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By the time Lawrence travelled to Cornwall at the end of 1915 he had visited the sea for holidays and had lived in a house close to the beach in Fiascherino where, being an admittedly poor swimmer, he enjoyed splashing around in the sea close to the shore. But his reaction to the sea in Cornwall was very different. In both Porthcothan and Zennor he lived within sight of the sea, but his attitudes to it in these two places are markedly different.
Therefore, this paper will explore how Lawrence’s thinking about the sea shifted between these two places, and will consider what might have prompted the changes in his perspective. It will also look at Lawrence’s conceptualisation of the sea in Zennor as a pathway between people bringing, in ancient times, the Phoenicians to Cornwall. We will see how this well-known, local legend impacted on Lawrence’s response to Zennor, is reflected in his work and, although often denied, was verified in 2019.

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1As is well known, Lawrence travelled to Cornwall at the end of December 1915 and stayed there until he was forcibly expelled in October 1917. Throughout the whole of this stay, he lived on the north coast within sight of the sea, firstly at Porthcothan where, down the valley, he could view the distant “grey and shaggy” sea from his west facing bedroom (2L 293), then, from the beginning of March 1916, at Zennor where he had an elevated, wide view of the sea that was only a few small fields away, which he described as, “infinite Atlantic, all peacock-mingled colours” (2L 550). These contrasting observations were partly prompted by the difference in location and the time of year, but they also hint at Lawrence’s growing engagement with the sea in Cornwall. In Porthcothan Lawrence was distanced from the sea by bad weather, ill health and the location of the property that only allowed glimpses of the sea from the upstairs bedrooms. But in Zennor, his closer proximity to the sea resulted in a response that was both physical and intellectual. Indeed, it appears that Lawrence came to view the sea in this specific, remote location as a pathway that enabled the exchange of ideas. However, it seems that this persona Lawrence envisioned for the sea in Zennor also acted to challenge one of his long-held tenets, the recoil to which may have contributed to the marked shift in his philosophical thinking that is evident when comparing his accounts of blood-consciousness immediately prior to going to Cornwall with those he makes following his stay there.

  • 1 Susan Stanford Friedman advising that these letters no longer exist. Private correspondence with au (...)
  • 2 Caroline Zilboorg, ed., H.D. Bid Me to Live. Unless stated otherwise, all further references will b (...)
  • 3 In the summer of 1917 Cecil Gray, a composer and friend of Philip Heseltine, moved to Bosigran Cast (...)
  • 4 Bid Me to Live 136.

2In looking at all this, it is a great pity that the letters the poet Hilda Doolittle, usually known as H.D., exchanged with Lawrence have not survived.1 Although Lawrence and H.D. stayed in Zennor at different times, they discussed their strong reactions to the place in their extensive correspondence. In her, much later, semi-autobiographical novel about her time in Zennor (in which H.D. appears as the narrator/Julia character and Lawrence as Rico), the narrator questions Rico, “Why, in your interminable novels, do you not write – to someone, anyone – as you write me in your letters?”2 When H.D. left Aldington in 1918 to go and live with the musician and composer, Cecil Gray, in Zennor,3 she left her letters behind in their London flat (where the Lawrences stayed after they were expelled from Cornwall). It seems most probable that H.D.’s husband, Richard Aldington, disposed of them, as in her notes to H.D.’s novel, Caroline Zilboorg draws attention to how H.D. suggests she felt obliged to conceal her correspondence with Lawrence because of her husband’s jealousy.4

  • 5 Helen McNeil, Introduction, H.D, Bid Me To Live, Virago. Viii.
  • 6 Bid Me to Live, xlviii n.2.

3However, in her novel. H.D. claims she “did not have to bring them. I know them by heart” (100). Indeed, an early editor of the novel notes, the relationship between H.D. and Lawrence is pivotal to her book, “It is the H.D. – D.H. Lawrence encounter which makes the creative conflict of the novel – it is he who ‘bids’ her to live.”5 More recently, whilst urging caution, Zilboorg concedes this novel “is indeed autobiographical” and, in outlining how James Boulton and Mark Kinkead-Weekes have responded to the assumed biographical basis of this text,6 concludes:

it is not naïve to begin a reading of the book with an understanding of the people and places, the personal events and larger history that provide its background and at times the “actual” material on which H.D. based her novel. (xv)

4Therefore, we should pay attention to what this novel tells us of H.D.’s perspective on the relationship between her and Lawrence. And of particular interest here, is that this book illuminates one important topic of discussion between them: their shared, intense reaction to the landscape of Zennor and to the sea there. But before exploring that further, it is worth looking at Lawrence’s earlier, very different, response to the sea at Porthcothan. This will highlight marked differences in how Lawrence engaged with the sea in these two places and reveal his growing engagement with the sea in Cornwall.


5When Lawrence first moved to Cornwall, at the end of December 1915, he stayed at the house of the novelist J.D. Beresford. Prior to the Great War, when convenient to both parties, the practice of borrowing a friend’s home as a temporary residence was commonplace, a tendency that intensified during the war when many men were away fighting. Beresford was a friend of John Middleton Murry who, in 1914, had borrowed Beresford’s house in Porthcothan for a holiday with Katherine Mansfield. When The Rainbow was suppressed at the beginning of November 1915, Beresford was one of those who wrote in support of Lawrence. Therefore when, on 19 December 1915, Murry asked if Lawrence could borrow his house, Beresford readily agreed that he could for a short while as he wasn’t planning to live there until March.

  • 7 Tregerthen House is now an upmarket holiday rental (with a white rendered modern extension). See ht (...)
  • 8 The current owners suggest the whisper of the sea can be heard at high tide.

