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D.H. Lawrence - Biography & Selected Products

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David Herbert Lawrence was born on the 11th September 1885 to Arthur John Lawrence and Lydia (née Bearsall). His father was nearly illiterate and his mother trained as a teacher until she was forced to take a job in a lace factory due to her family’s difficult financial situation. He was born in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, a coal mining town. There was tension between his parents, likely stemming from the harsh realities of their life as part of the working class. Lawrence would draw inspiration from both these aspects of his difficult childhood throughout his artistic career. Indeed, he wrote about the area, describing it as “the country of [his] heart”, and set a large amount of his fiction there.

As a young boy he was schooled at Beauvale Board School from 1891-98. He was the area’s first boy to win a scholarship from the County Council to attend Nottingham High School, which he did from 1898-1901 at which time he left in favour of a job as a junior clerk in Haywood’s surgical appliances factory. He showed early signs of promise in this career, though it was cut short by a severe case of pneumonia. He frequently visited Hagg’s Farm during his recovery, where he became friends with Jessie Chambers who lived at the farm with her parents. They shared a love of books, and were part of a small circle of friends all of whom were avid readers. Lawrence was able to continue his literary education by engaging in discussion with this group of likeminded adolescents, until he took up a teacher training position at the British School, Eastwood, from 1902-06. He became a full time student again and received his teaching qualification in 1908 from University College, Nottingham. By now he had begun writing and was working on early drafts of his first poems, short stories and a draft of Laetitia, which materialised as The White Peacock. His first literary recognition came in the form of success at a 1907 short story competition held by the Nottingham Guardian.

On receiving his qualification from Nottingham University he left for London where he took up a teaching post in Davidson Road School in Croydon. He continued his writing alongside his teaching career and soon garnered the attention of Ford Madox Ford, then editor of The English Review, an influential literary review. Jessie Chambers had sent the poems in to him and he commissioned Lawrence to write Odour of Chrysanthemums which was published in that magazine in 1911. It was noticed by the publishing group Heinemann, who asked Lawrence for more of his writing. Though he continued teaching for a further year, his workload as a published author was sufficient to call this the real beginning of his literary career.

However, his mother had died of cancer shortly before the White Peacock was published and this had a profound effect on him, leaving him devastated and incapable of writing for several months, a period of time which he would later describe as his “sick year”. The effect of her death on him can be found represented in 1913’s Sons and Lovers, a work considered largely autobiographical, at the effect of the death of the character Mrs. Morel on her son Paul.

As Lawrence’s mourning period ended he was given the private diaries of Helen Corke, his teaching colleague, which contained an account of an unhappy, doomed love affair, which formed the basis of his second novel, The Trespasser, which was published in 1912. Meanwhile he was introduced to Edward Garnett, who worked as a publisher’s reader, and who became Lawrence’s mentor and later friend. He completed the first draft of Paul Morel, which became Sons and Lovers, under the guidance of Garnett. Lawrence met Frieda Weekley, née von Richthofen, in 1912. She was six years his senior and married to his former modern languages professor at Nottingham, Ernest Weekley, with three young children. Together they eloped to Metz, a garrison town in Germany and home to her parents. It was near to the disputed border with France and there Lawrence witnessed first hand the political and military tension between France and Germany. He was arrested on the accusation of being a spy for the British, though Frieda’s father’s intervention secured him his release.

Following this incident Lawrence and Frieda relocated to a village near Munich, where they enjoyed a “honeymoon” which later inspired the collection of poems Look! We Have Come Through!” which were published in 1917. While here Lawrence completed his first ever play, The Daughter-in-Law, which was the first of what he named his ‘mining plays’. It was written in Nottingham dialect, and neither performed nor published in his lifetime. They left Germany in the end of 1912 and travelled to Italy across the Alps, a journey later recorded in Twilight in Italy, in which “the happiest part of his genius found expression - his curiosity, his spontaneity and the sense of fun he showed more often in life than in his novels”. It was while he was in Italy that he finally completed Sons and Lovers, though by now he was so exasperated by the novel that he handed it over to Garett without complaint at the knowledge of Garett’s intention to cut approximately one hundred pages.

In 1913 Lawrence and Frieda made a brief return visit to Britain where they befriended the critic John Middleton Murry and the popular short story writer Katherine Mansfield. Lawrence also successfully arranged a meeting with W. H. Davies, a Welsh tramp poet, of whose nature-inspired works he was a great admirer. The admiration was in some ways mutual, for Davies, a keen collector of autographs, insisted that he take Lawrence’s, perhaps seeing in the young Lawrence the future literary giant he would become. Though Lawrence was so taken by Davies on their meeting that he invited him to visit Frieda and himself in Germany, his opinion changed when he read Davies’s Foliage and Nature Poems and found them to be “so thin, one can hardly feel them”. Shortly after this meeting they returned to Italy where they took residence in a cottage in Fiascherino on the Gulf of Spezia. It was while they were staying there that Lawrence began working on the first draft of a novel which would later transform into two of his best-known works, The Rainbow (1915) and Women in Love (1920).

