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D H Lawrence: Method and Sources

Updated on September 4, 2019

D H Lawrence

D H Lawrence was born on 11th September 1885 at Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, the son of a miner. He won a scholarship to Nottingham High School and, after a spell as a pupil teacher, qualified as a teacher after studying at University College, Nottingham.

He began writing poems and stories in his late teens and achieved recognition for this work by winning a short-story competition at the age of 22. After that he turned to writing virtually full-time, eventually producing ten novels as well as stories, poems, plays, essays and travel books.

A Wandering Writer

Only four of Lawrence’s novels were written in England, other locations being Italy, Australia and the American state of New Mexico.

Lawrence’s restlessness was largely due to his love affair with (and eventual marriage to) Frieda von Richthofen, the German-born wife of a former tutor of his at Nottingham. During World War I they suffered a great deal of harassment due to her nationality, leading to suspicions that the pair were German spies. They found it easier to travel than to stay in England.

Lawrence’s wanderings influenced several of his novels.

Despite the pressures, Lawrence produced some of his best work during and shortly after World War I, such as The Rainbow (published in 1915) and Women in Love (published in 1920). He found an escape in writing, in which he would immerse himself totally, sometimes writing for several hours at a time with only the shortest of breaks.

His Writing Method

Lawrence wrote at high speed in longhand, often rewriting complete sections.

The two novels mentioned above were originally conceived of as a single novel, although it ran to more than a thousand pages and needed a lot of revision. He tended to rewrite rather than revise, and several rewritings were needed before the novels reached their final versions.

Sources

A thriving literary industry has arisen based on trying to associate the author with the characters and incidents in his books. This is because they are usually closely based on his own acquaintances and experiences.

However, although he undoubtedly used autobiographical experience as his main source, what he did in most cases was to transform it to fit his own imaginative purposes. This could lead to people who identified themselves as “originals” taking exception to the ways that they saw themselves being portrayed in the novels.

Certain character types recur throughout Lawrence’s novels, notably the possessive mother, the “spiritual” woman who will not acknowledge the sexual imperatives of her body, and the woman who is creative and fulfilling. These archetypes can be related with some confidence, respectively, to his own mother, his first love Jesse Chambers, and his wife Frieda.

A Passionate Man and Novelist

D H Lawrence had a tempestuous life. This is reflected in his novels, which are often hard to read because of the high emotional intensity expressed by his characters, particularly the female ones.

His topsy-turvy life began with witnessing frequent arguments between his parents and an intense emotional attachment to his mother. His escape was to elope with a married woman, as well as turning to a literary career that he used to express his emotional turmoil through the words and deeds of his characters.

He was also passionate about his working-class background, and his first successful novel, Sons and Lovers (1913), contains one of the most acute analyses of a working-class environment to be found anywhere in literature.

In later life he faced many conflicts with authority over alleged obscenities in his works, for which exile from England was his preferred solution.

D H Lawrence died in 1930 at the age of 44. His final novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which was his most sexually explicit, was not published in the UK until 1960, following a celebrated court case that was eventually won by Penguin Books, who had been charged with breaking the obscenity laws by publishing an unexpurgated edition.

This novel is nowhere near being Lawrence’s best. Unfortunately, it is probably his best known!

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