D.H. LAWRENCE by John Worthen


The Life of an Outsider
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Well-crafted life of the once-famous (or infamous) writer who got much mileage out of shocking the bourgeoisie.

“How I hate the attitude of ordinary people to life,” David Herbert Lawrence grumbled, late in his short life. “How I loathe ordinariness! How from my soul I abhor nice simple people, with their eternal price-list.” Lawrence was the uncommon product of all-too-common stock, the child of an impoverished coal miner whose wife was certain that she had married beneath her station and instilled in Lawrence a recognition of the war between the sexes. He took that war all too literally, it seems; some of the more unpleasant moments of literary scholar Worthen’s careful biography concern Lawrence’s habit of hitting his partner in scandal, Frieda, and otherwise demeaning her (“ ‘Pull in your belly, you big bitch,’ an acquaintance was shocked to hear him say,” and that wasn’t the worst of it). Such moments do nothing to brighten Lawrence’s reputation when few people now read him anyway; “his reputation has fallen in the literary and academic worlds which, in the middle of the twentieth century, treated him as a great writer,” Worthen laments, adding that Lawrence is regularly suspected of being racist, sexist and fascist—but neglecting the possibility that modern readers might just find him musty, revolutionary though some of his work was in its time. For all the unpleasantness and, perhaps, minor status of his subject, however, Worthen does a fine job of reconstructing events in a timeline punctuated by the Lawrences’ roaming from one work-conducive backwater to another—Lake Como, Guadalajara, Santa Fe—only to have the rest of the world discover them in their wake, making such places unaffordable until Lawrence, near death, finally brought in enough income from the sale of his books to go where he wished, too late.

A perceptive, readable work of Laurentiana, though perhaps too late in its own right.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 1-58243-341-0
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Counterpoint
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2005