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On the Rocks: Women (and Men) in (and out of) Love

Monica Latham
p. 281-317

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  • 1 On the Rocks 102-103. In this essay, the play will be referred to as OR.

Frieda: You’re writing about them, aren’t you. [...]
Lawrence: It’s about two sets of couples, polarised.1

  • 2 For an account of Lawrence/Mansfield relationship see, among other studies, Leo Hamalian 36-44; Cla (...)

1Numerous biographies and critical studies have been dedicated to Katherine Mansfield and D. H. Lawrence over the years; scholars have studied and written extensively on the lives and works of the two iconic modernist writers, and some of them have even examined the fascinating personal and professional relationships between the two friends and writers.2 Moreover, a current trend in contemporary literature consists of using these literary figures as characters in fiction. The interest of this essay is to observe not only Mansfield and Lawrence’s rapport during a specific period (April to June 1916), but also their tortuous relationships with their respective partners, Frieda Lawrence and John Middleton Murry as well as the couples’ exacerbated emotions during their short cohabitation. However, the curiosity of this study lies in the fact that the scrutiny of their budding friendship, followed by acute tensions and eventually acrimony between the two couples will not only rely on biographical and autobiographical material, but will mostly be done through fiction. Indeed, Amy Rosenthal’s play On the Rocks will provide the basis of the discussion.

  • 3 These are a few acclaimed novels published in the last decade: Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, Colm (...)

2Discovering the tumultuous and intriguing lives of past authors via fiction is a common reading and viewing practice nowadays.3 Biofiction and biodrama are hybrid forms or specific sub-genres of literary production which blend fact and fiction. Authors make a famous person’s life more interesting by fictionalising or dramatising it—leaving out some real details and including other fabricated ones. Materials are thus freely invented; scenes and conversations are imagined in keeping with secondary sources and cursory research into the historic figures.

  • 4 This corresponds in fact to the writers’ second attempt at communal living, after having been neigh (...)

3Amy Rosenthal’s bioplay, a domestic comedy with historical figures, is an attempt to reconstruct and stage a fragment of the literary figures’ lives, the main aim being, as in any theatrical representation, to entertain an audience. The starting point of the play is based on a real event: in 1916 the Lawrences lived in the Cornish village of Zennor. They invited Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry to share their lives and live in the next door cottage. The play covers the three months (between April and mid-June 1916) of living together in a community dreamed up by Lawrence: Rananim, a utopian community of friends who would live, eat and create together. The playwright taps into this raw biographical material of the writers’ lives and their common experience in Cornwall.4 The accurate chronotope is set from the beginning in the stage directions:

  • 5 See the diagram drawn by Lawrence in his Sunday, 5 March 1916 letter (Lawrence, Letters 335-36). Th (...)

The action of the play is set in two adjacent cottages on the North coast of Cornwall near the tiny granite village of Zennor. The year is 1916. We can see the tiny front room of Mermaid Cottage, and the larger living/dining room of Tower Cottage, with its open fireplace. Above this is a small turret room. Outside the two cottages is a patch of communal grass and the suggestion of a vegetable patch. (OR 7)5

4The title of the play refers both to the place, the rocky Cornish cliffs, and to the “wobbly” friendship and tumultuous relationships between the partners of each couple and between the two couples. Lawrence’s and Mansfield’s life stories are based partly on fact and enhanced by the playwright’s imagination: Rosenthal’s method is therefore to create fiction with frequent bows to accuracy. Beyond the serious and meticulous research which is used to create a credible biographical frame of reference, Rosenthal’s talent consists of making up a creative dialogue which particularly unveils Lawrence’s irrationality, foolish behaviour and insane attitude towards his wife and guests, which prove to be a great source of humour for the spectator.

  • 6 “Frieda is in her cottage, looking at the children’s photographs, I suppose” (Mansfield, Letters 1: (...)
  • 7 See Amy Rosenthal on the portrayal of her characters in an interview by Neil Grutchfield, Hampstead (...)
  • 8 “He has become very fond of sewing, especially hemming; and of making little copies of pictures—Whe (...)
  • 9 On the Rocks was first performed at the Hampstead Theatre on 26 June 2008, with the following cast: (...)

5The relationships between Mansfield and Lawrence are complicated by the fact that they form a sort of foursome with their respective partners and that their couples are radically opposed. Rosenthal portrays her characters as close to reality as possible: Frieda is a garrulous, funny, gregarious, loud, lusty and gluttonous person, but has also an endearing side when she expresses her sorrow about the loss of her children6; Lawrence is authoritarian, domineering, bullying, subject to fleeting moods: a “mass of contradictions.”7 Besides the bouts of machismo rage during which he abuses everyone, Lorenzo also has feminine preoccupations, such as knitting, sewing, and painting little pictures.8 Thus, Lorenzo and Frieda form a complex, expansive and passionate couple, very much unlike the quiet and reserved characters of Katherine and Jack: Mansfield is depicted as a sensitive and tortured artist and Murry as a reserved, self-conscious, hesitant, well-mannered intellectual. Because of the clash of personalities,9 Lawrence’s social experiment ends with bitterness and leaves him with a sense of betrayal.

6Any biofiction or biodrama aims at giving the reader or the spectator the illusion of authenticity. In On the Rocks, the love/hate relationships between the characters hinge on different degrees of “reality”: fragments of autobiographical material (collected from letters, journals, and memoirs) constitute kernels of truth buried in fiction which bears resemblance to real facts. The playwright’s technique was to find these truths and use them as scaffoldings in her play in order to create a possible, plausible world to be seen on stage for almost three hours. It is no longer and not so much a question of “suspension of disbelief” but rather reinforcement of belief.

  • 10 See Beaudrillard’s concept of hyperreality, a simulacrum of “real” reality (166-84).

7The relationships among the four friends are also explored in Lawrence’s novel Women in Love (1920), an idyllic fictional representation of their bonds, albeit with a different degree of fiction: all links with the existing people are carefully camouflaged, as opposed to Amy Rosenthal’s postmodernist attempt to create a hyperreal10 play almost nine decades later. On the Rocks’s dialogues, heated verbal exchanges, conflicts and fights produce a dramatic effect. The kind of tumultuous bonds among the four people are obviously best rendered in Rosenthal’s generic choice, drama, as the dynamics of the relationships, clashes of personalities, the acute tensions and hostilities are sublimated by the genre and are very much in keeping with comedy, like Edward Albee’s 1962 Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Whos Afraid of D. H. Lawrence?

  • 11 This expression is actually used by the character of Lawrence to refer to his new novel Women in Lo (...)

8The answer is: basically all of them. At the core of Rosenthal’s portrayal of the stormy personal relationships between the “two sets of couples, polarised,”11 Jack, Frieda and Katherine are constantly in the shadow of the tyrannical and irrational Lorenzo. In his Reminiscences, Murry discusses the terrorizing atmosphere which reigned at Higher Tregerthen caused by Lawrence’s bouts of rage. Murry’s unflattering portrait of the multi-faceted Lawrence contains his most salient feature, that of a terrifying violent despot; this “third facet” is described by Murry in these words:

The third Lawrence was terrifying. In this condition he also was not any more a person, but a man possessed. A sort of paroxysm of rage or hatred engulfed him wholly. He appeared to me then demented, or as one possessed by the Furies. Though I was often the witness, I was only once the actual victim of one of these outbursts of rage, and then it passed into a kind of delirium during which he would call out my name in the night with all manner of strange and to me unintelligible denunciations. (Murry 63-64)

  • 12 “Frieda: […] You shout his name, Lorenzo, in your sleep. And they must hear it through the walls as (...)