6References to Beresford’s house have rather downplayed its grandeur, editors of Lawrence’s letters describing it as a “cottage” (2L 484 n.2) and Mark Kinkead-Weekes states it was a “holiday house” (TE 295). In reality, Porthcothan House is a large, west facing, detached Georgian farmhouse, with fine period features, cradled in a valley on the north coast of Cornwall midway between Watergate Bay and Padstow. This imposing building is far more commensurate with Lawrence’s descriptions of it as “a fine large house with clear, large rooms”(2L 491) and as “a big low grey well-to-do farm-place with all the windows looking over a round of grass, and between the stone gate pillars down a little tamarisky lane at a cove of the sea” (2L 507).7 Here, Lawrence’s description highlights the house’s distance from the sea - around a third of a mile - although Lawrence claimed he could hear a “faint sound of the sea and wind” (2L 491).8 Nevertheless, his view of the sea was clearly restricted, the best outlook being from his west facing bedroom, where he spent long periods of time because he was seriously ill for much of his stay there. Lawrence writes: “I am nearly always in bed. If I get up and go out I get worse again at once – But I can sit in bed and read or do my poems and look at the sea and see the sun set, so I am not unhappy” (2L 516).

7Recognising similarities between Porthcothan and Fiasherino, in Italy, where he had also lived by the sea, Lawrence observes “But oh Heaven, what a difference also!” (2L 497). For the Atlantic Ocean is not the Mediterranean; the regular winter storms on the north coast of Cornwall create the “grey and shaggy” seas he describes (2L 493), and his letters from Porthcothan are peppered with references to strong winds and to rough seas “smoking white above the cliffs” (2L 496).

8But, despite his poor health, it seems Lawrence did visit the cove at Porthcothan and the winter storms assisted Lawrence’s imaginative engagement with the sea, enabling him to construct an image for Cornwall as a place apart from England. He describes the sea there as primeval and, focussing on the white water smashing against the black rocks, suggests this reveals the non-human qualities of the place. It was the sea in Porthcothan that helped Lawrence to forget his past – and humanity:

The water that is so white and powerful and incomprehensible under the black rocks, that is not of this life. I feel as if there were a strange, savage, unknown God in the foam—heaven knows what god it be. (2L 501)

By this rough sea and these solid black cliffs one forgets, one feels outside of time […] (2L 529)

9To Ottoline Morrell he writes:

the sea on the wild coast is like the dawn of the world. Oh it is good, there are no more Englands, no nations, only the dark strong rocks and the strong sea washing up out of the dawn of the sky […] come here, and be here at the beginning of time, with the primeval world that is strong and completely unsaddened. (2L 512)

­[…] these Cornish seas somehow relieve one’s soul of mankind. (2L 529)

10The sea at Porthcothan gave Lawrence what he craved. Having decided he couldn’t live in London any more (2L 472) and being unable to go to Florida, it enabled him to have a sense of being somewhere very different and, importantly, somewhere that he recognised as not being England. A different place with different sensibilities; the repetition of the word “strong” perhaps inferring a contrast with the “weak” England that he has left behind. Focussing on the contrast between the rough white seas and the black rocks, also helps to reveal his misanthropy in his imaginative construction of an unsullied world in which the sea has relieved his soul of the hinderances of mankind.

11That Lawrence recognised the significance that the sea – and Cornwall – had for him is underlined by his actions when Beresford wanted to return to his house. Although Lawrence’s finances were in a parlous state and he could have moved anywhere, he decided not to try and borrow another friend’s house where he could stay for free. Instead, he chose to pay rent so that he could stay in Cornwall and live close to the sea.


  • 9 Lawrence mentions this cottage had been “done up” for Guy Thorne, alias Ranger Gull but he never li (...)

12The cottage Lawrence finally rented, at Higher Tregerthen, Zennor, had none of the grandeur of Porthcothan House. It was a tiny, inexpensive, one up one down end terraced cottage with a scullery at the back, the rest of the terrace of cottages being abandoned and used for storage. Just a few feet away was a much larger, detached cottage, with an unusual crenelated tower that contained a panelled room that was painted with black and white stripes.9 Lawrence saw in this small hamlet of properties a potential location for the alternative community he wanted to found (2L 563-4). The liminal location of this cottage also made an impression on Lawrence. Positioned on a shoulder of land between the moors and the sea, from the two windows in Lawrence’s bedroom he could see sharply contrasting views. On one side of the cottage rose the protective moors of Zennor Hill; he describes himself and Frieda sheltering in the cottage “like foxes under the hill” (2L 566). In the opposite direction, across a few small, flat fields, the land fell away to the shoreline, so he had an elevated wide view of the sea. Lawrence’s letter to John Middleton Murry and Katherine Mansfield on 5 March 1916, trying to persuade them to join him in Zennor, paints an idyllic picture:

It is a most beautiful place: a tiny granite village nestling under high, shaggy moor-hills, and a big sweep of lovely sea beyond, such a lovely sea, lovelier even than the Mediterranean […] It is all gorse now, flickering with flower; and then it will be heather; and then, hundreds of foxgloves. It is the best place I have been in, I think. (2L 563)

13Having identified in Porthcothan that the Cornish seas were beneficial to his misanthropy by somehow relieving his soul of mankind, the sparsity of inhabitants Zennor must also have delighted him for another letter to the couple notes, “it is only seven houses to the church-town; really beautiful,” which leads him to reveal his optimism about their future: “when I looked down at Zennor, I knew it was the Promised Land, and that a new heaven and a new earth would take place” (2L 550).

