A DH Lawrence story might not survive a writer’s workshop. Many texts don’t, and not always for the right reasons. Paradise Lost might eventually be hacked to the length of a short narrative poem as, for example, its opening lines:
Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat…
are met with the kindly-meant questions? ‘John, why tell us what your story means before it has even begun? Surely these lines can go? I like ‘fruit’ and ‘tree’, but, otherwise, isn’t all a little too abstract? And is that how you spell “taste”?’
Editing, too often, means hacking. And often hacking is what might be required, but it was not required of Paradise Lost because Milton’s intention was to write in a grand style, to write an epic poem, to use the English language to create a work that equaled in scope what Homer’s Greek did with The Iliad and The Odyssey, what Virgil did with Latin in The Aeneid, what Dante did in Italian with The Divine Comedy.
Understanding what a writer intends should always be at the forefront of your mind when looking at the work of others. Helping the writer to realise that intention is the true work of the editor.
The most controversial editing of recent times centres around the work of Raymond Carver.
At an early stage in his writing life, Carver came under the aegis of Gordon Lish. No one can question that Carver’s influential style – as pervasive in its influence as Hemingway’s, which it only seems to resemble – was the result of Lish’s interventions.
It is impossible to read both versions without falling into debate. Which is better? Which is truer? Are all Lish’s edits wise? Does the story become Lish’s? Why did Carver accept them – although he was deeply troubled by them? Is his widow wise to release the original versions?
The story of Carver and Lish has become something akin to the short story world’s version of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath: the argument has become a soap opera, the relationship more discussed than the work itself.
What can be said is that Carver’s original is a kinder, more Chekhovian work, intent on sympathy and understanding; Lish’s version takes the heart out of Carver’s draft, but this creates so heartless a prose that it shocks even now as something starkly bold and new. It is not the story as Carver originally intended. It is, however, Carveresque in a way that ‘Beginners’ is not: with ‘Beginners’, Carver wrote a fine story and, in editing it, Lish created a brand.
Imagine DH Lawrence Lished.
Consider the second page of ‘The Odour of Chrysanthemums’, written in 1909, and published in Lawrence’s first collection, A Prussian Officer, so it’s a work that, like Carver’s story comes early in Lawrence’s career. Page 2 is where, I imagine, Lish would have had Lawrence begin the story.
Do we really need all that cumbersome scene-setting?
The edits are in strikethrough and additions to the text underscored/in red.
!” There was no answer. She waited, and then said distinctly: “Where are you?”
“Here!” replied a child’s sulky voice from among the bushes.
The woman looked
piercingly through the dusk. “Are you at that brook?” she asked sternly. For answer the child showed himself before the raspberry-canes that rose like whips. He was a small, sturdy boy of five. He stood quite still, defiantly. “Oh!” said the mother, conciliated. “I thought you were down at that wet brook — and you remember what I told you —” The boy did not move or answer.
“Come, come on in
,” she said more gently, “it’s getting dark. There’s your grandfather’s engine coming down the line!”
The lad advanced
slowly, with resentful, taciturn movement. He was dressed in trousers and waistcoat of cloth that was too thick and hard for the size of the garments. They were his clothes evidently cut down from a man’s clothes. As they went slowly towards the house He tore at the ragged wisps of chrysanthemums and dropped the petals in handfuls along the path.
“Don’t do that — it
does looks nasty,” said his mother. He refrained, and she, suddenly pitiful, She broke off a twig with three or four wan flower s and held them it against her face . When mother and son reached the yard her hand hesitated, and instead of laying the flower aside, she and then pushed it in her apron-band. The mother and son stood at the foot of the three steps looking across the bay of lines at the passing home of the miners. The trundle of
A small train was imminent. Its engine loomed past the house and came to a stop opposite the gate.
, a short man with round grey beard, leaned out of the cab high above the woman.
“Have you got a cup of tea?”
he said in a cheery, hearty fashion. It was her father. She went in, saying she would mash. Directly, she returned. “I didn’t come to see you on Sunday.” began the little grey-bearded man.
“I didn’t expect you,” said his daughter.
The engine-driver winced; then, reassuming his cheery, airy manner, he said:
“Oh, have you heard then? Well, and what do you think —?”
