Maurice Magnus, 'Dregs: A Foreign Legion Experience by an American', typescript corrected by D.H. Lawrence.

Item author: Maurice Magnus / D H Lawrence
Item date: c.1918-1922.
Grant Value: £1,000
Item cost: £5,000
Item date acquired: 2020
Item institution: Nottingham University
Town/City: Nottingham
County: Nottinghamshire

Mark Dorrington, Keeper of Manuscripts and Special Collections writes: The University of Nottingham is extremely grateful to the Friends of the National Libraries for supporting the purchase of this typescript of ‘Dregs’. The acquisition now forms part of our D. H. Lawrence Collection, which is designated as being of national and international importance.

Charles Maurice Liebetrau Magnus (1876-1920) was an American writer, magazine-editor, translator and journalist, whose literary contacts dried up during the First World War. He was living by his wits and occasional journalism when D. H. Lawrence arrived in Italy in November 1919 and met him in the company of the exiled Scottish writer Norman Douglas (who had known Magnus for years). The three men spent some days together in Florence, and Lawrence was clearly very much interested by Magnus who served for a short time during the First World War in the French Foreign Legion.

In February 1920 Lawrence visited Magnus for two days at the monastery in Montecassino, where Magnus showed him the typescript of a book he had written about his time in the Legion. Magnus subsequently rewrote and retyped the book, presumably incorporating some suggestions given to him by Lawrence. Magnus at this stage was actually in hiding from the police after a cheque he’d given to a hotel in Anzio had bounced; he was in serious financial trouble. At the end of April 1920, Magnus most unexpectedly turned up in Taormina in Sicily, where Lawrence and his wife Frieda were then living, hoping that Lawrence would lend him some money, which Lawrence most unwillingly did.

Magnus travelled from Sicily to Malta in May 1920 on the same boat as Lawrence and Frieda. He stayed on Malta when Lawrence went back to Sicily, and at the start of November 1920 he committed suicide by drinking hydrocyanic acid, having been intercepted on the street by policemen intent on extraditing him to Italy on the charge of fraud. Magnus had tried unsuccessfully to publish his book in both Britain and the USA. Following the suicide, Magnus’s creditors on Malta sent Lawrence the typescript of ‘Dregs’ in hopes that it would raise money to pay them back the money they themselves had loaned to Magnus before his suicide. Lawrence arranged to get it published and wrote his long introduction, the 'Memoir of Maurice Magnus', to accompany Magnus' book.

The University of Nottingham already holds the manuscript of Lawrence’s introduction and this can now be studied alongside the revised typescript of Magnus' book, partly corrected by Lawrence either in the spring of 1920 or (more likely) before he sent the typescript to his agent in the US along with the 'Memoir', for their publication together. This typescript has never been published in full or thoroughly studied, either for its account of homosexual experience (extremely unusual to be spelled out at that date), or for the ways in which Lawrence may have influenced it. Magnus was working on it while at the monastery at Montecassino; he and Lawrence discussed it there and – arguably – Lawrence very much influenced it. Lawrence saw it in the spring of 1920, and thought it much improved; he saw it again after Magnus’s death, when it was sent to him from Malta. When it finally reached print, however, it would be severely censored; the sexual passages which Lawrence had most likely encouraged Magnus to incorporate (which had almost certainly not been there in the draft he saw at Montecassino) had been cut. It is the missing piece of the whole Magnus episode.

The acquisition was also supported by the Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and a generous private donation.

Item Provenance
Bought from Peter Harrington Rare Books