Select Page

A model of neatness and precision

Artefact 1: Mr Muscle | Article 1 of 4

Taos house
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.

James Walker

James Walker @memorytheatre

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[i]’. 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. Muscle is our first artefact.

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[ii]’, 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 was in order, the home had to be sustainable. This involved milking his cow night and morning, sowing vegetables, and travelling two miles a day to fetch water to irrigate a twenty-acre field that he managed on his own.

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 as a 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.


[i] Mabel Dodge Luhan. Lorenzo in Taos. (Sunstone Press, 1832/2007) p.40

[ii] D.H. Lawrence. ‘Autumn at Taos’ in Birds, Beasts and Flowers (New York: Thomas Seltzer, 1923) p.199-201


Web design: thinkamigo | DH Lawrence Memory Theatre © Fillingham & Walker