9This characteristic is largely exploited and developed by Rosenthal in her play.12 The atmosphere at Higher Tregerthen becomes quickly oppressive for the guests, especially for the timid and sensitive Jack Murry: “When he cried out against me at Higher Tregerthen, that I was ‘an obscure bug sucking away his life,’ my very blood seemed to run thin with horror, I felt that my whole universe was collapsing into a yawning pit; and I fled in terror. I felt that if I stayed at Higher Tregerthen, I should surely die” (Murry 17-18). Murry is scared and perplexed at Lawrence’s insane and inexplicable behaviour and helplessly witnesses the escalation of his friend’s rage. He clearly regrets their decision to come to Zennor and both he and Mansfield are looking for a way of escape:

From the beginning the experiment was a failure. [...] And Lawrence, at times, was positively terrifying: a paroxysm of black rage would sweep down upon him and leave us trembling and aghast. Sometimes he hated me to the point of frenzy. One night it became a kind of delirium, and I heard him crying out from his bedroom next door: “Jack is killing me.” I was bewildered, and terrified; more bewildered, and really more terrified [...]. Was Lawrence going mad? (Murry 78)

10Now, I was scared and utterly out of my depth. The only thing to do was to go away. (Murry 79-80)

11Murry also comments on the differences between the two couples and the puzzling relationships between men and women in general as conceived by Lawrence:

I was still more shocked the first time I witnessed one of his bursts of physical fury against his wife. It was (I thought) utterly wrong; worse than wrong, it was mysterious and incomprehensible. Quite how mysterious and incomprehensible it was to be will be understood only by those who know—through her letters—the nature of my relation with Katherine Mansfield. Here were two utterly different conceptions and experiences of the relation between a man and a woman. It did not seem that they could belong to the same world; certainly, it was impossible for me to make them co-exist in my world. (Murry 13-14)

12Murry further expresses his stupefaction and remembers the hellish and destructive co-existence of the couples at Tregerthen: “It was impossible for me. Now, in retrospect, I can see how utterly impossible it was. Two opposite life-experiences, two opposite beings, were pitted against one another” (Murry 16); “To use Blake’s language, we had to annihilate each other’s Selfhood” (Murry 17). The two friends have two opposite visions of a relationship between a man and a woman; hence their irreconcilable stances: “I was at the one extreme—of ‘spiritual’ love; Lawrence was at the other. The bond between us was that in these opposite ways we were completely serious” (Murry 15).

  • 13 In the guessing name game, the first time the pairs are made up of Katherine and Lawrence/Frieda an (...)

13The intensity of this strained relationship rapidly leads to suffocation. Rosenthal exacerbates the situation described by Murry and Mansfield in their autobiographical works and exploits the parallels between individuals and the differences between the couples. The playwright conceives and plays with different configurations of pair formations: the four characters play games13; Lawrence and Jack go for walks, wrestle, discuss the blutbrudershaft ideal; Frieda and Katherine gossip, talk about relationships, husbands, children, sex, affairs; Katherine and Jack argue or disagree; however, most of the time in the play, the focus is on Frieda and Lawrence’s unbalanced relationship: they ferociously fight, abuse each other, and make love with the same kind of passion.

14Frieda and Lorenzo’s constant attraction/repulsion relationship is represented like a “Punch and Judith” [sic] show in Frieda’s words (OR 14); in reality, Katherine even has the feeling of being “like Alice between the Cook and the Duchess” (Mansfield, Letters 1: 267) as she confessed in one of her letters to Ottoline Morrell. Because of their conflictual and tortuous love/hate relationship, Rosenthal makes the terrible couple Lawrence/Frieda search for a balance in their couple by inviting their “real and permanent and truly blood kin” (Lawrence, Letters 341) to live with them. Lawrence is afraid that intimacy would kill their love and marriage:

Lawrence: […] If they were here, the balance would be different. Everything would change. We’d not be forced into this burning isolation, his hot unnatural intimacy that—(OR 14)
Lawrence: [...] This is what kills love dead, Frieda. This grim inseparability, as though from one moment we declare our love we ought to be clamped in an eternal embrace. [...] Look, why can’t we live as a community, with other friends, who love us, and who understand? Then we can go apart and be our own free selves with other people—and come back to each other renewed. (OR 14-15)

15At the beginning of the play, Katherine and Jack seem to appear as rescuers of the balance and sanity of the other couple. For Lawrence, living in a community allows freedom, preserves a couple’s love life and proves to be useful for one’s creative life. Lawrence and Frieda manage to find this sort of balance for a short while, but the balance proves to be brittle: after continuous bickering, battles and insults, under the relentless authority of the tyrannical host, tensions rise, the harmony is upset and Katherine and Jack, prostrated spectators to the other couple’s verbally and physically violent relationship, cannot stand the situation any longer. The couples start hating each other. Rosenthal’s dramatic unfolding of the play follows the real events and natural evolution of their friendship: it begins with the initial peace and contentment, is followed by rising tension and growing conflict, and ends with the group’s dissolution.

  • 14 These precise insults have a documented reference: “If he is contradicted about anything he gets in (...)

16The main cause of the group’s dissolution is of course Lawrence, incessant perpetuator of insults and verbal abuses. They all fear him and have to put up with him: in the character’s words, Frieda is a “bloodsucking bug” (OR 65), a “great fat Hun” (OR 59), a “worm, slug, bug, bitch, leech, snake, skunk”, a “German sausage, great fat ham, a seeping lump of lard” (OR 84) and a “great annihilator” (OR 91) of creative writing. Katherine, according to Lawrence, is a “nasty little, filthy little whore, crawling on [her] slimy belly to Dijon and making love to filthy Frenchmen” (OR 114): she has “gone wrong in [her] sex” and “belong[s] to an obscene spirit”14 (OR 95). In Lawrence’s view, Katherine is the “poisonous one,” but Jack is not spared either: “Lawrence: Don’t worry, Mansfield. I’m well aware that you’re the poisonous one. He’s a crawling worm, a sickly leech that has gorged and grown fat on my life-blood, but you. You’re the snake in the grass. You’re the serpent in Eden” (OR 113). Lawrence spits his venom on Jack especially at the end when he feels betrayed, first after the interrupted blutbrudershaft ceremony and ultimately by the unsuccessful wrestling scene.

17As passive and forced witnesses to verbal and physical violence, Katherine and Jack are reduced to behind-the-back gossiping and criticism of the other couple:

  • 15 This criticism is again inspired by Katherine’s comments in a real letter to Ottoline Morrel: “It r (...)

Katherine: It’s him who’s changed. He’s quite unrecognizable.
Jack: It’s
her, though. It’s because he’s so dashed miserable with her. She almost tortured him to death before we came, you know. We don’t see the half of it, Tig, she’s a perfect monstrous woman—
Katherine: Oh, you don’t have to persuade
me! I’ve just spent four unbroken days with her. She’s frightful—false—demented. [...]
Katherine: Lost like a little gold ring in an enormous German Christmas pudding. And with all the appetite in the world, I’m afraid one can’t eat one’s way through Frieda to find him.
Jack: God, why won’t someone cut her into bits so he’d see the light again (OR 97-98)15

  • 16 “Let me tell you what happened on Friday. I went across to them for tea. Frieda said Shelley’s ‘Ode (...)
  • 17 “Frieda asked me over to their cottage to drink tea with them. When I arrived for some unfortunate (...)

