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David Herbert Lawrence (11 September, 1885 - 2 March, 1930) was one of the most important, certainly one of the most controversial, English writers of the 20th century, who wrote novels, short stories, poems, plays, essays, travel books, and letters.
The son of a coal miner, Lawrence was born in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom. His mixture of working and middle class parents and their often volatile relationship had a great impact on the literature of this English writer. In 1902 he contracted pneumonia and his career as a factory clerk, which had barely started, came to an end. He began training as a teacher first teaching the sons of miners in his home town and then returning to education to receive a teaching certificate from University College Nottingham in 1908.
While working as a teacher in Croydon some of his poetry came to the attention of Ford Maddox Hueffer editor of The English Review, who commissioned the story 'Odour of Chyrsanthemums' which, when published in that magazine, provoked a London publisher to ask Lawrence for more work, and his career in literature began. Shortly after his first novel was published, The White Peacock, in 1910 Lawrence's mother died after a long illness. It is suggested by some that Lawrence may have helped his mother to die by giving her an overdose. Lawrence, the author of Sons And Lovers, (1913), had an extremely close relationship with his mother and her death was a major turning-point in his life just as the death of Mrs Morel forms a major turning-point in the novel.
Pneumonia struck again soon after his mother's death and this led to the tuberculosis which would eventually kill him. He decided on his recovery to abandon teaching to concentrate on writing. In 1912 Lawrence eloped to Germany with Frieda Weekley née von Richthofen (distant cousin of Manfred von Richthofen, also known as "the Red Baron"), the wife of his modern languages professor from Nottingham University. They returned to England at the outbreak of World War I and were married on the 13 July, 1914. Because of Frieda's German parentage and Lawrence's pacifism they were viewed with suspicion in England during the war and lived in near poverty. The Rainbow (1915) was suppressed after an investigation into its obscenity in 1915. They were even accused of spying and signalling to German submarines off of the coast of Cornwall where they lived.
After the war Lawrence began what he termed his 'savage pilgrimage'. He left England, to return only twice for short visits, and with Frieda spent the rest of his life travelling, settling down for only short periods. His travels took him to France, Italy, Ceylon, Australia, America and Mexico. He dreamed of establishing a utopian community on the ranch in Taos, New Mexico where he lived for several years but another bout of pneumonia forced him to return to Europe where he lived in Italy, while writing the various versions of Lady Chatterley's Lover (1929), which was published in private editions in Paris.
He died in Vence , France in 1930. Frieda returned to live on the ranch in Taos and later brought Lawrence's ashes to rest there.
His birthplace, in Eastwood, 8a Victoria Street, is now a museum.
Realism was the main feature of Lawrence's writings and his unflinching depictions of the gritty struggles of everyday life give many of his novels a melancholy tone. His poems help to balance this with many powerful and evocative descriptions of nature, although moments of beauty are present in his books.
Among his many works, most famous are his novels Sons and Lovers (1913), The Rainbow (1915), Women in Love (1920), and Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928). These all take place in and around Eastwood, Lawrence's birthplace, which was a grim industrial mining town. Lawrence would return here in his literature despite leaving it in real life, giving it an importance similar to that held by Wessex for Thomas Hardy, whom Lawrence admired.
Kangaroo, Aaron's Rod and The Plumed Serpent are usually considered together as his "leadership novels". They contain some of the ideas that contributed to his plan for Rananim (meaning 'celebrations' and taken from a Hebrew folk song), the community of like-minded writers and artists that he hoped to establish in New Mexico. Little came of his effort, however.
Part of the realist nature of his writing meant that he could not obscure the subjects of sex and love in his books and his descriptions of sex were shockingly frank for the period. The Rainbow was banned for containing a lesbian relationship and one publisher called Sons and Lovers "the dirtiest book he had ever read."
The publication of Lady Chatterley's Lover caused a scandal due to its explicit sex scenes and perhaps particularly because the lover was working-class, and an obscenity trial followed in Britain. The British publisher, Penguin Books, won the court case that ensued. He also produced a series of explicit expressionistic paintings later in life some of which were almost destroyed due to their depiction of pubic hair.
What is often forgotten amongst the claims of Lawrence as a pornographer is the fact that he was extremely religious. He was tired of the stifling Christianity of Europe and wished to rejuvenate it with earlier, tribal religions. This search for a primeval religious consciousness was part of the reason for his 'savage pilgrimage'. He was also inspired by contemporary 'process philosophy': for example works by Nietzsche, Henri Bergson and others, as well as by the works of Freud, most notably in Sons and Lovers which was also his most autobiographical work. He wished to free himself from the sexual restrictions of the past so that he could examine their place in religion but he would have been perhaps horrified if he realised his role in the "sexual revolution" of the 1960s.
- "He talked to her endlessly about his love of horizontals: how they, the great levels of sky and land in Lincolnshire, meant to him the eternality of the will, just as the bowed Norman arches of the church, repeating themselves, meant the dogged leaping forward of the persistent human soul, on and on, nobody knows where; in contradiction to the perpendicular lines and to the Gothic arch, which, he said, leapt up at heaven and touched the ecstasy and lost itself in the divine." -- Sons and Lovers
- "Never trust the teller, trust the tale."
Partial list of works
- The White Peacock (1911) - the tragedy of a man who marries the wrong woman
- The Tresspasser (1912)
- Sons and Lovers (1913) - called Paul Morel while in progress
- The Rainbow (1915) - criticised for obscenity and copies were destroyed
- Women in Love (1920) - sequel to The Rainbow
- The Lost Girl (1920)
- Aaron's Rod (1922) - about a man who walks out on his wife, with whom he has a destructive relationship, in order to start a new life
- The Fox (1923) - short novel
- The Captain's Doll (1923) - short novel, about an abandoned marriage and subsequent loveless affair
- The Ladybird (1923) - short novel
- Kangaroo (1923)
- The Boy in the bush (1924) - written from a manuscript given to him by Molly Skinner .
St. Mawr (1925) - short novel, one of his two North American fictions
The Plumed Serpent (1926) - called Quetzalcoatl in progress and is about an Irish woman experiencing a Aztec religious revolution in Mexico
The Woman Who Rode Away (1928) - one of his two North American fictions about a woman who gives herself up to a group of Native Americans. this novel reveals much about Lawerence's opinion of American consciousness
- The Escaped Cock/The Man Who Died (1929)
Lady Chatterley's Lover (printed privately in Florence during 1928, banned in the UK until 1960) - his most famous and highest earning novel. A story of a British upper-class woman and her enlightening sexual relationship (written quite explicitly) with a gamekeeper - a member of the serving class. The novel condones their relationship, and is a story about living and loving passionately.
- Mr Noon (1984)
- The Virgin and the Gypsy (1930) - short novel about a young Englishwoman in a repressive household
- Love Poems and others (1913)
- Look! We Have Come Through! (1917)
- New Poems (1918)
- Bay : a book of poems (1919)
- Birds, beasts and flowers (1923)
- Pansies (1929)
- The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd (1914)
- A Collier's Friday Night (1934)
- Touch and Go (1920)
- David (1926) - A modern man developing out of the primordial religious self
- Mornings in Mexico (1927)
- Movements in European History (1921)
- Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious (1921)
- Fantasia of the Unconscious (1922)
- Studies in Classic American Literature (1923)
- Sea and Sardinia (1921) - travel book
Apocalypse (1931) - His last book touching on primitive symbolism, paganism and pre-Christian ideology