D. H. Lawrence was a poet, writer, and painter born in Britain in 1905. Some say he is one of the greatest writers of the 20th century so it’s hard to believe that his first novel was banned, and all his manuscripts burnt. Poor bloke.
I first came to learn about him through his poetry ( PAX, and also Listening are fantastic!) and 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 which people can visit. (Take a virtual tour here )
My friend and I booked onto a museum tour and explored his life and work a little more. There were several ideas within his work which I thought interesting for us to share here on the blog and discuss.
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 a lot of his writing depicts people attempting to redefine themselves outside of the class barriers that divided UK society at that time. 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. It encourages the reader to partake in a freer sense of self. It makes being who and what you are, regardless of labels and class, a viable and tempting option.
As well as shining a light on class issues he was keen, so I read, to explore a new version of community. He wanted to create a new place or way of living where he and his friends, presumably of similar persuasions, could co-habit based on individuality and talent rather than possessions or wealth. It was his version of Utopia, which I understand he pursued on his travels around the world while avoiding persecution for his risqué art.
I read that Mr Lawrence didn't realise this dream in his time. Oh dear! And that his new community only stood in utopia for brief periods, in-between quarrels and discords and bouts of sickness. I don't know the truth of this, as I wasn't there, but I quite fancy it to be a great thing that he even tried!
Q: What do you think? If you could invent your own society, your own little club, how would you imagine that you would live and arrange yourselves?
2. Utopian Love/Sexuality
Theme A. Expression: Mr 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 societal level; no longer a taboo topic or something to be repressed and hidden away.
He wrote and painted openly about sex and love between men and men, men and women, women and women, paupers and nobleman and ladies and gardeners-- and all sorts really. Many of his paintings show couples fornicating and were banned in the 1920's for being obscene.
D. H Lawrence' novels suggest that the repression or denial of the sex urge, and the sex that is happening, may well be the cause of all number of psychological and societal upsets in modern life. Seeing as sex is a real part of life for so many people, perhaps it’s something we could understand better or celebrate more openly through art?
Theme B. Sex as atonement: The love affair between Constance and David in Lady Chatterlys Lover suggests that sex can offer us a way to transcend the mental concepts of individual identity, and move further towards a greater sense of union. For example, we place a veil of identity over our lover as we look at them. We turn to our partner and say (albeit implicitly, in our mind) ‘That’s Jo, they are a lawyer and a spouse. They are old/young/a parent/successful/vagrant. They could be all number of things. And perhaps our partner is also having ideas about us.
When those ideas or identity labels are removed what is left is the essence. The beingness. They just are. They (we) are liberated from the constraints of our own prior conceptions of them, and they are free to be. And, hopefully, to just be, with us.
In Lady Chatterlys Lover Constance seems thrilled by the idea that Dave— the groundsman with which she has a love affair, doesn’t see her or treat her as Lady Constance, or as a woman to be protected, as many of the men who revere her aristocracy might well do. When they get together they each bring their being--on face value, as it were, and this allows them to dissolve the separation between two apparent individuals, and enjoy this sense of unity.
Sex and beauty are inseparable, like life and consciousness. And the intelligence which goes with sex and beauty, and arises out of sex and beauty, is intuition. D. H. Lawrence
3. Radical Expression/Censorship
Lady Chatterlys Lover was banned in the UK, his manuscript seized along with his book of poems Pansies and the closure of his exhibition of paintings. It can’t have been great for his morale!
There are a number of really cool writers who’s work fell on more deaf ears than they might have liked during their lifetime. Often times it's not until years after their death that their work is better appreciated in popular culture. Someone once told me that it can take time for a classic to emerge. Some ideas are before their time and become apparent a little further down the line, once the collective consciousness catches up.
That said - It’s pretty ace to hear that he forged ahead and kept writing the sort of thing he wanted to write about despite the disapproval. It’s very promising to learn about people who are making and creating in line with their love and understanding.
Banned since 1923, Penguin published Lady Chatterlys Lover in 1960 and was charged with obscenity. Penguin came out victorious and this finally 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.
Lawrences books came in fashion sometime after his death and they continue to fascinate people of all ages today. His books have a timeless quality, and they address issues that are very relevant and pertinent today.
Q. Is truth a democracy? How free is expression where you are?
There is a circular theme in some philosophical schools which suggests that people go on a journey away from and back to nature during their life cycle.
-They are born as nature
-They become differentiated in the world and feel themselves to be separate from nature, in this state they define themselves as individuals.
-They come back to wholeness, and find themselves united with nature, as part of the whole once more but this time with a heightened sense of awareness. Perhaps, at this stage, there is also a relinquishing of the small, individuated self in return for a merging with the greater self, the whole.
This theme is something we explore in meditation, so it is nice to see it present in Lawrences work too.
Nature is a good example of ebb and flow. But what I love love love most about his work is how it uses nature to point to the natural expression of life. For example, when he speaks about a flower or a cat there is a real sense of organic naturalness there, so frank and unencumbered is the way the cat or flower expresses itself. Here is a cat, catting.
“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
Here is a lovely nature inspired guitar song, made by some friends of mine. I really enjoyed it and wanted to share it with you too.
Thanks, D. H. Lawrence. I think your books are fab!
I love how they bring the essence of so many eastern philosophical ideas to life. I hope you too, dear reader, enjoyed delving a little into life via D.H Lawrence and his fascinating art.
In Apocalypse, Lawrences last book he said
"Whatever the unborn and the dead may know, they cannot know the beauty, the marvel of being alive in the flesh. The dead may look after the afterwards. But the magnificent here and now of life in the flesh is ours, and ours alone, and ours only for a time. We ought to dance with rapture that we should be alive and in the flesh, and part of the living, incarnate cosmos.”
Thank you for reading, if you liked this article please leave a comment letting me know what you think. If there are some topics in this post that you'd like to see more on the blog, let me know too.