Writers in covers: D H Lawrence

D H Lawrence in Penguin paperbacks

The jury is out these days on D H Lawrence, and yet he was as much a part of the Swinging Sixties as Mary Quant or Christine Keeler, and it’s quite entertaining to see them in the same sentence. Rightly so it would seem, as there are those who think the trial over the publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover kickstarted the sexual revolution of the coming decade.

There’s no doubt he chimed with the sixties’ moves towards liberation and would presumably have found an ideal home in the beardy and basic drawings of Dr Alex Comfort’s The Joy of Sex. And Oliver Reed and Alan Bates’ naked wrestling in the 1968 film of Women in Love put him again in the front line of changing attitudes. Thinking he was able to write about a woman’s feelings was his downfall, but it can’t be denied he was ahead of his time, and even if a little barking mad, had a genuine, fully realised moment, which the Penguin paperbacks here reflect.

Sons and Lovers and The Virgin and the Gypsy were also filmed, the photographic stills above using an idealised ‘natural’ beauty so prevalent for book covers around 1970, just a step ahead of a shampoo advert. The illustrated versions are by Yvonne Gilbert (who gained a little more fame in the eighties for her racier work for the band Frankie Goes to Hollywood, which you might guess from The Prussian Officer) and date from the late 1970s.

The move from an advertiser’s style of photography to illustration is interesting here… before it, in the early sixties, stylised artwork was prevalent, and after it, almost hyper-real illustration gave way to the use of imagery chosen with Merchant Ivory-style attention to period detail in the eighties.

My favourite is The Trespasser, for the lovely typography (excepting the full stops) and what they do with the W, and the enigmatic, half-shadowed figure in a full summer’s meadow.

D H Lawrence and the psychedelic Fox

D H Lawrence’s novella was filmed in 1967 and the artwork for the resulting poster is inspired. I believe it’s the work of Leo and Diane Dillon. (The taglines are however ridiculous…)

The film version updates the setting from 1918 to contemporary 1960s Canada, with some beautiful cinematography of the snowbound landscape and its wintry light and shadow.

Released not long after the code of production came to an end, The Fox was undermined by the reviewers’ focus on the relationship of the two women, which is unbalanced when the grandson of the farm’s former owner returns. Yet contemporary critic Roger Ebert saw it as “filmed with quiet taste and an intuitive knowledge of human nature… Indeed, it is the natural ease of the film that is so appealing… The delicately constructed atmosphere of cold and snow, of early sunsets and chill lingering in the corners, establishes the tone”.

The film has its flaws and is of its time – there are transgression-must-be-punished issues and the independent, strong-willed character March loses her spirit to conformity. But it’s an interesting effort and has a mournfully mellifluous soundtrack by Lalo Schifrin too.

There is an excerpt from Doris Lessing’s introduction to a reprint of Lawrence’s story hereĀ  (beware spoilers). Interestingly, even The Guardian has to call it a ‘smouldering’ story, so times don’t really change…