D.H. Lawrence

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In search of DHL

By Sam Richardson

Martin Pearce, a British traveler just arrived in Taos, New Mexico lowered his head as he stepped through a low narrow opening that led into the office at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House and said to the manager, “I’m looking for Lawrence.”

            Most of the old home, now a bed and breakfast and conference center, has been expanded to meet the needs of modern guests but some of the original narrow passageways, staircases, and low overhead doors built in the Spanish colonial style over a hundred years ago are still in use. Inside the small main office, Pearce explained to the manager that he is on a worldwide literary pilgrimage and is visiting as many places as he can where the famous British novelist D.H. Lawrence lived and wrote, northern New Mexico being one of them.

            Mabel Dodge Luhan, the celebrated Taoseña socialite, had invited Lawrence and his wife Frieda to visit New Mexico in the early 1920s. Many artists, writers, and thinkers with international reputations had lingered in Dodge’s living room. Georgia O’Keeffe, Ansel Adams, Aldous Huxley, and Carl Jung were among the visitors the Lawrences would have met during those high times.

            Lawrence was known to have painted some windows, just for fun, in one of Luhan’s bathrooms and that was what Pearce wanted to see. The manager politely explained that the bathroom was just above the office and Martin was welcome to take a look and a photo but to watch his head as he ascended the cramped, almost vertical, stairway.

            After a cautious ascent and bumping his head only once, Pearce summited the stairway and found the windows still intact and diffusing the afternoon light throughout the tiny room in a dozen bright colors. Their designs are floral and geometric patterns and at the bottom of one window was the inscription, “D.H. Lawrence painted these windows for Mabel Dodge Luhan while visiting here in 192-” (the last number was obscured but the date is thought to be 1924 or 25). The bathroom with its antique tub and fixtures is still in use and is shared by two of the upstairs rooms.

            Earlier that day, Pearce had visited the D.H. Lawrence Ranch and memorial where the author’s ashes are interred. Then he had viewed some of Lawrence’s paintings, a collection called “Forbidden Art,” which is on display at the La Fonda Hotel on the square in Taos. In the early 20th century, the series of paintings had caused scandal in England and Lawrence had saved them only by agreeing to get them out of the U.K.

            Mr. Pearce is in the ninth month of a yearlong worldwide walkabout, which started at his home in Bristol, England. The British have an enlightened system that allows employees of many companies and government agencies to take what’s called a “career break.” Workers can take up to a year off, travel, or do what they want, then go back to their jobs without losing seniority or benefits. Pearce, who became interested in Lawrence at age 16 when he read “Sons and Lovers,” had been planning his trip for five years.

            First stop was Cape town, South Africa where he spent a week on his way to Australia. From Perth in Western Australia, Pearce caught a bus headed east to Darlington, the first official stop on his Lawrence trail.

            In Darlington, D.H. Lawrence had met Molly Skinner, an aspiring writer who he eventually collaborated with on the book “The Boy in the Bush.” Skinner wrote the majority of the novel, which is based on her brother’s experiences as an immigrant to Australia. Lawrence later added a greater psychological dimension to the story and transformed the plot. It was the only such collaboration the English author ever entered into.

            After Darlington, Pearce continued on his quest and traveled the breadth of Australia, arriving in the east coast town of Thirroul, near Sydney. There, the muse had been kind to Lawrence and he had written his novel “Kangaroo” in a short period of time. The descriptions of the Australian outback in that book are considered some of the best ever written about those regions.

            “He wrote ‘Kangaroo’ (almost 400 pages) in six weeks time, in longhand, with virtually no cross-outs,” said Pearce.

            From Australia, Pearce flew to New Zealand. Lawrence had visited there en route to America but did no significant writing in that period. After seeing the bay in Wellington where Lawrence had sailed, Pearce moved inland and eventually ended up spending six months touring the small island country before flying to the United States in May.

            After a bus trip that took him from Los Angeles to San Diego to Albuquerque, Pearce picked up Lawrence’s trail again when he arrived in Taos.

            From the Inn of the Mountain Light north of Taos where he was a guest, Pearce reminisced about his discovery of D.H. Lawrence. He was given an assignment to read “Sons and Lovers” in high school but was dreading it. Then he experienced a revelation. “It was the first novel I’d read where I could identify with characters with a working class background,” he said. “The psychology of the characters was so real.” Pearce read the 500 page book in two days and has been hooked on Lawrence ever since.

            After D.H. Lawrence left New Mexico, he went to old Mexico where he wrote “The Plumed Serpent.” He later returned to Europe and died in France in 1930. His wife, Frieda, eventually had his ashes removed to New Mexico.

            Now that he’s found his countryman D.H. Lawrence in New Mexico, Martin Pearce will visit friends in Texas, North Carolina, and Boston, before heading back to the U.K. in September. Then it’s back to work at his job as a Donor Carer for the National Blood Service.

            But Pearce’s pilgrimage is not finished. The peripatetic Lawrence visited many other places in his travels and in the next few years the spirit of the great novelist may find Martin Pearce following him, again, in places like Mexico, Sri Lanka, and Sicily, some of the author’s other haunts during his own remarkable and well-documented literary life.

first published in The Bristol Post

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