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David H Lawrence

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English novelist, story writer, critic, poet and painter, one of the greatest figures in 20th-century English literature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930)

 

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 traveled with her in several countries in the final two decades of his life. Violent fights become a part of their marriage and sexual bond. Katherine Mansfield wrote: "I don't know which disgusts one worse - when they are loving and playing with each other, or when they are roaring at each other and he is pulling out Frieda's hair and saying 'I'll cut your bloody throat, you bitch.'"

 

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 favorite 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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