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The Russian Pigeons in the Groves of Eastwood

Natalya Reinhold
p. 97-110

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1Think of D.H. Lawrence dropping Russian words in English transliteration in his letters of 1910 to his fiancée. How did this small talk ramble into his writing? No one seems to know. Even the editors of the Cambridge University Press Letters of D.H. Lawrence shrugged the whole matter off, leaving the words unacknowledged and uncommenteD. Here I intend to tackle the rich and demanding issue suggested by this historical image.

  • 1 The Letters of D.H. Lawrence, 7 vols (Cambridge University Press, 1979-1993); The Cambridge Biograp (...)

2To say that the Cambridge University Press edition of The Letters of D.H. Lawrence and the Cambridge Biography of D.H. Lawrence1 are indispensable to Lawrence scholars is a mere statement of fact. Apart from providing a feast of reading and learning, the collected letters give researchers a chance to follow Lawrence’s train of thought unbroken, which is not often the case when we address his writing by way of the various published texts. In the three-volume edition of the writer’s biography it is the continuum and cross-section links that operate as a catalysis to the researcher’s interpretation of Lawrence. However in view of the closely-knit texture of both editions, every small lacuna in the otherwise dense system of sources quoted, foot-notes and references becomes visible. The critic thus gains an insight into the whats and whys behind each little gap in knowledge.

3Our focus here is rather on the lacunae in our knowledge of Lawrence’s early experience of Russian in 1906-1910 than on the possible sources of his first encounters with Russian literature. In considering this issue I shall assume that every correction in the terms of Lawrence’s reception of Russian writers, however small or oblique it is, may serve the major issue of enhancing scholarship.

4That there were certain early stimuli behind his reading Gorky and Chekhov, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, becomes clear through the “minor” detail of Lawrence’s having used some Russian words in English transliteration in his early letters of 1910. The first of the three inclusions occurs in his letter to Grace Crawford of 24 June 1910: “My affairs, like those of my friend [Ezra Pound], go a bit criss-crossy. It is very probable I shall have to return in September to home, to a little mining village in the midlands. Bóhze moï” (L i. 166; my italics). Another instance crops up in his letter to Louie Burrows of 14 December 1910: “‘I’m so miserable about my matouchka’” (i. 202; my italics; also, see fn). Still another Russian word pops up in his letter to Louie of 28 December the same year: “Well golubchick (pretty word!)—little pigeon—oh black swan” (i. 217; my italics).

5It is surprising that all these instances remained unidentified and unexplained in the CUP edition of letters. The question is how the Russian words found their way into Lawrence’s discourse. The obvious explanation is to invoke the International Library of Famous Literature as a possible source of Lawrence’s first encountering Russian literature. See the references to it in the “Introduction” to the first volume of the CUP edition of Lawrence’s Letters; also, Zytaruk’s D.H. Lawrence’s Response to Russian Literature, etc. Here is Richard David Garnett’s account in his Constance Garnett: A Heroic Life (1991):

  • 2 At the Cearne in June 1913 (R.D. Garnett 273). Cf. “If she (Constance Garnett) had met him in Engla (...)
  • 3 E.T. [Jessie (Wood) Chambers], D.H. Lawrence: A Personal Record (1935), 92.

D.H. Lawrence was well acquainted with the Garnetts, long before Constance got to know him.2 In the miner’s cottage where he was brought up they “regarded with a reverence amounting to awe”3 a set of Richard Garnett’s most imposing legacy to posterity, the twenty-volume International Library of Famous Literature (1899). Lawrence read widely in it and gained a good knowledge of the world’s literature, though it was curiously weak in translations from the Russian, and when he first heard of Edward in September 1911 he mistook him for its editor. (Garnett R.D. 268)

  • 4 This explanation was proposed by Professor John Worthen in a telephone conversation kindly arranged (...)

