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The American Lawrence$

Lee M. Jenkins

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780813060507

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: September 2015

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813060507.001.0001

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D. H. Lawrence, Americano

(p.1) Introduction
The American Lawrence

Lee M. Jenkins

University Press of Florida

Abstract and Keywords

The Introduction discusses the “American Lawrence” in the contexts of transnationalism and the globalized New American Studies. This chapter argues that far from setting a narrow, national canon, as is often alleged, Lawrence’s essays on American literature, and his own American poetry and fiction, anticipate the recent “transnational turn” in American Studies. The Introduction goes on to offer an overview of Lawrence’s relationships with America and American literature, as a critic and as a professional writer. This chapter assesses the significance of Lawrence’s affiliations and affinities as a poet with the localized American aesthetic sponsored by Alfred Stieglitz, William Carlos Williams, and Mary Austin. The Introduction also provides an overview of the years Lawrence spent in New Mexico, between 1922 and 1925, and of his fraught yet productive association with the doyenne of New Mexico modernism, Mabel Dodge Luhan.

Keywords:   Transnationalism, New American Studies, Modernism, New Mexico, Stieglitz, Alfred, Luhan, Mabel Dodge

In direction I am more than half American.

I always write really towards America.

D. H. Lawrence, letter to Amy Lowell

“Can non-Americans write American literature?”1 John Muthyala, who asks the question in his study titled Reworlding America, answers yes, they can. In The American Lawrence, I read D. H. Lawrence as a non-American who, in one period of his career at least, wrote American literature.

There is no American Lawrence in the sense that we speak of the American Auden. Unlike Auden, Lawrence would remain a British subject; during the three years he spent in the New World between 1922 and 1925, Lawrence stayed in the United States on six-month-long visitor’s visas, moving across the border from New Mexico to Mexico as each elapsed. Literary citizenship is another matter, however, and Lawrence himself floated the idea that he was “more than half American” in a letter he sent to Amy Lowell from Sicily, the year before he traveled to the United States for the first time.2 Taking him at his word has far-reaching implications, for our understanding of Lawrence and of American literature alike: it means calling in question the still-dominant domestic definition of the English Lawrence and the integrity of nationbased traditions, British and American. Read as “more than half American,” Lawrence sets national canons out of kilter, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Under a globalizing rubric like Muthyala’s, Lawrence’s American oeuvre, (p.2) the core of which consists of the poems, essays, and fictions he wrote in and about New Mexico in the early to mid-1920s, may be classified as American literature. Yet Lawrence is left out of the loop, his American writing bypassed in the transnational circuits of contemporary scholarship. His absence is explained not only by the “presentism” with which the transnational paradigm has been charged but also by Lawrence’s own imbrication with American literary criticism in its formative, nation-building phase. The Lawrence who wrote American literature has been occluded by the Lawrence who wrote about it, in the set of essays begun in England in 1917 and published in book form in New York in 1923 as Studies in Classic American Literature. The case I want to make in what follows for Lawrence’s pertinence to new paradigms in American studies is thus contingent on a reappraisal of his contribution to the old American studies.

Certain Americanists and an Englishman

In an early review of Studies in Classic American Literature for the New York Evening Post Literary Review, the American critic Stuart Sherman informs his readers that Lawrence “has been visiting us, sojourning physically, I believe, in New Mexico.” With suitably dry humour, Sherman pictures Lawrence there, at the edge of Taos desert, “wearing a sombrero, driving a Ford, drinking iced water qualified perhaps with white mule, reading the Albuquerque American, and smoking Camel cigarettes.” Lawrence, Sherman says, is a “good guest,” who observes the customs of the host culture; adopting the peccadilloes of the locals, he even gives a passable imitation of a “genuine Americano.”3 What a genuine Americano might be is a moot point, and one to which I will return. “Out there in New Mexico under sombrero,” Sherman’s Americano Lawrence is, in any case, a straw man: the real target of his review is the English author of Studies in Classic American Literature, who imitates American “habits and manners” by phrasing his book about American literature in the American vernacular.

Sherman deciphers the ersatz Americanisms of Studies in Classic American Literature as the signature, not of a wannabe American who talks the talk in the belief that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but of a “gifted alien,” a mimic man who flatters to deceive. In Sherman’s judgment, the English Lawrence “has borrowed our language and discussed our classics in order to deliver, in a style intelligible to us and with illustrations suited to our comprehensions, his own message.” Studies in Classic American Literature, that is, “has a thesis,” (p.3) which, Sherman finds, is the same thesis propounded in Lawrence’s novels and in his philosophical writing—the colonization of the passional instincts of the body and of the “blood” by the idealizing and intellectualizing forces of the mind.4 Sherman’s point is that the book says more about Lawrence himself than it does about the American classics that it purports to study.

Writing more than seventy years later, however, and with the benefit of the longer view, Lawrence Buell points out that Studies in Classic American Literature is “the first thesis book about American literature to endure” [my emphasis].5 But if Studies in Classic American Literature still endures in American studies, it is as a black book. Lawrence’s Studies, which tests its thesis on a select group of “classic”—male, white, antebellum—authors, is deemed complicit with the now superannuated and ideologically suspect processes of national canon-formation that defined American literary studies in the post–World War I decade of its inception.

As Paul Giles remarks, Lawrence’s Studies also “anticipates the epistemology of American studies in its ‘mythic’ phase.” The “widely influential nature” of Lawrence’s book in the period of the Cold War is in inverse ratio to its reception by Americanists today, who reject, often in polemical terms, the method and mind-set of their myth and symbol precursors: R.W.B. Lewis, Richard Chase, Charles Feidelson, Henry Nash Smith, and Leslie Fiedler.6 According to Donald E. Pease, the myth and symbolists were “soldier-critics” who “produced the patriotic fictions in whose name they could retroactively claim to have fought the war.” In Pease’s critique, the myth and symbol school promulgated “the state fantasy of American exceptionalism” by identifying in classic or canonical American literature the “foundational signifiers” of the U.S. national metanarrative—the myth of Virgin Land, for example, and of the American Adam. Thus, during myth and symbol’s tenure in the academy, “the field of American Studies collaborated with … the cultural apparatus” of the nation state.7

In the 1990s, American studies took the transnational turn, and, rebranded as the New American studies, turned its back on the insular notion of a national narrative the legitimacy of which had been contested since the cultural turn of the 1960s and the opening up of the American canon in the following decade. Philip Rahv’s argument in The Myth and the Powerhouse (1965) that the recourse to myth belies a fear of history (the powerhouse) would now be taken up by a cohort of critics who rejected the “‘consensus’ history which ignores fundamental conflicts and tensions in American culture.”8 The myths of uniqueness and of American Exceptionalism encoded (p.4) in the “classic” canon by the myth and symbolists have duly been exploded, and today American literature is understood, not as a world apart, but as part of a wider world. American literary studies now navigates a “world of fluid borders” as scholars embark on the cartographic enterprise defined in Giles’s recent study of that title as The Global Remapping of American Literature.9

As the spatial coordinates of American criticism shift, and the national scene recedes into the transnational distance, the English Lawrence is caught somewhere between the devil and the deep blue sea. Identified by Sherman as a gifted alien who, in mimicking the native tongue mocks the “national spirit,” Lawrence, in Giles’s more recent assessment, is an essentialist who intuits in the American classics “an alien quality, which belongs to the American continent and to nowhere else” (SCAL 13).10 There is a curious reversal here: New Americanists consign Studies in Classic American Literature to the reactionary rearguard of their discipline, whereas Sherman, who was old-school even by the critical standards of the 1920s, places Lawrence’s book closer to what is now the leading edge of American literary theory. In his review, Sherman locates the English Lawrence in the borderland state of New Mexico in order to position the pro tem “Americano” author of Studies in Classic American Literature at a tangent, in a more than geographical sense, to the national narrative his book nominally underwrites.

