The Novels of D.H. Lawrence: The Pioneer of Sex-Positive British Literature
D.H. Lawrence, photo: Spartacus Educational

If you’re going to start somewhere with erotic literature, you’d better start with the O.G. sex fiend, dirty D.H. himself. Born in 1885 into a working class miner’s family in Nottinghamshire, Lawrence is notorious for being the first author to detail explicit sex scenes in modern literature.

Whilst alive, his novels were censored and banned in countries across the globe. Although many of his stories focus on self-directing female characters, in recent decades his work has received feminist criticism for being subtly misogynistic and phallocentric (revolving around penises).

Love him or hate him, it’s undeniable that Lawrence was ahead of his time when it came to rejecting the shame surrounding sex. The publishing of his most famous work ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ in 1959, thirty years after his death, was marked as a crucial beginning to the sexual revolution, as Philip Larkin references in his poem ‘Annus Mirabilis’:

“Sexual intercourse began In nineteen sixty-three (Which was rather late for me)- Between the end of the Chatterley ban And the Beatles’ first LP.”

Whilst it’s no good pretending Lawrence’s novels are without flaws, it’s also no good to deem them unworthy of reading because of these flaws. Today, even in the sea of provocative fiction out there, Lawrence’s stories stand out for their poetic and sensual descriptions of sex and the physical.

Rather than being the smut obsessed perv that he was painted as at the time, Lawrence was a writer who was primarily in awe of all things natural, and strongly against the  dehumanising effects of modernity, industrialisation and the stringent morals of his time.

His intentions were to “make the sex relations valid and precious, instead of shameful”.  Here’s an introduction to his best works.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where to Start: ‘The Rainbow’

 

 

 

Now, ah now, she was swimming in the same water… The girl moved her limbs voluptuously, and swam by herself, deliciously, yet with a craving of unsatisfaction. She wanted to touch the other, to touch her, to feel her.

 

 

The Rainbow, first published in 1915 is a three-generation family saga about The Brangwens, who reside in Nottinghamshire. It’s also a great piece of queer fiction. Lawrence examines how each generation is affected by an increasingly urbanised Britain. 

The story mostly focuses on the relationships between the male and female characters, and how the two sexes struggle to fully understand the other.

Most of the more detailed descriptions of sex feature in the final part of the book, through the third generation of the Brangwen’s, the young Ursula. This is where a good novel becomes great. Ursula rejects the regimented Britain she lives in, and in alignment with Lawrence’s views, believes that sex and desire is something natural, even spritual.

She soon becomes involved in an intimate love affair with another woman. This queer storyline was one of the reasons The Rainbow was banned for eleven years in the UK, with thousands of copies seized and burnt. Noted as one the 100 best novels ever in The Guardian, and the prequel to his most popular book, this is the perfect place to start. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where to Continue: ‘Women in Love’

 

 

For to desire is better than to possess, the finality of the end was dreaded as deeply as it was desired.

 

 

The sequel to The Rainbow, Women in Love continues the story of Ursula and her equally spirited sister Gudrun. It delves into the two women’s intense relationships, Ursula’s being a sentimental romance with school inspector Rupert, and Gudrun’s, a destructive love with a man named Gerard.

However, Women in Love is just as much about men in love, as Rupert and Gerard form a deep emotional and physical attraction to one another, so as well as lots of explicit sex scenes, expect plenty of homoerotic ‘wrestling’.

The story examines the ways in which power affects desire, with the various love triangles constantly altering the dynamic of the relationships.

This one is great for those of you who know how ugly love can get, Lawrence is unafraid of highlighting the resentment that can fester in long relationships. When the two couples go on a winter holiday to Europe, tensions rise leading to a final, devastating event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Smutty Stuff: ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’

 

 

And as it subsided, he subsided too and lay utterly still, unknowing, while her grip on him slowly relaxed, and she lay inert. And they both knew nothing, not even each other, both lost.

 

 

First published in 1928, Lady Chatterley’s Lover is Lawrence’s most infamous and widely known novel, therefore a great place to start. The story follows Constance Chatterley, an upper-middle class woman who finds herself feeling alienated from her aristocratic husband when he returns from war paralysed from the waist down.

This leads to her  intense sexual and emotional affair with the working class gamekeeper employed on their estate.  Expect steamy detailed sex scenes set in the British countryside, but also expect a lot more than that.

Within the novel, Lawrence stresses the importance of not just the body, but the mind too, “body without mind is brutish; mind without body… is a running away from our double being”. Nevertheless this is definitely his dirtiest work out there, so read if you’re here for the smut.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Something Short: ‘The Short Stories of DH Lawrence’

 

 

Again a morning when the sun lifted himself molten and sparkling, naked over the sea’s rim. The house faced south-east, Juliet lay in her bed and watched him rise. It was as if she had never seen the sun rise before. She had never seen the naked sun stand up pure upon the sea-line, shaking the night off himself, like wetness. And he was full and naked. And she wanted to come to him.

 

 

If you’re short on time, or simply don’t have the attention span for a longer novel, Lawrence’s collection of short stories might be better suited to you. Sun, is one of the more sensual tales. It’s an intimate story of a woman rediscovering her sexuality through the power of the sun.

Only a few pages long, most of the story is narrated from the woman’s thoughts, making it a personal and insightful read. Other sexy short story shoutouts are The Virgin and the Gipsey, and The Captain’s Doll.

Once you’re done with DH Lawrence, if you’re looking for where to continue in your journey of historical smut, head to the novels of one of his great admirers: Anais Nin, The Writer Who Courted The World.

 

 

 

 

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Iso

Iso

Author

Iso is a writer and filmmaker based in East London. She is passionate about all things erotic and leads a sexy, shame-free life in hope that she can inspire others to do the same. Originally from a Northern seaside town, she is naturally drawn to the best things in life: candyfloss, trashy karaoke bars and heart-shaped sunglasses.


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