D. H. Lawrence

D. H. Lawrence book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download D. H. Lawrence Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Introduction

(Poetry Criticism)

D(avid) H(erbert) Lawrence 1885-1930

English poet, novelist, essayist, and short story and travel writer.

The following entry presents criticism of Lawrence's life and career from 1913 through 2000.

Lawrence is considered one of the most influential literary figures of the twentieth century. Best remembered as a novelist, he wrote prolifically in other genres, as well. In his poetry and fiction, he rejected industrialization and what he saw as its dehumanizing effects and presented instead a vision of men and women freed from the restraints of society, in harmony with the natural, physical world.

Biographical Information

Lawrence was born in central England on September 11, 1885. His father was a coal miner who drank heavily. His mother, to whom he was devoted, was an unhappily married former schoolteacher who steered her son toward a university education and away from his father's way of life. Lawrence's Nottinghamshire upbringing was marked by family discord. Money was scarce and financial hardship caused him to rely on scholarships and periods of factory work in order to complete his education. In 1905 he graduated from a teacher-training course at University College, Nottingham, and began teaching in Croydon, a suburb of London. He had begun writing by this time, and in 1909 he began publishing verse. When his first novel, The White Peacock, was published in early 1911, his success was tempered by his grief at the recent death of his mother from cancer. Throughout the next several months he was plagued by ill health and depression. The following year he decided to quit teaching and support himself exclusively as a writer. He managed to maintain a simple lifestyle by selling a steady stream of short stories, essays, articles, and poetry to magazines, while continuing to write novels that more fully addressed his dreams of a changed world.

In 1912 Lawrence also began a passionate and stormy relationship with Frieda Weekley, the German-born wife of one of his former professors. They ran off to Germany together, returning to England in 1914 to be married after she was granted a divorce. During World War I, they were not allowed to leave England; his outspoken antiwar sentiments and her German heritage caused officials to suspect them of being spies. In 1915 the government took action against Lawrence's work by officially censoring his novel The Rainbow (1915) for its descriptions of sex and use of vulgarities. After the war, the couple left England permanently and Lawrence delighted in his own escape from the “coffin” he thought England had become. From 1919 until his death in 1930, Lawrence and Frieda lived a nomadic existence, residing first in Italy; their travels led them to France, Germany, Mexico, the United States (New Mexico), Australia, and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). The experiences of these years are reflected in Lawrence's fiction, poetry, and nonfiction writings of the period. Near the end of his life came the episode for which he would be most remembered. Lady Chatterley's Lover, a novel written and printed privately in 1928 in Florence, Italy, was censured by British officials for its explicit description of the physical relationship between a noblewoman and one of her husband's servants. An expurgated edition appeared in England in 1932, after Lawrence's death in 1930. His most explicit version was not published commercially until 1959, in the United States, and 1960, in England; it was the subject of heated legal debate until courts in both countries finally upheld its publication. Unaware of the legacy his controversial novel would ultimately have on the artistic and literary freedom of generations of writers, Lawrence died in the South of France on March 2, 1930 of tuberculosis.

Major Works

His first published poems appeared in the English Review in 1909. Lawrence’s first volume of poetry, Love Poems and Others, was published in 1913. Subsequent collections of poetry, Amores (1916) and Look! We Have Come Through! (1917), deal...

(The entire section is 73,157 words.)