6Another possible source for the Russian words in the English transliteration was the Hueffer circle, with which Lawrence got in touch in 1908 following the publication of his poems in The English Review. As we know, Ford Madox Ford’s sister was married to David Soskice, a Russian revolutionary and exile. The publication policy of The English Review of 1908 furthermore implied Ford’s interest in Eastern Europe, Russia included (L i. 12 3).4 As for Constance Garnett being a possible source of Lawrence’s knowledge of the Russian words, the hypothesis is unlikely, for, having met Edward Garnett for the first time on 4 October 1911 (L i. 314), Lawrence was introduced to Constance Garnett in June 1913, long after the letters, with their Russian inclusions, had been composed. (Garnett R.D. 273)

  • 5 See, for example, Nathan H. Dole’s translation of 1886 of Anna Karenina by L. Tolstoy (Tolstoï, Lyo (...)
  • 6 See Reinhold, Natalya. “On the Old and New Translations of Leo Tolstoy’s Work.” Translation zwische (...)

7Still another possible explanation of the inclusions is that they are to be traced to the translations of Russian literary works. Some of these may have retained a few Russian words in transliteration for the sake of local colour, and Lawrence, an avid reader and a master in verbal mimicry, (Worthen 1991, 62) may have used them in his own discourse. This observation is certainly true of some of the older translations from the Russian made in the 1880s. They often contained a number of Russian cultural realia in the transliterated form, as well as the English glossary.5 However, the editions of the 1900s were, as a rule, more adequate to the source texts.6 (Toury 56-7)

8There is however another point that is worth making about inclusions, which convinces me that it is necessary to look into other possibilities as well: the question of their stylistic, dialogic and intertextual homogeneity.

9It is noteworthy that all three instances are emotionally coloured. “Bóhze moï” is the Russian exclamation for “My God.” The diminutive “matouchka,” derived from “mat” (mother) is a tender and respectful way of referring to an elderly mother, which was common among the Russian middle and low-middle classes in the late nineteenth-early twentieth-century Russia. Also worth noting, the religious connotation of the word “matouchka,” which denotes the head of a Russian Orthodox convent. “Golubchick,” a noun of masculine gender, means “my dear,” its inner form is derived from the root word “golub” (a pigeon); judging by Lawrence’s letter to his fiancée he was aware both of the figurative as well as the literary meaning of the root word “golub,” that is, a pigeon, though he did not realize the masculine gender of the word. Note that the latter two Russian inclusions are diminutives and also that they can be used as the intimate forms in addressing the interlocutor, that is, they are potentially dialogic forms.

10What, we may ask, is the actual intertextual dimension of the above-quoted Russian words in the English transliteration? Is there anything about them to point to the literary sources behind them? To consider this issue, contextualization may be helpful. There are several references to Russian literary texts in The White Peacock (the first version “Laetitia” dates back to Easter 1906-June 1907; the second version of the same title dates back to July 1907-April 1908). I quote the reference to Gorky in part I chapter IX “Lettie Comes of Age”:

  • 7 See Andrew Robertson’s reference: “Maxim Gorky. Pseudonym of Alexei Maximovich Peshkov (1868-1936), (...)

She [Marie Tempest] glanced round the room, and out of the window, and observed, “I always love Woodside, it is restful—there is something about it—oh—assuring—really—it comforts one—I’ve been reading Maxim Gorky.”
“You shouldn’t,” said I.
“Dadda reads them—but I don’t like them—I shall read no more. I like Woodside—it makes you feel—really at home—it soothes one like the old wood does. […]
[…] I made her a nest in the heavy curtains, and she sat there looking out on the snow.
“It is lovely,” she said reflectively. “People must be ill when they write like Maxim Gorky.”
“They live in town,” said I.
“Yes—but then look at Hardy—life seems so terrible—it isn’t, is it?” (WP 108:9; fn 3747)

11The implication is that Cyril advises Marie against reading Gorky on the grounds of moral propriety: Gorky’s straightforward tales make an unwelcome reading for an English girl, daughter of the coalmining magnate.

12Another case is a possible reference to Chekhov (Part II, chapter II “A Shadow in Spring”):

  • 8 Cf. A. Robertson’s comment: “devil of the woods. Perhaps an allusion to The Wood Demon (1889) by An (...)

