Literary Society: DH Lawrence

Category: Academic

DH Lawrence was a provocative author and consequently the source of much dispute.

The Literary Society meeting on Thursday 3rd October 2013 saw Marlborough College welcome Dr Andrew Harrison, of the DH Lawrence Research Centre at Nottingham University’s School of English, and Mr Malcolm Gray, Chair of the DH Lawrence Society, to speak on this prolific writer. I was interested as to what would be the focus of this talk; ‘DH Lawrence’ encompasses rather a lot.

Having been studying some of Lawrence’s work, predominantly poetry and short stories, and most memorably The Virgin and The Gypsy I was familiar with his style and content. What I was hoping for was an exploration of the cultural context which not only led to their creation but to the stigma which surrounds them.
The speakers had a mere half an hour each not only to present but also to explore their ardent fascination with DH Lawrence and both did remarkably well. Particularly thought-provoking was DH Lawrence’s belief in the enigma of literature.  As the source of much controversy, DH Lawrence figured in several censorship cases, which famously include Lady Chatterley’s Lover and his collections of poems Look! We Have Come Through and Birds, Beasts, and Flowers. The case presented to the audience was Lawrence’s craving to engage the reader. Dr Harrison explored this desire to shock in the negative, through his fear of indifference. It must be noted that the reader was allowed to hate Lawrence’s writing since hate is, at least, a powerful reaction: ‘Whoever reads me will be in the thick of the scrimmage, and if he doesn’t like it, let him read somebody else’. DH Lawrence was the type of writer that needed a reaction; he got it.

One might well ask why his writings provoked such an intense reaction in the first place. DH Lawrence spent his life running to somewhere better. What he was running away from were what he considered to be the hypocrisies upon which English society was rooted (rather shallowly he thought). Much of his fiction acts as a critique of certain aspects of civilisation: the oppressive attitude towards sexuality (although an interesting point was raised here: despite holding a relatively liberal attitude to human sexuality, Lawrence does remain highly moralistic); the traditional class structure; and increasing industrialisation. This last point arose from Lawrence’s view that there was something very profound in the labour of man: ‘Let man be a man and not a monkey driving a machine’.  A major point of contention is religion. Lawrence didn’t understand how the Son of God could be reduced to a man nailed onto a cross and yet, equally, he couldn’t get away from the sense that there was an ultimate drive in the cosmos. Therefore in his writing he addresses the relationship not only between the sexes but between man and God.

This lecture effectively placed Lawrence into cultural perspective. Man cannot help but be a product of his time and perhaps an interesting exercise would be to explore whether the context in which Lawrence lived accounted for the extent of his fame. What we see in Lawrence is a man willing to push against the constraints of contemporary society, whilst also needing those very constraints. Dr Harrison and Mr Gray refined and expanded our knowledge and understanding of DH Lawrence, a fascinating man and writer who is firmly ingrained in literary history as one of the greats.

Tamsin Bracher
(MO L6)

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