In early 1914 Frieda obtained her divorce from Ernest Weekley and she and Lawrence returned to Britain to be married on the 13th of July 1914, days before the outbreak of the First World War. At the time of their marriage he was working alongside various intellectual thinkers and writers based in London such as T. S. Eliot, Dora Marsden, Ezra Pound, and others, on The Egoist, a pivotal modernist literary magazine in which some of his work was published. He was simultaneously working on an adaptation of Fillipo Tommaso Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto, a work which celebrated the machinery and industry of the future, and the violence and speed of youth. Owing to Frieda’s German parentage, and his public dislike of militarism and violence, the couple were treated with contempt and suspicion in view of the onset of war with Germany. They were living in Cornwall at this time, in quite severe circumstances, and were accused of spying and signalling to German submarines.

The Rainbow was investigated in 1915 for its profanity and ultimately its publication was suppressed. Lawrence completed Women in Love in 1916, though it was not published until 1920 thanks to its bleak view of humanity’s destructive tendencies. It is now widely considered to be one of the English language’s most finely observed, delicately crafted and subtly intellectual novels.

While he was writing in Cornwall Lawrence began a strong relationship with William Henry Hocking, a farmer. Though the nature of their relationship is unknown, Frieda was convinced that it was sexual. Indeed, homosexuality is an overt theme in Women in Love, and Lawrence had previously written in a letter “I should like to know why nearly every man that approaches greatness tends to homosexuality, whether he admits it or not”, and “I believe the nearest I’ve come to perfect love was with a young coal-miner when I was about sixteen.” Lawrence and Frieda were constantly hassled by the armed forces authorities throughout the war and in late 1917 they were given three days’ notice to leave Cornwall under the terms of the Defence of the Realm Act. He detailed this exile in a chapter of Kangaroo, a Australian novel, published in 1923.

The couple moved to Hermitage, a village near the town of Newbury in Berkshire, and then to Derbyshire where they lived out the remainder of the war at Mountain Cottage, Middleton-by-Wirksworth. It was here that he wrote The White Peacock. The couple were extremely poor and Lawrence almost succumbed to a bout of influenza as they could barely afford adequate medical attention.

Lawrence’s reputation in England was by now heavily tarnished, met only by his own disdain for the country. He and Frieda flew the country in November 1919, the earliest politically possible opportunity, and made for Abruzzi in Italy before continuing to Capri and the Fontana Vecchia in Taormina, Sicily. From there he travelled widely across Europe including Sardinia, Malta, Austria and Germany. Much of this period of travelling is detailed in his writing, particularly in Twilight in Italy. He called his travelling his ‘savage pilgrimage’ and considered it a voluntary exile from Britain. He only returned to Britain twice in the rest of his life, each time for a brief visit. Instead, he and Frieda spent the remainder of their lives travelling, reaching Australia, Ceylon, Mexico and the United States. He continued his fiction alongside his travel writing, winning the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction for 1920’s The Lost Girl. He wrote short stories such as The Captain’s Doll, The Ladybird and The Fox, poetry such as that collected in Birds, Beasts and Flowers, and several travel journals, particularly Sea and Sardinia. He was obliged to publish his textbook Movements in European History under a pseudonym owing to his unfavourable reputation in England.

Lawrence and Frieda departed for America in February 1922, sailing East to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and on to Australia. While in Australia Lawrence completed Kangaroo, dealing with local politics and his experience of the war in England. They continued to America and arrived in September of that year, acquiring Kiowa Ranch in New Mexico, making payment with the manuscript of Sons and Lovers.

They made their final visit to England at the end of 1923 but quickly returned to their ranch, considering his life and career in England effectively over. In March 1925 he visited Mexico and suffered a severe attack of malaria which nearly killed him. He was instructed to convalesce in Europe and so he and Frieda returned to Italy where they took a home in a villa near Florence. Here he wrote The Virgin and the Gypsy and Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which brought renewed notoriety to his name for its controversially sexual subject matter. He addressed his critics head on with satirical poems and a piece entitled Pornography and Obscenity. While in Italy he bolstered his friendship with the author Aldous Huxley and renewed his interest in oil painting. An exhibition in 1929 was raided by the police and several works confiscated.

David Herbert Lawrence died of complications arising from a bout of tuberculosis on the 2nd of March 1930 in Vence, France.