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D H Lawrence In Vence - Riviera Times
Where Lie The Ashes Of D H Lawrence? (September 2003)

When the famous English novelist and travel and short story writer, David Herbert (DH) Lawrence died in Vence on March 1 in 1930 he was buried in the town’s cemetery. Attending his burial were his wife, Frieda, her child from a previous marriage, Barbie, Aldous and Maria Huxley and the English poet Robert Nichols. Little did they realise that exactly five years later another small group would gather there to witness his exhumation.

In the meantime, Frieda had been comforted by a number of lovers, at least two of whom had shared her with Lawrence while he was still alive. One was John Middleton Murry, with whom he had had a torrid affair immediately following the death of his wife Katherine Mansfield (who also died from tuberculosis) in 1923. Murry had acquired another consumptive wife, whom he left with their children in haste to go to Frieda’s side in Vence. It is uncertain who comforted whom!

The next to console her was Angelo Ravagli, the fascist Italian army officer and occasional lover during her marriage. By 1935, he and Frieda had moved to Taos in New Mexico. He built a small mausoleum chapel there – a friend called it a ‘station toilet’ – in Lawrence’s memory and he had been charged with shipping the author’s remains to complete the shrine.

Deterred by the French bureaucracy from exporting a long-dead body, Ravagli had the remains burned and urned for the 5,000-mile journey. After some immigration difficulties in New York (just as Lawrence had experienced when alive) the ashes were permitted on to the train to New Mexico.

The anarchic Lawrence would probably have enjoyed the rest of the story. Distracted by the enthusiasm of Frieda’s welcome, Ravagli left the urn on the train, after which its fate becomes confused. Either he went back to the railway station and collected them, or was unable to find them at the station and bought another urn, which he filled with some similar substance.

Their disposal has raised even more conspiracy theories. Some, including Maria Huxley, believe that the anti-Ravagli school suspected that he had built the mausoleum with a view to charging admission, and planned to thwart him by stealing the ashes and casting them to the desert winds. Frieda, hearing of this, tipped them into the mixer that was making the concrete altar stone for the chapel.

Twenty years later, a drunken Ravagli revealed that immediately after the cremation in 1935, he had tipped the original ashes out in Vence and replaced them with cindered wood. Although this contradicted his earlier, already conflicting statements, it seems to leave only three possible fates for the true ashes: they are either in Vence, or in a block of concrete in Taos, or in a left luggage office somewhere in New Mexico.

However, the only true tomb of the author is the one in carré 7 in Vence cemetery, over which a plaque reads: ‘David Herbert Lawrence reposed here from March 1930 to March 1935’.