July 4, 2016, by Kathryn Steenson

Catching ‘The Flying Fish’

The University of Nottingham has recently acquired an important literary manuscript written by the author D H Lawrence. ‘The Flying Fish’ is an unfinished short story written by Lawrence in March 1925 during a stay in Mexico City. It tells the story of an Englishman in Mexico who is called back to his ancestral home in the East Midlands. He sails from Vera Cruz, and at the start of his journey enjoys sitting “for hours at the very tip of the ship, on the bow sprit, looking out into the whitish sunshine of the hot Gulf of Mexico”, where he sees “flocks of flying-fish swept into the air, from nowhere…brilliantly twinkling in their flight of silvery watery wings rapidly fluttering”.

Handwritten pages, ink on paper

The newly acquired manuscript of ‘The Flying Fish’ by D H Lawrence (ref: La L 30)

Lawrence fell desperately ill during his stay in Mexico and was advised by his doctor not to write, so he dictated the first part of the story to his wife Frieda. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis, the disease which would ultimately lead to his death in 1930. Fortunately Lawrence recovered sufficiently to write the remaining part of the story himself. The two very different styles of handwriting are an unusual and interesting feature of the manuscript.

Black and white photograph of the five people sitting in a row

Idella Purnell, D.H. Lawrence, Frieda Lawrence, Willard Johnson and Dr George E. Purnell (from left to right) at a cantina in Chapala, Mexico. The photograph was taken by Witter Bynner in 1923.

‘The Flying Fish’ remained unfinished and unpublished during Lawrence’s lifetime. The reason why Lawrence never finished the story is a mystery, but his friends Earl and Achsah Brewster recalled Lawrence telling them “I’ve an intuition I shall not finish that novel. It was written so near the borderline of death, that I never have been able to carry it through, in the cold light of day.” It was finally published in 1936 in the volume Phoenix: the posthumous papers of D H Lawrence edited by Edward D. McDonald (New York: Viking Press, 1936).

Dust jacket of Phoenix, which is plain white except for the title, author and publisher

‘The Flying Fish’ first appeared in Phoenix: The posthumous papers of D H Lawrence. This is the first ‘cheap edition’ published by Heinemann in 1936.

D H Lawrence wearing a suit and tie in Mexico in 1925

D H Lawrence in Mexico in 1925 (ref: La Phot 1/19)














The manuscript has just been catalogued and the surrogate copy, Ref: La L 30, can be viewed in our Reading Room at the King’s Meadow Campus. For more information about our D H Lawrence resources or any of our other holdings, please see our website or follow us on Twitter @mssUniNott.

Posted in Acquisitions