(The CLSG)
(Reading Room)
(Literary Apologetics)
(Hardy & Hebrews)
(Bible & Sexuality)
(Eliot and Lady Chatterley)
(Polkinghorne: Science & Narural Theology)
(Biblical Decoding)
(Bunyan: autobiography)
(Lessing: Mysticism)
(Pete Lowman)

Knowing Good and Evil: T S Eliot and Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Roger Kojecký

That Eliot did not allow After Strange Gods to be reprinted[1] is well-known, and it is sometimes attributed to some change of mind. But two letters he wrote to Helen Gardner[2] in the aftermath of the 1960 trial in London in which the publishers of Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover were acquitted of charges relating to obscenity, show that Eliot was then affirming convictions essentially similar to those set forth in the lectures at the University of Virginia in May 1933. Five years before his death he saw himself as engaged in the same struggle, his attitude towards Lawrence remained “ambiguous”, and the efforts of his own criticism were still against “evil”.

            It was not a response to the reception of After Strange Gods, but a recognition that the lectures had been under-prepared, that made Eliot reluctant to reprint. While he was preparing the Virginia lectures for the press, as he was required to do by the terms of his engagement, he wrote to Paul Elmer More, who had taught him at Harvard and with whom he was on friendly terms:

     He needed to give his attention to revising the Virginia lectures since they had to be published next spring. Another not very satisfactory piece of work. His view was that the subject was a good one, being basically a criticism of the absence of moral, i.e. religious, criteria in the criticism of modern literature. In the time remaining it was not possible to fill in the detail on what must remain a light sketch. He would have liked to dedicate the little book to More who would, he thought, find most of it acceptable, but he had made in it some reference to Babbitt’s Confucianism, and on reflection decided that even if More concurred with what was said, he might be embarrassed by any implied association.  He hoped the book, just three lectures, would not bring down too much controversy - Hardy was condemned in it, Lawrence was a fiend - for Eliot was conscious that he was adopting a critical position quite distinct from contemporaries such as Ezra Pound, W B Yeats, I A Richards and Herbert Read.[3]

 More, a fellow Anglican[4], wrote back sympathetically about the book on June 1, 1934, prompting Eliot to reply that he accounted More one of the few people who would have both the knowledge of literature and theology, and the point of view from which he would accept judgement on these lectures. Eliot confessed that of the two, theology rather than literature, was for him now more important.

    Whereas in The Use of Poetry the subject seemed one on which he could write with the minimum of new reading and thinking; the field of After Strange Gods was one to which his real interest had turned. He therefore felt more regret at the inadequacy of the latter than of the former.
       Eliot was painfully aware that he needed a more extensive and profound knowledge of theology for the sort of prose work that he would now like to do. Pure literary criticism had ceased to interest him. Whether he would ever have the time to acquire it remained to be seen. He did not consider himself a systematic thinker, if indeed a thinker at all. He made considerable use of intuitions and perceptions; and while admitting to some skill in the barren game of controversy, claimed little capacity for sustained, exact, and closely reasoned argument.
       Apart from an intelligent review by Edwin Muir in the Spectator, reviewers either praised or condemned the book according to their presuppositions, and without apparently studying the text with any care. The Times review was typical of the Times, and well illustrated the chasm between “literary” reviewers and “theological” reviewers in the Anglo-Saxon world. The editor, Bruce Richmond, had always been a good and kind friend, but he had a Times mind, an Oxford and specifically All Souls’ mind. Characteristically such people had one very strong principle and conviction, the absence of principle and conviction become itself a principle and conviction. And indeed that was the way the country was being governed. Was not the upper middle class to-day almost utterly destitute of principle and conviction? Was there anything that they would, as single individuals and not as a mob, die for?
       It was quite possible that Eliot had in that context overestimated Joyce, or used him as a stick to beat the others with. He would not consider Joyce a “moralist”; and to say that his work was penetrated with Christian feeling was not to say that the man was established in Christian principle and conviction. Eliot meant something for which he could not, morally, be given any particular credit; an accident, say, of birth and education from which he drew an advantage. Eliot was silent as to his intentions, and if he condemned Joyce, it would not be with Lawrence and Hardy, but in quite another arena.[5]

