Authors: D. H. Lawrence

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2017

British author of works on working-class life and sexual relationships

September 11, 1885

Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, England

March 2, 1930

Vence, France

Biography

David Herbert Lawrence was the most versatile—and arguably the most gifted—English author of the twentieth century. He was born on September 11, 1885, in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, in the industrial British Midlands, the son of an illiterate collier who drank too much and a puritanical mother who was desperate to have her sons rise above the working-class milieu of the small mining village. At age twelve Lawrence won a scholarship to attend Nottingham High School. Following three unhappy years of teaching elementary school during his late teens, he began two years of study at University College, Nottingham, where he started writing poems and bits of his first novel, The White Peacock. Bored with college, he left at age twenty-three to teach at a grammar school in South London. The closest friend of his youth, Jessie Chambers (the Miriam of Sons and Lovers), sent some of his poems to Ford Madox Ford, who printed them in The English Review and subsequently helped get The White Peacock published.

A cluster of important events occurred in Lawrence’s life during his mid-twenties: His mother, who had dominated his life, died; he broke off his relationship with Jessie Chambers, whom he felt did not meet the needs of his passions; and he left teaching (and thereafter lived on his scanty literary earnings). In May, 1912, he ran away to Europe with Frieda von Richthofen Weekley, the wife of one of his college professors and the mother of three children whom she deserted. Through most of his subsequent books, he portrayed their often tumultuous relationship (they were married in 1914), and Frieda was the prototype for many of his best-known fictional heroines.

Passport photograph of the British author D. H. Lawrence.

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See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

After reaching Germany in mid-1912, Lawrence finished Sons and Lovers. Set in a colliery town, it is the first great English novel of working-class life written from the perspective of an insider, and it is one of the finest autobiographical novels ever written. It traces young Paul Morel’s movement toward self-realization, especially his struggle to free himself from the possessive mother love that cripples him in his relations with other women. A landmark contribution to the development of the psychological novel, Sons and Lovers depicts the classic Oedipal triangle.

Lawrence and Weekley spent most of the years 1912 to 1914 in Germany and Italy but were trapped in England throughout World War I. It was a difficult time for Lawrence: He was shocked by the war; he had little money; he was in poor health (he failed his military physical); he and his German wife were viewed with suspicion by authorities who seemed to think them spies; and his fourth novel, The Rainbow, was prosecuted for obscenity and banned. Nevertheless, this was the crucial period of Lawrence’s career, for during those miserable war years he completed the two books now accepted as his masterpieces, The Rainbow and Women in Love.

The Rainbow chronicles the lives of three generations of a Midlands farming family, the Brangwens, focusing especially on their love relationships and their quest for self-definition. Lawrence knew that he was writing a radically new kind of novel. As he said in a 1914 letter, he was interested in portraying not the social consciousness of an individual conceived “in a certain moral scheme” but rather the “carbon” of human character, seen in the oscillations of a person’s inner consciousness. While James Joyce and Virginia Woolf were creating new ways to examine the mental registrations of the consciousness, Lawrence in his two wartime novels used dynamic symbols to explore levels of the unconscious never articulated by previous writers. Lawrence declared in a 1914 letter that his aim in The Rainbow was to show “woman becoming individual, self-responsible,” and many hold that he impressively achieved that in the portrait of Ursula Brangwen, perhaps the first independent “modern” woman portrayed in English fiction.

Women in Love focuses on Ursula’s developing relationship with an inspector of schools named Rupert Birkin and contrasts the nature of their union with that of Ursula’s sister Gudrun, an artist, with mine owner Gerald Crich. Through that contrast, Lawrence insists on the need of modern human beings to achieve wholeness of being, the psychic integration of “blood consciousness” (unconscious, instinctive awareness) and “mental consciousness” (rationality). The Rainbow had ended with Ursula envisioning a regenerate society, but Women in Love is a much darker, apocalyptic vision of life, embodying Lawrence’s deep cultural pessimism in the war years. He saw the war as confirmation of the triumph of the “mechanical principle” over the “organic” and natural aspects of human life, and though the war is never mentioned, its imprint on the tone of Women in Love is powerful. Like T. S. Eliot and other contemporaries who characterized the modern world as a wasteland, Lawrence in Women in Love denounces a collapsing Western society filled with corruption and moral dissolution. His opposition to democracy, capitalism, and Christianity, and his suggestions of sexual perversion, in Women in Love made publishers reluctant to accept the manuscript. It was not published until 1920, in the United States.

