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date: 25 September 2023

Lawrence, David Herbertfree


Lawrence, David Herbertfree

  • John Worthen

David Herbert Lawrence (1885–1930)

by Ernesto Guardia, 1920s [copy by Peter A. Juley]

Lawrence, David Herbert (1885–1930), writer, was born on 11 September 1885 at what is now 8A Victoria Street, Eastwood, near Nottingham, the fourth of the five children of Arthur John Lawrence (1846–1924) and his wife, Lydia Beardsall (1851–1910). Arthur Lawrence, like his three brothers, was a coalminer who worked from the age of ten until he was sixty-six, was very much at home in the small mining town, and was widely regarded as an excellent workman and cheerful companion. Lawrence's mother Lydia was the second daughter of Robert Beardsall and his wife, Lydia Newton of Sneinton; originally lower middle-class, the Beardsalls had suffered financial disaster in the 1860s and Lydia, in spite of attempts to work as a pupil teacher, had, like her sisters, been forced into employment as a sweated home worker in the lace industry. But she had had more education than her husband, and passed on to her children an enduring love of books, a religious faith, and a commitment to self-improvement, as well as a profound desire to move out of the working class in which she felt herself trapped. The resulting differences between her and her husband left their children permanently divided in loyalty, and played a considerable role in Lawrence's subsequent writing.

Early years

Growing up in Eastwood, which depended almost completely on the mining industry (ten pits lay within walking distance), was difficult for a boy like Bert Lawrence, often in poor health and obviously frail. He was bullied at school, failed to join in games with the other boys, and—still worse—clearly preferred the company of girls, who talked rather than fought. School reinforced in him a sense of isolation and difference: 'When I go down pit you'll see what — sums I'll do' (Worthen, Early Years, 85) was the constant refrain of his contemporaries, and Lawrence knew from very early on that, in spite of his father's expectations, he would not be a miner. It took him some time to do well at school: he felt the pressure of being unlike the other boys, and he was following his elder brother William Ernest, who had excelled in everything he did, whether schoolwork or playing games. By the age of twelve, however, Lawrence was a success; he became the first boy from Eastwood to win one of the recently established county council scholarships, and went to Nottingham high school.

At the high school, however, Lawrence did not distinguish himself. The scholarship boys were a class apart; Lawrence made few friends, and after an excellent start his performance fell away (not helped by the notoriety necessarily brought on his family by the arrest of his father's brother Walter in 1900 for killing his fifteen-year-old son). Lawrence left school in summer 1901 with little to show for the experience, and started work as a factory clerk for the Nottingham surgical appliances manufacturer Haywoods. That autumn, however, a catastrophe overtook the Lawrence family: William Ernest, by now a successful clerk in London, fell ill and died. Lydia Lawrence was distraught (she needed her children to make up for the disappointments of her life), and when Lawrence himself went down with pneumonia that winter, her affections turned significantly towards him. When he recovered he started work as a pupil teacher at the British School in Eastwood, where he spent the next three years.

Another important development during this period was Lawrence's acquaintance with the Chambers family, who had recently moved from Eastwood into the country. He and his mother visited the Haggs Farm in summer 1900, and Lawrence began regular visits there after his illness, becoming a particular friend of the eldest son, Alan. The second daughter, Jessie, however, made herself his intellectual companion; they read books together and endlessly discussed authors and writing. It was under Jessie's influence that in 1905 Lawrence started to write poetry: 'A collier's son a poet!' he remarked sardonically (Worthen, Early Years, 130), but his mother had written poetry in her time too. In 1906 he started his first novel, which eventually became The White Peacock. Jessie Chambers saw all his early writing, and her encouragement and admiration were crucial.

In 1904 Lawrence achieved the first division of the first class in the king's scholarship examination, and his mother was determined that he should study for his teacher's certificate at the University College of Nottingham. After a year's full-time teaching in Eastwood, he went to Nottingham in 1906 to follow the normal course. He completed its demands without difficulty, acquiring a considerable contempt for academic life while doing so; he also completed a second draft of his novel, as well as entering three stories in the Nottinghamshire Guardian Christmas story competition in 1907: 'A Prelude' won, under the name of Jessie Chambers.


Lawrence qualified as a teacher in 1908 and took a post in Davidson Road elementary school in Croydon. He found the demands of teaching in a large school in a poor area very different from those at Eastwood under a protective headmaster. Nevertheless he established himself as an energetic teacher, ready to use new teaching methods (Shakespeare lessons became practical drama classes, for example). The contacts he made through school were probably more important than his job: Agnes Mason, rather older than Lawrence, tended to mother him, but a younger friend of hers, Helen Corke, at another school, caught his interest; Arthur McLeod, on the Davidson staff, read Lawrence's work and lent him books. He was now reading significantly modern authors such as William James, Baudelaire, and Nietzsche (whom he discovered while in London), and during these years he lost his religious faith. Above all Lawrence was trying to develop his writing career by working in the evenings and holidays; he was engaged on yet another draft of his novel and writing a great deal of poetry. In the summer of 1909 came the breakthrough. Jessie Chambers had sent some of his poems to Ford Madox Hueffer (later Ford), at the English Review, and Hueffer not only printed them, but saw Lawrence and, after reading the manuscript of The White Peacock, wrote to the publisher William Heinemann recommending it. By now the novel was an extraordinary mixture of the literary, the pastoral, the romantic, and the tragic; Lawrence referred to it as 'a kind of exquisite scented soap' (Letters, 1.158). Hueffer also got Lawrence to write about his mining background, which resulted in a short story, 'Odour of Chrysanthemums', and his first play, A Collier's Friday Night (in 1910 he wrote a second play, The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd). Hueffer's successor at the English Review, Austin Harrison, continued to publish Lawrence's stories and poems.