             Declaring itself a “Primer of Modern Heresy”, After Strange Gods adopted an adversarial position against a complex of ideas and practices that Eliot almost called modernism. The preface opens provocatively in French: “Le monde moderne avilit [degrades]. It also provincialises, and it can also corrupt.” A few paragraphs later there is a reference to “a society like ours, worm-eaten with Liberalism”. Calculated to make a stir in the lecture hall, but in accord with a respectable Harvard tradition,[6] such Liberalism, “the absence of principle and conviction erected into a principle and conviction itself”, becomes elsewhere in After Strange Gods “excessive tolerance”. Since “Tradition and the Individual Talent” there had been a development: “Tradition by itself is not enough; it must be perpetually criticised and brought up to date under the supervision of what I call orthodoxy”(62). In Eliot’s new, theological, world, the good may be the enemy of the best. There are beliefs too important to be surrendered, even at the cost of personal or class interest, or life itself.[7] Eliot’s rousing words to More anticipate others to the reading public in The Idea of a Christian Society after Munich in 1938.[8]

            Concerning Joyce, Eliot recapitulates to More, by way of explanation, his argument in After Strange Gods. But the condemnation of Lawrence (and of Hardy) stands: Lawrence is a “suppôt de Satan”, a fiend. No discussion is necessary. The bracketing is inevitable. Turn to After Strange Gods, and you find generalisations about Lawrence set upon a not very substantial criticism of a story, “The Shadow in the Rose Garden”.[9] Lawrence’s liberalism, here called heresy, is derived from his biography - “the deplorable religious upbringing which gave Lawrence his lust for intellectual independence: like most people who do not know what orthodoxy is, he hated it”(58).

            Eliot attributes a number[10] of “aspects” to Lawrence in After Strange Gods. A “lack of sense of humour”, “a certain snobbery” and (itself in danger of sounding snobbish) “a lack not so much of information as of the critical faculties which education should give, an incapacity for what we ordinarily call thinking.”[11] Then there is an “extraordinarily keen sensibility and capacity for profound intuition - intuition from which he commonly drew the wrong conclusions”, and finally, “a distinct sexual morbidity”(58). All this is bolted into a makeshift theological framework:

    Lawrence started life wholly free from any restriction of tradition or institution, he had no guidance except the Inner Light, the most untrustworthy and deceitful guide that ever offered itself to wandering humanity. . . . A man like Lawrence, therefore, with his acute sensibility, violent prejudices and passions, and lack of intellectual and social training, is admirably fitted to be an instrument for forces of good or forces of evil (59).

 The reader is left in little doubt about which of the alternatives is applicable. Eliot is not isolated, holding such views. Bertrand Russell who, unlike Eliot, knew Lawrence and corresponded with him, described in a BBC talk in 1952 the decline of their relationship as Lawrence ranted and inveighed in several letters. “It was only gradually that I came to feel him a positive force for evil.” “I did not know then that [his mystical philosophy of blood] led straight to Auschwitz.”[12]

Eliot also had found critical admiration giving way to revulsion. In the Lawrence of Aaron’s Rod, Eliot wrote in 1923, “is found the profoundest research into human nature, as well as the most erratic and uneven writing, by any writer of our generation” (“Contemporary English Prose”). A year after Lawrence’s death Eliot characterised him as representative of modernism.[13] In a review of Middleton Murry’s Son of Woman: The Story of D H Lawrence in the Criterionhe disagreed that Lawrence’s “mother-complex” was a sign of the times. His

    family life, with such consequences to a sensitive child, can hardly have taken place only in the latter part of the nineteenth century. What is peculiar to the time is the way in which Lawrence tried to deal with his peculiarity. That is what is modern, and it seems to me to spring from ignorance. . . . It is by the adoption of a crazy theory to deal with the facts that Lawrence seems modern, and what I mean by “ignorant”.

       I may make this clearer by instancing a peculiarity which to me is both objectionable and unintelligible. It is using the terminology of Christian faith to set forth some philosophy or religion which is fundamentally non-Christian or anti-Christian.[14]

 Now a Christian of some four years’ standing, Eliot recalled in 1931 the respect he had learnt in Unitarianism for the Son and Holy Ghost of Christian orthodoxy. Lawrence breached these codes, these taboos. Murry’s comparison of Lawrence with Jesus Eliot found “strikes cold upon my imagination, though I could have understood a comparison with Rousseau.” Nevertheless Murry’s account of Lawrence’s modernism is quoted with approval:

     There is a great fascination in a completely effected “idealism”, that is, a completely achieved mental consciousness of our natures. To this fascination the modern world is succumbing; this is, indeed, the distinguishing mark of the modern world - that which makes it modern.

 With Lawrence Eliot associated Aldous Huxley and Murry himself as “disciples”, but he had a corrective to supply, “prescription and regime”, that “is only to be found - and in our time with great difficulty if at all - in Christian discipline and asceticism.”

