Sunday, December 6, 2020

Bertrand Russell: The Spirit of Solitude, 1872-1921 IX

Russell and D.H. Lawrence hit it off very well initially, but it appears that they misunderstood each other, and over time Lawrence became critical of Russell, who usually took criticism very badly. When Lawrence visited Russell in Cambridge, he was extremely put off by John Maynard Keynes when he met him, because he was homophobic, or perhaps scared of homosexual impulses. By the end of 1915, Russell had reached the conclusion that Lawrence's ideas were incoherent, and he stopped communicating with him. It took Lawrence a while to catch on, because he was used to berating people without ruining his relationships with them. Although it isn't entirely clear, it seems possible that Lawrence saw in Russell an inroad to form the kind of utopian community that he envisioned. For his part, Russell saw in Lawrence the hope of curing his lifelong condition of feeling irremediably isolated from other people – which I doubt that Lawrence could fully understand.

On a more positive note, Ottoline and her husband, Philip, purchased Garsington, a country manor in Oxfordshire, which quickly became a salon and retreat for artists and writers. It is portrayed by Aldous Huxley in Crome Yellow and by D.H. Lawrence in Women in Love. Other regulars included Vanessa and Clive Bell, Duncan Grant, Lytton Strachey, Mark Gertler and Gilbert Cannan. According to Monk, Russell didn't feel comfortable in this crowd, because, besides not being artistic, what he really sought was companionship with Ottoline, who was increasingly shutting him out. For me, though I'm neither an artist nor an intellectual, Garsington presents an appealing image, since I have never found a comparable group of like-minded people with whom to mingle. At this point, my feeling is that the U.S. must be the crassest of crass countries – where, unfortunately, I'm probably going to spend the remainder of my life.

In my reading, I am starting to like Ottoline Morrell a lot more than Bertrand Russell, though she seems to be fading out of his life at the moment. Like Russell, she left a lot of letters and autobiographical writings, and I find her quite perceptive, but also warm and loyal in her friendships. She immediately noticed that Frieda Lawrence was rude and uncivilized. When she met T.S. Eliot, she found him boring, and didn't think much of his wife, Vivien, either: she seemed crude. Ottoline was also quick to see through Russell's little schemes to manipulate her. I'm not sure that I approve of her open marriage, but she seems to have brought a rare spirit to Russell and others who knew her.

At around this time, T.S. Eliot had been studying in Oxford. He had very hastily married Vivien, a British woman, for reasons which Monk doesn't fully explain. I read elsewhere that in Eliot's mind it was an excuse for staying in the U.K. rather than moving back to the U.S. Apparently it was a bad marriage from the start, and he was in an employment quandary. He had completed his work for a Ph.D. in philosophy at Harvard but never returned for the oral exam. He had met Ezra Pound in London and was thinking of becoming a writer while earning his primary income from teaching. Immediately after his marriage, he left without Vivien on a trip to the U.S. to visit his family. He had been in touch with Russell, who offered to take care of Vivien while he was away. Vivien was a good typist and was able to type while Russell dictated. Monk suspects that Russell may have had an affair with Vivien, though there is no clear evidence. It would, however, fit Russell's pattern of using female competition in order to draw back Ottoline, and perhaps have a little sex on the side. In any case, Russell, in a rather over-the-top manner, allowed Eliot and Vivien to live in his apartment when Eliot returned, and he got Eliot's approval to live there himself even when Eliot was away. Russell wasn't really all that close to Eliot, nor was he normally this generous, so this brings into question his motives. This all plays out later in the book, and I'll probably comment on it again then.

Russell had taken time off from Trinity College to write a series of political essays, which were to be delivered as lectures in London and published. The lectures proved to be popular, and, because they were also profitable, Russell became more inclined than ever to leave academia.

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