Saturday, 20 December 2014

winding down, the white peacock, dh lawrence, nottingham, the squire and his descendant

















Oxford is beginning to wind down.

The library will close at 5 pm on Tuesday and won't reopen till the New Year.

It's nice to have a little space in which to catch up with oneself and one's work. Moments in which one can see where one's got to and contemplate what to do next.

It's also been great to go to parties, to see old friends and have time to be with colleagues rather than us all dashing about.

On the bus into work, in between going through the last creative writing submissions of 2014, I'm reading The White Peacock by DH Lawrence. This is the third time in my life when I've read this novel. I love it. It's so beautiful - the evocations of the countryside and of the people and buildings within it. It's also fresh and vivid and full of life, with none of the somewhat deranged tub-thumping and one-pacedness of later Lawrence.

I first read the novel when I was at Cirencester Ag College. What it did then was to put into words all the freshness and beauty of the rural world that I knew was there but couldn't fully identify or describe. Then I re-read it when I was living on Osney Island in the 1990s and was writing my own first novel. This was also a time of numbness and distress, when the truth about the family and the trusts was coming out. Not a pleasant time but the misery was helped a lot by books like The White Peacock. Now I'm living in yet another age. One where former incompetences and cruelties have run their course and are receding into the past, and where hard work and trying to balance this with quieter moments are the major issues. It's fascinating to read the book for the third time and to see what I missed the first and second times round.

When I used to drive up to Nottingham in the late seventies and early eighties to see my girlfriend, Belinda, we used to go walking in the places where Lawrence's novels were set. One time we visited the little church above the stately home that features in The White Peacock and saw the ballustraded terracing that Lawrence mentions. The big house was by then a football academy. After a while we noticed a man standing in the graveyard. We got talking - I remember noticing his frayed cuffs and old-looking gold cufflinks as he began to tell us about the house and his ancestors. He was a descendant of the landowner on which Lawrence's squire was based. The man invited us to the family's current home, which though much smaller, was still pretty massive. An ancient wood-panelled place with Stubbs painting hanging on the walls and a blazing log fire. The squire was portrayed by Lawrence as a despot who had no time for the welfare of the people that lived on his estate. The man we met had some choice stories about Lawrence and why he wasn't a decent chap and was over-rated as a writer. I loved the fact that there we were with the battle between the family and the author still going on in front of our very eyes.

4 comments:

  1. How fascinating to be let into in that long-standing local rancour about DHL! I read the White Peacock probably fifty years ago at university and have taken down my orange and white Penguin recently planning to read it again soon. There is a Christmas chapter in it , isn't there? Somehow I remember it as original and unusual yet full of tradition.
    Happy solstice and Christmas.

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    1. It was a fascinating experience! And yes, there is a chapter about the build-up to Christmas - very festive. Happy Solstice and Christmas to you too!

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  2. Literature coming alive, as I was always aware of Thomas Hardy in the byeways of Dorset.

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    1. Ah, the byways of Hardy's Dorset - we've explored one or two, and loved them. There are quite a few Oxford echoes of Hardy as well - from Jude - including St Barnabas in Jericho, which I pass nearly every day. I've always meant to explore the Dorset of the Powys brothers too (which I suppose overlap with Hardy) but haven't got round to this yet. A treat for the future.

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