Lawrence was finding Croydon fruitful for other reasons, too. He was attracted to yet another Croydon teacher, Agnes Holt; and discovered that Helen Corke had recently had an affair with a married man who killed himself. She told Lawrence the whole story, and he re-created it in the first draft of another novel, The Trespasser, falling in love with her as he did so. In winter 1909–10, however, he started a new relationship with Jessie Chambers and they had a rather unhappy affair through spring and summer 1910. In August he broke off their relationship, just before his mother was taken fatally ill. He spent as much time at her side in Eastwood as he could that autumn, and in October started the first draft of his autobiographical novel Paul Morel, with its vivid picture of Mrs Morel. Lydia Lawrence died in December 1910 shortly after Lawrence had got engaged to his old college friend Louie Burrows.

The year 1911 was, in spite of Heinemann's publication of The White Peacock in January, a desperate year for Lawrence. He was mourning his mother, unhappy in his engagement, missing Jessie Chambers's support, and desperate to get out of a job which took him away from writing (he could make only limited progress with Paul Morel, for example). He was fortunate in making contact with Edward Garnett, reader for the publishers Duckworth, who helped him place his work; but in November he fell seriously ill with double pneumonia and nearly died. His career as a teacher was now over. After convalescence in Bournemouth, where characteristically he rewrote The Trespasser in a month (Garnett had got it accepted by Duckworth, and had given him good advice for its revision), Lawrence broke off his engagement to Louie Burrows, returned to the midlands, and worked to complete the book on which he felt his future as a writer really depended, Paul Morel.

A new life

Having decided to visit his cousins in north Germany, Lawrence called on his Nottingham professor Ernest Weekley for advice. At Weekley's house, on 3 March 1912 Lawrence met and fell in love with Weekley's wife Frieda Emma Maria Johanna, née von Richthofen (1879–1956), six years older than himself. The whole direction of his life changed; he broke off for the last time with Jessie Chambers and set himself to earn his living as a professional writer. When Frieda visited her family in Germany in May, Lawrence travelled with her, and worked to persuade her to leave her husband, which meant leaving her three young children too. The situation was unresolved for months. Frieda's desire to be free of her marriage was not consistent with Lawrence's insistence that she become his partner, and she suffered agonies from the loss of her children (Weekley was determined to keep them away from her). Some of the vicissitudes of this time are recreated in Lawrence's poetry collection Look! We have Come Through! (1917). In Germany, Lawrence finished Paul Morel, and worked hard at essays and short stories. He and Frieda ended up living in a flat in Icking, near Munich, rented by Alfred Weber, lover of Frieda's sister Else Jaffe. Heinemann turned down Paul Morel on grounds of indecency, but Duckworth took it over and Garnett persuaded Lawrence to give it a final revision, doubtless feeling (as with The Trespasser) that the book needed to be made ‘more actual’ and more focused on its theme. Lawrence and Frieda travelled down to Italy, walking wherever they could (over the Pfitscher Joch, for example), and in September settled in Villa, near Gargnano, beside Lake Garda. Lawrence completed the revisions of Paul Morel and turned it into Sons and Lovers (it was published the following May). What supported them financially was The Trespasser; and to add to his happiness, during their months in Italy, Frieda finally resolved to stay with him. He was a man exhilarated by the new experience of Italy, by creative achievement, and by a very strenuous kind of love. Frieda was 'the one possible woman for me, for I must have opposition—something to fight'; marrying Jessie Chambers 'would have been a fatal step, I should have had too easy a life, nearly everything my own way' (Nehls, 1.71). He cooked, cleaned, wrote, argued; Frieda attended little to house keeping (though washing became her speciality), but she could always hold her own against his theorizing, and maintained her independence of outlook as well as of sexual inclination (she slept with a number of other men during her time with Lawrence).

During winter 1912–13 Lawrence wrote two plays (including his best, The Daughter-in-Law) and more poetry (his first volume, Love Poems and Others, was published in February 1913), and started a number of new novel projects. He wrote 200 pages of a book he called 'The Insurrection of Miss Houghton'; but it was 'The Sisters', originally 'for the “jeunes filles”' (Letters, 1.546), which determined his course as a novelist for the next three years. Back in Germany by early summer 1913 he wrote some of his finest short stories, including the story published as 'The Prussian Officer'. He returned to England and with Garnett's help took care of the publication of short stories new and old; his meeting with Edward Marsh and immediate fellow feeling with Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry established friendships which were long and significant. The reviews of Sons and Lovers were also very encouraging: 'an achievement of the first quality', wrote the poet Lascelles Abercrombie, for example (introduction, Sons and Lovers, lxv), and although its sales remained fairly low the book and its author had gathered a significant reputation.

