When I first met Carolyn in the early 1980s, one of the writers that we passionately discussed was British novelist and poet D.H. Lawrence. We had both enjoyed his novels and been inspired by his sensual writings.
David Herbert Lawrence was born in 1885 in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, England. His father was a barely literate coal miner and his mother was a schoolteacher. Nottinghamshire was a coal-mining town, and Lawrence’s working-class background influenced his writings.
From 1891 to 1898 Lawrence attended a boarding school in Eastwood that is today named in his honor: D.H. Lawrence Primary School. Lawrence was the first local student to win a scholarship to Nottingham High School. Lawrence had a great love of books while he was young and throughout his life.
From 1902 to 1906 Lawrence worked as a schoolteacher in Eastwood. It was around this time that he began writing his first poems and short stories. In 1907 Lawrence won a short story competition, and he began working on a draft for his first novel. Lawrence enrolled as a full-time student at the University of London in 1908 and he earned a teaching certificate there.
For a while, Lawrence both taught and submitted his writings for publication to some of the literary journals of the time. His first novel, The White Peacock, was published in 1911. The novel explored the theme of love triangles and the damage associated with mismatched marriages. The book received generally positive reviews, and that same year Lawrence quit his teaching position in order to be able to write full-time.
In 1912 Lawrence met the woman who he was to share his life with, Frieda Weekley, and although she was already married when they first met, they eloped and left England for Germany. Once in Germany Lawrence was arrested and accused of being a British spy, although, thanks to an intervention by Frieda’s father, he was released.
That same year, the Lawrences walked from Germany, across the Alps, to Italy. This magnificent journey, with sights of incredible beauty, and Lawrence’s impressions of the Italian countryside, were recorded in the first of Lawrence’s travel books, Twilight in Italy. During his time in Italy, Lawrence completed his novel Sons and Lovers, and he also spent time with his good friend Aldous Huxley. Lawrence’s novel, about the emotional conflicts associated with suffocating relationships and the realities of working-class life, was published in 1913 and received positive reviews.
While in Italy, Lawrence also wrote the draft of a manuscript that was eventually divided into two of his best-known novels, The Rainbow, published in 1915, and Women in Love, published in 1920 as a sequel. In both of these novels, lesbian characters play prominent roles, and the novels were considered highly controversial when they were published. They were initially banned in the United Kingdom for obscenity. In 1922 the Lawrences moved to the United States and settled in Taos, New Mexico.
Lawrence’s final novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, was first published privately in 1928, in Italy, and in 1929 in France. The story is about a young, married, upper-class woman who has an affair with her working-class gamekeeper, and the novel revolves around the theme that love can happen purely from physical expression.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover wasn’t openly published until 1960 when it became the subject of an obscenity trial in the United Kingdom for its depiction of sexual intimacy and its use of forbidden language. It was initially banned in the United States, Canada, Australia, India, and Japan. Lawrence’s publisher won the obscenity trial in the United Kingdom, three million copies of the book were quickly sold, and the bans was subsequently lifted around the world.
Lawrence’s work, opinions, and artistic preferences, were highly controversial during his lifetime, and there were many people who didn’t like what he was writing; as a result, he endured quite a bit of persecution and much misrepresentation of his work. Many critics viewed his erotic writings as pornography. However, although Lawrence’s depictions of sexuality were seen as shocking at the time that they were published, they seem rather tame by today’s standards.
There is also a deeper, almost mystical philosophy underlying Lawrence’s novels that many of his early critics missed. The leading characters in his most controversial novels go through rebirth experiences, and they grow into more fulfilling versions of themselves. Also, according to Lawrence, “the journey into the unconscious is accomplished through sensual experience.” This is an important theme for Lawrence. He urges us to explore the impulses and desires of the unconscious in order to find our deeper selves. Lawrence didn’t trust the intellect because he believed that the mind distorts reality, and that bodily sensations are more concrete and thus more real.
Lawrence also wrote five screenplays and nearly 800 poems in his lifetime. He had a lifelong interest in painting as well, and this became his main form of creative expression during his final years. In 1929 Lawrence’s paintings were exhibited at the Warren Gallery in London and the show was extremely controversial. Over 12,000 people attended, and after some people complained about the artwork, the police seized thirteen of the twenty-five paintings. Lawrence was able to get the paintings back— but only under the condition that he never exhibit them in England ever again. Lawrence’s paintings are now housed in a hotel in Taos, and in Austin at the University of Texas.
Lawrence died young, in 1930, at the age of 44, and he was buried in Taos. Since 2008, an annual D. H. Lawrence Festival has been organized in his hometown of Eastwood, to celebrate his life and works.
Some of the quotes that D.H. Lawrence is known for include:
Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot.
But better die than live mechanically a life that is a repetition of repetitions.
This is what I believe: That I am I. That my soul is a dark forest. That my known self will never be more than a little clearing in the forest. That gods, strange gods, come forth from the forest into the clearing of my known self and then go back. That I must have the courage to let them come and go. That I will never let mankind put anything over me, but that I will try always to recognize and submit to the gods in me and the gods in other men and women. There is my creed.
Life is ours to be spent, not to be saved.
I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.
One must learn to love, and go through a good deal of suffering to get to it, and the journey is always towards the other soul.