D H Lawrence – Women in Love,1920

Joseph Moest,1873-1914 Godiva, 1906

It happened in the afternoon that Ursula sat in the Reunionsaal talking to Loerke. The latter had seemed unhappy lately. He was lively and full of mischievous humour, as usual.

But Ursula had thought he was sulky about something. His partner, too, the big, fair, good-looking youth, was ill at ease, going about as if he belonged to nowhere, and was kept in some sort of subjection, against which he was rebelling.

Loerke had hardly talked to Gudrun. His associate, on the other hand, had paid her constantly a soft, over-deferential attention. Gudrun wanted to talk to Loerke. He was a sculptor, and she wanted to hear his view of his art. And his figure attracted her. There was the look of a little wastrel about him, that intrigued her, and an old man’s look, that interested her, and then, beside this, an uncanny singleness, a quality of being by himself, not in contact with anybody else, that marked out an artist to her. He was a chatterer, a magpie, a maker of mischievous word-jokes, that were sometimes very clever, but which often were not. And she could see in his brown, gnome’s eyes, the black look of inorganic misery, which lay behind all his small buffoonery.

His figure interested her—the figure of a boy, almost a street arab. He made no attempt to conceal it. He always wore a simple loden suit, with knee breeches. His legs were thin, and he made no attempt to disguise the fact: which was of itself remarkable, in a German. And he never ingratiated himself anywhere, not in the slightest, but kept to himself, for all his apparent playfulness.

Leitner, his companion, was a great sportsman, very handsome with his big limbs and his blue eyes. Loerke would go toboganning or skating, in little snatches, but he was indifferent. And his fine, thin nostrils, the nostrils of a pure-bred street arab, would quiver with contempt at Leitner’s splothering gymnastic displays. It was evident that the two men who had travelled and lived together, sharing the same bedroom, had now reached the stage of loathing. Leitner hated Loerke with an injured, writhing, impotent hatred, and Loerke treated Leitner with a fine-quivering contempt and sarcasm. Soon the two would have to go apart.

Already they were rarely together. Leitner ran attaching himself to somebody or other, always deferring, Loerke was a good deal alone. Out of doors he wore a Westphalian cap, a close brown-velvet head with big brown velvet flaps down over his ears, so that he looked like a lop-eared rabbit, or a troll. His face was brown-red, with a dry, bright skin, that seemed to crinkle with his mobile expressions. His eyes were arresting—brown, full, like a rabbit’s, or like a troll’s, or like the eyes of a lost being, having a strange, dumb, depraved look of knowledge, and a quick spark of uncanny fire. Whenever Gudrun had tried to talk to him he had shied away unresponsive, looking at her with his watchful dark eyes, but entering into no relation with her. He had made her feel that her slow French and her slower German, were hateful to him. As for his own inadequate English, he was much too awkward to try it at all. But he understood a good deal of what was said, nevertheless. And Gudrun, piqued, left him alone.

This afternoon, however, she came into the lounge as he was talking to Ursula. His fine, black hair somehow reminded her of a bat, thin as it was on his full, sensitive-looking head, and worn away at the temples. He sat hunched up, as if his spirit were bat-like. And Gudrun could see he was making some slow confidence to Ursula, unwilling, a slow, grudging, scanty self-revelation. She went and sat by her sister.

He looked at her, then looked away again, as if he took no notice of her. But as a matter of fact, she interested him deeply.

‘Isn’t it interesting, Prune,’ said Ursula, turning to her sister, ‘Herr Loerke is doing a great frieze for a factory in Cologne, for the outside, the street.’

She looked at him, at his thin, brown, nervous hands, that were prehensile, and somehow like talons, like ‘griffes,’ inhuman.

‘What IN?’ she asked.

‘AUS WAS?’ repeated Ursula.

‘GRANIT,’ he replied.

It had become immediately a laconic series of question and answer between fellow craftsmen.

‘What is the relief?’ asked Gudrun.

‘Alto relievo.’

‘And at what height?’

It was very interesting to Gudrun to think of his making the great granite frieze for a great granite factory in Cologne. She got from him some notion of the design. It was a representation of a fair, with peasants and artisans in an orgy of enjoyment, drunk and absurd in their modern dress, whirling ridiculously in roundabouts, gaping at shows, kissing and staggering and rolling in knots, swinging in swing-boats, and firing down shooting galleries, a frenzy of chaotic motion.

