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Being D.H. Lawrence's close friend or lover must have been a mixed blessing. While Lawrence was wonderfully engaging, with a huge number of interests and - a rare blessing - marvellously attentive to others, he had his darker sides. He introduced his first girlfriend, Jessie Chambers, to a wonderful world of literature, art and music, and enriched her life hugely, but he later selfishly exploited her devotion for him (including getting her to sleep with him before marriage; a massive step for a girl from Jessie's background) and later selfishly portrayed her as the clinging Miriam in 'Sons and Lovers' (an acts of self-justification that may have rebounded as Miriam may seem more sympathetic to the reader than Paul!). While his mother was dying, he became engaged to an intelligent college friend, Louise Burrows - he later broke off their engagement with little explanation, and Louie was so upset that she didn't marry until her fifties. He used his friend Helen Corke's tormented love affair with her music master as the basis for his second novel with, again, barely an explanation, and did not portray Helen with much sympathy in the book. Even his marriage to Frieda Weekley (born Von Richthofen), who he described in their early days as 'the most wonderful woman in England' was stormy, with Lawrence in bleak periods believing that any relationship between man and woman must be one of strife, with each partner striving to dominate the other. Lawrence was ruthless in using his friends' lives for material in his fiction, sometimes to their fury, and could turn on people violently, at one point telling the writer Katherine Mansfield (who he felt had betrayed him) that he wished her dead. But at the same time, most of the people who knew him - even Jessie Chambers, who had much cause to feel aggrieved at Lawrence's behaviour - were very glad they had, and thought there were truly wonderful sides to him, particularly his love of life and interest in people.

Worthen's biography is exceptional because he shows us clearly exactly why Lawrence was lovable, and why so many people were drawn to him. He never idealizes or sentimentalizes Lawrence, noting, for example, that as Lawrence grew more dogmatic so did the quality of his novels (particularly the post-war ones such as 'Kangaroo' and 'The Plumed Serpent') deteriorate, with a hectoring tone developing. But he does show us, by description and by small quotes, quite what a wonderful writer Lawrence could be. And the accounts that he quotes of what it was like to be in Lawrence's company bring the man wonderfully to life: I particularly liked the descriptions of the young Lawrence helping out on the Chambers' farm, of Lawrence's experiences schoolteaching, of his love of animals and children and, most movingly, how when Lawrence was dying of tuberculosis he still insisted on having the local peasants in the Italian village where he and Frieda were living in for wine, food and an exchange of presents. Lawrence's courage, particularly in the face of illlness, is very impressively depicted. I have tended to skip over descriptions of Lawrence's life in New Mexico in the past, and felt distinctly dubious about his friendships (both to a degree slightly exploitative) with the wealthy and rather silly American heiress Mabel Dodge Luhan and with Dorothy Brett (an aristocrat turned painter; a courageous woman in certain ways, but also, to quote Claire Tomalin, with 'a streak of pure silliness', and someone who tended to hero-worship rather tediously). My feelings about this remain, but Worthen does give a wonderful picture of how enterprising Lawrence was while out in the wilds of New Mexico, making a home out of virtually nothing and maintaining a good life, denying his illness until he absolutely couldn't any more. There have been so many biographies that portray Lawrence in a bad light that this one, which didn't flinch from the writer's more dubious qualities but also concentrated on his good ones, was a truly welcome read.

Of course, Worthen being a leading Lawrence expert, it's also brilliantly researched and immaculately edited. My one feeling of disappointment was that we didn't learn a bit more about the novels (their plots, for one thing) and that some of the people in Lawrence's life were only mentioned briefly. But, this is a shorter biography attempting to deal with the whole of Lawrence's very rich life, so couldn't cover everything, and for those very interested in Lawrence, there is the magnificent CUP three-volume biography (I heartily recommend Volume 1, on Lawrence's early years, by Worthen again, the only volume I've read yet!) to use to find out more.

A superb achievement and a real joy to read.
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on 6 June 2011
This is a fine biography of Lawrence. The final 4 years of his life especially are full of insights. And it would be hard to imagine a more thoroughly researched work. On Lawrence's relationship with Dorothy Brett and other women Worthen displays his flair for detail and balance. He is illuminating also when discussing the tales and travel books. For all this - though it is an indispensible book on Lawrence - I feel it is not the best biog. of the man. For all its clarity it lacks that motivational quality, that momentum that seems so necessary when reading about this inspired and driven luminary. This quality can be found in Dr Keith Sagar's illustrated biography on Lawrence. This is a beautiful work. It never gets bogged down but moves along with pace and purpose. And its abundance of photographs add to it's richness.
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on 29 July 2014
What a relief it was to reach the end of this drawn-out affair which mixes unoriginal biographical information with the kind of academic literary criticism that would kill any interest in literature.

