D.H. Lawrence: A Manuscript Mystery

Last fall, I wrote a piece called “Carl and Edith Weeks: Book Smugglers” about many of the extraordinary works of literature that Carl and Edith purchased for their library, at a time when possession or transmission of said works was banned because they were considered indecent. D.H. Lawrence featured strongly in that narrative, and as a result of the Weeks Family’s foresight, the D.H. Lawrence collection is among the most exceptional components of the Salisbury House Library.

Lawrence was an Englishman, but he spent the final seven years of his short life self-exiled in New Mexico with his wife, Frieda. He died in 1930 at the age of 45 from complications associated with tuberculosis, his health likely also eroded by his long legal and moral battles against allegations of obscenity in his works. Carl Weeks corresponded with Frieda Lawrence following her husband’s death, while still collecting his works, and as a result, the Salisbury House Library still contains one of the world’s most complete collections of signed and first edition D.H. Lawrence works, plus some amazing one-of-a-kind letters, manuscripts and other documents.

The original Weeks Family research we have been conducting via an Historical Research Development Program grant from the State Historical Society of Iowa recently divulged some fascinating correspondence from the mid-1950s between Carl Weeks and Senator Clinton P. Anderson of New Mexico regarding the Lawrence collection. The Senator and Carl had met at a social function, and Carl apparently described some of the highlights of his D.H. Lawrence collection. Upon his return to his office, Senator Anderson wrote Carl a fairly impassioned letter stating his belief that Carl had a moral obligation to either bequeath the Lawrence collection or allow it to be sold upon his death, so that it could return to New Mexico, where Senator Anderson believed it belonged, for posterity’s sake.

The men traded correspondence on the matter for almost two years, with Carl occasionally noting that he was still taking the Senator’s offer under advisement, while offering instead to return a backpack that had once belonged to D.H. Lawrence, which Carl had never opened, and whose contents he wanted properly “psychoanalyzed” once it was opened. The final piece of correspondence from Carl came in 1955 — in which he noted that he had sold all of Salisbury House’s collections to the Iowa State Education Association, and that Senator Anderson would have to deal with them henceforth on the matter if he wanted the Lawrence collection to move back to New Mexico. Score one for Carl. We do not know if the Senator pursued the matter further, nor do we know what was in, nor what happened to, the mysterious backpack.

This leads me (tangentially) to another D.H. Lawrence mystery, this one involving his 1923 poetry collection, Birds, Beasts and Flowers, of which we have an original galley proof hand-edited by Lawrence himself. Here is the final page of the proof, featuring the closing lines of a poem titled “The American Eagle:”

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Final page from galley proof of “Birds, Beasts and Flowers,” hand-edited by D.H. Lawrence.

This page is among the most heavily edited ones in the manuscript, and it seems that after he completed the edits, Lawrence must have decided that it was too messy or complicated for his editor and publisher to follow, so he inserted the following page into the galley, immediately after the one shown above:

Hand-written D.H. Lawrence edits of the closing lines of his poem "The American Eagle," inserted into the galley proof of "Birds, Beasts and Flowers."

Hand-written D.H. Lawrence edits of the closing lines of his poem “The American Eagle,” inserted into the galley proof of “Birds, Beasts and Flowers.”

It’s a dramatic reworking of the poem, and since this poem is the last one in the book, it creates radically different closing experiences of the collection, one fairly sardonic or bleak (“are you the goose that lays the golden egg? / which is just a stone to anyone asking for meat /  and are you going to go on forever / laying that golden egg / that addled golden egg”) and one almost bordering on the whimsical (“was your mother really a pelican, are you a strange cross? / can you stay forever a strange half-breed cock on a golden perch? / young eagle? / pelican boy? / you are such a huge fowl! / and such a puzzler!”).

If one reads “The American Eagle” as being symbolic of the United States, could this later edit represent a softening of Lawrence’s views on imperial/capitalistic America after spending time in New Mexico, presumably experiencing the United States in a warmer fashion than he might have when his primary experience of our Nation was being branded obscene by its government? I’m not a Lawrence scholar, but it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to make such an assumption.

Since the hand-written version follows a mark-up of the original printed galley’s version, it seemed obvious to me that it was the final “official” version of the poem, and therefore the only one which I should find online when I searched for the complete printed text of “The American Eagle” and Birds, Beasts and Flowers.

But it’s not . . . because both versions of the poem can be found online, with the original version being more frequent than the hand-written version. Here’s a cite of the darker one and here’s a cite of the lighter one, appearing in two different anthologies.

So somehow both versions entered into the Lawrence canon, at some time or another, and that’s where my research takes me a dead end (so far), since I cannot find information indicating when or where Lawrence edited, authorized or published a second edition. He only lived seven years after the original Birds, Beasts and Flowers was published, so it’s a fairly narrow window, most of it spent in New Mexico.

I’m still poking around to see if I can figure this one out, so if you know any D.H. Lawrence buffs or experts who might be able to shed some light on how this manuscript came to be published in two versions, I’d be happy to have you point them our way!

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Hand-written note on the back of the galley proof set in the Salisbury House Library, circa sometime between 1923 and 1930.

2 thoughts on “D.H. Lawrence: A Manuscript Mystery

  1. Really interesting. There definitely is no shortage of DH Lawrence scholars at various universities (and I’m guessing a couple are not too far from you). Can’t think of anyone at UA, but then our expertise at present runs more toward discovering “nano-English.” Besides university faculty, there are DH Lawrence Society of N. America, Centre in Britain, and DH Lawrence Review as well as myriad conferences, listservs, etc. I suspect there must be someone who can illuminate (or knowing academics as I do, at the very least would be thrilled to discuss this with anyone who shares their interest).

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