            In the 1931Criterion review article Eliot admitted that Lady Chatterley’s Lover was “one of the novels which I have not read”, but he was, surprisingly perhaps, consistently liberal about censorship.[15] He announced early support of Joyce’s Ulysses, which could not be published in Britain in 1922, and of which the first unlimited edition was issued in England and America in 1937.[16] In the pages of the Criterion and the Nation and Athenaeum he made common cause with E. M. Forster and Virginia Woolf against the suppression, on account of its lesbian theme, of M. Radclyffe Hall’s novel The Well of Loneliness. On Lawrence’s death, however, in 1930, Eliot was at pains to announce his disagreement with Forster’s obituary in the Nation and Athenaeum in tones of aloof distaste that seem to be transferred from Lawrence to Forster: “Unless we know exactly what Mr. Forster means by greatest,imaginative and novelist I submit that this judgement is meaningless.”[17] Eliot rated Lawrence considerably lower than did Forster.

            Lawrence’s last novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, written in Florence in 1927, was published the following year in Florence and Paris. It enjoyed a succès de scandale which brought Lawrence and his wife Frieda some much needed income during his final illness. Not until the changes in English law brought about by the Obscene Publications Act in 1959 did any unpirated edition appear in Britain or America.[18] In early 1960 Penguin Books decided to make of Lady Chatterley’s Lover a test case, and printed 200,000 copies of which six were handed to the police to help their consultations with the department of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Michael Rubinstein of Rubinstein, Nash & Co, solicitors acting for Penguin Books, wrote to potential witnesses in the trial. His letter[19] explained that under the new Act “the opinion of experts as to the literary, artistic or other merits of an article may be admitted in any proceedings under this Act either to establish or to negative the ground” i.e. that publication was in the interests of science, literature, art or learning. Potential witnesses were asked whether (1) they favoured publication and considered it to be justified “as being for the public good”; (2) they were willing to give evidence. Eliot was among those who received such a letter, and his response resulted in a meeting with Rubinstein.

            At the Old Bailey trial in October 1960 the defence lawyers announced an intention to bring forward thirty-five witnesses. A second cohort of fifty experts was held in reserve. Graham Hough[20] and Helen Gardner were the first to testify, and E. M. Forster and Raymond Williams were among those who followed. Eliot was among the reserves and, although prepared and waiting, was not called.

            In an undated deposition Helen Gardner wrote:

 When I saw the solicitors for Penguin Books over the trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, I was told that Mr. Eliot was prepared to be called for the defence, and, thinking that the prosecution might well quote passages from After Strange Gods at me, I asked whether I might see his brief of evidence. After the trial, at which Mr. Eliot was not in fact called, though I gather he was ready in his office to be summoned if necessary, I was asked by Messers Rubinstein, the solicitors, to return the brief and wrote to Mr. Eliot to apologize for not having done so at once.[21]

 Eliot wrote to her at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, from Faber & Faber on December 8, 1960

    that it was courteous of her to write about the brief which Mr. Rubinstein gave her. Eliot only came to know that copies had been given to a few other witnesses before the trial when Professor Pinto[22] wrote asking whether he could present his copy to the Library of Nottingham University. Eliot accordingly asked him to send his copy and he made alterations and deletions. Mr. Rubinstein had only taken some notes in longhand, and a great deal of the document was in his idiom rather than Eliot’s. Furthermore, there were some personal details which Eliot was merely explaining to him and did not wish to be brought out in the witness box. He had written to Mr. Rubinstein, who had promised to ask those to whom he had given Eliot’s brief, to return it to him.[23]

   In retrospect he was glad not to have been called upon, although at the time he felt let down. However his feelings towards Lawrence remained ambiguous, and his desire to give witness in his favour was really rather as a protest against other books, such as Lolita,[24] which struck him as really evil, and which much more deserved censoring. The great pity was that the Crown chose Lawrence’s book for prosecution. One knew what would happen: once a book had been under the charge of obscenity not even a jury could give absolution, and the book would be bought by thousands out of curiosity who were quite incapable of understanding what Lawrence was after. Eliot felt pretty sure that he would have disliked Lawrence personally if he had known him.

 Helen Gardner:

    In reply to his first letter I said that I could not agree with him about Lolita, whose literary merit I would happily have defended; but I was very uncertain about Durrell’s Alexandria novels,[25] which Fabers had published, which seemed to me much more perverse than Lolita and much less defensible on literary grounds.