18The nuggets of truth to be found in letters, journals, biographies, and memoirs are wrapped in a light coat of fiction by Rosenthal and cast in a theatrical mould. In her bioplay, the playwright plays with the truth, transplanting real events and rearranging them, and interweaving reality with invention. Perhaps the epitome of the characters’ disturbing relationship is rendered in Act One, Scene Five. In order to stage a highly emotional episode of fighting and abuse, followed up by the making up between Frieda and Lawrence under the bewildered eyes of Katherine and Jack, Rosenthal invents a “guess the personality’s name” game which is played by the four characters. Because of Frieda’s unfortunate comment on Shelley’s “Ode to a Skylark,” Lawrence gets into a frenzy, verbally and physically abusing his wife. In this scene, Rosenthal uses and manipulates numerous details and word for word remarks drawn from Mansfield’s 11 May 1916 letter to S.S. Koteliansky16 and 17 May 1916 letter to Ottoline Morrell17 in which she recounts with a luxury of detail the incredulous and degrading episode Murry and herself witnessed powerlessly. The theatrical effect of Mansfield’s letters, in which dialogues and hurtful remarks are rendered in a humorous way, are magnified by the dramatic exchanges of the play. Rosenthal thus dramatises the already highly theatrical form of Mansfield’s letters.

19The reality of such consuming and tortuous relationship as well as the failure of the communal experience of living together is described by Murry as “annihilating each other’s Selfhood” (Murry 17); the result of the intimacy between the four of them and the destructive contact with Lawrence makes Murry lose faith in friendship and in an ideal image of love. He declares the following in his Reminscences: “To know Lawrence is to unknow oneself, and to be prepared to have the last vestiges of ‘ideal love’ cauterized out of one’s heart” (Murry 19).

  • 18 In an interview, Amy Rosenthal spoke about her “extensive research” prior to writing the play (Grut (...)
  • 19 This ideal is also expressed in the abandoned Prologue to Women in Love.
  • 20 “He wanted me to swear to be his ‘blood-brother,’ and there was to be some sort of sacrament betwee (...)
  • 21 See Lawrence and Murry’s discussion in OR 39.
  • 22 “And I shall never see sex in trees, sex in the running brooks, sex in stones & sex in everything. (...)

20Rosenthal aggrandises Lawrence’s erratic moods and the fuming bickering that ends up destroying the couples’ affection and precarious harmony. As parallel quotes extracted both from Rosenthal’s On the Rocks and the authors’ autobiographical elements clearly indicate, the play is extremely closely based on real facts and well-documented events. The playwright has carefully adhered to true events18 and invented dialogues and comic situations springing from the true facts. For instance, Lawrence’s ideas about male friendship (which for him have a personal and a philosophical dimension)19 and the ritual of blutbrudershaft,20 which appear in On the Rocks,21 can be located in Lawrence’s letters and Murry’s Reminscences. Also, the allusion to Lawrence’s obsession with phallic symbols in On the Rocks has a real source in Mansfield’s letter to Beatrice Campbell.22

  • 23 See also George J. Zytaruk, ed. The Quest for Rananim. D. H. Lawrence’s Letters to S. S. Koteliansk (...)

21Essential elements at the very core of the play which are important in depicting and understanding Lawrence’s demons are the trauma of War, Rananim, and the symbol of the Phoenix. Lawrence’s pacifism and Frieda’s German nationality were regarded with suspicion by the villagers in the remote Cornish village of Zennor in reality and also in On the Rocks. In response to the madness of war (a harrowing and sensitive issue the author also addresses in the chapter “The Nightmare” of his autobiographical novel, Kangaroo), Lawrence began developing his idea of a small island community or a “colony” (Lawrence, Letters 259). He called this community Rananim23 (“It would be so splendid if it could but come off: such a lovely place: our Rananim” [Lawrence, Letters 336]) and its emblem was the phoenix, symbol of renewal. Rananim, an idealistic artistic community, was a lifestyle experiment that Lawrence strived to create.

If ever a man suffered from the war, it was Lawrence. Then he began to form plans of escape. We would go away to an island: Lawrence, Frieda, Katherine, Koteliansky, and I. The island had a name—Rananim—with the a’s very long. The name is Hebrew, and was supplied by Koteliansky: it came from a Hebrew chant. […] I think it was for Rananim that Lawrence first adopted the symbol of the Phoenix rising from the flames, a symbol for which his affection was henceforward constant. (Murry 40)

Lawrence: […] To Rananim.
Frieda: Oh, not your Rananim again.
Lawrence: Yes, Rananim, the magic island of my dreams to which the four of us are forever sailing in my mind. (OR 31)
Lawrence: [...] if we could make a true community, of real friends who love each other. To live a free and simple life, and work, and farm the land, and write, and talk, and love each other—and no more. It is, I believe, the only way—the only way to rise up like the phoenix from the ashes of what England has become.
Frieda: The phoenix, always he brings in his blessed phoenix. If it isn’t Rananim, it is the phoenix. (OR 35)

  • 24 The controversy was due to the sexual content of the book and the suspicions about Lawrence’s Germa (...)
  • 25 For more details, see Tomalin 139.

22Lawrence’s other tormenting obsession in On the Rock is the criticism ensued after the 1915 publication of his highly controversial24 novel, The Rainbow. Lawrence’s strong emotions are voiced by his character, who reacts to the real review of critic Robert Lynd. Lynd said Lawrence’s novel was “windy, tedious, boring and nauseating” in the Daily News, “page 5, paragraph 4” (OR 19).25 This piece of criticism is repeated by the character of Katherine and meant to be a below-the-belt blow in a heated argument with Lawrence:

Lawrence: How many dirty secrets have you got behind that sanctimonious little mask you call a face? Why don’t you let her out? Why don’t let the filthy little slut out, let her leave her trail of slime across the page? Who knows, you might even write something worth reading one day.
Katherine: Something that might get pilloried and suppressed and bang me up in court for writing smut? Or perhaps just something “windy, tedious, boring and nauseating”—(OR 114)

23For such sensitive artists, personal confrontations hurt the most when turned into harsh professional criticism. However, despite acrimony and bitterness, there is finally a sort of communion between Mansfield and Lawrence:

Katherine: You know, we shouldn’t be enemies, you and I. We’re the only ones who really understand each other. Perhaps that’s been the problem all along. We’re the ones who should be friends.
[...]
And I do know how that it feels, to love so much you don’t know where to put the love. To be so full of homeless, rootless, surplus love that hasn’t anywhere to go. For what it’s worth, I do know how that feels. (OR 116)

24The conclusion to this argument and the final empathetic moment shows that Katherine and Lawrence, despite the different personalities and hard feelings triggered by the failure of this experiment of communal living, are very much alike. The common point between him and Katherine is that they both have a retrospective critical vision of previous writings and a prospective confident outlook on future projects, both going alternatively through periods of productive creation and discouragement: writing haunts them constantly and this is also suggested in On the Rocks.

Unthinkably Alike”26: Writers Blocks and Works in Progress

  • 26 Mansfield, Journal 146.
  • 27 The authors’ artistic endeavours are obviously referred to but remain largely overshadowed by perso (...)
  • 28 Amy Rosenthal confessed in her interview: “Katherine suffered from periods of writer’s block, which (...)

25Mansfield and Lawrence may have had different personalities, obsessions, demons and interests, but writing was their common bond. Both authors used situations and events from their lives as well as strong emotions as ingredients and creative forces in their literary careers. In On the Rocks, Amy Rosenthal stages not only their cohabitation in two adjacent cottages situated in the rocky Cornish landscape, but also a “rocky” period in their lives in which they were both striving for creativity.27 At the time covered by the play, Mansfield had finished “The Aloe” while Lawrence, after the publication of the Rainbow (followed by the hard-to-swallow criticism) had begun the process of writing Women in Love. Their struggle, frustration and torture with their writing will be examined here through the prism of Rosenthal’s drama. Both the characters of Katherine and Lawrence were literarily active at that time, but both were experiencing a strenuous period of writer’s block. This situation finds an autobiographical echo in the playwright’s own painful artistic crisis: indeed, Rosenthal herself suffered from writer’s block before the publication of On the Rocks.28

26The character of Katherine is irritated by the invasion of her private space: the Lawrences use their neighbours’ kitchen because it is larger than theirs and Lorenzo despotically insists on planning all the menus and cooking the meals.