After leaving England in 1919 Lawrence spent the rest of his life traveling from place to place in search of an ideal, “blood-conscious” civilization as well as relief in warm climates from the respiratory illnesses that plagued his adult life. The Lawrences’ journeys took them to Italy, Ceylon, Australia, Mexico, and New Mexico, and each place they visited inspired new works of art from Lawrence. In the fiction written during the early to mid-1920’s, in particular the novels Aaron’s Rod, Kangaroo, and The Plumed Serpent, Lawrence focused on themes of power, dominance, and leadership. Even his stoutest defenders agree that his political, social, religious, and sexual message in these novels too often overwhelms his art.

In 1925 Lawrence returned to Europe, and in Italy between 1926 and 1928 he worked on Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a Symbolist romance that portrays the developing adulterous affair of Lady Chatterley with her disabled husband’s gamekeeper. When that novel was published privately in Italy in 1928, reviewers denounced Lawrence’s graphic sexual descriptions and his use of “pornographic” words. Soon the novel was banned by British and American authorities; it was not published in either country in unabridged form until 1959 to 1960, when two much-publicized trials deemed it to have literary value. Lawrence sought with Lady Chatterley’s Lover to encourage readers to accept more readily what he called the “basic physical realities.” Disavowing his earlier interest in leadership, he championed tenderness in human relations and a closer communion of human beings with nature. Lady Chatterley’s Lover is the preachiest of Lawrence’s major novels, but it includes some of his finest lyricism in the descriptions of nature and of lovemaking.

After Lawrence’s death from tuberculosis at age forty-four in 1930 in Vence, France, the literary establishment was slow to acknowledge his importance. This reluctance stemmed not only from the fact that he had been the most shocking writer of his time but also from his artistic diversity—his forty or so books include work in seven genres. In the decades following Lawrence's death, however, numerous collections of his short stories and novels as well as volumes of his correspondence were published or reprinted. Earlier manuscript versions of Lady Chatterly's Lover were also made available to the public.

Among twentieth century English novelists, he and James Joyce are the two towering figures. Lawrence is also celebrated as one of the preeminent short-story writers of his time; as a major modern poet, having produced more than one thousand pages of uneven but often exceptional verse; as perhaps the best essayist among all modern writers; as the author of several naturalistic plays that have been staged to critical acclaim by major theater companies; as one of the finest travel writers of the century; and as the author of thousands of published letters, which constitute one of the great autobiographies of world literature.

