Autograph letter to David Garnett April 1915


Greatham, Pulborough n.p.. 1915.

Autograph letter signed by D.H.Lawrence to David Garnett. Undated but the postmark on the envelope (marked, "Absolutely Private") is dated 20th April 1915. Three sheets (175x125mm), five pages. 595 words. An extraordinary and important letter in which Lawrence writes to his close friend David Garnett on the subject of "men loving men" and, especially Garnett's men-loving friends in the Bloomsbury Group, Duncan Grant, John Maynard Keynes and Francis Birrell - "these beetles" as Lawrence calls them.
Lawrence and Frieda had got to know the twenty-year-old David Garnett in 1912 when they all spent time together in Germany and Austria. During that time, Lawrence wrote letters describing Garnett's youthful vigour when swimming in the River Isar: "He simply smashes his way through the water, while F. sits on the bank bursting with admiration, and I am green with envy". The envy seems to be not due to Frieda's admiration but for the Garnett's physical strength, something that the constantly ill Lawrence lacked. Other letters from this holiday find Lawrence praising the wild physicality of Garnett's dancing: "Such a prancing whirl of legs and arms and raving colours".
1913 saw the publication of Sons and Lovers (as edited by Garnett's father Edward). Lawrence found himself feted by Ottoline Morrell and he soon met all the leading members of Bloomsbury. Garnett too was moving in Bloomsbury circles, becoming especially close to Birrell and Grant. Lawrence seemed, publicly at least, at ease in this new world and remained very friendly with Garnett, making a fine sketch of him, smooth cheeked and tousle-haired (see below). But then, during a visit to Cambridge at the invitation of Bertrand Russell, it all changed.
In this letter to Garnett, Lawrence recalls how he and Russell went to visit Keynes in his rooms: "He was not there, so Russell was writing a note. Then suddenly a door opened and K. was there, blinking from sleep, standing in his pyjamas. And as he stood there gradually a knowledge passed into me, which has been like a little madness to me ever since". Lawrence tells Garnett to break off his friendship with this Bloomsbury men.
"Never bring B[irrell]. to see me any more. There is something nasty about him, like black-beetles. He is horrible and unclean. I feel as if I should go mad, if I think of your set, D[uncan]. G[rant]. and K[eynes]. and B. It makes me dream of beetles. In Cambridge I had a similar dream. Somehow I can't bear it. It is wrong beyond all bounds of wrongness. I had felt it slightly before, in the Stracheys. But it came full upon me in K., and in D. G. And yesterday I knew it again in B."
"It" in all this is, of course, homosexuality. "It is so wrong, it is unbearable. It makes a form of inward if it came from deep inward dirt - a sort of sewer - deep in men like K. and B. and D.G.".
Lawrence continues his plea: "You must wrench away and start a new, my dear, you can be all right. You can come away, and grow whole, and love a woman, and marry her, and make life good, and be happy. Now David, in the name of everything that is called love, leave this set and stop this blasphemy against love. It isn't that I speak from a moral code. Truly I didn't know it was wrong, till I saw K. that morning in Cambridge. It was one of the crises in my life." Lawrence ends: "I could sit and howl in a corner like a child, I feel so bad about it all."
Accompanying Lawrence's letter is one from Frieda to David Garnett in which she adopts a more conciliatory tone (Two sheets (175x125mm), four pages, 298 words). "Are you getting sick of being bombarded with letters?...I felt a great strength and livingness and a genuine you, if only you could believe in yourself more, in the individual bottomself of you and collect your strength and direct it - you always admire other people much too much, you are really more than Birrell or the others." Frieda tells Garnett that he loses himself in other men "and you have got it in you to stand for yourself and by yourself - Also I rather think the young me you know exploit you and feed on your warmth, because you are generous". Frieda signs off: "Anyhow you are my dear friend".
Below Frieda's letter is a forty-five word p.s. from Lawrence telling the poor Garnett: "Don't marry anybody. Go right away and be along and work and come to your real self".
Sold with these letters is an earlier letter dated 20th October 1912 from Garnett to "Dear dear Lorenzo. Dear dear Frieda". It begins with fulsome praise for Lawrence's recently published "The Trespasser" and then goes on to talk of love, failed love affairs with women. He says to Lawrence: "You with your phallus worship (excuse my expression but it's true) yet must recognise that love can be a ghastly business". The letter recalls the summer in Germany: "I'd give a lot to be with you again -swimming in the rivers, climbing mountains". One senses the closeness between Garnett and the Lawrences but Garnett's tone is fresher, younger, more carefree - the intensity was all on Lawrence's side.
The following year (1913), Frieda and Lawrence went to stay with Garnett and his parents at The Cearne, their house in Kent. While there, he sketched Garnett, producing a study of his friend's head in profile. He captures the quick, youthful vigour he so admired, the thick hair and fresh face. It is signed "D.H.Lawrence" and also inscribed (in Garnett's hand) "David Garnett by D.H.Lawrence. The Cearne. 1913". On the verso is a further rough sketch. Single sheet of lined paper, 189x203. Some slight foxing and marking to the edges where it was once framed.
Lawrence attitudes and relationship to homosexuality are complex and continue to interest to scholars and biographers. And his friendship with David Garnett was perhaps even more complex. His "envy" of Garnett's physical prowess and perhaps of his beauty seems to underpin much of their early time together. The sketch Lawrence made while staying with Garnett concentrates on his youth making him seem much younger than the twenty-one which he was. And the extraordinary outburst in the famous letter of April 1915 is shot through with jealousy, commanding the young man to leave his friends. Keynes certainly thought that Lawrence was jealous. Garnett must have been shocked. If, in 1912, the two men were discussing "phallus worship" why would Lawrence suddenly adopt a tone of high moral outrage in the face of what he called "Bloomsbuggery"? Did Lawrence really disapprove of homosexuality? His novels suggest not. Was he in love and sexually attracted to Garnett? Did he want him for himself and himself alone? Any answer to these questions must necessarily call in evidence these letters and the drawing as they go the heart of the fraught matter of D.H.Lawrence's sexuality.

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