 Eliot replied on December 13, 1960,

    thanking her for her letter of the 11th. He had now heard from Mr. Rubinstein that all of the other witnesses to whom he sent copies of his memorandum of his status [sic] and opinions had returned them, so he had no complaint against him. He was only writing to say how very curious that they should differ so widely about Lolita! It did seem to him a book which would make anyone in whom such a perverse tendency was latent more conscious of his craving. And it seemed a peculiarly undesirable book at a time when so many little girls had been abducted and strangled. As for Durrell’s Alexandria novels he had to confess that he had never looked into them. He very seldom read modern fiction, and his distaste for novels has at least the precedent of Paul Valéry. So the fiction published by Faber and Faber mostly escaped his notice. He only read Lolita because he had read about it and wanted to see how it compared with Lady Chatterley’s Lover. And it did seem that the latter book came out as something very much more decent. But if Helen Gardner would like to say which she thought the most unpleasant of Durrell’s novels he would try to read it!

 By contrast with the defence, the prosecution in the Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial called no witness. The jury of nine men and three women was required to read the novel, and that reading constituted the Crown’s primary evidence. Despite the Act’s allowance of expert evidence “to establish or to negative” the literary worth of a book (referred to in Rubinstein’s letter to potential defence witnesses), the Director of Public Prosecutions decided not to call expert witnesses. Mervyn Griffiths-Jones[26] for the prosecution explained, “the Act restricts me to calling evidence only as to the literary and other merits of the book”( Montgomery Hyde, 281). Had a call gone out for expert literary evidence against Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the author of After Strange Gods would surely have been the star candidate, as Helen Gardner evidently perceived.

Believing itself unable to call the evidence of experts, the prosecution made its case by accentuating the aspects of Lawrence’s novel that might give offence to readers of literary, moral and religious sensibility. The suggestion was made that the storyline reprised, and sought to justify, Lawrence’s own adulterous action: “He had run off with his friend’s wife, had he not?”[27] The suggestion was put to one or two defence witnesses that the novel didn’t amount to much more than a dozen passages describing in coarse Anglo-Saxon language “bouts” of copulation with unremarkable narrative transitions between them. The witnesses disagreed. Forster extended his obituary tribute, saying that “Lawrence too [like Bunyan and Blake] had this passionate opinion of the world and what it ought to be, but is not.”( Montgomery Hyde, 160) Earlier Helen Gardner had averred that

    certain passages of it have very great merit indeed, and are among the greatest things that he wrote. . . . Lawrence was attempting to bring home to the imaginations of his readers certain aspects of modern society: the failure of relations between man and man, the degraded condition in which many people live without beauty and without joy, the slavery of all classes, because he doesn’t exempt the working, middle or upper classes, from what he calls, to use the phrase of Henry James, “the Bitch Goddess, Success”, so men have been remote from each other and remote from the true sources of life and happiness. I think he thought the most fundamental thing that was wrong in modern society was the relation between men and women, what we call sex, and therefore that becomes the heart of his book. (Montgomery Hyde, 118-119)

 In order to persuade the jury of the novel’s noxious qualities, Griffiths-Jones drew attention to passages which he read out and commented on. Thus of one on page 219 of the sub judice Penguin edition, where Lawrence uses a phrase from Psalm 24, “Lift up your heads, O you gates . . . that the King of Glory may come in,” he asked, acutely enough, “Has it occurred to you who is the King of Glory in that passage? It is [Mellors’] penis. That is what he is borrowing the words, the title King of Glory to describe.” And for “gates” he offers a corresponding female identification. (Montgomery Hyde, 293) Earlier Griffiths-Jones asked Graham Hough, “Do you really tell this court that the inclusion of those words from the Scriptures adds literary merit to the book?” And Hough replied: “I think it is the only sentence in that passage that has any literary merit at all.”( Montgomery Hyde, 219) Another phrase, “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in kindred love”, used for the relations of Connie and Mellors in the novel, is identified as lifted by Lawrence from a hymn in Sankey’s Sacred Songs and Solos[28] “I do not think,” said Hough in answer to a question, “the quotation from the hymn is the least irreverent.”( Montgomery Hyde, 219)

            If the subversion of religion was one of the prosecution’s arguments, another was the subversion of morals. It was pointed out to the jury that while she was married to Clifford, Connie engaged in an adulterous affair with Mellors. By contrast, Helen Gardner had suggested that the novel evidenced a high-minded view of human sexual relations, and Donald Tytler, Director of Religious Education in the Diocese of Birmingham, had testified that the book was “a most impressive statement of the Christian view of marriage”[29] “Is that a book,” the counsel for the prosecution asked rhetorically, “which suggests a permanent and satisfactory union of love between man and woman, when all they have done before they decide to run away and get married and get their respective divorces is to copulate thirteen times?”[30]