14One disadvantage of living in such an exposed costal location is the harsh weather. Lawrence also notes the “deadly” wind (2L 550), and in August 1917 Lawrence would experience heavy rain and summer gales that “smashed my marvellous garden to bits” (3L 154). Nevertheless, this first spring in Zennor, living in close proximity to the sea, seems to have restored Lawrence’s optimism for life, as a letter to Catherine Carswell on 9 March 1916 demonstrates:

I feel the spring coming back, the youth surging in […] to think of the spring, one is dazzled, it is so splendid; no matter how much roars over the edge of oblivion, behind one’s back ­[…] When I look towards the spring, I do want to rise up and have done with miseries. It really is our turn to begin to dance around the fountains [of delight]. (2L 573-4)

15Spring comes early in Zennor and is flower decked, giving way to long summers. Lawrence’s health improved, letters from August 1916 describe his experience of rough summer seas and detail his discovery of the sensual pleasure of regularly bathing naked with Frieda in the sea. He enjoyed feeling the sun, rain and wind against his body; the sea’s power giving him sensations of exhilaration – and trepidation – and the joy of the non-human experience reinforcing the misanthropy we saw in Porthcothan:

we went down to bathe at the same place as on Monday. It was splendid also yesterday, waves mountains high: but not so hot as the time before. The waves did lift one this time, and fling one to the shore: which was exciting and alarming among so many rocks […]

16Today there were great rollers coming in from the west. It is so frightening, when one is naked among the rocks, to see the high water rising to a threatening wall, the pale green fire shooting along, then bursting into a furious wild incandescence of foam. But it is great fun. It is so lovely to recognise the non-human elements: to hear the rain like a song, to feel the wind going by one, to be thrown against the rocks by the wonderful water. I cannot bear to see or know humanity anymore. (2L 641, 645)

  • 10 by “drawing a long slow breath, and addressing the silent life-breath which hung unrevealed in the (...)

17In Zennor, Lawrence also experienced the transformative merging of land and sea. When, as often happens in Cornwall, heavy rain combines with strong onshore winds, it blows the moisture from the sea up onto the land creating dense sea mist. Lawrence described himself as being “subtly sea –picked, sea changed” and feeling “spray-blind, like any fish, and my brain is turning nacreous. I verily believe I am metamorphosed” (3L 156). In her novel, H.D. also recognised the beneficial and transformative power of the sea-mist at Zennor describing it as a “cold, healing mist.” In phrases that recall Lawrence’s depiction in The Plumed Serpent of Kate’s journey across the misty lake and shift into an altered state of consciousness,10 H.D. suggests the mist was “as if someone had breathed a cold, healing breath; the very Holy Spirit had breathed on this” (88). Following this episode, the narrator senses a shifting of conscious reality and, with a play on words, describes herself becoming “[…] a witch with power. A wise-woman. She was seer, see-er” (89).


  • 11 As affirmed – and challenged – in William Morris’s 1858 poem “Defence of Guinevere”.

18Lawrence’s response to the sea in Cornwall is also implicated in his thinking about gender issues, his responses being markedly different in the two locations. In Porthcothan, Lawrence was initially preoccupied with his preconceived ideas about the patriarchal world of King Arthur,11 whereas his experience in Zennor appears to have challenged those ideas.

19It is unsurprising that Lawrence linked Porthcothan with Arthurian legend because the well-known story of King Arthur at Tintagel – only some 20 miles away – was established in the 12th century and by the mid nineteenth century Tennyson’s popular work, Idylls of the King, had helped turn Tintagel into a tourist destination. Hence the association between Tintagel and the mythical King is deeply embedded in people’s psyche and has long been exploited by people trying to sell their Cornish products or attract tourists to this area. For example, in 1894 Sir Robert Harvey (who made his fortune in South American mining) opened his magnificent Camelot Castle Hotel on the cliffs at Tintagel; a village which for generations has marketed itself as “King Arthur’s Country.” In the 1930’s the impressive King Arthur’s Hall building opened in the village, attracting visitors with their imagined version of the King’s abode complete with a mock-up of his round table. More recent additions to this tourist honey trap include the local brewery, which describes its gift offerings as “Beers from the Round Table” and a magnificent eight-foot bronze sculpture of King Arthur (commissioned from Rubin Eynon by English Heritage in 2016) which stands on a rocky promontory above the sea at Tintagel.12

20Lawrence’s early letters from Porthcothan have many references to Arthurian legend, indicating his pre-existing ideas about Cornwall and the importance of Arthurian legend to his construction of Cornwall as a pre-Christian, Celtic civilisation. For example, we are told “I do like Cornwall. It is still something like King Arthur and Tristan. It has never taken the Anglo Saxon civilisation, the Anglo Saxon sort of Christianity” (2L 495) and “I like the rough seas and this bare country, King Arthur’s country, of the flicker or pre Christian Celtic civilisation” (2L 498-9). Furthermore, a letter to Barbara Low shows how he internalised notions of those patriarchal warriors, “It is always King Arthur and Tristan for me. I see them coming in their boats round the rocks, and riding along the muddy grass over the bare, sky-pressed upland” (2L 496). This is relevant to how H.D. viewed Lawrence.

21It was during the time when Lawrence was living in Porthcothan that his close relationship with H.D. developed. As mentioned above, we know they regularly exchanged letters and poems and later, when Lawrence was living in Zennor, he sent her the manuscript of Women in Love for appraisal. In her novel, H.D.’s reference to this later event makes her admiration of his work clear and also indicates one of the things she was discussing with Lawrence in their correspondence – the Phoenicians:

That bulky novel that you sent me had no doubt the gold or the tin or whatever ore it was those Phoenicians came to England to dredge out. I hadn’t the strength nor the equipment to dredge the ore out of the manuscript you sent me. But I know it is there. It is in everything you write; even if I don’t agree with you or don’t like what you are saying. I know that the genius is there. (111)

  • 13 This was in November 1917. In December 1918 H.D. left her husband to go and live with Gray in Cornw (...)

22The admiration appears mutual as in December 1916, writing to Arthur McLeod, Lawrence complimented her work for the Imagiste Anthology (sic) “I think H.D. is good: none of the others worth anything” (3L 61) and later, after he had left Cornwall, Lawrence described her to Cecil Gray as being amongst the women that represented “the threshold of a new world, or underworld, of knowledge and being” (3L 180).13 Yet, as H.D. states above, she didn’t always like what Lawrence said nor did she always agree with him, and they clashed over what she saw as his inconsistencies and patriarchal tendencies.