The period from August 1913 to June 1914 saw Lawrence revising The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd (published 1914) and working through many drafts of 'The Sisters'; the book had turned into a huge saga of midlands life and marriage, 'written in another language almost' from Sons and Lovers; 'I have no longer the joy in creating vivid scenes, that I had in Sons and Lovers' (Letters, 2.132, 142). It had now come to deal with the Brangwen ancestors as well as the two sisters' experiences with men, in a style which Lawrence referred to as 'exhaustive'. In an attempt to write the inner lives of his characters, he was starting to experiment with language and metaphor in a way that disconcerted his contemporaries; his writing did not concentrate on people's psychological make-up so much as on their embodied emotions and needs. The Wedding Ring, the novel Lawrence ended up with in the spring of 1914, however, sounded an attractive prospect to publishers who had been impressed by Sons and Lovers; Lawrence acquired an agent, J. B. Pinker, and a three-volume novel contract with Methuen. Back in England and living in London, he and Frieda married on 13 July 1914. Lawrence also compiled his short-story collection The Prussian Officer and other Stories, and met Catherine Carswell, Richard Aldington, and S. S. Koteliansky, all of whom remained his friends for life.

The Lawrences had intended to return to Italy, but the outbreak of war saw The Wedding Ring returned by Methuen and travel abroad impossible. For the rest of the year they lived in Buckinghamshire, near Murry and Katherine Mansfield, and here Lawrence first fantasized a community (Rananim) which he would occupy with friends like the Murrys and Koteliansky; a fantasy which would constantly recur, shift focus, and be remade over the next ten years. In Buckinghamshire, too, he wrote his Study of Thomas Hardy before starting yet another revision of his novel, this time turning its first half into The Rainbow and leaving the rest of the material (Ursula's and Gudrun's marriages) on one side. Lawrence was now starting to move in circles centred on Garsington Manor and Lady Ottoline Morrell; he met (and thoroughly impressed) Bertrand Russell and E. M. Forster, and later befriended Philip Heseltine (Peter Warlock), the young Aldous Huxley, and the painters Mark Gertler and Dorothy Brett. In March 1915 he finished The Rainbow, and remarked 'Now off and away to find the pots of gold at its feet' (Letters, 2.299). He planned a lecture course with Bertrand Russell, and in the autumn started a magazine, The Signature, with Murry and Katherine Mansfield.

But all these developments came to nothing. The Signature folded; he quarrelled with Russell; Methuen published The Rainbow in September 1915, but it got savage reviews, most of which attacked what was understood as the book's overt sexuality, and it was withdrawn from sale. At Bow Street magistrates' court on 13 November it was banned as obscene (Lawrence having no opportunity to defend it). Its religious language, emotional and sexual explorations of experience, and sheer length had given its readers problems, but it was Ursula's lesbian encounter with a schoolteacher in the chapter 'Shame' which had finally condemned it in the eyes of the law and of a country now focused on conflict: 'A thing like The Rainbow has no right to exist in the wind of war', one review had said (Kinkead-Weekes, 277). Lawrence's career as a writer was catastrophically damaged; he had already thought of going to America to start again there, though at this stage he elected to stay in England. But after the Rainbow disaster he left London to live in Cornwall: 'a temporary refuge until they could get out of England altogether' (ibid., 296). The idea of leaving his country marked the first stage of his major disillusionment with what England offered him, and with what he could do for it as a writer. He felt profoundly rejected; he responded with anger and a retreat into a world as much his own as he could make it.


Lawrence had declared in January 1915 that 'The War finished me: it was the spear through the side of all sorrows and hopes' (Letters, 2.268), and not just of his hopes of returning to Italy, or of living happily with Frieda, or working as a writer, though all these things were affected by changes in the world between 1914 and 1918. Rather, the war also seems to have killed his belief in the potential goodness and progress of his own civilization. Lawrence had formulated such a response to the war long before there was much fighting (he was never a pacifist like Bertrand Russell); it was a reaction to the very idea of the war rather than to anything which happened in it. His disillusion with what he saw as the mob spirit and the authoritarian rule of his own country affected the rest of his life and writing career, but the war's main effect at this stage was to sharpen his own sense of isolation.

Lawrence was ill when first in Cornwall, and the problem of earning enough to keep Frieda and himself preoccupied him. He remained resourceful, and Pinker did what he could to help; Lawrence published his first travel book, Twilight in Italy, in June 1916, and between 1916 and 1919 brought out four books of poetry, including Amores and his verse narrative of love and marriage, Look! We have Come Through! In spite of what he feared would be the fate of his fiction after The Rainbow, in spring 1916 he started again on the 'Sisters' material; after an enormous creative effort in which he wrote the whole book twice he had finished the first version of Women in Love by November 1916. But it was rejected by every publisher who saw it; the fact that it contained recognizable re-creations of several people (including Russell, Heseltine, and the Morrells) did not help; nor did its vivid portrayal of what one publisher's reader called 'the writer's expressions of antipathy to England and the forms of English civilisation' (introduction, Women in Love, xxxiv). To Lawrence it was a novel in which 'I have knocked the first loop-hole in the prison where we are all shut up' (Letters, 2.663), but it would not be published for another four years.

Lawrence and Frieda stayed on in Cornwall, living as cheaply as they could. Early in 1917 they made another, more serious attempt to be allowed to go to America, but they could not obtain passports. To make matters worse, in October 1917 they were expelled from Cornwall; the military authorities objected to a suspect writer and an enemy alien living near shipping lanes where German submarines were inflicting heavy losses on allied ships. This confirmed Lawrence's sense of alienation from his country; what role could he now play, except that of an outsider? All the Lawrences could now afford to do was to live precariously in friends' flats and country cottages. In the summer of 1917 Lawrence had completed a major revision of Women in Love; it was the novel which represented his last comprehensive attempt to write for his country, as it examined and characterized contemporary anxiety and conflict.