It was about this time I cultivated the acquaintance of the Keeper. All the world hated him—to the people in the villages he was like a devil in the woods. (WP 146:22-248)

  • 9 Cf. A. Robertson’s comment on “Ydgrun” as “Anagram of Grundy: DHL alludes to the domineering goddes (...)

13We may also note Lettie’s use of the diminutive “matoucha” in Part II, chapter III “The Irony of Inspired Moments.” For our discussion, it is significant that the allusion to “Matouchka” occurs in the literary context.9

  • 10 Cf. A. Robertson’s comments on “Little Woman”: “DHL’s nickname for his mother (see E.T. 149 and A M (...)
  • 11 See note 9.

My mother lifted her eyebrows, and said very quietly
“He’d better go home—and be straight.”
“But look how he’d feel—he’d have to tell them… and how would he feel! It’s really my fault, in the end. Don’t be piggling and mean and Grundyish, Matouchka.10
“It is neither meanness nor Grundyishness—”
“Oh, Ydgrun,11 Ydgrun-!” exclaimed Lettie, ironically.
“He may certainly stay if he likes,” said Mother, slightly nettled at Lettie’s gibe.
“All right Mutterchen—and be a sweetling, do!” (WP 173,28-37)

  • 12 Vladimir Lensky is the name of one of the central characters in Evgenii Onegin (1823-1831), Alexand (...)

14Also, I cannot help mentioning the Russian literary implications in the name of Lydia Lensky12 in The Rainbow (1915).

15When you put together the above identified allusions, you may come to the conclusion that they are the traces of Lawrence’s reading of certain Russian writers in translation, like Ivan Goncharov (1812-1891, author of A Common Story translated by Constance Garnett in 1894), Turgenev (1818-1883, whose major novels were translated by C. Garnett in 1894-1899), or Gorky (see his novel Mat, 1906, written in America). Stylistically, they seem to signal the so-called “raznochinskyi” discourse, typical of the mid-nineteenth-century Russian intelligentsia. As such, they may have been common among the Russian political immigrants who settled in England in the 1860-1890s, for example Alexander Herzen (1812-1870) or Stepniak-Kravchinskii (1851-1895).

16To continue, my next point is that if Lawrence’s knowledge of Russian literature had been limited to the literary sources only, his attitude to it, as evident in the Russian words he used, would have been different: it would have been abstract and unemotional, devoid of any personal involvement. Judging by the inclusions, it was the opposite: emotional qualities were attributed to things dearest to him—god, mother and his love. (By comparison, in the letters written before 1910 German inclusions occur twice [L i. 64; 78]; French inclusions occur six times, but French is a special case, for Lawrence studied it at college). Obviously Lawrence discussed the Russian authors with someone whom he knew intimately and who was as much interested in them as he was as early as 1906-10.

17Without turning the whole issue into guess-work, and relying on facts which are given below, I think it very probable that Lawrence got his Russian diminutives from or, rather, in dialogue with Jessie Chambers [Wood]. As evidence of her long-term active interest in Russian writers and Russia as a country and culture, I shall mention her much later letters to S.S. Koteliansky of 10, 13 and 19 November 1936, written in reply to his suggestion that she should take up translating from the Russian. Thus in her letter of 10 November 1936 she remarked, with an obvious modesty:

  • 13 E.T. D.H. Lawrence: A Personal Record (1935).
  • 14 See Jessie Chambers’s [Wood’s] letters to S.S. Koteliansky of 10 November, 13 November and 19 Novem (...)

I know a little Russian, and should feel it a great honour to translate Pushkin’s “Евгений Онегин” [Eugene Onegin], for the Crescent Press if I were competent to do it. The only possibility would be to undertake the translation in collaboration with Professor R.M. Hewitt of our University College here. I enclose a poem of Sergei Essenin’s translated by Professor Hewitt, that I like very much. […] As for myself, the only Russian translations I have made are some of the Folk Tales; Andreyev’s Judas Iscariot; and a novel of about the same length by И.С.Шмелев [I.S. Shmelev] “Неупиваемая чаша” [the cup that cannot be drained], which I have called “The Cup of Life.” I am extremely glad that you like my work on D.H. Lawrence.13 For me, the finest thing about it is the inner liberation that has come from the writing of it. Somehow the pain has all evaporated, and only joy is left. (my italics.-N.R.)14

