Born 11 September 1885
‘There was very little about Lawrence that wasn’t irritating to someone. Edmund Wilson…thought him “ill-bred and hysterical…One saw that he belonged to an inferior caste – some bred-down unripening race of the collieries. Against this inferiority – fundamental and physical-he must have had to fight all his life: his passionate spirit made up for it by exaggerated self-assertion.“‘*
Lawrence’s books evoked similar reactions. One critic lumped him in with novelists “who appear to have passed their prime long before reaching it.”* (Note that your correspondent once wrote a high school essay asserting that there was no point reading beyond chapter 3 of Sons and Lovers, for which he received an A+).
James Wood said of him: “Readers, critics, and biographers insist on splitting Lawrence into writer or preacher, dogmatist or poet. On the one hand, there is the marvelous animist, the quick, vital writer of physical descriptions – the poet, say, who sees a kangaroo with its “drooping Victorian shoulders”, or a mosquito moving like “a dull clot of air.” On the other, there is the preacher, the tiresome Lawrence of hoarse doctrine, the bully of blood, the friendless hammer who comes down again and again in the prose. But Lawrence is one of the century’s greatest religious writers, and it is impossible to canalize the tides of his writing.“^
“He was against his age; he loathed it, and if he had lived beyond his forty-fourth year no doubt his loathing would have increased…the great fact of existence was that mystery is. The mystery was not to be apprehended or explained in terms of reason and logic – that was the way to kill it. [Hence his quarrel with Bertrand Russell – Ed.] It could be experienced only by direct intuition, transmitted only by touch. The value of people, for Lawrence, consisted in how far mystery resided in them, how far they were conscious of mystery. And since the analysing, scientific intellect killed the mystery, it obviously flourished most powerfully where the analysing, scientific intellect was least powerful, on the instinctual level, in sexual relationships, in the experience of death, in the impulsive life of animals and nature.”#
Displayed in his short Italian essay, Insouciance (1928), are his idiosyncrasies, his weltanschauung, his anti-intellectualism, his chauvinism, and his querulousness: “Why do modern people almost invariably ignore the things that are actually present to them? Why, having come out from England to find mountains, lakes, scythe-mowers and cherry trees, does the little blue-eyed lady resolutely close her blue eyes to them all, now she’s got them, and gaze away to Signor Mussolini, whom she hasn’t got, and to Fascism, which is invisible anyhow? Why isn’t she content to be where she is? Why can’t she be happy with what she’s got? Why must she care?…There simply is a deadly breach between actual living and this abstract caring. What is actual living? It is a question mostly of direct contact. There was a direct sensuous contact between me, the lake, mountains, cherry trees, mowers, and a certain invisible but noisy chaffinch in a clipped lime tree. All this was cut off by the fatal shears of that abstract word Fascism, and the little old lady next door was the Atropos who cut the thread of my actual life this afternoon.”
It makes you glad Bertie left the World in 1930, rather than 1940.[* Bill Goldstein, The World Broke in Two: Virginia Woolf, TS Eliot, DH Lawrence, EM Forster and the Year that Changed Literature (2018). NB: In fact, 1922 – Ed.] [^ James Wood, The Broken Estate (1999), p. 116. NB: “…his attitude to life was sacramental, religious.” – W. Allen, op cit., p. 363.] [# Walter Allen, The English Novel (1954), pp. 357, 360.]