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Book Review: D. H. Lawrence and the Literary Marketplace: The Early Writings

4 April 2022

Buxi Duan, University of Birmingham

Annalise Grice, D. H. Lawrence and the Literary Marketplace: The Early Writings (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2021)

It is safe to say that D. H. Lawrence is a controversial figure in modernist criticism. Unlike his contemporaries, such as Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce, Lawrence is often treated as a peripheral figure even though he was closely connected to English modernism. It is difficult to put labels on Lawrence because of his various literary personae. In 1913, when he was only 27 and had only just established his name in the literary marketplace, Lawrence wrote that ‘I seem to have had several lives, when I think back. This is all so different from anything I have known therefore. And now I feel a different person. […] Life unsaddles one so often’.[1] Indeed, Lawrence has many faces as a novelist, poet, letter-writer, dramatist, literary reviewer, and arguably essayist and journalist. Despite the popularity of his risqué romantic novels, such as Sons and Lovers (1913) and Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928), criticism on how Lawrence became Lawrence has largely followed existing biographical research and portrayed his entering in the literary marketplace as a typical story of a working-class man ‘getting on’. Annalise Grice’s monograph D. H. Lawrence and the Literary Marketplace: The Early Writings is a timely work that fills the gap of criticism on Lawrence’s early engagement with the literary marketplace, providing a new perspective on his formative years through detailed case studies. For readers interested in D. H. Lawrence and the development of his literary reputation and persona(e) on both sides of the Atlantic, this book is a must-read.

D. H. Lawrence and the Literary Marketplace is a work that focuses on the early period of Lawrence’s literary career up to the spring of 1914 through individual case studies, rather than one which offers an examination of Lawrence’s whole literary career or provides a comprehensive account of his early publications. As such, the book may be less pertinent to readers interested in Lawrence and the modernist print culture. Yet such a specific focus on early Lawrence leads to one of the key arguments Grice makes throughout this study: advocating for a revision of the widely held perception that Lawrence’s isolation has been perpetually renewed throughout his career since the very beginning. It also unveils a more complicated Lawrence, who utilised the literary resources he had in his early attempts to attain a professional writing career. Lawrence’s passion for writing is reflected in his early practices and is noted by his biographers, including John Worthen and Andrew Harrison.[2] Based on existing scholarship and new findings from archival research, Grice provides further evidence that before Lawrence and his poetry were debuted in the November 1909 issue of the English Review, under Ford Madox Ford (Hueffer)’s editorship, Lawrence had already cultivated an authorial identity by ‘approaching the marketplace’ and forming a ‘supportive network’ of literary-minded friends centred around him (p. 28).

To reflect the development of Lawrence’s early career, especially key yet often neglected events and connections, Grice divides the book into three sections: Lawrence’s preparation to enter the field, the role his literary mentors played in shaping his career, and Lawrence’s awareness and pragmatic attitude toward literary commerce (p. 11-12). With a methodological approach that aims to investigate Lawrence’s authorship through social contexts, Grice is able to return to and examine the original material forms (which include manuscripts, typescripts, proofs and first editions) of specific examples of Lawrence’s early work and his role in their composition, production, circulation, and consumption. Contending that the relationship between Lawrence and his mentors was ‘far more complex’ than existing simplistic accounts, Grice argues that Lawrence was ‘cannier in publishing matters than he cared to admit’, quoting a letter in which Lawrence forwarded a reproduced version of Ford’s positive appraisal of the manuscripts of ‘Odour of Chrysanthemums’ to Heinemann (p. 89). As she further develops this argument by suggesting that Lawrence actively participated in his British and American book publishers’ local promotional activities for Sons and Lovers, Grice brings an unfamiliar Lawrence to her readers (p. 184).

The value of this publication is that it helps us understand how Lawrence entered the literary marketplace and constructed his literary identity. However, the argument of this study is slightly weakened by its relatively isolated case studies. Though Grice’s examinations effectively present a different early Lawrence, previously unknown to us, these examples are largely fragmented and not interrelated, which might not be enough to reflect the continuity and development of Lawrence’s attitude toward the literary marketplace in the early stage of his career. As Grice admits, ‘there is much else to say on this topic and the story of Lawrence’s career only begins here’ (p. 212).

Following the ‘materialist turn’ in modernist studies, this timely study fills the gap in D. H. Lawrence studies by examining the extent and depth of Lawrence’s approach in establishing a professional career as a writer. Complicated as he is, Lawrence’s short but fruitful literary career and his many faces still await examination. By providing readers with a multi-dimensional view of this diligent and pragmatic young Lawrence, Grice’s study sheds an inspiring light on this topic for both scholars and students.


Sources

[1] The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, ed. by James T. Boulton and others, 8 vols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979-2000), I (1979), p. 544.

[2] See John Worthen, D. H. Lawrence: The Early Years 1885-1912 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991); Andrew Harrison, The Life of D. H. Lawrence: A Critical Biography (Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2016).

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