DH Lawrence: Pornographer or lover?

Last Updated: Sep 10, 2009, 22:57 PM IST

Shivangi Singh

My first rendezvous with Mr Lawrence at a bookstore was rather strange. Although he is long dead, the much-maligned author was very much alive in the shop. The shop assistant looked shocked and eyed me severely as I picked up a book by Lawrence.

In my first year as a literature student, I had heard the professor mentioning his name with great alacrity, therefore, I thought of buying a book to assess the author myself. And there I was checking out the author’s book and sensing that everyone else was checking me out. Later, I was to know that the book I was holding was no less than a dynamite. It was ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’!

The still-lasting public disdain against the dead David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930) - a poet, storywriter, playwright, painter, letter-writer, literary critic, art critic, and philosopher, led me to explore more about the controversial figure. And what I came out with was baffling; Mr Lawrence had quite a contradictory personality. If one reads him closely, he appears either as a savage, and is, condemnatory or a kind of seer prophesying boundless love. I made the following notes:

Born on September 11, 1885 in a Nottinghamshire town called Eastwood, one of the most hated authors and prolific geniuses of the Twentieth century was born. He was the son of a miner father (whom he hated throughout his life) and school-teacher mother (whom he adored obsessively).

Lawrence eloped with the German wife of his Nottingham professor, Frieda and married her in 1914. They were accused of being German spies during World War I. Lawrence created his works amidst turmoil, which were mostly criticized for talking overtly of sex. He died of illness on March 2, 1930. He was considered a pornographer in his lifetime and his two books ‘The Rainbow’ and ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ met with severe derision and were banned. He shocked conservatives with his book ‘Sons and Lovers’ in which sons and lovers appear to really mean sons as lovers.

As I delved deep into Lawrence, I read other things between the lines. I could strongly feel religious undertones in his works. He said, “All that we know is nothing, we are merely crammed waste-paper baskets, unless we are in touch with that which laughs at all our knowing.” Who is ‘that’ who laughs at all our knowing? Clearly, the ‘sex writer’ meant God.

Like poet-writers Thomas Hardy and John Donne, he really seemed to be in contact with some seething mystery. There was some vatic quality about works and philosophy. He is said to have meditated with pen in hand. His contemplation was always active, flowing out in a continuous stream of creativity and he seldom reworked the same manuscript. Instead, he would rewrite it all from the beginning. Today his ‘Fantasia of the Unconscious’ is considered an extraordinary book in the history of psychoanalysis. The book is an attempt to combine the empirical neurology of ‘Kundalini Yoga’ with his own interpretation of Carl Gustav Jung’s psychology and with a theory of sexuality.

He touched all the six senses through his rich, palpitating language. Perhaps, the writer was condemned more than others because of his knack of evoking senses through his works. He revived life, love and passion on pages, which was so close to life that it shocked people. Consider the following lines – "His bright dark eyes come over me, like a hood upon my mind! His lips meet mine, and a flood of sweet fire sweeps across me, so I drown against him, die, and find death good.” I think life could be so well portrayed only if one is in touch with something deep, something that binds all.

I further found out that although he was hated, his religion remained love throughout his lifetime. He said: “I worship Christ, I worship Jehovah, I worship Pan, I worship Aphrodite. But I must serve in real love. If I take my whole passionate, spiritual and physical love to the woman who in turn loves me, that is how I serve God. And my hymn and my game of joy is my work.” He also wrote, “You don`t want to love - your eternal and abnormal craving is to be loved. You aren`t positive, you`re negative. You absorb, absorb, as if you must fill yourself up with love, because you`ve got a shortage somewhere.”

All of us know that he believed in the philosophy of ‘blood’, but it did not mean being impulsive or a sex-freak or frivolous or notorious - rather it meant conforming to instinct, life force and the unspoken connection that binds societies together. He was contemptuous of the much-eulogized intellect, science and also religions that required people to suppress their instincts and stay away from their natural state. He said, "My great religion is a belief in the blood, as the flesh being wiser than the intellect. We can go wrong in our minds, but what our blood feels and believes and says, is always true."

He is accused of being preoccupied with sex but thoughts of soul, God and redemption also permeated his works. “This is what I believe: That I am I. That my soul is a dark forest. That my known self will never be more than a little clearing in the forest. That gods, strange gods, come forth from the forest into the clearing of my known self, and then go back. That I must have the courage to let them come and go. That I will never let mankind put anything over me, but that I will try always to recognize and submit to the gods in me and the gods in other men and women. There is my creed.”

He may shock conservatives for explicit sexual content in his works, but I feel that he valued sex mainly as an expression of ancient (ie, blood) feelings and instincts untouched by evils of modern society. His works can be called strikingly honest but in no way was he gross and loud like a pornographer.

I am glad of my first meeting with Mr Lawrence in the bookstore, or else, I would have misunderstood the writer like the shop assistant and his counterparts across all ages.