D. H. Lawrence 1885–-1930
(Full name David Herbert Richard Lawrence; also wrote under the pseudonym Lawrence H. Davison) English novelist, novella and short-story writer, poet, essayist, critic, translator, and dramatist.
The following entry presents criticism of Lawrence's short fiction works from 1987 through 2003. See also, "The Rocking-Horse Winner" Criticism.
One of the most original English writers of the twentieth century, Lawrence has been praised for his short stories that explore human nature through frank discussions of sex, psychology, and religion. In his lifetime he was received as a controversial figure, both because of the explicit sexuality he portrayed in his fiction and his unconventional personal life. Critics note that his short fiction was often based on experiences from his working-class youth in England's industrial midlands. Several of his stories are considered masterly and innovative examples of the short fiction genre and crucial to Lawrence's development as a novelist.
Lawrence was born on September 11, 1885, in the colliery town of Eastwood, Nottingham. His father was a coal miner, and Lawrence blamed the debilitating mine work for his father's debased condition. Lawrence attended local grammar and high schools and later, from 1906 to 1908, studied at Nottingham University College, where he began writing short stories. In 1908, he moved to Croyden, just south of London, to teach school. While there he encountered Ford Madox Ford's English Review, where he published some of his early poetry and—more meaningful to the evolution of his fiction—discovered what he and others termed “the exciting new school of realism” in the works of such writers as Thomas Hardy, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, and Leo Tolstoy. In 1911, the onset of tuberculosis forced Lawrence to resign from teaching. That same year he published his first novel, The White Peacock, which was critically well received. When he was twenty-seven, Lawrence eloped to Germany with Frieda von Richthofen Weekly, the wife of one of his college professors, and the two were married in 1914.
In 1913, Lawrence published his first major work, the largely autobiographical novel Sons and Lovers, and also wrote “The Prussian Officer,” one of his most celebrated stories. Both works are early examples of the psychological fiction that he later developed more fully. Lawrence returned with Frieda to England just before the outbreak of World War I and remained there until the war's conclusion. During the war, Lawrence and Frieda endured harassment by the English government because of his seemingly antipatriotic views and her German ancestry. Lawrence's next novel, The Rainbow, a complex narrative focusing on relationships between men and women, appeared in 1915. The book was judged obscene for its explicit discussion of sexuality and was suppressed in England. His last major novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928), met with similar resistance and was available only in an expurgated version until 1959 in the United States and 1960 in England, when a landmark obscenity trial vindicated the book as a work of literature. After the war, the Lawrences lived briefly in Germany, Austria, Italy, Sicily, England, France, Australia, Mexico, and in the southwestern United States, where Lawrence hoped to someday establish a Utopian community. These varied locales provided settings for many of the novels and stories Lawrence wrote during the 1920s and also inspired four books of admired travel sketches. In 1930 Lawrence entered a sanatorium in Vence, France, in an attempt to cure the tuberculosis that afflicted him during the later years of his life. He died there on March 2, 1930.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Many critics consider Lawrence's short stories his most artistically accomplished writings and have attributed much of their success to the constraints of the form that forced Lawrence to deny himself the elaborations, diversions, and repetitions that characterize his longer works. In comparison with his novels, Lawrence's short fiction is economical in style and structure. His early stories are written in the manner of Robert Louis Stevenson and Rudyard Kipling, whose anecdotes and tales of adventure epitomized the traditional nineteenth-century English short story. Most critics concur that “Odour of Chrysanthemums” marked the emergence of a second stage in the development of Lawrence's short fiction. Composed in 1911 and published in The Prussian Officer, and Other Stories (1914), this piece incorporates the heightened realism of Henry James, Joseph Conrad, and Leo Tolstoy, and like most of Lawrence's stories from the years 1909 to 1912, focuses on the familiar events and problems of twentieth-century industrial society, while displaying concern for the lives of ordinary men and women. The title story from The Prussian Officer is regarded by many as Lawrence's first completely visionary work. This piece signaled another change in the direction of Lawrence's writing and, to some critics, in the art of short fiction at large. Written in 1913, “The Prussian Officer” combines accurate social setting with penetrating psychological analysis, exhibiting Lawrence's eagerness to explore areas beneath the surface of human behavior. Characterized by intense observation, this and other works of the period before 1925 imply the depth and complexity of ordinary experience and retain Lawrence's sharp observation of character and place.
World War I was a major event in the evolution of Lawrence's aesthetic principles. Like many artists of the time, Lawrence viewed a cycle of apocalypse and rebirth as a necessary corrective to the apparent depravity of the modern world. In his postwar stories he presents intense personal engagements as essential in giving new life to people and societies on the verge of despair. Sensual love stands as an alternative to the mechanisms of modern warfare and technology, and the closed community that Lawrence valued and portrayed in his earlier writings becomes extended and reshaped to incorporate all of Western culture. To dramatize this concern for regeneration, Lawrence often utilized elements of religious ritual and myth. Stories from this period include the title story from England, My England, and Other Stories (1922) and “The Horse-Dealer's Daughter.” In “England, My England,” Lawrence symbolizes the self-destructive yearning of the fading English gentility through the protagonist Egbert, an effete aristocrat who is killed at the front after enlisting in the army in an attempt to reassert his masculinity. “The Horse-Dealer's Daughter” personifies the redemption of society through the erotic rejuvenation of a doctor and the girl that he rescues from suicide.
Lawrence's longer short stories from this period in some ways anticipate the techniques of his later works through their use of allegory, mythological structures, and imagery. Some critics have accused Lawrence of displaying chauvinistic attitudes in several works of this period, notably “The Fox,” “You Touched Me,” and “The Border Line.” The exotic story “The Woman Who Rode Away” culminates this trend in what some critics consider a misogynistic dramatization of female submission to male mastery in which a young white woman is captured and sacrificed to ancient gods by a group of aboriginal males. While many regard this tendency in Lawrence's work as transitory—by 1924 with “St. Mawr,” he began to modify his views—throughout his career, Lawrence often demonstrated distrust and even fear of the power of women. The stories from this middle period of Lawrence's career are noted for their extensive range of themes, attitudes, settings, and characters, and critics have often commented on the steadiness and high quality of Lawrence's output during these years. Lawrence's later short stories, from 1925 to 1930, display a dominant movement toward fabulation and satire. “The Rocking-Horse Winner” is a sardonic tale employing devices of the fairy tale and a mockingly detached tone to moralize on the value of love and the dangers of money. “The Man Who Loved Islands” is a parabolic story that ridicules idealism through the experiences of a man who flees the mechanistic modern world to three self-created island utopias, each of which fails due to the intrusion of his own human imperfection. In these and other late tales, Lawrence moves beyond the strictures of realism and encompasses a broad range of subjects and styles. Confronting such issues as materialism, idealism, conformism, women's movements, and traditional Christianity, these stories in some sense return to the legends and fables of his earliest works, yet manifest what many critics regard as keener insights, sturdier craft, and vaster experience.
Lawrence is regarded as one of the twentieth century's most important short-story writers. Through his innovative use of psychological themes and his distinctive application of a heightened realism to quotidian English society, he produced some of the earliest and, some critics believe, finest, modernist prose. Lawrence demonstrated a wide imaginative range in his short fiction that was often lacking in his novels, and to many observers his fresh masterful approach extended the conventions of the short-story genre. Although some critics fault several of Lawrence's stories for exhibiting failed symbolism, fanatical didacticism, and controversial views, he is nonetheless celebrated for his trenchant insights into the deepest impulses of life, his devotion to illuminating human passion, and his original perspective on the problems posed by human relationships.