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Alison MacLeod: Books that fuelled my writing of Tenderness

Tenderness (Bloomsbury: 2021)

Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928)

D. H. Lawrence was forced to publish this, his last novel, privately because his publisher, Martin Secker – understandably – feared publication meant prison. Lawrence, in the late stages of TB, wrote the illicit story of the love affair of Lady Constance Chatterley and gamekeeper Oliver Mellors from 1926-28, completing it two years before his death at the age of 44. It has weak patches, yet it remains bold, moving and life-affirming. It’s more than a scandalous love story. It’s a profound anti-war novel written in the wake of the industrial-scale losses of the First World War. Into it, DHL poured the last of his life, his hunger for it, and his love for the natural world. Its early working title was Tenderness.

‘England, my England’ (1922)

This short story by Lawrence appears in this collection of the same name. Written in 1915 and later revised and expanded, the story is one of the earliest imaginings of the tragedy of the Front in the early stages of the First World War. It’s also full of the psychological and sexual complications of one family, the Marshalls, who were – outwardly – based on the family who hosted the Lawrences for six months in 1915, the Meynells. In personal terms, the story is a betrayal of that family, with distortions of their biographies and rather cruel inventions. In artistic terms, it’s a poignant study of the futility and fallacies of war, and the loss of an England Lawrence both loved and despised.

Birds, Beasts, Flowers (1923)

As Lawrence’s close friend Aldous Huxley wrote, ‘He seemed to know, by personal experience, what it was like to be a tree or a daisy or a breaking wave or even the mysterious moon itself. He could get inside the skin of an animal and tell you in the most convincing detail how it felt and how, dimly, inhumanly, it thought.’ These poems of tortoises, bats and cypresses are charged encounters with the ‘otherness’ of nature. The lush poetic studies of fruit – grapes, figs, peaches and medlars – also evoke the eroticism of the brief affair he had with Rosalind Baynes in September 1920, as he wrote this collection.

The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, ed. Aldous Huxley (Heinemann: 1932)

Lawrence was a prolific letter-writer, and Huxley collected a great deal of his correspondence after his death in 1930. I expected the letters simply to offer a source for fact-checking as I wrote Tenderness. But they are vibrant, and DHL – faults, compulsions and all – is a vivid presence throughout.

D. H. Lawrence: A Composite Biography (3 vols., from 1957), Edward Nehls

Of the many Lawrence biographies, this one is my favourite: a miscellany of recollections – fond, critical and eccentric – by Lawrence’s friends and intimates.


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