Hardcover, 158 pages
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|Memoir of Maurice Magnus
by D.H. Lawrence
edited by Keith Cushman
Maurice Magnus was to D.H. Lawrence what Joe Gould was to Joseph Mitchell: a fascinating, almost comically well-educated ne'er-do-well, small and red-faced and strutting, who, once he was introduced to the writer, began crossing his path unexpectedly yet regularly, usually looking for a handout, and quickly turned from an amusing, affectionate acquaintance into a stalking menace, "a mongrel," "a vampire," "a curse." He was also a literary inspiration: Lawrence told Catherine Carswell that his memoir of Magnus, written in 1922, was "the best single piece of writing, as writing, that I have ever done."
Magnus was an American, a snob, a mooch, a onetime manager of Isadora Duncan, and a collector of celebrities who often said that "one only has to know the right people." He was also a man of great intelligence and feeling who saw the world the way an artist does––although the only art he ever truly mastered was the art of conversation. Lawrence met him in Florence in late 1919; they were introduced by a mutual friend, the writer Norman Douglas, for whom Magnus was a kind of secretary and errand boy. Magnus was then writing a book he called Dregs, a bald and undistinguished account of his years of service in the French Foreign Legion. He was also deeply in debt, hounded by his creditors and only one step ahead of the Italian police. He turned to Lawrence for entertainment, pocket money, literary advice, and shelter––indeed, for every sort of charity and comfort. In the end Lawrence, unwilling to be anyone's guardian, turned him away. In mid-1920, friendless and with the police closing in on him, Magnus fled to Malta, where, alone in a rented room, he poisoned himself, leaving little behind but his manuscript.
Partly as a way to assuage his guilt, partly as a way to "pay the gentleman's last debts, if no others," Lawrence took it upon himself to find a publisher for Dregs. He also undertook a kind of prose portrait of Magnus as an introduction to the work. The memoir is a remarkable piece of literary portraiture, telling us as much about the author as his subject; it was also Lawrence's sole attempt at biographical writing. Lawrence is alive to both the comedy and the pathos of his relationship with Magnus, a man who struggled to become what he imagined himself to be––an artist––and failed miserably. "But if he was a scamp and a treacherous little devil," Lawrence concludes, "he also had qualities of nerve and breeding undeniable. He faced his way through that Legion experience, royal nerves dragging themselves through the sewers, without giving way. Let us be just . . . and wish him peace."
Illustrated with 12 pages of black-&-white photographs. Includes "D. H. Lawrence and Maurice Magnus: A Plea for Better Manners," a pamphlet written and published by Norman Douglas in 1925, and Lawrence's reply to Douglas in the New Stateman for 20 February
David Herbert Lawrence
was born in 1885 in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, England. Though better known as
a novelist, his first published works were poems, and his poetry, especially
his evocations of the natural world, have since had a significant influence on
many poets on both side of the Atlantic. He was charged with obscenity and
persecuted during World War I for the supposed German sypmathies of his wife,
Frieda. Consequently, they traveled around the world, spending considerable
time in Taos, New Mexico, where Lawrence became a celebrity attraction. He died
in France in 1930.
Memoir of Maurice Magnus - Black Sparrow Books