A Model of Neatness and Precision
Artefact 1: Mr Muscle | Feature 1 of 4
Lawrence's remote dwelling in New Mexico.
Lawrence is probably one of the hardest grafters in literary history. You wouldn’t find him locked away in the garret – not unless he’d built it first. In the first of four essays, James Walker wonders whether his peripatetic lifestyle was the reason for his strong work ethic.
Muscles are not something you would initially associate with the gangly frame of D.H. Lawrence. As Mabel Dodge Luhan observed, ‘Lawrence is tall, but so slightly built and so stooped that he gives the impression of a small man. His head seems too heavy for his slim body and hangs forward. The whole expression is of extreme fragility’. Contrary to his physical appearance, Lawrence was anything but fragile. He had a vociferous work ethic and was prepared to do anything to build home. There was nothing he enjoyed more than getting his hands dirty (and then cleaning them thoroughly), which is why Mr. Muscles is our first artefact.
According to Catherine Carswell, Lawrence was ‘a model of neatness and precision, neither wasting movement nor permitting even a temporary disorder’. This sense of urgency is understandable given he struggled with ill health throughout his life. Aldous Huxley acknowledged the versatility of this strong work ethic: ‘He could cook, he could sew, he could darn a stocking and milk a cow, he was an efficient woodcutter and a good hand at embroidery, fires always burned when he had laid them and a floor after he had scrubbed it was thoroughly clean.’ Danish artist Knud Merrild recalls how Lawrence showed him and Kai Gótzsche how to remove entrails and skin a kill so that they could eat safely and maintain their pioneer lifestyle in the mountains of New Mexico during the winter of 1922.
Perhaps one reason Lawrence was house proud was because he never owned a home.His peripatetic lifestyle meant he was on the move every two years and so was constantly having to restore and renovate his latest temporary accommodation, often in remote places. While living on the Kiowa Ranch, high up in the ‘leopard-lived slopes of America’, Lawrence had to be self-sufficient as it was 8,600ft above sea level and the nearest town, Taos, was 18 miles away. While here, he rebuilt the whole of a three-roomed house, including the adobe bricks, and reshingled the roof. Once the house wasin order, the home had to be sustainable. ‘He was milking his black cow night and morning, riding his black horse, Aaron, on the more tiresome errands to the valley, sowing pansy seeds, and irrigating without help a twenty-acre field to which the water had to be brought two miles off’ writes Catherine Carswell.
Just reading about his daily routine is enough to make you feel tired. His work commitment is made even more incredible when we consider his phenomenal output asa writer. Lawrence wasn’t someone to lock himself away in the garret – not unless he’d built it himself. This was a man who did not waste a minute of his 44 years of life. He was Mr. Muscle in both his physical and mental exertion.
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