In this visual essay, Josh Whitehead explores Lawrence’s reputation as a controversial author and his fascination with blood and mental consciousness. This was created as part of his English literature dissertation at Nottingham Trent University in the module ENGL30512.
“My great religion is a belief in the blood, as the flesh being wiser than the intellect. We can go wrong in our minds but what our blood feels and believes and says, is always true.”
The sexual energy of D H Lawrence’s works, from Lady Chatterley’s Lover to his controversial nude paintings, were inspired by his belief in the equal importance of body and mind. This caused controversy, which matched his personal life.
Lawrence convinced German aristocrat Frieda Weekley to leave her husband and three children to become his wife. They married in 1914, just before the outbreak of World War 1. They attempted to settle down in Cornwall but were forced to leave due to suspicions that they were German spies due to Frieda’s heritage and their reclusive lifestyle. Angered and frustrated, they left Britain and traveled together to Italy, New Mexico and Australia, never staying anywhere for more than two years.
Lawrence believed in the primal connection of energies between two people, effectively displayed in monogamy. Frieda had other ideas and was frequently unfaithful. Her affair with Angelo Ravagli, the man she would marry after Lawrence died, inspired his final major novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover. At the time, critics were disgusted by the sexual acts detailed in the novel, such as sodomy. Although they were equally disgusted to read that a Lady of wealth might be attracted to someone of from the lower order.
In writing freely about sexual relationships was Lawrence attempting to free the chains of censorship? Was he a pornographic pervert? Or was he a free-thinking libertarian who helped usher in the permissive society?
Similar to Freud, Lawrence is commonly accused of finding the sexual in practically everything. However, this common misconception is due to Lawrence’s focus on the primal self, similar to the Romantics belief of having a natural connection to all living things. This living transmission, although occasionally expressed through sexual action, is more to do with the connection of two people as opposed to the pleasures associated with sexual intercourse.
In reference to the Biblical fall of man, Lawrence asks: “Do you imagine Adam had never had intercourse with Eve before that apple episode? Many a time. As a wild animal with his mate. It didn’t become ‘sin’ till the Knowledge-poison entered. That apple of Sodom. We are divided in ourselves, against ourselves.”
The apple is frequently used as an image of temptation and sin, Lawrence used it metaphorically to depict the imbalance between the mental consciousness and the primal; splitting both the mind and the body from one another. This separation, according to Lawrence, becomes the blood and mental consciousness; the view of blood being a sensual connection with the environment and against following the herd; Mechanical thinking leads to war.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover was published privately in Florence in 1928 to avoid the censor. The story consists of a cross-class relationship involving a Lady and her gamekeeper; challenging the establishment “to think of sex fully, completely, honestly, and cleanly”. Lawrence wrote three versions of the novel, the second was called Tenderness, suggesting there was more to their relationship than lust. In the novel, Lady Chatterley is prepared to give up wealth and status to pursue a relationship with her true love.
Lawrence experienced censorship throughout his life but he refused to be silenced. When the critics banned his novels or seized his paintings, he simply ridiculed their prudishness in pithy poems, such as ‘13,000 people’ that I decided to read aloud on the D.H. Lawrence tram in Nottingham as part of my visual essay.
Thirteen thousand people came to see
my pictures, eager as the honey bee
for the flowers; and I’ll tell you what
all eyes sought the same old spot
in every picture, every time,
and gazed and gloated without rhyme
or reason, where the leaf should be
the fig-leaf that was not, woe is me!
And they blushed, they giggled, they sniggered, they leered,
or they boiled and they fumed, in fury they sneered
and said: Oh boy! I tell you what,
look at that one there, that’s pretty hot! —
And they stared and they stared, the half-witted lot
at the spot where the fig-leaf just was not!
But why, I ask you? Oh tell me why?
Aren’t they made quite the same, then, as you and I?
Can it be they’ve been trimmed, so they’ve never seen
the innocent member that a fig-leaf will screen?
What’s the matter with them? aren’t they women and men?
or is something missing? or what’s wrong with them then?
that they stared and leered at the single spot
where a fig-leaf might have been, and was not.
I thought it was a commonplace
that a man or a woman in a state of grace
in puris naturalibus, don’t you see,
had normal pudenda, like you and me.
But it can’t be so, for they behaved
like lunatics looking, they bubbled and raved
or gloated or peeped at the simple spot
where a fig-leaf might have been, but was not.
I tell you, there must be something wrong
with my fellow-countrymen; or else I don’t belong.
To see more visual essays and other interpretations of Lawrence’s work please see our YouTube channel: D.H.Lawrence: A Digital Pilgrimage. We also post one minute films of Lawrence’s writing on our instagram account: dhldigitalpilgrimage In 2019 we will be begin building our memory theatre. You can submit artefacts here.