Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Happy birthday, D.H. Lawrence

D.H. Lawrence
It is the birthday of English writer D.H. Lawrence (1885), who was reviled as a pornographer in his lifetime but is today considered a visionary thinker and imaginative novelist. Lawrence's frank sexual themes were shocking at the time of their publication.

Lawrence is best known for The Rainbow (1915) and Women in Love (1920), novels which tell the story of the Brangwen sisters and their relationships, and for Sons and Lovers (1913) and Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928).

Sons and Lovers was Lawrence's third novel and deals with a young man who is becoming an artist and his relationships with his mother and two women with whom he has relationships. The protagonist is devoted to his mother, whom he believes has married beneath her class. The book is autobiographical. A heavily abridged version was published in 1913. A complete version was finally published in 1992.

Lawrence's last novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover, tells the story of a young upper-class woman whose paralyzed husband is also emotionally detached. She engages in a physical relationship with her gamekeeper. The book was so explicit that it had to be published privately in Italy and smuggled into Great Britain and the United States. When it was finally openly published in Britain in 1960 it became the subject of an obscenity trial. However, a jury of three women and nine men found it not to be obscene.

In the United States, the book (along with Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer  and John Cleland's Fanny Hill) helped establish the principle that redeeming social or literary value could be used as a defense against obscenity charges.

After traveling extensively around the world in self-imposed exile, Lawrence and his wife Frieda settled in New Mexico. Lawrence traded the original manuscript for Sons and Lovers for a ranch near Taos. They were there only a short time before moving back to Italy, where he had Lady Chatterley's Lover printed.

Lawrence died in Italy in 1930 and was interred there but after his death Frieda arranged for his ashes to be buried in a small chapel in New Mexico. She lived at the ranch until her death in 1956. Today the ranch is known as the D.H. Lawrence Ranch.

Lawrence had a lifelong interest in oil painting, which he pursued in earnest in the last years of his life. Nine of his paintings are on permanent display at the La Fonda Hotel in Taos. As with his books, the paintings fall into the Not Suitable For Work category.

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