There was a swift discussion of technicalities. Gudrun was very much impressed.

‘But how wonderful, to have such a factory!’ cried Ursula. ‘Is the whole building fine?’

‘Oh yes,’ he replied. ‘The frieze is part of the whole architecture. Yes, it is a colossal thing.’

Then he seemed to stiffen, shrugged his shoulders, and went on:

‘Sculpture and architecture must go together. The day for irrelevant statues, as for wall pictures, is over. As a matter of fact sculpture is always part of an architectural conception. And since churches are all museum stuff, since industry is our business, now, then let us make our places of industry our art—our factory-area our Parthenon, ECCO!’

Ursula pondered.

‘I suppose,’ she said, ‘there is no NEED for our great works to be so hideous.’

Instantly he broke into motion.

‘There you are!’ he cried, ‘there you are! There is not only NO NEED for our places of work to be ugly, but their ugliness ruins the work, in the end. Men will not go on submitting to such intolerable ugliness. In the end it will hurt too much, and they will wither because of it. And this will wither the WORK as well. They will think the work itself is ugly: the machines, the very act of labour. Whereas the machinery and the acts of labour are extremely, maddeningly beautiful. But this will be the end of our civilisation, when people will not work because work has become so intolerable to their senses, it nauseates them too much, they would rather starve. THEN we shall see the hammer used only for smashing, then we shall see it. Yet here we are—we have the opportunity to make beautiful factories, beautiful machine-houses—we have the opportunity—’

Gudrun could only partly understand. She could have cried with vexation.

‘What does he say?’ she asked Ursula. And Ursula translated, stammering and brief. Loerke watched Gudrun’s face, to see her judgment.

‘And do you think then,’ said Gudrun, ‘that art should serve industry?’

‘Art should INTERPRET industry, as art once interpreted religion,’ he said.

‘But does your fair interpret industry?’ she asked him.

‘Certainly. What is man doing, when he is at a fair like this? He is fulfilling the counterpart of labour—the machine works him, instead of he the machine. He enjoys the mechanical motion, in his own body.’

‘But is there nothing but work—mechanical work?’ said Gudrun.

‘Nothing but work!’ he repeated, leaning forward, his eyes two darknesses, with needle-points of light. ‘No, it is nothing but this, serving a machine, or enjoying the motion of a machine—motion, that is all. You have never worked for hunger, or you would know what god governs us.’

Gudrun quivered and flushed. For some reason she was almost in tears.

‘No, I have not worked for hunger,’ she replied, ‘but I have worked!’

‘Travaille—lavorato?’ he asked. ‘E che lavoro—che lavoro? Quel travail est-ce que vous avez fait?’

He broke into a mixture of Italian and French, instinctively using a foreign language when he spoke to her.

‘You have never worked as the world works,’ he said to her, with sarcasm.

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I have. And I do—I work now for my daily bread.’

He paused, looked at her steadily, then dropped the subject entirely. She seemed to him to be trifling.

‘But have YOU ever worked as the world works?’ Ursula asked him.

He looked at her untrustful.

‘Yes,’ he replied, with a surly bark. ‘I have known what it was to lie in bed for three days, because I had nothing to eat.’

Gudrun was looking at him with large, grave eyes, that seemed to draw the confession from him as the marrow from his bones. All his nature held him back from confessing. And yet her large, grave eyes upon him seemed to open some valve in his veins, and involuntarily he was telling.

‘My father was a man who did not like work, and we had no mother. We lived in Austria, Polish Austria. How did we live? Ha!—somehow! Mostly in a room with three other families—one set in each corner—and the W.C. in the middle of the room—a pan with a plank on it—ha! I had two brothers and a sister—and there might be a woman with my father. He was a free being, in his way—would fight with any man in the town—a garrison town—and was a little man too. But he wouldn’t work for anybody—set his heart against it, and wouldn’t.’

‘And how did you live then?’ asked Ursula.

He looked at her—then, suddenly, at Gudrun.

‘Do you understand?’ he asked.

‘Enough,’ she replied.

Their eyes met for a moment. Then he looked away. He would say no more.

‘And how did you become a sculptor?’ asked Ursula.

