Life and career
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D. H. Lawrence at age 21 in 1906
The fourth child of Arthur John Lawrence, a barely literate miner at Brinsley Colliery, and Lydia Beardsall, a former pupil teacher who had been forced to perform manual work in a lace factory due to her family's financial difficulties, Lawrence spent his formative years in the coal mining town of Eastwood, Nottinghamshire. The house in which he was born, 8a Victoria Street, is now the D. H. Lawrence Birthplace Museum. His working-class background and the tensions between his parents provided the raw material for a number of his early works. Lawrence roamed out from an early age in the patches of open, hilly country and remaining fragments of Sherwood Forest in Felley woods to the north of Eastwood, beginning a lifelong appreciation of the natural world, and he often wrote about "the country of my heart" as a setting for much of his fiction.
The young Lawrence attended Beauvale Board School (now renamed Greasley Beauvale D. H. Lawrence Primary School in his honour) from 1891 until 1898, becoming the first local pupil to win a county council scholarship to Nottingham High School in nearby Nottingham. He left in 1901, working for three months as a junior clerk at Haywood's surgical appliances factory, but a severe bout of pneumonia ended this career. During his convalescence he often visited Hagg's Farm, the home of the Chambers family, and began a friendship with Jessie Chambers. An important aspect of this relationship with Chambers and other adolescent acquaintances was a shared love of books, an interest that lasted throughout Lawrence's life. In the years 1902 to 1906 Lawrence served as a pupil teacher at the British School, Eastwood. He went on to become a full-time student and received a teaching certificate from University College, Nottingham, in 1908. During these early years he was working on his first poems, some short stories, and a draft of a novel, Laetitia, which was eventually to become The White Peacock. At the end of 1907 he won a short story competition in the Nottinghamshire Guardian, the first time that he had gained any wider recognition for his literary talents.
In the autumn of 1908 the newly qualified Lawrence left his childhood home for London. While teaching in Davidson Road School, Croydon, he continued writing. Jessie Chambers submitted some of Lawrence's early poetry to Ford Madox Ford (then known as Ford Hermann Hueffer), editor of the influential The English Review. Hueffer then commissioned the story Odour of Chrysanthemums which, when published in that magazine, encouraged Heinemann, a London publisher, to ask Lawrence for more work. His career as a professional author now began in earnest, although he taught for another year. Shortly after the final proofs of his first published novel, The White Peacock, appeared in 1910, Lawrence's mother died of cancer. The young man was devastated, and he was to describe the next few months as his "sick year". It is clear that Lawrence had an extremely close relationship with his mother, and his grief became a major turning point in his life, just as the death of Mrs. Morel is a major turning point in his autobiographical novel Sons and Lovers, a work that draws upon much of the writer's provincial upbringing. Essentially concerned with the emotional battle for Lawrence’s love between his mother and "Miriam" (in reality Jessie Chambers), the novel also documents Paul's (Lawrence's) brief intimate relationship with Miriam (Jessie) that Lawrence had finally initiated in the Christmas of 1909, ending it in August 1910. The hurt caused to Jessie by this and finally by her portrayal in the novel caused the end of their friendship and after it was published they never spoke to each other again.
In 1911 Lawrence was introduced to Edward Garnett, a publisher's reader, who acted as a mentor, provided further encouragement, and became a valued friend, as did his son David. Throughout these months the young author revised Paul Morel, the first draft of what became Sons and Lovers. In addition, a teaching colleague, Helen Corke, gave him access to her intimate diaries about an unhappy love affair, which formed the basis of The Trespasser, his second novel. In November 1911, he came down with a pneumonia again; once he recovered, Lawrence decided to abandon teaching in order to become a full-time writer. In February 1912 he broke off an engagement to Louie Burrows, an old friend from his days in Nottingham and Eastwood.