Clearly, Lawrence did regard “classic” American literature, in its manifest, if not in its latent or symbolic meaning, as a national literature, and Studies in Classic American Literature would subsequently be co-opted in institutionalizing it as such. But Lawrence’s book itself is concerned less with the incarnation than with the “post mortem” decomposition of a national narrative in the American classics (SCAL 148). For Lawrence, antebellum American literature augurs what Pease would call a post-national imaginary, albeit that Lawrence’s vision of the American future is hardly identical with Pease’s. Lawrence’s spirit of place may be an essentialist notion, but that does not mean that it is a national, still less a nationalist, one: as Jon Thompson argues, “Lawrence uses a fair part of ‘The Spirit of Place’ to clear the field of familiar American myths.”11 The spirit of place as Lawrence defines it in Studies in Classic American Literature is a continental quality, anathema to the national spirit so stalwartly defended by Sherman in his review of Lawrence’s book. Far from being “conditioned to an alien nationalism” in America, or in his American writing, Lawrence was himself the alien, even if he was, as Sherman concedes, a gifted one.12

(p.5) Placing Lawrence

During the war years, in the latter stages of which the first version of Studies in Classic American Literature was begun, England had become an alien nation for Lawrence. In “Democracy,” an essay directly related to his work-in-progress on the “Whitman” chapter for Studies, Lawrence would assert that “Nation is a dead ideal”—“England, France, Germany, America—these great Nations, they have no vital meaning any more” (RDP 66). Written after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919 and before Lawrence’s departure from England for Italy in November of that year, “Democracy” rejects the empty promise of League of Nations internationalism even as it picks over the post mortem remains of the war-torn national ideal. A noncombatant with a German wife, Lawrence was harried in an England caught up in the patriotic frenzy of the war.

The posttraumatic shock of his wartime experience is registered in “The Nightmare” chapter of Lawrence’s Australian novel, Kangaroo (1923), where, in a searing anatomy of nationality and its discontents, Richard Lovatt Somers, the protagonist and a close fictional surrogate for the author, is described as “[o]ne of the most intensely English little men England ever produced, with a passion for his country, even if it were often a passion of hatred” (223). In Somers, we can discern F. R. Leavis’s obdurately English Lawrence (a figure of the author that has proved somewhat more durable than the Leavisite Great Tradition itself): Leavis would use Lawrence’s testament that “I am English, and my Englishness is my very vision” as the epigraph to his D. H. Lawrence: Novelist.13

Kangaroo gives equal sanction, however, to the countervailing view of Lawrence, in which the English novelist championed by Leavis and by Raymond Williams as the wayward heir of George Eliot and Thomas Hardy is displaced by the unaffiliated and footloose exile. “The ties were gone,” Lawrence writes of Somers, and of himself: “He was loose like a single timber of some wrecked ship, drifting the face of the sea. Without a people, without a land” (K 259). Roots or routes—these competing discourses, which claim Lawrence for an English tradition or define him as deterritorialized nomad—replicate what, in “Democracy,” Lawrence perceives as the false binary between the bounded national subject and world citizenship sans frontiers. His own postwar credo, expressed in the introduction to Fantasia of the Unconscious (1922), was that “[t]he promised land, if it be anywhere, lies away beneath our feet” (PU 68). For extended periods between September (p.6) 1922 and September 1925, the promised land, in Lawrence’s characteristically down-to-earth definition of it, was an American place.

Michael North may well be right to opine that Lawrence’s quest for “an organic community to which he might belong” proved fruitless, because “the only place he finally belonged was in transit.”14 But if he was a rootless déraciné, Lawrence was also a topophile; in more than the strict sense of the term Lawrence was a travel writer, for whom the poetics of space and of place was as generative a principle as the dynamics of transit he admired in Whitman’s verse of the open road. L. D. Clark argues in his study of Lawrence and the symbolism of travel that the writing Lawrence produced in and about New Mexico “constitutes one of the most outstanding achievements in response to place” in modern literature.15 Moreover, together with the final version of Studies in Classic American Literature, which was completed in northern New Mexico, the poems, essays, and fiction he composed in Taos and its environs comprise a record of Lawrence’s acculturation to the human and physical environment of the U.S. Southwest.

In Sherman’s skit on the Englishman abroad, the southwestern state of New Mexico is the stamping ground of the Americano Lawrence. The epithet may be more apt than Sherman’s amusing use of it supposes, I want to suggest, insofar as the moniker Americano puts what it means to be American under semantic pressure. Now that the word has entered the esperanto of a multinational like the Starbucks corporation, of course, an Americano means a cup of coffee (named after the first mate of the Pequod in Moby-Dick, the U.S.-owned coffee chain is a global flagship for the American empire portended in Melville’s novel). Nonetheless, to ask what is an Americano? is still to put a hemispheric spin on the famous question “What is an American?” posed in Crèvecoeur’s American classic, Letters from an American Farmer. The term Americano filters through the Hispanophone Americas as a measure both of identity and of difference, shifting its signification according to geographical context.

In October 1923, when Sherman’s review of Studies in Classic American Literature appeared, his Americano Lawrence was in fact sojourning, not in New Mexico, but across the border in Guadalajara. In Mexico, the term Americano connotes any inhabitant of the American continent (with the compound noun, norteamericano, designating the U.S. national in particular). By contrast, in New Mexico, Americano carries the Hispanic inflection of a state that is both on the physical periphery of the nation and on the outer edge of U.S.-American identity as well. This is the New Mexico advertized at the (p.7) turn of the century by Charles F. Lummis as “the United States which is not the United States” due to its “quaint” ethnological demographic, the greater quotient of its population consisting of Native Americans and those Lummis refers to as “Mexicans.”16 When Lummis’s The Land of Poco Tiempo, a book Lawrence would read en route there, was published in 1893, New Mexico was not the United States in a constitutional sense; annexed by the United States at the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, New Mexico would not be admitted to the Union until 1912.

In the late nineteenth century, in the Upper Rio Grande region of northern New Mexico where Lawrence would later live, Americano had acquired a meaning specific to that struggle for statehood: the word (the abbreviated form of hispanoamericano) was adopted in this period by the Spanish-American settler population, anxious to differentiate itself from the mexicanos, mixed-race Mexican immigrants and migrants. The Hispano-Americans disdained by Lummis as the “inbred and isolation-shrunken descendants of the Castilian world-finders” were in fact proud of the roots in the region that they could trace back to the Spanish Conquest and, by extension, to European blood.17 In this context, Americano signifies both an evolving Hispanic consciousness among Nuevo Mexicanos, and, so crucial to their demand for statehood, political allegiance to the American nation.18

Although he was no Americano in the local sense, the Lawrence who lived and worked in northern New Mexico as an amateur ranchero as well as a professional writer was more than merely a sojourner there. In the 1920s, his writing was appropriated to local traditions of New Mexico modernism promoted by Mary Austin and Alice Corbin Henderson, among others, who discerned in the indigenous cultures and in the verbal and visual art of Anglo emigrés to the state alike a desert aesthetic different in kind from the standardized culture of the U.S. mainstream. The cosmopolitan localism of the sort sponsored by Austin and Henderson in the 1920s anticipates Tom Lutz’s concept of countercosmopolitanisms and related theories like the “regional transnationalism” posited by Laura Doyle in her contribution to the 2009 inaugural issue of the Journal of Transnational American Studies. Doyle is arguing along the same lines as Austin and Henderson when she suggests that regional cultures tilt national axes.19