Katherine: Do you suppose he’s going to do this every night?
Jack: Do what?
Katherine: I mean with supper. Take command of everything like that.
[...]
Katherine: But we live here now! We live here! We’re not guests. (OR 54-55)

27Katherine has no “room of her own”: even her study is besieged by garrulous Frieda who keeps talking about her problems with Lawrence or her children, while eating and smoking (OR 84). It is obvious that in these conditions, the short story writer cannot continue the work she so satisfactorily started in Bandol: her muse is “dead” (OR 71). The following dialogue with Jack expresses her doubts, acute frustration, and disappointment with the impossibility of writing:

Katherine: I’m a writer. I have to write. And if I’m not a writer—
Jack: But you are
Katherine:—then tell me, Jack, what am I?
Jack: You are a writer through-and-through!
Katherine: Then why can’t I write?
Beat. She is shaking with rage and frustration.

I am not a wife. I’m not a mother. Half the time I’m hardly sure I’m a woman at all—(OR 80-81)

28Katherine’s writer’s block is triggered by emotions: she is dissatisfied with the place they currently live in and loathes the atmosphere around her. Her fertile creativity was previously linked to a place, Bandol: she was a prolific writer in a place where she felt happy.

Jack: In Bandol, you see, she was writing ferociously [...]
But somehow, she convinced herself that all her creativity was bound up with the place. [...]
Lawrence: What, she’s not writing?
Jack: Says she can’t.
Lawrence: But you just got here! It takes time to settle somewhere new. I’ve hardly written anything myself, I was so ill when we arrived, and then I had that bloody palsy and I couldn’t hold a pen. [...]
Jack: But you write every day.
Lawrence: It’s beginning to come.
Jack: She’ll be wretched, you see, if she can’t. (OR 42-43)

29As for Lawrence, at the beginning of the play, he is physically unable to hold a pen and write. In Act One, Scene One, Lawrence suffers from palsy and cannot write his letter. Besides, while Katherine needs privacy and a favourable, happy atmosphere for creation, as in Bandol, Lawrence claims to need a catalyst (in the person of Jack) for the new novel he intends to start writing: “Lawrence: I swear to God, I’d start again, if [Jack] were here” (OR 15). The writers’ ravenous desire to write makes them difficult partners to live with. Both are frustrated all the more so as the process of creation is constantly on their minds: they are passionate creators with high artistic aspirations. The lack of creativity and absence of writing are at the origin of their torments and mental states. Frequent literary informal discussions among them enliven the atmosphere at Higher Tregerthen; past and future creations and projects are mentioned:

Lawrence: To Jack’s Dostoevsky book and Katherine’s story. [...]
Katherine: Mine isn’t ready yet. It’s just a sort of prelude.
Frieda: To what?
Katherine smiles and shakes her head.

Lawrence: A novel?
Jack: It ought to be a novel. It’s absolutely first-chop –
Katherine: (Waiving it away). Oh, aren’t we all just too too talented!
Frieda: And your new book, Lorenzo. [...] Yes, his sequel for The Rainbow.
Lawrence: I’ve not started anything yet.
Frieda: Oh, but he will, any day. He has all the thoughts, the ideas—(OR 32-33)

30The tensions of living together and ensuing animosity have a blocking impact on Katherine, but surprisingly have a beneficial influence on Lawrence’s creative mind: the experiment of cohabitation with Katherine and Jack, although unsatisfactory from a personal point of view, unblocks his difficulty to write and triggers an uninterrupted flow of inspiration. In Act Two, Scene Five, Lawrence is confidently and urgently putting down on paper ideas which have been germinating in his mind:

Mermaid Cottage. Lawrence sits in his pyjamas, writing feverishly. He looks white and haggard. There is a pot of coffee on the table beside him. He pours out another cup, takes a sip and returns to writing.
[…]
Lawrence: I was writing.
Frieda: All night?
Lawrence: I’m a writer.
Frieda: And the night before?
Lawrence: Yes, probably.
Frieda: Nobody writes all day and all the night.
Lawrence: Don’t tell me any writer wouldn’t, if he could.
Frieda: Oh-ho! Someone is pleased with himself. (OR 101)

31Rosenthal’s Lawrence is caught in the fever of creation and is eager to start a new venture, even if the result is predictable and may be disappointing:

Lawrence: It’s in my head. All the time. Every minute. Real and fresh and urgent and alive. A living world of living characters who grow and change and clamour and demand to be acknowledged. I am responsible to them and them alone. I can’t stop now. Don’t ask me to. (OR 102)

Lawrence: And of course no-one’ll want to publish it, and if it does get published I expect they’ll flagellate me for it, but I don’t give a damn about that. It’s going to be good, this book—and it’s going to be what I intended. (OR 102)

  • 29 For a discussion of similarities between Mansfield and Gudrun, see Tomalin 152.

32The fictitious genesis of Women in Love staged by Rosenthal shows spectators how real events and private adventures shape a work of fiction. The harmful personal relationships, deteriorating friendship and accumulated hard feelings have the merit of being interesting material for fiction. For informed spectators familiar with Lawrence’s novel, Rosenthal’s play gives them the opportunity to observe through the prism of fiction the seeds of what would eventually become Women in Love. Lawrence manages to draw on his experience and relationships with his friends and transposes some of the raw autobiographical material into his new novel (featuring two passionate couples) that he is in the process of writing. The events Lawrence himself lived during these months shaped the relationship between the characters of Rupert Birkin and Gerald Crich.29

  • 30 See footnote 20.

33In this interplay between biography and fiction, so intricately woven in Rosenthal’s play, two different phenomena are noticeable in two precise episodes developed in On the Rocks: the blutbruderschaft scene and the wrestling scene, both involving the characters of Lawrence and Jack. The strange blood pact Lawrence proposes to Jack was a real episode which was transposed into fiction by Lawrence in Women in Love and by Rosenthal in On the Rocks. Described by Murry in his Reminiscences,30 this particular episode which encompasses Lawrence’s vision of male love, devotion and friendship and Murry’s hesitation and disturbance at the insistence of a loving, blood-bond relationship will find a fictitious echo in Women in Love and dramatic resonance in On the Rocks:

Quite other things were going through Birkin’s mind. Suddenly he saw himself confronted with another problem—the problem of love and eternal conjunction between two men. Of course this was necessary—it had been a necessity inside himself all his life—to love a man purely and fully. Of course he had been loving Gerald all along, and all along denying it.
He lay in the bed and wondered, whilst his friend sat beside him, lost in brooding. Each man was gone in his own thoughts.
“You know how the old German knights used to swear a Blutbruderschaft,” he said to Gerald, with quite a new happy activity in his eyes.
“Make a little wound in their arms, and rub each other’s blood into the cut?” said Gerald.
“Yes—and swear to be true to each other, of one blood, all their lives. That is what we ought to do. No wounds, that is obsolete. But we ought to swear to love each other, you and I, implicitly, and perfectly, finally, without any possibility of going back on it.”
He looked at Gerald with clear, happy eyes of discovery. Gerald looked down at him, attracted, so deeply bondaged in fascinated attraction, that he was mistrustful, resenting the bondage, hating the attraction.
“We will swear to each other, one day, shall we?” pleaded Birkin. “We will swear to stand by each other—be true to each other—ultimately—infallibly—given to each other, organically—without possibility of taking back.” (Women in Love 248)

34A more comic depiction of the strange blood pact is given by Amy Rosenthal in On the Rocks: a puzzled, anxious and squeamish Jack is petrified by the grouting-knife and the idea of wounding his arm, and becomes more and more hesitant at the unsettling insistence of his friend’s passionate request:

Lawrence: I say, Jack, d’you know what we should do? We should swear a pact, a Blutbrudeschaft, like the old German knights used to do. [...] You know, you make a cut in their arms and mix the blood. [...] And swear to be true to one another all their lives. To love one another implicitly and finally, without any possibility of going back. Shall we do it, Jack? Let’s do it, shall we?
Jack: Now?
Lawrence: Why not? Sling me that grouting-knife.
Jack: This? It’s got an awful lot of grout—
Lawrence: Good God, man, give it here.
[...]
Jack: Look, I don’t know if—
Lawrence: It’s alright, I don’t mean any sort of syrupy emotionalism. Just an impersonal union that leaves one free. Here, I’ll go first. You make the wound. (OR 44-45)

  • 31 See Barthes 84-9. The critic argues that tiny, insignificant details in a narration constitute a te (...)