“I think it is soon enough.”
she replied. At her brief censure the little man made an impatient gesture, and said coaxingly, yet with dangerous coldness:
Well, what’s a man to do? It’s no sort of life for a man of my years, to sit at my own hearth like a stranger. And If I’m going to marry again it may as well be soon as late — what does it matter to anybody?”
did not reply, but turned and went into the house, . The man in the engine-cab stood assertive, till she return eding with a cup of tea and a piece of bread and butter on a plate. She went up the steps and stood near the footplate of the hissing engine.
What’s gained by this bareness?
The pace increases. The spareness of the writing, the deliberate paucity of detail, explanation, qualification, and the blank setting make the characters more alienated from each other, their exchanges more hostile and the tone more heartless.
The dusk in which the boy hides, the darkness the woman looks piercingly through – and, remember, the story ends in a meditation on death and how it divides us, with a woman attempting to pierce an even greater darkness. The raspberry canes like ‘whips’ that are of a piece with the first paragraph’s depiction of a world that is essentially cruel. The boy’s hostility and distance from the mother – the ripping of the flowers, the throwing away of the petals so that the mother’s holding of the flowers to her face is both a riposte that shows her essential gentleness and love of beauty as the boy apes the manners of the men in this world. Even excising the position of her father, high in his cab or ‘standing assertive’ while the woman looks up, we lose another detail that evoke this world where women fetch and carry. The details are no longer there to catch in the reader’s mind; meanings are made blunter, less resonant or are just lost.
If you think this is just an exercise, then – for less severe but still telling revisions – study the University of Nottingham site: Odour of Chrysanthemums: A Text in Process, where one can compare Lawrence’s original version with the corrected proofs from The English Review, the magazine that first published the story in 1910 and the story as it appeared when published in A Prussian Officer in 1914. You can click on each page and compare what has been excised, amended and rewritten at each stage, (highlighted in yellow, blue and red). The cuts are far less severe than those incurred by Lish in Carver’s original story, but they still intrigue:
For example, in Lawrence’s original, we have:
"Here!" replied a child's sulky voice from among the bushes that crowded darkly on the bank of the brook. The woman looked piercingly through the dusk.
The highlighted phrase is excised for the magazine version of the story and for its published version too. The edits to the story in the magazine version were imposed on Lawrence –– but the version we read today is the one that appears in 1914, the one in The Prussian Officer.
Lawrence sent the original manuscript of ‘Odour of Chrysanthemums’ to the English Review on 9 December 1909; it seems likely that the magazine’s editor Ford Madox Hueffer, who first suggested that Lawrence should write a story drawing upon the working-class colliery life that he knew so well.
Lawrence corrected the proofs in March, and he was asked to reduce the length of the story by five pages. In March 1911, Austin Harrison - now the magazine’s editor - asked for more changes. Lawrence heavily revised the old page proofs, but this time added eight manuscript pages to contain his new corrections (see Corrected proofs); his fiancée, Louie Burrows, wrote out a fair copy, which was sent to the English Review and the story was published in June 1911 (see English Review (1911)).
In July 1914, for the volume publication, Lawrence inserted additional material into the text and rewrote the ending yet again; in October, he corrected the proofs heavily. The story in its final form appeared in The Prussian Officer in November 1914 (see The Prussian Officer and Other Stories (1914)).
None of the edits caused him the heartache that Lish’s edits were said to cause Carver’s, but, as was Lawrence’s situation, Lish had insisted that the story would not be published without the cuts and so Carver said yes, no matter how deep, complicated and lingering his regret.
Lawrence’s editors were people like Ford Maddox Heuffer, Colin Duckworth and Edward Garnett - it is through his wife, Constance Garnett, and her translations that most of us know Chekhov – but Carver was also fortunate in that Iowa his tutors were John Cheever and John Gardner.
In John Cheever, Carver met a fellow-drinker and short story writer and, although different in class and kind as men and writers, it is curious how, after death, their names are often mentioned in conjunction. But it is John Gardner who is most relevant to this discussion. Less well-known now as a novelist, through his books, The Art of Fiction and Becoming a Novelist and others, he has become a major influence on the way Creative Writing is taught in universities. The two books are testy, sometimes, dense, often dogmatic, but genuinely helpful books on the craft of writing, and in the first, he writes of an exercise that returns us to ‘Odour of Chrysanthemums’, and that page I completely Lished.
