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Lawrence, D(avid) H(erbert)

family novel women sexual

(British, 1885–1930)

The son of a miner, Lawrence won a scholarship to Nottingham High School and his first novel was published while he was training for his teacher's certificate. He and his German wife Frieda travelled widely in Europe, Australia, and America, and towards the end of his life lived in New Mexico.

In his writing he sought to strip away convention and inhibition, and get to the elemental roots of human experience. Sexual desire and the ways that people behave in sexual encounters are therefore a centrally important strand in his novels. His explicit writing about sex caused several of his books to be banned, and Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928), read under school desks at the pages that fell open, became a byword for smut for a generation of schoolchildren. Today the sexual content of his novels is not shocking (and in places it is so poetic and abstract as to be almost incomprehensible) and some of his work can seem didactic and over-descriptive. But his best characters are utterly convincing, and his exploration of relationships between men and women, and of the differences between the sexes, is more radical and honest than almost anyone who has written since. He also writes with great clarity and vividness about nature.

Begin with Sons and Lovers (1913); springing closely out of Lawrence's own experience, the novel is about a mining family in Nottinghamshire. Mrs Morel, intelligent and refined, is married to a stubborn, inarticulate, and often drunken miner. Their second son, Paul, becomes his mother's favourite and on him she focuses all her own needs and hopes. The heart of the novel is this very close mother-son relationship and the painful movements Paul makes to break away from its stranglehold as he matures and becomes interested in other women.

The Rainbow (1915) describes the marriage of Tom Brangwen, a Nottinghamshire farmer, to a Polish widow; and the lives of two generations of their family. It analyses the emotional movements and shifts over years of marriage and of the growth of children, at a level below speech and action. Lawrence's supreme skill at revealing underlying emotions and desires, at exploring the contradictions in love, is never more effective than in this book. The section describing Tom's grand-daughter Ursula growing up and training to become a teacher is wonderfully vivid. Women in Love (1920) follows the characters of Ursula and Gudrun, her sister, as they fall in love with two very different men and move away from their home background into more self-consciously artistic and intellectual society.

Lawrence also wrote poetry, short stories, vivid accounts of his travels, and novellas of which The Virgin and the Gypsy (1930) is probably the best known. It describes a young girl's emotional awakening in the elemental presence of a gypsy, and feels schematic after Sons and Lovers and The Rainbow.

James Joyce, Thomas Hardy, Christina Stead. See CLASSICS, FAMILY SAGA, SOCIAL ISSUES  JR

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