For the reason Doyle suggests, regions—and in particular borderland regions like New Mexico—have occupied a strategic position in theories of literary transnationalism since the 1990s. For instance, in his 1998 position piece, “The Myth of ‘America’ and the Politics of Location,” Paul Jay recommends (p.8) that “our criticism can best be revitalized by paying more attention to locations that are between or which transgress conventional national borders—liminal margins or border zones in which individual and national identities migrate, merge, and hybridize.”20 Jay is drawing here both on Mary Louise Pratt’s influential concept of the “contact zone” as a “space of colonial encounters” and on Carolyn Porter’s observation that national borders form pressure points at which the received geopolitical and historical definitions of “America” are “at once internally fissured and externally relativized.”21

Like Porter and Jay, Lawrence understood America, and indeed experienced it at first hand, as something more, and other, than the United States. Indeed, his own American writing proves the transnational point, that American literature is not a field-imaginary the boundaries of which are coextensive with national borders, but a hemispheric phenomenon, a literature of the Americas as well as a planetary geo-literature. Instead of being read within the expansive contours of the transnational paradigm, however, Lawrence, like other writers of the modernist generation, whether American-born or non-nationals, tests its temporal and ideological limits and limitations.

American literary studies “became consolidated and institutionalized in the modernist era,” as Giles notes.22 In part at least as a consequence of Fredric Jameson’s ascription of a temporal paradigm to modernism and spatial culture to postmodernism, modernist writing, both critical and creative, is treated as a toxic zone by New Americanists who, after the spatial and transnational turns, define their praxis in contradistinction to that of their predecessors in the 1910s and 1920s.23 The Progressive intellectual Randolph Bourne, author of the 1916 essay “Trans-National America,” has been singled out from his cohorts as a lonely prophet of the new transnationalism (this notwithstanding Bourne’s close involvement with Seven Arts, a New York-based little magazine that, in the 1910s, was an organ of the indigenous modernism nurtured by Alfred Stieglitz, and included Lawrence on its list of non-national contributors).24 In the judgment of revisionist Americanists like Giles and Walter Benn Michaels, who stipulate that their criticism should be “read against the grain of the American polis,” a Stieglitz-school modernist manifesto like William Carlos Williams’s In the American Grain (1925), tainted with blood-and-soil nativism, is tantamount to fascism. Bertrand Russell famously levied the same charge against Lawrence’s writing, of course, and the fact that In the American Grain is profoundly indebted to Studies in Classic American Literature only compounds the suspicion with which Williams’s book, like Lawrence’s, is regarded in American studies today.25

(p.9) Wai Chee Dimock’s Through Other Continents: American Literature across Deep Time (2009) calls a long-overdue truce between New Americanists and the modernists. Dimock makes the modest claim that her book merely reflects a broader transnational “sea change” in American studies. Yet, in using Ezra Pound as a major point of reference, Dimock is, in effect, redrawing the map to encompass modernists who more often remain off the chart, or lurk in the margins marked “Here be dragons.”26 By steering a tricky course between modernist aesthetics and ideology, Dimock rediscovers Pound for transnational American literary studies. Pound’s “epic spiral, prenational in its genesis and subnational in its babel of tongues” represents a “challenge to the national,” Dimock argues. She can thereby find in The Cantos a working model of her own theory of American literature across deep time: threading the “long durations” of other cultures “into the short chronology of the United States,” her work, like Pound’s, effects “a scale enlargement along the temporal axis” of American literature that “also enlarges its spatial compass.”27

According to Mexican writer Heriberto Yépez’s ex-centric and provocatively eccentric study of the psychopoetics of American empire, “spatialization is the fundamental element not just of Whitman’s and Pound’s poetry, but, also, in general, of U.S. culture from its very origins. (The States-United is the dystopia of the Co-Here).”28 In her use of Pound, Dimock is arguably recuperating an anterior transnationalism or “Co-Herein modernism, translating the obsolescent critical vocabulary of “international” modernism into the idiom of the new transnationalism. The international is the new transnational: so William J. Maxwell concludes, in his response to Jahan Ramazani’s analogous theory of a transnational poetics.29 In the context of American studies, however, Dimock’s work, like that of Ramazani in the postcolonial field, is exemplary: rowing against the contemporary current to recover modernism as a usable past for American studies, Dimock’s book perhaps predicts a turn in the transnational tide itself.

In Through Other Continents, “classic” American literature, like that of the Pound era, is conceived as a global meshwork, a transhistorical skein of intertextual strands. Dimock pulls the thread that connects the writing of the American Transcendentalists and world religions, an implication of which is that a transnational philosophy might also be salvaged from the modernist myth-kitty. Is the Emerson who, as Dimock puts it, “lumps … together” all “the Bibles of the world” that different from the modernists, Pound among them, for whom the comparative mythology of Sir James George Frazer’s The (p.10) Golden Bough proved so fruitful a source, or from the Lawrence who, in a move that is wholly characteristic of modernism’s primitivist syncreticism, likened the belief-system of the ancient Etruscans to that of present-day Pueblo Indians in New Mexico? By default, deep time is nothing new; Lawrence, like Pound, was a “deep time” traveler, and J. W. Dunne’s “An Experiment with Time” (1927) reminds us that theories of timespace are not the property of postmodernity alone, but are closely imbricated with the metaphysics of the modernist era.

If it is the case, as Dimock proposes, that we may, and indeed should, read “Thoreau on Three Continents,” then surely we can read the Lawrence who wanted to “write a novel of each continent” on two continents, at least (iv.385).30 To do so is to bring Lawrence into the broad transnational church of non-Americans who write American literature.

Lawrence’s America

“I always write really towards America,” Lawrence told Amy Lowell in 1921. America had catalyzed his writing—critical, creative, and philosophical—throughout the 1910s, and by 1916, the year he read Melville’s Moby-Dick, Lawrence’s early enthusiasm for Emerson, Whitman, and James Fenimore Cooper had developed into a profound preoccupation with the symbolic meaning of America and its literature. Begun in 1917 and eventually published, in book form, in 1923, Studies in Classic American Literature is the belated product of a fascination with nineteenth-century American writing that had already inflected Lawrence’s attempt, in Women in Love, to reimagine the modern English novel. His final full-length fiction, Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928), marks for some readers the return of a prodigal and native son, if not to England, then to English social and literary forms.31 But in that book English realism is filtered through the alembic of American romance, making Lady Chatterley a Nottinghamshire Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne rewritten according to lustier Lawrentian principles. Certainly, America mattered profoundly to Lawrence, both philosophically and more prosaically as a market for his work, at least in the decade between 1916, when Women in Love was written, and the publication of his Mexican novel, The Plumed Serpent, in 1926—in a writing career and life as contracted as his, this is a significant span.

America was pivotal to Lawrence’s weltanschauung, or worldview. In the first version of his essays on American literature, eight of which had appeared (p.11) in the English Review in 1918–19, the magnetic attraction of America is taken as a cosmological given. But, like its literature, America itself has a double meaning—if it is the likely birthplace of a new, postindustrial, race, this is because the United States is the nadir of a played-out, mechanical modernity, the end-product of the West rather than a redemptive rescripting of the Old World narrative of decline. Regeneration is to be effected, not according to the design of a paleface Puritan Providence, but by the resurgence of an autochthonous spirit of place. What Lawrence hears in the “sad, weird utterance” of American literature is an unconscious expression of the disintegration of the modern American psyche and democratic superstructure, and the emergence of a new age to follow—a crisis in the field-imaginary, indeed (SCAL 179).32 Lawrence reads the “classic” works of American literature as prophetic books, telling of the eventual reintegration of knowing with being, and of colonizers with aboriginal continent.

