D.H.Lawrence

Author

'The upper air was woven with the music of the larks, and my whole world thrilled with the conception of Summer. The young pale wind-flowers had arisen by the wood-gale, and under the hazels, where perchance the hot sun pushed his way, new little suns dawned . . .

I cannot help forgetting, and sharing the spink's triumph, when he flashes past with a fleece from a bramble bush . . . Ah, but the thrush is scornful, ringing out his voice from the hedge! . . .

What a hurry the jenny wren makes - hoping I shall not see her dart into the low bush. I have the delight in watching them against their shy wills . . .'

The White Peacock - D. H. Lawrence

Lawrence wanted to make for America but Frieda desperately needed to see her family in Germany. They finally decided that he would join her later in Italy. After seeing her off at Harwich, he hung about for a few weeks in London before making his own way to Folkestone where he finally boarded a boat and departed 'the country of his heart'.

The England he loved, and hated so bitterly, had rejected him. Born in a place which 'was still the old England of the forest and agricultural past, where there were no motor cars, the mines were, in a sense, an accident on the landscape, and Robin Hood and his Merry Men were not very far away', Lawrence no longer belonged. His England had died in the war.

He never lived in England again, only returning for three brief visits to see his family and friends.

Two up - two down

David Herbert Lawrence was born at Eastwood, Notts, in a two up, two down, terraced house with a small attic above where the boys slept. Fourth of five children, he survived against the doctor's expectations. 'I'm afraid I s'll never rear him,' his mother said but Bertie did survive, though with a weak chest and bothered with a cough all his life.

His father earned more than most at the pit as a butty (sub-contractor), lived day-to-day and didn't save any money. He was a good dancer, had a fine laugh, and enjoyed his morning walks through the dewy fields to the pit-head at Brinsley. Not caring too much for authority, he liked his pint in the local pub at the weekend.

Bertie's mother was an ex-schoolteacher, prim, strict about temperance and Sunday School, and her children's marks at school. She strove to force her husband to accept his responsibilities at home which only made him more truculent. They quarrelled often.

Bertie was frail. 'The thinnest little boy I ever saw,' a neighbour remarked. Often taunted by other boys as 'a mardy-arsed kid' he was clever and 'hit back wi' his tongue an' got at 'em where it hurt.' Not able to play the boy's games he would gather the girls together and go blackberrying, for he loved nature with a religious intensity, always seeing colours three times brighter than anyone else. At home he helped his mother with household chores, ridiculed as women's work by tough miners.

Three times each Sunday the family attended Congregationalist chapel, a religion that had nothing sentimental about it. Bertie loved the tub-thumping call to God, the hymn-singing, and the lasting power of the bible forever held a power over him. Bertie himself developed a messianic tendency to preach - not about religion but about life.

Scholarship

Bright and well-read, Bertie won a scholarship to Nottingham High School but his mother found it hard to find the extra money for train fares, clothing and food; but she found it, for she wanted something better than the pit for her sons. After three years Bertie was placed thirteenth out of twenty-one in English - most of the boys were older - and he won a maths prize. He never played games.

Mrs. Lawrence became acquainted with Mrs. Chambers whose husband was a tenant farmer at Haggs farm three miles from Eastwood. Escorted by Bertie, Mrs. Lawrence visited the Chambers family at the small red farmhouse, clothed in Virginia creeper and honeysuckle, where Bertie met their sons and their daughter Jessie, an intense dark, lonely girl of fourteen who loved literature - Sir Walter Scott was her favourite author.

Jessie remembered much later that she felt hostility towards this aloof, self-absorbed boy, envious of his continuing education and that he was studying French and German.

For the rest of that summer Bertie went to Haggs Farm every weekend as an escape from the tensions of his own home. It brought him into a new world where the fields and woods put him in direct contact with nature. He came to love the harmonious atmosphere of the farm, the company of Edmund Chambers, to whom he brought a book or a magazine occasionally, and Mrs. Chambers whom he helped in the kitchen. He struck up a friendship with their sons Alan and Hubert who initiated him into the mysteries of their rural life by showing him jobs around the farm.

Death of Ernest

At sixteen years of age, Bertie got a job as a clerk at a surgical goods factory in Castle Gate, Nottingham, where the working girls found him frail, quick and funny, not at all like the other working men. In the evenings he would recount all his experiences to his mother, storing away vivid portraits and descriptions which he would later bring to life in his writing.

Ernest, Bertie's eldest brother, was a keen athlete and swimmer who went to night school to learn shorthand and typing, then got himself a job as a shipping clerk in London. Working hard and saving to get married, Ernest caught pneumonia and suddenly died. Mrs. Lawrence, very proud of her son, became distraught and withdrew within herself. She could no longer find no time for her youngest son Bertie.

The loss of Ernest was incomprehensible to his father, who refused to go near the cemetery, or even walk past the colliery office where Ernest once worked as a clerk. He was never the same man again.

Bertie had come to depend on his mother's love and her neglect began to affect him physically. Three months later he also fell ill with pneumonia. It shocked his mother into life and she nursed Bertie like a baby, day and night, for seven weeks. Mother and son were never so close.

By early spring, though still frail and white, he had recovered sufficiently to be carried on a milk cart to Haggs farm. The Chambers family warmly welcomed him, Mrs. Chambers taking Bertie and Jessie to look at a wren's nest she had discovered in the hedge by the orchard. Bertie discovered that Jessie was also interested in the physical world of nature and during that summer he spent so much time at Haggs farm that his mother irritably told him: 'You might as well move in with them.'

Hayfields

The Chambers brothers took him to the hayfields four miles away to help with the hay making. Pale-faced, physically weak and liable to be overlooked in a room full of people, Bertie worked as long as they did and they were glad of his company. Their laughter often rang out, though Bertie's illness had left him with a high-pitched voice, almost a squeal when he was agitated.

One of the brothers, David Chambers later described him: 'His eyes were so alive and he had such a zest for life with a bracing nervous energy . . . It was a matter of mood. Sometimes he seemed to have the devil in him, and then the friends who thought they loved him shrank back and wondered what it was they were loving. There was no telling what Bert Lawrence would do if he was in the mood.'

Full of adolescent arrogance, Bertie disguised his dark side by sudden acts of generosity and affection. He became attached to Jessie though their relationship was more spiritual than physical. They were at their most intimate when responding to nature - she stimulated him into appreciating the beauty of life itself. Bertie's younger sister Ada later recalled: 'Unlike us, she was not interested in new clothes or sweethearts . . . she was always in earnest about something or other . . . ready to listen to his ideas and views, accept his theories and beliefs . . . she shared his enthusiasm for the beauties of nature and poetry . . . she claimed him before all others.'

The summer turned out to be one of the happiest of Bertie's life. 'Whatever I forget, I shall never forget the Haggs - I loved it so,' he said many years later. But something had to be done about his future and in the autumn Bertie began as a pupil-teacher at the British School in Eastwood.

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