18In her letter written three days later she refused to undertake translation, while acknowledging nonetheless the importance of Russian literature in her life:

I hope you won’t think me ungrateful if I say that I am almost afraid to break off the work […] to collaborate with the translation of “Евгений Онегин”. How could it be to leave it entirely in Professor Hewitt’s hands? They are more competent than mine in the matter. Later on I should be delighted to translate something for you. The study of Russian has meant a very great deal to me. Perhaps you will be so good as to tell me what you think of it [of her Russian language competence]. […] By the way, we [she and her husband] spent our August holiday in Russia and had a wonderful time. [Ibid., my italics]

19She would again allude to her warm attitude to Russian literature in the letter of 19 November 1936:

I have read about Tchekhov’s Letters, but have not yet been able to get the letters themselves. I shall try to read them during the Christmas holidays. I know I shall enjoy them tremendously. I admire Russian literature beyond words. [Ibid., my italics]

  • 15 I owe this reference to Dr Peter Preston.

20The letters in question are not unknown to scholars. Zytaruk refers to them in his introduction to The Quest for Rananim. (Zytaruk 1970, xvi). However he does so only in connection with Koteliansky, paying no attention to Jessie’s (and therefore probably Lawrence’s) crucial link with Russian. Judging by her letters (which she signed in Russian script), Jessie became interested in Russian literature between 1906 and 1908. Her interest was deep enough to make her subsequently learn Russian, so comprehensively that she could translate such complicated works as Judas Iscariot (1907), or “The Cup of Life” [“Neupivayemaya Chasha”] (1918) (English translation, “The Inexhaustible Cup,” 1928 [Kasack 368-9]) by the then prominent contemporary Russian writers, Leonid Andreyev and Ivan Shmelyov, respectively. It is also possible that the source for Jessie’s knowledge of Russian was connected to Nottingham University College and to socialism. While it is tempting to presume that Professor R. M. Hewitt of Nottingham University College, whom Jessie Wood refers to in her letter, was her teacher of Russian in the 1900s, this is impossible. Reginald Mainwaring Hewitt (1887-1948) graduated from the new Oxford School of English Language and Literature in 1910, and in 1913 was appointed lecturer in English Literature at University College, Nottingham. He had become engaged to Louisa Krebs, a poet and daughter to the librarian of the Taylorian Institute in Oxford in 1911, and married her in 1913. R.M. Hewitt spent the rest of his life in Nottingham, being appointed to the Chair of English in 1925 and retiring in 1938. He was a remarkable linguist, fluent in French and German, Spanish and Italian. He was especially interested in the Slavonic languages and taught Vivan de Sola Pinto Russian.15 Thus a more probable explanation of Jessie Wood’s link with Prof. Hewitt is that in her mature years she got in touch with him to show him her translations, or to attend his lectures or classes.

21To return to the idea that it was Jessie Chambers who was Lawrence’s companion in the reading and discussion of Russian writers between 1906 and 1910, we argue that even if the source for Jessie’s knowledge of Russian remains obscure, the hypothesis holds, being based on the supposition that the Russian inclusions in Lawrence’s letters of 1910 came from the translations which they had been reading together, using foreign words as a kind of shared small talk. For their most notable feature is their emotional colouring, their evident intimacy and tenderness. Taking this as a clue, I shall contend that Lawrence’s attitude to Russian literature was a particular one, from the very beginning. Because of its early association with Jessie, there was an inevitable emotional charge, and it was potentially self-contradictory. Also curious and hardly accidental is the “parallel” experience of Lawrence and Jessie Wood with Russian literature in their mature years: Lawrence took up translating and editing the Russians, through his friendship with Koteliansky; Jessie would continue studying the language and translating from the Russian. Also noteworthy is the choice of authors and their works which Jessie names in her letters to Koteliansky: both Judas Iscariot and “The Cup of Life” are Christian in theme. Likewise, Lawrence’s late essays on Rozanov and Dostoevsky are connected with Christian issues. Without stretching these parallels too far (they may turn out to be accidental), I wish nevertheless to point to the first moments in Lawrence’s experience of Russian literature as the explanation for the definite shape which, as reader and writer, it would subsequently take on. Namely, Lawrence’s mixed feelings about Jessie (her love of mysticism, her moral exigencies, her emotional states, which he later found domineering and suffocating) may have coloured his reception of Russian literature as romantic, highly emotional and mystical.

