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D.H. Lawrence | Biography

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Early Life

Born in Eastwood, England, on September 11, 1885, David Herbert Lawrence struggled to fit into his working-class, coal-mining town. As a child, Lawrence was frequently ill and physically frail. His mother came from an educated, middle-class family and encouraged a love of literature and the arts. As a result, her son often didn't fit in well with other boys who loved athletics and sports. Despite excellent school performance, a lack of sociability left young Lawrence often depressed and melancholic. As an adult, Lawrence would say he felt as if his childhood was lived in "a sort of inner darkness, like the gloss of coal." At the same time, Lawrence's relationship with his alcoholic, uneducated father didn't help his depression. Arthur John Lawrence had started working the coal mines when he was just 10, and he wasn't equipped to understand his son's artistic expressions or literary ambitions.

Early Writing

After graduating from high school in 1901, Lawrence began working as a factory clerk in Nottingham. Much like the character Paul in Sons and Lovers, acknowledged to be Lawrence's most autobiographical novel, Lawrence fell ill and took a leave from work to recover. During his convalescence, he spent a lot of time at the nearby Haggs Farm, where he formed an intense friendship with the farmer's daughter, Jessie Chambers. Lawrence and Jessie's friendship formed over a mutual love of literature, and—at Jessie's urging—Lawrence began writing creatively. He published his first short story in a local magazine in 1907. He went on to publish more short stories and poems before publishing his first novel, The White Peacock, in 1911. A few years later Lawrence showed Jessie the manuscript for Sons and Lovers. Clearly the inspiration for Miriam's character in the book, Jessie offered her own angry advice for revisions after accusing Lawrence of twisting their relationship in fiction.

Marriage

After two difficult broken engagements—to Jessie Chambers in 1910 and Louie Burrows in 1912—Lawrence met the love of his life while visiting an old professor regarding a manuscript Lawrence had written. Lawrence found himself head over heels in love with the professor's wife, Frieda von Richthofen, an apparently formidable sexual force who allegedly lured Lawrence into bed 20 minutes after they first met. The passionate couple ran away together a few months later. Frieda abandoned her husband and children to start a new life with Lawrence. They married in 1914, soon after Frieda finalized her divorce. Lawrence and Frieda's relationship was filled with brutal, sometimes violent, and regularly public fights, yet Lawrence remained passionately devoted to his wife, even overlooking her numerous extramarital affairs. After spending the duration of World War I (1914–18) in England, the couple spent many years in France and Italy. At the same time, because of the scandalous themes in his books, Lawrence was gaining the reputation of a "pornographic" writer, and the resulting outrage and censorship dulled his desire to return to England.

Death and Legacy

While he was alive, Lawrence faced sharp criticism for his "obscene," even "pornographic," novels. His most famous novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928), was considered so explicit and sexually shocking it lived an "underground life" as audiences clamored to read the title, but publishers in New York and London refused to publish it unless it was heavily censored. This censorship wasn't lifted until 1959 and 1960 respectively, nearly 30 years after Lawrence's death from tuberculosis on March 2, 1930. Reviews of Lawrence's work at the time of his death were generally scathing. Today, however, most literary critics regard Lawrence's exploration and realistic portrayal of sexuality, vulnerability, and emotional health as some of the most brave and influential writing of the early 20th century.

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