Neglected Book

Dyer, Geoff, Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence (1997).

This book opens with a meditation on procrastination. The author is neither an academic nor a historian. Rather, he is an aspiring biographer, but anyone who wants to know more about the underside of historical scholarship will find much here that is edifying -- and funny. An opening epigraph quotes D.H. Lawrence's words, "Out of sheer rage, I've begun my book on Thomas Hardy. It will be about anything but Thomas Hardy I am afraid." In turn, Dyer wants to write a book about D.H. Lawrence. Dyer is angry and self-absorbed (and he knows it), but he's also surprisingly honest, and the book offers unvarnished insights into the acts of research and writing. We learn how projects change unexpectedly. We see how taking notes can be pointless. And we come to understand that visiting the sites inhabited by our historical actors may be entirely uninspiring. "You try saying a mantra to yourself, 'D.H. Lawrence lived here,'" Dyer recounts. "You say, 'I am standing in the place he stood, seeing the things he saw...,' but nothing changes." My favorite theme, though, is about how imagined surroundings -- a tranquil Greek island or a desk with a view of Paris or the Tuscan countryside -- can actually foil the creative spirit. "What they all had in common, these ideal places for working," Dyer admits, "was that I never got any work done in them." As Dyer (every so often) abandons his egotism, he does in fact produce a work about Lawrence. But more than that, Dyer's project becomes a metaphor for any ambitious, heartfelt endeavor. "One way or another we all have to write our studies of D.H. Lawrence," he concludes. This book could help you finish yours.

Recommended by Martha Hodes, New York University

Martha Hodes is Associate Professor of History at New York University. She is the author of White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth-Century South (Yale University Press, 1997) and the editor of Sex, Love, Race: Crossing Boundaries in North American History (New York University Press, 1999). She is at work on a book about race across national boundaries.