Biography of D.H. Lawrence

David Herbert (D.H.) Lawrence was one of the most versatile and influential writers in 20th-century literature. 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 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 age 16 he began working as a clerk in a surgical appliance factory. 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 relationship, including Lydia's smothering love for him, is examined in depth in Lawrence's largely autobiographical novel, Sons and Lovers (1913). The novel also focuses on industrialism, and explores the battle between the intellectual mind and the sensual body, drawing from Lawrence's experiences and influences.

After studying hard in the hopes of becoming a teacher, Lawrence was accepted to Nottingham University College in 1906. 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 at Nottingham 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" (which would later become Sons and Lovers) as an investigation into his relationship with her.

The White Peacock was published in 1911, and in November of that year, Lawrence came down with another case of pneumonia and stopped teaching. Soon after, he met and had an extramarital affair with Frieda von Richtofen Weekley, the wife of a professor at Nottingham University College. 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 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 were met with harsh criticism, and its distribution was blocked. 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 in a period Lawrence called his "savage pilgrimage." He continued writing novels, poems, and even books on psychoanalysis, though only Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928), another novel heavily censored for its erotic subject matter, approached the fame and reputation of his acclaimed earlier novels.

Following various bouts of illnesses, Lawrence died of tuberculosis on March 2, 1930, in Vence, France.

Study Guides on Works by D.H. Lawrence

The Rainbow is a novel as difficult as it is rewarding. At times, the intergenerational saga of the Brangwen family may seem tedious and over-stuffed with characters, many of whom share the same names. Yet in equal measure, Lawrence presents...

“Second Best” is a short story written by D. H. Lawrence in August 1911 and initially published in English Review in February the following the year. It reappeared as part of Lawrence’s collection The Prussian Soldier and Other Stories in 1914....

Until Demi Moore came along, “Self-Pity” was primarily known for being part of poetic infamy. The poem was included in the collection of titled Pansies: Poems which became infamous as the result of its being seized and confiscated by government...

D.H. Lawrence began writing his fifth novel, Women in Love, in 1913 but it was not completed until Lawrence was living in Cornwall three years later. It was first published in 1920 after several delays and editorial changes, some of which were due...