‘How did I become a sculptor—’ he paused. ‘Dunque—’ he resumed, in a changed manner, and beginning to speak French—’I became old enough—I used to steal from the market-place. Later I went to work—imprinted the stamp on clay bottles, before they were baked. It was an earthenware-bottle factory. There I began making models. One day, I had had enough. I lay in the sun and did not go to work. Then I walked to Munich—then I walked to Italy—begging, begging everything.’

‘The Italians were very good to me—they were good and honourable to me. From Bozen to Rome, almost every night I had a meal and a bed, perhaps of straw, with some peasant. I love the Italian people, with all my heart.

‘Dunque, adesso—maintenant—I earn a thousand pounds in a year, or I earn two thousand—’

He looked down at the ground, his voice tailing off into silence.

Gudrun looked at his fine, thin, shiny skin, reddish-brown from the sun, drawn tight over his full temples; and at his thin hair—and at the thick, coarse, brush-like moustache, cut short about his mobile, rather shapeless mouth.

Meanwhile Gudrun and Ursula waited for the next opportunity to talk to Loerke. It was no use beginning when the men were there. Then they could get into no touch with the isolated little sculptor. He had to be alone with them. And he preferred Ursula to be there, as a sort of transmitter to Gudrun.

‘Do you do nothing but architectural sculpture?’ Gudrun asked him one evening.

‘Not now,’ he replied. ‘I have done all sorts—except portraits—I never did portraits. But other things—’

‘What kind of things?’ asked Gudrun.

He paused a moment, then rose, and went out of the room. He returned almost immediately with a little roll of paper, which he handed to her. She unrolled it. It was a photogravure reproduction of a statuette, signed F. Loerke.

‘That is quite an early thing—NOT mechanical,’ he said, ‘more popular.’

The statuette was of a naked girl, small, finely made, sitting on a great naked horse. The girl was young and tender, a mere bud. She was sitting sideways on the horse, her face in her hands, as if in shame and grief, in a little abandon. Her hair, which was short and must be flaxen, fell forward, divided, half covering her hands.

Her limbs were young and tender. Her legs, scarcely formed yet, the legs of a maiden just passing towards cruel womanhood, dangled childishly over the side of the powerful horse, pathetically, the small feet folded one over the other, as if to hide. But there was no hiding. There she was exposed naked on the naked flank of the horse.

The horse stood stock still, stretched in a kind of start. It was a massive, magnificent stallion, rigid with pent-up power. Its neck was arched and terrible, like a sickle, its flanks were pressed back, rigid with power.

Gudrun went pale, and a darkness came over her eyes, like shame, she looked up with a certain supplication, almost slave-like. He glanced at her, and jerked his head a little.

‘How big is it?’ she asked, in a toneless voice, persisting in appearing casual and unaffected.

‘How big?’ he replied, glancing again at her. ‘Without pedestal—so high—’ he measured with his hand—’with pedestal, so—’

He looked at her steadily. There was a little brusque, turgid contempt for her in his swift gesture, and she seemed to cringe a little.

‘And what is it done in?’ she asked, throwing back her head and looking at him with affected coldness.

He still gazed at her steadily, and his dominance was not shaken.

‘Bronze—green bronze.’

‘Green bronze!’ repeated Gudrun, coldly accepting his challenge. She was thinking of the slender, immature, tender limbs of the girl, smooth and cold in green bronze.

‘Yes, beautiful,’ she murmured, looking up at him with a certain dark homage.

He closed his eyes and looked aside, triumphant.

‘Why,’ said Ursula, ‘did you make the horse so stiff? It is as stiff as a block.’

‘Stiff?’ he repeated, in arms at once.

‘Yes. LOOK how stock and stupid and brutal it is. Horses are sensitive, quite delicate and sensitive, really.’

He raised his shoulders, spread his hands in a shrug of slow indifference, as much as to inform her she was an amateur and an impertinent nobody.

‘Wissen Sie,’ he said, with an insulting patience and condescension in his voice, ‘that horse is a certain FORM, part of a whole form. It is part of a work of art, a piece of form. It is not a picture of a friendly horse to which you give a lump of sugar, do you see—it is part of a work of art, it has no relation to anything outside that work of art.’

