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Waterfront Festival

Exhibition Review: Editing DH Lawrence at Weston Gallery, Lakeside Arts

22 April 22 words: Hannah Beresford

A new exhibition at Lakeside’s Weston Gallery explores DH Lawrence’s struggles with censorship, and the changes Nottingham has seen since it produced one of its most famous authors. Hannah Beresford takes a closer look into Lawrence’s salacious personal life.

The Editing DH Lawrence exhibition tells the story of DH Lawrence’s life and works, a story of scandal, censorship and intrigue that would fit right at home in one of Lawrence’s novels themselves. 

One of the first things that struck me about the exhibition was how dynamic the gallery space was. The room itself is small and intimate, but that doesn’t stop it from being crammed with things to look at, from panels of information climbing the walls to display cases filled with original illustrations and manuscripts. A poncho worn by Lawrence himself when he visited New Mexico is on display too. Illustrations and large quotes transform the room into a page that looks like it has come straight out of Lawrence’s manuscripts.

DH Lawrence sitting at a table in the cloisters of the cathedral at Cuernavaca, Mexico, 1923. DH Lawrence Collection, La Wb 1/12. Images courtesy of Manuscripts and Special Collections, University of Nottingham.

That doesn’t mean that all there is to do is to read pages on pages of information, however. Though there’s definitely plenty of info to stick your teeth into, the exhibition is interactive for the whole family, from a colouring station for the kids (where you can colour your own replica of the iconic poncho), to an electronic map you can scroll through, comparing Nottingham in Lawrence’s time to the Notts we know and love today. This map, a research project by Buxi Duan, pins Lawrence’s life in locations that are nowadays completely different. The Eastwood Congregational Chapel where he and his family frequented, for example, is now the site of another family-frequented premises: Iceland. It shows how we stand in the footsteps of one of Nottingham’s most famous authors every day; where Lawrence one stood to worship with his family, we now queue to buy fish fingers. Nottingham’s history echoes down the frozen fish aisle.

Next to the entrance, the wall asks visitors “What did you learn?” Some people pointed out how informative the exhibition was:

Really inspiring – in depth and an honest search for understanding. Brilliant!

Interesting insights into his life! Useful for my degree.

It was interesting and digestible (I <3 the poncho, great look)

Clearly Lawrence is bringing ponchos back into fashion here in Notts – you heard it here first, folks. But some of my favourite comments pointed out how the exhibition doesn’t pull any punches when going into details about Lawrence’s personal life: one visitor commented “not a nice man but fascinating nonetheless”, whilst another simply wrote “what a rascal.” And, with more drama revealed in this exhibition than in an episode of Corrie, I find myself agreeing. 

“The room itself is small and intimate, but that doesn’t stop it from being crammed with things to look at, from panels of information climbing the walls to display cases filled with original illustrations and manuscripts.”

One of the central cabinets details his marriage with Frieda Lawrence, whilst next to it the focus shifts to his “abject failure” of an affair with Dorothy Brett, using excerpts from Brett’s writing to reveal their “attempted intimacy over two consecutive nights.” Lawrence takes shape through the words of people that knew him, whether that be the words of a loving wife, the stories of a jilted mistress, or the writings of friends, rivals and publishers. ‘Rascal’ definitely seems apt. With the middle section of the gallery focused on fleshing out Lawrence as a person, detailing his life and hobbies outside of his novels, this exhibition does a brilliant job of reminding you that at the heart of it, Lawrence was just one of us. A lad from Notts that happened to have a skill for writing and a taste for scandal. 

And while this taste for scandal plays its part in the success of his books and their continued enjoyment to this day, the exhibition showcases original versions of edits and frustrated letters to and from publishers that show just how much trouble Lawrence ran into for his tastes. His novels were prosecuted or rejected for their salacious nature, censorship heavily influencing Lawrence’s edits. Now, a century on, we are finally free to see the original copies of his books, Lawrence’s own handwriting pencilled into the margins. 

First proofs of the short story by DH Lawrence “Odour of Chrysanthemums”, 1910. DH Lawrence Collection, La B 3. Images courtesy of Manuscripts and Special Collections, University of Nottingham.

Editing DH Lawrence becomes more about undoing the edits, more about revealing the story of a man constantly pushing through challenges: through police intercepting his letters, publishers dropping his books, public disinterest and private disquiet.

One passage in particular caught my attention on my way out; notes from a speech by Philip Larkin discussing Professor Pinto’s DH Lawrence lecture given at the University of Nottingham in 1951. He pointed out that “it’s interesting that Professor Pinto, who did so much to initiate the study of Lawrence in this University, should have had to begin by apologising that at the time Nottingham had paid so little attention to him.” Lakeside’s exhibition is giving Nottingham our second chance to pay this attention, not only to the books of a now-famous author, but to the life and struggles of one of our own. 

Editing DH Lawrence is on view at Weston Gallery, Lakeside until Sunday 29 May.

lakesidearts.org.uk

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