ALL HIS CHARACTERS
By Dr Afzal Mirza
David Herbert Lawrence, known to the world as D.H.Lawrence, had unusual experiences as a child and a young man that drew him into introversion and restlessness. Born to a coal miner, Arthur Lawrence, D.H. Lawrence never liked his father because he was either doing his work or boozing and never spent any time with the family. He was excessively drawn to his mother, an ex-school teacher, who looked after him alone, and David, too, became the sole focus of her affection . When David's elder brother expired. David's father outlived his mother but their relations remained the same throughout their lives.
David had a sickly childhood that kept him in and out of school. Tall and blond and frail, he was not unattractive but he kept himself to himself and did not play with other boys, who generally jeered at him. Thus a feeling of loneliness developed in him that brought him nearer to the muse than to human company.
That is the period when he really worked hard and won a scholarship to go to high school, becoming the second miner's son from the county ever to go to a high school. Having finished school, he found a job in a surgical goods factory and, for the first time, he got the taste of the world outside the shelter of home.
His biographer, John Worthen, writes an incident in the factory that had deep impact on his Lawrence's psyche. "The work girls at Haywoods (factory) shocked him with the stories of their boyfriends and they soon did rather more. They set on him one lunch break and attempted to remove his trousers -- a time-honored rite of passage for new employees. Lawrence set about those girls with teeth, hoof and claw. In rage he could be a very demon." After the incident Lawrence did not like to work in the factory and tried to find other means of earning a livelihood. The other job he undertook was that of a teacher something of which his mother also approved. His experience as a teacher is expressed in his novel 'The Rainbow'. A teacher May Chambers, three years older than him, once told him, "you seem like a girl sometimes." But later on he became friendly with her. At her house he met Jessie Chambers, the younger sister of May, and had his first love affair with her. To her Lawrence showed the poems that he had started writing when he was still in high school. With her he discussed all the writers that they both enjoyed reading, including George Eliot, Charlotte Bronte, Thackeray, Dickens, Balzac and Flaubert.
To get his teacher's certificate Lawrence had to attend a training college but he did not have the means. So he appeared in King's Scholarship examination, in which he excelled, and decided to go to Nottingham University College. It is at this stage that he started writing his first novel, then called 'Laetitia' but published later as 'The White Peacock'.
After finishing training college Lawrence started his career as an elementary teacher at Croydon. The salary of the teacher was not enough for him, so writing was a necessary to him to make a living . Before he started publishing his works he once commented that "I feel as if I stood like a naked slave in the market under the glances of a crowd of fools safely swathed in stupidity." And when his work was published he said, "I lie exposed and quiveringly vulnerable in print." While he shifted to Nottingham College his mother was diagnosed of cancer. When she died in 1912, he wrote to a friend, "She was my first great love. She was a wonderful, rare woman, as strong and steadfast and generous as the sun. She could be as swift as a white whip-lash and as kind and gentle as warm rain and as steadfast as the irreducible earth beneath us."
Frieda entered his life after the death of his mother. She was the German wife of his professor in Nottingham College, older than him and a mother of three children. She came from the German aristocracy. Her brother was the famous Red Baron of Germany. Blond, buxom and bored by her marriage to Lawrence's tutor Ernest Weekely, she had enjoyed many affairs while holidaying in Germany, long before the long and tall Lawrence appeared in their home to keep an appointment. Meanwhile, Lawrence had had a couple of affairs after breaking up with Jessie. However, his intellectual friendship with her had persisted and he continued to send her his poems and writings.
Initially Frieda was not serious in her affair with Lawrence and she told her daughter that "all she expected from this striking young man was 'an affair and no more'". Worthen writes that "For Lawrence, Frieda really was the woman of a lifetime; within a few days he told her she was the 'most wonderful woman in all England.'.But although Frieda was attracted to him and eventually found herself in love with him, she had not the least intention of leaving her husband or children... ". But when the affair became known, Frieda's father, Friedrich von Richtofen, commented that "the last thing he wanted was Frieda mixed up with an 'ill-bred, common, penniless lout.'" When she left England for her hometown Metz with Lawrence, he had just eleven pounds in his pocket. In Germany, being unacceptable to Frieda's parents, they lived at different places and Lawrence worked on his novel 'Paul Morel', which appeared at a later time under the name of 'Sons and Lovers'. After completing his novel he sent it to the publisher. In its foreword he spelled out his literary philosophy. "My great religion is a belief in the blood, the flesh as being wiser than the intellect. We can go wrong in our minds. But what our blood feels and believes and says is always true."
Getting a divorce from her husband, Frieda married Lawrence and they returned to England. In 1914, the First World War had started and life in Europe had become difficult. Frieda's German background did not make it easier for them. Lawrence openly opposed the war. In 1915 he wrote, "War finished me; it was the spear through the side of all sorrows and hopes." When he would go out singing German songs with Frieda the war-hit Britons would consider it unpatriotic. It is during this period of despair and darkness that Lawrence got inspiration from a Hebrew hymn entitled 'Rannani' and invented 'Rananim' or 'The Island', a Utopian concept of communal life at some place far way from England. He planned it together with John Middleton Murry, the husband of writer Katherine Mansfield, and tried many a time to give it practical shape. During that period he became friendly with Cynthia Asquith and Bertrand Russell, especially the later, who saw in Lawrence a man gifted with startling insight and invited him to develop a course at Cambridge, but after some time both parted ways due to Lawrence blaming Russell "of having a contradictory nature". Then in autumn 1915 his book 'The Rainbow' was attacked in reviews calling for 'suppressing the book as it could inflame public morality'. The book was tried under the Obscene Publications Act 1857 and the magistrate ordered the book's destruction.
Lawrence was disheartened with his literary setbacks, but amazingly he continued writing with the same zeal. Sometimes he had to write and rewrite his books. His health was not so good since childhood. His life with Frieda was also not very pleasant and there were violent fights between the two. After the war was over they again moved to Europe, shuttling between Germany and Italy. Then in 1922 they undertook a journey to Ceylon and, disliking its hot and humid weather, moved onwards to Australia. From there they sailed to San Francisco and then moved to New Mexico where he chose Taos to live, where he wrote his novel 'The Plumed Serpent'. After a bit of travelling in America they returned to Europe in 1925. The thin red-bearded Lawrence had showed symptoms of tuberculosis in New Mexico but had never seriously tried to get himself cured of this disease.
'Lady Chatterley's Lover' kept him occupied from October 1926 to the publication of its third version in 1928. The book, published in unexpurgated form in England in 1960, altered his reputation permanently. It earned him more money than he had made in his entire career. The inspiration for the book had been derived from his own situation at that time. According to Worthen: "He was all the characters. Due to his liberating relationship with an older and experienced partner he knew Constance's situation very well. He was also Mellors, the working class man who moved into middle class but felt at home nowhere. And he was Clifford the writer, the husband now no longer feeling desire, prepared for his wife to have an affair with another man." The fact is that when Lawrence was down with tuberculosis Frieda had developed a relationship with Ravgali, a former army man depicted as Mellors in Lady Chatterley's Lover. Frieda lived with Lawrence until his death at the age of 44 in Vence (France) on March 3, 1930. One of Lawrence's friends, Aldous Huxley, and his wife Maria Huxley, comforted him as he lay dying and paid for his friend's burial. Frieda went to America with Ravgali in 1931 and in 1934 published an extremely moving book about her life with Lawrence. She died in 1956.