35The second idea of creating bondage between the men is the wrestling scene which originated in Women in Love (Chapter XX, “Gladiatorial”). The fictitious wrestling episode is taken by Rosenthal from Lawrence’s novel and adapted to her comedy. The equivalent of the famous sexually-charged scene in Women in Love is a scene on the verge of farcical comedy On the Rocks (see OR 91-93). Besides, in the play it precedes the creation of Women in Love and it is supposed to be the “real” root of the scene that the character Lawrence will develop in the novel he will be soon writing. This second phenomenon of playing with fiction which passes off as reality is interesting enough to be contrasted with the previous one (the blutbrudershaft episode). In the first case, the real episode has two fictitious branches as it is transformed into fiction both by Lawrence in his novel and by Rosenthal in her play. In the second case, the scene in Rosenthal’s play is adapted from another piece of fiction (Lawrence’s Women in Love): it is therefore second-degree fiction. The interest of this scene is that, despite its high degree of fiction, it confers to the play an “effect of reality.”31 It is assimilated by the spectator as reality, in the same vein as the blutbrudershaft episode, which really took place between Lawrence and Murry. Both scenes contain Lawrence’s idea of spiritual and physical bonding and his ideal that men should be bonded in friendship which is stronger than romantic life and marriage:

Lawrence: [...] If I expect a lot then it’s because I give myself completely. My whole self, completely. Everything I am. Because a friendship is as binding and as solemn as a marriage. It’s a covenant for life. And when I say a man’s my friend, I mean that I’ll love him forever and keep faith with him as long as I live. And whatever that man asks of me, I will give with all my heart. (OR 105)

36Rosenthal creates a fictitious Lawrence based on real events, but she also uses the modernist author’s own fiction—in this case parodying the primal wrestling scene—to add traits to her vivid character.

37The creative progression of the two characters-writers is depicted by Rosenthal as a heuristic process which is adjusted step by step; it can be influenced by criticism or suggestions from other people. Here is, for example, how Frieda influences Lawrence’s work:

Lawrence: (Rifling through papers.) The beginning isn’t right yet—here, I’ll give you some from chapter two. I want to know what you think before I go on. I want to know if the characters interest you, if it makes you want to know the rest. (OR 106)

38The way some stories come into being and their adjustable trajectory of creation is also inferred through Mansfield’s character whose experience also provides material for her short stories. For example, her trip to France during the First World War to visit her lover, Francis Carco, became a story, and this kernel of truth is again exploited by Rosenthal. Indeed, in On the Rocks, the character Katherine tells Frieda about her visit to Carco at Gray, in the Zone des Armées where he was posted and concludes that this affair will undoubtedly make a good story one day.

Frieda: And Mr Francis Carco, was he a Pa-Man?
Katherine: (Laughs.) Not in the least, as it turned out. He was like a pretty girl who thought it was all a great adventure, sneaking me into the war-zone and squirreling me away in his rooms.
Frieda: It was in the war-zone! [...]
Katherine: Well, it’ll make a story. (OR 50)

39Mansfield scholars know that in reality, this brief affair contributed to her 1920 story, “An Indiscreet Journey.” Through the veil of fiction, Rosenthal points out a real phenomenon: if we look carefully, we could discover that a work of art may contain seeds of reality that are intrinsically rooted in the authors’ lives.

40Katherine Mansfield and D. H. Lawrence were not only fiction writers, but also letter writers who left to posterity an abundance of correspondence. Besides showing the characters-authors in the process of writing and thinking about their fiction, Rosenthal’s play (a play about examining the creative spirit of writers writing various pieces) also includes a few examples of the two authors in the process of writing their letters. The playwright imagines the genesis of their letters and thus gives dynamism to their correspondence. In Rosenthal’s play, letter writing functions in the same way as fiction: a letter can change its trajectory to incorporate outside suggestions. The spectator has the illusion of witnessing the authors in the very moment of writing the letters. Rosenthal dramatises the authors’ train of thought or stream of consciousness; for example, on the stage we can “see” how thoughts and words come to Lawrence, how he voices them, and how Frieda transcribes them on paper.

41The first example concerns Lawrence-the-character’s letter to Katherine and Jack. Fragments from four real letters are combined by Amy Rosenthal to create the writing scene. She edits the real letters and takes only the fragments which serve her plot. In Act One, Scene One, Lawrence is writing to Katherine and Jack. Frieda, Lawrence’s amanuensis, writes the letter as Lawrence is unable to hold the pen.

  • 32 This first fragment is taken from Lawrence’s real letter written on Monday, 17 January 1916: “Cari (...)

Frieda: (Looking at the papers.) Is this all you have? “Dear friends”?
Lawrence: No, no, I have it in my head. Wait…wait.

He paces the room, working out what he wants to say.

Dear friends. I am very glad that you are happy.”
Frieda:
That’s a lie already!
Lawrence: No it isn’t. “That is the right way to be, a core of love –”—no, not a core, “a
nucleus of love between a man and a woman, and let the world look after itself. It is the last folly to bother about the world. One should be in love, and be happy, and –”
Frieda: You go too fast! Slow down! [...]
Lawrence: “– and be happy—no more. Except—except if there are friends to help the happiness on, so much the better. Let us be happy together.” (OR 16)32

42The real letter material is incorporated in the play and transformed into dialogue, which is the essence of a play. The writing of the letter is paralleled by Frieda and Lawrence’s conversation and remarks about the content of the letter. Rosenthal gives life, vitality, dynamism and authenticity to the letter as she incorporates hesitations, repetitions and words which are stressed by Lawrence while dictating his letter. This is not a finished letter that one could read in a collection of letters for example, but a letter in the process of being written.

  • 33 Here is the second fragment of the letter (Sunday, 5 March 1916) recycled by Amy Rosenthal:
    “My dear (...)

Lawrence: “This is a most beautiful place. A tiny granite village nestling under high, shaggy moor-hills, and a big sweep of lovely sea beyond. It is five miles from St. Yves and seven miles from Penzance. It is all gorse now, flickering with flower –” (OR 16-17)33

43Writing letters has a cinematic or theatrical aspect in On the Rocks, as when Lawrence is dictating his letter and Frieda is recording it on paper, the setting evolves to show the tower room and suggest an acceleration of time: Katherine has been lured by the promise of this idyllic place described by Lawrence in his letter, has accepted the invitation and has arrived at the Tower House. The action is simultaneous: Lawrence is writing the letter and at the same time, his guests arrive:

  • 34 The third excerpt is to be compared with Lawrence’s real letter written on 8 March 1916:
    “[…] Really (...)
  • 35 The fourth fragment to be incorporated is taken from Lawrence’s “Saturday” letter:
    “My dear Katherin (...)