Although he repudiated the material and the spiritual premises of the American Dream, Lawrence was far from immune to the allure of the New World; not only did he make a good deal of what money he had there, Lawrence also considered various American locations for Rananim, the little colony that he had begun to plan early in 1915. In the war years, America represented a sanctuary of a more expedient kind, as well, from the England in which Lawrence found himself confined, and hounded, for the duration of the conflict. Following the publication and suppression of The Rainbow in 1915, Lawrence had looked increasingly to an American readership and marketplace for his work. In a 1917 lePan in Americatter to Waldo Frank, associate editor of Seven Arts, he wrote of Studies in Classic American Literature, then in its early stages, “I hope America will publish it and read it and pay for it.” To Frank, Lawrence also declared his counter-biblical covenant with the New World, assuring him that “if the rainbow hangs in the heavens, it hangs over the western continent” (iii.160, 144). Taking the long way round via Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), and Australia, Lawrence eventually made it to America in September 1922. With the exception of a single, unhappy, interlude in Europe, he remained there until September 1925, living on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, and competing at firsthand in the U.S.-American market as a working writer.

“The Southwest was Lawrence’s America,” Frederick J. Hoffman recognized.33 The United States itself acted on him as a stimulant and an irritant in equal measure, but was nonetheless meaningful to Lawrence to a degree that marks him out from other English writers of the modernist generation, with (p.12) the important exceptions of the self-styled anglo-mongrel poet Mina Loy, who had emigrated there in 1916, and of Wyndham Lewis. Lawrence himself is a prominent figure in Paleface (1929), Lewis’s caustic analysis of the American “melting-pot,” in which he appears as the transatlantic antitype of Leavis’s English novelist. According to Lewis, “Mr. D. H. Lawrence, though an english writer, supplies the most important evidence of the contemporary american ‘consciousness.’”34

D. H. Lawrence, Americano

My book is an attempt to flesh out the American, or Americano, Lawrence. The first of its three parts or extended chapters focuses on Studies in Classic American Literature and employs thick description in order to restore Lawrence’s book to its contemporary cultural and literary-historical contexts. When it was published in New York in 1923, Studies in Classic American Literature made an unorthodox intervention into what was still a fledgling critical scene in the United States. That Studies is regarded in American studies today as a a retrograde exercise in canon-formation and national myth-making is due to a slippage in the reconstruction of the history of American literary history, a conflation of literary history with canonicity, and of Lawrence’s contribution to American criticism in its early phase with his book’s impact on American studies in the Cold War era. Lawrence, I suggest, has been made a whipping boy for the purported crimes and misdemeanors of the myth and symbolists. My chapter seeks to correct the literary-historical record by returning Studies in Classic American Literature to the horizon of its contemporary reception in the United States in the early 1920s.

Later in the American Century, Lawrence’s Studies did indeed exert a remarkable influence on the myth and symbol critics; their fellow-traveler, Leo Marx, even suggests that Chase, Feidelson, and Lewis all “carry on where Lawrence left off.”35 So too did Leslie Fiedler: described by Arnold Goldsmith as the “most controversial of all the American myth critics, and the most important,” Fiedler is also the most indebted, among his peers, to Lawrence.36 Fiedler freely acknowledges in the prefaces to the first and revised editions of his Love and Death in the American Novel (1960; 1966) that the psychocritical method and the flamboyant manner of his book are modeled on Lawrence’s. The homosocial thesis of Love and Death in the American Novel anticipates contemporary queer theory, Christopher Castiglia has suggested, and in this aspect, too, Fiedler’s book looks back to Lawrence’s (p.13) Studies and its analysis of the male pseudo-couple in the American classics: appropriately enough, Marcus Cunliffe saw Fiedler as Lawrence’s “blood-brother,” locked in a critical blutsbrüderschaft with his English precursor.37 In Pease’s “war of paradigms,” the lines of engagement are sometimes blurred; in addition to queering the pitch of the American field-imaginary, Fiedler also contributed, with leading African American critic Houston A. Baker Jr., to the reformation of the American canon in the late 1970s and early 1980s.38

In a last-ditch defense of myth and symbol in the 1980s, Alan Trachtenberg drew attention to “the radical cultural criticism embodied in the formative works of the school,” pointing to the “synthesis of historical scholarship and cultural criticism” in a much-maligned work like Henry Nash Smith’s Virgin Land (1950).39 Smith’s “critical vision of Cold War America” and of American historical experience was widely shared among the myth and symbol critics, according to Trachtenberg, who analogizes their “embattled position” to that of the American critics who were excluded by the anglophile academy in the early 1920s.40 Leo Marx, however, advises us to differentiate between these critical generations. His 1961 article “Listen to the States!” tropes on “America, Listen to Your Own,” the 1920 manifesto-essay, written for but not included in Studies in Classic American Literature, in which Lawrence had urged Americans to hear the new voice of their own literature. Marx’s survey of the scholarship of Chase, Feidelson, and Lewis leads him to conclude that “today, we all know, the world listens,” and even to ask if the world is now “menaced by an international cult of American literature.”41 Pease makes the same point in more polemical terms when he argues that the myth and symbolists were the symbolic engineers of U.S. foreign policy in the Cold War era, their work a cultural corollary of the Marshall Plan and its mission “to legitimate the United States’ place as the subject and telos of universal history.”42

Whether or not the myth and symbol critics served as Cold War warriors, their affiliations with Lawrence reveal transnational and transatlantic reciprocities of the kind identified by Susan Sontag in her comments on Studies in Classic American Literature. On receiving the 2003 Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels (the Peace Prize of the German book trade), awarded in recognition of her role as intellectual ambassador between the United States and Europe, Sontag acknowledged Lawrence as her antecedant, and described Studies in Classic American Literature as “the most interesting book ever written about American culture.” In her acceptance speech, delivered in Frankfurt in the year of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and subsequently printed in the British newspaper the Guardian under the title “The (p.14) fragile alliance,” Sontag recruits what she sees as Lawrence’s prescient assessment of post–World War I America to her own critique of the “imperial program” of the United States after 9/11.

Sounding very much like a New Americanist, Sontag proposes that “literature, world literature” gives us the means “to escape the prison of national vanity.” “The future of the world—the world we share,” she insists, “is syncretist, impure. We are not shut off from each other. More and more, we leak into each other.”43 Sontag locates Studies in Classic American Literature in that “world of fluid borders” in which the New American studies finds its mobile remit. In his 2000 essay on “The Transnational Turn,” Robert A. Gross had identified British cultural studies scholar and author of The Black Atlantic (1993), Paul Gilroy, as the forerunner of transnationalism in American studies. “Ironically, it has required … a view from Britain,” Gross remarks, to encourage Americanists to look beyond their national borders. “For American Studies,” Gross continues, “the effect is akin to looking through the reverse lens of a telescope. What once loomed large has shrunk in significance.”44 Seventy years before Gilroy’s book, Studies in Classic American Literature had offered a view from Britain—a view which Lawrence defines in terms identical to Gross’s as looking “though the wrong end of the telescope, across all the Atlantic water” (SCAL 55).

Sontag makes a passionate and persuasive claim for Studies in Classic American Literature’s contemporary relevance. But if Studies is to reemerge as a dissident document, it must also be understood in the very different terms of its own historical period, when the status of American literature and American criticism alike was far from assured, either at home or abroad.