            In an editorial comment after Penguin Books’ acquittal, TheTimes announced that Lawrence “depicts no perverted vice, his characters do not indulge in unnatural practices or abhorrent acts. There is no nastiness in his approach.”( Nov. 3, 1960) The jury had reached the right verdict. But in his closing address Mervyn Griffiths-Jones had directed attention to the passage on p. 258 of the novel, concerning the “night of sensual passion”, where the language suggests pain and shame, and (Lawrence’s words) a “piercing, consuming rather awful sensuality” where Mellors was a devil and Connie a “physical slave” ready to “die of shame”. The reader of imagination, given these suggestions, could scarcely do other than infer some unnatural practice. The prosecution did not name the sexual perversion or perversions, nor indeed does Lawrence in the novel, but such a passage would, it was suggested, “deprave and corrupt” the readers.( Montgomery Hyde, 217) The prosecutor’s delicacy was to be amply compensated for by literary exposition in the decade that followed.[31]

            The details of the jury’s deliberations are not a matter of record, but it would have been possible for them to judge the novel as tending to “deprave and corrupt” and yet to have sufficient merit as a novel to be published all the same. Hearing of the “Not Guilty” verdict Lawrence’s brother George, aged 88, commented, “I have followed the case with interest but disagree with the verdict. I don’t think this book is fit for young people. These books that introduce a lot of sex I don’t like. I had more than one argument with him, but I did not manage to persuade him.”(Montgomery Hyde, 43)

            In a House of Lords debate in November, two weeks after the trial, Lord Teviot[32] was among those who spoke against the novel. He referred to numerous letters he had received expressing “a deep sense of shock at this disgusting, filthy affront to ordinary decencies.” His reading of Lady Chatterley’s Lover had brought a sense that it was “far worse than anything I could have thought could be published in this country,” unless it were Lawrence’s story “The Man Who Died” (the earlier version of which was called “The Escaped Cock”). This was about the wanderings of Jesus after his Resurrection, and how he met a priestess of Isis in a temple on the coast of Phoenicia, and how they lived together and she became pregnant. “Could there be anything more profane, more blasphemous than that?”( Montgomery Hyde, 44)

            A surprising contrast was offered by J. A. T. Robinson, Bishop of Woolwich, who in evidence at the trial said that Lawrence portrayed sex in Lady Chatterley’s Lover “as something sacred, in a real sense as an act of Holy Communion.”[33] The Times editorial invoked religion, noting that Lawrence had been defended also as a pagan during the trial. But this was irrelevant: “ours is still supposed to be a Christian Society.”

            Speculation concerning what, if he had appeared at the Old Bailey, the author of The Idea of a Christian Society would have said under oath is assisted by the survival of Eliot’s trial brief. It is extensively annotated, and two or three sentences are literally excised from the foot of a page. The result is a document of considerable interest but also considerable ambiguity. A full presentation and discussion is necessarily held over for some future occasion,but my provisional understanding is as follows. Eliot agreed to be interviewed by Michael Rubinstein because he was and always had been against the censorship of literary works. The defence lawyers had reason to think that, on the record of After Strange Gods, Eliot would be the most likely, and authoritative, figure to give evidence for the prosecution to the effect that Lady Chatterley’s Lover would “deprave and corrupt”, or that it was a low grade piece of literary work. It was therefore a coup for them to have it known that Eliot was prepared, at their request, to testify.

            Eliot felt, however, that the solicitor’s notes, known as the Trial Brief, of their interview misrepresented him to such an extent that shortly after the trial he called in all copies, except one. This he annotated heavily and allowed to be deposited in the library of Nottingham University.[34] The copy temporarily in Helen Gardner’s possession, referred to above, would not have had Eliot’s annotations, in other words would carry the defence “slant”. Quite possibly the defence distributed copies to potential witnesses pour encourager les autres. And quite possibly they judged that they could not risk Eliot’s appearance in the witness box: the would-be spokesman of Christian orthodoxy was unlikely to make an incisive statement of the kind desired. Some fifteen years after seeing it Helen Gardner wrote:

    His brief of evidence, which I saw, made quite clear his repudiation of his attack on Lawrence. He was prepared to say that when he spoke of the author [of Lady Chatterley’s Lover] as “a very sick man indeed” [sic, see below the actual words], he was very sick himself.[35]

 Eliot’s annotations were made after the trial. His intention was not then to edit a document supporting the defence, rather his editorial, indeed censoring, effort was for the record, to correct ascriptions which he considered tendentious or inaccurate. On the front page he wrote in ink: “The underlinings in pencil are not by me.” But this produces ambiguity rather than clarity. Does Eliot mean the pencil marks, or the words they underline? It is possible that the underlinings were made during the course of a telephone conversation by Rubinstein or by some one in his office. When Rubinstein quotes in the Brief from After Strange Gods the words are sometimes underlined, even when accurately quoted.

