D. H. Lawrence Biography

D. H. Lawrence Biography

D. H. Lawrence is an undeniably, extraordinarily important figure in English-language literature, though you'll either love him or hate him for what and how he writes. A prolific author of essays, plays, poems, short stories, and novels, Lawrence focused throughout much of his work on the physical and emotional relationships between men and women, subjects which drew Lawrence into considerable controversy. His novels Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Sons and Lovers were censored or outright banned because of their sexual content, and some of his manuscripts were even seized by British authorities for perceived indecency. Despite his initially shaky reception, Lawrence is now recognized by many critics as a masterful writer who would not shy away from depicting complex human interactions.

Facts and Trivia

  • Lawrence’s childhood was marked by poverty and family discord. He later said that one of the more depressing things he did as an adult was to go back and visit where he grew up.
  • In 1912, Lawrence met Frieda Weekley, the wife of his former college professor. Frieda and Lawrence eloped one month later, creating quite a social scandal.
  • While living in Germany with Frieda, Lawrence was arrested and accused of being a British spy. Later, when the couple returned to England, Lawrence was accused of being a German spy.
  • Lawrence once took a walking tour from Germany to Italy so that he could write a travel book.
  • Lawrence also wrote a book about British history. However, he had to use a pen name because of his stained reputation.


(History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: Combining brilliant descriptive powers with compelling evocations of natural settings and basic human drives, Lawrence expanded the limits by which romantic-erotic situations could be portrayed in fictional settings.

Early Life

Circumstances and situations from David Herbert Lawrence’s early life are important as background to his literary works. In many instances, biographers and critics have been able to trace the development, seemingly on parallel tracks, of Lawrence’s childhood and youth and the progress of his later fictional creations. The fourth child of Lydia Beardsall and Arthur Lawrence, he was born on September 11, 1885, in Eastwood, a mining village situated in a coal-producing region of Nottinghamshire. Early in life, Lawrence preferred diminutive versions of his middle name, and later he was known from his writing simply by his initials and surname. His father was a common collier, evidently a handsome and well-formed man, who had great difficulty in expressing his thoughts and often seemed completely inarticulate. He was also prone to prolonged periods of drunkenness which sometimes culminated in physical onslaughts against his wife and family members. The mother was a schoolteacher from a modest social background who sought to instill her Congregationalist faith in her offspring. In turn, her children felt a greater attachment to their mother and tended to side with her during household disputes. During his early years, Lawrence was considered shy and physically weak. He often took it upon himself to advance his learning by borrowing numerous books from libraries in the area. He was uncannily aware of the stark contrasts that industrial growth had spawned amid the once-verdant landscapes of the Midlands, and as the years went by, divergent forms of class consciousness, notably between miners and owners, became apparent to him. In his youth he learned to distinguish regional dialects (which he later used in his fiction) in contrast to the genteel usage preferred by the upper classes. Lawrence’s academic aptitude and promise were recognized with the award of a county scholarship which allowed him to attend Nottingham High School from 1898 to 1901.

When he was fifteen years old, Lawrence became friends with Jessie Chambers, and in the course of a protracted courtship they were engaged for a time. Lawrence’s first letters of importance for literary scholars date from 1901. Expanding upon his schoolboy efforts, Lawrence turned his hand to poetry and also drafted portions of what were to become his first prose works. He also pursued painting as an avocation, by which he advanced his own interpretations on canvas of human figures and natural scenery. For a certain period, he was employed by a dealer in artificial limbs and also served for four years as a pupil-teacher in Eastwood. In 1906, Lawrence resumed his formal education when he entered Nottingham University College, and in 1908 he received a teacher’s certificate. During the next three years, he was employed at a local boys’ school.

In 1907, one of Lawrence’s short stories was published in a local newspaper, and two years later, his first poems appeared in print. His ardor for Jessie Chambers faded markedly, and Lawrence ended by breaking off their engagement in 1910. In December of that year, one of the mainstays of his early life was lost when his mother, to whom he was inordinately devoted, died of cancer. Relationships with other women, including Helen Corke, a schoolteacher, and Louise Burrows, in the end seemed to him fruitless and unsatisfying. Nevertheless, his literary career proceeded apace; an important landmark was reached early in 1911, when a London publisher brought out his novel The White Peacock (1911). This study of the dissolution of a youthful romance, and the changes wrought over time and distance as leading characters take leave of one another, exhibited variations on themes featured in Lawrence’s later offerings.

