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David Herbert Lawrence
1885 - 1930
 



The English novelist, poet, and essayist David Herbert Lawrence took as his major theme the relationship between men and women, which he regarded as disastrously wrong in his time.
 


Born in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, on Sept. 11, 1885, D. H. Lawrence was the son of a little-educated coal miner and a mother of middle-class origins who fought with the father and his limited way of life so that the children might escape it or, as Lawrence once put it, "rise in the world." Their quarrel and estrangement, and the consequent damage to the children, became the subject of perhaps his most famous novel, Sons and Lovers (1913). Critics immediately regarded it as a brilliant illustration of Sigmund Freud's theory of the Oedipus complex. Lawrence was trained to be a teacher at Nottingham University College and taught at Davidson Road School in Croydon until 1912, when his health failed. The great friend of his youth, Jessie Chambers, who was the real-life counterpart of Miriam in Sons and Lovers, had sent some of his work to the English Review. The editor, Ford Madox Ford, hailed him at once as a find, and Lawrence began his writing career.


Major Themes

Lawrence's constant struggle for a right relationship with women came to a climax in his encounter, liaison, and marriage with Frieda von Richthofen Weekley. They had met in 1912 and were married in 1914; their evolving relationship is reflected in all his work after Sons and Lovers. The fulfillment it meant to him can be seen most directly and poignantly in the volume of poems Look! We Have Come Through! (1917). Like Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow (1915) and Women In Love (1920) are set in England and reflect Lawrence's deep concern with the male-female relationship.

The Lawrences lived in many parts of the world - particularly, as place affected his work, in Italy, Australia, New Mexico, and Mexico. Embittered by the censorship of his work and the suspicion regarding his German-born wife during the war, Lawrence sought a propitious place where his friends and he might form a colony based on individuality and talent rather than possessions. This he never realized for more than brief periods. There were quarrels and desertions, and his precarious health was a factor in the constant moves. At the end of his life he wistfully regarded himself as lacking in the societal self. He died in Vence, France, on March 2, 1930.

Lawrence's work from the war onward traces his search. His work's rhythm he described as the exploring of situations in his fiction (and, one might add, his poetry) and then the abstracting and consolidating of his thought in essays, some of book-length, like Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious (1921), Fantasia of the Unconscious (1922), and, at the very end, Apocalypse (1931). For the Australian phase there is the novel Kangaroo (1923); for New Mexico, various short stories, poems in Birds, Beasts and Flowers (1923), the novelette St. Mawr (1925), and essays, particularly those on the Indian dances; for Mexico, the novel The Plumed Serpent (1926) and the sketches titled Mornings in Mexico (1927); for the Mediterranean area with its pagan traditions, the novels The Lost Girl (1920) and Aaron's Rod (1922) and the novelettes Sun (1928) and The Man Who Died (1931). Toward the last his imagination returned to his English origins for the scene and characters of his most notorious and controversial novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928). The novelette The Virgin and the Gipsy (1930) reflects the same concern.

All through his career Lawrence's boldness in treating the sexual side of his characters' relationships had aroused the censorious. For example, The Rainbow was originally withdrawn and destroyed by the publisher after a complaint. But in Lady Chatterley's Lover, his last full-length novel, Lawrence went much further. The book was banned in England, and this was followed by the seizure of the manuscript of his poems Pansies and the closing of an exhibition of his paintings.


Range of His Work

Lawrence used all of the literary forms successfully, except perhaps for drama (there are a few early plays not much read or produced and David, 1926, from his latter years in the United States). He wrote strikingly good short stories all through his career. Early ones are "Odour of Chrysanthemums," "Daughters of the Vicar," "Love among the Haystacks," "The Prussian Officer," "Tickets, Please," and "The Horse-dealer's Daughter." Others, of middle and late period, are "The Border Line," "The Woman Who Rode Away," "Glad Ghosts," "The Rocking Horse Winner," "Two Blue Birds," "The Man Who Loved Islands," and "Things." He was a master of the short novel (novelette) form in The Fox, The Ladybird, The Captain's Doll (all 1923), Sun, The Virgin and the Gipsy, and The Man Who Died, this last being an extension of Christ's life into a resurrection and fulfillment in this world that lends itself to philosophically existential interpretations.