A non-standard work of American criticism and literary history, Studies is, in addition, a remarkable and often disturbing record of Lawrence’s attempt to come to terms with ethnic difference and otherness in America. In the first version of his essays on American literature, eight of which had appeared in the English Review in 1918–19, Lawrence insists that in approaching American culture, “we must learn to think in terms of difference and otherness” (SCAL 168). He was forced to practice what he had preached when he rewrote the essays on the ground in New Mexico in 1922. In Studies’ final version, classic American literature is the vehicle by which Lawrence explores the racial and gendered tensions of the New Mexico contact zone in which he completed the work. Lawrence described the final version of Studies as “the first reaction on me of America itself,” and that reaction, I argue, gives the text much of its new and edgy intensity, its own “American” imprimatur (iv.343).

(p.15) My second chapter addresses Lawrence’s relationship, both as a critic and as a poet, to the American avant-garde, to the networks of metropolitan and New Mexican modernism associated with Alfred Stieglitz and Mabel Dodge Luhan respectively. Borrowing a term from Ramazani, I explore an “affiliative connection” between Lawrence’s 1923 volume, Birds, Beasts and Flowers, and the localized expression of key works of American poetic modernism published in the same year: William Carlos Williams’s Spring and All, Mary Austin’s The American Rhythm, and Wallace Stevens’s Harmonium.45 Transatlantic affiliations like this, I suggest, allow us to gauge the extent and nature of Lawrence’s involvements with Anglo-American modernism.

Although he bears the brunt of John Carey’s attack on the modernist generation in The Intellectuals and the Masses, Lawrence is more often conspicuous by his absence, or is a liminal presence, in narratives of anglophone modernism. Holly Laird’s Self and Sequence opens with the statement that “Lawrence’s poetry is barely acknowledged by the scholarship of modernism,” a state of affairs that has changed little since the publication of Laird’s fine study in 1988.46 In Peter Howarth’s recent Cambridge Introduction to Modernist Poetry, for example, Lawrence has “one foot in modernism and one foot outside it,” as he rather awkwardly straddles the divide between modernism proper and the broader modern movement associated with the Georgian revolt against Victorian conventions.

Lawrence had the unique distinction of publishing poems in the rival Georgian and Imagist anthologies of the 1910s. During the poetry wars of the period, then, he did do a hokey cokey of a kind, putting a foot in, and out, of each camp (albeit that hokey pokey, the American name of the game, may be the more appropriate term, given the transatlantic tempo of Lawrence’s modernism). Howarth, who is alert to Lawrence’s American reception, postdates it, judging that Lawrence’s “greatest impact on modernist poetry would really come as a cultural guru for the Olson generation.”47 My chapter demonstrates that Lawrence was no less of a guru for American avant-gardists in the 1910s and 1920s—like William Carlos Williams, who was himself a precursor of Olson and the Black Mountain School. There are keener affinities, I argue, between Lawrence and the poets, painters and intellectuals in Stieglitz’s New York circle and in Mabel Dodge Luhan’s New Mexico milieu than between Lawrence and his contemporaries in England, whether Georgians, members of the Bloomsbury set or, with the significant exception of H.D., the American-born modernists who, as Williams put it, had “run to London.”48

As an Englishman coming to America, and doing so in 1922, the annus (p.16) mirabilis of modernism in Europe, Lawrence reminds us that there was twoway traffic on the modernist Atlantic. Moreover, if, as Donald Davie argues, “[t]he case of William Carlos Williams remains the rock on which Anglo-American literary opinion splits,” then the affiliative connection between Williams and Lawrence places the latter on the American side of the transatlantic divide.49

Although he continued to appear in their anthologies, in the course of the 1910s Lawrence moved away from the Georgian poets, whose vision of a regenerated New World was located within English borders and, to an extent, prosodic conventions.50 With the publication of Look! We Have Come Through! in 1917, it was clear that Lawrence’s greater allegiance was now to the New World poetics of Whitman; indeed, as Christopher Pollnitz notes in his introduction to the Cambridge edition of the Poems, in the course of the 1910s, Lawrence’s affinity to Whitman had become “a critical truism” (P 695). As early as 1913, Walter de la Mare had critiqued Lawrence as a “sub-Whitmanesque” poet (P 692). Jeremy Hooker makes the point that Look! “is formally various, containing rhyming poems and ballads, reminiscences of Lawrence the Georgian, touches of Imagism, some Yeatsian symbolism, and even occasional lapses towards doggerel, as well as poems of Whitman-like utterance.”51 Nonetheless, in their thralldom to Whitman, a number of the Look! poems—“New Heaven and Earth,” for instance—evince what Ramazani defines as “weak transnationalism.” By contrast, Birds, Beasts and Flowers, which was begun in Tuscany in 1920 and completed in New Mexico in 1923, is an exemplary work of “strong transnationalism,” a post-Whitmanian poetry of the present in which Lawrence engages his American precursor, but stands his own ground.52 In this respect, I will suggest, Birds, Beasts and Flowers comports with the contemporaneous work of American poets like Williams, who were also, in several senses, writing out of Whitman.

Lawrence’s feisty relationship with Whitman fits uneasily, at best, into what Russ Castronovo calls “the venerable tradition of source and influence studies”—a tradition that the new generation of Americanists has left behind: “by accepting the findings of an autopsy that declares literary history dead,” Castronovo insists, “American literature receives new life.”53 Lawrence had made much the same point in Studies, where he dissects what he calls the post mortem corpus of classic American literature and reanimates it, giving the old American books, and the seemingly moribund phenomenon of literary history itself, a new lease of life. In any case, Whitman’s influence (p.17) on Lawrence, and Lawrence’s influence, in turn, on an American poetics of space and place, cannot be understood according to the kinds of kinship in which a national literary genealogy consists. The sorts of poetic interchange with which my book is concerned are better understood according to the exogamous terms of reference adopted in world-system theories of genre like Dimock’s, in which genre “has less to do with common ancestry than with a convergence of attributes” issuing from “widely dispersed environments” and comprising “a broad spectrum of affinities.”54

Like Kim Herzinger’s study of Lawrence’s oeuvre between 1908 and 1915, my book approaches Lawrence “by ‘placing’ him inside the cultural matrix of his time” and reading him in relation to “the currents of thoughts which continually circulated around him.” As Herzinger argues, establishing Lawrence’s relationship to his cultural context has never been a major concern of Lawrentians. This might have surprised and disappointed Lawrence, who said of his poetry that it should not “be judged as if it existed in the absolute, in the vacuum of the absolute. Even the best poetry, when it is at all personal, needs the penumbra of of its own time and place and circumstance, to make it full and whole” (P 656).55

The New Mexico poems of Birds, Beasts and Flowers bear a striking affinity with the cosmopolitan localism of American poetic modernism in the 1920s. Lawrence was too slippery a fish to be caught in the tangled nets of transatlantic Imagism. But in the United States, he did hitch his wagon to Laughing Horse, a little magazine of New Mexico modernism edited by Walter Willard (“Spud”) Johnson. Poems from Birds, Beasts and Flowers would also appear in the first anthology of New Mexico poetry, The Turquoise Trail (1928), edited by the former associate editor of Poetry magazine, Alice Corbin Henderson. Lawrence’s significance as a philosopher of place, and as a theorist of “nodality” (MM 125), is confirmed by the essays collected in Mornings in Mexico (1927) and Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine (1925), as well as Studies in Classic American Literature’s “The Spirit of Place.”56 My chapter draws on Lawrence’s own discourse of place, on ecopoetics, and on phenomenological paradigms, to read Lawrence’s American and New Mexican poetry. As Jonathan Bate has argued:

The deed of title which is constituted by a poem of dwelling is not a legal document. Poets who find their home in a specific environment have an imaginative, not a proprietorial, interest in belonging. The ecopoetic vision is inclusive, not exclusionary.57

(p.18) Birds, Beasts and Flowers’ “Autumn at Taos” and “The Blue Jay” are poems of dwelling, in Bate’s and Gaston Bachelard’s sense.

