- Lawrence's Mr. Noon
The English reviewers have been unjustly harsh about Mr. Noon. They may have been disappointed by the publisher's promise of "a new work of major importance" or by the obvious flaws in the fiction. James Fenton complained about the "tiresome junk" and the "blatherings about tree worship," wished "that the pretence of novel-writing had been dropped, and that the author had satisfied himself with composing a memoir." Grace Ingoldby wrote: "Discursive, pepperd by self-conflict and appeals to the 'gentle reader, gentle critic,' the novel, unfinished, fails to gell." Christopher Hawtree flatly stated: "it is bad, giving little evidence of the imagination at work, and is so constructed that it could easily have rambled on forever without making a whole." Raymond Williams noted, in his typically turgid and ponderous manner, "the radical uncertainties of this novel" and the lack of "continuity of the title character." Only Graham Hough [End Page 710] has seen the full significance of the novel. Conceding that Part One is "genial and good-humoured . . . unstrenuous, easy-going and trivial," he maintained that in Part Two "the presentation is brilliant"; there is "freshness and candour in the writing" and "an effervescent sense of escape." I tend to be grateful rather than critical, for if we overlook the blemishes of this uncorrected first draft, which would surely have been removed after revision, there is considerable interest in this unexpected addition to the canon of a great writer.
Lawrence began work on Mr. Noon just after completing The Lost Girl and rapidly wrote the first draft of 373 pages in five weeks at the end of 1920. Part One (the first third) was first published posthumously in A Modern Lover (1934) and reprinted in Phoenix II (1968). The unfinished manuscript was left with Lawrence's American publisher Thomas Selzer and never returned to the author. Selzer, in settlement of a debt, gave it to his nephew Albert Boni, who sold it to a collector in 1936. It remained in private hands—its existence unknown—until it was auctioned at Sotheby's in 1972 and bought by the University of Texas.
Mr. Noon has roughly the same place in Lawrence's oeuvre as Maurice does in Forster's. Anyone who has eagerly waited sixty years for publication is bound to feel let down. The novel ranks among Lawrence's fiction with The White Peacock and The Trespasser; but it is closely related to his other works, expresses many of his passionately held beliefs, and has fascinating autobiographical passages. As Catherine Carswell observed in her letter to Time and Tide on 14 March 1930, just after Lawrence's death: "even the worst page dances with life that could be mistaken for no other man's."
The novel—which observes in passing: "There isn't a man worth having, nowadays, who can get away from his mother. Their mothers are all in love with them, and they're all in love with their mothers"(124)—continues the story of Lawrence's life after Sons and Lovers. As in The Rainbow, Lawrence writes: "all life and splendour is made up out of the union of indomitable opposites. We live, all of us, balanced delicately on the rainbow, which is born of pure light and pure water" (186). Love is portrayed as a fight, a constant conflict between individuality and merging, a struggle to achieve that delicate and difficult "polarised adjustment with the woman"(190)—not conquest, but equipoise—that Birkin tries to establish with Ursula in Women in Love. Like The Lost Girl, the novel is set in Eastwood, and Alvina Houghton makes a brief appearance in the ladies' choir. It opens with domestic discord, as in Aaron's Rod; and like Aaron's Rod and The Lost Girl, the hero follows the impulsive pattern of clearing out for Europe. Like Lady Challerley's Lover, it attacks the hypocritical degradation of sex and exalts "the everlasting and incalculable throb of passion and desire" (189). Like "The Prussian Officer," it warns against the threat of German militarism and the destructive preparations for war. Most important—like The Fight for Barbara, Twilight in Italy, and Look...