Walking back to his rented house, Fontana Vecchia, British ex-pat novelist David Herbert Lawrence, 36, is casually sorting through the mail he just picked up at the local post office.
There is an unusual smell.
Not a bad smell. An exotic, Indian smell.
It’s coming from an envelope that has in it, not a letter, but a long scroll. Like a papyrus. From the United States. From a city in New Mexico called “Taos.”
As he walks, Lawrence unfurls the scroll and starts reading. He stops in his tracks.
This unusual package is from an American woman he has never heard of, Mabel Dodge Sterne, 42. She has included a few leaves of local plants, desachev and osha, to entice Lawrence to accept her invitation to move to Taos and live rent-free on her land. And write.
Lawrence can’t believe what he is reading.
Sterne has seen an excerpt of his upcoming travel book, Sea and Sardinia, in last month’s issue of The Dial magazine, and she is impressed. She likes the “queer way…[you give] the feel and touch and smell of places.” She wants him to write about Taos in the same way and is offering him an adobe cottage, filled with furniture handmade in the area, with room enough for his wife and children. Well, if he has any children. [He doesn’t.]
This is exactly the opportunity Lawrence and his wife, Frieda, 42, are looking for. They are thinking of joining some friends to study Buddhism in Ceylon. But this—this. Financial as well as emotional support.
As he heads home to tell Frieda, he nibbles at the osha. It tastes like liquorice and takes him far away from the tacky shops lining the Corso Umberto.
Lawrence can think of a hundred questions he has to ask.
Who is this woman? He will write to his New York agent to find out if he has ever heard of Mrs. Sterne.
Where is this Taos? He will try to find it on a map.
Then he will write back to Mabel with an enthusiastic
Followed by his other questions: Are there trees? Water?! Maybe a river or a lake. Is it hot or cold there? What type of clothing should they bring?
Lawrence also thinks he needs to assure Mrs. Sterne that he and Frieda will eventually pay rent to her. He doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life being as poor as he has been so far. Writing all these books should pay off some time.
“Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”: The Literary 1920s. Volumes I and II covering 1920 and 1921 are available in print and e-book formats on Amazon. For more information, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Early next year I will be talking about the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses, 100 years ago.
If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.
Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is available on Amazon in both print and e-book versions.