23H.D. recognised that Lawrence’s writing boldly challenged the worth of loveless marriages. She also wanted to believe in sexual freedom, writing, “In heaven, there is neither marriage nor giving in marriage” (35). But experience taught her differently. In 1917, when the Lawrences arrived at her flat after being expelled from Cornwall, H. D. was trying to live in an amicable ménage à trois with her husband Aldington and his lover Dorothy Yorke. Yet, as H.D. examines in her book, for her, this was a profoundly unhappy, even damaging, experience. Recognising her distress, Lawrence seemed to encourage her to leave this unhappy relationship, telling her to “kick over her tiresome house of life” and reassured her that she and Cecil Gray were “made for one another” (84, 83). Yet, in 1918, when she finally gathered her courage and decided to leave Aldington and live with Gray, it seems Lawrence took a very different attitude. H.D. records his unexpectedly puritanical stance, being “surprised, shocked even” about her plans to go and live with Gray in Zennor and trying to persuade her to live alone in his cottage instead – a volte-face which caused her much confusion and pain (83).

24H.D. was also dismayed by Lawrence’s attitude towards her as a female poet. Shining a light on what she saw as patriarchal tendencies in his thinking, H.D. declared Lawrence’s man-is-man, woman-is-woman theory as “false, it creaked in the joints.” In explanation, she reveals that whilst he told her to “stick to the woman-consciousness” in her writing, he would not be bound by the same rules, H.D. questioning if he could “describe women to their marrow in his writing” and “enter, so diabolically, into the feelings of women, why should she not enter into the feelings of men?” (35-6). Criticising the value Lawrence placed on “this vaulted business of experience, of sex-emotion and understanding,” H.D. points out that “might be all right for men, but for women […] there was a biological […] danger” of becoming old maids, housewives or having unwanted pregnancies. She suggests that the only way out of this impasse was if “one might be an artist” when “woman was man–woman, the man was woman-man.” Therefore, Lawrence’s insistence on his ideas of man-is-man, woman-is woman dismayed her, because for all his seeming acceptance of her as a female poet, by sticking to his regimented ideas he was denying her this chance to escape from patriarchal control, her condemnation being clear in her assertion that this, his “shrill peacock-cry sounded a love-cry, a death-cry for their generation” (82).

25Later in her book, perhaps in order to emphasise what Lawrence was demanding of her, H.D. appears, momentarily, to acquiesce to Lawrence’s demands, stating that he is right about his man-is-man and woman-is-woman, that she is wrong and that her work “is nothing.” But she swiftly rescinds this position, again challenging Lawrence’s ideas and defiantly insisting that, regardless of what he thinks of her or her work, she “will go on and do it. […] because I’ve got to do it,” before delivering a stinging retort, “your puppets do not always dance to your pipe. Why? Because there is another show” (99-100).

26The ideas H.D. raises here about gender also appear to have an important connection with Lawrence’s varying responses to Cornwall. In her novel, conflating the Druids with King Arthur she states “The Druids left the same track or traces as Arthur did, Tintagel and his Druid round-table.” Here H. D. is describing a patriarchal world of “warriors” and the narrator (Julia/H. D.) goes on to voice a sudden – and important – revelation to Rico/Lawrence, “I have only just found out that you belong to that world, I have only just remembered […] It was something that kept me from you.” This again suggests that H.D. recognised – and objected to – Lawrence’s patriarchal tendencies. Interestingly, she also seems to be feeling her way towards a distinction between the Phoenicians and the Druids/King Arthur, that she is unable to fully articulate, by suggesting that she intuited that the Phoenicians made a more extensive impact on Zennor than just a donkey track taking tin from the mines to their ships, “I felt when I came here that the Phoenicians on the track from the mine to the sea, that you wrote me about, had left an imprint, not only the track past the Druid stones on the hill. (111)

27Nevertheless, recognising these links between Lawrence, Arthurianism and patriarchy reveals a surprising contrast between Lawrence’s responses to Porthcothan and Zennor; bearing in mind the Arthurian references in Lawrence’s letters from Porthcothan, it seems significant that his letters from Zennor do not contain a single mention of anything to do with Arthurianism.

28Whilst this could indicate Lawrence closer engagement with the place rather than pre-conceived ideas, I suggest this marked shift in Lawrence’s responses is also connected to the particular remoteness of Zennor. This led to a very different kind of society establishing itself in this isolated location – one that looked outwards to the sea and what it might bring. Therefore, instead of the patriarchal Arthurian traces Lawrence found in Porthcothan, I consider that he may have discovered something in Zennor that challenged his existing ideas.

Zennor and far west cornwall

29Lawrence describes Zennor as having “some magic” (2L 617), where he thought he might stay until he was “a nice old man of seventy” (2L 632). Zennor is where Somers in Kangaroo drifts “over the border, in another world” (237) and where H.D. felt “at home in this land of subtle psychic reverberations” (89).

30To put Zennor’s specific location into context, we need to remember that Cornwall is a long thin peninsula sticking out westwards into the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, it is almost an island, as the river Tamar cuts across much of its easterly land border with Devon. Zennor is situated in the far west of Cornwall, almost at the toe of the peninsula. The predominance of granite rock around Zennor creates a particularly difficult terrain, which has long acted as a barrier to the incursion of people and ideas by land. In 1859, following the opening of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s bridge across the river Tamar (which allowed steam trains to run direct from London to Penzance), transport in Cornwall began to improve, and subsequently the road network expanded. But these advances failed to have much impact on the far west of Cornwall. This is evidenced by the painter A.J. Munnings’ actions; in 1910, when he decided to join the famous Newlyn school of painters, he chose to travel from Norfolk by sea. Later, in 1916, when Lawrence ventured to Zennor, he observed the roads were “too dodgy to be grasped” (2L 505). However, these land barriers have meant that this isolated area of west Cornwall has long looked to the sea to bring travellers and their new ideas, which sometimes endure in local folklore and myth. Indeed, in his seminal history of Cornwall, Philip Payton, firmly discounts any suggestion that the geography of Cornwall has been detrimental to the Cornish people stating, “claims […] that the Cornish are somehow parochial or inward-looking have always been nonsense” and Payton observes that “Cornwall always was, and still is, a window to a wider world” (42). And this is, perhaps, particularly true of far west Cornwall.


