After finishing his novel “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” I was reading up a little on D.H. Lawrence. An elementary school teacher, married, afflicted with tuberculosis at a relatively young age. He moved: England, US, Switzerland – he ended up in Italy. Barely scraping by, writing for magazines or journals for the occasional payment. His story isn’t unique. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn fighting with the soviet censors, moving, fleeing – poverty. Gabriel Garcia Marquez selling his typewriter to afford the postage to mail “One Hundred Years of Solitude” to the publisher.
Self-publishing their books, suffering ridicule and often abuse.
But what would life be without “Lady Chatterley,” or “Love in the Time of Cholera” or “In The First Circle”? How would the richness of our times be passed on to future generations? How would great words pervade our thinking, acts of wisdom and experience showing us the way and discouraging the dark paths?
I’ve always wondered why they bothered – why they fought; why the written word meant more to them than destitution and fear and abuse and the terror of uncertainty. And, more than the destitution, the fear of mediocrity – their own often crippling worry that they were “no good”. In my own novel “Lords of Misrule” Salif, the anti-hero who becomes the villain discusses meaning with his friend Aliuf, the protagonist:
“I had a brother,” Salif said. “He was a good man and a good Muslim. He prayed five times a day, he gave to charity, and he went to mosque on Friday to debate with the Imam. He wanted more, and he went to the big city at the end of the river to find a future for himself. He got a job first as a guard and then in a store and was even studying at the university at night. One day some money went missing from the register, and the police arrested him. Said he was a thief, even though a good Muslim cannot steal. He sent a message that he needed money to leave prison. The fee for the guards to look the other way was more than he had accumulated, but we had none, and my father stood and silently walked from the city to his herd—selecting the cow that would fetch the greatest price at market the next month, a blood price to free his oldest son from those who barter in human souls. But by the time the sale was done, we received word that my brother had been stabbed in prison to rob him of his shoes. My father walked to the river, the fistful of papers in his hand—papers that were worth more to his firstborn’s jailers than honor and dignity and law—and threw them into the churning brown waters. He never once said a word about it, never once shed a tear, never once mourned. We never talk about him—my brother. It is as if his passing on this earth was only a whisper.” Salif turned to look at Aliuf, steel in his eyes. “I will not play by their rules, and my passing will not be with a whisper.”
I suppose that’s what I think – meaning. To last; kings have their names etched in stone for eternity. Inventors who change the face of the world, soldiers who carry out great acts of valor, freedom fighters who shake nations and topple regimes. All these people have one thing in common – and in common with the writers – they will not play by arbitrary rule-books they are handed in their cradles at birth. They have a spirit that will transcend; and just as the Gauguin painted and Mozart composed – these men write.
And the world is better for it.