Friday, 3 February 2012

D H Lawrence and "Mr Noon" ~ 'What is man, his days are as grass...'

'What is man, his days are as grass.  Though he rise today above the vulgar democratic leaves of grass as high as a towering stalk of fools-parley, tomorrow the scythe of the mower will leave him as low as the dandelion.  What is a social status nowadays?  The wind passeth over it and it is gone, though the place thereof may see it again next summer, even the crown of the cow-parsnip soaring above the herd of green...'
This excerpt is from Chapter 13 of "Mr Noon, Part Two" by D. H. Lawrence.

When I reflect on my own changing fortunes and that of those around me I often find reassurance in this particular passage.  And I imagine that Lawrence had a kindly twinkle in his eyes when he wrote it...  

Lawrence had close personal experience of the vagaries of wealth and poverty, social standing and the loss of it, and was an acute observer of the natural world.  The main character of "Mr Noon", Gilbert Noon himself, certainly shared this acquaintance! 

"Mr Noon", which is written in two distinct parts, is one of my favourite books.  Aside from having the same main character, Parts One and Two are very different in style as well as content, and Part Two has the distinction of being a raw first draft which was never completed.  Their publication history is also very disjointed: Part One was published in 1934, and Part Two in 1984, but both have great charm.  They have in common a depiction of the human state which is both wry and comical, and a wealth of widely divergent characters.  Set against a background rich in the social context of pre-World War One England and Germany, the stories dance of the pages.  Part Two includes many vivid observations of the German countryside. 
In Part Two I very much enjoy the sense of impulsiveness in his writing, the tangential asides and unrefined text, my only disappointment being the trailing off of the narrative in the last episode of the book.  It is a lightly fictionalised account of the early phase of his relationship with Frieda von Richthofen, who became his wife, and he may have felt that the story was too personal to pursue.  Whatever the case it is clear that he lost interest in telling it as the draft was abandoned in mid-sentence.

Setting that aside, to read it is to spend an evening or two with the great man himself, as he revisits his past with affection, good humour, and a decidedly dry wit.  I'm grateful to him for sharing it for all the happy hours I have had of reading and re-reading it.

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