31It should not surprise us that H.D. records Lawrence believed that, in ancient times, the Phoenicians travelled by sea to west Cornwall to trade for tin. This well-known story is regarded as fact by most of the inhabitants of this area and underlies William Blake’s well-known 1808 poem “And Did Those Feet in Ancient Times” which, set to music in 1916 by Sir Hubert Parry, was renamed “Jerusalem” and adopted by the Women’s Institute. Remarkably, this song became almost an alternative national anthem to express a shared sense of “Englishness” and, even today, is a mainstay of the popular annual Last Night of The Proms. Yet there has always been a significant flaw in these ideas. No archaeological evidence of Phoenicians in Cornwall has ever been found. Therefore, these stories have always been dismissed by academia. As recently as 1996, Payton accurately stated in his history of Cornwall:

Tales of Phoenicians and Carthaginians making their way from the Mediterranean to trade for tin […] are routinely repeated but not attested in hard fact. (60)

32Interestingly, Payton cites the ancient Greek historian Diodorus Siculus, writing around the first century B.C., who notes the inhabitants of Cornwall “were remarkably civilised due to routine trading contacts with other parts” (60). This has a resonance with Lawrence’s experiences in Zennor where he noticed: “The Cornish are most, most unwarlike, soft, peaceable, ancient” (2L 625). Payton also notes that Siculus observed “they extracted the tin and made it into ingots which were taken to Ictis” (60). Tin was a particularly valuable commodity in the ancient world that was only found in a few locations and is usually in association with granite. Hence in far west Cornwall where there is a preponderance of granite, from ancient times, there has also been a high concentration of tin mines. In this light, Siculus’s comments seem particularly relevant to far west Cornwall and indicate how the sea enabled an exchange of ideas between the traders and the inhabitants of this remote part of Cornwall, which had a noticeably beneficial effect. It is also significant that Siculus notes that the tin from Cornwall was made into ingots and taken to a different place for onward transportation. The location of Ictis has not been determined, but is generally thought to have been an off-shore island or promontory.

  • 14 See article in The Times September 2019.

33Recently, it has been discovered that some tin ingots, found in a shipwreck off the coast of Israel, dated from the 12th-13th centuries BC, the time when Phoenician traders dominated the Eastern Mediterranean. Significantly, chemical analysis of these ingots then proved – beyond doubt – that they are of Cornish origin, which provides the first hard evidence of tin trading between Cornwall and the Phoenicians. 14

  • 15 Phoenicians: Lebanon’s Epic Heritage. Sandford Holst. Los Angeles: Santorini Books, 2021.

34Whilst it is difficult to accurately determine the lives of such an ancient people, Sandford Holst offers a plausible account in his 2021 book of how the Phoenicians set up a series of trading posts throughout the Mediterranean, which extended to the Atlantic coast of Spain, and how ingots of tin were brought from Cornwall and Brittany to Cadiz and then onwards to the East.15 Citing the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, who had contact with Phoenician traders, Holst notes the Phoenicians would minimise their risk of attack, and keep any investment in infrastructure to a minimum, by just sending a few men and goods from their ships to trade on the beach, whilst the majority of their men and cargo stayed on their boats far off shore (205-6). Furthermore, where possible, these trading sites were situated on small islands or promontories – which would allow the Phoenicians an easy escape if the natives became hostile. Recognising the Phoenicians’ consummate skills in negotiation and compromise rather than confrontation, Holst notes their

long-held preference for blending in and getting on with their neighbours wherever and whoever they might be. At each outpost they seem to have eaten the local food, worn local clothing and eaten off local plates. Precious space on the too-few ships was not wasted on bringing luxury items to support an “elevated” Phoenician lifestyle. (208)

35Perhaps this helps to explain why historians have repeatedly failed to find any hard evidence of Phoenician habitation in Cornwall. It may be that they were looking in the wrong places. Instead of artefacts, perhaps all the Phoenicians left behind in Cornwall were ideas.

36In sentiments that echo Lawrence’s observation in Apocalypse that “the Bible was verbally trodden into the consciousness, like innumerable foot-prints treading a surface hard” (A 1-2), H.D. claims that Lawrence wrote about a pathway close to his cottage in Zennor:

the old path […] was made by Phoenician donkeys that took the tin from the mines to the ships […] (87) and in making this track, they had trod into the soil more than the countless imprints of ancient sandals or thonged leather shoes (89).

37Could it be that the “imprint” Lawrence detected in Zennor was that of Phoenician society – which, importantly, was matriarchal? Holst tells us that the Phoenicians:

remained true to their belief in Mother Nature as the source of all things […] “Our Lady of Byblos.” When a male god was added later it was as a consort to her. She always remained first in the hearts of Phoenician people, and honor was accorded to women in their society, in association with her (34).

38Whilst various representations have been found of “Our Lady of Byblos” throughout the Mediterranean, because of the Phoenicians’ habit of blending in with their neighbours rather than imposing their beliefs, over time this Phoenician deity became merged with local ones and given multiple names. Therefore, this deity is also known by other names including “Our Lady of the Sea,” as “Astarte” a moon goddess, as “Attargatis” a mermaid goddess, as “Aphrodite” and as “Dea Syria.”

  • 16 Lawrence’s statement in Sea and Sardinia that “neither Romans nor Phoenicians, Greeks nor Arabs eve (...)
  • 17 Private correspondence with the author. Anthony Bonanno is Professor of Archaeology at the Universi (...)

