September 11th – D.H. Lawrence

Life is ours to be spent, not to be saved.

D.H. Lawrence

David Herbert Lawrence was born September, 11 1885 in the coal mining town of Eastwood, Nottinghamshire. He was a good pupil but then he left to work. A severe bout of pneumonia ended his career as a junior clerk at a surgical appliance factory and he returned to school. In 1902-1906 he was a pupil-teacher at the British School in Eastwood, later becoming a full-time student and receiving his teaching certificate. During these years he was also working on his poems, short stories, and a draft of his first novel. 

In 1908 he left to teach in London, and his friend Jessie Chambers submitted some of his poetry to Ford Madox Ford, editor at The English Review, who commissioned the story Odour of the Chrysanthemums. After its publication the London publisher Heinemann asked Lawrence for more work, leading to the publication of The White Peacock (1911). Just before the novel’s released in 1910 his mother died of cancer, a turning point for Lawrence. He was close to his mother and devastated by her death. He began working on his autobiographical novel Sons and Lovers, that draws much from his provincial upbringing and his love for both his mother and for Jessie Chambers, who is portrayed as Miriam. Chambers was hurt by her portrayal in the novel, and their friendship ended after its publication.

His second novel The Trespasser (1912), was based on the diaries of his friend and colleague Helen Corke regarding her relationship with a married man that ended in his suicide. After another bought of pneumonia and a broken engagement with a Louie Burrows, Lawrence quit teaching to write full time. 

In March 1912 he met Frieda Weekly, a married woman six years his senior (he was twenty-six, she was thirty-two). She had three young children with her husband, who was Lawrence’s former modern languages teacher at university. Lawrence and Frieda eloped (having to legally leave behind her children), and left for Frieda’s parents home in Germany, near the disputed border with France. While there, Lawrence was accused of being a British spy, and so the couple moved south of Munich to escape. Lawrence memorialized what represented their ‘honeymoon’ in Look! We Have Come Through (1917).

In 1913 the couple returned to Britain for a short visit, then settled in Italy where Lawrence wrote the first draft of The Rainbow (1915)and Women in Love (1920). Both novels dealt frankly with sexual attraction, included same sex attraction, and were initially banned. 

Frieda gained a divorce from her husband and Lawrence and Frieda legally married July 13, 1914 during a stay in Britain. 

Notoriety gained through his publications and harassment by officials during WWI led Lawrence into what he called a ‘savage pilgrimage’ – exile from Britain. The couple traveled to Australia, Italy, France, Malta, Austria, Germany, Sri Lanka, the United States, and Mexico. He wrote constantly during this time, and is considered one of the finest travel writers in English. 

In 1922 they migrated to the United States, eventually settling in Taos, New Mexico, where they acquired a 160 acre ranch in exchange for the manuscript of Sons and Lovers.

On his fortieth birthday in 1925 the Lawrence’s left New Mexico and settled in Italy, where they made their home in a villa near Florence. During this time he wrote Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which was published privately in 1928 in Italy and 1929 in France. It was not published openly in the UK until 1960, and was also banned in the US, Canada, Austria, India and Japan. They story about a relationship between an upper class woman and a working class man became notorious for its explicit descriptions of sex and use of four-letter-words. 

Suffering from ill health most of his life, D.H. Lawrence died in France, March 2, 1930, at the age of 44, from tuberculosis.

Lesson from Lawrence:

Lawrence’s writing and lifestyle exiled him from his country and estranged him from home, but he forged on, pressed by the need to depict life and love honestly, baring truths to touch people’s souls.

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