As he continues, the larger cottage next door becomes slowly visible, and the small “tower” room beneath the crenellated roof. Katherine enters the room, dressed for travelling, carrying a small suitcase. (OR 17)
Lawrence: “I call it already Katherine’s house. Katherine’s tower. It is very old, native to the earth, like rock, yet dry and all in the light of the hills and the sea. [...]”
Frieda: Now say how cheap it is.
Lawrence: “You must come, and we will live here a long time, very cheaply.
Frieda: And again repeat how cheap.
Lawrence: “For we must live somewhere, and it is so free and beautiful, and it will cost so very little.” (
OR 17)34
Lawrence: “And don’t talk any more of treacheries and so on. Henceforward, let us take each other on trust. We count you as our only two tried friends, our real and permanent blood-kin. I know—I know we shall be happy this summer.” (OR 17)35

44The course of the fictitious letter is influenced by Frieda’s suggestions of additions to the correspondence. Both characters are conspiring and concocting a letter which is meant to entice their friends to come.

45The second example is Katherine Mansfield’s letter to Koteliansky (OR 79). As in the previous example, the content of the letter is discussed with Jack, the character, before being sent:

  • 36 Here is Mansfield’s real letter written on 11 May 1916: “I am very much alone here. It is not a rea (...)

Jack: Isn’t this a bit—
Katherine: A bit?
Jack: I don’t know—disloyal.
Katherine: Why? It’s all true, isn’t it? And it’s
funny. When I put into words the way they behave seems entertaining rather than appalling. And if I didn’t write it down I should go mad, and then, my dear, you’d be the only sane one here.
Jack: But—but is this really how you feel? [...] (
Reading.) “I am very much alone here. It is not really a nice place. It is so full of huge stones. But it is so very temporary. It may all be over next month; in fact it will be. I don’t belong to anybody here, in fact I have no being —” Tig, how can you—(OR 79-80)36

46Letter writing and fiction in the making are personal and professional activities favoured by the two characters-writers. These creative preoccupations are shown in movement, which obviously constitutes the specificity of drama: the scenes unfold before the spectators’ eyes. Their writing is interrupted by comments, which can change the creative itineraries, or by personal feuds, which are either harmful to creation or on the contrary, nourish the creative activities.

47The comic dimension of Rosenthal’s On the Rocks and the interactions among the risible characters make this play contemporary and universal. The play’s anchorage in well-known lives and the specific biographical data adopted and exploited by the playwright do not at all prevent the universality of the play. Rosenthal does not overburden the spectator with too many literary allusions because the focus of the play lies more in the characters’ love/hate relationships. On the Rocks portrays universal domestic tensions between couples of friends and antagonisms within dysfunctional couples. Moreover, in this play, Lawrence, Katherine, Frieda and Jack are character-types, an essential characteristic which contributes to the play’s universality: Rosenthal’s dramatis personae could easily adapt to different times and places and play roles in similar marital sitcoms. For these reasons, the play’s entertaining quality and the spectators’ appreciation of the play do not necessarily depend on prior in-depth knowledge of the historical figures. However, the fictional account of their lives may encourage some spectators to discover or learn more about these personalities and even read their literary works.

48How far does Rosenthal go from known facts about the two writers and their partners? Not too far, it would appear. There is little embroidery on the kernels of truth, as the numerous excerpts from the modernist authors’ letters and memoirs quoted in parallel with Rosenthal’s text seem to prove. Rosenthal does not take as much creative license as other authors exploiting the gold mine of biographical approach and playing riffs on authors’ lives and works, as for instance, Michael Cunningham in his novel The Hours. Cunningham took a more inventive initiative with the creation of different situations and thought processes in the same style as Virginia Woolf, the author he admires and whose novel, Mrs. Dalloway, he prolongs in his own novel. On the other hand, Amy Rosenthal’s talent as a playwright lies in the force of dialogue and justness of verbal exchanges, which create a successful situation comedy. Her aim is not necessarily to fill in biographical holes with narrative material like Cunningham, but to conceive a dramatic form in which biographical data are squeezed in to efficiently serve the dynamics of the play. By dramatising the modernist writers’ lives, the playwright popularises them and presents them to the public wrapped in a dynamic visual format.

49The following question stems from the previous one: how close does a writer need to follow the trajectory of real people’s lives and use documented real events to create an appealing literary product? If too much accurate biographic evidence is present, the product (poem, song, novel, play, short story) could become a compilation of literary and biographic allusions that the common reader/spectator will not necessarily grasp, but which will make ink flow in the academic community. If very far from biographic evidence, the product has strictly an entertainment value and the use of celebrities’ names is purely a marketing strategy. The “recipe” seems to be the right amount of invention which fits the personality of the historical figure and the genre which contains the story. Fact and fiction in such literary products are not expected to be untangled by the reader or spectator, but are meant to form a cocktail, the aim of which is to produce an attractive story which reinforces the illusion of reality.

50We may also wonder if the success of such biofiction products depends on the celebrity of the literary figure which engenders such enterprises. Famous tortured modernist writers such as Henry James, Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, all larger-than-life artists with dramatic, enigmatic and intriguing lives, seem to attract more contemporary writers’ attention. In this case, does the name of the author work like a brand? A brand, like an author’s name, is a sign that is immediately recognisable and could instantly attract potential buyers lured by it. Do certain names attract more readers/spectators than others? Was Virginia Woolf’s name in Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf a clever effective strategy to attract the spectators’ attention and create expectations? Currently, this popular subgenre flourishes on the book market, in cinemas and theatres, and is very much appreciated and sought-after by the public. Writers who “recycle lives” seem to surf on the biofiction wave and strike while the iron is hot before the public gets tired of it and before it goes out of fashion.

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Bibliographie

Barthes, Roland. “L’Effet de réel.” Communications 11 (1968): 84-9.

Beaudrillard, Jean. “Simulacra and Simulations.” Selected Writings. Ed. Mark Poster. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1988. 166-84.

Blanchard, Lydia. “The Savage Pilgrimage of D. H. Lawrence and Katherine Mansfield.” Modern Language Quarterly 47. 1 (1986): 48-56.

Brenton, Howard. Never so Good. London: Nick Hern Books, 2008.

———. Bloody Poetry. London: Methuen Publishing, 1985.

Cunningham, Michael. The Hours. New York: Picador, 1998.

Dunmore, Helen. Zennor in Darkness. London: Penguin, 2007.

Frayn, Michael. Afterlife. London: Methuen Drama, 2008.

Hamalian, Leo. D. H. Lawrence and Nine Women Writers. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1996.

Harrison, Tony. Fram. London: Faber and Faber, 2008.

Kaplan, Sydney Janet. Circulating Genius: John Middleton Murry, Katherine Mansfield, and D.H. Lawrence. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2010.

Kulyk Keefer, Janice. Thieves. Toronto: HarperCollins Canada, 2004.

Lawrence, D.H. Letters. Ed. Aldous Huxley. London: Heinemann, 1937.

———. The Quest for Rananim. D. H. Lawrence’s Letters to S. S. Koteliansky 1914-1930. Ed. George J. Zytamk. London: McGill—Queen’s UP, 1970.

———. Women in Love. London: Martin Secker, 1925.

Lodge, David. Author, Author. London: Penguin, 2005.

Mansfield, Katherine. Collected Letters. 2 vols. Eds. Vincent O’Sullivan and Margaret Scott. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984.

———. Journal. Ed. John Middleton Murry. New York: Knopf, 1927.

Murry, John Middleton. Reminiscences of D. H. Lawrence. London: Jonathan Cape, 1936.

Rosenthal, Amy. On the Rocks. London: Oberon Books, 2008.

Stead, C. K. Mansfield. London: Vintage, 2005.

Toibin, Colm. The Master. New York: Picador, 2005.

Tomalin, Claire. Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life. London: Penguin, 2003.

Whelan, Peter. The Earthly Paradise. London: Methuen Drama, 2004.