39On his travels, Lawrence visited several other previously Phoenician outposts including Sardinia and Malta.16 Both of these were later dominated by Rome, and Malta became a British colony. Remarkably, Malta had welcomed the Phoenicians “like long lost cousins” (Holst 245). And I am most grateful to Kathleen Vella for sharing her research into her homeland, which reveals how, even today, the Maltese, continue to exhibit great pride in their Phoenician ancestors and their matriarchal society. Observing that in the museums “there are no signs, absolutely no evidence of male statuettes, found on the Maltese islands, while [there are] thousands of female statues, of Malta’s famous “Fat Lady” or “Goddess of Fertility,” Vella points to the work of Anthony Bonanno.17 In an article that focuses on the status and role of women in Gozo in antiquity, (although Bonanno makes it clear that “there is nothing in the archeological record to suggest there was any substantial difference of culture between Gozo and Malta in prehistory. Therefore, most of what is said of one island can be applied to the other island”), he notes the traditional view of anthropologists and archeologists who consider that “most, if not all, prehistoric societies were matriarchal,”something they view as an “era of peace and equality among people” and “the mythical Golden Age” (61). Bonanno also records the opinion of Marija Gimbutus who suggests:

  • 18 Marija Gimbutus. The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe.

Such a female-dominated society was made possible by the presumed universal recognition and worship of an all-powerful divinity, the Mother Goddess, to whom all creatures of the animal and vegetative world were subjected. Equally subjected to her were all the other spiritual and divine beings that might be conjured up by the human mind.18

40It is considered that this “Golden Age” came to an end when “Neolithic societies were replaced in most parts of the world […] by the male-dominated cultures of the Bronze Age […] and the beginning of a new age characterized by unrestrained crave for power and resulting rivalries and armed conflicts”. (61)

  • 19 Observing the “striking” evidence of how these local saints are still revered (58), Fish notes mark (...)

41Although, no Phoenician “fat ladies” have ever been found in Cornwall, when thinking about the “imprint” the matriarchal Phoenicians might have left on West Cornwall, what is remarkable is the large number of churches in Cornwall that are dedicated to female saints. Naturally, these are now Christian churches, but it is reasonable to assume that many would have developed from previously “pagan” religious sites. Notably, myth has it that many female saints travelled to Cornwall by sea, which is confirmed by Sarah Fish’s meticulous work for her dissertation on “The Female Saints in Cornwall” for the University of Wales. In this Fish notes the extraordinarily high concentration of female saints in far west Cornwall, which declines as one travels further eastwards up the peninsular, until churches dedicated to female saints are unusual near the border with Devon.19 Fish also remarks that it is “surprising the legacies of female saints, in terms of the churches dedicated to them and the villages that bear their names, have remained such a strong feature of the Cornish landscape” (3).

42Furthermore, in an echo of observations that have been made about Sardinia where “Matriarchy was a necessity due to the traditional economy based mainly on sheep breeding, so men spent their days on the mountain pastures while women administered the towns and villages,”20 the traditional sources of work in west Cornwall have always been mining, fishing and farming, which predominately occupied the men. Therefore this, together with the evidence of contacts between far west Cornwall and the matriarchal Phoenicians, all points to the possibility of a matriarchal tradition developing in far west Cornwall.

43In Zennor, as in numerous other places in far west Cornwall, the church is dedicated to a female saint, St. Senara. This particular saint was responsible for turning this remote village into a tourist hotspot long before Lawrence went there, because the church that bears her name contains a pew that has a unique carving on one end – which is of a mermaid. This carving is thought to have been made in the fifteenth century. It inspired the later, well-known, tale, first recorded by William Bottrell in 1873, about a mermaid who was attracted by the singing of a chorister at the church, Matthew Trewellard, so she sat at the back of the church, the two fell in love and he followed her back under the sea where, apparently, they lived happily ever after. However, it has also been observed that this mermaid has been carved in the classical pose of the goddess Aphrodite, making it tempting to speculate that this could point towards the much earlier connection between Zennor and the Phoenicians, especially in light of some Phoenician coins that were found in Greece, which also feature a mermaid striking the same pose.

44However, what is more important here, is what Lawrence could have known, or believed, about a connection between Zennor and the Phoenicians, and whether that was relevant to his work. We have already looked at H.D.’s view that Lawrence’s thought the track that runs behind his cottage in Zennor had been made by Phoenician donkeys taking tin from the mines to the ships and that in making the track they had “trod into the soil more than the countless imprints of ancient sandals or thonged leather shoes.” The modern name for this pathway, which can be seen on signposts, is the Zennor Churchway or Church path. But as a local historian, Craig Weatherhill, noted in a 1994 article, the path did not connect with the three churches along its length and predates them by “at least two centuries”. H.D. also suggests Lawrence discussed this pathway with Cecil Gray and that they walked it together. Remarkably, in this rugged terrain, this path runs in a relatively straight line over relatively flat ground for around ten miles from the mines at Pendeen to the sea at St Ives ending close to a distinctive promontory known as “the Island.” Another pathway, that H.D. records Gray and Lawrence walked together, heads inland over the hills to the south coast ending in Penzance close to the offshore island now known as St Michael’s Mount. Remembering Holst’s remarks about Phoenician’s preferred trading places, the routes of these ancient pathways perhaps seems more than co-incidental.

  • 21 Ronald Hutton sees this as the narrator’s “anger against womankind,” contrasting it with Lawrence’s (...)