John Gardner in The Art of Fiction describes an exercise in which students are asked to describe a barn as seen by a man whose son has just been killed in a war. Do not, he insists, mention the son or the war or death.
If worked or hard enough, a wonderful image will be evoked, a real barn would stand before us but one filled with mysterious meaning.
Another variant has a woman who has just given birth looking out of a window at a tree. Her child may be well and hale, sickly or stillborn, but we will only know from the way the writer describes the tree.
Written long before Gardner suggested the exercise, the first page of ‘Odour of Chrysanthemums’ – in fact, every page Lawrence ever wrote – exemplifies the practice. It is soaked in the author’s intention, every word choice, verb or noun, adjective or adverb, and the syntax itself. If Lish made Carver monochrome, taciturn and skeletal, Lawrence is purple, full-throated and generously made, but he is just as purposeful in his writing.
The small locomotive engine, Number 4, came clanking, stumbling down from Selston — with seven full wagons. It appeared round the corner with loud threats of speed, but the colt that it startled from among the gorse, which still flickered indistinctly in the raw afternoon, outdistanced it at a canter. A woman, walking up the railway line to Underwood, drew back into the hedge, held her basket aside, and watched the footplate of the engine advancing. The trucks thumped heavily past, one by one, with slow inevitable movement, as she stood insignificantly trapped between the jolting black wagons and the hedge; then they curved away towards the coppice where the withered oak leaves dropped noiselessly, while the birds, pulling at the scarlet hips beside the track, made off into the dusk that had already crept into the spinney. In the open, the smoke from the engine sank and cleaved to the rough grass. The fields were dreary and forsaken, and in the marshy strip that led to the whimsey, a reedy pit-pond, the fowls had already abandoned their run among the alders, to roost in the tarred fowl-house. The pit-bank loomed up beyond the pond, flames like red sores licking its ashy sides, in the afternoon’s stagnant light. Just beyond rose the tapering chimneys and the clumsy black head-stocks of Brinsley Colliery. The two wheels were spinning fast up against the sky, and the winding-engine rapped out its little spasms. The miners were being turned up.
The engine whistled as it came into the wide bay of railway lines beside the colliery, where rows of trucks stood in harbour.
Miners, single, trailing and in groups, passed like shadows diverging home. At the edge of the ribbed level of sidings squat a low cottage, three steps down from the cinder track. A large bony vine clutched at the house, as if to claw down the tiled roof. Round the bricked yard grew a few wintry primroses. Beyond, the long garden sloped down to a bush-covered brook course. There were some twiggy apple trees, winter-crack trees, and ragged cabbages. Beside the path hung disheveled pink chrysanthemums, like pink cloths hung on bushes. A woman came stooping out of the felt-covered fowl-house, half-way down the garden. She closed and padlocked the door, then drew herself erect, having brushed some bits from her white apron.
That first sentence, before any character is introduced – before any character can be introduced – gives us the locomotive engine clanking, stumbling, and loaded full of coal. Whatever human struggles the story will tell, the setting is given first because setting determines what happens here: the price of those full wagons is paid by the lives of the people who live and work in this environment, necessary, discordant, rapacious.
Its loud threats of speed startle the colt and the woman must draw back into the hedge at its advent as it thumps heavily past, slow and inevitable, while she crouches, insignificant and trapped.
Here the oak leaves are withered and birds make off into the dusk: a deadly land where the smoke sinks and – such an animate verb - cleaves to the grass.
The pit looms up, flames like red sores licking its ashy sides. The wheels spinning against a sky stagnant with light, the chimneys, the head-stocks, the winding engine in spasms as it pulls the miners – appropriately the last sentence of this darkly majestic paragraph – out of the bowels of the earth (where at the end one of them will be returned) to pass like shadows diverging home in the next. 
The editor of The English Review, Ford Maddox Heuffer who accepted the story in its entirety – the edits made were done by another, less impressed editor and total some five pages - said of this story:
…this man knows. He knows how to open a story with a sentence of the right cadence for holding the attention. He knows how to construct a paragraph. He knows the life he is writing about in a landscape just sufficiently contrasted with a casual word here and there. You can trust him for the rest. 