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Notes

1 On the Rocks 102-103. In this essay, the play will be referred to as OR.

2 For an account of Lawrence/Mansfield relationship see, among other studies, Leo Hamalian 36-44; Claire Tomalin 145-164; Lydia Blanchard and Sydney Janet Kaplan.

3 These are a few acclaimed novels published in the last decade: Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, Colm Toibin’s The Master, David Lodge’s Author, Author; several examples of fictional biographies based on Lawrence’s and Mansfield’s lives: C. K. Stead’s Mansfield, Janice Kulyk Keefer’s Thieves, Helen Dunmore’s Zennor in Darkness; and bioplays: Howard Brenton’s Never so Good and Bloody Poetry, Michael Frayn’s Afterlife, Tony Harrison’s Fram, Peter Whelan’s The Earthly Paradise, etc.

4 This corresponds in fact to the writers’ second attempt at communal living, after having been neighbours in Buckinghamshire between October 1914 and January 1915.

5 See the diagram drawn by Lawrence in his Sunday, 5 March 1916 letter (Lawrence, Letters 335-36). The drawing indicating and describing the buildings, their shapes, and the position of the rooms could be used by a stage director to imagine a setting and “suggest” certain settings which would not fit on a stage.

6 “Frieda is in her cottage, looking at the children’s photographs, I suppose” (Mansfield, Letters 1: 261).

7 See Amy Rosenthal on the portrayal of her characters in an interview by Neil Grutchfield, Hampstead Theatre Literary Manager. May 2010.<http://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/news_details.asp?NewsID=491>.

8 “He has become very fond of sewing, especially hemming; and of making little copies of pictures—When he is doing these things he is quiet and gentle and kind, but once you start talking I cannot describe the frenzy that comes over him. He simply raves, roars, beats the table, abuses everybody […]. What makes these attacks insupportable is the feeling one has at the back of one’s mind that he is completely out of control—swallowed up in a acute insane irritation” (Mansfield, Letters 1: 261).

9 On the Rocks was first performed at the Hampstead Theatre on 26 June 2008, with the following cast: Ed Stoppard (Lawrence), Tracy-Ann Oberman (Frieda), Charlotte Emmeson (Katherine) and Nick Caldecott (Jack). The four actors offered an outstanding interpretation of the characters’ emotions and exasperation, enhancing their personalities as originally imagined by the playwright. Thus, Tracy-Ann Oberman made Frieda a “sensual,”“gutsy,” “physical” character who “almost simultaneously inspires love and hate in her husband”; Nick Caldecott and Charlotte Emmerson, who are “clever, creative and cerebral,” embody the physical opposites to the “robust” Lawrences. Finally, Ed Stoppard is “insatiable,” “loud and bombastic,” an “inspired fool, both heartless and caring but ultimately a nightmare to live with or even near”. He “is powered by a manic energy that drives his creativity, yet also emerges as uncontrollable, violent rages against Frieda.” According to theatre critics, Ed Stoppard has admirably managed to communicate “Lawrence’s strange mix of paranoia, passion and missionary zeal.” See different theatre reviews in which acting is discussed in detail. May 2010. <http://www.jewish-theatre.com /visitor/article_display.aspx?articleID=2931>; <http://www. britishtheatreguide.info/reviews/onrocks-rev.htm>;<http://www.guardian. co.uk/stage/2008/ jul/02/theatre.reviews3;www.entertainment. timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/stage/article4257374.ece>;<http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/21162/on-the-rocks>.

10 See Beaudrillard’s concept of hyperreality, a simulacrum of “real” reality (166-84).

11 This expression is actually used by the character of Lawrence to refer to his new novel Women in Love (OR 103).

12 “Frieda: […] You shout his name, Lorenzo, in your sleep. And they must hear it through the walls as clear as I do lying next to you” (OR 103); “Katherine: Tell me, Jack. What is it that you’re so afraid he’ll do to you? Try to stab you with his grouting knife again, or wrestle you to death?” (OR 100).

13 In the guessing name game, the first time the pairs are made up of Katherine and Lawrence/Frieda and Jack; the second time, Katherine and Frieda form one pair, Lawrence and Jack the other.

14 These precise insults have a documented reference: “If he is contradicted about anything he gets into a frenzy, quite besides himself […]. And whatever your disagreement is about he says it is because you have gone wrong in your sex and belong to an obscene spirit” (Mansfield, Letters 1: 263).

15 This criticism is again inspired by Katherine’s comments in a real letter to Ottoline Morrel: “It really is quite over for now—our relationship with L. The ‘dear man’ in him whom we all loved is hidden away, absorbed, completely lost, like a little gold ring in that immense German Christmas pudding which is Frieda. And with all the appetite in the world one cannot eat one’s way through Frieda to find him. One simply looks and waits for someone to come with a knife and cut her up into the smallest pieces that L. may see the light and shine again” (Mansfield, Letters 1: 267).

16 “Let me tell you what happened on Friday. I went across to them for tea. Frieda said Shelley’s ‘Ode to a Skylark’ was false. Lawrence said: ‘You are showing off; you don’t know anything about it.’ Then she began. ‘Now I have had enough. Out of my house—you little God Almighty you.’ […] Said Lawrence: ‘I’ll give you a dab on the cheek to quiet you, you dirty hussy.’ Etc. Etc. […] Suddenly Lawrence appeared and made a kind of horrible blind rush at her and they began to scream and scuffle. He beat her—he beat her to death—her head and face and breasts and pulled out her hair. All the while she screamed for Murry to help her. […] Then he fell into one chair and she into another. […] Suddenly, after a long time—about a quarter of an hour—L. looked up and asked Murry a question about French literature. […] Then F. poured herself out some coffee. Then she and L. glided into talk, began to discuss some ‘very rich but very good macaroni cheese.’ And next day, […] he was running about taking her up her breakfast to her bed and trimming her a hat” (Mansfield, Letters 1: 263-64).

17 “Frieda asked me over to their cottage to drink tea with them. When I arrived for some unfortunate reason I happened to mention Percy Shelley. Whereupon she said: ‘I think that his Skylark thing is awful Footle.’ ‘You only say that to show off,’ said L. ‘It’s the only thing of Shelley’s that you know.’ And straightway I felt like Alice between the Cook and the Duchess. Saucepans and frying pans hurtled into the air. […] He sat down and said: ‘I’ll cut her throat if she comes near this table.’ After dinner she walked up and down outside the house in the dusk and suddenly, dreadfully—L. rushed at her and beat her. […] Finally she ran into our kitchen shouting ‘Protect me! Save me!’ […] And though I was dreadfully sorry for L. I didn’t feel an atom of sympathy for Frieda. It’s awfully strange. Murry told me afterwards he felt just the same. […] Then Frieda stopped crying and drank some coffee. […] they were remembering, mutually remembering a certain very rich, very good, but very extravagant macaroni cheese they had once eaten… And next day Frieda stayed in bed and L. carried her meals up to her and waited upon her […]” (Mansfield, Letters 1: 267-68).

18 In an interview, Amy Rosenthal spoke about her “extensive research” prior to writing the play (Grutchfield, Interview. May 2010. <http://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/news_details.asp?NewsID=491>).

19 This ideal is also expressed in the abandoned Prologue to Women in Love.

20 “He wanted me to swear to be his ‘blood-brother,’ and there was to be some sort of sacrament between us. [...] ‘If I love you, and you know I love you, isn’t that enough?’ No, it was not enough: there ought to be some mingling of our blood, so that neither of us could go back on it. For some cause or other, I was half-frightened, healf-repelled, and I suppose my shrinking away was manifest. He suddenly turned on me with fury: ‘I hate your love, I hate it. You’re an obscene bug, sucking my life away.’ The vindictiveness with which he said it made me almost physically sick. But the words were burnt into my brain” (Murry 79); “Let it be agreed for ever. I am Blutbruder: a Blutbrüdershaft between us all. Tell K. not to be so queasy” (Lawrence, Letters 338).