In my third chapter, I turn to the fiction Lawrence wrote in northern New Mexico in the summer of 1924. “St. Mawr,” “The Princess,” and “The Woman Who Rode Away” are read here as an American trilogy in which Lawrence engages, and profoundly unsettles, the generic conventions of American wilderness romance and related modes like that of the Indian captivity narrative. As borderlands fictions, these stories put under local pressures the national imaginary anatomized in Studies in Classic American Literature, published the year before.

Jay argues that “[l]iterature written in ‘contact’ or ‘border’ zones, in geographical and cultural spaces ‘between’ clearly demarcated lines of political and social division, almost always deals in fairly explicit—and often conflicted or unresolved—ways with issues related to the history of this contact.”58 Lawrence’s borderland tales are no exception: their symbolic meaning, I will suggest, subverts rather than sanctions “the national symbolic order.”59 In classic American literature, Pease contends, “[t]he national narrative produced national identities by way of a social symbolic order that systematically separated an abstract, dismebodied subject from resistant materialities, such as race, class, and gender.”60 The reverse is the case in Lawrence’s American stories, the Anglo, Indian and “Mexican” protagonists of which are caught in New Mexico’s triethnic trap. Lawrence’s stories demythologize the New Mexico advertized by Lummis and subsequent promoters of the place as the Land of Enchantment.

Regeneration through Violence (1973), the first book in Richard Slotkin’s revisionist trilogy on the mythology of the American West, deconstructs “the myth of the essential America” by way of Lawrence’s verdict, in Studies in Classic American Literature, that “[t]he essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer” (65). In Studies, Slotkin says, Lawrence “expresses and partially explains” the “psychological conflict implicit in European confrontation of a New World wilderness.”61 That conflict and confrontation, I argue, is also the subject of Lawrence’s New Mexico fictions.

In the judgment of Simone de Beauvoir, Lawrence wrote “guidebooks for women”: his New Mexico stories, “The Woman Who Rode Away” in particular, are often adduced as chauvinist cases in point, and read as cautionary tales in which wilful women get what they deserve.62 It is worth pointing out, in Lawrence’s defense, that he did write one book with a woman: The Boy in the Bush (1924), which was co-authored with the Australian Mollie Skinner, (p.19) and that his three New Mexico stories were sparked by mooted collaborations with Mabel Dodge Luhan and Catherine Carswell. Elaine Feinstein has demonstrated that Lawrence’s writing was consistently enabled, in creative as well as in more material ways, by women; in a wider sense, it is also the case, as Linda Karrell puts it, that authorship is “a form of production that invariably reveals the presence of others,” albeit that this is “something our traditional understanding of the author persists in ignoring or displacing,” a problem which is particularly acute in relation to a writer like Lawrence.63 In my chapter, Lawrence’s tales “of out here” (v.136), as he called the New Mexico stories, are read in relation to the feminized matrix in—and against—which they were written, a context that, I argue, inflects in important ways the interrelated issues of agency, gender, and genre explored in the tales.

My book is itself a collaborative effort, drawing as it does on the work of Lawrentians who have charted what James C. Cowan calls Lawrence’s “American journey,” among them Cowan himself, Keith Cushman, Virginia Crosswhite Hyde, Earl Ingersoll, Julianne Newmark, Neil Roberts, and Keith Sagar. I am no less indebted to the model scholarship of the editors of the Cambridge Edition of the Letters and Works of D. H. Lawrence. Although its chapters are roughly chronological in sequence and provide a contextual narrative of Lawrence’s various transactions with America, my book is not intended as a critical biography of his American years—for that, we have David Ellis’s definitive Dying Game, the final volume of the Cambridge Biography of D. H. Lawrence. My purpose, which is different in kind, is to explore the implications of Lawrence’s encounters with America and American literature for our understanding of his own oeuvre, of transatlantic modernism, and of American literature in a globalized world. Nonetheless, since Lawrence’s engagements with American literature, as critic and as practitioner, are bound up with his lived experience there, the remainder of this introduction provides a background for the chapters to follow.

That Lawrence did, after many prevarications and diversions, travel to America in 1922 was due in no small part to the persuasive powers of Mabel Dodge Luhan, the salonnière and patroness of the arts who had written to him the year before to invite him to visit her in Taos, New Mexico. In a good deal of Lawrence scholarship, when she is not deemed downright baleful, Luhan cuts a comical and even a ludicrous figure, this despite the leading part she played both in Lawrence’s response to the America he believed her to personify, (p.20) and in the writing he produced there.64 Among the problems Mabel has posed for critics is the basic one of nomenclature—what should we call her? Since her names, or at least her surnames, are legion, “Mabel” has been the default but unsatisfactory option for the woman who published her autobiography and her memoir of Lawrence under the name of Mabel Dodge Luhan.

When Lawrence first met her, she was Mabel Dodge Sterne. In 1923, she married the Pueblo Indian Antonio (Tony) Lujan, but chose to use a phonetic form of his name—Luhan—because, she explained, her anglophone friends couldn’t manage the Spanish jota. The heiress to a considerable manufacturing fortune, she was born Mabel Ganson in Buffalo in 1879. After the death in a hunting accident of her first husband, Karl Evans, Mabel moved to Europe with their young son, meeting her second husband, the architect Edwin Dodge, in Paris. During her ensuing period of Renaissance self-fashioning at the Villa Curonia, near Florence, “Mabel Dodge” emerged (with the help of Gertrude Stein) as a modern icon. Mabel returned to the United States in 1912, basing herself in Greenwich Village, and marrying her third husband, the Russian-born artist Maurice Sterne, in 1917.

With what Lincoln Steffens described as her “centralizing, magnetic, social faculty,” Mabel now became “the Magna Mater of twentieth-century America’s first rebel generation,” presiding over what was “perhaps the most famous salon in American history.” Among the movers and shakers who attended her “Wednesdays” at 23 Fifth Avenue were political radicals like her one-time lover John Reed and cultural impresarios like Alfred Stieglitz, reflecting her involvement in activism and in the arts alike.65 In 1913, she helped to organize both the Paterson Strike Pageant and the Armory Show, the watershed exhibition of modernist painting mounted at New York’s 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue. Here, she distributed copies of her own privately printed edition of Gertrude Stein’s “Portrait of Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia” (1912), introducing Stein’s post-impressionist prose to an American readership in a publicity stunt also designed to promote the avant-garde persona of “Mabel Dodge” herself. Her motives aside, the launch of Stein’s word-portrait emphasizes the symbiotic relationship between the verbal and visual arts in the emergent American modernism of the 1910s—William Carlos Williams would later remark that the Armory Show represented “a break” for writers and artists alike, much as the first exhibition of post-impressionist painting had done for London modernists in 1910.66 In New Mexico, Mabel’s circle would include painters she had known in the (p.21) New York years, like Andrew Dasburg; Georgia O’Keeffe, who had moved to Manhattan a year after Mabel had left the city, came to New Mexico in the first instance at her invitation. Jean Toomer, Willa Cather, and Robinson Jeffers were among the writers connected to her in Taos.