By 1918 Lawrence was back in the midlands, at Middleton by Wirksworth, living in a cottage paid for by his sister Ada, and the English Review published the first versions of what became Studies of Classic American Literature, his pioneering study of the great eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American writers. Lawrence also wrote essays, the play Touch and Go, and poems; his new publisher, Martin Secker, also published New Poems, and he wrote the first version of his short novel The Fox. The death of his old friend and neighbour Frankie Cooper in Eastwood, however, brought back poignantly his hatred of the midlands. He was himself desperately ill again in the influenza outbreak of February 1919, and only just pulled through; he was reduced to writing a school history book for money. Only in the summer of 1919 did he start to regain what he felt was his freedom. In the autumn Frieda returned to Germany to see her surviving family (her father had died in 1915), while Lawrence finally scraped together what money he had, and left England for Italy. It was the real end of his life rooted in England. Italy in 1912 had been a radical new experience; it was now a place to go when his relationship with England was finished.

Farewell to Europe

The first four months of Lawrence's return to Europe saw him going steadily further south. After a brief return visit to Fiascherino, he went on to Florence, making contact with the writer Norman Douglas and the latter's friend the American writer Maurice Magnus; he joined Frieda and then together they tried Picinisco, in the Abruzzi Mountains, where an English friend, Rosalind Baynes, had thought of living. But although it provided a wonderful setting for the last part of The Lost Girl, it proved impossibly cold and remote; they went further south still, to Capri, where the English writing colony, including Compton Mackenzie and Francis Brett Young, made them welcome; and finally, in February 1920, they went down to Sicily, to the Fontana Vecchia on the outskirts of Taormina. Here Lawrence and Frieda lived for almost two years, and he got down to some serious work. He had been writing the essays of Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious, a sustained attack on Freud; he now wrote The Lost Girl (which drew on the 'Insurrection' novel from 1913), and arranged for the publication of Women in Love in America with a new publisher, Thomas Seltzer, and in England with Secker. He also worked at a novel unfinished since 1917, Aaron's Rod, and started a new book, Mr Noon, but did not finish that either. He was clearly full of ideas for novels after the lean years of the war. In its fragmentary state Mr Noon constitutes a sardonic critique of the contemporary novel-reading public's supposed sensitivities and frailties, as well as providing a vivid recreation of his first months of passionate attraction to Frieda back in 1912, seen from the perspective of a writer who no longer believed in love. In the late summer of 1920 he had a very brief affair with Rosalind Baynes, now living near Florence, but such a relationship made no difference to his commitment to marriage; nor would it have had anything, he hoped, to do with love. A number of his poems in Birds, Beasts and Flowers, especially in the section 'Tortoises', drew on the affair, and his continuing sense of apartness. Although about this time he added some new friends, Earl and Achsah Brewster, to those whose company he enjoyed (and who would remain important for the rest of his life), his separateness as man and writer grew steadily more marked.

In January 1921 Lawrence and Frieda visited Sardinia and he wrote the second of his travel books, Sea and Sardinia, an acute and often very funny diary of the journey. He also found himself able that spring to complete Aaron's Rod, the novel he had been struggling with, in which a working-class musician manages to leave his wife, family, and England, and to live by his art. In this and subsequent novels Lawrence's voice often, quite consciously, came from the sidelines; in them he would stage guerrilla attacks as well as full-frontal assaults; his writing would be goading, insistent, revelatory. In Aaron's Rod he went closer than ever before to writing directly about sexual experience (Seltzer and Secker heavily censored the passages describing Aaron's affair with the marchesa). Like Women in Love it received a mixture of enthusiastic and bewildered reviews: Middleton Murry had declared that Women in Love showed Lawrence 'far gone in the maelstrom of his sexual obsession' but called the new book 'the most important thing that has happened to English literature since the war' (introduction, Aaron's Rod, xlii). To most reviewers, however, it was simply another interesting book made rather unpleasant by Lawrence's obsession with sex.

In the autumn of 1921 Lawrence wrote Fantasia of the Unconscious, a more light-hearted successor to Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious. At the end of 1921 his thorough revision of the short novels The Fox, The Captain's Doll, and The Ladybird showed him working in a new form and with extreme intensity. He also revised all his stories of the war years to create the collection England, my England and other Stories: a way of coming to terms with the past, and putting it behind him. After Maurice Magnus's suicide Lawrence wrote an introduction to Magnus's book about the foreign legion. One of Lawrence's finest pieces of writing, it concentrates on a writer who struggled to articulate what he experienced, and who lived by his wits on the outskirts of conventional society (Magnus was clearly someone in whom Lawrence saw reflections of himself and his own career).

Lawrence found Sicily wonderful, perhaps because it represented a final toe-hold on Europe: the Fontana Vecchia, the garden, the sun, the prospect out over the Mediterranean made it the place where he had been happier to live than anywhere since Cornwall. But by the end of 1921 he was determined to move on and go to America, his ambition for eight years now. In the event, the contact he had with the American hostess Mabel Dodge Sterne and her friends in the artists' colony of Taos in New Mexico made him decide to go first to Ceylon, to visit the Brewsters, before approaching America from the west coast. In February 1922 he and Frieda set out for Ceylon.

