On the discovery that the DH Lawrence Heritage Centre had organised a Dog Fun Day event in June, with a prize for the ‘waggiest tail’, many self-respecting Lawrence enthusiasts might be forgiven for concluding that Broxtowe Borough Council had gone barking mad.
However, on reflection, avid Lawrence readers may well recall that Lawrence was not only a great lover of animals but was also at one time a dog owner and did indeed write what has been described as possibly the best poem ever written about a dog.
It is called Bibbles and appears in the creatures section of Birds, Beasts and Flowers, between Kangaroo and Mountain Lion.
In 1922/1923, when living on the Del Monte Ranch, in New Mexico, Lawrence and Frieda were given a female black French bull terrier puppy.
Lawrence wrote to Bessie Freeman: ‘We’ve got one of Lorraine’s little black pups that is now growing into a young termagant.’
A delightful photo survives showing Frieda with her arm around Bibbles, while Lawrence turns towards her with a devoted smile.
Constantly moving from place to place had precluded them having their own pets until then (other than the occasional cat which befriended them).
In childhood, Lawrence and his family had briefly looked after a puppy called Rex for an uncle, who took the dog back complaining that he had been spoiled.
Writing of this later, Lawrence observed: ‘Nothing is more fatal than the disaster of too much love. My uncle was right, we had ruined the dog.’
Lawrence was determined to train Bibbles, whose name morphed into Bibsey, Bibs, Bubsey, Bubbles, Pips, Pipsey and other affectionate variations on a theme.
He expected loyalty and obedience and when disappointed by bad behaviour, such as when she made herself sick by eating ‘fresh dropped dung’, he admonished her, sometimes excessively harshly and she would run off to live with their neighbours, two young Danish painters.
Once, when Bibbles was on heat, he went over and stayed so long that Lawrence retrieved her in a blazing, blind fury and a rather dreadful scene took place.
How could a person who Lawrence Society president, John Worthen, in his biography, describes as ‘so sane, sensible, caring and loving, and wise’ and who hated cruelty or bullying, be so brutal?
Keith Sagar records, in The Life of DH Lawrence, that, while not a vegetarian, Lawrence ‘was upset when the Danes shot rabbits near his house’.
He preferred they would ‘kill some people... bankers, industrialists, lawyers, war-makers, schemers...’
Keith reminds us that, as well as ‘easy-going’, Lawrence was a ‘man of strong personality and character’.
But, as many people find out, dog training can be a severe test of patience.