Jon Turner. Louie: Her Remarkable East Midlands Life and how the young D. H. Lawrence won her heart and then jilted her.
Louie Burrows met D. H. Lawrence at Ilkeston Pupil-Teacher Centre in 1905, and his story "Goose Fair"--his first publication in the English Review--was a revision of a story she composed. Shortly before the death of his mother in December, 1910, he asked Burrows to marry him, but he broke the engagement after he recovered from pneumonia early in February 1912. They met just once more, but Lawrence took Louie as one of his models for the "new woman," Ursula Brangwen in The Rainbow and Women in Love. Inevitably, in English literary history, Burrows's name is linked to Lawrence's.
Burrows's personal and professional life continued without fanfare for fifty years after the last time she saw Lawrence. At age 53, she married a widowed shoe manufacturer and Rutland County Councillor named Frederick Seward Heath and after the war became mistress of "a grand gentleman farmer's residence" called Greetham House. She died of a heart attack in 1962 while visiting the seaside resort where Lawrence had convalesced during the year of their engagement.
Jon Turner, a retired probation and family court welfare service worker who was born and raised near London, moved to the Midlands in the 1960s, the decade during which Burrows, then Mrs. Heath, died. Much later he came across the cottage near Cossall parish where Burrows grew up. After a second retirement from the secretaryship of the Derby Chamber Music Society, Turner, whose sense of fairness reveals itself on nearly every page of Louie, set himself the task of writing a biography of Burrows that would pull her life from the shadow of Lawrence's.
In his preface, Turner explains that he once planned to write "a poem around the theme of artistic geniuses' potential capacities to screw up the emotions and lives of those with whom they become emotionally tangled," using Johannes Brahms's fiancee, Agathe von Siebold, and Burrows as cases in point. I mention all this because in many ways the reasons for Turner's book and the problems raised by his book are more interesting than the book itself. His subtitle raises questions that go unanswered in his book: did Louie's engagement to Lawrence affect her chances for happiness in life? What is the relationship between her remarkable public accomplishments and her personal life? Turner is unable to tell us because there is virtually no available record of Louie's personal life. All he can say--and it is worth knowing--is that Louie was not in any recognizable way harmed by her association with Lawrence.
During the year he was engaged to Burrows, Lawrence was employed as a teacher at Croyden. His proposal to her after several years of friendship surprised them both--"an inspiration," he wrote. He must have seen her as a way out of his impending grief for his mother and his (in various ways) unsatisfactory relationships with Jessie Chambers, Helen Corke, and several other women. He described her as "straight and strong as a caryatid ... swarthy and ruddy as a pomegranate, and bright and vital as a pitcher of wine." No doubt Louie was all of those things, but she was also the confident, independent-minded eldest daughter of an Anglican family, and she was determined to preserve her chastity for marriage. Lawrence, then 26 and on the verge of publishing his first novel, could not afford to marry and had no patience for a long engagement. His "years of enforced virginity," John Worthen cogently explains, "had given way to a kind of compulsive arousal, divorced as far as possible from the claims of relationship."
During the year of engagement, Burrows steadfastly refused to have sex with her fiance; and, as his literary friendships flourished and their schoolteacher salaries remained low, Lawrence worked diligently at his new novel ("Paul Morel") to earn the 100 [pounds sterling] they needed to set up housekeeping. That day, of course, never came. Lawrence ended the engagement in a brief letter, explaining that his doctors advised him not to teach and not to marry. At their final meeting, according to Lawrence, he felt that a "sensation of darkness" lifted from him. Three months after Lawrence broke with Burrows, he met Frieda Weekley.
Most of the story I've just summarized may be found in Lawrence's letters and in Worthen's magisterial D. H. Lawrence: The Early Years 1885-1912. Any further importance heretofore attributed to the life of Burrows derives from Lawrence's use of her family as models for the Brangwens in The Rainbow and of Louie herself (along with Frieda) as a model for Ursula Brangwen in The Rainbow and Women in Love. It's also known that Burrows visited Lawrence's grave at Vence in 1930, that she wrote a memoir of him that has disappeared, and that she preserved her collection of letters and manuscripts from Lawrence until her death.
Though Turner's biography suffers from a lack of professional editing, he succeeds in giving readers fresh insights about the challenges that faced young teachers like Burrows, Jessie Chambers, and Lawrence as they grew up and became educated in the villages, towns, and cities of the post-Victorian Midlands. Turner's curiosity about the history, architecture, and railroad tables of his adopted region provides a dense background for the unfolding of the life of his subject and throws new sidelights on Lawrence's fiction. He reveals, for instance, that Louie's grandfather, William Burrows, had inherited an interest in a lead-mining firm but "effectively ruined it through heavy drinking" and left his children to seek their own fortunes. Thus Alfred Burrows became a lace draughtsman and inspired Lawrence to give an artisan's profession to Will Brangwen in The Rainbow.
Turner admirably reconstructs the history of Burrows's career as a teacher and as headmistress of Newry Junior School, highlighting especially her visit to Poland on a League of Nations project, her activities as a teachers' union leader and feminist, her acquisition of murals by artist John Rankine Barclay for her school, and her leadership of the school on the eve of World War II. Turner augments the resources of the Louie Burrows Papers at the University of Nottingham with original research such as official documents, contemporary journalism, school logbooks, and interviews with Burrows's nieces and nephews and former pupils. He leaves no doubt that Burrows was an accomplished, artistically sensitive, reliable, and strong-minded woman. It may be that there are persons other than Lawrentians who will benefit from Turner's effort to prove that Burrows is not just a "somebody" in relation to D. H. Lawrence, but a woman who "ought rightly to be considered as a somebody in her own right too."
And yet, Turner's impulse to write Burrows's biography seems to be rooted in disapproval of the way Lawrence treated her. He writes that Louie's life was not "ruined" by Lawrence's "breaking off of their engagement: the damage was done when he proposed to her in the first place." Such admonitions by Turner add little new to our understanding of Louie, and none of Turner's sources was able to tell him how Burrows was "ruined" or if Burrows had any romantic relationships with men or women between 1912 and her marriage to Frederick Heath.
Turner offsets his inability to turn up new personal information about Burrows with what he calls "notional" biography: he offers a fictional account of Louie's train trip across France to visit Lawrence's grave that reminds us of just what an undertaking this was for a lone woman in 1930. He believes that this trip proves the depth of Louie's "abiding love and devotion" to Lawrence, but, reading it, I wondered if that journey did not also beckon to a hardworking, independent woman as a chance for adventure that she wouldn't have taken otherwise. In other cases, Turner sends up trial balloons that may inspire future researchers and critics. For instance, almost in passing he quotes actor Tracy-Ann Oberman: "a lot of strong women ... need the danger and excitement of being destabilized, the thought there's one area in their life they cannot control--and that's their man." Turner acknowledges that this idea "seemed to explain something in Louie's emotional make up for me."
With such moments of insight Turner's book most stirred my curiosity and made me wish that some letters by Burrows or even her missing memoir will be found in an attic in the Midlands or farther afield. Because to truly value Burrows in her own right, we need a greater sense of how she experienced her own life. Turner's diligent research and good intentions may indeed alter the way later scholars and critics evaluate and portray Louisa Burrows Heath. The book is available for purchase from Reprint, Beacon View, Abberton Way, Loughborough, Leics, United Kingdon LE11 4NX or from www.reprintuk.com.
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|Publication:||D.H. Lawrence Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2011|
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