            A facsimile with colour-coded annotations, as with The Waste Land manuscript, is probably the best way to present this highly ambiguous document for scholarly interpretation. This point I made to Mrs. Valerie Eliot, editor of the excellent facsimile Waste Land, when seeking her permission to quote from the letters to More referred to above.[36] Her refusal was accompanied by the news that Faber & Faber is to publish an expanded edition of After Strange Gods, though sine die. The Trial Brief and letters to Helen Gardner are to be included. Meanwhile, after examining the Brief my inferences are:

  • Eliot stood by what he had said in After Strange Gods, correcting misquotations and repeating his explanation of why he had allowed it to remain out of print. Its hasty formulations were “based on inadequate knowledge”.
  • Eliot did not say that in 1933 he, not Lawrence, had been spiritually sick. Nevertheless the phrase, “The man’s vision is spiritual, but spiritually sick” (After Strange Gods, 60) is quoted but underlined in pencil, though not for emphasis. The charge of “distinct sexual morbidity” receives explicit attention, and Eliot states in a marginal note, “I withdraw the term ‘morbidity’. A sickness against which Lawrence was fighting, and his works are a striving towards health.”
  • Eliot did not consider that Lady Chatterley’s Lover should be suppressed or censored. It contained some “fine passages of literary art and some inferior parts, e.g. Lady C’s father.” He detected here cruelty resembling that in “The Shadow in the Rose Garden”, but not “scenes of physical brutality and torture”.

 After the trial Edith Sitwell, a friend of Eliot’s since his earliest days in London, was scathing. “The public canonisation of that insignificant, dirty little book Lady Chatterley’s Lover was a signal to persons who wish to unload the filth in their minds on the British public.”[37] Lady Chatterley’s Lover accounted for 42% of the group profits for Penguin Books in 1960-61.[38] None of the expert witnesses received a fee for their part in a unique public spectacle, at once trial, Areopagus and practical criticism. In it representatives of what Eliot called in The Idea of a Christian Society “the conscious mind and conscience of the nation”, the “Community of Christians”, pronounced their nihil obstat on a text Eliot had, for reasons he made public, consigned to outer darkness; and doing so they demonstrated the motions of a liberalism that offered to eclipse the traditional orthodoxies cherished by Eliot.

 This article was first published in ANQ: A Quarterly Journal, Heldref Publications, Washington DC, Vol 11 No 3 Summer 1998, pp. 37-50.

 © Roger Kojecký

[1] Faber and Faber printed 3,000 copies for publication in February 1934, and a further 1,500 in December 1934. The edition went out of print on August 3, 1944. Harcourt, Brace and Company published an edition of 1,500 in April 1934.

[2] Helen Gardner (1908-1986) was in 1960 Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at St Hilda’s College, Oxford.Her book The Art of T S Eliot (1949) was regarded with favour by Eliot. In August 1947 she wrote to John Hayward about a Donne manuscript. Hayward invited her, as he did numerous other people who shared his interest in literature, to tea on August 19 at 19 Carlyle Mansions, Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. They discussed the problem of access to the MS of Donne’s “Devine Meditations” which was in the possession of a Mr. Merton, who chose to withhold his address, and was understood to ignore letters and refuse access (letter to Hayward, Aug. 10, 1947). It was the first of many such meetings. Eliot shared the flat with Hayward, living there from February 1946 until shortly before his marriage to Valerie Fletcher in January 1957. Eliot nominated Helen Gardner to the Sunday Times to interview him for a feature. She lunched with Eliot and Valerie at Kensington Court Gardens on 8 September 1958.

[3] Mrs. Valerie Eliot has declined to give permission for quotation of the letters and other documents on which this article is based. Hence my use of style indirect libre, and my retention of a format which indicates the existence of a document whose gist may be given even though its exact form may not. The typescript letter was written by Eliot to P. E. More, and dated Nov. 7, 1933. Extracts from this and the letter of Jun. 20, 1934 are quoted verbatim and with permission on pp. 77-78 of my T S Eliot’s Social Criticism (see below ‘Works Cited’).

[4] P E More (1864-1937) was in his own right a defender of orthodoxy. He was author of Christ the Word (1927) The Catholic Faith (1931), Christian Mysticism: A Critique (1932), and with F L Cross of Anglicanism, Illustrated from the Religious Literature of the Seventeenth Century (1935).

[5] To More, Jun. 20, 1934.

[6] George Santayana (1863-1952) had been a member of the Faculty of Philosophy at Harvard until 1912, and was author of The Life of Reason (1905-1906). He pitted himself indefatigably against liberalism and democracy. Eliot is more discursive, and perhaps more persuasive, about liberalism in The Idea of a Christian Society, where it is a “necessary negative element” (17), and “more clearly illustrated in religious history than in politics” (16) - in this context liberalism is, as it is in Santayana, to be associated with Reformation Protestantism.

