggestive references to the two major textual fields that interpenetrate the letters: Lawrence's creative works (which are, after all, the reason for the edition's existence), and the critical literature about him.


The presence of James T. Boulton as editor or coeditor on all volumes of the Letters seems to have guaranteed a strictly defined and consistent policy on annotation; the alternative could be seen as a vague and variable proliferation of commentary, acting to diffuse the knowable core of Lawrence's 5,500 letters into an ocean of textual indeterminacy. What if each of the ten editors of the Letters were allowed to follow his or her preferences in the style and extent of annotation? Each of the seven volumes would then reflect the temperament of its editor or group of editors, and would be judged differently by reviewers and scholars. The belief in a single “right” way of editing Lawrence's letters would collapse in the face of a demonstrated relativism of editorial practices and reader responses. As it is, the spirit of the Cambridge edition is altogether contrary to such relativism. Everything about the edition, starting with the uniformity of its cover design and typography, proclaims that this is a monumental scholarly project, based on ideals of correctness, completeness, predictability, and fixity - a work of unimpeachable authority. Similar ideals inspired the Gabler edition of Ulysses; and critical response, in both cases, has included a great deal of irritable demolition work. The spirit of the age, for better or worse, is one of almost automatic resistance to the kinds of claims made by the Cambridge edition and by Gabler; and critics have accumulated an extensive set of tools for undermining all pretensions to textual authority. Any attempt to crystallize a “final” text is bound to come under fire from those whose premises include textual dissolution and dispersal. (n. 20)

The tension between the single authoritative text and an indeterminate textual field might be resolved in the future by new modes of [184] computerized textuality. The Cambridge edition began issuing volumes before the general use of word-processing and computerized typesetting, which would make it prohibitively expensive to re-issue the earlier volumes in any different form. But once a book exists in the “virtual” form of a computer file, it becomes a textual resource rather than a fixed configuration of words. In principle, at least, it should be possible to print it in different formats, and to extract various kinds of information from the text-base. The obstacles to such flexible access lie mainly in commercial considerations and in the copyright laws that have led Cambridge to claim property rights in a single form of its texts.

Beyond the digitization of individual works lies the prospect of a hypermedia version of the entire Lawrence corpus. “Hypermedia” means the computerized linking, in variable structures, of blocks of text, graphics, video, and sound (Delany & Landow). Projects are already under way for such computerized archives of Yeats and Robert Graves. (n. 21) With hypermedia, scholars can structure an author's writings in a variety of ways‹in effect, creating their own custom-made “virtual” editions and indexes. The simplest kind of variation would affect order: for example, if each of Lawrence's poems was a hypermedia “block,” they could be displayed in chronological order as an alternative to the division by published volumes in the Pinto and Roberts edition. The letters could be re-grouped into correspondences so as to highlight Lawrence’s individual relationships. More complicated re-organizations would depend on the interests and ingenuity of the individual user. For example, we could display on-screen textual continuity and divergence through every stage of a work's evolution in manuscript and print. Heyward Ehrlich has demonstrated the prototype of such a program: using various colors and screen windows, it presents graphically the differences between the Random House (1961) and Gabler editions of Ulysses (Ehrlich 1991). A computerized Lawrence resource could support massive systems of cross-reference, both within Lawrence's works and making external links to bibliographical resources, to the full texts of secondary sources, to graphics and sound. A user of the resource could move directly from a footnote citation to opening the text of the cited article on screen; every painting Lawrence mentions could be instantly displayed; every place shown on a map; every song performed. (n. 22) Much of the criticism of Cambridge editorial policy would then become irrelevant, because users would no longer be bound by Cambridge's once-and-for-all choices. We could read the November 1912 version of Sons and Lovers with all Edward Garnett's cuts highlighted; see the variant endings of The [185] Rainbow side-by-side; read parallel versions of Quetzalcoatl and The Plumed Serpent.

There would no longer be any question of completing a single, monumental version of the Lawrence corpus, which would gradually become obsolete in the years after its publication. The Cambridge edition arouses resentment - legitimate or not - because of its implicit claim to canonize particular readings and, in general, have the last word on Lawrence. We know that by concluding his edition of the letters with the words "This place no good," Huxley put into circulation a stereotype of Lawrence that has persisted for decades. As our understanding of how texts do their work becomes more sophisticated, we also become more aware of how books assert themselves in the world, and how powerful editors can be. That is why The Cambridge Edition of the Letters and Works, almost regardless of its vices and virtues, has occupied the central place in Lawrence studies - and Lawrencean politics - over the past fifteen years.


14. Healey and Cushman were able to publish both sides of the Lawrence/Lowell correspondence while the Cambridge edition was in progress (Lawrence, Letters of Lawrence and Lowell).

15. For a detailed account of Lawrence’s anti-semitism see Ruderman.

16. Lawrence, Letters to Seltzer. Other letters may remain unpublished.

17. Following a declaration that Germany had defaulted on reparations, French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr on 11 January 1923; Mountsier presumably approved.

18. Volume II of the Letters, edited by George Zytaruk and James T. Boulton, has a more liberal policy on citing secondary sources than the other volumes.

19. Lawrence's identification with Barrie, whom he saw as a fellow victim of excessive mother-love, is discussed in Delany, "Who Was the Blind Man?"

20. The intense interest aroused by the battle of the Gabler Ulysses suggests a possible swing of the critical pendulum, however. Much of the criticism of Gabler, especially by John Kidd, argued that the Gabler text was not correct enough. Controversialists often adopted a style of archaic pedantry - which, after twenty years of deconstruction, came as a new and exciting way to read texts! (see Rossman).

21. The Yeats Hypermedia Project is sponsored by the British Academy; the Graves archive by the Graves estate and the Leverhulme Trust.

22. Design issues for such a resource for James Joyce are explored in Delany, "Scholar's Library"


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