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Lawrence, D. H. (1885-1930)  
 
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For his time, D. H. Lawrence was a maverick in his open and adventurous discussion of all sexual issues and especially homosexuality, both male and female.

Born the son of a Nottingham coal miner and a strong-willed mother on September 11, 1885, Lawrence grew up amid considerable poverty in the Eastwood section of Nottingham in Northern England. The fourth of five children, Lawrence was exceptionally close to his mother, who encouraged his early interest in painting and his pursuit of a university education.

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Success on an examination won him a full scholarship (of those taking the examination, he was among the first eleven candidates in the whole of England), allowing him to attend Nottingham University. His fitful high-school romance with Jessie Chambers, two years younger than Lawrence and the model for Emily in Lawrence's first novel, The White Peacock (1911), and for Miriam in Sons and Lovers (1913), continued while he attended the university.

Lawrence subsequently became romantically involved with Alice Dax, a married woman seven years his senior, a militant socialist and suffragist, who was the model for Clara Dawes of Sons and Lovers. After she ended their affair, Lawrence eloped with Frieda Weekley.

From an aristocratic German family (and the cousin of Baron von Richthofen, the "Red Baron"), Frieda was the wife of one of Lawrence's former professors and the mother of three children. The Lawrences' marriage was notoriously stormy, involving violent verbal battles culminating in cutlery-throwing and fist-fighting in the presence of friends.

Although Sons and Lovers achieved critical acclaim, the publication of The Rainbow (1915) brought Lawrence unwanted notoriety when the book was suppressed by a court order. During the war, he and Frieda were further harassed by police officials because of Lawrence's pacifism and suspicions generated by a German-born wife. The Lawrences were ordered to leave their residence in Cornwall by military authorities who suspected them of spying.

Lawrence and Homosexual Desire

Much of the bitterness of the war years, along with Lawrence's disenchantment with English narrow-mindedness, can be found in what is perhaps the novelist's greatest exploration of homosexual subject matter, Women in Love (1920).

Here Lawrence and Frieda are depicted as Rupert Birkin and Ursula Brangwen in a tale based partly on Lawrence's clamorous relationship with the writer Katherine Mansfield, her husband, the literary critic John Middleton-Murray (Gudrun and Gerald of the novel), and Lady Ottoline Morrell (Hermione Roddice).

It was during the composition of Women in Love that Lawrence, frustrated by his failure to forge a deeper bond with Murray, evidently had a sexual relationship with a Cornish farmer named William Henry Hocking in the town of Tregerthen.

The short-lived affair was the culmination of a long-standing struggle with homosexual feelings. "I would like to know why nearly every man that approaches greatness tends to homosexuality, whether he admits it or not," Lawrence wrote to a friend in 1913. Lawrence told another acquaintance, "I believe the nearest I've come to perfect love was with a coal-miner when I was about sixteen."

Yet Lawrence's inability to intensify his relationships with either Murray or Hocking generated his most forthright fictional examinations of homosexual desire, an intense five-year absorption in the subject that included not only Women in Love and Aaron's Rod (1922) but the treatise "Goats and Compasses" (1917) and the self-suppressed Prologue to Women In Love.

Lawrence destroyed "Goats and Compasses," and though no pages survive, both Ottoline Morrell and Lawrence's friend Cecil Gray read it and found it to be shrilly dogmatic. Its argument remains unknown, although the essay's title suggests a struggle between panlike and scientific rationalism.

Lawrence spent the last part of his short life traveling with Frieda to Italy, America, and Mexico, the last the setting for The Plumed Serpent (1926). In addition to his fiction, Lawrence published several volumes of poetry, critical essays, and travel narratives.

Lawrence's last novel, Lady Chatterly's Lover (1928), won him his greatest fame but was not published in an unexpurgated English edition until after a ground-breaking censorship trial in 1961. Always frail in health, Lawrence died of tuberculosis in 1930 in Vence, France, while traveling with Frieda in the company of Aldous and Maria Huxley.

Lawrence was a twentieth-century maverick in his open and formally adventurous discussion of all sexual issues and especially homosexuality. Perhaps no other major modernist author was so continually absorbed in the subject of homosexual desire, a theme that continually informs Lawrence's work, beginning with the swimming idyll sequence of his first novel, The White Peacock (1911), and continuing with the initiation ritual in The Plumed Serpent, Lawrence's penultimate novel.

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