From Chesham to Lady Chatterley
Historian DONALD STANLEY looks at how DH Lawrence came to live in, and leave, the county
CHESHAM was the home of three writers: D.H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield and her husband John Middleton Murry. Lawrence lived in Hawridge Lane; the Murrys at Cholesbury.
Lawrence’s father was a barely literate miner but Lawrence won a scholarship to Nottingham High School. Although he left without any qualifications he became a pupil teacher and continued his education to become a fully qualified one.
Jessie Chambers and Lawrence were neighbours and more than teenage sweethearts. They read widely together and under her influence he commenced to write poetry and begin his first novel. Jessie sent some of his work to The English Review.
Ford Madox Ford was its editor as well as a novelist and poet in his own right who published in the Review not only work by established writers but was the first to print the work of Lawrence whose novel he commended to the publisher William Heinemann.
Lawrence continued to show the drafts of his novels to Jessie but his unkind depiction of mutual friends and acquaintances led to their estrangement.
Lawrence’s obsession with sex led to literary critics using such descriptions of his work as ‘putrid heaps of dirt’.
Heinemann refused to publish the autobiographical ‘Sons and Lovers’. It did, however, bring him to the attention of Edward Marsh a polymath and friend of poets who introduced Lawrence to Murry and Mansfield.
A subsequent novel, ‘The Rainbow’, was banned by Bow Street Magistrates’ Court.
Although his last novel, ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’, was considered too obscene to be published in Britain, it was printed in Italy in 1928 from where it was distributed.
It not merely reflected his working class Nottinghamshire origins but, it is suggested, explained his disgust with society and preoccupation with sex through attacking society in general especially the class stratification of English society, the evils of industrialised civilisation, and unwholesome relations between the sexes themselves.
To marry Lawrence, Frieda von Richthofen had deserted her husband who taught him during his teacher training, and children.
Her German origins, combined with spy hysteria upon the outbreak of the First World War, forced the Lawrences to leave the Chesham area.
His poor health precluded him from military service but after the war they travelled widely. Although ‘Lady Chatterley’ was not published openly in Britain until 1960 it had earned Lawrence sufficient to live comfortably abroad until he died in the South of France.
AUTHOR: DH Lawrence at his desk
Writer: John Middleton Murry
Mrs Lawrence: Frieda pictured in 1971