In March 1912 Lawrence met Frieda Weekley (née von Richthofen), with whom he was to share the rest of his life. Six years older than her new lover, she was married to Ernest Weekley, his former modern languages professor at University College, Nottingham, and had three young children. She eloped with Lawrence to her parents' home in Metz, a garrison town then in Germany near the disputed border with France. Their stay there included Lawrence's first encounter with tensions between Germany and France, when he was arrested and accused of being a British spy, before being released following an intervention from Frieda's father. After this incident, Lawrence left for a small hamlet to the south of Munich, where he was joined by Frieda for their "honeymoon", later memorialised in the series of love poems titled Look! We Have Come Through (1917). During 1912 Lawrence wrote the first of his so-called "mining plays", The Daughter-in-Law, written in Nottingham dialect. The play was never to be performed, or even published, in Lawrence's lifetime.
Lady Ottoline Morrell (1873–1938), vintage snapshot print/NPG x140423. D. H. Lawrence, 29 November 1915
From Germany they walked southwards across the Alps to Italy, a journey that was recorded in the first of his travel books, a collection of linked essays titled Twilight in Italy and the unfinished novel, Mr Noon. During his stay in Italy, Lawrence completed the final version of Sons and Lovers that, when published in 1913, was acknowledged to be a vivid portrait of the realities of working class provincial life. Lawrence, though, had become so tired of the work that he allowed Edward Garnett to cut about a hundred pages from the text.
Lawrence and Frieda returned to Britain in 1913 for a short visit, during which they encountered and befriended critic John Middleton Murry and New Zealand-born short story writer Katherine Mansfield. Lawrence was able to meet Welsh tramp poet W. H. Davies, whose work, much of which was inspired by nature, he greatly admired. Davies collected autographs, and was particularly keen to obtain Lawrence's. Georgian poetry publisher Edward Marsh was able to secure an autograph (probably as part of a signed poem), and invited Lawrence and Frieda to meet Davies in London on 28 July, under his supervision. Lawrence was immediately captivated by the poet and later invited Davies to join Frieda and him in Germany. Despite his early enthusiasm for Davies' work, however, Lawrence's opinion changed after reading Foliage and he commented after reading Nature Poems in Italy that they seemed "so thin, one can hardly feel them".
Lawrence and Frieda soon went back to Italy, staying in a cottage in Fiascherino on the Gulf of Spezia. Here he started writing the first draft of a work of fiction that was to be transformed into two of his best-known novels, The Rainbow and Women in Love, in which unconventional female characters take centre stage. Both novels were highly controversial, and both were banned on publication in the UK for obscenity (Women in Love only temporarily). Both novels cover grand themes and ideas.
The Rainbow follows three generations of a Nottinghamshire farming family from the pre-industrial to the industrial age, focusing particularly on a daughter, Ursula, and her aspiration for a more fulfilling life than that of becoming a housebound wife. Women in Love delves into the complex relationships between four major characters, including the sisters Ursula and Gudrun. Both novels challenged conventional ideas about the arts, politics, economic growth, gender, sexual experience, friendship and marriage and can be seen as far ahead of their time. The frank and relatively straightforward manner in which Lawrence dealt with sexual attraction was ostensibly what got the books banned, perhaps in particular the mention of same-sex attraction – Ursula has an affair with a woman in The Rainbow and in Women in Love there is an undercurrent of attraction between the two principal male characters.
While writing Women in Love in Cornwall during 1916–17, Lawrence developed a strong and possibly romantic relationship with a Cornish farmer named William Henry Hocking. Although it is not clear if their relationship was sexual, Frieda said she believed it was. Lawrence's fascination with the theme of homosexuality, which is overtly manifested in Women in Love, could be related to his own sexual orientation. In a letter written during 1913, he writes, "I should like to know why nearly every man that approaches greatness tends to homosexuality, whether he admits it or not ..." He is also quoted as saying, "I believe the nearest I've come to perfect love was with a young coal-miner when I was about 16." However, given his enduring and robust relationship with Frieda it is likely that he was primarily "bi-curious" in the terminology of today, and whether he actually ever had homosexual relations remains an open question.