[7] C.f. the comment of a prominent spokesman for liberal values, E. M. Forster, in 1938: “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country” (398).

[8] “Had [our society] any beliefs more essential than a belief in compound interest or the maintenance of dividends?”. “The choice before us is between the formation of a new Christian culture and the acceptance of a pagan one” (64, 13).

[9] A wife reveals “to her commonplace lower middle class husband (no writer is more conscious of class distinctions than Lawrence) the facts of her intrigue with an army officer several years before her marriage. The disclosure is made with something nearly approaching conscious cruelty.” But “the characters themselves . . . betray no respect for, nor even awareness of, moral obligations, and seem to be unfurnished with even the most commonplace kind of conscience.” “Lawrence is for my purposes an almost perfect example of the heretic” (36, 37, 38).

[10] The number is given as three, but is possible to count more.

[11] Lawrence had qualified as a secondary school teacher at University College, Nottingham. Contrast the advantage conferred on Joyce by his Catholic education, according to the letter to More, Jun. 20, 1934. The ascription of snobbery was not forgotten by F R Leavis who, in the Spectator (Feb. 17, 1961) opined: “Nothing could be more ridiculous than the one-time orthodoxy that called [Lawrence] a snob.” Although Leavis had published D H Lawrence Novelist in 1955, he was not among the expert witnesses at the 1961 trial.

[12]The Listener, Jul. 24, 1952 (135-136). Russell’s argument against Lawrence, made with a flourish seven years after the Nazi horrors were uncovered, is more convincing than recent laboured attempts, such as those of Anthony Julius in T S Eliot, Anti-Semiticism and Literary Form, 1995, to implicate Eliot in the holocaust through his scattered unideological expressions of anti-Semitic prejudice.

[13] In the Encyclical Pascendi Dominica Gregis (1907), Pius X (r. 1903-14) had denounced modernism as “the résumé of all heresies”. Davies, 799.

[14] Blake had been similarly diagnosed in 1920: “What his genius required . . . was a framework of accepted and traditional ideas which would have prevented him from indulging a philosophy of his own, and concentrated his attention on the problems of the poet” (“William Blake”, Selected Essays, 322).

[15] See my T S Eliot’s Social Criticism, 93-95.

[16] “Ulysses, Order, and Myth”, (1923).

[17] Quoting this, P N Furbank (ii, 163-164) gives Forster’s spirited reply in the following issue of the Nation and Athenaeum. At the Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial Forster firmly repeated his accolade: “The greatest imaginative novelist of our generation.”

[18] In America the first unexpurgated and legally sanctioned American edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover was published by the Grove Press in 1959 following a successful appeal against US postal inspectors. Where others had failed, Grove succeeded with a scholarly edition - there was an introduction by Mark Schorer and a preface by Archibald MacLeish (Gertzman). In Britain the second Penguin edition (1961) was supplied with an introduction by Richard Hoggart. Hoggart, author of The Uses of Literacy (1957), who was Senior Lecturer at the University of Leicester at the time he gave evidence at the trial.

[19] One to John Hayward, dated Aug. 29, 1960, is referred to here.

[20] Graham Hough (1908-1990) was Fellow and Tutor in English at Christ’s College Cambridge. He was the author of The Last Romantics (1949), and of an important critical study of Lawrence, The Dark Sun  (1956) which contained a chapter on Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

[21] Helen Gardner sent me copies of the letters Eliot wrote to her on 8 and 13 Dec. 1960, and of her explanatory note, sometime in 1972. Subsequently she gave them to the Bodleian Library, Oxford, where they are catalogued as, respectively, Bodleian MS Eng. Lett. d. 294 #57, #59 and #55.

[22] Vivian de Sola Pinto (1895-1969) was Professor of English at Nottingham University 1938-1961. He edited with Warren Roberts The Complete Poems of D H Lawrence, 1961, and appeared for the defence.

[23] Eliot did permit Pinto to present the copy of the brief that he marked with his annotations to the Library. More on this below.

[24]Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov was first published in 1955 by the Olympia Press in Paris, and subsequently by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York.

[25]Justine, 1957, Balthazar and Mountolive, 1958, Clea, 1960. According to Durrell, the central topic of the Alexandria Quartet was “an investigation of modern love”.

[26] Mervyn Griffiths-Jones (1909-1979) was First Senior Counsel to the Crown at the Central Criminal Court, 1956-1964. He was one of the British prosecuting counsel at the trial of major war criminals at Nuremberg, 1945-1946.