22Without leaping to any hasty judgements, let us take up this last point. The study of what is a seemingly minor issue of Russian words in Lawrence’s early letters and writing helps bring into focus the writer’s perception of Russian literature as emotionally loaded. How does this observation relate to Lawrence’s criticism of Russian writers? How may it have affected his identity as a writer? However intriguing they may seem to be, these issue are outside the immediate scope of the present article.

23To sum up, the literary historical research on Lawrence is a question of importance. It demonstrates that every new piece of research, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot’s comment on literary critics, performs a useful service merely by the fact that its ‘errors are of a different kind from the last’:

There is for each time, for each artist, a kind of alloy required to make the metal workable into art; and each generation prefers its own alloy to any other. Hence each new master of criticism performs a useful service merely by the fact that his errors are of a different kind from the last; and the longer the sequence of critics we have, the greater the amount of correction is possible. (T.S. Eliot 109)

24In other words, the longer the sequence of Lawrence researchers we have, “the greater the amount of correction [that] is possible.”

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Works Cited

The Cambridge Biography of D.H. Lawrence. 3 vols. Cambridge University Press: 1991-1998.

Worthen, John. D.H. Lawrence: The Early Years 1885-1912. The Cambridge Biography of D.H. Lawrence. Vol. 1. Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Kinkead-Weekes, Mark. D.H. Lawrence: Triumph to Exile, 1912-1922. The Cambridge Biography of D.H. Lawrence. Vol. 2. Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Ellis, David. D.H. Lawrence, Dying Game, 1922-1930. The Cambridge Biography of D.H. Lawrence. Vol. 3. Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Chambers, Jessie, as E.T. D.H. Lawrence: A Personal Record [orig. 1935]. Revised ed. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1965.

Dictionary of Russian Literature since 1917, ed. Wolfgang Kasack, trans. from German. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.

Eliot, T.S. “Matthew Arnold.” The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism. Studies in the Relation of Criticism to Poetry in England. London: Faber and Faber, 1934.

Jessie Chambers’s [Wood’s] letters to S.S. Koteliansky of 10 November, 13 November and 19 November 1936, in Vol. MS 48974, no 176, 180, 184.

Garnett, Richard David. Constance Garnett: A Heroic Life. London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1991.

Lawrence, D.H. The Letters. 7 vols. Cambridge University Press, 1979-1993.

Lawrence, D.H. The White Peacock. [orig. 1910] Ed. by Andrew Robertson. Cambridge University Press, 1983.

The Quest for Rananim: D.H. Lawrence’s Letters to S.S. Koteliansky, 1914-1930. Ed. George J. Zytaruk. Montreal and London: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1970.

Toury, Gideon. Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond. Amsterdam: JBPC, 1995.

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1 The Letters of D.H. Lawrence, 7 vols (Cambridge University Press, 1979-1993); The Cambridge Biography of D.H. Lawrence, 3 vols (Cambridge University Press: 1991-1998); John Worthen, D.H. Lawrence: The Early Years 1885-1912, vol. 1 of the Cambridge Biography of D.H. Lawrence (Cambridge University Press, 1991); Mark Kinkead-Weekes, D.H. Lawrence: Triumph to Exile, 1912-1922, vol. 2 of the Cambridge Biography of D.H. Lawrence (Cambridge University Press: 1996); David Ellis, D.H. Lawrence, Dying Game, 1922-1930, vol. 3 of the Cambridge Biography of D.H. Lawrence (Cambridge University Press, 1998).

2 At the Cearne in June 1913 (R.D. Garnett 273). Cf. “If she (Constance Garnett) had met him in England it was briefly […]” (Ibid.)