The author - an Emeritus Professor at Nottingham University - claims that D. H. Lawrence lost his credibility because he was unfairly portrayed as a misogynist, racist etc.

I agree with some of this but, as someone who was at university in the era when the disciples of Professor F. R. Leavis rammed Lawrence down our throats, I feel he has been downgraded because he was not that good in the first place.

He may have been forward thinking in terms of sexual equality (or inequality) and the first mainstream author to use four letter words that are now common but that did not make him a good writer.

Some of his books - parts of "Sons and Lovers", for example - are well written but many are over the top in emotional terms with "blood", "soul", "hatred", "passion" etc. applied like a parody.

I have read several biographies of Lawrence, none of which has turned out to be very good.

The best part of this one is the description of Lawrence's childhood and early days as a writer and his encounter with Frieda Richthofen, a married woman who ditched her husband and three children to run off with him and later become his wife.

From then on, the book is basically a travelogue of the various places they ended up in, with none of the authenticity of the early part.
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on 1 August 2013
I think this is one of the first occasion's where my understanding of an author's life was more fascinating than his/her work.

The book manages to give a vivid sense of D H Lawrence's life, times and ideas; truly fascinating, the author does his subject great justice. Well-written, sympathetic and broad approach, really appreciated by this reader.

Also, I have read Sagar's biography of DHL, but definitely felt this John Worthen's biography of Lawrence was the most comprehensive and illuminating, and flowed most beautifully.

p.s. Can I recommend visiting DHL's first home in Eastwood, Nottingham - now a museum for D H Lawrence.
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on 12 May 2010
I loved this biography. I had forgotten about Lawrence, having read him mainly in my youth, and was delighted to have my dormant interest completely re-invigorated by this moving, felt and truthful text. I've ordered a few of Lawrence's major works and am so looking forward to re-reading them.

Thanks, Mr Worthen
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VINE VOICEon 6 September 2013
Of the many, many books written about Lawrence few seem to have successfully caught the adventurous, liberal spirit of the man but have trodden the familiar path of Lawrence as social rebel. Thus I approached John Worthen's sizeable biography with just a little scepticism, hoping that this would be unfounded and that here at last was the life of Lawrence I have been searching for.
Unfortunately, Mr Worthen fills his pages with the minutiae of Lawrence without really probing beneath the skin. The health problems, financial problems and moments of self doubt are mentioned but rarely explored; the nomadic search for a suitably tranquil place to write - Italy, Germany, Australia, Mexico - is likewise underplayed and described rather matter of factly. The Life Of An Outsider is not a badly written book but an evergreen subject such as DHL still requires a novel viewpoint. My search continues.
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on 27 August 2015
John Worthen's book may just become one of the more important Lawrence biographies for a number of reasons. Firstly, his research is excellent, secondly, he brings DHL alive for us especially his early life and thirdly, he shows us the man himself, cutting away the myth and legend and allowing us to make up our own minds about this flawed genius.

If D H Lawrence had lived and worked during the 1960s he would today be a folk hero along the lines of Warhol, Lennon, Dylan and Hendrix. His sin was to have been born into the late Victorian/Edwardian age with all of its hypocritical, straight-laced puritanism to fight against. If that wasn't enough he also happened to be from the Working Class which made his uphill climb even greater. Still today he is reffered to as that writer of 'dirty books' and generally unappreciated in the country of his birth.

The key to Worthen's DHL is in the sub-title, an Outsider. This more than anything else made Lawrence what he was. His background set him apart from the Oxbridge literary elite of the time and largely led to his rejection by the stuffy establishment publishing houses. His very brief flirtation with the Bloomsbury Group left him bitter and perhaps condemning of elitism. His elopement and subsequent marriage to an older woman has been interpreted in many ways yet the author sticks to the facts and gives us a picture of a couple obviously inspired by each other. Lawrence could be difficult and tetchy and I'm not sure he would have been good company on occasions. Frieda tended to be lazy and unhelpful yet never doubted her husband's genius whatever happened between them.

We are taken around the world to the places Lawrence visited and lived in always searching for his perfect place. Just when he appeared to be happy and settled he moved on, always looking for his utopian ideal. If I have a slight criticism of the book it would be a rather abrupt ending without an exploration of Lawrence's legacy, yet perhaps everything that needed saying had already been said.
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on 29 June 2013
Well written comprehensive biography, which also includes a lot of information about his novels, poems and essays. The emphasis is on his great novels and how they are grounded in his life. Highly recommended!
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on 7 January 2016
Even though I haven't read Lawrence for years this was fascinating stuff.
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on 11 November 2015
A very enjoyable read. Mothers son with fathers genes.
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