D H Lawrence – Lady Chatterley’s Lover, 1928

Duncan, when approached, also insisted on seeing the delinquent game-keeper, so there was a dinner, this time in his flat: the four of them. Duncan was a rather short, broad, dark-skinned, taciturn Hamlet of a fellow with straight black hair and a weird Celtic conceit of himself. His art was all tubes and valves and spirals and strange colours, ultra-modern, yet with a certain power, even a certain purity of form and tone: only Mellors thought it cruel and repellent. He did not venture to say so, for Duncan was almost insane on the point of his art: it was a personal cult, a personal religion with him.

They were looking at the pictures in the studio, and Duncan kept his smallish brown eyes on the other man. He wanted to hear what the game-keeper would say. He knew already Connie’s and Hilda’s opinions.

“It is like a pure bit of murder,” said Mellors at last; a speech Duncan by no means expected from a game-keeper.

“And who is murdered?” asked Hilda, rather coldly and sneeringly.

“Me! It murders all the bowels of compassion in a man.”

A wave of pure hate came out of the artist. He heard the note of dislike in the other man’s voice, and the note of contempt. And he himself loathed the mention of bowels of compassion. Sickly sentiment!

Mellors stood rather tall and thin, worn-looking, gazing with flickering detachment that was something like the dancing of a moth on the wing, at the pictures.

“Perhaps stupidity is murdered; sentimental stupidity,” sneered the artist.

“Do you think so? I think all these tubes and corrugated vibrations are stupid enough for anything, and pretty sentimental. They show a lot of self-pity and an awful lot of nervous self-opinion, seems to me.”

In another wave of hate the artist’s face looked yellow. But with a sort of silent hauteur he turned the pictures to the wall.

“I think we may go to the dining-room,” he said. And they trailed off, dismally.

After coffee, Duncan said:

“I don’t at all mind posing as the father of Connie’s child. But only on the condition that she’ll come and pose as a model for me. I’ve wanted her for years, and she’s always refused.” He uttered it with the dark finality of an inquisitor announcing an auto da fe.

“Ah!” said Mellors. “You only do it on condition, then?”

“Quite! I only do it on that condition.” The artist tried to put the utmost contempt of the other person into his speech. He put a little too much.

“Better have me as a model at the same time,” said Mellors. “Better do us in a group, Vulcan and Venus under the net of art. I used to be a blacksmith, before I was a game-keeper.”

“Thank you,” said the artist. “I don’t think Vulcan has a figure that interests me.”

“Not even if it was tubified and titivated up?”

There was no answer. The artist was too haughty for further words.

It was a dismal party, in which the artist henceforth steadily ignored the presence of the other man, and talked only briefly, as if the words were wrung out of the depths of his gloomy portentousness, to the women.

“You didn’t like him, but he’s better than that, really. He’s really kind,” Connie explained as they left.

“He’s a little black pup with a corrugated distemper,” said Mellors.

“No, he wasn’t nice today.”

“And will you go and be a model to him?”

“Oh, I don’t really mind any more. He won’t touch me. And I don’t mind anything, if it paves the way to a life together for you and me.”

“But he’ll only shit on you on canvas.”

“I don’t care. He’ll only be painting his own feelings for me, and I don’t mind if he does that. I wouldn’t have him touch me, not for anything. But if he thinks he can do anything with his owlish arty staring, let him stare. He can make as many empty tubes and corrugations out of me as he likes. It’s his funeral. He hated you for what you said: that his tubified art is sentimental and self-important. But of course it’s true.”

D H Lawrence, 1885-1930.  Lady Chatterley’s Lover, 1928.  (Chapter 18)

Image: Duncan Grant., 1885-1978. Abstract Kinetic Painting with Sound, 1914.   The estate of Duncan Grant

Author: jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space

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