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A Small View of D.H. Lawrence

ISSUE:  Winter 1940
D. H. Lawrence and Susan His Cow, By William York Tindall. New York: Columbia University Press. $2.75.

You ask yourself after reading “D. H. Lawrence and Susan His Cow,” by William York Tindall: Why did this man write this book? He must have found it such an uncongenial task. He has no enthusiasm, no sympathy for his subject. Lawrence is to him a bad writer, a bad thinker; and he thoroughly dislikes Lawrence as a man. Lawrence is no experience, no adventure for Professor Tindall. To him Lawrence has nothing to give. Maybe his motives for writing this book are the two he accuses Ursula in “Women in Love” of not having—reason and fashion. Women guided only by reason and fashion must indeed be dull.

Professor Tindall believes he is jeering at Lawrence when he dwells on Lawrence’s relationship with Susan, the cow. He forgets that great nations have had their sacred bulls, their Europas, and so on. But perhaps he is like the New York slum children who have seen the milk bottle at the door but have never seen a cow. He completely ignores the fact that Lawrence reconquered the world, so to speak, with his vision; he took the old given world and tried to establish a new relationship with everything in this universe, from a human being to a caterpillar or a daisy.

As for Lawrence being a bad writer, that seems to me to be a fantastic assertion. I don’t think any man writing in English has handled words more sensitively and adequately than he; even his critics admit that. As for his being a Fascist, that is bunk. He was neither a Fascist nor a Communist nor any other “ist.” His belief in the blood was a very different affair from the Nazi “Aryan” theory, for instance. It was the very opposite. It was not a theory, but a living experience with Lawrence—an experience that made him love, not hate. He wanted a new awareness of everything around us. Fortunately we have more ways of knowing than merely through the intellect, but Professor Tindall does not know this.

What I dislike about the book is the author’s mean approach to his subject. “Ha-ha, my fine fellow,” Professor Tindall seems to say, “I have found you out. Your ideas weren’t your own, you sneaked them out of other peoples’ books and passed them off as your own.” Thus he asserts that Lawrence devoured every book in Mrs. Nutall’s library —which be actually never set eyes on. It is true that Lawrence read books and enjoyed them and profited by them, evidently a different procedure from Professor Tindall’s, who seems to read books only to get a sense of his own superiority from them. His book is not legitimate criticism; it is like gossip that aims to make Lawrence cheap. For example, he accuses Lawrence of snobbery and of having aristocrats for friends. But Lawrence also had friends among peasants and he treated them no differently than he treated the aristocrats.

There are so many dull, ordinary, mean people. Why not be thankful for an exceptional man instead of belittling him? Professor Tindall “missed the bus” when he wrote this book. Unless you have some understanding of your subject your book is naturally a failure. I do not like writing this, and I don’t think Lawrence needs defending, but this deliberate distortion of a great man makes me cross.


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