T. E. Lawrence to David Garnett
Now there are three things to write to you about. No Love, Shakespeare and [name omitted]. In that order, I think.
What took me at once in No Love was the reality of the people: more especially of the minor people. The Admiral was best of all. It was a most vivid study of several admirals I have known. The scene in the bakery, where he comes in and reads a poem, for which faculty nothing in anything you had said had prepared us, is altogether admirable. It struck me like a ballet. There was something so deliberate in its orchestration and arrangement, and the balance of art and life most beautifully kept. You realise, probably, that you stand wholly outside the realist movement. Your work is symbolist, through and through. Everything of yours which comes off does so by virtue of some significance carried in the acts or words: a significance not stated anywhere, nor possible to state, nor implicit nor concerned with anything the people you create may be doing or saying. It just happens, every now and then, that one halts and says to oneself 'This is tremendously important: this matters'. How or why God knows. You have no notion, I expect, that anything is wrong. However it happens.
Excuse the typing. A new typewriter, to me; and me set to use it a bit, to get my hand in. I'm just dreaming along on it by touch.
Back to No Love. Roger is better than Benedick: at least I think so. Do not ask me to qualify every phrase in this letter by 'I think so'. I do. Simon was very real as a boy (incidentally your children are all good) but he was faint towards the end. Did you get exasperated with the bunch of them? I did, rather. They seemed to lose their way in life, and to stray a bit aimlessly. Of course that is real too: but an author's characters should be better than life, or it's hardly worth our mind's while to invent them. If all we did was to invent people who were passably real, it would be easier and more realistic yet to go and procreate real children on any woman. Notice that 'we': I talk of myself as an author!
Wherefore I did grow angry with Simon, and Cynthia (she is a bit of a ghost all the time) and Benedick, after the elders were dead. You see, the elders were the better drawn, and the riper people. Your young ones never got grown up at all: only the shine of youth seemed to rub off.
Last book of yours I read left me with an abiding sense of a low country: fennish or next door to fens: water and willows or poplars, and an air that was moist. In this book there is no landscape at all: or only one old tree arching over the sleeping kids on the shore. Otherwise a void in which these astonishingly real people gyrate and hover. London does not appear, nor the bombardment, convincingly. The people, Benedick and Cynthia, are alive in it. They wake up' astonishingly, during that London leave. It is their final kick before they die on you: but London remains only a back-curtain. I suspect you meant this too. One is always pulling up at some astounding simple line or move on your part, and saying 'Is this the simplicity of a child or of someone so grown up that he can be childish?' There is a feeling as of superb skill and deliberation about the progress of your novel. This limpidity is too good to be true. It is not Defoe, but Swift or Kenneth Grahame. Apologies for likening you to K.G. Nor do I mean to liken you, here, to any model. Your first three books were resonant with echoes of other men's styles and work. Not this. It is independent.
However, as I say, I'm sorry that you denied yourself landscape. It is nice stuff. You do it well, too. Perhaps you do not know that side of the Hayling-Portsmouth area well enough to let yourself go? Another time I hope you will put your people in a non-geographical place, and let yourself go, descriptively. If you can get walking and talking people, you have got one third of what the novelist wants. The other third is something keener seen than the earth of our eyes, to set them in: and the last third is something for them to say better and richer and riper than the stuff we can say ourselves. You have put each of the ingredients into one or other of your books. Now I want to stir them together into one pudding.
So much for No Love. Forgive the crudity of my criticism. I have no theory or notion of art: but I do like to read novels. And there are so many almost good enough: and so few that are quite good enough to be better, like yours. You are growing all the time. Yet I wish that you had not written Lady into Fox. Everybody will urge you all the rest of your life to make them more toys of the spirit.
We turn over to the Nonesuch Shakespeare. There you have created a most marvellous pleasure. I have handled it ever so many times, and read The Tempest right through. It satisfies. I do not feel that I shall ever need to think again of an ideal Shakespeare. It is final, like the Kelmscott Chaucer, or the Ashendene Virgil. And it is a book which charms one to read slowly, an art which is almost gone from us in these times. Every jewelled word which Shakespeare uses stands out glowing. A really great edition. The tact and grace of your editor have been surpassing.
I think I like the size and shape and binding almost as much as the text. The paper too is just right. Altogether a triumph. It is overwhelmingly good of you to have given it to me. One of the best things is that it can be done again. Nobody will ever dare to produce the old type of edition now, while your text stands there to reproach them. It means a permanent improvement in Shakespeares.
Now for the woman. Ouf. [50 lines omitted]
Note. David Garnett, No Love (London, Chatto & Windus, 1929). Garnett was a director of the Nonesuch Press.
|Last revised:||30 January 2006|
T. E. Lawrence chronology
1888 16 August: born at Tremadoc, Wales
1896-1907: City of Oxford High School for Boys
1907-9: Jesus College, Oxford, B.A., 1st Class Hons, 1909
1910-14: Magdalen College, Oxford (Senior Demy), while working at the British Museum's excavations at Carchemish
1915-16: Military Intelligence Dept, Cairo
1916-18: Liaison Officer with the Arab Revolt
1919: Attended the Paris Peace Conference
1919-22: wrote Seven Pillars of Wisdom
1921-2: Adviser on Arab Affairs to Winston Churchill at the Colonial Office
1922 August: Enlisted in the Ranks of the RAF
1923 January: discharged from the RAF
1923 March: enlisted in the Tank Corps
1923: translated a French novel, The Forest Giant
1924-6: prepared the subscribers' abridgement of Seven Pillars of Wisdom
1927-8: stationed at Karachi, then Miranshah
1927 March: Revolt in the Desert, an abridgement of Seven Pillars, published
1928: completed The Mint, began translating Homer's Odyssey
1929-33: stationed at Plymouth
1931: started working on RAF boats
1932: his translation of the Odyssey published
1933-5: attached to MAEE, Felixstowe
1935 February: retired from the RAF
1935 19 May: died from injuries received in a motor-cycle crash on 13 May
1935 21 May: buried at Moreton, Dorset