Author Works Long Fiction: The White Peacock, 1911 The Trespasser, 1912 Sons and Lovers, 1913 The Rainbow, 1915 Women in Love, 1920 The Lost Girl, 1920 Mr. Noon, wr. 1920-1922, pb. 1984 Aaron’s Rod, 1922 The Ladybird; The Fox; The Captain’s Doll, 1923 (pub. in US as The Captain's Doll: Three Novelettes, 1923) Kangaroo, 1923 The Boy in the Bush, 1924 (with M. L. Skinner) The Plumed Serpent, 1926 Lady Chatterley’s Lover, 1928 The Escaped Cock, 1929 (best known as The Man Who Died) The Virgin and the Gipsy, 1930 The First Lady Chatterley: The First Version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, 1972 John Thomas and Lady Jane: The Second Version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, 1972 Short Fiction: The Prussian Officer, and Other Stories, 1914 England, My England, 1922 St. Mawr: Together with “The Princess,” 1925 The Woman Who Rode Away, and Other Stories, 1928 Love among the Haystacks, and Other Pieces by D. H. Lawrence, 1930 The Lovely Lady, and Other Stories, 1933 A Modern Lover, 1934 The Complete Short Stories of D. H. Lawrence, 1961 The Mortal Coil and Other Stories, 1971 (Keith Sagar, editor) Children's/Young Adult Literature: D. H. Lawrence: Poems Selected for Young People, 1967 (William Cole, compiler) Drama: The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd, pb. 1914 Touch and Go, pb. 1920 David, pb. 1926 The Plays, pb. 1933 A Collier’s Friday Night, pb. 1934 Merry-Go-Round, 1940 The Complete Plays of D. H. Lawrence, pb. 1965 Poetry: Love Poems and Others, 1913 Amores, 1916 Look! We Have Come Through!, 1917 New Poems, 1918 Bay, 1919 Tortoises, 1921 Birds, Beasts, and Flowers, 1923 The Collected Poems of D. H. Lawrence, 1928 Pansies, 1929 Nettles, 1930 The Triumph of the Machine, 1931 Last Poems, 1932 Ship of Death, and Other Poems, 1932 Tales of D. H. Lawrence, 1934 Stories, Essays and Poems, 1939 Fire, and Other Poems, 1940 Phoenix Edition of Complete Poems, 1957 The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence, 1964 (Vivian de Sola Pinto and Warren Roberts, editors) Nonfiction: Study of Thomas Hardy, 1914 Twilight in Italy, 1916 Movements in European History, 1921 (as Lawrence H. Davison) Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious, 1921 Sea and Sardinia, 1921 (art by Jan Juta) Fantasia of the Unconscious, 1922 Studies in Classic American Literature, 1923 Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine, and Other Essays, 1925 Mornings in Mexico, 1927 Pornography and Obscenity, 1929 My Skirmish with Jolly Roger, 1929 À Propos of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” 1930 Assorted Articles, 1930 Apocalypse, 1931 Etruscan Places, 1932 The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, 1932 (Aldous Huxley, editor) D.H. Lawrence: Reminiscences and Correspondence, 1934 (Earl and Achsah Brewster, editors) Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D. H. Lawrence, 1936 (Edward McDonald, editor) Pornography and So On, 1936 Letters to Bertrand Russell, 1948 (Harry T. Moore, editor) Sex Literature and Censorship: Essays, 1953 (Harry T. Moore, editor) Selected Literary Criticism, 1955 (Anthony Beal, editor) The Collected Letters of D. H. Lawrence, 1962 (2 volumes; Harry T. Moore, editor) The Symbolic Meaning: The Uncollected Versions of Studies in Classic American Literature, 1962 (Armin Arnold, editor) Phoenix II: Uncollected, Unpublished, and Other Prose Works, 1968 (Moore and Roberts, editors) Letters to Thomas and Adele Seltzer, 1976 (Gerald M. Lacy, editor) The Letters of D.H. Lawrence & Amy Lowell, 1914-1925, 1985 (E. Claire Healey and Keith Cushman, editors) Selected Critical Writings, 1998 Complete Travel Writing, 2009 Translations: Mastro-don Gesualdo, 1923 (by Giovanni Verga) Cavalleria Rusticana and Other Stories, 1928 (by Giovanni Verga) Story of Doctor Manente, Being the Tenth and Last Story from the Suppers., 1929 (by Anton Francesco Grazzini) Little Novels of Sicily, 1953 (by Giovanni Verga) Anthology: The Portable D. H. Lawrence, 1947, 1977 (Diana Trilling, editor) D.H. Lawrence: Selected Poetry and Non-Fictional Prose, 1990 (John Lucas, editor) Bibliography Balbert, Peter. D. H. Lawrence and the Phallic Imagination. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989. This book is a well-reasoned response to feminist critics, who, especially since the 1970’s, have accused Lawrence of misogyny. For “The Woman Who Rode Away,” Balbert gives a revisionist study that shows the causes for misreadings in other works. Bell, Michael. D. H. Lawrence: Language and Being. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Discusses the development of Lawrence’s metaphysics not only in terms of his emotional life but also in terms of Martin Heidegger’s metaphysics. Although this study focuses primarily on Lawrence’s novels, its comments on his thought are relevant to his short fiction as well. Black, Michael. D. H. Lawrence: The Early Fiction. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986. In this sensitive study, Black discovers new layers of meaning in five of the eight stories that he examines. He rejects earlier psychoanalytic readings as too reductionist. As soon as critics characterized Lawrence’s works as oedipal, they went no further. Ellis, David. D. H. Lawrence: Dying Game, 1922-1930. