Books are a forest and it’s hard to see the trees, except the tall ones or the old ones. But when you enter the forest, it’s the new growth that emits the sunlight....

Friday, April 14, 2017

Authors I collect: D. H. Lawrence

Working at a used book and antiques store, my first collection was D. H. Lawrence. I bought First Editions before I set up an internet store. I was convinced that D. H. Lawrence would surmount other authors of the Twentieth Century, despite other opinions. I still feel that he was the Shakespeare of that period because of his prolific output and his “scope” as Shakespeare would put it, producing vivid books set in Mexico, the American Southwest, Australia, and Italy.

Image courtesy of dan at

He influenced me, along with other authors, while I wrote adult short stories and the book that became Tug of the Wishbone. I first read The Rainbow when my mother was reading it for a course. As a teenager, I opened the novel during summer vacation and was swept into the earthy English farm setting. Ursula Brangwen’s ill-fated romance wasn’t so satisfactory then. But the novel fascinated me for portraying a family history where characters were as human as people in my era.

When I picked up the book decades later, I remembered it as fulfilling its title. The Rainbow was number 43 in The Guardian’s 2015 list of 100 Best Novels of the Twentieth Century.

I’d also read Sons and Lovers and then, at college, hearing girls who were not English majors recommending Women in Love with rhapsodic adjectives , continued Ursula’s story. There aren’t many scenes that outdid the turnaround of her love luck for me – when she threw Birkin’s rings at him in the car and wretchedly complained about men being bullies. 

We lived in a world of psychology, and to me, Lawrence had the ability to show how people liberated from conventions had emerging psychologies to examine.

Books I was thrilled to find in First Edition were The Captain's Doll: Three Novelettes and Aaron's Rod. As The Rainbow was banned in England, D. H. Lawrence was published in plain bindings and, as you can see from my recent Aaron's Rod, the binding and paper were not sturdy.


The Captain's Doll must have been based on Lawrence's wife Frieda, with whom he did a lot of steep walking when they lived in Italy. I found it ironic how he could evoke the suspense of love approaching commitment during pages of walking after he was banned for sexual content. I'd never been kept reading such an interlude since a Tolstoy story (“The Snowstorm”) about a carriage ride during a blizzard which roared on for pages.

Aaron's Rod 1922 Secker edition

Aaron's Rod is about a flute player. Somehow Lawrence had divined the interior of a flute player without being a musician himself. That was especially displayed when Aaron was separated from his flute in Italy, the flute being stolen. Aaron had reluctantly walked out on his family to play the flute without Lawrence imposing any moral to his novel.

"The business of art is to reveal the relation between man
 and his environment." - D. H. Lawrence

Luckily I had read most of the First Editions I acquired. I had doubted The Plumed Serpent, Lawrence’s writings about the American Southwest, and found the same thing. Lawrence wrote about Mayan mythology mixed with Catholicism as if he had lived in Mexico for years rather than the time he spent there. His Southwest was a picture of it. If Lawrence hadn't written fiction, he might well have been famous as a poet. When I open to a poem of his, I'm struck by that and by the poem. Poem-A-Day, an emailing from the American Academy of Poets, has included poems of his lately, and they don't seem to age.

Pansies (poetry)  1929

Love Among the Haystacks and Other Stories 1930

I had relished Lawrence's short stories about England, and then found out that some wealthy people sued him for portraying them, they claimed. This was some sort of lesson. One of my first short stories was written for a high school creative writing course, the first at my high school. My story told why a school official had a scar on his forehead. Before writing it, I had been caught in the hall during class time. My punishment was to sit all day outside our tough vice principal's office. My classmates enjoyed the story but when a creative writing journal was published, my story wasn't in it, only my poetry. I still believe that fiction in good hands isn’t about specific people. 

I sold my D. H. Lawrence collection and now only have another copy of Aaron's Rod and another copy of Lawrence's poetry for young people. The books tempted me to read them again, a problem when a book dealer wants to sell their books in the best of condition. I suppose there will be another decade like the 60’s when D. H. Lawrence is the rage again, according to my opinion of him, and when the prices for his early editions will rise and I will regret selling my collection.

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