Many years ago I gave a paper on ‘The Politics of The Rainbow’ to a meeting of the D.H. Lawrence Society in Eastwood Public Library. Since this was a gathering of amateur enthusiasts, my rather academic paper was perhaps not ideally judged for the occasion. None the less, everyone listened attentively, and after some thoughtful questions, as the meeting broke up, a little elderly lady sitting at the front came up to me, shook my hand cheerfully, and said, ‘Thank you for your paper, Mr Pinkney, I think Uncle Bert would really have liked that’. Uncle Bert! I had hardly, before that moment, even wondered what the H. in D.H. Lawrence actually stood for; and here I now was, to my amazement, meeting his last surviving niece, who had always known him by the contracted form of his middle name Herbert.
That was a wonderful moment for me as a Lawrence scholar, and I can still see the fondness in her eyes as she recalled her Uncle in thanking me. All these years later I know that kind of fondness myself at firsthand, as when my sister Carole and I lovingly recall our Uncle Harry – miner, sailor in the Royal Navy in World War Two, and prison-officer thereafter - who died seven years ago. So I am struck, having become a Morris critic in the meantime, by how little we get in the biographies, all the way from Mackail to MacCarthy, of what William Morris’s nephews and nieces made of him. Uncle William must surely have been as memorable a figure as Uncle Bert or Uncle Harry, yet we don’t seem to have much in the way of memories of or tributes to him from his gaggle of nephews and nieces. Or am I missing something here?