Is Aronson Lawrence?

In John Buchan’s Mr Standfast (1919), Richard Hannay visits the Garden City of Biggleswick, and meets several intellectuals who oppose the War, among them an ‘unwholesome youth’ identified as ‘Aronson, the great novelist’.
Hannay’s reaction to Aronson is negative in the extreme:

Aronson, the novelist, proved on acquaintance the worst kind of blighter. He considered himself a genius whom it was the duty of the country to support, and he sponged on his wretched relatives and anyone who would lend him money. He was always babbling about his sins, and pretty squalid they were. I should like to have flung him among a few good old-fashioned full-blooded sinners of my acquaintance; they would have scared him considerably. He told me that he sought ‘reality’ and ‘life’ and ‘truth’, but it was hard to see how he could know much about them, for he spent half the day in bed smoking cheap cigarettes, and the rest sunning himself in the admiration of half-witted girls. The creature was tuberculous in mind and body, and the only novel of his I read, pretty well turned my stomach. Mr Aronson’s strong point was jokes about the war. If he heard of any acquaintance who had joined up or was even doing war work his merriment knew no bounds. My fingers used to itch to box the little wretch’s ears.

After this description, the character pretty well disappears from the novel, but there is surely enough there to suggest that Buchan might well have been thinking of D.H.Lawrence, also consumptive, also with a notoriously irregular love-life. The Rainbow had famously been prosecuted for its heated suggestions of lesbianism, and the words ‘reality’ and ‘life’ and ‘truth’ are the characteristic argot of vitalists like Lawrence and Middleton Murry.
As for the sponging, perhaps Buchan had heard the story of how Lawrence had accepted the hospitality of the Meynells and repaid it by writing the hurtful ‘England, My England’ (1915). The offence that this story caused the Meynell family was greatly increased when Percy Lucas, who had been thinly disguised as the ineffective central character of the story, was killed on the Somme in 1916.
There seem to be enough similarities between Lawrence and Aronson to suggest that in this paragraph Buchan is giving Lawrence a taste of his own medicine by putting an unflattering version of him into a work of fiction.



  1. Roger
    Posted June 29, 2010 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    Aaron’s Rod was begun in 1917- did Lawrence discuss his work-in-progress in which case Buchan might have heard about it and known the title? On the other hand, you’d think Buchan would have taken a swipe at Frieda while he was at it- or did his rules of controversy exclude wives?

    • Posted June 29, 2010 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

      Buchan was a gentleman, and would probably have left the lady out of it.
      On the other hand, he does in Mr. Standfast take a small swipe at Frieda’s cousin, the Red Baron.
      Archie Roylance is discussing air aces, and puts Peter Pienaar first of course.
      “We talked of Peter, and he put him about top. Voss, he thought, was the only Boche that could compare with him, for he hadn’t made up his mind about Lensch. The Frenchman Guynemer he ranked high, but in a different way. I remember he had no respect for Richthofen and his celebrated circus.”

  2. Roger
    Posted June 30, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    “Buchan was a gentleman, and would probably have left the lady out of it.”

    Buchan may have been a gentleman, but Frieda was no lady!

  3. Posted August 20, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    I’ve just realised that there was a link between Buchan and the Meynell family, whose hospitality Lawrence abused. Both knew the Grenfells well. Viola Meynell wrote a memoir of Julian Grenfell, after his death early in the War, and Buchan wrote a tribute to Julian’s cousins, Francis and Riversdale Grenfell. So it’s pretty likely that Buchan would have had the opportunity to hear unfavourable reports about his fellow novelist.

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