This Day In Literary History
On September 11th, 1885, the legendary English writer D.H. Lawrence was born. He was born David Herbert Lawrence in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, England. His father was a barely literate coal miner, his mother a former schoolmistress.
His working class town, (which he called "the country of my heart") background, and his parents' rocky marriage would be reflected in his writings. As a boy, Lawrence became the first student to win a City Council Scholarship to the nearby Nottingham High School.
In 1901, Lawrence left school to take a job as junior clerk for a surgical appliance factory, but a severe case of pneumonia cut his employment short. After he recovered, from 1902-06, he served as a student teacher at the British School in Eastwood.
From there, he became a full-time student and received a teaching certificate from University College, Nottingham, in 1908. During university, Lawrence began to write poetry and short stories, and started work on the first draft of a novel.
Near the end of 1907, he won a short story contest held by the Nottingham Guardian. It was the first time he received recognition for his writing talent.
In the fall of 1908, D.H. Lawrence moved to London, where he taught at Davidson Road School and continued to write. By 1910, just as his first novel The White Peacock was about to be published, Lawrence's mother died of cancer. He was devastated, as he had always been close to her.
The following year, he met Edward Garnett, a publisher's reader who became his literary mentor. Before Lawrence's second novel The Trespasser was published, Garnett helped him revise the manuscript that would become his third novel, Sons And Lovers (1913).
Considered to be Lawrence's first masterwork, Sons And Lovers, originally titled Paul Morel, is an autobiographical novel about Paul Morel, a young aspiring artist whose mother, to whom he is close, suffers from both mental illness and a miserable marriage.
It would later be adapted for the screen and TV, first as an acclaimed 1960 feature film directed by Jack Cardiff and starring Dean Stockwell and Trevor Howard, then as a British TV serial in 1981 and 2003.
In March of 1912, Lawrence met Frieda Weekley, a married mother of three and relative of future World War I flying ace Manfred von Richthofen, the "Red Baron." Though Frieda was six years older than Lawrence, they fell madly in love with each other.
They ran away to Frieda's parent's house in Metz, a town near a disputed border between Germany and France. Lawrence soon found himself arrested and accused of being a British spy. He was released following the intervention of Frieda's father.
This strange and frightening encounter instilled in Lawrence a lifelong hatred of militarism. He and Frieda moved to a small town south of Munich. From there, Lawrence and Frieda walked through the Alps to Italy, a trek that Lawrence would write about in one of his travel books.
In 1913, Lawrence and Frieda went to England for a visit, during which, Lawrence met and befriended critic John Middleton Murry and writer Katherine Mansfield. When they returned to Italy, Lawrence and Frieda stayed at a cottage in Fiascherino on the Gulf of Spezia.
Lawrence began work on a piece of fiction that would become two of his best known novels, The Rainbow (1915) and Women In Love (1920). After Frieda finally obtained her divorce, she and Lawrence returned to England and were married on July 13th, 1914.
World War I had broken out, and because his wife was German and he had openly expressed contempt for militarism, Lawrence's countrymen immediately suspected that he was a traitor.
When Lawrence's classic novel, The Rainbow was published in 1915, it created a furor and resulted in more antagonism of the author by the British government.
The Rainbow, which dealt with the personal and sexual dynamics of the relationships of three generations of the Brangwen family, was considered one of the finest English novels of the 20th century.
The Rainbow was groundbreaking in both its depictions of sex and in its treatment of sex as both a natural part of life and a kind of spiritual life force.
After an obscenity trial, the novel was banned by the British government, with all currently available copies seized and burned. The ban would last for eleven years.
In late 1917, after seeing his novel banned and burned, and being constantly harassed by the British military, D.H. Lawrence was forced to leave England under the Defence of the Realm Act.
He and his wife Frieda began traveling around the world, wandering through Italy, the South of France, Sri Lanka, Australia, Mexico, and finally, in 1922, the United States, where Lawrence decided to emigrate.
They settled on a ranch near Taos, New Mexico, which would later be renamed the D.H. Lawrence Ranch. There, Lawrence was visited by legendary writer Aldous Huxley, who would become a lifelong friend.
During the 1920s, Lawrence continued to publish quality novels. Women In Love (1920), a sequel to The Rainbow, also caused a furor with its sexual content, and was equally groundbreaking in its depiction of a homosexual attraction between two male characters.
Kangaroo (1923) and The Boy In The Bush (1924) were both semi autobiographical novels based on Lawrence's experiences living in Australia. The Plumed Serpent (1926) was inspired by Lawrence's visit to Mexico.
In this novel set during the Mexican Revolution, Kate Leslie, a member of a tourist group watching a bullfight, leaves the event in disgust. She then meets Don Cipriano and his intellectual, landowner friend, Don Ramon.
When she discovers that Cipriano and Ramon have revived the old pre-Christian Aztec religious cult of Quetzalcoatl, she finds herself drawn to it. Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec sky god, is depicted as a flying serpent with feathers.
D.H. Lawrence's last full-length novel would prove to be his masterpiece. Lady Chattlerley's Lover, first published in Italy in 1928, was not only brilliant and beautifully written, but also extremely daring, both in content and philosophy.
After Lady Constance Chatterley's husband Sir Clifford's war injuries leave him crippled and impotent, she finds herself driven to the brink of madness by sexual frustration.
In desperation, she has a passionate affair with the gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors. The affair leads her to realize that in order to truly live, she (and all human beings) needs to be alive not only intellectually and emotionally, but sexually as well.
Because of it sexual philosophy, vivid and erotic depictions of sex, and use of certain words considered obscene, such as fuck and cunt, in 1928, Lady Chatterley's Lover could only be published in Italy.
It would not be published in the UK until 1960, and its publication would result in yet another obscenity trial, as the novel ran afoul of England's Obscene Publications Act of 1959.
During the trial, various academic critics were brought in as witnesses. As a result, on November 2nd, 1960, a jury found that the novel was not legally obscene, a victory that led to far more freedom for publishers in the UK.
The decision also led to bans on the novel being overturned in Australia and the United States. In 1965, the great American singer, songwriter, and satirist Tom Lehrer wrote Smut, one of his most popular songs, whose lyrics stated:
Who needs a hobby like tennis or philately?
I've got a hobby - rereading Lady Chatterley!
Lady Chatterley's Lover would be adapted as a feature film, first in 1955, directed by Marc Allegret and starring Danielle Darrieux as Lady Chatterley, then in 1981, which was the most famous adaptation.
The 1981 version was directed by Just Jaeckin and starred Sylvia Kristel in the title role. The novel would also inspire numerous softcore and hardcore pornographic adaptations, or should I say, imitations.
D.H. Lawrence died in 1930 of complications from tuberculosis. He was 44 years old. In addition to his novels, his body of work included short story collections, over a dozen poetry collections, several plays, and works of non-fiction. He is rightfully considered one of the greatest English writers of all time.
Quote Of The Day
"When genuine passion moves you, say what you've got to say, and say it hot." - D.H. Lawrence
Today's video features complete a reading of D.H. Lawrence's classic novel, Sons and Lovers. Enjoy!