Native Son

On this day in 1885 D. H. Lawrence was born in Eastwood, outside Nottingham. In his autobiographical novel Sons and Lovers (1913), Lawrence made famous the tortured conditions of his upbringing: his uneducated father’s pit-and-pub life, his mother’s contempt for this and her self-sacrifice in order that her children might avoid it, Lawrence’s own conflicted feelings of being absolutely devoted to and yet smothered by his mother. The novel and all of the biographical documents covering the author’s early life overwhelmingly support the idea that Lawrence shared young Paul Morel’s nightly prayer that his father would either stop drinking or die in a mine accident. The later autobiographical writings show a turnaround, however, and by the age of forty Lawrence had concluded “that my mother deceived me.” Her scrimping for his piano, paints and schooling, and her war with her husband, was just snobbery; his father was not a lout but a salt-of-the-earth who “rackapelted with his own gang” because of the “nagging materialism” at home. This revaluation was part of Lawrence’s larger attempt to reject middle-class English culture and morality in favor of myth, instinct and “blood” — as in his famous, “What the blood feels, and believes, and says, is always true.”


The author and investigative reporter Jessica Mitford, second-youngest of the famous sisters, was born on this day in 1917. She must have had Sons and Lovers in mind with her first book, an autobiography of the between-war years titled Hons and Rebels (also known as Daughters and Rebels). Not that growing up a baronial Mitford in the rolling Cotswold hills was in any way similar to life at the pit-edge. Even after having to downsize from the Brideshead-style Batsford Park to Asthall Manor, Lord Redesdale had money and society enough to turn the barn into a ballroom; and after a further decline to Swinbrook House, he still had a healthy sense of his entitlements. Always a source of merriment among the girls, Dad became something of a national joke with his outraged speech against limiting the power of the House of Lords: “May I remind your Lordships that denial of the hereditary principle is a direct blow at the Crown? Such a denial is, indeed, a blow at the very foundation of the Christian faith.” The Christian part got the biggest laugh at home, given the manner in which Lord Redesdale exercised his right to select and ride herd on the vicar of Swinbrook parish. Every new vicar was told upon hiring that he must limit his sermon to ten minutes, and every Sunday a signal would come from Lord Redesdale’s pew at the eight-minute mark, as measured by his stopwatch.