D. H. Lawrence is one of the most prolific writers in English literary history. His major works include ten volumes of poetry, a collection of critical essays, four books of travel writings, several translations, and plays, in addition to the four novels (among others) for which he is popularly known. His most famous novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928), brought him notoriety and further assured that he would be remembered as a novelist rather than a poet and short-story writer. After his novels, his most widely read and anthologized works are short stories and poems. In many of his works, Lawrence uses identical situations, plots, images, and themes.
The subject and style of Lawrence’s works, of whatever kind, are so distinct and consistent that his name has given birth to an adjective, “Lawrentian,” to describe a way of looking at the world and a method for presenting it. The bold originality and powerful style of his early novels attracted the attention of upper-class British writers and intellectuals such as the philosopher Bertrand Russell and even the prime minister Herbert Asquith. Lawrence’s values, however, were not the same as theirs, and he spent most of his life as a nomad, searching for amenable landscapes and cultures. All of his works record that search and reveal its remarkable unity of purpose.
After Lawrence’s death, his critical reputation eventually declined, though his works continued to sell. Then, in 1955, the influential modern English critic F. R. Leavis published a study of the novels and declared Lawrence to be the most important writer of his generation and as good as Charles Dickens. He praised Sons and Lovers (1913) as the first honest treatment of the British working class. Also in 1955 the American critic Harry T. Moore published the first authoritative biography, The Intelligent Heart, introducing Lawrence to a public as fascinated by his life as by his work. His reputation is worldwide; in 1982, there were nearly three hundred titles pertaining to Lawrence translated into thirty languages.
D. H. Lawrence was among the most prolific and wide-ranging of modern writers, a fact all the more remarkable considering that he spent so much time on the move, battling chronic tuberculosis, which cut short his life in his forty-fifth year. In addition to his novels, he published more than a dozen books of poetry, collected in The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence (1964); eight volumes of short fiction, including half a dozen novellas, collected in The Complete Short Stories of D. H. Lawrence (1961); and seven plays, collected in The Complete Plays of D. H. Lawrence (1965). He also wrote a wide range of nonfiction, including four fine travel books: Twilight in Italy (1916), Sea and Sardinia (1921), Mornings in Mexico (1927), and Etruscan Places (1932). Movements in European History (1921), published under the pseudonym Lawrence H. Davison, is a subjective meditation on historical cycles and Europe’s decline, and Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious (1921) is a highly original and influential volume of literary criticism.
Lawrence’s religious vision, in the guise of a commentary on the Bible’s book of Revelation, is offered in Apocalypse (1931). Many other essays on diverse subjects appeared in periodicals during the last two decades of his life and were collected posthumously by Edward McDonald in Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D. H. Lawrence (1936), and by Warren Roberts and Harry T. Moore in Phoenix II: Uncollected, Unpublished, and Other Prose Works (1968). Lawrence was also a formidable correspondent, and his letters are invaluable aids to understanding the man and the writer. Some 1,257 of the more than 5,500 known letters are available in a collection edited by Harry T. Moore. Several of Lawrence’s fictional works—including Sons and Lovers, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Women in Love, and The Virgin and the Gipsy—have been adapted to the motion-picture medium, and his life is the subject of the 1981 film The Priest of Love.
The running battle against censorship in which D. H. Lawrence engaged throughout most of his career undoubtedly performed a valuable service to subsequent writers and the reading public, though it cost him dearly both emotionally and financially. The essentially symbolic role of sexuality in his writing resembles somewhat that found in Walt Whitman’s, but Lawrence’s more overt treatment of it—liberating as it was to a generation whose Victorian upbringing had been castigated by the Freudians—led to a general misunderstanding of his work that persisted for almost three decades after his death. The thirty-year suppression of Lady Chatterley’s Lover backfired, as censorship so often does, attracting the public’s attention to the object of the prohibition. Unfortunately this notoriety made the novel, far from Lawrence’s greatest, the one most commonly associated with his name in the popular mind. His reputation among more serious readers was not helped by the series of sensationalistic memoirs published by some of his more ardent followers in the 1930’s and early 1940’s. Championed as a prophet of free love and utopianism, repudiated as a crazed homosexual and protofascist, Lawrence the artist all but disappeared from view.
The appearance of several serious and sympathetic studies of Lawrence in the middle and late 1950’s, by presenting a more accurate record of his life and a more discriminating assessment of his work, largely succeeded in salvaging Lawrence’s stature as a major writer. Among those most responsible for the Lawrence revival were F. R. Leavis, Harry T. Moore, Edward Nehls, and Graham G. Hough. Subsequent readers have been able to recognize more readily in the best of Lawrence’s...
(The entire section is 709 words.)
D. H. Lawrence’s productions reflect his artistic range. Accompanying his considerable body of poetry, the eleven novels published during his lifetime include Sons and Lovers (1913), The Rainbow (1915), Women in Love (1920), The Plumed Serpent (1926), and Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928). He wrote almost continuously for literary periodicals in addition to publishing five volumes of plays, nine volumes of essays, and several short-story collections including The Prussian Officer, and Other Stories (1914), England, My England (1922), and The Woman Who Rode Away, and Other Stories (1928). His final works, including Apocalypse and Etruscan Places, appeared between 1930 and 1933, and more poetry, essays, and drafts of fiction have since been collected in Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D. H. Lawrence (1936) and Phoenix II: Uncollected, Unpublished, and Other Prose Works (1968). Several of Lawrence’s works, as well as Harry Moore’s biography, The Priest of Love, have been adapted for the screen. The Phoenix Edition of D. H. Lawrence was published in 1957; Viking has printed The Complete Short Stories of D. H. Lawrence (1961) and The Complete Plays of D. H. Lawrence (1965).
D. H. Lawrence’s work has consistently appealed to the adventurous and the perceptive. Ford Madox Ford, editor of the progressive English Review, printed Lawrence’s earliest poems and short stories there in 1911, recognizing beneath their conventional surfaces potent psychological and emotional undercurrents previously unexplored in British letters. Before Freud’s theories were widely known, Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers daringly probed the dangerous multilayered mother-son-lover triangle he had experienced in his own life. After his elopement, itself a scandal, Lawrence produced The Rainbow, seized by Scotland Yard in 1915 and publicly condemned for obscenity. Lawrence’s subsequent self-exile from...
(The entire section is 278 words.)
How does D. H. Lawrence make his “problematic couples” happy?
As a critic, Lawrence expresses many of his literary convictions. Observe some of them in his book Studies in Classic American Literature.
Do we learn more about the Etruscan culture or about Lawrence in Etruscan Places?
Are Lawrence’s unsuccessful lovers primarily failures or victims of forces beyond their control?
Lawrence’s poetry often attempts to capture a revealing moment. How is this true of “Snake”?
What are the chief pitfalls of equating Paul Morel and his creator?
(The entire section is 88 words.)
Balbert, Peter. D. H. Lawrence and the Phallic Imagination. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989. This book is a well-reasoned response to feminist critics, who, especially since the 1970’s, have accused Lawrence of misogyny. For “The Woman Who Rode Away,” Balbert gives a revisionist study that shows the causes for misreadings in other works.
Bell, Michael. D. H. Lawrence: Language and Being. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Discusses the development of Lawrence’s metaphysics not only in terms of his emotional life but also in terms of Martin Heidegger’s metaphysics. Although this study focuses primarily on Lawrence’s novels, its comments on his thought are relevant to...
(The entire section is 969 words.)