A contemporary editor might quarrel with so heavily adjectival a piece of writing. A workshop might quarrel with ‘still flickered indistinctly’ – how distinct is a flicker – and a workshop might question ‘thumped heavily’ – aren’t thumps generally taken to be heavy unless distinguished as light? Individually, one might argue each choice – and if you were its writer, you should, and we should witness only the results of that quarrel – but the general effect is to create a world imbued by thought, by spirit, a world in which this story can happen fully and resonantly.
It is full-blooded writing because the approach is full-blooded. This is fine writing, and never before had such attention been lavished on subjects like this. Lawrence is writing here of characters, of a class, a region that went either under-represented or unrepresented both in his time and before it – certainly not represented in this fulsome manner.
His aim is not political – except that might be one of its effects – but moral, psychological, even spiritual. The language he develops gives these characters the dignity, the depth, the importance of aristocrats. The world they inhabit, the world that crushes them to death or into ignominious living and thwarted relationships, is evoked in full seriousness.
I have the impression with Lawrence – and with other writers not otherwise or immediately comparable such John Keats, Colette or Whitman – that, when he was at his desk, he just sat more deeply in his chair, that he more deeply inhabited his body as he wrote. Whatever the thread he span his webs from, it came from deeper within than most other writers. There isn’t a page of Lawrence, from his novels, his short stories, his poems, his essays, his plays, his letters – that feels like writing that isn’t aimed at reaching a deeper level of understanding or a more sustained apprehension of the physical world and how it works on us and how we exist within it, no matter that, at times, he is maverick, wrong-headed or perverse - although the wonder is how often he is none of these things, as here in ‘Odour of Chrysanthemums.’ So much of what he is was doing – and he did so much in a life that was a restless pilgrimage complicated by poverty, sickness and controversy – he was doing for the first time, doing it alone, and against the will of the world.
I have concentrated on the opening pages of this story, but a study of the final pages is yields riches, its meanings multiple and eloquently made. The uncorrected proofs show a more contracted ending that comes to be amplified in the magazine version and re-addressed significantly for the book version. The original version of the story is rich with a mothers contempt of her spendthrift alcoholic husband; Lawrence described it as “full of my childhood’s atmosphere”’; and his novel, Sons and Lovers, is the best expression of this, but in the final version of this story, the one we read, there is a fuller understanding of both husband and wife, and the world made both of them.
 This not being a patch on Billy Collins’ ‘Workshop’: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=176048
 He was paid £10: see, p93, DH Lawrence: The Life of an Outsider, John Worthen, Penguin, 2006
 For example, David Means, a peerless short story writer from this generation, who discusses both writers before reading a Carver story. ‘Chef’s House’, for this New Yorker podcast: http://www.newyorker.com/online/2010/10/18/101018on_audio_means
 This is only tangentially related but it allows me to mention a favourite poem: ‘The Transparent Man’ by Anthony Hecht: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-transparent-man/
 The uncorrected proof of the story does not have so swift a transition between the miners rising up from the earth to pass like shadows diverging home but a more detailed description of their manner and appearance, albeit in the same register as the rest of the paragraph.
 p67 , Worthen. Ford Maddox Heuffer, later and now better known as Ford Maddox Ford, knew something about how to write a paragraph, too, and ‘how to open a story with a sentence of the right cadence for holding the attention: Here is the opening of his peerless and perfect novel, The Good Soldier ‘:
This is the saddest story I have ever heard. We had known the Ashburnhams for nine seasons of the town of Nauheim with an extreme intimacy—or, rather with an acquaintanceship as loose and easy and yet as close as a good glove's with your hand. My wife and I knew Captain and Mrs Ashburnham as well as it was possible to know anybody, and yet, in another sense, we knew nothing at all about them. This is, I believe, a state of things only possible with English people of whom, till today, when I sit down to puzzle out what I know of this sad affair, I knew nothing whatever. Six months ago I had never been to England, and, certainly, I had never sounded the depths of an English heart. I had known the shallows.
 Ford was particularly welcoming of a writer from Lawrence’s background and the editing of the magazine version - made by anther editor - emphasises the social commentary more than the original and the final published version: Lawrence was not keen on being so pigeonholed.
quoted p11 Worthen