3 E.T. [Jessie (Wood) Chambers], D.H. Lawrence: A Personal Record (1935), 92.

4 This explanation was proposed by Professor John Worthen in a telephone conversation kindly arranged by Dr Peter Preston from Nottingham in 1996.

5 See, for example, Nathan H. Dole’s translation of 1886 of Anna Karenina by L. Tolstoy (Tolstoï, Lyof. Anna Karénina. In eight parts. Trans. by Nathan Haskell Dole. New York: Thomas Crowell, 1886), or the Maudes’s translation of 1918 (Tolstoy, Leo. Anna Karénina. (orig. 1918) Trans. by Louise and Aylmer Maude. London, New York, Toronto: OUP, 1951).

6 See Reinhold, Natalya. “On the Old and New Translations of Leo Tolstoy’s Work.” Translation zwischen Text und Welt—Translationswissenschaft als historische Disziplin zwischen Moderne und Zukunft. Hartwig Kalverkaemper/Larisa Schippel (hg.) Berlin: Frank & Timme, 2009. S. 547-563.

7 See Andrew Robertson’s reference: “Maxim Gorky. Pseudonym of Alexei Maximovich Peshkov (1868-1936), revolutionary Russian writer; DHL had read and enjoyed the tales of Gorky available in translation up to 1913 (L I; 524); contrast E.T. 121” (WP 374).

8 Cf. A. Robertson’s comment: “devil of the woods. Perhaps an allusion to The Wood Demon (1889) by Anton Chekhov (1860-1904).”

9 Cf. A. Robertson’s comment on “Ydgrun” as “Anagram of Grundy: DHL alludes to the domineering goddess of conformity and religious hypocrisy in the satire Erewhon (1872) by Samuel Butler (1835-1902), chap. XVII. (See E.T. 120)” (WP Robertson 381; 173:34).

10 Cf. A. Robertson’s comments on “Little Woman”: “DHL’s nickname for his mother (see E.T. 149 and A Memoir of D.H.Lawrence (The Betrayal) by G.H. Neville, ed. Carl Baron, Cambridge, 1982, p. 37). Cf. ‘Matouchka’ and ‘Muetterchen’ (Russian, German: little mother) […]” (Ibid. 357; 7:15).

11 See note 9.

12 Vladimir Lensky is the name of one of the central characters in Evgenii Onegin (1823-1831), Alexander Pushkin’s novel in verse; also, see Alexander Lensky (pen-name of Verviciotti, 1847-1908), a Russian actor and theatre director; Dmitry Lensky (pen-name of Vorobyov, 1805-1860), a Russian writer and actor; Pavel Lensky (pen-name of Telepnyov-Obolensky, 1832-1910), a Russian actor, etc.

13 E.T. D.H. Lawrence: A Personal Record (1935).

14 See Jessie Chambers’s [Wood’s] letters to S.S. Koteliansky of 10 November, 13 November and 19 November 1936, in Vol. MS 48974, as no 176, 180, 184 letters in the S.S. Koteliansky Paper, Vol. MS 48974. In S.S. Koteliansky’s Papers in Manuscript Student’s Room in the British Library.

15 I owe this reference to Dr Peter Preston.

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Natalya Reinhold, « The Russian Pigeons in the Groves of Eastwood », Études Lawrenciennes, 44 | 2013, 97-110.

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Natalya Reinhold, « The Russian Pigeons in the Groves of Eastwood », Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 44 | 2013, mis en ligne le 01 avril 2014, consulté le 25 mai 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/lawrence.189

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Natalya Reinhold

Natalya Reinhold has authored more than a hundred publications on twentieth-century English literature, Comparative Studies and Translation, among which “Woolf’s Russian Voyage Out” (Woolf Studies Annual, 2003), “Woolf Across Cultures” (ed., New York, 2004), the chapter on “Russian Culture and the Work of D.H. Lawrence: An Eighty-year Long Appropriation’ in The Reception of D.H. Lawrence in Europe (2007), “David and Apocalypse: Revisiting the Bible as a Means of Cultural Identification,” “A Travel Imagine,” “The Plurality of Selves and Voices in Lawrence’s Early Writing’”(Études Lawrenciennes, 2006, 2007, 2009).

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