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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 March, 2005, 08:30 GMT
New view on DH Lawrence's legacy
By Neil Smith
BBC News entertainment reporter

Seventy-five years on from his death, DH Lawrence remains one of the literary world's most contentious and divisive figures. A new biography re-examines the legacy of the famous novelist.

DH Lawrence
Lawrence was born in Eastwood in Nottinghamshire in 1885
For some, David Herbert Lawrence - author of The Rainbow, Women In Love and Sons and Lovers - is an artistic giant of visionary genius.

To others he is "Dirty Bertie" - a prurient pedlar of obscene smut who compromised his legacy with the infamous Lady Chatterley's Lover.

DH Lawrence's works are the most widely taught English texts throughout the world, but their author's reputation has been severely blighted by charges of racism, sexism and fascism.

A major new biography, however, reappraises the life and work of the Nottinghamshire-born writer.

"Up till now, Lawrence has been perceived as a rough, tough, vitalist figure - an emotional, barely-educated genius whose works poured out of him," says John Worthen, author of DH Lawrence: The Life of an Outsider.


"But in reality he was a highly intellectual, introspective man and a very careful writer and craftsman."

Worthen, Emeritus Professor of DH Lawrence Studies at the University of Nottingham, argues that the novelist's astonishing productivity was more out of necessity than temperament.

"He wrote so much because his books didn't sell many copies.

"Most of the other great writers of the early part of the 20th century - Virginia Woolf for example - didn't have to earn their living by writing, but he did."

Sean Bean and Joely Richardson in Lady Chatterley's Lover
Lady Chatterley's Lover was filmed by the BBC in 1993

Worthen is also keen to stress the importance of Lawrence's wife Frieda, in spite of their volatile and sometimes violent relationship.

Six years older than the then 27-year-old author, Frieda Weekley (nee von Richthofen) was married and had three children when they met.

She and Lawrence eloped and married in 1914, although their stormy union was tested by financial worries and her affair with Italian soldier Angelo Ravagli.


Nevertheless, Worthen contends she had a "crucial" influence on his writing career.

"Meeting her was the biggest forward movement in his life," he says.

"Frieda was a revelation because she was so different from him - a natural, instinctive, straightforward person. She really changed the way he thought and felt."

Worthen's book contains hitherto unpublished letters from Frieda that offer a fresh take on her creative input.

"She was intensely involved in his writing, and when she wasn't his books got very strange.

A Penguin edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover
The book's British publishers were prosecuted for obscenity in 1960

"The Boy in the Bush, for example, was written entirely without Frieda's influence - and it shows."

In his biography, Worthen argues that Lawrence channelled his lifelong melancholy into his anger, using it as a spark for his writing.

"His melancholy came out of his peculiar self-containment and loneliness," explains the 62-year-old academic.


"Lawrence was detached from almost every context you can imagine: background, family, the literary world.

"His self-containment was partly a defence against melancholy, and partly a consequence of it."

Worthen, whose career as a Lawrence biographer began in the 1980s, admits his subject's oeuvre has been overshadowed by the Lady Chatterley controversy.

But, he suggests, writing such a notorious cause celebre was, at heart, a "courageous" act.

"When Lawrence wrote it I don't think he'd seen another sexually explicit book in his life," he explains.

"He was entering a new field as a writer, which is an exciting thing for an established writer to be doing."

The author also hopes his book will rebut accusations that Lawrence flirted with fascism and harboured anti-Semitic views.

"I want to tell the story as it is, get the facts right and clear away some myths," he says.

"But what will rehabilitate Lawrence more than anything is people reading his books."

DH Lawrence: The Life of an Outsider is published by Penguin on 3 March.

Chatterley book sells for 3,290
17 Jan 05 |  Somerset
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05 Oct 04 |  Nottinghamshire
Lawrence homes set for bulldozer
13 Sep 04 |  Nottinghamshire


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