David Herbert Lawrence was born on the 11th September 1885, in a small terraced house in Nottinghamshire, the son of a coal miner. Lawrence’s father was well-liked but had a tendency to drown his depression in drink. His mother was religious, highly articulate and literate (she read widely and wrote poetry) and is generally regarded as the major influence in his life. She ran what used to be called a ‘parlour shop’ selling haberdashery from the front room of the cottage. There were four other siblings and a lot of family conflict. Lawrence once wrote ‘I was born hating my father’. He won a scholarship to Nottingham High School and became interested in literature, reading all twenty volumes of ‘The International Library of Famous Literature’, which his mother had bought by subscription. After he left school Lawrence became a pupil teacher before winning another scholarship to University College Nottingham in order to become certificated. His first post was in Croydon, with easy access to London, where Lawrence bought the English Review which published his first poetry. The editor, Edward Garnett, introduced him to the publisher Gerald Duckworth and gave him a great deal of encouragement. So did the society hostess Ottoline Morrell, who invited him to attend her ‘salons’ in London and then to one of her weekends at Garsington Manor, where he met some of the major literary figures of the day.
Lawrence suffered his first bouts of pneumonia as an adolescent and from then on had what was known as a ‘weak chest’. It rapidly became tubercular, but Lawrence ignored his symptoms until the disease was quite advanced.
Although physically attracted to men, Lawrence always had close female relationships. A six year engagement to Jessie Chambers, whom he credited with helping him to launch his literary career, was broken off in 1910, the year his mother died from cancer. It was a year of considerable emotional upheaval. Lawrence then became engaged to another intelligent, literary woman, Louie Burrows. This too was broken off a month before he met Frieda Weekley – the aristocratic, German wife of a Professor at Nottingham University – in 1912. Two months later they ran away together, travelling through Germany, Switzerland, and France, finally settling in Italy at a little coastal village called Fiascherino near La Spezia. After a protracted and bitter divorce, Frieda and Lawrence were able to marry in 1914. Frieda grieved for the three children she wasn’t allowed to see and it was a stormy and sometimes violent marriage.
After publishing poetry and short stories, Lawrence’s first novel The White Peacock, was published in January 1911 and his second – The Trespasser – in 1912. Sons and Lovers followed in 1913 and established Lawrence’s reputation, though initial drafts (under the title Paul Morel) were turned down because of the explicit content. His fourth novel, The Rainbow, was banned for indecency shortly after publication in 1915 and all remaining copies were ordered to be burnt. Lawrence’s agent was unable to find a publisher for Women in Love, which continued the story of the Brangwen family. It is clear from Lawrence’s letters and discussions with friends, that the character of Hermione Roddice was based on Ottoline Morrell. Her husband threatened to sue if the book appeared. Gerald Crich and Gudrun Brangwen were based on John Middleton Murry and Katherine Mansfield. Rupert Birkin incorporated aspects of Lawrence himself and Ursula Brangwen drew on Frieda’s character.
Lawrence met Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry when they wrote to him in 1913 to ask for a story to publish in Rhythm – the magazine they edited together in London. When the Lawrences came to England the two couples met and established an immediate rapport. Katherine and John were witnesses at their marriage and Frieda gave Katherine her old wedding ring, which Katherine wore for the rest of her life. Katherine and Frieda never became real friends – Katherine’s affinity was always with Lawrence. There was tension in the relationship because Lawrence was deeply attracted to John, wanting to establish a ‘blood brother bond’ with him. John was also attracted to Frieda, with whom he had an affair after Katherine died. The two couples lived close to each other, first in Berkshire in 1914 and then in Zennor Cornwall in 1915. There were innumerable quarrels and the friendship was broken off several times. Lawrence once wrote to Katherine – a fellow consumptive; ‘You are a loathsome reptile stewing in your consumption. I hope you will die.’ Katherine understood Lawrence and even forgave him, writing in her Journal that ‘Lawrence and I are unthinkably alike’
During the first world war Lawrence was classified as unfit for service. He and Frieda were persecuted in Cornwall because of Frieda’s German nationality (her cousin was the German ace pilot Baron Manfred von Richthofen). They tried several times to emigrate to America (where Lawrence’s work was being well received) but couldn’t get the necessary visas. The Lawrences left England in 1922, visiting New Zealand and Australia before arriving in America. Lawrence decided to move permanently to New Mexico and tried to persuade others to join him in a community of like-minded people – the Rananim that he had discussed with Katherine and John. Only one of his English friends – the painter Dorothy Brett – agreed to go with him. They lived at Taos in New Mexico, but Lawrence travelled relentlessly in search of health, coming back to Europe in 1926, where he died four years later at Vence on the border between France and Italy. He was only 44.
copyright: Kathleen Jones
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