Circulating Genius

Circulating Genius: John Middleton Murry, Katherine Mansfield and D. H. Lawrence

Sydney Janet Kaplan
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Circulating Genius
    Book Description:

    The relationship between the personal lives of writers and the works they produce is at the heart of this intriguing new study. In particular, it reconsiders the place of John Middleton Murry (1889-1957) in the development of literary modernism in Britain. Drawing on Murry's unpublished journals and long-forgotten novels, Circulating Genius examines his significance as a 'circulator' of ideas, reputations and critical positions in his roles of editor, literary critic, novelist, friend and lover and complicates the arguments of earlier biographers and critics about his relationships - both personal and professional - with Katherine Mansfield and D. H. Lawrence.Key Features* Rewrites standard assumptions about John Middleton Murry's relationships with Katherine Mansfield and D. H. Lawrence* Provides intertextual readings of fiction by Mansfield, Lawrence and Murry* Considers Murry's controversial role in the dissemination of modernist critical positions* Explores marginalisation and centrality in the creation of the modernist canon

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-4366-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    There must be a certain perversity in writing a book centred on John Middleton Murry (1889–1957), the editor and critic who was once called ‘the best-hated man of letters’ (L: 213).¹ After all, didn’t Virginia Woolf name him ‘the one vile man I have ever known’ (LVW 4: 312)? And wasn’t he supposed to be the infamous editor Burlap in Aldous Huxley’s Point Counter Point? And didn’t D. H. Lawrence once call him ‘an obscene bug sucking my life away’ (RDHL: 79)? There was something about Murry that alienated people and even his supporters have prefaced their remarks (as...

  6. Chapter 1 ʹMy Blundering Way of Learningʹ: Murryʹs Still Life
    (pp. 13-37)

    John Middleton Murry’s first novel, Still Life, published in 1916, was considered a failure by friends and critics alike. Lawrence complained that it was ‘the kind of wriggling self-abuse I can’t make head or tail of’ (LDHL 3: 53). His complaint conceals a troubled history of his relations with Murry, but it astutely addresses one of modernism’s most significant critical problems: how to combine the new psychological awareness of the moderns with a literary form that would control the inevitable tendency to self-disclosure, a subject Murry was interrogating in his concurrent critical writing. The density of his novel results from...

  7. Chapter 2 Still Life and Women in Love
    (pp. 38-56)

    According to Murry, he only sought from Lawrence ‘the warmth and security of personal affection’ when he visited Greatham in February 1915. He later recognised that Lawrence’s response to his need was more complex: ‘What his consciousness required was an impersonal bond between us: that we should be servants of the same purpose, disciples of the same ideal’ (BTW: 332). Murry was confused by that because ‘ideas and purposes meant nothing to me. Persons were everything . . . But when, as now, we were intimately together, I felt that Lawrence was making a personal appeal to me to follow...

  8. Chapter 3 From Still Life to ʹBlissʹ
    (pp. 57-71)

    The gradual shift from the influence of Lawrence to that of Bloomsbury marks a significant turning point in Murry’s and Mansfield’s positioning within British modernism. Their tentative, still awkward entry into the circle around Lady Ottoline Morrell at Garsington in the summer of 1916 would lead them in new directions, with profound consequences. It would not take long, however, for the same configurations of erotic desire and displaced sexual energy that lurked behind Murry’s writing of Still Life to surface under the pressures of a new, if painfully familiar, triangular situation. This time Mansfield’s jealousy would not be aroused by...

  9. Chapter 4 ʹA Furious Blissʹ
    (pp. 72-95)

    There is a moment in Women in Love when Birkin at last concedes to Ursula’s demand and admits that he loves her, saying: ‘“Yes, I do. I love you, and I know it’s final. It is final, so why say any more about it”’ (WL: 251). He then embraces her and suddenly feels

    such peace and heavenly freedom, just to fold her and kiss her gently, and not to have any thoughts or any desires or any will, just to be still with her, to be perfectly still and together, in a peace that was not sleep, but content in...

