The Rainbow

By D.H. Lawrence


David Herbert Richards Lawrence was born in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, in 1885, the fourth child of Arthur Lawrence, a miner, and Lydia, a former schoolmistress. He was frequently ill as a child, and grew up in considerable poverty. His parents argued incessantly, not least because his mother wished to keep her son out of the mines, and a passionate bond developed between them. This affection for his mother had a crucial effect on his early life and work. He attended Beauvale School between 1891 and 1898 and was that school's first pupil to win a County Council Scholarship to Nottingham High School, which he attended until 1901. At this point he was forced to suspend his education and take a job as a clerk in a surgical goods factory, a post he had to vacate after a severe attack of pneumonia in 1902, At this time he also developed a friendship with Jessie Chambers, which was to become an unofficial engagement. Until 1906 he was a pupil-teacher at British School, Eastwood, before taking up a scholarship at Nottingham University College to study for a teacher's certificate.

Between 1906 and 1908 he wrote his first poems and stories, and began his first novel Laetilia, which would in time become The White Peacock. He won the Christmas 1907 Nottinghamshire Guardian short story competition with 'A Prelude,' and at around the same time he lost his faith in a 'personal, human God.' A meeting with Ford Madox Hueffer in 1908 led to his work being published in the English Review, and this was his introduction to the London literary world. In 1910 he wrote his second novel. The Trespasser, and began Paul Morel, which would become Sons and Lovers. His relationship with Jessie Chambers came to an end, and he became engaged to Louie Burrows, a fellow Nottingham student. This was shortly followed by the death of his beloved mother in December 1910, and in January 1911 Heinemann published The White Peacock. This was followed by his first major novel. Sons and Lovers, in 1913. It is an autobiographical account of his early years, though he was later to conclude that he had portrayed his father unjustly harshly.

In 1912 Lawrence met the woman with whom he would spend the rest of his life, Frieda Weekley, who was the wife of his old professor at Nottingham. She was a mother of three, and six years older than Lawrence, but was dissatisfied by her marriage and suffocated by life in Nottingham. The pair eloped to Germany, thus setting a pattern for a life spent on the move, always short of money and frequently enjoying a tempestuous relationship with each other. Their nomadic lifestyle provided Lawrence with the materials for a very personal brand of travel writing, of which four volumes were published. The War Years, 1914-1918, were spent in England, and it was at this time that Lawrence developed friendships in literary and intellectual circles with, amongst others, Aldous Huxley and Bertrand Russell, with whom he would later quarrel bitterly. Lawrence's controversial reputation was largely founded on his next novel. The Rainbow, which was seized by the police and declared obscene upon its publication in 1915. His use of coarse language and his frankness about sex would keep him in constant trouble with the authorities. Unfit for service himself, he was outspoken in his criticism of the war, and while living in Cornwall he and his German-bom wife were persecuted as suspected German agents. He completed Women in Love in 1916, but was unable to find a publisher for it until 1920 in New York, where an action against it failed, and in 1921 in London. Lawrence began to find life in England intolerable, and after the publication of a volume of poems. Look! We Have Come Through! in 1917, he and his wife left for Italy in 1919.

In 1920, The Lost Girl, begun before the war, won the James Tail Black Memorial Prize the only official honour Lawrence received in his entire life. Aaron's Rod, displaying the influence of Nietzsche, followed in 1922, and that same year he began his serious travels, to Ceylon and Australia and finally to America and Mexico. While in Australia he wrote Kangaroo, which appeared in 1923, the same year as a critical book: Studies in Classic American Literature. It is remarkable that Lawrence was able to work at the rate he did, given his lack of acceptance in England, his terrible health and his increasingly fraught relationship with his wife. There were constant anxieties about money throughout his unsettled life but he struggled to publish a few articles or short stories in various magazines and periodicals, and was occasionally helped by various well-to-do friends and admirers. He published The Plumed Serpent in 1926, and continued to write many short stories and poems, although his private life became especially turbulent in 1923, during which his wife returned to England without him. A distraught exchange of letters ultimately saw Lawrence himself returning, but he was miserable in his native country and soon enough they were back in New Mexico, where Lawrence hoped to found an ideal community, which he intended to call 'Ranamm'.

A visit to Old Mexico resulted in Lawrence contracting tuberculosis, and doctors diagnosed that he had only two years to live. The pair returned to England via Germany, and settled at last in Italy, where Lawrence completed Lady Chatterley's Lover at the Villa Mirenda, near Florence. It was to be his last novel, and the one that caused far greater controversy than any other. It was privately printed in Florence, but remained unpublished in an unexpurgated edition in England or America for over thirty years, after unsuccessful prosecutions for obscenity Lawrence was clearly dying, and Frieda took him to both Germany and the South of France in search of what could only have been a miracle cure. D.H.Lawrence died in Vence on 2 March 1930, a moralist who believed that modem man was in danger of losing his ability to experience the quality of life, and was condemned as immoral for his pains.