Round the world and back again

Ceylon was too hot for Lawrence and in most ways a disappointment; he wrote little, which was unusual for him, except letters and his translation of Giovanni Verga; but a previously unconsidered diversion to Australia, provoked by contacts made on the voyage to Colombo, led to an unexpected and (in terms of writing) immensely worthwhile visit. After a brief stay in Western Australia, where they met the writer Mollie Skinner, the Lawrences settled on the coast south of Sydney, at Thirroul; and here, in six weeks, Lawrence wrote his novel Kangaroo, drawing upon his experience of Europe in the new context of Australia; the long chapter 'The Nightmare' was a retrospective on what had happened to him during the war, and how his character Richard Somers—in many ways an alter ego—now felt 'Without a people, without a land. So be it. He was broken apart, apart he would remain' (Kangaroo, 1994, 259). In this novel he questioned the very nature of the novel form, with one chapter reprinting pieces of newspaper in collage fashion, another laconically starting 'Chapter follows chapter, and nothing doing' (ibid., 284).

In Australia the Lawrences saw almost nobody; in America they were plunged into activity after activity. After meeting the poet Witter Bynner and his companion Willard (Spud) Johnson in Santa Fe, in New Mexico, Mabel Sterne and her Indian lover Tony took them around by car from Taos; they visited an Apache reservation and Taos pueblo and saw Indian dances, and Mabel did her best to persuade Lawrence to write both about her and about the American south-west (part of her mission in bringing him there had been to have him re-create the place in his writing). Lawrence and Frieda both reacted strongly against her, however, and spent the winter of 1922–3 at the Del Monte ranch on Lobo Mountain, out of the orbit of Mabel so far as they could manage it; two Danish painter friends (Knud Merrild and Kai Götzsche) lived with them. While up at the ranch Lawrence managed a final reworking of the much revised Studies, shortening and Americanizing the studies in accordance with his new experience. He also finished his poetry collection Birds, Beasts and Flowers, which represents the best and most innovative of his poetry writing.

In the spring of 1923 the Lawrences went down to Mexico with Bynner and Johnson; they visited historical sites, ending up living beside Lake Chapala; and here Lawrence began 'Quetzalcoatl', the novel of the American continent which he had not managed to write in Taos. This first draft of what became The Plumed Serpent occupied him until he and Frieda decided they should go to New York to see Seltzer (currently publishing book after book by Lawrence), and in order to go back to Europe. Frieda was especially anxious to see her children, as two of them were now aged twenty-one or over, and she could see them freely for the first time since 1912. Lawrence, however, could not face Europe and stayed behind in America, after one of their most serious quarrels. After a few months wandering down the west coast in the company of Götzsche (and turning a novel by Mollie Skinner into one for which he was equally responsible, The Boy in the Bush), he resolved to return briefly to Europe. He was in England only for a couple of months; but in a traumatic and significant move, having invited his London friends to dinner at the Café Royal, he invited them to come back to New Mexico with him and Frieda. He felt committed, as has been pointed out, to 'establishing a new life on earth' (Ellis, 151); the final version of his idea for communal living, however, came to nothing. Dorothy Brett was the only one to accept (Middleton Murry said yes, but had decided not to come). After Lawrence and Frieda had been to Germany to see Frieda's mother (of whom Lawrence was increasingly fond), Brett accompanied the Lawrences back to America in March 1924.

This time they resolved to live the life of the ranch from the start, and on a small and partly derelict property given to Frieda by Mabel (Lawrence insisted on paying for it with the manuscript of Sons and Lovers) they spent a busy time getting the cabins ready; and then, with the hard physical work done, Lawrence devoted himself to writing. In an amazingly short time he produced three of his greatest works of the American continent: St. Mawr, 'The Woman who Rode Away', and 'The Princess'. His work was, however, succeeded in August by his first bronchial haemorrhage, perhaps aggravated by the altitude of over 7000 feet. When he felt better, all three of them went down to Mexico in October, where Lawrence wanted to finish The Plumed Serpent. They settled in Oaxaca, Lawrence deliberately choosing a far less Europeanized town than Chapala.

Lawrence wrote the whole novel again, composing his Mornings in Mexico essays in the interim, as a kind of light relief. In many ways this was his most ambitious novel since Women in Love; it attempted to create the sense of a whole society, and of how religion could bring change to society—but it was achieved at a dreadful cost of health and spirits, and perhaps in disregard of his own disillusion with both society and Mexico. No sooner had he completed the novel than he went down with a combination of typhoid and pneumonia, and nearly died. After they had struggled back to Mexico City, Lawrence relapsed, and a doctor diagnosed tuberculosis. Lawrence and Frieda had planned to return to England, but the doctor advised altitude, and they made their way back up to the ranch.

Amazingly, over the summer of 1925 Lawrence recovered much of his health, though he was never so well again as during the strenuous spring and summer of 1924; he compiled the essays in Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine, and also wrote his last play, David. On the ranch, well away from civilization, the Lawrences and Brett lived close to the wildness of nature, although such a life was necessarily always a struggle, and physically demanding. Lawrence wrote in an essay of 1928 how 'New Mexico was the greatest experience from the outside world that I have ever had' (Phoenix, 142), but it was also too much for him. His and Frieda's visas limited how long they could stay in the USA, and in September they travelled back to Europe, Lawrence always hoping he would one day be able to return.


