David Herbert Lawrence was more than a novelist. Lawrence was a poet, storywriter, playwright, letter writer, literary critic, art critic, and philosopher (Phillips, par. 1). Plagued with fragile health and failing relationships, he was constantly searching
for a place he could feel content. Lawrence’s travels produced vivid works that transported its readers to exotic places they would never imagine seeing for themselves. They also caused controversy. One book, The Rainbow, even became the subject of an obscenity trial a month after its release (“DH Lawrence,” pars. 2, 12, 16). With the encouragement of his mother and the influence of his childhood friend Jessie Chambers, Lawrence produced many controversial, but well respected and studied works of literature and art (“D. H. Lawrence, par. 1).
Lawrence was born on September 11, 1885 in a Nottinghamshire town called Eastwood. Lawrence, struck with a severe case of bronchitis in his first few weeks, would have severely damaged lungs for the rest of his life. (“DH Lawrence,” pars. 1, 2). He was the fourth of the five children of Arthur John Lawrence and his wife Lydia. Lawrence was in poor health all of his childhood. He was bullied in school, and he preferred the company of girls, who talked rather than fought like boys. Being frail and unhealthy made it difficult for him to play normal games with the boys and to make friends (Worthen 1-2). “However, as Lawrence grew, he slowly learned that academia was one area in which his physical limitations were unimportant” (“DH Lawrence,” par. 3).
Finally realizing that he could excel in education, Lawrence began doing well in school. By the time he was twelve, Lawrence was the first boy from Eastwood to win the County Council scholarship, and he went to Nottingham High School (Worthen 2). “Living in near poverty his mother was determined that he should not become a miner like his father. Instead, she encouraged him academically and Lawrence was persuaded to work hard at Nottingham High School” (“D. H. Lawrence,” par. 1). Unfortunately, Lawrence’s performance at Nottingham was less than extraordinary, and he left in 1901 with little to show for his experience (Worthen 2).
Not long after leaving Nottingham, Lawrence started his first job as a factory clerk for the Nottingham surgical appliances manufacturer, Haywoods (Worthen 2). “After only three months of work, the combination of a poor working environment and the stress of the job brought on a bad case of pneumonia” (“DH Lawrence,” par. 4). Just before this, Lawrence’s brother William Lawrence fell ill and died. Lydia, Lawrence’s mother, turned all of her affections toward him, after the death of her son (Worthen 2).
Around this time, Lawrence and his mother visited the Haggs farm in the summer of 1900 while recuperating from pneumonia. It was here that he met Jessie Chambers. He and Jessie became close, intellectual friends; they read books together and endlessly discussed authors and literature. Under Chambers’ influence, Lawrence began writing poetry in 1904. In 1905 he began writing what would become The White Peacock—his first novel. “Jessie Chambers saw all of his early writing; her encouragement and admiration were crucial” (Worthen 2).
Near 1902, Lawrence’s health improves, and he spends the next three years as a pupil-teacher at the British School in Eastwood (Worthen 2). “Saving the necessary £20 fee, Lawrence attained a scholarship to University College, Nottingham where he worked to get a teacher’s certificate from 1906 onward” (“D. H. Lawrence,” par. 1). Unfortunately, the death of his mother, Lydia Lawrence, cut short his promising career as a teacher. The next year, despite the publication of The White Peacock, was desperate for Lawrence. He was mourning the death of his mother, unhappy in his engagement to Louie Burrows, and missing the support of Jessie Chambers. The true end of his teaching career came when he fell ill with a double case of pneumonia and nearly died (Worthen 3).
Although the death of his mother was tragic, his devastation helped to produce one of his most famous novels, the autobiographical Sons and Lovers.
Lawrence’s publisher Heinemann initially rejected this book. Around theis time Lawrence eloped with the German wife of his past Nottingham professor, and he and the woman, Frieda were married in 1914 (“D. H. Lawrence,” pars. 2, 3). The police, due to World War I, constantly searched the couple’s home in England. They became the subjects of witch hunting and were even accused of using powerful lights to signal the enemy. The Defense of the Realm Act was used to have them expelled from Cornwall, England in 1918 (“DH Lawrence,” pars. 10, 13).
