The life of D. H. Lawrence, told through five interesting pieces of biographical trivia
1. He wrote a story about Jesus Christ called ‘The Escaped Cock’. This story, also sometimes published under the title ‘The Man Who Died’, was summarised by Lawrence himself as follows: ‘I wrote a story of the Resurrection, where Jesus gets up and feels very sick about everything, and can’t stand the old crowd any more – so cuts out – and as he heals up, he begins to find what an astonishing place the phenomenal world is, far more marvellous than any salvation or heaven’. In fact, the story ends with a last line that would be made more famous by another writer, Margaret Mitchell: ‘Tomorrow is another day.’
2. In the 1960s, Helen Corke wrote a book about D. H. Lawrence’s time as a schoolteacher in London called D. H. Lawrence: The Croydon Years. During his early years, Lawrence worked for a short while as a teacher, but he was plagued by poor health – the tuberculosis that would kill him in his mid-40s.
3. Lawrence liked to climb mulberry trees in the nude to stimulate his imagination. This is perhaps our favourite D. H. Lawrence fact of all: Lawrence – or ‘Lorenzo’ as he was known to his friends – was obsessed with sex throughout his work. As John Sutherland points out in his Lives of the Novelists, the title of Lawrence’s first novel, The White Peacock, is so named as a punning nod to the fact that a man’s ‘cock’ is the only part of him that doesn’t ever see sunlight, even when he pees – hence ‘white pee-cock’. Lawrence gave the title ‘John Thomas and Lady Jane’ to the second draft of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, ‘John Thomas’ being early twentieth-century slang for the … er, male trouser area again.
If you try to nail anything down, in the novel, either it kills the novel, or the novel gets up and walks away with the nail. – D. H. Lawrence
4. Only ten people attended D. H. Lawrence’s funeral. One of the mourners was Aldous Huxley, one of the few literary friends Lawrence appears not to have alienated by the time of his death. Lawrence’s last words had reportedly been ‘I’m getting better.’ Although they were ironic, he had succeeded in staving off tuberculosis for 44 years, producing countless books and short stories, some in a matter of weeks.
5. One of his books was put on trial. In November 1960, Penguin Books was found not guilty of obscenity in the trial R v Penguin Books Ltd. The trial had lasted nearly a fortnight, with a novel written by an author who had been dead for thirty years in the dock: Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence. The prosecuting lawyer, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, memorably asked the jury, ‘Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?’ But in fact the tide had turned and such views now seemed outdated – even a bishop took to the stand to defend the novel – and, because it was found to possess ‘redeeming social merit’, Chatterley, and its publisher, Penguin Books, was found not guilty. It went on to become a bestseller, 32 years after D. H. Lawrence had completed it. Lady Chatterley’s Lover went on to sell 200,000 copies on its first day of legal release in the UK, on 10 November 1960 – some thirty years since its author had died.
If you enjoyed these fascinating D. H. Lawrence facts, we recommend our book crammed full of 3,000 years of interesting bookish facts, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History, available now from Michael O’Mara Books.
Image: D. H. Lawrence aged 21, author unknown, Wikimedia Commons.