It was not long before Lawrence and Frieda were back in Italy, this time in Spotorno, where Lawrence wrote the first version of his short novel Sun, drawing on memories of the Fontana Vecchia. Their landlord at Spotorno was Angelo Ravagli, to whom Frieda was soon attracted, and with whom she lived after Lawrence's death. (Ravagli and Frieda were married in 1950.) To Spotorno came Frieda's daughters too (she could now see her youngest, Barby, as well as Elsa); and Lawrence put their experiences to good use in his short novel The Virgin and the Gipsy which, however, he resolved not to publish (it was too satirical of Ernest Weekley in its portrayal of the Revd Arthur Saywell). A visit from his own sister Ada in the spring of 1926 precipitated another dreadful quarrel with Frieda; he left for a month, to visit the Brewsters and to see Brett, who was back from America for a European holiday. He probably had some kind of brief sexual relationship with Brett at this point before returning to Frieda. They settled down again in a new place, the Villa Mirenda near Florence, in a new mood of reconciliation.

Lawrence's tuberculosis was now a real problem, but he was convinced that he should neither go to a sanatorium nor submit to surgery. He gave good advice to Gertie Cooper, who lived with his sister Ada and her husband, and who was also tubercular, but privately resolved that he himself would stay independent for as long as he could. He had always been good at taking care of himself in sickness and health, and nowhere is this clearer than in his determination during the last years of his life. The word 'tuberculosis' was, indeed, not permitted; he suffered, he insisted, from dreadful bronchials, remarking irritably that 'I have had bronchitis since I was a fortnight old' (Worthen, Early Years, 6). A visit to England during the coal strike of 1926 brought his last opportunity to see his old haunts, and it was probably this experience which prompted the first version of Lady Chatterley's Lover, one of several works revisiting the themes and places of his youth, and the problems of his own early life. His sympathy was now far more with his father (who had died in 1924) than with his mother, and the novel's central character was thoroughly working-class. The second version, started in November 1926, made the novel sexually explicit; it became a hymn to the love-making of the couple, to the body of the man and the woman, for sexuality as it could potentially be between an independent working-class man and an independent upper-class woman. It was a final fictional reworking of a theme which he had always written about for the chance it gave him to concentrate on sexual attraction (and to some extent had enacted in his own life and relationships), but which he now returned to both polemically and nostalgically.

A revived friendship with Aldous and Maria Huxley turned out to be one of the sustaining elements in these difficult years. Lawrence also started to paint, and found it a compensation for much. Early in 1927 he finished the second version of Lady Chatterley's Lover and visited the Etruscan sites of central Italy with Earl Brewster; the trip gave rise to one of the most attractive books of his last years, Sketches of Etruscan Places, which developed the Lawrentian myth of the fulfilled body in the context of a beautifully imagined and recreated civilization. A rather similar work was The Escaped Cock, the first half of which showed Jesus, after the resurrection, valuing above all else the natural, phenomenal world about which Lawrence had always written so compellingly, and which was becoming increasingly important to him as he endured the progressive deteriorations of illness.

The publication (for subscribers) of the final version of Lady Chatterley's Lover—written in the astonishing time of just five weeks, in one of Lawrence's last great bursts of creative energy—also sustained him, as he overcame the difficulties lying in the way of an individual publishing and distributing his own book. With the help of the Florentine bookseller Pino Orioli, the handsome volume was printed in and distributed from Florence, and made Lawrence more money than he had ever imagined. In June he wrote the second part of The Escaped Cock, in which Jesus experiences sexual desire again, after the resurrection; another work of intense nostalgia for the body. Lawrence had, however, suffered more than one haemorrhage at the Mirenda, and always tended to distrust places where he had been seriously ill; he left Florence in the summer of 1928, just at the time when Lady Chatterley's Lover was making it possible for him to pay doctors' bills and live more comfortably (often in hotels) than his previously careful existence had allowed.

Dying game

Lawrence and Frieda tried living first at altitude in Switzerland, at Gsteig, and then went down to the Mediterranean island of Port Cros, but a small hotel in Bandol, in the south of France, by the sea, as in Fiascherino, Taormina, Thirroul, and Spotorno, suited Lawrence better than anywhere. He was now no longer writing fiction, but he created many of the poems in Pansies during winter 1928–9; he also wrote short personal articles for newspaper publication, as he targeted yet another audience with his writing. As a friend commented, 'he challenged everything' (Nehls, 2.318). The fact of his writing itself was rooted in opposition; he remarked to another friend that 'If there weren't so many lies in the world … I wouldn't write at all' (ibid., 3.293). In 1925 he had described his role as a writer as not to sit aloft or detached but increasingly to be 'in among the crowd, kicking their shins or cheering them on to some mischief or merriment' (Letters, 5.201); of all his books, Lady Chatterley's Lover most mischievously both attacked and cheered on its readers.

It turned out that Lady Chatterley's Lover was being extensively pirated in Europe and the USA. The theft irritated Lawrence, who had always meant to make the novel available in a cheap edition; in the spring of 1929, accordingly, he went to Paris to organize it. He was further stirred to action by the police seizure in England of the unexpurgated typescript of his volume of poems Pansies; meanwhile the exhibition of his paintings in London in summer 1929 (which he was too ill to attend) was raided by the police, and court hearings were necessary before the paintings could be returned to their owner. These irritations both provoked and stimulated Lawrence, as in his poem 'Innocent England':

Virginal, pure, policemen cameAnd hid their faces for very shame.

But in an increasingly desperate desire to find a place where his health would improve, he and Frieda visited Majorca, France, and Bavaria before they returned to Bandol for the winter. Beside the Mediterranean once again, he wrote Apocalypse, his last book about the European psyche and its needs, which had started as an introduction to a book by Frederick Carter; he also wrote the poems published posthumously as Last Poems (1932). He saw a good deal of the Huxleys and the Brewsters, who rallied round him and Frieda as his health failed.

