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  • The Censorship and Transmission of D. H. Lawrence's Pansies:The Home Office and the "Foul-Mouthed Fellow"
  • Christopher Pollnitz (bio)

Oh the teeth of the old dogs are dirty and yellow
but they dare to bare them and snarl
and call a man a foul-mouthed fellow
if he speaks his mind at all [. . .]1

Lawrence began composing pensées in his Pansies notebook (Roberts E302d) in November 1928, while staying on the Île de Port-Cros. Correlating the ink-colours in his letters with the ink-colours in the notebook establishes that he began writing poems on the island before he crossed to the mainland in mid-November.2 Having found the Hôtel Beau Rivage in Bandol, Lawrence went on composing these verse pensées at speed. On 7 January 1929, he posted from Bandol two carbon copies from the first typing of Pansies, sending them as papiers d'affaire or registered mail to his London agent, Laurence Pollinger.3 The ribbon typescript (Roberts E302f) Lawrence retained for himself. As two weeks passed in January, he expressed concern that Pollinger had not received the packet with the carbon typescripts (Letters, VII, 136, 140). On 23 January, two Scotland Yard detectives called on Pollinger.

Having called four days earlier to report that volumes of Lady Chatterley's Lover mailed to Pollinger had been intercepted in the post, the detectives notified him this time that the carbon copies of Pansies were being held, pending any suit to prove that they were not obscene.4 Lawrence's anger, as his solicitors' attempts to recover the typescripts proved fruitless, was predictable: "I shall make a row" (Letters, VII, 153). Pollinger's two letters of 23 January are contrasting examples of a businessman's subdued outrage: [End Page 44]

Acting under instructions from the Home Office, they [the officers from Scotland Yard] have seized the two copies of the "Pansies" manuscript, as they consider these poems obscene and indecent.

All our letters are apparently intercepted and read by the Police . . .

And again:

Yours of January 14th and the introduction to the paintings is just here. It is quite obvious that notwithstanding the fact that it was a registered parcel, it had been opened and sealed up again.

When delivering it here, the postman made a rather curious remark to our Reception Clerk. He wanted to know how long I had been here and was considerably surprised to hear that I have been here so long that I am now considered as part of the office equipment. Our Clerk tells me that the postman seemed to doubt this statement.

(Letters, VII, 149, n. 1)

Pollinger's suspicion that agents of the state were gathering information on him, because of his association with a notorious author, would not be lost on Lawrence. The controversy spread to the House of Commons, but never quite realised Lawrence's hope that "it could be shown in the House that he [the Home Secretary] is a liar, and he did open my sealed and registered letter" (Letters, VII, 227). The questions in the Commons on 28 February 1929 nevertheless renewed public debate on censorship.5 While discussion simmered in England, in France Lawrence occupied himself with retyping and enlarging the last volume of poems he would see through the press.

From 1924 to 1929, the popular Home Secretary, Sir William Joynson-Hicks, and Sir Archibald Henry Bodkin, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), ran an unofficial but state-directed system of censorship. In 1929, "Jix" (a nickname given Joynson-Hicks by his supporters as well as critics) and the section of the Home Office he made responsible for censorship became targets of Lawrence's satire. This paper examines three interrelated questions: the transmission history of Pansies; the character of the Home Office censorship implemented by Joynson-Hicks; and the impact this censorship had on Lawrence's pensées.

It is a pity that the attempted suppression of Pansies—like the raid on the Warren Gallery exhibition of Lawrence's paintings, from which the police bore off any pictorial wisp of pubic hair—has been cast into the shade by the ban on Lady Chatterley's Lover. Pansies has...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1464
Print ISSN
0022-281X
Pages
pp. 44-71
Launched on MUSE
2005-09-22
Open Access
No
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