During this time, the couple constantly traveled. Their travels produced four very personal travel books. This was the most productive time of Lawrence’s life. He had Love Poems published in 1913 after Sons and Lovers. The next novel he published was when he began having problems with censoring and the law. The Rainbow was considered obscene because of its sexual content and language. In 1917 he published a volume of poems called, Look! We Have Come Through!. Soon after this, he and Frieda moved to Italy (“D. H. Lawrence,” par. 3).
While in Italy, the couple received a letter from millionaire and patron of the arts Mabel Dodge Luhan. She wanted Lawrence to visit her home in New Mexico and write about the beauty of the countryside. The couple fell in love and took a home of their own on the side of Taos Mountain. Lawrence, having been diagnosed with tuberculosis and seeking no treatment, still was living in denial. He began writing about many subjects including critical essays, psychology, and theology (“DH Lawrence,” par 15).
Although he had completed the novel in 1916, Lawrence was finally able to publish Women in Love, which is the sequel to The Rainbow (“D. H. Lawrence,” par. 4). The novel is a ceremonial, even ritualistic work that celebrates love and marriage as the only possible salvation for twentieth-century man (Oates, par. 7). The next novel published in 1922, Aaron’s Mod, contained new material with an influence from Nietzsche. In 1923, Kangaroo, an Australian inspired novel was published. That same year Lawrence published a critical book called Classical American Literature (“D. H. Lawrence,” par. 4).
Once again, the couple began traveling again (“DH Lawrence,” par. 16). Lawrence followed Frieda to England after constant arguments. Miserable there, they again moved to South America, then England, Germany, and Italy. During this time, Lawrence published The Plumed Serpent in 1926 along with many short stories and poems (“D. H. Lawrence,” par. 4).
Nearly two years later, Lawrence would publish his final novel. Not without controversy, Lawrence published Lady Chatterley’s Lover in 1928. It was originally printed privately in Florence, Italy. Soon after, it was deemed obscene. It would be thirty years before the novel would be printed uncensored in the United Kingdom and America (“D. H. Lawrence,” par. 4).
Lawrence, along with writing, also produced paintings. His trips to Italy most likely influenced his painting, Dance Sketch (circa 1928). The painting shows a dark, naked man, a pale, naked woman, and a goat dancing on its hind legs. The figures in the painting are deliberately incomplete, suggesting not any particular person, but anyone. The dance depicted is of harmony between light and dark, movement, time and eternity, humankind and beast, and male and female (Tague, par. 17).
In the following years, Lawrence’s health began to deteriorate due to his worsening tuberculosis. By February 1930, he was admitted into the As Astra sanatorium in Vence. Unfortunately, this only seemed to make his condition worsen. He was horribly thin and almost incapable of walking. He discharged himself on March 1, 1930 and Frieda helped him move into a rented house in Vence. Lawrence died the evening of March 2, 1930. He was buried in a cemetery in Vence on March 4 (Worthen 8).
D. H. Lawrence produced many important works, and groundbreaking novels such as The Rainbow. Unfortunately plagued with illness, he died at the early age of forty-five. Although Lawrence produced extraordinary works from his travels, he was never able to find a place to settle and call home.( “DH Lawrence,” par. 17) Lawrence only became popular after his death. His writing was unconventional and he had made many enemies in his life because of that. Yet, many people considered him on of the greatest novelists of the nineteenth century in the 1960s (Worthen 9). Lawrence said, “I always say, my motto is, ‘Art for my sake’” (“D. H. Lawrence,” par. 5).
“DH Lawrence.” FYNE Times. 2006. 17 October 2007.
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Oates, Joyce C. Celestial Timepiece: A Joyce Carol Oates Home Page. Spring 1978.
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Phillips, Ivan. University of Hertfordshire. “D. H. Lawrence.” The Literary
Encyclopedia. 28 June, 2002. The Literary Dictionary Company. 17 October
Tague, Frank G. “The Peculiar Morality of the Artist.” Consciousness, Literature and the
Arts Archive vol. 2 number 2. July 2001.
Worthen, John. “Biography.” 2005. The University of Nottingham. 17 October 2007.