In a final attempt to stave off his illness Lawrence agreed with an English doctor to spend a month doing nothing (after he had finished his poems and Apocalypse), but felt the action had had no result; consequently, at the start of February 1930, he went into the ominously named Ad Astra sanatorium in Vence. It was too late; he was terrifyingly thin, almost ethereal, virtually incapable of walking, and the doctors could do nothing for him. Determined, as he put it to Gertie Cooper, to 'die game' (Letters, 5.632), he discharged himself from the sanatorium on 1 March 1930, and Frieda helped him move into the Villa Robermond, a rented house in Vence. He was not going to die where he did not choose to live: it was his last independent act. He died on the evening of the following day, Sunday 2 March, and was buried in Vence cemetery on 4 March. In 1935, following cremation, his ashes were reportedly either taken to New Mexico, where they were mixed into concrete and kept in a 'chapel' at the Kiowa ranch, or scattered into the Mediterranean.

After life

When very young Lawrence was almost white-haired (Billy the White-Nob was one of his names at home); before the war, when first becoming known as a writer, he was red-moustached, pale-complexioned, with thick brown hair and bright eyes. He was a person of immense charm and strikingly attractive, not so much for his features as for his uncanny sympathy with and marvellously quick understanding of others. Someone as normally shrewd as Bertrand Russell was overwhelmed by his first encounter with Lawrence; 'he is amazing; he sees through and through one … He is infallible. He is like Ezekiel or some other Old Testament prophet' (Kinkead-Weekes, 190). Lawrence grew his famous red beard only in autumn 1914 and it quickly became the mark of his difference. In 1928 a vicious attack on Lady Chatterley's Lover referred to its author as 'this bearded satyr' (Nehls, 3.262), and the beard remains the characteristic identifying feature of Lawrence's posthumous self.

In spite of the notoriety of Lady Chatterley's Lover, Lawrence became really famous only after his death; and at first only briefly. The editor of the relevant Dictionary of National Biography supplement, J. R. H. Weaver, was squeezed rather reluctantly up to a longer word allowance in 1933 by the secretary to the Oxford University Press, who feared 'howls of execration' unless Lawrence received his due. 'I was full of doubt (and, I suppose, of prejudice—though I try not to be)', Weaver replied; 'I wondered what would be thought about him—even 20 years hence. However, a great deal is said about him now, and no doubt we ought to reflect that'. His reputation lapsed in the late 1930s: he had written too unconventionally and had made too many enemies, and numerous memoirs (mostly by women who had known him) published between 1930 and 1935 combined to make him appear an absurd rather than important figure. Penguin Books began to republish his work after the Second World War, and by the late 1950s he was widely seen as one of the great writers of the twentieth century; F. R. Leavis's D. H. Lawrence: Novelist (1956) had confirmed his new reputation. The prosecution of the Penguin edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover in 1960 led to a trial in which both academics and senior figures of the British establishment spoke on Lawrence's behalf; E. M. Forster, too, stood up for him. Films were made of his work; Jack Cardiff's Sons and Lovers of 1960 and Ken Russell's Women in Love of 1969 typified his new standing, with its use of leading contemporary actors such as Alan Bates and Glenda Jackson, and a script designed to shock and surprise; the filming of the naked wrestling of Birkin (Bates) and Gerald (Oliver Reed) was a landmark in what was publicly acceptable. Films of The Virgin and the Gipsy (1970) and a soft-porn version of Lady Chatterley's Lover (1980) confirmed, however, that it was Lawrence's standing as a supposed sexual specialist (to which he had objected in his own lifetime) which was primarily being exploited. By the mid-1970s Lawrence's reputation was in something of a decline. Feminist writing, such as Kate Millett's Sexual Politics (1970), denounced him for chauvinism, and while neither a modernist revolutionary like Joyce, nor—like Virginia Woolf—reacting as a woman against the social and literary world which confined her, Lawrence occupied a problematic position in the writing history of the century. He came to be unthinkingly branded both sexist and (because of his denunciations of democracy and mob-rule) fascist.

The republication of Lawrence's work in a scholarly edition by Cambridge University Press, and in particular the publication in full of his letters—one of his greatest achievements—suggest that he may be seen differently in future. He turns out to have been a writer far more concerned with the careful revision and linguistic precision of his work than his early reputation as an uneducated, spontaneous, and unthinking genius suggested; he was ahead of his time in many of his attitudes to the individual and society; he had an extraordinary range as a writer in many genres (novels, stories, travel books, poems, plays, and essays); he was also a writer who explored an extremely wide range of subjects, in particular the need for a language of relationship which involves the experience of the body, rather than any idea of love. He was precise about what he saw as the malign influence of Freud, never allied himself with the excesses of Nietzsche, and was strikingly modern in his expression of a need to be ecologically aware. He never believed in right-wing governments and hated the fascism he saw in the early and middle twenties in Italy and Germany, though he always believed in human beings' need for government and authority; his writing certainly concentrated on female sexuality, but that was his particular, and in his period a strikingly original, focus. What the feminism of the 1970s saw as an effort at phallic supremacy in his writing can also be seen as a strikingly ‘female’ account of sexuality, with its constant stress on the feelings rather than on observed sexual activity, and on intimacy and necessary opposition rather than on the superiority of one gender over the other. He was a writer who constantly struggled to find and to articulate the experience, not of a body or mind or spirit, but of the whole person. This was what he wrote about most magically and most tellingly, and what he attempted to remain true to in his own life. The last page of his last book, Apocalypse, written when he was confronting death, ended: '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' (p. 149).