Lawrence's poetry ranges from early rhymed poems in Love Poems and Others (1913) and Amores (1925), through the freer forms of Look! We Have Come Through! and the highly experimental and free forms of Birds, Beasts and Flowers, through the deliberately doggerel satire of much of Pansies (1929) and Nettles (1930), to the less colloquial and at times classical diction and rhythm of Last Poems (1932), gathered from his manuscripts and published posthumously.

In criticism Lawrence achieved a book that is still regarded as one containing important, challenging insights, Studies in Classic American Literature (1923), and a number of essays on the novel that have provided themes for later critics, particularly his distinction between an author's conscious intentions and what the novel may actually be saying. Among "travel" books his Sea and Sardinia (1921), Mornings in Mexico (1927), and Etruscan Places (1932) are of interest. The short journalistic pieces collected in his Assorted Articles (1930) are witty and challenging. Some of his essays did not appear in book form until the appearance of Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D. H. Lawrence (1936), edited by Edward McDonald, who also issued two bibliographies of Lawrence's work during the author's lifetime.


An Assessment

The contemporary Spanish novelist Ramon Sender said of Lawrence that he saw the world as if he were the first man. Lawrence was no Wordsworthian boy losing his first inspiration to the onset of time and the prison house, though there was much to fight. In Apocalypse he observed: "Whatever the unborn and the dead may know, they cannot know the beauty, the marvel of being alive in the flesh. The dead may look after the afterwards. But the magnificent here and now of life in the flesh is ours, and ours alone, and ours only for a time. We ought to dance with rapture that we should be alive and in the flesh, and part of the living, incarnate cosmos."

Interest in Lawrence has come to surpass that in more favored, by birth and education, contemporaries. His work does not seem to date. After relative neglect following his death, his books came back into print, and he is the subject of numerous memoirs, biographies, and critical studies. This is probably because so many of the problems he dealt with are increasingly urgent and because he explored them with original force, commitment, and style that appeal especially to the young. When World War I broke out, he felt that it was then more important to find the grounds of faith in life itself and the means to a new integration of the individual and society. To this he added the question of the nature of a relationship between man and man that would have the same higher significance as that between man and woman. Religiously and ethically he can be described as a vitalist, finding a source and a guide - in a sense, God - in the "life force" itself as it was manifested in nature, un-tampered with by "mental attitudes." He was concerned with how this force might be restored to a proper balance in human behavior.
 


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D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930), English novelist, storywriter, critic, poet and painter, one of the greatest figures in 20th-century English literature. "Snake" and "How Beastly the Bourgeoisie is" are probably his most anthologized poems.

David Herbert Lawrence was born on September 11, 1885, in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, central England. He was the fourth child of a struggling coal miner who was a heavy drinker. His mother was a former schoolteacher, greatly superior in education to her husband. Lawrence's childhood was dominated by poverty and friction between his parents. He was educated at Nottingham High School, to which he had won a scholarship. He worked as a clerk in a surgical appliance factory and then for four years as a pupil-teacher. After studies at Nottingham University, Lawrence matriculated at 22 and briefly pursued a teaching career. Lawrence's mother died in 1910; he helped her die by giving her an overdose of sleeping medicine.

In 1909, a number of Lawrence's poems were published by Ford Max Ford in the English Review. The appearance of his first novel, The White Peacock(1911), launched Lawrence into a writing career. In 1912 he met Frieda von Richthofen, the professor Ernest Weekly's wife and fell in love with her. Frieda left her husband and three children, and they eloped to Bavaria. Lawrence's novel Sons and Lovers appeared in 1913 and was based on his childhood . In 1914 Lawrence married Frieda von Richthofen, and traveled with her in several countries. Lawrence's fourth novel, The Rainbow (1915), was about two sisters growing up in the north of England. Lawrence started to write The Lost Girl in Italy. He dropped the novel for some years and rewrote the story in an old Sicilian farmhouse near Taormina in 1920.

