D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930) was an English novelist, critic, playwright, essayist, and painter. His central theme was the damage that modern life inflicts on people. His style was personal and confessional. Among his novels were Sons and Lovers; The Rainbow; Women in Love; and Lady Chatterley’s Lover. His books of criticism included Studies in Classic American Literature, which figured largely in the rediscovery of Melville. As well, he was known for his travel books, like Mornings in Mexico and Sea and Sardinia. Toward the end of his life he painted in oil.
Lawrence was the first mainstream writer to write about sexuality directly. Women in Love focused on homosexuality. Lady Chatterley’s Lover depicts lovemaking plainly. “The Noble Englishman” and “Don’t Look at Me”, poems, were sexual. His paintings, like Boccaccio Story, were erotic. Because of his sexual art, he was persecuted and censored by the British government, misrepresented by critics, made to live in poverty and forced to flee into exile. Even his paintings were seized in a raid at London’s Warren Gallery. (In addition, he struggled to write while suffering from a variety of respiratory illnesses most of his life). In a trial in the United Kingdom in 1960 the court found Lady Chatterley’s Lover not guilty of obscenity. This led to the challenge of its ban in many countries and the freedom to publish literature concerned with sexual art.
Lawrence was perhaps the finest writer of his generation. An admiration for fascism and an acceptance of male supremacy led, however, to an authoritarian vision. But that a writer of his importance wrote erotica was significant. He was a breakthrough as a sexual artist. While I am dismayed by the darker aspects of his creativity, I respect his gift and his pioneering work.