The letters of DH Lawrence to the Architectural Review hold a timely resonance for Steve Parnell
The Architectural Review of August 1930 was dedicated to Sweden and, in particular, the Stockholm Exhibition, which promoted functionalism and mass production under the supervision of Erik Gunnar Asplund
and Sigurd Lewerentz. Britain was at the beginning of a great depression, and the editor wrote a sarcastic leader entitled ‘Laissez-Faire’, blasting the English ‘pious Victorian tradition of Muddling Through’. Sweden was hailed as a paradigm to learn from. This issue also features the last article that modernist writer DH Lawrence ever wrote, published posthumously, a product of correspondence between him and then AR editor Hubert de Cronin Hastings.
Lawrence reminisces about a pre-industrialised childhood in the mining village of Eastwood, near Nottingham.
He romanticises about the simple life of honourable hard toil and comradeship ‘down pit’, followed by an enhanced, primitive appreciation of nature’s beauty on surfacing. He deplores the ‘nasty red-brick, flat-faced dwellings with dark slate roofs’ that speculators would ‘straggle in rows’. He goes on to bemoan the repression of men through ‘the din-din-dinning of Board Schools, books, cinema, clergymen, the whole national and human consciousness hammering on the fact of material prosperity above all things’, as well as the women who ‘almost invariably nagged about material things’. Here, this misogynistic Lawrence claims that women merely want to possess beauty, whereas the colliers are content simply to appreciate it.
In 1930, he wrote, ‘England is a mean and petty scrabble of paltry dwellings called “homes”,’ and that the Englishman simply accepts the ‘hopeless paltriness in his surrounding’. He could have written it yesterday. Today, our bankrupt society accepts capitalist greed and material acquisition, as well as the hopeless paltriness of our surroundings, as naturally as it does breathing.