During the First World War Lawrence and his wife were unable to obtain passports and were targets of constant harassment from the authorities. They were accused of spying for the Germans and officially expelled from Cornwall in 1917. The Lawrences were not permitted to emigrate until 1919, when their years of wandering began.

Lawrence's best known work is Lady Chatterly's Lover, first published privately in Florence in 1928. It tells of the love affair between a wealthy, married woman, and a man who works on her husband's estate. The book was banned for a time in both UK and the US as pornographic. Lawrence's other novels from the 1920s include Women In Love (1920), a sequel to The Rainbow.

Aaron's Rod (1922) shows the influence of Nietzsche, and in Kangaroo (1923) Lawrence expressed his own idea of a 'superman'. The Plumed Serpent (1926) was a vivid evocation of Mexico and its ancient Aztec religion. The Man Who Died (1929), is a bold story of Christ's Resurrection. Lawrence's non-fiction works include Movements In European History(1921), Psychoanalysis And The Unconscious (1922) and Studies In Classic American Literature (1923).

D.H. Lawrence died in Vence, France on March 2, 1930. He also gained posthumous renown for his expressionistic paintings completed in the 1920s.
 


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English novelist, story writer, critic, poet and painter, one of the greatest figures in 20th-century English literature. Lawrence saw sex and intuition as ways to undistorted perception of reality and means to respond to the inhumanity of the industrial culture. From Lawrence's doctrines of sexual freedom arose obscenity trials, which had a deep effect on the relationship between literature and society. In 1912 he wrote: "What the blood feels, and believes, and says, is always true." Lawrence's life after World War I was marked with continuous and restless wandering.

"The novel is the book of life. In this sense, the Bible is a great confused novel. You may say, it is about God. But it is really about man alive. Adam, Eve, Sarai, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Samuel, David, Bath-sheba, Ruth, Esther, Solomon, Job, Isaiah, Jesus, mark, Judas, Paul, Peter: what is it but man alive, from start to finish? Man alive, not mere bits. Even the Lord is another man alive, in a burning bush, throwing the tablets of stone at Moses's head." (from 'Why the Novel Matters' in D.H. Lawrence: Selected Criticism, 1956)

David Herbert Lawrence was born in the mining town of Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, in central England. He was the fourth child of Arthur John Lawrence, a struggling coal miner who was a heavy drinker. His mother, Lydia, née Beardsall, was a former schoolteacher, whose family had fallen in hard times. However, she was greatly superior in education to her husband.

Lawrence's childhood was dominated by poverty and friction between his parents. In a letter from 1910 to the poet Rachel Annand Taylor he later wrote: "Their marriage life has been one carnal, bloody fight. I was born hating my father: as early as ever I can remember, I shivered with horror when he touched me. He was very bad before I was born."

Encouraged by his mother, with whom he had a deep emotional bond and who figures as Mrs Morel in his first masterpiece, Lawrence became interested in arts. He was educated at Nottingham High School, to which he had won a scholarship. He worked as a clerk in a surgical appliance factory and then four years as a pupil-teacher. After studies at Nottingham University, Lawrence received his teaching certificate at 22 and briefly pursued a teaching career at Davidson Road School in Croydon in South London (1908-1911). Lawrence's mother died in 1910 - he helped her die by giving her an overdose of sleeping medicine. This scene was re-created in his novel SONS AND LOVERS (1912).

In 1909 a number of Lawrence's poems were submitted by Jessie Chambers, his childhood sweetheart, to Ford Madox Ford, who published them in English Review. While in Nottingham, Lawrence had regularly vivited the Chambers family at Haggs Farm, and started his friendship with Jessie. In 1910 Lawrence got engaged to Louie Burrows, his old friend. The next year, Lawrence started an affair with Alice Dax, the wife of a chemist. Falling seriously ill with pneumonia, Lawrence gave up schoolteaching.