Life’s Work

Problematical romantic relationships with those from his native region were set aside in a rather dramatic fashion when Lawrence unexpectedly turned to a new love interest: He was attracted beyond measure to Frieda von Richthofen Weekley, the wife of a professor of French at the university in Nottingham. Although she was six years older than he, and already had three children at home, she responded readily to his overtures in situations that suggested amorous intrigue. She left her family behind and traveled abroad with him, primarily in her native Germany and in Italy. It was with some difficulty that the legal travails attendant upon a divorce in England could be resolved. When, finally, in 1914 she became free to marry him, Lawrence had to assume lawyers’ fees as well as the responsibility of sustaining her in their new household. As a wife, Frieda was helpful and supportive at times, but could also be demanding. Much of the time she relegated certain domestic chores as well as their routine bookkeeping to her husband. They quarreled often enough (indeed, once she hit him over the head with a stone plate), but each also had a deep and instinctive empathy for the other’s cares. It has been maintained by some critics that she inspired a fictional counterpart, Ursula Brangwen, one of the major characters in The Rainbow (1915) and Women in Love (1920).

Promising beginnings to Lawrence’s literary career were followed by acute, and in some ways unanticipated, difficulties with the authorities. His second novel, The Trespasser, was published in 1912; it is an uneven work dealing with the conflict between cerebral and sensual love, in which the protagonist finally hangs himself. Far more important was Sons and Lovers, which was received as a major work soon after its publication in January, 1913. This work’s autobiographical origins became evident at many turns. The protagonist, Paul Morel, and the mother and father closely resemble the young Lawrence and his family. Miriam Leivers, who attracts Paul for a time but then repels him by her overly possessive stance, was probably modeled from Jessie Chambers. In the novel, deeply felt but ultimately restrictive ties between Paul and his mother are broken finally when the son administers morphine pills to terminate the mother’s fatal illness. Lawrence’s sensitive depiction of the conflict between nature and industry in the Midlands also won the notice of some critics.

The first of Lawrence’s plays was published in 1914, but to little effect. Though he dabbled occasionally in drama, it was not a genre in which Lawrence felt comfortable. Lawrence also published several short stories during this period. Though he published The Rainbow in 1915, it was almost immediately suppressed. Agents of the Crown contended that its frank physical descriptions and suggestive passages, in which sexual themes were brought into the open, precluded further distribution in its original form; unsold copies were confiscated.

The years of World War I were difficult for Lawrence. Although he was not a pacifist in any strict sense, he felt no particular enthusiasm for the war effort. He was examined and twice rejected for military service because of health problems. He paid little heed, however, to the early signs of tuberculosis. He was more concerned with whether, in an atmosphere that discouraged efforts thought to be subversive of public morals, he could continue to publish his books. Lawrence was also having problems with the authorities because his wife, Frieda, was a descendant of German aristocrats; among others, she was distantly related to Manfred von Richthofen, the celebrated war pilot. Even while in England, she did little to conceal her cultural sympathies, and indeed during the middle of the war, she performed German songs. For a time, the Lawrences lived in Cornwall, but in October, 1917, police officers, afraid that they were in a position to make contact with enemy seacraft, cited suspicion of espionage as grounds for ordering them to leave the area. Although he saw no fighting whatsoever, the war left Lawrence with the unshakable conviction that conflict and suffering had permanently changed society and indeed civilization at large; gloomy, brooding memories of descent into a moral abyss are recorded when characters in his later works recall wartime events.

Lawrence managed to bring out various collections of his poems, as well as his first travel study, Twilight in Italy (1916). One of his most important novels, Women in Love, was written for the most part in 1916, though it did not actually appear in print until...

(The entire section is 3561 words.)

D. H. Lawrence Biography

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Lawrence’s battle with what he called “the censor- morons” began in 1915 with his publication of the novel The Rainbow. Amid a storm of accusations of indecency from critics, police seized more than a thousand copies from the publisher and the printer. When the case came to court in London, the prosecuting attorney, representing the police, called the book “a mass of obscenity of thought, idea, and action throughout.” The magistrate, Sir John Dickinson, ordered the novel destroyed. Lawrence was not alone in his belief that the real reason for this attack was that Britain was at war: His book denounced war, and the British government feared that it would hamper recruitment. Philip Morrell raised questions in...

(The entire section is 454 words.)

D. H. Lawrence Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

David Herbert Lawrence’s life went through four distinct stages. The first may be indicated as the Nottingham or Eastwood years, the formative years before March, 1912. Lawrence’s father, Arthur, was a miner and his mother, a teacher. Married beneath her status, Lydia Beardsall Lawrence detested the commonness of her husband and vowed that her sons would never work the pits. She therefore doggedly saw Lawrence through a teacher-training program at Nottingham University College. The class struggle at home mirrored the larger class struggle, of which Lawrence was acutely aware.

