D.H. LAWRENCE, English novelist, born (d. 1930) A very important and controversial English writer of the 20th century, whose prolific and diverse output included novels, short stories, poems, plays, essays, travel books, paintings, translations, literary criticism, and personal letters. His collected works represent an extended reflection upon the dehumanizing effects of modernity and industrialization. In them, Lawrence confronts issues relating to emotional health and vitality, spontaneity, sexuality, and instinctive behavior.
Lawrence’s unsettling opinions earned him many enemies and he endured hardships, official persecution, censorship, and misrepresentation of his creative work throughout the second half of his life, much of which he spent in a voluntary exile he called his “savage pilgrimage.” At the time of his death, his public reputation was that of a pornographer who had wasted his considerable talents. E.M. Forster, in an obituary notice, challenged this widely held view, describing him as “the greatest imaginative novelist of our generation.”
Despite his long marriage to Frieda Weekley, it was during the years in which Women in Love was being written that Lawrence developed a sexual relationship, in the town of Tregerthen, with a Cornish farmer by the name of William Henry Hocking. The affair, brief though it was, seems to indicate that Lawrence’s fascination with themes of homosexuality, which he would explore further in Women in Love and Aaron’s Rod especially, related to his own, personal sexuality. Indeed, in a letter written during 1913, he writes, “I should like to know why nearly every man that approaches greatness tends to homosexuality, whether he admits it or not…” He is also quoted as saying, “I believe the nearest I’ve come to perfect love was with a young coal miner when I was about sixteen.”
Lawrence is perhaps best known for his novels Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow, Women In Love (adapted for film by AIDS activist and playwright Larry Kramer) and Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Within these Lawrence explores the possibilities for life and living within an Industrial setting. In particular Lawrence is concerned with the nature of relationships that can be had within such settings. Though often classed as a realist, Lawrence’s use of his characters can be better understood with reference to his philosophy. His use of sexual activity, though shocking at the time, has its roots in this highly personal way of thinking and being. It is worth noting that Lawrence was very interested in human touch behavior [the science of haptics] and that his interest in physical intimacy has its roots in a desire to restore our emphasis on the body, and re-balance it with what he perceived to be western civilization’s slow process of over-emphasis on the mind.