The appearance of his first novel, THE WHITE PEACOCK (1911), launched Lawrence as a writer at the age of 25. In 1912 he met Frieda von Richthofen, the professor Ernest Weekly's wife and fell in love with her. Frieda left her husband and three children, and they eloped to Bavaria and then continued to Austria, Germany and Italy. In 1913 Lawrence's novel Sons and Lovers appeared. It was based on his childhood and contains a portrayal of Jessie Chambers, the Miriam in the novel and called 'Muriel' in early stories. When the book was rejected by Heinemann, Lawrence wrote to his friend: "Curse the blasted, jelly-boned swines, the slimy, the belly-wriggling invertebrates, the miserable sodding rutters, the flaming sods, the sniveling, dribbling, dithering, palsied, pulse-less lot that make up England today."

In 1914 Lawrence married Frieda von Richthofen, and travelled with her in several countries in the final two decades of his life. Lawrence's fourth novel, THE RAINBOW (1915), was about two sisters growing up in the north of England. The character of Ursula Brangwem was partly based on Lawrence's teacher associate in Nottingham, Loui Burrows. She was Lawrence's first love. The novel was banned for its alleged obscenity - it used swear words and talked openly about sex. Lawrence's frankness in describing sexual relations between men and women upset a great many people and over 1000 copies of the novel were burned by the examining magistrate's order. The banning created further difficulties for him in getting anything published. Also his paintings were confiscated from an art gallery. John Middleton Mutty and Catherine Mansfield offered Lawrence their various 'little magazines' for his texts. An important patron was Lady Ottoline Morrell, wife of a Liberal Member of Parliament. Through her, Lawrence formed relationships with several cultural figures, among them Aldous Huxley, E.M. Forster, and Bertrand Russell, with whom he was later to quarrel bitterly.

During the First World War Lawrence and his wife were unable to obtain passports and were target of constant harassment from the authorities. Frieda, a cousin of the legendary "Red Baron" von Richthofen, was viewed with great suspicion. They were accused of spying for the Germans and officially expelled from Cornwall in 1917. The Lawrences were not permitted to emigrate until 1919, when their years of wandering began.

Lawrence started to write THE LOST GIRL (1920) in Italy. He had settled with Frieda in Gargano. In those days they were so poor that they could not afford even a newspaper. The novel dealt with one of Lawrence's favourite subjects - a girl marries a man of a much lower social status, against the advice of friends, and finds compensation in his superior warmth and understanding. "But it needs a certain natural gift to become a loose woman or a prostitute. If you haven't got the qualities which attract loose men, what are you to do? Supposing it isn't in your nature to attract loose and promiscuous men! Why, then you can't be a prostitute, if you try your head off: nor even a loose woman. Since willing won't do it. It requires a second party to come to an agreement." (from The Lost Girl, 1920 ) Lawrence dropped the novel for some years and rewrote the story in an old Sicilian farm-house near Taormina in 1920.

In the 1920s Aldous Huxley traveled with Lawrence in Italy and France. Between 1922 and 1926 he and Frieda left Italy to live intermittently in Ceylon, Australia, New Mexico, and Mexico. These years provided settings for several of Lawrence's novels and stories. In 1924 the New York socialite Mabel Dodge Luhan gave Lawrence and Frieda the Kiowa Ranch in Taos, receiving is return the original manuscript of Sons and Lovers. In an essay called 'New Mexico' (1928) Lawrence wrote that "New Mexico was the greatest experience from the outside world that I have ever had." He felt that it liberated him from the present era of civilization - "a new part of the soul woke up suddenly, and the old world gave way to a new." After severe illness in Mexico - Lawrence contracted malaria - it was discovered that he was suffering from life-threatening tuberculosis. From 1925 the Lawrences confined their travels to Europe.