Mabel had left Manhattan for New Mexico at the end of 1917 in reaction to the United States’ entry into World War I in April: hotbeds of domestic radicalism like the Salon Dodge were now perceived as threats to homeland security. But there was another impetus for her move. Shortly after their marriage in August of that year, Mabel had sent Maurice Sterne to the Southwest on the pretext that “there are wonderful things to paint. Indians” (actually, her autobiography reveals that she wanted to put some distance between Maurice and the sexual temptations of Village bohemia). Sterne wrote from Santa Fe that he had found an “object in life” for her there, even if he had not found one for himself. Mabel’s mission was to “Save the Indians, their art-culture—reveal it to the world!”67 She duly followed Sterne to the Southwest. Finding that Alice Corbin Henderson, another Anglo emigré with a keen interest in indigenous cultures, was already in situ in Santa Fe, Mabel went north, to the more remote Taos. There, she would create a cultural hub of her own, housed in the extraordinary adobe hacienda and compound, built with the assistance of Tony Lujan, which adjoins the tribal lands of Taos Pueblo. Tony, who would become her fourth husband, was the Taos Indian whose face Mabel would claim she had already seen, superimposed upon Sterne’s features, in a dream.

In November 1921, Mabel read an extract from Lawrence’s Sea and Sardinia in the Dial. She wrote to him at once, urging him to come to New Mexico, convinced that he, alone, could describe “this Taos country and the Indians … so that it is as much alive between the covers of the book as it is in reality.”68 Lawrence had already heard reports of Taos from Gertrude Stein’s brother, the art-collector Leo Stein, and feared he would encounter “a colony of rather dreadful sub-arty people” there (iv.111). In fact, Mabel had little to do with the artists’ colony that had been established in Taos at the turn of the century, and Lawrence would forge a friendship with at least one of the modernist painters in her circle, Dasburg.69 After spending less than a fortnight as her guest, however, Lawrence was chafing against “living under the wing of the ‘padrona’” (iv.305). A later visitor to Taos, Georgia O’Keeffe, would move to Abiquiu “to avoid the stresses and strains of Mabeltown.”70 For his part, Lawrence briefly considered going south to Santa Fe, before deciding to decamp instead to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the north of Taos. (p.22) He envisaged creating a little community there, to which even Mabel might, from time to time, belong. In a letter to their mutual friend Bessie Freeman, Lawrence urged her to sell her home in Los Angeles and “take up the next ‘homestead’ lot to us,” suggesting that “Mabel would take up another lot adjoining” (iv.333).

The preferred location for this communal homestead was a ranch purchased by Mabel in 1920 and owned by her son, John Evans. This was the Flying-Heart Ranch, later renamed Lobo and then Kiowa by Lawrence, on which he would live, with wife Frieda and the English painter Dorothy Brett, in 1924, and again with Frieda alone in 1925. But in 1922, with winter approaching and a huffy Mabel refusing to cooperate, the dilapidated property was not a viable prospect. So, in early December, the Lawrences moved to the Del Monte Ranch, a less isolated location a little further down Lobo Peak. Together with Knud Merrild and Kai Götzsche, two Danish painters they had befriended in Taos, the Lawrences rented cabins from the Hawke family, who owned the place. Now on his own terms and at a strategic distance from Mabeltown, Lawrence could attempt to establish a version of the “little colony” that he called Rananim. At first, Rananim had been an “Island idea,” but Lawrence would soon propose mainland American sites for it, including a former plantation in Florida owned by the composer Frederick Delius (ii.259, 277). Wartime travel restrictions kept Lawrence in England, so he briefly considered Lady Ottoline Morrell’s Oxfordshire estate, Garsington Manor (which, during the war years, served as a rural extension of the Bloomsbury enclave), as a substitute, telling Morrell in a letter that “I want you to form the nucleus of a new community which shall start a new life amongst us” (ii.271).

David Cavitch notes that, after the war, “[t]he central locations for his symbolic projections were to be the American Southwest and Mexico.”71 But living in America had made Lawrence sceptical of New World utopias like the pantisocracy on the banks of the Susquehanna proposed by Coleridge and Southey, and the Brook Farm experiment in Massachusetts that Hawthorne had fictionalized in The Blithedale Romance. In Studies in Classic American Literature, which he finished revising at Del Monte, Lawrence writes of Brook Farm, “[t]here the famous idealists and transcendentalists of America met to till the soil and hew the timber in the sweat of their own brows” in “an atmosphere of communal love,” until, inevitably, “they fell out like cats and dogs” (99)—much as Lawrence and Mabel had done. In Studies, Lawrence writes that “it is perhaps easier to love America passionately” from a distance. “When you are actually in America,” he admits, “America hurts” (55).

(p.23) It may be the case that despite his search for what Victor Turner would term ideological communitas, Lawrence ultimately belonged only, as North argues, in transit. But Del Monte, and later the Kiowa Ranch, were significant way stations, at least, on what Lawrence called the savage pilgrimage of his postwar years (iv.375).72 Keith Sagar, who insists that Rananim remained a vital ideal for Lawrence, has also suggested that the misanthropy inculcated in him during the war years prompted Lawrence to re-envisage it as “a colony without people.”73 Yet the four months in which Lawrence and Frieda, Merrild and Götzsche homesteaded together at the Del Monte Ranch made for a more harmonious experience than either Brook Farm, or the Lawrences’ own earlier and disastrous attempt at a life in common with John Middleton Murry and Katherine Mansfield in Cornwall. Earlier in the 1910s, the “constitution” of Rananim had been a broadly socialist one; in his memoir of Lawrence, Merrild suggests something similar when he recalls that the gang of four “worked hard at roofing, carpentering, plastering, glazing, paperhanging, painting, whitewashing … One of us suggested that we form a Del Monte Local of the I.W.W.” (the International Workers of the World, or “Wobblies”). The men from Del Monte, Merrild writes, forged a “unit of manly togetherness.”74

“Men are free when they belong to a living, organic, believing community,” Lawrence insists in Studies, and “[n]ot when they are escaping to some wild west” (17). He could not of course belong in any meaningful way to the local believing community of Taos Pueblo, and Lawrence dismissed European alternatives, like George Ivanovich Gurdjieff’s Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man, as “a sickly stunt” (iv.555) (when she died of tuberculosis at his Fontainebleu-Avon Institute, Gurdjieff became known as “the man who killed Katherine Mansfield”).75

The colonies established by the printer, artist, and Catholic convert Eric Gill seem to have appealed to him more.76 The last piece of writing Lawrence completed, just days before his death in March 1930, was a review of Gill’s Art-Nonsense and Other Essays, in which he remonstrates with the author’s Christian credo but praises the ethics of “living experience” derived from Gill’s Morrisite commitment to what, in one of his Pansies poems, Lawrence celebrates as “Things men have made with wakened hands” (P 388). What Gill calls “God” Lawrence defines as “a state which any man or woman achieves when busy and concentrated on a job which calls forth real skill and attention, or devotion. It is a state of absorption into the creative spirit” (IR 357). As a related Pansies poem puts it, “if, as we work, we can transmit life (p.24) into our work, / life, still more life, rushes into us to compensate, to be ready / and we ripple with life through the days” (P 389). This is the “great truth which Mr. Gill has found in his living experience, and which he flings in the teeth of modern industrialism” (IR 357). Del Monte seems to have been, if not a believing community, then an extemporized cooperative of kinds: Lawrence revised or completed Studies in Classic American Literature, Kangaroo, and Birds, Beasts and Flowers there, while Merrild worked on illustrations for the book jackets.77

In the spring of 1923, Lawrence and Frieda traveled to Mexico with the poet Witter Bynner, whom they had met in Santa Fe, and Bynner’s then lover and amanuensis, Spud Johnson. After some weeks in Mexico City, the party moved on to Chapala, in the state of Jalisco, where Lawrence wrote Quetzalcoatl, the first version of The Plumed Serpent, using Bynner and Johnson as models for the characters of Owen Rhys and Bud Villiers. That summer, instead of visiting England with Frieda as they had planned, Lawrence went to California, where Merrild and Götzsche had found journey-work as decorators in Santa Monica. With Götzsche, he returned to Mexico, traveling in the north of the country and then staying in Guadalajara until he sailed for Europe to join Frieda, in London, in December.