[27] Question put to a defence witness, Joan Bennett, Fellow of Girton College and University Lecturer in English at Cambridge, (C H Rolph, 65).

[28] In the original “kindred” was “Christian”.

[29] To which the prosecution aptly contrasted Lawrence’s words in A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1930): “Marriage is no marriage that is not basically and permanently phallic, and that is not linked up with the Sun and the earth” (H. Montgomery Hyde, 237). Both Christian and Jewish traditions share a proscription of adultery. Lawrence’s “link up” with the sun and earth, as in animistic and New Age religion, and his “phallic” emphasis, as in numerous fertility cults, disconnect him from the tradition of “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath.” (Exodus 20:2-4).

[30] H. Montgomery Hyde, 290. Permanent union is the requirement set forth in his teaching by Jesus: “What God has joined together, let man not separate.” (Matthew 19:6).

[31] See Frank Kermode (122-139), who documents the critical discussion and describes the gradations of sexual perversion in Lady Chatterley’s Lover as well as the contextualising ideological apparatus contrived for it by Lawrence.

[32] Formerly Lt-Col. Charles Kerr. He was Chairman of the National Liberal Party.

[33] H. Montgomery Hyde, 127. Robinson, author of Honest to God (1963), was a leading representative of theological liberalism. There’s a play here on “real”, since a doctrine of real presence has fuelled both faith and controversy over interpretations of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper commemorated in the Holy Communion and the Mass. There’s another play on “communion”, transposing the sacred transcendent to the human carnal. Why a bishop in a Christian church should adopt such a stance raises some questions; c.f. the comment of the Rev. D. Tytler, mentioned above, about Lawrence as “impressive” spokesman for Christian marriage.

[34] La R 4/5/2 forms part of the D. H. Lawrence Collection. Permission to photocopy or to quote is routinely withheld by Mrs. Valerie Eliot. Two instances of this policy have come to my notice. In one, permission even to view the documents in a collection was refused. In the other, a correspondent tells of a writer collecting material for a biography of John Hayward whose project “was frustrated because Mrs. Eliot would not release her papers.” There is an unfortunate contrast between Eliot's own principled advocacy of an Arnoldian free flow of ideas, and the blockade now imposed by his executrix.

[35] Gardner 55. My reference to this in T S Eliot’s Social Criticism, p. 94n, I now allow to be incorrect.

[36] Copies of these letters had been given me by Mrs. Eliot herself in 1969. My recent request was also to quote in full the letters to Helen Gardner, to which she holds the copyright, though not to quote the Trial Brief in detail, since I hold that it merits special presentation.

[37] Letter to the editor, TLS, published Nov. 28, 1963, (Sitwell 443).

[38]The Times, Apr. 3, 1962, 18b; May 9, 1962, 17b.





Davies, Norman, Europe: A History, Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Eliot, T. S., After Strange Gods: A Primer of Modern Heresy, the Page-Barbour Lectures at the University of Virginia 1933, London: Faber, 1934.

                “Contemporary English Prose”, Vanity Fair, New York: XX.5 (Jul. 1923) 51,  98.

                [review of] John Middleton Murry, Son of Woman: The Story of D H Lawrence, Criterion, London: Faber, X.41 (July 1931) 768-774.

                The Idea of a Christian Society, London: Faber, 1939.

                “Tradition and the Individual Talent” [1919], Selected Essays, London: Faber [1932], 1951: 13-22.

                “Ulysses, Order, and Myth”, Dial, LXXV.5 (Nov. 1923) 480-483.

Gertzman, Jay A., A Descriptive Bibliography of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Westport: Greenwood Press, 1989.

Kermode, Frank, Lawrence, London: Fontana, 1973.

Kojecký, Roger, T S Eliot’s Social Criticism, London:Faber, and New York: Farrer, Straus Giroux, 1971.

Forster, E.M., “Credo”, London Mercury, 38 (Sep. 1938): 398.

Furbank, P. N., E M Forster: A Life (1879 - 1970), London: Secker & Warburg, 1979.

Gardner, Helen,The Composition of Four Quartets, London: Faber, 1978.

Lawrence, D.H., Lady Chatterley’s Lover, London: Penguin, 1960.

Montgomery Hyde, H., The Lady Chatterley’s Lover Trial with an Introduction, London: Penguin, 1990.

Rolph, C. H. (ed.), The Trial of Lady Chatterley: Regina v. Penguin Books Limited, London: Penguin, 1961.

Sitwell, Edith, The Selected Letters of Edith Sitwell, ed. Richard Greene, London: Virago, 1997.

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