Ursula, angry at being treated quite so insultingly DE HAUT EN BAS, from the height of esoteric art to the depth of general exoteric amateurism, replied, hotly, flushing and lifting her face.

‘But it IS a picture of a horse, nevertheless.’

He lifted his shoulders in another shrug.

‘As you like—it is not a picture of a cow, certainly.’

Here Gudrun broke in, flushed and brilliant, anxious to avoid any more of this, any more of Ursula’s foolish persistence in giving herself away.

‘What do you mean by “it is a picture of a horse?”‘ she cried at her sister. ‘What do you mean by a horse? You mean an idea you have in YOUR head, and which you want to see represented. There is another idea altogether, quite another idea. Call it a horse if you like, or say it is not a horse. I have just as much right to say that YOUR horse isn’t a horse, that it is a falsity of your own make-up.’

Ursula wavered, baffled. Then her words came.

‘But why does he have this idea of a horse?’ she said. ‘I know it is his idea. I know it is a picture of himself, really—’

Loerke snorted with rage.

‘A picture of myself!’ he repeated, in derision. ‘Wissen sie, gnadige Frau, that is a Kunstwerk, a work of art. It is a work of art, it is a picture of nothing, of absolutely nothing. It has nothing to do with anything but itself, it has no relation with the everyday world of this and other, there is no connection between them, absolutely none, they are two different and distinct planes of existence, and to translate one into the other is worse than foolish, it is a darkening of all counsel, a making confusion everywhere. Do you see, you MUST NOT confuse the relative work of action, with the absolute world of art. That you MUST NOT DO.’

‘That is quite true,’ cried Gudrun, let loose in a sort of rhapsody. ‘The two things are quite and permanently apart, they have NOTHING to do with one another. I and my art, they have nothing to do with each other. My art stands in another world, I am in this world.’

Her face was flushed and transfigured. Loerke who was sitting with his head ducked, like some creature at bay, looked up at her, swiftly, almost furtively, and murmured,

‘Ja—so ist es, so ist es.’

Ursula was silent after this outburst. She was furious. She wanted to poke a hole into them both.

‘It isn’t a word of it true, of all this harangue you have made me,’ she replied flatly. ‘The horse is a picture of your own stock, stupid brutality, and the girl was a girl you loved and tortured and then ignored.’

He looked up at her with a small smile of contempt in his eyes. He would not trouble to answer this last charge.

Gudrun too was silent in exasperated contempt. Ursula WAS such an insufferable outsider, rushing in where angels would fear to tread. But then—fools must be suffered, if not gladly.

But Ursula was persistent too.

‘As for your world of art and your world of reality,’ she replied, ‘you have to separate the two, because you can’t bear to know what you are. You can’t bear to realise what a stock, stiff, hide-bound brutality you ARE really, so you say “it’s the world of art.” The world of art is only the truth about the real world, that’s all—but you are too far gone to see it.’

She was white and trembling, intent. Gudrun and Loerke sat in stiff dislike of her. Gerald too, who had come up in the beginning of the speech, stood looking at her in complete disapproval and opposition. He felt she was undignified, she put a sort of vulgarity over the esotericism which gave man his last distinction. He joined his forces with the other two. They all three wanted her to go away. But she sat on in silence, her soul weeping, throbbing violently, her fingers twisting her handkerchief.

The others maintained a dead silence, letting the display of Ursula’s obtrusiveness pass by. Then Gudrun asked, in a voice that was quite cool and casual, as if resuming a casual conversation:

‘Was the girl a model?’

‘Nein, sie war kein Modell. Sie war eine kleine Malschulerin.’

‘An art-student!’ replied Gudrun.

And how the situation revealed itself to her! She saw the girl art-student, unformed and of pernicious recklessness, too young, her straight flaxen hair cut short, hanging just into her neck, curving inwards slightly, because it was rather thick; and Loerke, the well-known master-sculptor, and the girl, probably well-brought-up, and of good family, thinking herself so great to be his mistress. Oh how well she knew the common callousness of it all. Dresden, Paris, or London, what did it matter? She knew it.

‘Where is she now?’ Ursula asked.

Loerke raised his shoulders, to convey his complete ignorance and indifference.

‘That is already six years ago,’ he said; ‘she will be twenty-three years old, no more good.’

Gerald had picked up the picture and was looking at it. It attracted him also. He saw on the pedestal, that the piece was called ‘Lady Godiva.’

