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13 November 2014

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You are in: Nottingham > History > Local history > Nottinghamshire legends: DH Lawrence

Sean Bean and Joely Richardson in Lady Chatterley

Lady Chatterley's Lover

Nottinghamshire legends: DH Lawrence

What was Lawrence's legacy to Nottinghamshire, the place he called "the country of my heart"? DH Lawrence expert Ben Woolhead tells all.

Profile: Ben Woolhead

Originally from the North-east, Ben is currently studying for a PHD on DH Lawrence at the University of Nottingham. He also writes a weblog called Silent Words Speak Loudest.

2005 marked the 75th anniversary of the death of one of Nottingham's most famous sons, DH Lawrence.

The Eastwood-born author labelled a "weird old beardie" by Philip Larkin has never failed to polarise opinion, alternately championed and demonised.

In the 1960s Lawrence was celebrated as the self-professed "priest of love" and acclaimed as an astute critic of the deadeningly mechanical nature of modern life.

Censored and ridiculed

But during his lifetime he was censored and ridiculed for his views, and since his death has been crudely caricatured as both a misogynist and a fascist.

Sean Bean (naked behind not shown)

Sean Bean (naked behind not shown)

Unfashionable in academic circles and absent from English syllabuses he may be, but Lawrence nevertheless remains a prominent literary figure in the popular consciousness.

Mention his name and for many people it immediately conjures up an image – whether of the author of such complex masterpieces as ‘Women in Love', or merely of Sean Bean's naked behind from Ken Russell’s 1993 television adaptation of 'Lady Chatterley's Lover'.

Just as estimations of Lawrence and his writings have fluctuated, so did his emotions about Nottinghamshire.

The son of a miner, Lawrence always felt peripheral to and alienated from the middle-class literary culture of his day and could never forget his roots.

His fictional portraits of the squalor and ugliness of the region’s mining villages stand in stark contrast to the warm-hearted representations of the tight-knit pit communities which inhabited them and of the surrounding countryside in such works as ‘Sons and Lovers’ and lesser-known stories like ‘Strike-Pay’.

'The country of my heart'

Even though Lawrence left the East Midlands in 1913, only going back infrequently and briefly until his death in 1930, he returned imaginatively to "the country of my heart" on numerous occasions, most notably for the setting of his final novel, 'Lady Chatterley's Lover'.

Fiercely intellectual, intensely passionate, rapier-witted but often cantankerous, Lawrence should also be remembered as a local historian, the foremost chronicler of Nottinghamshire in the early decades of the twentieth century.

Museums might go some way towards giving us access to the region's past, but Lawrence's books really bring it to life.

Find out more about the region's legends on BBC East Midlands Today, from 18:30 on BBC 1 every weekday.

last updated: 02/04/2009 at 12:21
created: 03/03/2005

Have Your Say

Is DH Lawrence's work still relevant in the 21st century? What is his legacy to Notts?

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

Rob Paling
We should be proud of his legacy he is one of the greatest writers of our time,im also related to the Beardsall side of his Family

Ben Woolhead
As with almost everything, Lawrence's attitude to Nottingham and the East Midlands is extremely difficult to pin down. You'll find one opinion expressed in one place, and the exact opposite expressed somewhere else. He changed his mind all the time, undoubtedly becoming overly sentimental himself (from afar) towards his death, and he certainly did dislike much about the city and the university in particular. For that reason he's likely to remain one of Nottingham's most famous sons rather than one of its favourite sons. Yet I still maintain Lawrence very often wrote about the region with a warmth and understanding, particularly of the people. Try some of those realist short stories about miners, some of the early poems or the magical opening chapter of 'The Rainbow' - they tell a rather different story.

Barbara Hatton
When I was in Syria a few years ago the hotel porter had read more of Lawrences' books than I had! "D.H." is more appreciated overseas than at home

Brian C
Ho ho ho. Is this the same DH Lawrence who described Nottingham as nothing more than “that dismal town where I went to school and college”? The same DH Lawrence who, disgusted by Jesse Boot’s attempt to buy the affections of the Nottingham public by building a new University, said: “From this I learn, though I knew it before, that culture has her roots in the deep dung of cash, and lore is a last off shoot of Boots”? Isn’t it time for over-sentimental Nottinghamists to finally admit that DH Lawrence couldn’t leave this place quickly enough, and that he spent his entire life getting as far away as possible from it? The fine and wonderful city of Nottingham has plenty of glorious things to be fiercely proud of, and rightly so. The fact that DH Lawrence detested it is not one of them.

Jeremy
His legacy is not only to Notts but society as a whole. Thanks to articles and studies such as Ben's his work is as relevant now as it ever was.

Anthony G
Lawrence is enchanting. He creates such a vivid sense of place and time. He captures human passions and longings in a way that everyone can understand even today.

Simon
More from Mr Woolhead, please

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