‘Lawrence’s Australian experiment‘, Inside Story, 22 October 2015
Almost a century on, there is still a nagging feeling that DH Lawrence, in some ways the archetypal ‘Pom passing through’ (he was here for just three months), still ‘got’ something about post-Great War Australia that others didn’t, something that we need to remember when we look at Australia today. Lever reviews a book about Lawrence and his ‘Australian’ work from 1920-25, including the novel Kangaroo (1923), mostly written during that three month stay. There is a photograph of the ceremony marking the unveiling of the Lawrence monument at Thirroul.
The book is David Game’s DH Lawrence’s Australia: Anxiety at the Edge of Empire, which costs a motzer in English money, though there seems to be a fairly generous hunk of it at the link if you wish to sample it first. It is to be hoped the review introduces new readers to Lawrence down under; Kangaroo, let alone Lawrence’s other Australian-influenced work, is under-read and underappreciated here, perhaps because, as Lever summarises, Lawrence ‘depicted Australians as hollow, modern people, living in a society so democratic that it denied all superiority and depth of intellect and feeling’.
Lever notes that Game thoroughly explores Lawrence’s considerable research into Australia and its people, giving the lie to the picture of the novelist as a tourist taking a superficial view of a society which daunted him. Lawrence had some hopes for Australia as a post-Great War utopia but he left here disappointed and this came through in Kangaroo.
While Game suggests that we should not get too immersed in trying to match Lawrence’s characters, particularly Benjamin Cooley, with then current Australian figures*, he says that Lawrence is an astute observer of the ‘urban lives’ of Australians in the 1920s, an era when war had its deepest impacts on the country. Game also shows, says Lever, how Lawrence worked through in Kangaroo some of his ideas on the degeneration of industrial society.
The literature of English visitors to Australia continues with this whimsical (and long) piece by novelist, Will Self. In his case, he is second generation of the genre, following his father, political scientist, PJO Self.
* Robert Darroch, in this blog, is one of many who have guessed that Cooley was Major-General Sir Charles Rosenthal. Peter Pierce, in this snippet (Illawarra Historical Society Bulletin, April 1990, pp 14-15), discusses the work of Joseph Davis, which goes in a different direction. Also here. The Honest History site has a number of links to material on Australian flirtations with fascism; try our Search engine.