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D.H.Lawrence Biography And Visits

D.H.Lawrence's House in Eastwood

D.H Lawrence's grandparents had been well to do people in the lace industry, but a market downturn and an injury to the grandfather, an engineer, led to poverty. Lawrence's mother, Lydia, had sisters who married well, and regained some social position, but Lydia married a miner, Arthur Lawrence, who was never forgiven for his low social standing. He was virtually an outcast in his own house. Arthur fought back and there were bitter rows. David Herbert Lawrence was born into this fraught household on 11th September 1885. The largely autobiographical novel Sons and Lovers tells much of the story of this time. The house where Lawrence was born survives in Eastwood, and is now the D.H. Lawrence Birthplace Museum.

Young David was a bright boy who entered Nottingham University in 1906 to train as a teacher specialising in science. In October 1908 he arrived in Croydon to take up a teaching job at Davidson Road School. There might not seem much that is special about Croydon, an outlying suburb of London, but in the following description by biographer Brenda Maddox, it seemed to have its own glamour:

"In the distance, high on Sydenham Hill, the Crystal Palace gleamed like a vision of the future. Double-decker trams ploughed down the middle of the roads, with passengers hanging from the sides beneath signs advertising the products of imperial prosperity: Heinz 57 Varieties, Dewar's Whisky, Lipton's Tea, Beecham's Pills and Bird's Custard."

 

Former shop front - Croydon

Although modern Croydon is much changed, there is still a sense of the place that Lawrence knew. Trams still plough down the middle of the roads, and engravings on former shop fronts recall those days of Lipton's Tea.

In late November 1909 Lawrence's friend Jessie Chambers sent four of Lawrence's poems to The English Review, a highly respected magazine for new and radical writing. All four poems were published, and Lawrence was invited to meet editor Ford Maddox Ford at the magazine's offices in Holland Park Avenue. When Ford realised that this new writer was a miner's son he was even more interested. A miner's son appealed to his radical left wing sensibilities. Lawrence was special because he was so apparently "ordinary". D.H.Lawrence started going to literary parties, where he met people like Ezra Pound, who served him apricots and sang him songs from the Hebrides. Lawrence enjoyed his new status, had a number of girlfriends, played one off against another, and thought a lot about sex, which he felt he wasn't getting much of. He wanted to write about sex , but Ford wanted him to write about coal mines. Ford helped him get his first novel The White Peacock published by Heinemann. The White Peacock was quite well received, but the second novel The Saga of Seigmund was not. This book, later called The Trespasser, was about the experiences of Helen Corke, a friend of Lawrence's who had conducted an adulterous affair, which ended with the suicide of her lover. The reception of this second book reveals much about attitudes to the new rise in literacy following educational reform in the late nineteenth century. It wasn't so special to be able to read any more. Lots of people could do it, and as a result the educated classes were worried about moral danger to the masses in what they read. This led to a number of booksellers and libraries forming the Circulating Libraries Association. This organisation aimed to censor books in the interest of the moral health of their mass readership. In this climate a furious Lawrence was forced to withdraw his second book.

In 1911 Lawrence's life changed completely with an attack of pneumonia that nearly killed him. The school authorities suspected he might have tuberculosis, which led to him being forced out of his job at Davidson Road School, and also out of his lodgings. He now earned a precarious living from his writing. In this new, unsettled phase of his life, he broke off his engagement with Louie Burrows, who he had known for many years, and started a relationship with Frieda Weekly, wife of Ernest Weekly, the Professor of Modern Languages at Nottingham University. Lawrence visited Weekly seeking advice on securing a lecturing job at a German university. It is said that within half an hour Frieda managed to find a way to get Lawrence into bed. Frieda was not a conventional person. She was a married mother, but she had many lovers, including the famous Austrian psychologist Otto Goss. The motto of Goss was "repress nothing!" and Frieda took him at his word. In April 1912 Frieda decided to leave her husband, and fled with Lawrence to Germany, where the couple stayed with Freida's family. Here they lived uneasily for a few months. Lawrence had to put up with being mistaken for a British spy and arrested. Frieda's aristocratic father was forced to intervene, which he did reluctantly, since he had little time for a penniless Englishman. Arguments soon began between the couple themselves, mostly over Lawrence's ferocious jealousy regarding Frieda's three children left back in Nottingham. Any mention of them drove Lawrence into a rage, which caused Frieda great distress. Nevertheless they continued together, Frieda somehow seeing something special in this volatile struggling author who coughed all the time. On October 20th 1913 Frieda finally obtained her divorce from Ernest Weekly. This divorce was national news, appearing on the front page of the News Of The World, along with Austria's ultimatum to Serbia, one of the crucial events in the build up to the First World War. The now infamous couple stayed well away from England, spending their time on long hikes in Germany and Italy. Sons And Lovers was published at this time, and was a success, which helped out the Lawrences financially. It wasn't until July 1914 that Lawrence and Frieda returned to England, to get married at Kensington Register Office in Marloes Road. Soon after the wedding Serbian nationalists killed Archduke Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo. By the August bank holiday war had engulfed Europe. Unable to travel abroad the Lawrences went to live in an artists' colony in Cholesbury, Buckinghamshire. Life here had its ups and down, particularly as Frieda was German. Lawrence dreamed of a new colony where a perfect society could be created. He called it Renanim, and even designed a badge. David Eder, a friend of Lawrence, and a fellow enthusiast in the Renanim scheme, went on to become one of the founders of Israel. The ideal communities they talked about in Buckinghamshire became reality in the form of kibbutzim.

