1885-1930 - D H Lawrence

 

 

One of the most controversial writers of the 20th century was born in the Nottinghamshire mining village of Eastwood. Over and over again Lawrence transposed local scenes into his novels, and Eastwood is instantly identifiable as 'Bestwood' in Sons and Lovers or 'Beldover' in Women in Love, a symbol of his hatred of the industrial system. David Herbert Lawrence - known always as plain 'Bert' to the locals - was the fourth of five children crammed into this tiny terraced house in Victoria Street. Family life was one of respectable hardship. His father was a 'butty', a coalface worker in charge of a small gang of fellow miners at the nearby Brinsley Colliery. His mother, who was born to a middle-class family in Kent and had trained to be a schoolteacher, flatly refused to allow her sons to follow him down the pit. The house itself still stands, and is typical of the very basic accommodation put up for industrial workers in the 19th century, adequate but spartan. The family routine centred around the kitchen/scullery with its high-backed chairs, black-leaded coal range and home-made rag rugs. In best working-class tradition the parlour - sanctified and made 'respectable' by its aspidistra and fussy china ornaments - was for Sundays only, a room where the dust and grime of the colliery village was never admitted. Privacy was minimal in such houses, but appearances were 'kept up'. Why would the experiences of childhood take such a profound hold on the mature writer?

Lawrence was never a writer to hold back his feelings, and in his essay 'Nottingham and the Mining Country' (1929) he was uncompromisingly single-minded about the environment in which he grew up. 'It was ugliness which betrayed the spirit of man in the nineteenth century. The great crime committed in the palmy Victorian days was the condemning of the workers to ugliness, ugliness, ugliness: meanness and formless and ugly surroundings, ugly ideals, ugly religion, ugly hope, ugly love, ugly clothes, ugly furniture, ugly houses, ugly relationships between workers and employers. The human soul needs actual beauty even more than bread.' Industrialism was, to him, an unmitigated disaster; the theme of erosion - of the land, of the self, of the human spirit - returns time and again in his work and its seeds must unquestionably have been sown amid the mean, huddled terraces of Eastwood, with the glimpse of distant woodlands and cornfields from the bottom of Victoria Street to fire him with a vision of something better. Certainly the Nottinghamshire landscape of the early 20th century, with its bizarre juxtaposition of open farming country and blackened pits, can be recreated in considerable detail from his novels. In a similar way Lawrence himself could be gloriously contradictory - searing insights and half-baked theories, savage physicality and real tenderness, deadly seriousness and mocking levity, often mingled in the one paragraph. His work, too, was lionised and vilified in roughly equal measure - he wanted to dig much deeper than the surface that had hitherto sufficed in 'polite fiction', and his restless questioning of contemporary mores was much too elusive and abrasive for mass consumption. In 1919 he left England and led a nomadic life around Europe, Australia, Mexico and the USA, while continuing to draw deeply on the wellspring of the early experiences he had garnered in 'the country of my heart'.

1866-1943 - Beatrix Potter

1892-1982 - Victoria Sackville-West