February 5, 2016, by Stephen McKibbin
D. H. Lawrence and Work
This blog post was written by Dr Andrew Harrison, Assistant Professor in English Literature, from the School of English.
On Wednesday 13 January 2016 I participated in a pre-show discussion at the National Theatre on the topic of ‘D. H. Lawrence and Work’. The event was scheduled to accompany its current production of Husbands and Sons, a show which combines three of Lawrence’s Eastwood plays: A Collier’s Friday Night, The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd, and The Daughter-in-Law. The D. H. Lawrence Research Centre in the School of English has had close ties with the production. In the late summer of 2015, even before rehearsals started, the entire cast and crew came to Lawrence’s birthplace, Eastwood, some eight miles north-west of Nottingham, to see the area and get a feeling for the backdrop to the plays. I showed them around and answered the many questions they had about Lawrence’s life, and about the characters in his plays and his fiction. It was fascinating to be afforded an insight into the detailed way that professional actors set about researching their roles. The producers later got in contact with the University’s Department of Manuscripts and Special Collections in order to acquire facsimile items from its outstanding Lawrence collections to embellish the set and add to the period detail. Then, on 5 November 2015 Prof James Moran and Annalise Grice (an AHRC-funded PhD student at Nottingham, currently working on Lawrence and the literary marketplace) led an education day at the National Theatre entitled ‘The Theatre of D. H. Lawrence’.
My fellow participant in the pre-show panel was Pamela Cox, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Essex. The discussion took place in front of a paying audience on the actual set of the play. We found ourselves seated at a table in the carefully reproduced kitchen of a miner’s cottage. It was in certain respects the perfect setting in which to address Lawrence’s relationship to the mining community in which he grew up. The young Lawrence only began to write about life in Eastwood after he moved to London to take up a teaching post in 1908. One member of the audience suggested that perhaps we only recall the things that are closest to us once we are exiled from them. Lawrence wanted to show middle-class theatregoers what a miner’s kitchen looked like, and what miners and their families read, and how they spoke. He put all the detail into it so that they could see what he had seen, and imagine what he had imagined. Today’s theatregoers are separated from these plays not only by class difference but by history. The experience of sitting on that set brought home to me just how distant we now are from the world of coalmining which Lawrence knew so intimately. His plays have become records of a lost world of manual labour.