45In thinking about Lawrence and the Phoenicians, I would also like to thank John Worthen who has been most helpful. Observing that Lawrence probably knew more about the Phoenicians than we think, he reminded me of Women in Love, which was written into its final form in Zennor and, in particular, the Moony chapter where Lawrence makes a reference to the Phoenician goddess. In the strange scene by a moonlit pond, Ursula is spying on Birkin who is “talking disconnectedly to himself” and exclaims; “Cybele — curse her! The accursed Syria Dea! — Does one begrudge it her? — What else is there?” (246). In light of the above, it could seem the Lawrence figure, Birkin, is cursing the matriarchal tradition represented by Dea Syria, symbolised by the moon. And it appears that he does begrudge her power and tries, symbolically, to destroy her hold over him by stoning the moon’s reflection.21

  • 22 The editors note that “Cybele is the Phrygian goddess of fruitfulness, worshipped as the Great Moth (...)
  • 23 Terry Gifford. “The ‘Mooney’ Chapter of Women in Love Revisited.” Journal of D.H. Lawrence Studies (...)

46The editors of this novel do not identify Syria Dea as the Phoenician goddess, but do link this to Lawrence’s essay on Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Symbolic Meaning (559).22 This essay was also written during Lawrence’s time in Zennor and promotes the necessity of male leadership. In this Lawrence states that when a woman “recoils from man’s leadership and takes matters into her own hands, she recoils in mystic destruction” observing that, “In the old days, when woman turned in her terrible recoil, she became Astarte, the Syria Dea, Aphrodite Syriaca, the Scarlet Woman” (144). In his recent analysis of the Moony chapter of Women in Love Terry Gifford examines Lawrence’s use of the term “Syria Dea,”23 but he overlooks the connection with the matriarchal Phoenicians, something that is, perhaps, more obvious in the light of H.D.’s comments.


  • 24 Paul Poplawski, “Paradise or Nightmare? Lawrence in Cornwall,” 2008.
  • 25 Jane Costin, “Lawrence’s ‘Best Adventure’: Blood-Consciousness and Cornwall.”

47Indeed, looking at all this with the benefit of H.D’s thoughts has led me to further reflect about Lawrence’s response to Cornwall and the impact it had on his philosophical thinking. Previously, in my work, I have noted the marked shift that occurs in Lawrence’s ideas of blood-consciousness following his time in Cornwall. Prior to going to Cornwall on 30 December 1915, Lawrence wrote to Bertrand Russell on 8 December firmly associating blood-consciousness with the feminine and with the “sexual connection” (2L 470). However, as Paul Poplawski observed in a radio interview, following his time in Cornwall, this shifted and Lawrence made a connection between blood-consciousness and the soil and blood sacrifice.24 I have also discussed the detectable shift in Lawrence’s thinking about blood-consciousness subsequent to his stay in Zennor (a place that he suggests in Kangaroo has a power, concentrated in its rocks, to alter consciousness and to reawaken latent blood-consciousness), which he then strongly connects with the primitive and the masculine.25

48Thinking about all this again in the light of Fish’s research, local folklore and H.D.’s comments on Lawrence and patriarchy, has led me to question whether the “imprint” of the Phoenicians, that H.D. observes Lawrence detected in Zennor, was that of a matriarchal tradition? We cannot know exactly what Lawrence understood about the Phoenicians, but we do know of his keen interest in ancient civilisations and the continuing existence of matriarchy in other former Phoenician outposts. Could Lawrence have intuited that the Phoenicians trod matriarchy into the landscape of Zennor?

49Needless to say, deliberations about this must remain speculative. We cannot know. But it is clear that Lawrence went to Cornwall with preconceived ideas about a patriarchal society there centred in its Arthurian tradition in which he imaginatively participated; it was this that initially preoccupied him during his time in Porthcothan and was something that repelled H.D. We have also seen how his keen interest in Arthurian ideas dissipated following his move to Zennor. So, could it be, that Lawrence went to Cornwall with a “dream” of Arthurian patriarchy – and discovered instead the “nightmare” of Phoenician matriarchy in Zennor? Furthermore, having originally connected blood-consciousness with the feminine, did his discovery of matriarchy in Zennor result in him shifting his ideas about blood-consciousness to give his thinking on this a grounding in masculinity? Because it is notable that Lawrence gendered the granite landscape of west Cornwall as masculine and that following his stay in Zennor Lawrence associates blood consciousness with the “dark gods,” with male primitive people and with miners. Could this be Lawrence’s recoil from the matriarchy of the Phoenicians he detected in Zennor? Furthermore, was it this that underlies Birkin’s rage against the moon?

50There can be no firm resolution to such questions and consensus will require further discussion of the subject. However, focussing on Lawrence and the sea in Cornwall has highlighted that, perhaps particularly in the remote location of Zennor, the sea acted as an important medium which has enabled an exchange of ideas that have reverberated throughout the centuries.

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Becket, Fiona, Poplawski, Paul, Kinkead-Weekes, Mark and Worthen, John, narr. “Paradise or Nightmare? D.H. Lawrence in Cornwall.” BBC Radio 3. 25 May 2008.

Bridge, Mark. “Cornish tin found in Israel is hard evidence of earliest trade links”. in The Times, 19 September 2019. <>.

Bonanno, Anthony. “Women and Society in Prehistoric and Ancient Gozo” in 60th Anniversary of the Malta Historical Society: A Commemoration. Ed. J. F. Grima. Zabbar: The Malta Historical Society, 2010, p. 61-72.

Costin, Jane. “Lawrence’s ‘Best Adventure’: Blood-Consciousness and Cornwall.” in Études Lawrenciennes: A New Sensitive Awareness Vol. 43, p. 151-172.

Fish, Sarah. “The Female Saints in Cornwall,” University of Wales, Celtic Studies MA Dissertation online.

Gimbutus, Marijia. The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe. London: Thames and Hudson, 1982.

H.D. Bid Me to Live. Ed. Helen McNeil. London: Virago, 1974. (Ed. Caroline Zilboorg. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2015).

Holst, Sandford. Phoenicians: Lebanon’s Epic Heritage. Los Angeles: Santorini Publishing, 2021.

Hutton, Ronald. The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021.

Kinkead-Weekes, Mark. The Cambridge Biography D.H. Lawrence: Triumph to Exile 1912-1922. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Lawrence, D.H. Apocalypse. Ed. Mara Kalnins. London: Granada Publishing Limited, 1983.