  10. Chapter 5 ʹWith Cannonballs for Eyesʹ
    (pp. 96-117)

    A happy ending to their epistolary story remained only in the realm of the imagination for Murry and Mansfield. The linear movement of a teleological narrative suggests some form of apocalyptic transformation: the timeless ‘bliss’ of The Heron. But Mansfield’s return to London on 11 April 1918 is only the beginning of another story, a return to a cyclical rather than a teleological pattern. It is a return to dissatisfaction with Murry, to Bloomsbury social politics, to the competition and opportunism of the literary life, a narrative pattern far more in keeping with the flavour of modernist disjunction, disillusionment and...

  11. Chapter 6 ʹThe Coming Man and Womanʹ
    (pp. 118-136)

    ‘You are evidently a genius as an editor – nothing short of that – a perfect genius’, Mansfield tells Murry on 13 October 1919, after reading through a particularly lively issue of the Athenaeum (KMCL 3: 21). Murry is equally complimentary in his response to her letter on 17 October, exclaiming that she is ‘the only genius in the whole bunch of good ones among us’ (LJMM: 187). He also magnanimously suggests she help Lawrence by writing something on Sons and Lovers, ‘saying how it stands out etc. You know what the average is like nowadays & you can speak your...

  12. Chapter 7 The Things We Are
    (pp. 137-156)

    Unlike Robert Salesby in ‘The Man Without a Temperament’, Murry appeared to settle into his new life abroad with Mansfield in 1921 without apparent signs of repressed resentment. Robert Salesby had been cast adrift with nothing to occupy himself but the daily rituals of taking tea with his wife and bringing her a shawl. The one essential quality that Mansfield had neglected to give him was a dedication to the act of writing. In contrast, Murry would find himself suddenly freed from the exhaustive entanglements – professional and social – of the Athenaeum, and now ready to pursue his creative...

  13. Chapter 8 Circulating Mansfield
    (pp. 157-173)

    Katherine Mansfield’s death did not follow a period of heightened intensity in her relationship with Murry, rather the contrary. Her last year displayed yet another cycle, similar to those in the past, of closeness, misunderstanding, disappointment and separation. Even during the relatively peaceful and productive months alone together at the Chalet, there had been signs of difficulty, which Murry did not completely perceive. On 7 September 1921, two days after he had sent The Things We Are to his publishers, Mansfield wrote to Ida Baker requesting that she take on the job of managing the household again, realising that she...

  14. Chapter 9 Circulating Lawrence
    (pp. 174-194)

    Mansfield’s softening of heart towards Lawrence during the last months of her life allowed for a gradual reconciliation to begin for Murry as well. Apparently, some time in December 1922, Murry wrote to Lawrence in New Mexico, ‘suggesting’ that their ‘relation should be renewed’ (RDHL: 98). He responded, cautiously, on 30 December: ‘Heaven knows what we all are, and how we should feel if we met, now that we are changed. We’ll have to meet and see’ (LDHL 4: 364). Lawrence’s softening might have been hastened by Murry’s positive review of Aaron’s Rod in August. Nevertheless, Murry’s need for Lawrence...

  15. Chapter 10 Circulating Murry
    (pp. 195-213)

    If Murry had more than two decades to come to terms with Lawrence’s ‘excessive sensibility’ and to realise his ‘genius’ without ‘ignoring the contradictions’ (Murry 1957: 121), Lawrence would never be able to do the same for Murry. He died too soon, and his circulation of Murry during his last years was almost totally negative. The spate of fiction following Murry’s romantic entanglement with Frieda in the autumn of 1923 contains representations of Murry that reveal Lawrence’s animosity so blatantly that it must have been obvious to all their mutual acquaintances. Earlier, when Lawrence might have suggested aspects of his...

  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 214-220)
  17. Index
    (pp. 221-230)