 

Vale Of Health, Hampstead

The Lawrences then moved to an artists' colony at Greatham near Pulborough in Sussex. Here Lawrence finished The Rainbow, and fretted about homosexual longings. Life was also made difficult by anti German hysteria, which led to a ban on German music and dachshund dogs, and also to the smashing of a statue of Prince Albert by soldiers who had found out he was a cousin of the Kaiser. By August 1915 the Lawrences had tried to improve their lot by moving to the Vale of Health in Hampstead. The following November sales of Lawrence's new book The Rainbow were blocked on the basis of a single complaint. Methuen and Co did not fight, and asked for their £300 advance back. In the winter of 1915 - 1916 there was another move to Zennor, near Padstow in Cornwall. Here Lawrence did domestic chores, and raved in mad furies which were often directed at Frieda, who he sometimes physically attacked. Through it all he wrote his greatest book, Women In Love, completing the first draft in six weeks during 1916.

During the summer of 1917 the military authorities ordered the Lawrences to leave Zennor, and not to go to any coastal region. Frieda's German nationality was the reason for this eviction. Frieda's cousin, Baron Von Richtofen was the famous Red Baron, and was busy shooting down lots of RAF aircraft. This was the year that the royal family thought it wise to change their name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor. The Lawrences left Zennor in October, moved to London, and then the Midlands, living at Mountain Cottage, Middleton-by-Wirksworth in Derbyshire. In 1919 Lawrence caught flu in the great epidemic of that year and once again nearly died.

 

Writer's Walk, Sydney: photo by Richard Jones

After the war the Lawrences set off on a long period of wandering. They lived in Europe until 1921. Then it was on to Australia for a few months, living in a little bungalow called Wyewurk at the seaside resort of Thirroul, forty miles south of Sydney. Here he wrote his novel Kangaroo, the story of preparation for a right wing coup in New South Wales. A debate has raged in Australia over the value of Kangaroo, some judging it as the best novel ever written about Australia, others feeling it is a work of colonial prejudice. This controversy has also included the value of Wyewurk, some seeing it as an ordinary bungalow, while others see it as Australia's only literary monument. As ever with Lawrence the special and the ordinary are difficult to tell apart. The Australians have thought enough of Lawrence to set the following quote by him in bronze on Writer's Walk in Sydney:

"Australia has a marvelous sky and air and blue clarity and a hoary sort of land beneath it, like a sleeping princess on which the dust of ages has settled. Wonder if she'll ever wake up."

Lawrence left Australia and travelled on to the USA. His travels here ended when his tuberculosis worsened in 1925. He went to live in Italy, and wrote Lady Chatterley's Lover. This book was written at the Villa Mirenda in the hilltop village of San Paolo, seven miles south west of Florence. Lawrence generally sat out in the sunshine under the pine trees to write. The disabled aristocrat who could no longer make love to his wife was Lawrence. Lady Chatterley was Frieda, who at this time was taking trips to see her mother, and using these trips as an excuse to visit her lover Angelo Ravagli. Ironically life for the Lawrences was now much more peaceful. Lady Chatterley's Lover was released as a private publication in 1928, and led to the famous obscenity trial in 1960 which ushered in a new era with new social rules. Once again Lawrence was part of the loosening of old categories.

 

Lawrence's tuberculosis, from which he had probably suffered for many years, finally killed him in March 1930. He continued to write almost to the end of his life.

In conclusion we might turn to what is often thought of as Lawrence's greatest book, Women In Love. The shocking ending of Women In Love sees Gerald and Gudrun, Ursula and Birkin travelling to Innsbruck. Gudrun has told Gerald that their relationship is over. In the mountains near Innsbruck Gerald, his state of mind shattered, seeks his end. After trying to strangle Gudrun he wanders in the snow: "He was weak, but he did not want to rest, he wanted to go on and on, to the end."

He walks from ridge to ridge, always seeing another appearing in front of him. Gerald wanders until he falls exhausted into the snow. The next morning Birkin is called to identify Gerald's body. Birkin lives in the modern world and seems to have no religious consolation. Life has no culmination and is playing out no divine plan. Looking at Gerald's body Birkin comes to the conclusion there is nothing special about man. Gerald's body reminds Birkin of the body of a dead horse he had once seen. And yet in this lack of traditional consolation, Birkin finds his comfort. Even as Gerald lies before him, Birkin sees there is no point, no end, and no death.

"It was very consoling to Birkin to think of this. If humanity ran into a cul-de-sac,and expended itself, the timeless creative mystery would bring forth some other being, finer, more wonderful, some new, more lovely race, to carry on the embodiment of creation. The game was never up. The mystery of creation was fathomless, infallible, inexhaustible, for ever."

Going back to the beginning of Lawrence's career, we recall that he was a teacher, his favourite subject was botany, and he admired Darwin. At the end of Women In Love the old definitions once again fail to mean anything: Birkin finds consolation in the circumstances that would usually cause disillusion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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