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Reviewed by:
  • Lawrence at Tregerthen
  • Kingsley Widmer
C. J. Stevens. Lawrence at Tregerthen. Troy: Whitston, 1988. 125 pp. $15.00.

This little book (about a hundred pages of text, not counting apparatus) is in effect a moderately revised chapter of Lawrence biography. It covers, with some forward and backward summary but without much analysis of Lawrence's writing and thinking of the period, the time he and his wife lived in Cornwall, from March 1916 until October 1917. The special justification is that C. J. Stevens carefully and sympathetically interviewed in the late 1960s surviving local people who had known Lawrence a bit, especially Stanley Hocking of the neighboring farm family to the Lawrences. Stevens has also carefully read and cited appropriate letters, memoirs, and biographical discussions of the period. The account is well informed, pleasantly written, and marked by balanced detachment (as with briefly presenting Lawrence's often contradictory extreme responses to the Great War, to violent authoritarianism, to homosexuality, and to such friends as Katherine Mansfield, John Middleton Murry, et alia). Most of the material, however, is not unique or especially insightful.

Stevens was too late to interview William Henry Hocking and therefore to explore what Jeffrey Meyers (Homosexuality and Literature 1890-1930 [1977]) described as Lawrence's "mysterious and obscure passion for the handsome Cornish farmer . . . which he refers to in the 'Nightmare' chapter of Kangaroo . . . and in the suppressed Prologue to Women in Love." Aware of the interest, Stevens reaches for further detailing of a possible homosexual relationship. "One can imagine the scene of seduction—perhaps somewhere in the darkness on the shaggy moors where the Druidical boulders suggest a blood ceremony. But it would be only speculation; no evidence has been unearthed to confirm such a culmination." (Perhaps Meyers will suggest further confirmation in the biography of Lawrence he is currently completing.) But the interest seems disproportionate. Obviously Lawrence had some sort of attraction to the uncultivated but yearning young man with whom he seems to have spent considerable time, not least when feeling hostile to his wife. Call it, especially in the context of Lawrence's suggestive male-loving scenes in many of his fictions, homoerotic. Qualify it with Lawrence's raging statements of repulsion to homosexuals, and we might summarize part of the Lawrencean as ambivalent homoeroticism, whatever acts were done, or not quite done, by the Prophet of Passion in the Anglo-American restrictive early part of the century.

In effect, Stevens also suggests ambivalent qualifications on the Lawrences' military-ordered expulsion from Cornwall, as seen from the local conditions. Given the coastal-rural Cornish patriotism, the perhaps appropriate hostility of a Christian Vicar, the bohemian-artist's odd appearance, Frieda's evident and sometimes indiscreet Germanness, the Lawrences' contempt for the war, the visible success of the German U-boat campaign, and so forth, the expulsion was neither very surprising nor very extreme.

Indeed, nothing in this addenda and summary of a piece of Lawrencean biography is very surprising or extreme, or crucial. [End Page 807]

Kingsley Widmer
San Diego State University


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