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. The third volume of the Cambridge biography of Lawrence links his writings with the incidents of his life; argues that more than most authors, Lawrence’s fiction was associated with his daily living. Discusses his fiction and revisions during the 1920’s, including his work on Lady Chatterley’s Lover and “The Rocking-Horse Winner.” Flora, Joseph M. The English Short Story, 1880-1945: A Critical History. Boston: Twayne, 1985. Lawrence’s stories are placed in a historical literary context with their contemporaries. Though Flora offers no interpretations, he does effectively show Lawrence’s influences, how Lawrence absorbed and rejected early forms, and how his works both belong to and surpass their time. Harris, Janice Hubbard. The Short Fiction of D. H. Lawrence. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1984. Harris’s book is the first to treat chronologically all Lawrence’s short fiction. Weak discussions of some works (for example “England, My England”) are more than compensated for by enlightening readings of others (such as The Man Who Died). Jackson, Dennis, and Fleda Brown Jackson, eds. Critical Essays on D. H. Lawrence. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1988. Various critical insights may be found in this collection of twenty essays, which includes articles by scholars and by well-known writers such as Anaïs Nin and Sean O’Casey. All literary genres in which Lawrence was involved are represented by one or more contributions here. Also of note is the editors’ introduction, which deals with trends in critical and biographical literature about Lawrence. Kinkead-Weekes, Mark. D. H. Lawrence: Triumph to Exile, 1912-1922. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Volume 2 of this three-part biography covers Lawrence’s life from his elopement with Frieda von Richthofen and the publication of Sons and Lovers up through World War I. Highly detailed account based on newly available Lawrence letters; discusses Lawrence’s relationship with Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, Ford Madox Ford, and others. Maddox, Brenda. D. H. Lawrence, the Story of a Marriage. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994. Explores Lawrence the person through the trials and tribulations of his unconventional marriage. Includes notes, bibliography, and index. Meyers, Jeffrey. D. H. Lawrence: A Biography. New York: Knopf, 1990. Written by an acclaimed biographer, this book chronicles Lawrence's life with a particular focus on class, death, and sexuality. Draws on previously unpublished writings and personal correspondence. Meyers, Jeffrey. "D. H. Lawrence's Children." Kenyon Review, vol. 36, no. 1, 2014, pp. 229–41. Literary Reference Center Plus, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lkh&AN=92862607&site=lrc-plus. Accessed 27 Mar. 2017. Assesses Lawrence's treatment of children in real life and as characters in his novels. Moore, Harry T. The Priest of Love: A Life of D. H. Lawrence. Rev. ed. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974. In preparing this first objective biography, Moore lived for several years at Lawrence sites and interviewed Lawrence’s family and friends. Moore’s work remains the standard source for accuracy and completeness. Schneider, Daniel J. The Consciousness of D. H. Lawrence: An Intellectual Biography. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1986. Tracing all the major works chronologically, Schneider treats Lawrence’s religious nature at all stages of his life. Nineteen stories, both early and late, are briefly analyzed to show how Lawrence shaped, over the years, his credo about kinds of consciousness and knowledge. Squires, Michael, and Keith Cushman, eds. The Challenge of D. H. Lawrence. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990. This group of essays, which deal both with individual works and with broader literary contexts, supplies some interesting and provocative insights. Of particular note is the first article, by Wayne C. Booth, a self-confessed “lukewarm Lawrentian” who maintains that Lawrence’s works are better appreciated upon rereading and reconsideration. Thornton, Weldon. D. H. Lawrence: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1993. Makes a case for the technical skill, psychological depth, and thematic subtlety of Lawrence’s short fiction by focusing on his most important short stories. Argues that Lawrence’s work is always exploratory, a means of working through his own tentative ideas. Widmer, Kingsley. The Art of Perversity: The Shorter Fiction of D. H. Lawrence. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1962. Widmer focuses on the satirical and demonic forces at work in the stories. While his conclusions have been weakened by later studies of Lawrence’s use of myth and psychology, the book remains a useful survey of many stories. Worthen, John. D. H. Lawrence: The Early Years, 1885-1912. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991. The first volume of the Cambridge biography of Lawrence covers his childhood in Nottinghamshire and his years as a teacher in a London suburb. Offers new insights into his relationships with his mother Lydia, Jessie Chambers, Louie Burrows, Frieda Weekley, and other individuals who influenced his formative years. Worthen, John. D. H. Lawrence: The Life of an Outsider. New York: Counterpoint, 2005. Written by distinguished Lawrence scholar, Worthen, this compelling, readable biography is accompanied by several photos. Wright, T. R. D. H. Lawrence and the Bible. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. A study of Lawrence’s use of biblical allusions and themes.

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