Wednesday, 17 August 2011

This Week: Terry Gifford on DH Lawrence's Cornish Odyssey

 " Lawrence immediately found in North Cornwall what he needed: 'It has never taken the Anglo-Saxon civilisation, the Anglo-Saxon sort of Christianity. One can feel free here, for that reason – feel the world as it was in that flicker of preChristian Celtic civilisation, when humanity was really young.' He drew this sense of Celtic life directly from the landscape. Writing of a cove near Padstow, Lawrence said: 'It is a cove like Tristan sailed into, from Lyonesse – just the same. It belongs to 2,000 years back – that pre-Arthurian Celtic flicker of being which disappeared so entirely. The landscape is bare, yellow-green and brown, dropping always down to black rocks.'

In fact, it is Bosigran Farm that W G. Hoskins names in The Making of the English Landscape as the classic surviving example of a Celtic farmstead: 'the network of small, irregular fields bounded by miles of granite-boulder walls was almost impossible to change once the pattern was laid down.' Perhaps Lawrence was told later by local people that the name Bosigran means 'dwelling of Ygrain' who was, in legend, the mother of King Arthur. I can remember a fog-bound night in the Count House in' 1968 when only the four of us were crouched round a huge fire listening to the Pendeen fog horn and the rats running round the skirting board, telling ourselves that the mother of giants was dead.'

This week,Terry Gifford describes how in 1916,DH Lawrence took refuge from the censorious arbitrators of high culture and good taste and a nation in the grip of war and escaped with his entourage to Cornwall,to attempt to establish a new social order based on enlightened egalitarian principles on the wild Celtic shores.