‘But this isn’t Lady Godiva,’ he said, smiling good-humouredly. ‘She was the middle-aged wife of some Earl or other, who covered herself with her long hair.’

‘A la Maud Allan,’ said Gudrun with a mocking grimace.

‘Why Maud Allan?’ he replied. ‘Isn’t it so? I always thought the legend was that.’

‘Yes, Gerald dear, I’m quite SURE you’ve got the legend perfectly.’

She was laughing at him, with a little, mock-caressive contempt.

‘To be sure, I’d rather see the woman than the hair,’ he laughed in return.

‘Wouldn’t you just!’ mocked Gudrun.

Ursula rose and went away, leaving the three together.

Gudrun took the picture again from Gerald, and sat looking at it closely.

‘Of course,’ she said, turning to tease Loerke now, ‘you UNDERSTOOD your little Malschulerin.’

He raised his eyebrows and his shoulders in a complacent shrug.

‘The little girl?’ asked Gerald, pointing to the figure.

Gudrun was sitting with the picture in her lap. She looked up at Gerald, full into his eyes, so that he seemed to be blinded.

‘DIDN’T he understand her!’ she said to Gerald, in a slightly mocking, humorous playfulness. ‘You’ve only to look at the feet—AREN’T they darling, so pretty and tender—oh, they’re really wonderful, they are really—’

She lifted her eyes slowly, with a hot, flaming look into Loerke’s eyes. His soul was filled with her burning recognition, he seemed to grow more uppish and lordly.

Gerald looked at the small, sculptured feet. They were turned together, half covering each other in pathetic shyness and fear. He looked at them a long time, fascinated. Then, in some pain, he put the picture away from him. He felt full of barrenness.

‘What was her name?’ Gudrun asked Loerke.

‘Annette von Weck,’ Loerke replied reminiscent. ‘Ja, sie war hubsch. She was pretty—but she was tiresome. She was a nuisance,—not for a minute would she keep still—not until I’d slapped her hard and made her cry—then she’d sit for five minutes.’

He was thinking over the work, his work, the all important to him.

‘Did you really slap her?’ asked Gudrun, coolly.

He glanced back at her, reading her challenge.

‘Yes, I did,’ he said, nonchalant, ‘harder than I have ever beat anything in my life. I had to, I had to. It was the only way I got the work done.’

Gudrun watched him with large, dark-filled eyes, for some moments. She seemed to be considering his very soul. Then she looked down, in silence.

‘Why did you have such a young Godiva then?’ asked Gerald. ‘She is so small, besides, on the horse—not big enough for it—such a child.’

A queer spasm went over Loerke’s face.

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I don’t like them any bigger, any older. Then they are beautiful, at sixteen, seventeen, eighteen—after that, they are no use to me.’

There was a moment’s pause.

‘Why not?’ asked Gerald.

Loerke shrugged his shoulders.

‘I don’t find them interesting—or beautiful—they are no good to me, for my work.’

‘Do you mean to say a woman isn’t beautiful after she is twenty?’ asked Gerald.

‘For me, no. Before twenty, she is small and fresh and tender and slight. After that—let her be what she likes, she has nothing for me. The Venus of Milo is a bourgeoise—so are they all.’

‘And you don’t care for women at all after twenty?’ asked Gerald.

‘They are no good to me, they are of no use in my art,’ Loerke repeated impatiently. ‘I don’t find them beautiful.’

‘You are an epicure,’ said Gerald, with a slight sarcastic laugh.

‘And what about men?’ asked Gudrun suddenly.

‘Yes, they are good at all ages,’ replied Loerke. ‘A man should be big and powerful—whether he is old or young is of no account, so he has the size, something of massiveness and—and stupid form.’

Ursula went out alone into the world of pure, new snow. But the dazzling whiteness seemed to beat upon her till it hurt her, she felt the cold was slowly strangling her soul. Her head felt dazed and numb.

DH Lawrence. Women in Love, 1920.  Chapter XXIX, Continental

Image: Joseph Moest, 1873-1914. Lady Godiva 1906. Bronze. 21.5 x 35 x 8.5 cm. Stadtmuseum, Cologne. The sculpture may have inspired the description of Loerke’s work in Women in Love.

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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