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Nottinghamshire: The D.H. Lawrence trail

David Herbert (DH) Lawrence is the original literary bad boy. The publication of his steamy novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover, sparked a national debate about obscenity and, to this day, his writing is much devoured by people drawn to his sensual, sexually charged prose.

Nottinghamshire: The D.H. Lawrence trail
Image: Duncan Harris under Creative Commons License (CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0), via Flickr

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But the popular image of Lawrence is outdated.

That’s why I’ve joined a walking tour of Eastwood, the Nottinghamshire mining community where he was born, to learn about the man behind the myth.

Eastwood will host the annual DH Lawrence Festival from 6-21 September. The focus this year is Sons and Lovers, his breakthrough and unabashedly autobiographical novel.

The book celebrates the centenary of its publication this year.

Local heritage guide Carolyn Melbourne will lead Sons and Lovers walking tours of Eastwood during the festival to places associated with his early life and work.

I’m getting a sneak preview.

We meet at the DH Lawrence Heritage Centre in Eastwood, the key venue for festival events and the start of the Blue Line Trail.

The walk, through quiet residential streets, passes the Victorian library where the young misfit would pore over books, and the Three Tuns pub, where his hard-drinking miner father spent most evenings.

But it’s 8a Victoria Street, the cramped miner’s cottage where Lawrence was born, that offers the greatest insight. This is now the DH Lawrence Birthplace Museum.

The Sunday-best parlour and the stark bedroom, where his mother would pop him into the open bottom drawer of the chest as a baby to keep warm, reveal how tough life was in Victorian mining communities.

“He was a non-conformist and much misunderstood,” says Carolyn, as we sip tea in The White Peacock Tea Shop, a bright, homely refuge from the grey-faceless streets where he was raised.

We finish back at the Heritage Centre, exploring the impact of the landmark 1960 Chatterley trial.

Lawrence was spared the ignominy. He rarely returned to Britain after his self-imposed exile and died in France in 1930.

He remains known for controversy. After all, he eloped with Frieda von Richthofen, the German wife of a Nottingham University College professor, in 1912.

Society was scandalised when Frieda, six years his elder, abandoned her husband and young children for him.

But it’s the sensitive writing of the sickly miner’s son from Eastwood, and the vivid kitchen-sink descriptions contained in his early books, that truly mark him out as one of the most distinctive voices of 20th-century literature.

In the short story, Odour of Chrysanthemums (first published in 1911), for example, Lawrence writes about the wife and mother of a dead miner taking turns to wash the body after an accident at the pit.

“Was this what it all meant – utter, intact separateness, obscured by the heat of living? She had denied him what he was. She had refused him as himself. And this had been her life, and his life. She was grateful to death, which restored the truth.”

These intimate descriptions of the flawed interior lives of his characters, many based on real-life people he knew around Eastwood, sound fresh even today.

We realise, as we remember him this autumn, these people, facing emotional turmoil and struggling to reconcile it, are still living among us today.