D H Lawrence arrived in New Mexico with his wife Frieda in September 1922 at the invitation of Mabel Dodge Sterne (later Luhan).
Mabel had read excerpts of Lawrence’s travel essay Sea & Sardinia in the ‘The Dial' literary magazine and recognised a fellow spirit. And whilst Lawrence spent little more than 11 months in total in New Mexico, spread over three visits, the immense and rugged landscape made as deep an impression upon him as it had on Mabel.
[Photo by Andreas Selter on Unsplash]
'I think New Mexico was the greatest experience from the outside world that I have ever had. It certainly changed me forever. …
The moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning shine high up over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul, and I started to attend … In the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico one sprang awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly, and the old world gave way to a new.'
From New Mexico by D H Lawrence
A society hostess and patron of the arts who had tired of the society she was a member of, Mabel had travelled south from the East Coast in 1917. She fell in love with Taos and with Tony Luhan, a Native American living in the pueblo at Taos.
Settling in the town, she sought to establish an alternative society that would reinvigorate a moribund western civilization (as she saw it) through an infusion of Native American culture.
The Lawrences began their visit staying at Mabel’s estate in Taos, and at first they all got along. However, tensions soon emerged and Lawrence and Frieda moved first into a guest house on Mabel’s estate, and then out of the compound altogether.
Here Lawrence continued to work on and revise his Studies in Classic American Literature, probably the most outrageous and exhilarating work of literary criticism ever published.
'Love, and Merging, brought Whitman to the Edge of Death! Death! Death! But the experience of his message still remains. Purified of Merging, purified of Myself, the exultant message of American democracy, of souls in the Open Road, full of glad recognition, full of fierce readiness, full of the joy of worship, when one souls sees a greater soul. The only riches, the great souls.'
D H Lawrence on Walt Whitman in Studies in Classic American Literature
Lawrence in Mexico
By March 1923 Lawrence, a restless traveller if there ever was one, had had enough of Taos and he and Frieda left to go south to Mexico. Before long Frieda returned to Europe but Lawrence stayed on, inspired by the Aztec ruins and working on The Plumed Serpent, finally sailing for England in November.
However, within weeks England had palled and New Mexico had regained its lustre and promise in Lawrence’s mind. In London he sought to inspire friends with a vision of establishing a new community in New Mexico, but gained only one recruit, the artist Lady Dorothy Brett.
Undaunted Lawrence pressed on and the three of them arrived in Taos in March 24, again the guests of Mabel, who was now Mabel Dodge Luhan, having married Tony in late 1923.
Again, everything started well enough, but soon began to fall apart again, at least according to some accounts. Whether as a means of keeping Lawrence in New Mexico, or simply on impulse, Mabel offered her visitors the Kiowa Ranch, some 20 miles north of Taos.
Lawrence, with Frieda and Dorothy Brett, spent the summers of 1924 and 1925 on the ranch. And it is where he and Frieda are buried.
Thus there are two key sites on the trail of D H Lawrence in New Mexico:
There are also Lawrence’s paintings, banned in England, like Lady Chatterley’s Lover, on grounds of obscenity.
But reaching either the Kiowa Ranch or seeing the paintings is no straightforward matter, as Peter Street recounts in this narrative of his journey From Albuquerque to Taos: In search of D H Lawrence in New Mexico.
Mabel Luhan, Frieda Lawrence and Brett at Mrs Lawrence's porch, 1938 (Mabel Dodge Luhan papers, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University)
Follow the trail: