Biography of D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930)
David Herbert (D. H.) Lawrence is one of the most versatile and influential figures in the 20th-century literary canon. Best known for his novels, Lawrence was also an accomplished poet, short story writer, essayist, critic, and travel writer. The controversial themes for which he is remembered?namely the celebration of sensuality in an over-intellectualized world?and his relationship with censors sometimes overshadow the work of a master craftsman and profound thinker.
Lawrence was born on Sept. 11, 1885, in the small coal-mining village of Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, in central England. Lawrence's father, Arthur, was a miner, and the mining boom of the 1870s had taken the family around Nottinghamshire. By the time Bert (as Lawrence was known), the family's fourth child, was born, the family had settled in Eastwood for good. Lawrence's mother, Lydia Beardsall, an intellectually ambitious woman disillusioned with her husband's dead-end job and irresponsible drinking habits, encouraged her children to advance beyond their restrictive environment.
Bert, a sickly, bookish child, won a scholarship to Nottingham High School in 1898. The experiment was unsuccessful, and at sixteen he clerked in a surgical appliance factory (the experience is recreated in his 1913 largely autobiographical novel Sons and Lovers). One of his older brothers, Ernest, died from the skin disease erysipelas, and Lydia sank into grief. After Bert nearly died from pneumonia, Lydia devoted herself to him. This series of events, and Lydia's smothering love for him, is examined in depth in Sons and Lovers. The novel also focuses on industrialism, and explores the battle between the intellectual mind and the sensual body as exemplified by Lydia and Arthur.
Lawrence studied hard to become a teacher, and he was accepted to Nottingham University College for the fall of 1906 to gain his teacher's certificate. By that time, he had begun writing poetry and what would turn into The White Peacock, his first novel. He did not enjoy the collegiate atmosphere and spent most of his time there writing and learning about socialism. Still, he excelled in his work, and upon graduation in 1908 received a job at the Davidson Road Boys' School near London.
Lawrence continued writing poetry and prose, and he was soon catapulted into London's literary circles, though he never felt comfortable within them. His mother developed cancer in 1910, and as she wasted away, Lawrence began writing "Paul Morel" (later to become Sons and Lovers) as an investigation into his relationship with her. Her bitter disapproval of her son's intense friendship and near romance with Jessie Chambers from Nottinghamshire would figure into the novel as Mrs. Morel's hatred of Miriam Leiver.
The White Peacock was published in 1911, and in November of that year, Lawrence came down with another case of pneumonia and stopped teaching. He soon after met and had an extramarital affair with Frieda von Richtofen Weekly, the wife of a professor at Nottingham University College. They eloped to Germany and Italy in May, 1912, and Sons and Lovers was published the next year. They married in 1914, but World War I put some stress on their English-German marriage. Lawrence was declared unfit for military service, and the couple traveled throughout Europe while in dire financial straits. Nevertheless, Lawrence was prolific in this period, writing more poems, publishing The Rainbow in 1915, and working on Women in Love.
The Rainbow's erotic subject matter and language was met with harsh criticism, and its distribution was severed. Lawrence unhappily waited out the end of the war and published Women in Love in 1920. The 1920s were spent traveling around Europe, New Mexico, and Mexico. He continued writing novels, poems, and even books on psychoanalysis, though only Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928), another heavily censored book, approached the fame and reputation of Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow, and Women in Love. His fragile constitution gave out on him, and he died of tuberculosis on March 2, 1930, in Vence, France.
Lawrence is one of the few writers whose reputation is equally staked on novels, short stories, and poetry, and though his initially censored work now seems tame, he opened up the door to sensuality for countless writers after him. During his career, he was deeply resentful of the censorship brought against his work, which he believed amounted to denying pure artistic aspirations. In his foreword to Women in Love, he claims that the creative soul should be valued, and that he owes no apologies to the critics and authorities who have accused him of writing pornography or degraded eroticism.