Eventually, Frieda obtained her divorce. The couple returned to Britain shortly before the outbreak of World War I and were married on 13 July 1914. At this time, Lawrence worked with London intellectuals and writers such as Dora Marsden and the people involved with The Egoist (T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and others). The Egoist, an important Modernist literary magazine, published some of his work. He was also reading and adapting Marinetti's Manifesto of Futurism. He also met at this time the young Jewish artist Mark Gertler, and they became (for a time) good friends; Lawrence would describe Gertler's 1916 anti-war painting, Merry-Go-Round as "the best modern picture I have seen: I think it is great and true." Gertler would inspire the character Loerke (a sculptor) in Women in Love. Frieda's German parentage and Lawrence's open contempt for militarism caused them to be viewed with suspicion in wartime Britain and to live in near destitution. The Rainbow (1915) was suppressed after an investigation into its alleged obscenity in 1915. Later, they were accused of spying and signaling to German submarines off the coast of Cornwall where they lived at Zennor. During this period he finished writing Women in Love. Not published until 1920, it is now widely recognised as an English novel of great dramatic force and intellectual subtlety.
In late 1917, after constant harassment by the armed forces authorities, Lawrence was forced to leave Cornwall at three days' notice under the terms of the Defence of the Realm Act. This persecution was later described in an autobiographical chapter of his Australian novel Kangaroo, published in 1923. He spent some months in early 1918 in the small, rural village of Hermitage near Newbury, Berkshire. He then lived for just under a year (mid-1918 to early 1919) at Mountain Cottage, Middleton-by-Wirksworth, Derbyshire, where he wrote one of his most poetic short stories, Wintry Peacock. Until 1919 he was compelled by poverty to shift from address to address and barely survived a severe attack of influenza.
After his experience of the war years, Lawrence began what he termed his "savage pilgrimage", a time of voluntary exile. He escaped from Britain at the earliest practical opportunity, to return only twice for brief visits, and with his wife spent the remainder of his life travelling. This wanderlust took him to Australia, Italy, Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka), the United States, Mexico and the South of France.
Lawrence abandoned Britain in November 1919 and headed south, first to the Abruzzo region in central Italy and then onwards to Capri and the Fontana Vecchia in Taormina, Sicily. From Sicily he made brief excursions to Sardinia, Monte Cassino, Malta, Northern Italy, Austria and Southern Germany. Many of these places appeared in his writings. New novels included The Lost Girl (for which he won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction), Aaron's Rod and the fragment titled Mr Noon (the first part of which was published in the Phoenix anthology of his works, and the entirety in 1984). He experimented with shorter novels or novellas, such as The Captain's Doll, The Fox and The Ladybird. In addition, some of his short stories were issued in the collection England, My England and Other Stories. During these years he produced a number of poems about the natural world in Birds, Beasts and Flowers. Lawrence is widely recognised as one of the finest travel writers in the English language. Sea and Sardinia, a book that describes a brief journey undertaken in January 1921, is a recreation of the life of the inhabitants of Sardinia. Less well known is the memoir of Maurice Magnus, Memoirs of the Foreign Legion, in which Lawrence recalls his visit to the monastery of Monte Cassino. Other non-fiction books include two responses to Freudian psychoanalysis, Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious and Fantasia of the Unconscious, and Movements in European History, a school textbook that was published under a pseudonym, a reflection of his blighted reputation in Britain.
Later life and career
In late February 1922 the Lawrences left Europe behind with the intention of migrating to the United States. They sailed in an easterly direction, first to Ceylon and then on to Australia. A short residence in Darlington, Western Australia, which included an encounter with local writer Mollie Skinner, was followed by a brief stop in the small coastal town of Thirroul, New South Wales, during which Lawrence completed Kangaroo, a novel about local fringe politics that also revealed a lot about his wartime experiences in Cornwall.
The Lawrences finally arrived in the United States in September 1922. Lawrence had several times discussed the idea of setting up a utopian community with several of his friends, having written to his old socialist friend in Eastwood, Willie Hopkin, in 1915,
"I want to gather together about twenty souls and sail away from this world of war and squalor and found a little colony where there shall be no money but a sort of communism as far as necessaries of life go, and some real decency… a place where one can live simply, apart from this civilisation… [with] a few other people who are also at peace and happy and live, and understand and be free…"
It was with this in mind that they made for the "bohemian" town of Taos, New Mexico, where Mabel Dodge Luhan, a prominent socialite, lived. Here they eventually acquired the 160-acre (0.65 km2) Kiowa Ranch, now called the D. H. Lawrence Ranch, in 1924 from Dodge Luhan in exchange for the manuscript of Sons and Lovers. He stayed in New Mexico for two years, with extended visits to Lake Chapala and Oaxaca in Mexico. While Lawrence was in New Mexico, he was visited by Aldous Huxley.