Lawrence, D.H. Kangaroo. Ed. Bruce Steele. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Lawrence, D.H. Sea and Sardinia. Ed. Mara Kalnins. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Lawrence, D.H. The Letters of D. H. Lawrence Volume II 1913-1916. Eds. George J. Zytaruk and James T. Boulton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Lawrence, D.H. The Letters of D. H. Lawrence Volume III Part 1 1916-1921. Eds., James T. Boulton and Andrew Robertson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Lawrence, D.H. The Plumed Serpent. Ed. L. D. Clark. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Lawrence, D.H. Women in Love. Eds., David Farmer, John Worthen and Lindeth Vasey. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Payton, Philip. Cornwall. Fowey: Alexander Associates, 1996.

Weatherhill, Craig. “The Zennor Churchway – A Classical Cornish Coffin Line.”

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1 Susan Stanford Friedman advising that these letters no longer exist. Private correspondence with author.

2 Caroline Zilboorg, ed., H.D. Bid Me to Live. Unless stated otherwise, all further references will be to this edition.

3 In the summer of 1917 Cecil Gray, a composer and friend of Philip Heseltine, moved to Bosigran Castle around four miles from Lawrence’s cottage at Higher Tregerthan; Lawrence overseeing the building work and furnishing required before Gray moved in. The two men quickly became close friends. It is thought Frieda had a brief affair with Gray, visiting him at Bosigran when Lawrence was with William Henry Hocking at Tregerthen Farm.

4 Bid Me to Live 136.

5 Helen McNeil, Introduction, H.D, Bid Me To Live, Virago. Viii.

6 Bid Me to Live, xlviii n.2.

7 Tregerthen House is now an upmarket holiday rental (with a white rendered modern extension). See

8 The current owners suggest the whisper of the sea can be heard at high tide.

9 Lawrence mentions this cottage had been “done up” for Guy Thorne, alias Ranger Gull but he never lived there (2L 564).Thorne was a prolific journalist and novelist, probably best known for his 1903 novel When it was Dark: The Story of a Great Conspiracy. In the spring of 1916, Lawrence persuaded John Middleton Murry and Katherine Mansfield to rent this cottage, but their stay there was largely unhappy and only brief. They soon moved to a property in Mylor on the more temperate south coast of Cornwall.

10 by “drawing a long slow breath, and addressing the silent life-breath which hung unrevealed in the atmosphere, waiting” (PS 106).

11 As affirmed – and challenged – in William Morris’s 1858 poem “Defence of Guinevere”.

12 <>

13 This was in November 1917. In December 1918 H.D. left her husband to go and live with Gray in Cornwall.

14 See article in The Times September 2019.

15 Phoenicians: Lebanon’s Epic Heritage. Sandford Holst. Los Angeles: Santorini Books, 2021.

16 Lawrence’s statement in Sea and Sardinia that “neither Romans nor Phoenicians, Greeks nor Arabs ever subdued Sardinia,” is erroneous as this once thriving Phoenician outpost was claimed by Rome following Hannibal’s bloody defeat at the battle of Zama in 202 BC.

17 Private correspondence with the author. Anthony Bonanno is Professor of Archaeology at the University of Malta and Head of the Department of Classics and Archaeology

18 Marija Gimbutus. The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe.

19 Observing the “striking” evidence of how these local saints are still revered (58), Fish notes marked differences in their density and exceptions to this, such as the churches at St Newlyn East and Minster, which she attributes to being isolated communities. However, she overlooks that these parishes are coastal, close to Newquay and Boscastle respectively, close to tin mines and with suitable promontories, which may have attracted Phoenician traders.

20 <>

21 Ronald Hutton sees this as the narrator’s “anger against womankind,” contrasting it with Lawrence’s response to the moon in The Rainbow (43).

22 The editors note that “Cybele is the Phrygian goddess of fruitfulness, worshipped as the Great Mother (Magna Mater) by the Romans” and that Lawrence could have read this in Sir James Frazer’s Golden Bough. Mentioning Lawrence’s strong interest in “the lunar myth,” “the great female principle” and the “magna Mater” in letter to David Eder in 1917 (3L 150), they also observe Lawrence’s reference to the “Syria Dea” and link this with “Astarte” – a goddess latterly of lunar nature according to Tylor’s Primitive Cultures (559).

23 Terry Gifford. “The ‘Mooney’ Chapter of Women in Love Revisited.” Journal of D.H. Lawrence Studies Volume 5 number 1 (2018) p. 125-142. Gifford notes the Goddess’ name is more usually written, “Dea Syria,” concluding that, “Since neither form is found in The Golden Bough Lawrence’s source remains a mystery.” However, referring to an online source, Gifford notes that “Atargatis, a Great Mother and Fertility Goddess was the main goddess worshipped in Syria” (141).

24 Paul Poplawski, “Paradise or Nightmare? Lawrence in Cornwall,” 2008.

25 Jane Costin, “Lawrence’s ‘Best Adventure’: Blood-Consciousness and Cornwall.”

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Jane Costin, « Lawrence and the Sea in Cornwall  »Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 55 | 2023, mis en ligne le 07 novembre 2023, consulté le 22 juin 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Jane Costin

Jane Costin is the reviews editor of the Journal of D. H. Lawrence Studies and a regular contributor to the annual International D.H. Lawrence Conference in Nanterre. Her recent publications include a chapter on Lawrence and Sculpture for the Edinburgh Companion to Lawrence and the Arts (2020), articles for the 2021 edition of JDHLS : “Lawrence and David Garnett: A Friendship Revisited” and “What was ‘Wrong’ with the Olivier Sisters” and articles for Études Lawrenciennes: “Resisting Tragedy: Lawrence, Marriage, Comedy and Art” (2021) and “Of Pirates and Bullfights: Lawrence’s fascination with Two Faces of Dionysian ‘Madness’” (2019).

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