Within the grim industrial village life there remained a lyrical beauty in intimate relations. In Eastwood, Lawrence was romantically involved...

(The entire section is 565 words.)

D. H. Lawrence Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

David Herbert Lawrence was born on September 11, 1885, in the Midlands coal-mining village of Eastwood, Nottinghamshire. The noise and grime of the pits dominated Eastwood, but the proximity of fabled Sherwood Forest was a living reminder of what Lawrence would later call “the old England of the forest and agricultural past” on which industrialization had been so rudely imposed. The contrast was to remain an essential element in his makeup. Allied to it was the equally sharp contrast between his parents. Arthur John Lawrence, the father, had worked in the coal pits from the age of seven. Coarse, semiliterate, intensely physical, a hail-fellow popular with his collier mates, he was prone to drink and to near poverty. Lydia...

(The entire section is 1399 words.)

D. H. Lawrence Biography

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

David Herbert Lawrence was born in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, England, on September 11, 1885. His mother, Lydia Beardsall, had come from a fiercely religious middle-class family reduced in circumstances since the depression of 1837. Lydia, “a superior soul,” as her third son called her, had been a schoolteacher, sensitive and musical, six years younger than her husband, to whom she was distantly related by marriage. His family had also lost money and position, and Arthur Lawrence, the proud possessor of a fine physique and a musical soul, had gone down into the mines as a child to work. Lydia’s disillusion with her marriage, her husband’s alcoholic degeneration, and the continual marital strife that haunted her son’s...

(The entire section is 675 words.)

D. H. Lawrence Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

David Herbert Lawrence was born in Eastwood, a coal mining town in Nottinghamshire, England, on September 11, 1885. His father, Arthur John Lawrence, was a gregarious, hard-drinking collier whose marriage to Lydia Beardsall, formerly a schoolteacher of genteel refinements, was a continuous struggle for mastery. D. H. Lawrence was the third son born into this household, along with two sisters. A gentle, studious, sissified boy, Lawrence was sometimes scorned by the more robust colliers’ sons of the town; shunning their athletic games, he enjoyed instead the company of his sisters or of their young female friends, whom he charmed with his skill at charades and games of mimicry. Above all, he enjoyed excursions in the Derbyshire...

(The entire section is 841 words.)

D. H. Lawrence Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In “The Rocking-Horse Winner,” D.H. Lawrence makes clear his belief that the only “luck” that a person ever achieves in life is the good fortune—or capability—to love. Yet not all forms of love are life enhancing. As a moralist, Lawrence urges his readers to discriminate between incomplete, self-involved, or perverse love and love represented by phallic tenderness. In Lady Chatterley’s Lover, particularly, he shows how good sex (which is natural, spontaneous, springing from tender feelings toward one’s partner) renews life, whereas, bad sex (which is cerebral, mechanical, springing from self-involvement and the urge to dominate another human being) results in emotional sterility.

In his essay...

(The entire section is 191 words.)

D. H. Lawrence Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

David Herbert Lawrence was the most versatile—and arguably the most gifted—English author of the twentieth century. He was born on September 11, 1885, in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, in the industrial British Midlands, the son of an illiterate collier who drank too much and a puritanical mother who was desperate to have her sons rise above the working-class milieu of the small mining village. At age twelve Lawrence won a scholarship to attend Nottingham High School. Following three unhappy years of teaching elementary school during his late teens, he began two years of study at University College, Nottingham, where he started writing poems and bits of his first novel, The White Peacock. Bored with college, he left at age...

(The entire section is 1270 words.)

D. H. Lawrence Biography

(Novels for Students)

David Herbert Richard (D. H.) Lawrence was born in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, England, on September 11, 1885, the son of coal miner Arthur...

(The entire section is 395 words.)

D. H. Lawrence Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

David Herbert Lawrence was born September 11, 1885. His father was Arthur John Lawrence, an illiterate coal miner in the Nottinghamshire area...

(The entire section is 399 words.)

D. H. Lawrence Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

The fourth child of Arthur John Lawrence, an illiterate coal miner, and Lydia Beardsall Lawrence, a former school teacher, David Herbert...

(The entire section is 517 words.)

D. H. Lawrence Biography

(Novels for Students)

David Herbert Lawrence was born on September 11, 1885, in the mining town of Eastwood in the English Midlands. His parents were John Arthur...

(The entire section is 485 words.)