Childhood and Education
Born David Herbert Richards Lawrence on September 11, 1885, in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, England, D.H. Lawrence was the fourth of five children. His father, Arthur Lawrence, was an illiterate coal miner. His mother, Lydia Beardsall Lawrence, was a former schoolteacher who had been raised in a middle-class family. Thus she wanted her children to be educated and rise above the working class.
Lawrence attended Nottingham High School and graduated in 1901. He then worked as a student-teacher from 1902–06. In 1908 he earned a teacher training certificate from Nottingham University College (now University of Nottingham). He then worked as a teacher in Croydon, a suburb of London, for about three years.
During his 20s Lawrence wrote while teaching. In 1911 his first novel, The White Peacock, was published. He followed with The Trespasser in 1912. Shortly thereafter he published his first book of poetry, Love Poems and Others (1913). These works helped him gain recognition as an emerging poet and novelist. However, his 20s were marred by personal difficulties. His mother died in 1910 after a long illness, and Lawrence's health, which had always been somewhat frail, deteriorated severely after his mother's death. He broke off his engagement with his fiancée and gave up teaching to write full time and travel.
In 1912, shortly before he left to travel in Europe, he met Frieda von Richthofen Weekley, the German-born, upper-class wife of one of his former professors at the University of Nottingham. One month later she left her husband and three children to be with Lawrence. They lived in Italy, where Lawrence completed his third novel, Sons and Lovers, in 1913, and they married the following year. They returned to England in 1914 and spent the years during World War I there. This was an unhappy time for them. Lawrence's respiratory problems were aggravated by the damp climate, and his wife's German nationality created suspicion and hostility, causing conflict with their peers despite Lawrence's growing reputation as a writer.
Lawrence and Weekley had an untraditional marriage. Both had liaisons with other partners, and they spent much of the next two decades traveling and living an unconventional lifestyle in the United States, Mexico, Australia, and Europe. Whereas Sons and Lovers had been autobiographical in nature and described much of his youth, Lawrence's subsequent novels, especially The Rainbow (1915) and Women in Love (1920), explored conflicts and issues related to his relationship with Weekley. These two books were sexually explicit and censored in England.
In fact many of D.H. Lawrence's works were of an autobiographical nature and focused on issues related to his own life, such as the conflicts of his parents and the lives of common people, including class divisions, the struggles of the working class, industrialization, sex, familial relationships, and specifically the relationships between men and women. Several works, including Lady Chatterley's Lover, were influenced by his hometown, a coal-mining village in the Midlands of England, and the surrounding countryside.
By the time Lawrence moved to the United States, he had rejected many social conventions and become more radical in his ideas. Lawrence had hoped to establish a utopian community. His respiratory problems continued to plague him, and by the mid-1920s he was gravely ill with tuberculosis. He gave up his utopian dream, and he and Weekley moved back to Europe and lived in Italy and France.
Lady Chatterley's Lover and Its Legacy
During the last years of his life Lawrence wrote Lady Chatterley's Lover. He wrote three versions before settling on one for publication. He had a small number of copies printed and distributed in Italy in 1928. Lady Chatterley's Lover was even more sexually explicit than his previous works. Several hundred copies managed to be sold before authorities started confiscating copies of the novel in Italy, and it was banned throughout most European counties and in the United States and Australia. It would be about 30 years before it could be legally published in these countries, which only happened after obscenity trials in the United States in 1959 and in England in 1960 declared the book had literary value and was not obscene. These court decisions set the legal standard for determining what is considered obscene in print.
Lady Chatterley's Lover was one of the first novels to describe in detail the pleasure a female experienced during sex. This shocked many people of the time. While the original criticisms centered on the fact a woman enjoyed sex, which was at odds with strict Victorian ideology, more recent criticism faults the role female submissiveness plays in the relationship between the two protagonists: Constance Chatterley and Oliver Mellors. Some feminists also oppose the inclusion of crass language to describe a woman's genitals, considering it derogatory and debasing to females.
D.H. Lawrence had hoped to shake up people's acceptance of Victorian morality so they would view sex and the human body without shame or a false sense of morality. Lawrence's overriding message in Lady Chatterley's Lover was to encourage people to follow their basic human instincts so they could become more alive and have more meaningful relationships with others.
Lawrence's Death and Posthumous Fame
Lawrence died of tuberculosis on March 2, 1930. At the time of his death he had published almost 60 novellas and short stories and 10 novels. His nonfiction includes literary criticism, travel books, and essays. Several works, including some of his plays, poems, essays, and letters, were published posthumously. Much of his work has attracted more attention after his death than in his lifetime and has been adapted for television, film, or the stage.