21 See Lawrence and Murry’s discussion in OR 39.

22 “And I shall never see sex in trees, sex in the running brooks, sex in stones & sex in everything. The number of things that are really phallic from fountain pen fillers onwards! [...] I suggested to Lawrence that he should call his cottage The Phallus & Frieda thought it was a very good idea...” (Mansfield, Letters 1: 261-62). Other small real details which appear in On the Rocks find a real corresponding event in a biographical or autobiographical document: for hints to Murry and Mansfield’s previous flea-infested flat in Chelsea (OR 20-21), see Tomalin 127; for Frieda’s “agonized state about her children” (OR 10-11), see Tomalin 127. Murry’s “trivial recollections” (such as laying linoleum on the floor and painting chairs with Lawrence) find their way in Rosenthal’s play (OR 38; OR 71). These amusing details go beyond chronological accuracy: for example, the laying linoleum event took place in February 1915 when Murry visited the Lawrences at Greatham in Sussex: “On 16th February 1915, I went to stay with the Lawrences at Greatham in Sussex. […] In a day or two I was fairly fit again, and we began laying green linoleum together. [...] A trivial recollection perhaps, but it so happens that some of my most precious memories of the man are of precisely these trivial odd jobs done together [...]” (Murry 52-56); “I remember that I bought [...] a half-dozen chairs for eighteen-pence apiece. These last, for some reason, I painted a dull funeral black” (Murry 77). Rosenthal collects elements from different periods and rearranges the chronology in a different way to suit the movement of her play. Mansfield’s marriage to George Bowden (OR 28), her idyll with Francis Carco (OR 49), the fact that Lawrence is a good cook (Murry 42 / OR 25), Lawrence’s neighbours at Lower Tregerthen, the Hockings (OR 26)—also characters in Helen Dunmore’s Zennor in Darkness—, Frieda’s “passion of washing clothes” (Mansfield, Letters 1: 261 / OR 47), Jack and Katherine’s happy period in Bandol (OR 42 / Murry 77), Lawrence’s medical examination at Bodmin Barracks (OR 24), etc. provide a rigorous reality foundation on which the play is built. The author further embroiders on these details. Trivial biographical elements may seem insignificant but they confer solidity and authenticity to Rosenthal’s play. Moreover, these touching details give the spectator a sense of intimacy and closeness between the characters. It is noteworthy that the accumulation of details and daily activities which are meant to create a realistic effect in a work of fiction are, in this case, truly real.

23 See also George J. Zytaruk, ed. The Quest for Rananim. D. H. Lawrence’s Letters to S. S. Koteliansky 1914-1930. The source of Rananim is also discussed by David Daiches in his letter to the Times Literary Supplement of 6 January 1956.

24 The controversy was due to the sexual content of the book and the suspicions about Lawrence’s German connections through Frieda. The court ordered its destruction under the Obscene Publication Act of 1857.

25 For more details, see Tomalin 139.

26 Mansfield, Journal 146.

27 The authors’ artistic endeavours are obviously referred to but remain largely overshadowed by personal conflicts. Being a mass entertainment play meant to be performed in front of a heterogeneous audience, the content must fit the generic mould: the subject matter was certainly conceived to meet the reception expectations and the audience’s “consumption” of such a genre. Thus, the literary aspect must have been left in the background while the playwright exacerbated dramatic features of their relationships such as the characters’ expression of their changing moods and emotions.

28 Amy Rosenthal confessed in her interview: “Katherine suffered from periods of writer’s block, which is a subject I understand well. It was really devastating to her when she couldn’t write and this was one of those times. She had been writing very fluently and happily in France. She’d written a story called ‘The Aloe’ which she really hoped would be the beginning of a novel.” (Grutchfield. Interview. May 2010.<http://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/news_details.asp? NewsID=491>). See also the article “Amy Defeats Block to Pen ‘Painful’ Play.” May 2010. <http://www.dailyexpress.co.uk/posts /view/50244/Amy-defeats-block-to-pen-painful-play>: “[The shame stems from] unfulfilled promise,” she explains. “[The fear of] letting everyone down—the sense of being the goose that laid the golden egg and now can’t lay an egg at all. You feel like everyone’s peering at your nest and waiting.”

29 For a discussion of similarities between Mansfield and Gudrun, see Tomalin 152.

30 See footnote 20.

31 See Barthes 84-9. The critic argues that tiny, insignificant details in a narration constitute a textual device, the aim of which is to produce an effect of reality.

32 This first fragment is taken from Lawrence’s real letter written on Monday, 17 January 1916: “Cari Miei Ragazzi, ― I am very glad you are happy. That is the right way to be happy—a nucleus of love between a man and a woman, and let the world look after itself. It is the last folly, to bother about the world. One should be in love, and be happy—no more. Except that if there are friends who will help the happiness on, tant mieux. Let us be happy together” (Lawrence, Letters 309).

33 Here is the second fragment of the letter (Sunday, 5 March 1916) recycled by Amy Rosenthal:
“My dear Jack and Katherine,
We have been here nearly a week now. It is a most beautiful place: a tiny granite village nestling under high, shaggy moorhills, and a big sweep of lovely sea beyond, such a lovely sea, lovelier even than the Mediterranean. It is 5 miles from St. Yves, and 7 miles from Penzance. To Penzance one goes over the moors, high, then down into Mount’s Bay, looking at St. Michael’s Mount, like a dark little jewel. It is all gorse now, flickering with flower; and then it will be heather; and then, hundreds of fox gloves. It is the best place I have been in, I think” (Lawrence, Letters 334-5).

34 The third excerpt is to be compared with Lawrence’s real letter written on 8 March 1916:
“[…] Really, you must have the other place. I keep looking at it. I call it already Katherine’s house, Katherine’s tower. There is something very attractive about it. It is very old, native to the earth, like rock, yet dry and all in the light of the hills and the sea. It is only twelve strides from out house to yours: we can talk from the windows: and besides us, only the gorse, and the fields, the lambs skipping and hopping like anything, and seagulls fighting with the ravens, and sometimes a fox, and a ship on the sea.
You must come, and we will live there a long, long time, very cheaply. You see, we must live somewhere, and it is so free and beautiful, and it will cost us so very little.
And don’t talk any more of treacheries and so on. Henceforward let us take each other on trust—I’m sure we can” (Lawrence, Letters 337).

35 The fourth fragment to be incorporated is taken from Lawrence’s “Saturday” letter:
“My dear Katherine,—
Your letter just came—no more bickering among us. And no good trying to run away from the fact that we are fond of each other. We count you two as our only two tried friends, real and permanent and truly blood kin. I know we shall be happy this summer; so happy […]” (Lawrence, Letters 341).

36 Here is Mansfield’s real letter written on 11 May 1916: “I am very much alone here. It is not a really nice place. It is so full of huge stones, but now that I am writing I do not care for the time. It is so very temporary. It may all be over next month; in fact it will be. I don’t belong to anybody here. In fact I have no being, but I am making preparations for changing everything. […]” (Mansfield, Letters 1: 264).

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Monica Latham, « On the Rocks: Women (and Men) in (and out of) Love », Études Lawrenciennes, 42 | 2011, 281-317.

Référence électronique

Monica Latham, « On the Rocks: Women (and Men) in (and out of) Love », Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 42 | 2011, mis en ligne le 20 janvier 2014, consulté le 21 juillet 2017. URL : http://lawrence.revues.org/134 ; DOI : 10.4000/lawrence.134

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Monica Latham

Université de Nancy 2

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Études lawrenciennes est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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