Editor and book designer Merle Armitage wrote a book about D. H. Lawrence in New Mexico. Taos Quartet in Three Movements was originally to appear in Flair Magazine, but the magazine folded before its publication. This short work describes the tumultuous relationship of D. H. Lawrence, his wife Frieda, artist Dorothy Brett and Mabel Dodge Sterne. Armitage took it upon himself to print 16 hardcover copies of this work for his friends. Richard Pousette-Dart executed the drawings for Taos Quartet, published in 1950.
While in the US, Lawrence rewrote and published Studies in Classic American Literature, a set of critical essays begun in 1917, and later described by Edmund Wilson as "one of the few first-rate books that have ever been written on the subject". These interpretations, with their insights into symbolism, New England Transcendentalism and the puritan sensibility, were a significant factor in the revival of the reputation of Herman Melville during the early 1920s. In addition, Lawrence completed a number of new fictional works, including The Boy in the Bush, The Plumed Serpent, St Mawr, The Woman who Rode Away, The Princess and assorted short stories. He also found time to produce some more travel writing, such as the collection of linked excursions that became Mornings in Mexico.
A brief voyage to England at the end of 1923 was a failure and he soon returned to Taos, convinced that his life as an author now lay in the United States. However, in March 1925 he suffered a near fatal attack of malaria and tuberculosis while on a third visit to Mexico. Although he eventually recovered, the diagnosis of his condition obliged him to return once again to Europe. He was dangerously ill and the poor health limited his ability to travel for the remainder of his life. The Lawrences made their home in a villa in Northern Italy, living near Florence while he wrote The Virgin and the Gipsy and the various versions of Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928). The latter book, his last major novel, was initially published in private editions in Florence and Paris and reinforced his notoriety. A story set once more in Nottinghamshire about a cross-class relationship between a Lady and her gamekeeper, it broke new ground in describing their sexual relationship in explicit yet literary language. His intention in writing the novel was to challenge the British establishment’s taboos around sex, to enable men and women "…to think sex, fully, completely, honestly, and cleanly." Lawrence responded robustly to those who claimed to be offended, penning a large number of satirical poems, published under the title of "Pansies" and "Nettles", as well as a tract on Pornography and Obscenity.
The return to Italy allowed Lawrence to renew old friendships; during these years he was particularly close to Aldous Huxley, who was to edit the first collection of Lawrence's letters after his death, along with a memoir. With artist Earl Brewster, Lawrence visited a number of local archaeological sites in April 1927. The resulting essays describing these visits to old tombs were written up and collected together as Sketches of Etruscan Places, a book that contrasts the lively past with Benito Mussolini's fascism. Lawrence continued to produce fiction, including short stories and The Escaped Cock (also published as The Man Who Died), an unorthodox reworking of the story of Jesus Christ's Resurrection. During these final years Lawrence renewed a serious interest in oil painting. Official harassment persisted and an exhibition of some of these pictures at the Warren Gallery in London was raided by the police in mid 1929 and a number of works were confiscated.
Lawrence continued to write despite his failing health. In his last months he wrote numerous poems, reviews and essays, as well as a robust defence of his last novel against those who sought to suppress it. His last significant work was a reflection on the Book of Revelation, Apocalypse. After being discharged from a sanatorium, he died on 2 March 1930 at the Villa Robermond in Vence, France, from complications of tuberculosis. Frieda Weekley commissioned an elaborate headstone for his grave bearing a mosaic of his adopted emblem of the phoenix. After Lawrence's death, Frieda lived with Angelo Ravagli on the ranch in Taos and eventually married him in 1950. In 1935 Ravagli arranged, on Frieda's behalf, to have Lawrence’s body exhumed and cremated and his ashes brought back to the ranch to be interred there in a small chapel amid the mountains of New Mexico.