Lawrence's best known work is LADY CHATTERLEY'S LOVER, first published privately in Florence in 1928. It tells of the love affair between a wealthy, married woman, Constance Chatterley, and a man who works on her husband's estate. A war wound has left her husband, Sir Clifford, a mine owner in Derbyshire, impotent and paralyzed. Constance has a brief affair with a young playwright and then enters into a passionate relationship with Sir Clifford's gamekeeper, Oliver Melloers. Connie becomes pregnant. Sir Clifford refuses to give a divorce and the lovers wait for better time when they could be united. "Necessary, forever necessary, to burn out false shames and smelt the heaviest ore of the body into purity." - One of the models for the cuckolder-gamekeeper was Angelino Ravagli, who received half the Lawrence estate after Frieda's death.

Lady Chatterley's Lover was banned for a time in both the UK and the US as pornographic. In the UK it was published in unexpurgated form in 1960 after an obscenity trial, where defense witnesses included E.M. Forster, Helen Gardner, and Richard Hoggart.

Among Lawrence's other famous novels is WOMEN IN LOVE (1920), a sequel to Rainbow. The characters are probably partially based on Lawrence and his wife, and John Middleton Murray and his wife Katherine Mansfield. The friends shared a house in England in 1914-15. Lawrence used the English composer and songwriter Philip Heseltine as the basis for Julius Halliday, who never forgave it. When a manuscript of philosophical essays by Lawrence fell into Heseltine's hands - no other copies of the text existed - he used it as toilet tissue. According to an anecdote, Lawrence never trusted the opinions of Murray and when Murray told that he believed that there was no God, Lawrence replied, "Now I know there is."

Lawrence argued that instincts and intuitions are more important than the reason. "Instinct makes me run from little over-earnest ladies; instinct makes me sniff the lime blossom and reach for the darkest cherry. But it is intuition which makes me feel the uncanny glassiness of the lake this afternoon, the sulkiness of the mountains, the vividness of near green in thunder-sun, the young man in bright blue trousers lightly tossing the grass from the scythe, the elderly man in a boater stiffly shoving his scythe strokes, both of them sweating in the silence of the intense light." (from 'Insouciance', 1928) Lawrence's belief in the importance of instincts reflected the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche, whom Lawrence had read already in the 1910s. AARON'S ROAD (1922) shows directly the influence of the German philosopher, and in KANGAROO (1923) Lawrence expressed his own idea of a 'superman'.

THE PLUMED SERPENT (1926) was a vivid evocation of Mexico and its ancient Aztec religion. Lawrence's last major work of fiction, THE MAN WHO DIED (1929), originally entitled The Escaped Cock, was published in two parts, the first in 1928 and the second in 1929. The bold story of Christ's life following his resurrection, was written in a New Testament pastiche language. Instead of going to heaven, Christ initiates himself into the fully human world, and becomes seduced by the perfume of the priestess of Isis. Lawrence's non-fiction works include MOVEMENTS IN EUROPEAN HISTORY (1921), PSYCHOANALYSIS AND THE UNCONSCIOUS (1922), STUDIES IN CLASSIC AMERICAN LITERATURE (1923) and APOCALYPSE AND THE WRITINGS ON REVELATION (1931).

D.H. Lawrence died at Villa Robermond, in Vence, France on March 2, 1930. Frieda (d. 1956) moved to the Kiowa Ranch and built a small memorial chapel to Lawrence; his ashes lie there. In 1950 she married Angelino Ravagli, a former Italian infantry officer, with whom she had started an affair in 1925. Jake Zeitlin, a Los Angeles bookseller, who first took care of Lawrence's literary estate, summarized his feeling when he first saw the author's manuscripts: "That night when I first opened the trunk containing the manuscripts of Lawrence and as I looked through them, watched unfold the immense pattern of his vision and the tremendous product of his energy, there stirred in me an emotion similar to that I felt when first viewing the heavens with a telescope." Lawrence also gained posthumous renown for his expressionistic paintings completed in the 1920s.

 

 

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This web page was last updated on: 12 December, 2008