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T. E. Lawrence to Harley Granville-Barker


7.2.24.

When your letter came, and said 'a month' I sighed with gladness that there was so much time to work out a reply... but the days have dodged me somehow, and I'm all unready still.

You see, while you have been so magnificently persistent with my literary 'builders' yard' I've been reading that polished four-square play of yours. Is that a comic picture?  Of an author and a would-be (would have been?), exchanging books, and tasting each other meditatively.

Anyhow that's what I've done, with barren results. Your work is so hard, so intricate, so packed. It is the essence of thought, a variety of mental Bovril.  Shaw (the real one) talked of it with me, deploring your profusion of material, your introduction of stuff which would have made eight plays if beaten out thin.

I rather like the pemmican of letters, or rather I used to like it, when my head was at ease to think over the words I gave it through my eyes. I thought then that a man could not work himself too hard, when he opened a new branch to the public. After all the suffrages worth having are the people who will read your play with the eager effort you put into it.

And yet, and yet... your leisure is so abundant that perhaps you have been cruel to the larger audience. I don't see you some how as only a highbrow for highbrows: but haven't you been forgetful of the duties of the many. I get up in the morning, and clean boots and make beds and carry coal and light fires... and then all day long I work till five o'clock... and when in the evening the choice lies between an easy thing, like Methuselah, and a hard thing like yours: why without my will my hand strays to the left, and I read Shaw. It's not out of sheer laziness: predigested food is wholesome to a stomach with is weary.

However a bit too much of this. It is a very great thing, that play of yours. I hate plays, because I'm no theatre-goer, and the unpractised form is knobby and uncouth to my wits: but the characters come through the writing with a shout. Your politicians are really politicians: and though I resent the death which unties a problem I suppose you felt that it would be unhelpful in you to leave a tangle to the crowd for their late supper. The thing is clearly meant to be played, isn't it? Otherwise you would not have sacrificed as much to the stage-technique.

Strowde is the person who interested me most. Your women passed me by, (in revenge perhaps, for I usually pass them, in the flesh): your Serocolds are too usual to be more than ornamental, and I resent a young man's taking rubbish seriously. But why did you make Strowde so weak? There is a luxury in keeping outside, but it is a poor man who will lie asleep in that: and you don't express the fear he must have hade of being pulled back... the conviction that he'd have to sell the part of himself which he valued, for the privilege of giving rein to the part of himself which others valued, but which he despised or actually disliked.

Also you have missed out the animal. All your characters are intelligences, most of them are witty intelligences (your dialogue is an amazement to me: some ass said Henry James: But he was a porpoise, not a fencing master): but they couldn't be as witty as all that without cracking sometimes, and letting the roar and growling of the beast be heard. Here in camp it's the lesson stamped into me with nailed feet hour after hour: that at bottom we are carnal: that our appetites and tastes and hopes and ideals are beast-qualities, coloured or shaped somewhat fancifully, but material always, things you can cut with a knife: and you have hidden that, out of shame perhaps: out of fear perhaps: or, like Shaw, in revenge.

It seems to me that I have doubly wasted this month, if I've put off sending you a decent answer, only to write piffle at the end of it.

Per contra I've been very grateful for your letter. I've a despairing wish to believe well of that awful book of mine, though it's a nightmare to me, and I can never agree that it's any good. I wanted to ask you to read with a pencil, and to hack out the rubbish as you went: but it seemed too greedy a request. It's pretty shameless to ask a man to read it all.

Subscribers to a thirty-guinea limited edition of a hundred copies are coming in, two or three a week. I'm glad to think that you've got it over already.

My regards to Mrs. Granville-Barker.

T.E.S.

Note. Harley Granville-Barker, The Secret Life, a play in three acts, 1923

Source: DG 452-4
Checked: mv/
Last revised: 10 February 2006


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