Lawrence in Ashes

March 2: On this day in 1930 forty-five-year-old D. H. Lawrence died in Vence, France of tuberculosis. Lawrence was so scoffing of medical (or any other) science that he refused to name or accept his condition, or to submit to any of the "magic mountain" treatments recommended to him. Having discharged himself from his French sanatorium, he spent his last months trying to complete various writing projects, and to prepare for what he knew was imminent. The following lines are from "The Ship of Death," one of his last poems:

Have you built your ship of death, O have you?

O build your ship of death, for you will need it.


The grim frost is at hand, when the apples fall

thick, almost thundrous, on the hardened earth.


And death is on the air like a smell of ashes!

Ah! can't you smell it?

Given his personality and his views on reincarnation, Lawrence was buried without ceremony in Vence, a simple phoenix symbol done in seashore pebbles marking the spot. Given his wife's personality, what happened next became so bizarre as to have been eventually taken up in a television episode of "Ripley's Believe It or Not." Five years after Lawrence's death Frieda dispatched her new partner to Vence with instructions to exhume and cremate Lawrence's remains, bringing them back to their Taos, New Mexico ranch. Freida's lover either did this, or did what he later drunkenly told friends he had done: dutifully collected the ashes in Vence, dumped them somewhere outside Marseille rather than face the bother of transport, and then filled Freida's fancy urn with ersatz ashes. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Frieda's plans were under attack by others who had been close to Lawrence; tired of the dispute over whether the ashes should be scattered (their view) or enshrined (Frieda's view), she is said to have dumped whatever her lover had delivered to her into a batch of cement being used to build the memorial altar, saying, "now let's see them steal this!" Whether in the presence of D. H. Lawrence or not, the elaborate dedication ceremony went ahead as planned -- Pueblo dancers, a Mexican orchestra, a crowd of strangers (Frieda had put an open invitation in the Santa Fe paper) eating hot dogs and drinking homemade wine.

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman's mystery of a brilliant Bangladeshi mathematician's past barrels through the Ivy League, London high finance, and spy-haunted Afghanistan in a page-turning tale of exile, intrigue and the price of friendship. A Discover Great New Writers selection.

The People's Platform

Once touted as the foundation for tomorrow's digital democracy, the Internet is increasingly ruled by a few corporate giants, while millions of contributors till its fields for free. Astra Taylor looks at why the web has failed to deliver a communitarian cyberscape, and offers a compelling case for restoring its original vision.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.