Later that month, Lawrence hosted the infamous dinner at the Café Royal—the Last Supper, as Catherine Carswell, who was one of the guests, would later name it—at which he tried to persuade a number of his friends to become his disciples and follow him in what William York Tindall describes as “his second coming to New Mexico.”78 Back in England, and unhappy there, Lawrence had revived the notion of an American Rananim. Murry—with whom Frieda may have been having an affair in Lawrence’s absence—is the Judas-figure in Carswell’s account: he accepted Lawrence’s invitation only to renege on it later. The sole recruit to his New Mexico colony was Dorothy Brett, who had herself become Murry’s lover after the death of Katherine Mansfield in January 1923. Lawrence had met the Honourable Dorothy Brett—“who paints, is deaf, forty, very nice, and daughter of Viscount Esher”—in 1915 (iv.546). “Brett,” as she preferred to be called, traveled with the Lawrences to New Mexico in March 1924 and would make Taos her permanent home.

The trio stayed in Taos as Mabel’s guests until May, when they moved up to the Lobo Ranch, as Lawrence named it; he changed its name to Kiowa in August. Mabel had made the ranch over to Frieda soon after the Lawrences’ return to New Mexico: it was the only property or real estate they would own. (p.25) Not wanting to be in her debt, Frieda sent to Europe for the manuscript of Sons and Lovers, which she gave to Mabel in return. Appropriately enough, Mabel would subsequently hand on the mansucript of Lawrence’s oedipal masterpiece to her psychoanalyst—A. A. Brill, who was Freud’s first translator in America—in lieu of fees. Soon after the move to Kiowa, Lawrence wrote the essay “Pan in America” and, over the summer there, three fictions that are closely related to it and to each other: “St. Mawr,” “The Princess,” and “The Woman Who Rode Away.” In October, the Lawrences, and Brett, left for Mexico, this time settling in Oaxaca, where Lawrence completed The Plumed Serpent. In January 1925, after a falling-out, Brett returned to New Mexico. Lawrence, now very ill, followed soon afterward with Frieda: he had finally been diagnozed as tubercular and had difficulties crossing the border at El Paso. From April to early September, when they left America for the last time, the Lawrences once again lived at Kiowa, now without Brett who, after their departure, looked after the ranch as a caretaker of kinds. Georgia O’Keeffe stayed with her there in 1929, and The Lawrence Tree (originally titled Pine Tree with Stars at Brett’s) is O’Keeffe’s tribute in paint to Lawrence’s tributes, in his New Mexico poetry and prose, to the spirit of the place.

The Kiowa Ranch is a recurring reference point in the fiction Lawrence wrote there. It is the proving ground for the philosophical essays collected in Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and for the theory of environmental expression put forward in “Pan in America,” an essay published in 1926, but written immediately after Lawrence had moved to the ranch. “What can a man do with his life but live it?” Lawrence asks in the essay. “And what does life consist in, save a vivid relatedness between the man and the living universe that surrounds him”? (MM 160). As Lawrence’s biographer and sometime friend, Richard Aldington, would remark, “to realise what that mountain-side and his ownership of those American acres meant to him, read the last fifteen pages of ‘St. Mawr,’ the last essay of Mornings in Mexico, and the essays called ‘New Mexico,’ ‘Pan in America’ and ‘Taos.’”79


(4.) Ibid., 208–9.

(17.) Ibid., 3.

(18.) On the northern New Mexico meaning of Americano or hispano-americano, see Gonzalez-Berry and Maciel, Contested Homeland, 123–24.

(24.) Gross, for example, suggests that Bourne’s “vision has a modern ring.” “Transnational (p.112) Turn,” 381. Mark Kinkead-Weekes suggests that Lawrence may have had “an eye on Seven Arts” as a potential venue for his essays on American literature. Triumph to Exile, 399.

(25.) Giles, Global Remapping, 22; Bertrand Russell alleged that Lawrence’s beliefs “led straight to Auschwitz,” “Portraits,” 95.

(27.) Ibid., 90, 108, 3–4.

(29.) In a special issue of American Literary History devoted to the transnational paradigm, William J. Maxwell asserts that “[t]ransnationalism is no accessory of a postmodernism canceled after the fall of the World Trade Center—so pleads even the most rooted, down-home modernist writing, dependent on internationalizing forces from rapid capital flows to thin-soled anthropologists.” “Global Politics,” 362.

(35.) Marx, “Listen to the States!,” 82. Marx comments on “how neatly the work of Messrs. Chase, Feidelson and Lewis fit together. In a sense they are all writing chapters of the same book,” 82.

(37.) Marcus Cunliffe’s remark that Fiedler reveals himself to be “a blood-brother of D. H. Lawrence” is featured on the jacket of the U.K. edition of Fiedler’s Return of the Vanishing American. Christopher Castiglia has called on American Studies to re-evaluate its history; to recover the roots of our field, Castiglia argues, is not to go backwards. “Cold War Melancholy,” n.p.

(40.) Ibid., 670–71.

(50.) For a revisionary assessment of the Georgians, see Howarth, British Poetry in the Age of Modernism.

(51.) Hooker, introduction to Lawrence, Birds, Beasts and Flowers, 8.

(56.) Lawrence’s use of the term “nodality” prefigures that of Soja in Postmodern Geographies, 149.

(60.) Ibid., 3.

(64.) According to Rudnick, “[m]ost Lawrence critics are contemptuous of Mabel and do their best to dismiss or downplay her influence on and relationship with Lawrence.” Mabel Dodge Luhan, 348n2.

(65.) Ibid., 74, 120.

(69.) The Taos art colony had been founded in 1898 by Bert Phillips and Ernest Blumenschein; from it emerged the Taos Society of Artists (ca. 1915–27), a group of painters who pursued a romantic-primitivist aesthetic. The precursors of the Taos Moderns, the generation of painters based there from 1940, were the modernist artists in Mabel Dodge Luhan’s circle like Andrew Dasburg, Georgia O’Keeffe, and John Marin. See Witt, Taos Moderns.

(72.) In his introduction to the Black Sparrow edition of Birds, Beasts and Flowers, Cushman comments that the poems mark “way-stations in the Lawrences’ journey from Italy to Taos,” ix.

(73.) Sagar, “How to Live,” 209. For a contrary view of Rananim as a messianic fantasy propelled by Lawrence’s estrangement from society at large, see Delany, D. H. Lawrence’s Nightmare.

(76.) Gill established his first culture commune in Ditchling in Sussex in 1913; in 1924, following a schism, Gill’s faction, which included the poet and artist David Jones, moved to the site of a derelict monastery at Capel-y-ffin, in the Welsh Marches.

(77.) Thomas Seltzer used only one of Merrild’s designs for the jacket of his edition of The Captain’s Doll (1923).