  • The Cambridge edition of the letters of D. H. Lawrence, ed. J. T. Boulton and others, 8 vols. (1979–2000)
  • Introduction, D. H. Lawrence, Sons and lovers, ed. H. Baron and C. Baron (1992)
  • Introduction, D. H. Lawrence, Women in love, ed. D. Farmer, L. Vasey, and J. Worthen (1987)
  • Introduction, D. H. Lawrence, Aaron's rod, ed. M. Kalnins (1988)
  • Introduction, D. H. Lawrence, Kangaroo, ed. B. Steele (1994)
  • D. H. Lawrence, Phoenix (1936)
  • E. Nehls, ed., D. H. Lawrence: a composite biography, 3 vols. (1957–9)
  • F. W. Roberts, A bibliography of D. H. Lawrence, rev. 2nd edn (1981)
  • private information (2004)
  • D. Brett, Lawrence and Brett: a friendship, ed. J. Manchester, rev. 2nd edn (1974)
  • E. Brewster and A. Brewster, D. H. Lawrence: reminiscences and correspondence (1934)
  • W. Bynner, Journey with genius: recollections and reflections concerning the D. H. Lawrences (1951)
  • C. Carswell, The savage pilgrimage (1932)
  • E. T. [J. Chambers], D. H. Lawrence: a personal record (1935)
  • H. Corke, D. H. Lawrence: the Croydon years (1965)
  • M. Green, The von Richthofen sisters: the triumphant and tragic modes of love (1974)
  • F. Lawrence, Not I, but the wind (1934)
  • F. Lawrence, The memoirs and correspondence, ed. E. W. Tedlock, American edn (1964)
  • M. Luhan, Lorenzo in Taos (1933)
  • H. T. Moore, The priest of love: a life of D. H. Lawrence (1974)
  • J. M. Murry, Reminiscences of D. H. Lawrence (1933)
  • R. Parmenter, Lawrence in Oaxaca: a quest for the novelist in Mexico (1984)
  • P. Preston, A D. H. Lawrence chronology (1994)
  • K. Sagar, D. H. Lawrence: a calendar of his works (1979)
  • R. Spencer, D. H. Lawrence country (1980)
  • J. Worthen, D. H. Lawrence: a literary life (1989)


  • Bucknell University Library, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, corresp., notebooks, and MSS
  • Col. U., Rare Book and Manuscript Library, corresp. and literary MSS
  • Harvard U., Houghton L., corresp. and literary MSS
  • Nottingham Central Library, literary MSS, papers, and corresp.
  • Notts. Arch., corresp.
  • Ransom HRC, corresp. and papers
  • Stanford University, California, corresp., literary MSS, and papers
  • U. Cal., Berkeley, corresp., literary MSS, and papers
  • U. Nott. L., literary MSS, corresp., and papers
  • University of New Mexico Library, literary MSS and papers
  • Yale U., Beinecke L., corresp., literary MSS, and notebooks
  • University of Cincinnati Libraries, papers
  • BL, corresp. with Society of Authors
  • BL, letters to S. S. Koteliansky
  • Harvard U., Houghton L., corresp. with A. Lowell
  • Iowa State Education Association
  • King's AC Cam., letters to E. M. Forster
  • NYPL, Berg collection
  • Philip H. & S. W. Rosenbach Foundation
  • Princeton University Library, Dora Marsden Collection, corresp.
  • Princeton University Library, Sylvia Beach Papers, corresp.
  • Tate collection, letters to A. Brackenbury
  • U. Birm., letters to F. Brett Young and J. Brett Young
  • U. Lpool, letters to B. Jennings and MSS
  • U. Nott. L., letters from him and F. Lawrence to C. Carswell
  • University of Toronto Library


  • photograph, 1906, U. Nott.
  • W. G. Parker, photograph, 1913, U. Nott.
  • Bassano & Vandyk, photograph, 1915, NPG
  • Elliot & Fry, half-plate negative, 1915, NPG
  • O. Morrell, two vintage snapshot prints, 1915, NPG
  • Elliott & Fry, bromide press print, 1920×29, NPG
  • E. Guardia, cream-toned bromide print, 1920×29 (copy by P. A. Juley), NPG [see illus.]
  • E. Guardia, cream-toned bromide print, 1920×29 (copy by P. A. Juley), NPG
  • J. Juta, oils, 1920, NPG; charcoal study, 1920, U. Texas
  • M. Hubrecht, chalk drawing, 1920–1921, NPG
  • K. Götzsche, oils, 1923, Ransom HRC
  • E. X. Kapp, chalk drawing, 1923, NPG
  • N. Muray, vintage bromide print, 1923, NPG
  • E. Weston, photograph, 1924, Yale U., Beinecke L.
  • E. Weston, vintage chlorobromide print, 1924, NPG
  • D. E. Brett, oils, 1925, NPG
  • D. E. Brett, oils, 1925, Ransom HRC
  • E. Guardia, photograph, 1929, U. Nott.
  • K. Merrild, oils (posthumous?), Philadelphia Museum of Art

Wealth at Death

£2438 16s. 5d.: administration, 5 June 1930, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

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