D. H. Lawrence was a poet, writer and painter born in Britain in 1905 and some say, one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. It’s hard to believe that one of his best known novels, Lady Chatterlys Lover (1928) was banned and all his manuscripts burnt.
He is mostly known for his exploration of sexuality, emotional health, spontaneity, instinct and the dehumanising effect of industrialisation. But I actually first discovered him through his lovely poetry. Poems such as PAX, and also Listening are fantastic and well worth a read.
While living in the Midlands I discovered that he was born in Nottinghamshire and that the house he grew up in had been turned into a museum. My friend and I took a tour in order to learn more about his life and work and I wanted to share one or two insights I uncovered with you here on the blog.
So, let's take a very short dip into the world of D. H. Lawrence!
Nature, sex, and relationship, society and censorship.
Lawrence grew up in a working-class mining town and much of his writing depicts class struggles and people attempting to define themselves outside of the class barriers that divided UK society in the early 1900’s.
For example, Lady Chatterlys lover, one of his most famous novels, is about a working class game keeper having an affair with a wealthy upper-class lady.
His writing acknowledges the class divisions that were present yet shows a little irreverence for adhering to them. The story encourages you to break free from societies labels and follow you heart.
David wanted to find a new version of society. To create a new way of living where he and his friends, presumably of similar sensibility, could co-habit based on individuality and talent rather than possessions or wealth. His own personal Utopia.
Lawrence travelled widely in order to find a way to live properly. His utopian wanderlust took him to Australia, Sri Lanka, Italy, Mexico, the US and southern France. He was especially mobile during the second half of his life which he spent in self imposed exile, avoiding various wars, pandemics and the state persecution faced for his risqué art. (More about that later)
"I want to gather together about twenty souls and sail away from this world of war and squalor and found a little colony where there shall be no money but a sort of communism as far as necessaries of life go, and some real decency… a place where one can live simply, apart from this civilisation… [with] a few other people who are also at peace and happy and live, and understand and be free…”
I read that Mr Lawrence didn't realise this dream in his time. Oh dear! His new communities enjoyed utopia for brief periods, in-between quarrels, discords and bouts of sickness. But! I think it’s lovely that he decided to try something new.
Pause for thought: If you could invent your own society, your own little Utopia, how would you arrange things?
2. Touch and Sexuality
David Lawrence had ideas about sex and love that were quite counter to English society in 1928. First and foremost I think he wanted sex to be liberated both at the personal and social level; no longer a taboo topic or something to be repressed and hidden away.
He wrote openly about sex and love between men and men, men and women, women and women, aristocratic ladies and gardeners - and all sorts really.
Many of his paintings show couples/groups fornicating and were banned in the 1920's for being obscene. While the writer E. M. Forster described Lawrence as the greatest imaginative novelist of the generation, at the time of his death Lawrences public reputation was that of a pornographer who had failed to put his talents to good use. (!)
I feel that his novels ask us to question whether the repression of the sex instinct may be to blame for all number of psychological and societal upsets in modern life. Were it different, perhaps sex would be better understood and maybe even celebrated more openly through art?
The scandalous love affair between Constance and Mellors in Lady Chatterlys Lover proposes sex as a way to transcend the mental concepts of individual identity, affording lovers a greater sense of union.
For example, in the novel, Constance is thrilled that the groundsman with whom she has a love affair doesn’t see her or treat her as 'Lady Constance', or as a special aristocratic woman to be protected, as many of the men who revere her might do. When her and the groundsman lay beside one another, they are simply together without airs and graces. The perceived separation between them as two apparent individuals dissolves and they can enjoy a sense of unity.
Perhaps we can find examples of this in our own experience? If we take a look we may see that we project a conceptual identity onto our lover. Not seeing them as they are but instead seeing them through a veil of ideas and stories.
We may say to ourselves ‘That’s Jo. They are a lawyer/ farmer/ engineer / spouse. They are old / young/ a parent/ successful/ sick or well. We might project all number of memories, concepts and ideas onto our partner. And perhaps our partner is also having ideas about us too. But when those ideas or identity labels are removed what's left is the essence of their being. That’s to say, they just are. And from here, we are able to meet them in innocence and with a sense of discovery.
The artist Paul Cezanne once said, “The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution.” and I feel the same can be said of a freshly observed lover, wife or husband.
3. Radical Expression/Censorship
Someone once told me that it can take time for a classic to emerge. Certain ideas are before their time and only become apparent a little further down the line. The novel Lady Chatterlys Lover was banned in the UK, the manuscript seized along with his book of poems, Pansies and the closure of his exhibition of erotic paintings. It can’t have been great for his morale. It seems absurd that he was censored for writing about sex and love affairs when todays media (100 years or so later) is seemingly full of those things.
Banned since 1923, Penguin published Lady Chatterlys Lover in 1960 and was charged with obscenity. The publisher came out victorious and this led to the abandonment of British attempts to censor major literary works, although censorship of the stage persisted for several years.
Not only was the book banned in Australia but a book describing the British trial, The Trial of Lady Chatterley, was also banned. A copy was smuggled into the country and then published widely selling an astonishing number of copies, as you might imagine.
Lawrences books, essays, poems and art works became fashionable sometime after his death and they continue to fascinate people of all ages today. They have a timeless quality, and address issues that remain relevant and unanswered today.
Pause for thought:
Q. What role should the state play in censorship of creative works?
Q. How Important is freedom of creative expression?
There is a circular theme in his stories, and in many philosophical schools which suggests that people go on a journey away from and back to nature during their life cycle.
Take a woman for example: Firstly she is born as nature. Next, she grows up, develops an ego and becomes differentiated in the world so that she feels herself to be apart from nature. In this state she defines herself as an individual and separates herself consciously or unconsciously from nature and other human beings. Lastly, she comes back to wholeness and finds herself united with nature once more, but this time with a heightened sense of awareness. She knows herself to be both individual and part of the whole.
This exploration of the small self and the larger self is something we explore in meditation, and it’s lovely to see it present as a theme in many of D. H Lawrences literary works too.
“I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.”
― D.H. Lawrence, The Complete Poems
And so, here we are. Four literary themes later. What do you think of Mr Lawrence? Intrigued to read his novels? Or considering novels you have read with a fresh lens? Let me know in the comments below.
If you liked this article please leave a comment letting me know what you think.
Let's end the post with a lovely nature inspired guitar song, made by some friends of mine. I really enjoyed it and wanted to share it with you too.