In 2019, Paul Fillingham and I hope to embark on a digital pilgrimage that will recreate Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage via a memory theatre. Until then, my every waking hour is spent reading and researching this prolific writer. As part of this research I’ve created a 3rd year ‘alternative to the dissertation’ module at Nottingham Trent University in which students have the opportunity to help us think about the aesthetics and functionality of our proposed memory theatre. As part of the module, students create a photo essay about an element of Lawrence’s work or life. The above video (and words below) are by Rebecca Provines. This is her first ever attempt at recording audio and producing a photo essay.
Welcome to the mind of D H Lawrence, a controversial poet, playwright, painter, essayist and literary critic from Eastwood in Nottingham. His birth home stands at 8a Victoria Street and is now home to the Birthplace Museum, where his story began.
An upper-class woman having an affair with a working class game keeper!
Lesbian lovers frolicking in the sea.
Naked men wrestling!
Lawrence’s writing tended to cause a stir, as he often wrote about intimacy and connection. Prudish people everywhere campaigned to have his works banned and his descriptions of the people back in Eastwood turned their families against him.
Life for Lawrence was never easy.
Lawrence’s most famous novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover was published in 1928. He was so desperate for it to get out there that he paid for it be printed privately, circulating subscription copies amongst friends. But it wasn’t until 1960, when Penguin Books were acquitted of obscenity at the Old Bailey, that we were finally able to get our hands on it!
So what was all the fuss about?
Well firstly, there were three versions of the book. My favourite is version two which was originally titled John Thomas and Lady Jane, ahem. Then it became Tenderness, ahh. By the time we get to the final version, the novel is notorious for its emotional [and mainly physical] relationship between Constance Reid and Oliver Mellors, which contains the (then-unprintable) explicit descriptions of their sexual relations. There’s lots of F’s. So much in fact that a lawyer in the court case counted them out!!!
The Rainbow is a family-based novel that features three generations of the Brangwen family. On the surface it may seem like a simple plot, but nothing is ever that simple with Lawrence. Consequently it was also banned for its treatment of sexual desire with 1,011 copies seized and burnt.
For Tom Bragwen, sex is between the paragraphs, readers may use their imagination to decode details […] For Anna and Will Brangwen, desires are described and fragments of their bodies alluded to. However it’s Will and Anna’s daughter Ursula that causes the most controversy. By the time she’s a grown woman, she dares to demand spiritual and intellectual freedom. This results in an affair with a soldier, becoming pregnant before marriage, and just to round it off, a lesbian affair with her teacher.
At the time of publication lesbian relationships were unthinkable in a male dominated society, yet Lawrence was no ordinary man and explored this identity freely…
Ursula lay still in her mistress’s arms, her forehead against the beloved, maddening breast.
“I shall put you in,’ said Winifred.
But Ursula twined her body about her mistress.
“Tell me the parts you think the publisher will decidedly object to,” Lawrence asked his friend Violet Meynell in July 1915 before its eleven-year ban in Britain. But it was declared “unfit for family-fiction”. Censorship would be a recurring problem for Lawrence in his fiction, poetry and even his paintings.
Lawrence struggled to publish Women in Love (which was the sequel to The Rainbow) for four years after he finished writing it. The novel was then still subject to a string of prosecutions. Amongst many controversial moments, one of the most remembered [and far most entertaining film scenes of all time] is when Birkin and Gerald experiment with naked Japanese wrestling, which has been interpreted by critics and prosecutors as a homosexual act, rather than as an intricate form of art
W. Charles Pilley said in John Bull magazine, “I do not claim to be a literary critic, but I know dirt when I smell it, and here is dirt in heaps—festering, putrid heaps which smell to high Heaven.”
It has been suggested that Lawrence’s fascination with the theme of homosexuality is manifested in Women in Love, and that this could be related to his own sexual orientation, however there is some speculation around these accusations. As I said previously, nothing with Lawrence is ever that simple.
The banning of books is something which doesn’t frequently happen in the UK at current, and as an aspiring-writer myself, I fail to understand on what grounds a court would find it acceptable to try and ban fiction once it has already been published.
[Warning: Lawrence channelled rant coming on] Who is it that has the authority to decide that the public would be better off if they never read the words printed between the covers? The justification behind the censorship of some literature makes me question whether freedom of expression really exists. If people talked about the ‘slew’ topics that are covered in literature then those individuals may be more comfortable with their lives, instead of society being full of depressed, middle aged people who attempt to ban literature that may influence the free expression of people of all ages. [Rant over. PHEW!]
The general controversy of a book can sometimes end up doing the opposite, undesired effect, as people are motivated to find out what all the fuss is about. When Lady Chatterley’s Lover was finally published the demand was so great Penguin had to ration out books to shops! Foyles Bookshop sold their entire stock in the first fifteen minutes!
The printers couldn’t keep up with the demand.
Lawrence paved the way forward for the permissive society and greater freedom of expression for all. Writers like E. L. James, author of the Fifty Shades trilogy, has become a household name after writing about the kinky desires of her submissive protagonist Anastasia Steele. Ironically, I suspect Lawrence would be disgusted by E.L. James for vulgarising the bond between man and woman. Although he wrote about sex in his books he was rebelling against the over intellectualisation of culture. Lawrence was actually rather a prudish man himself, believing sex was a connection between two people which can never be reversed. He did, however, believe that a woman should be submissive, but this was nothing to do with whips and chains, rather his odd views on the power relations between the genders.
I would argue that writers like Lawrence, without meaning too, have created a platform for ‘slew’ and ‘naughty’ books, where the public want to read about the exciting and (to be quite frank) sexual relationships of those (somewhat fictional) characters who lead more ‘exciting’ lives than us.