D.H. Lawrence was fed up with the stuffy views of society and wrote openly, freely and sometimes graphically about sexuality and human behavior at the turn of the 20th Century. Change during this time was rapid in many fields such as science and medicine; D.H. Lawrence was a catylist for change in literature. Lawrence saw sex and intuition as key to perception of reality and a way to respond to the inhumanity of an increasingly industrialized culture. From Lawrence’s doctrines of sexual freedom arose obscenity trials, which had a deep effect on the relationship between literature and society. In 1912 he wrote: “What the blood feels, and believes, and says, is always true.” Unfortunately, given the frank nature of his writing during a sexually repressed time, the critics were anything but kind. Here is a sample from an anonymous critic: “The sewers of French pornography would be dragged in vain to find a parallel in beastliness. The creations of muddy-minded perverts, peddled in the back-street bookstalls of Paris are prudish by comparison.” This was commentary on Lady Chatterly’s Lover, Lawrence’s most famous novel, published in 1928.
Lawrence’s childhood was not an easy one. It was marked by poverty and conflict between his mother, a former schoolteacher, and his heavy-drinking, coal mining father. Lawrence helped his mother die by giving her an overdose of sleeping medicine in 1910. He met his wife when she was married to another man; she left her husband and three children for Lawrence two years later. During the First World War, Lawrence and his wife were poor as dirt. They wandered from town to town, trying to outrun claims of spying and derision for Lawrence’s anti-war views. Lawrence, by this time, was a professional writer, earning money from small, commissioned writing pieces. Lawrence and his wife became exiles, leaving England behind and traveling from city to city across Europe. These travels resulted in some great writing. However, the frankness of his descriptions of sexual relations earned him a lifelong reputation as a pornagrapher.
Lawrence’s book, the Rainbow, was banned for its inclusion of lesbian lovers, and Sons and Lovers was considered one of the “dirtiest” books of its time. Other books, including Aaron’s Rod, included themes of homosexuality, that were not well-received in the 1920s. Even when Lady Chatterly’s Lover was published in 1960 by Penguin, it was censored before Penguin won a court case to keep it in print in its intended form.
Lawrence developed a late interest in oil painting. Some of his paintings depicted pubic hair, once again resulting in his being called a pornagrapher. His studio was raided and many of his paintings were destroyed by the English police.
Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen. – From Lady Chatterly’s Lover