D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930)
D. H. LAWRENCE IS at once one of the great modernist writers and one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. He has always been a controversial figure, and his reputation especially in the years immediately after his death, has not always been high. Through his radical views on the relations between men and women, on sexuality, race and psychology, his attacks on democracy, Christianity and scientific rationality, Lawrence challenged fundamental ideas about the individual’s relationship to society. Lawrence’s novels, on which his reputation mainly rests, continually seek the intensity and immediacy of experience. They show an individual responding to life with ferocious sensitivity and care. Avoiding what he considered to be dead forms, Lawrence approached all his writing as a fresh struggle—a struggle which necessarily could be messy. Hence his habits of revision—many of the novels appear in significantly altered forms. The direction of Lawrence’s work was always likely to change in reaction to some new reading or landscape or experience. He remained a very open, extraordinarily enthusiastic writer. He also wrote willingly and with a puritan willingness to work hard. Hence the great range of his publications, from novels to poems, from philosophy to sociology, from travel writing to literary criticism, from short stories to drama.
Much of Lawrence’s work, especially his early books, is set in the working-class area where he grew up, and for which he had great affection. In “Nottingham and the Mining Countryside” he writes:
I was born nearly forty-four years ago, in Eastwood, a mining village of some three thousand souls, about eight miles from Nottingham, and one mile from the small stream, the Erewash, which divides Nottinghamshire from Derbyshire. It is a hilly country, looking west to Crich and towards Matlock, sixteen miles away, and east and northeast towards Mansfield and the Sherwood Forest district. To me it seemed, and still seems, an extremely beautiful countryside, just between the red sandstone and the oak-trees of Nottingham, and the cold limestone, the ash-trees, the stone fences of Derbyshire.
(Phoenix, p. 133)
Lawrence’s parents were dramatic opposites, a main source of later conflicts within his own personality. His father, Arthur John Lawrence, was a miner of great physique and remarkable charisma, fond of singing, dancing, and drinking. The pattern of his speech, which made its mark on Lawrence’s sensibility, was a mixture of two dialects, Nottingham and Derbyshire. By contrast, his mother, Lydia Beardsall, was a refined former schoolteacher who felt herself to be a cut above the average members of the mining community. Her father had been a passionate Wesleyan preacher, and she in turn she was religiously pious and fond of books.
Lawrence was born on 11 September 1885. The family lived in Eastwood, bedeviled by uncertain financial circumstances. In order to supplement her husband’s income, Lawrence’s mother sold clothes from the front room of the house. Nevertheless, in pursuit of social improvement, the family changed houses in Eastwood several times, each time...