D.H. Lawrence’s affair with Rosalind Baynes Thornycroft came to the forefront in the 1990s as a result of new material uncovered by Cambridge University Press in The Letters of D.H. Lawrence.
Of these 5,534 letters, forty percent were available for the first time, and academics claim that they help us to comprehend Lawrence’s rage against women, and his attraction towards Rosalind.
Who Was Lady Chatterley’s Lover?
Researchers have claimed that the gamekeeper, Mellors, in Lady Chatterley’s Lover is none other than an idealised, more virile version of the book’s author, D.H. Lawrence. (Although, as Maddox adds in The Times Magazine piece, ‘Lady Chatterley Exposed‘, Lawrence had more in common with the impotent Lord Chatterley in 1926/27, when he wrote the novel, than with the gamekeeper, Mellors.)
D.H. Lawrence’s one and only known extra-marital affair occurred while his wife Frieda was in Germany. Lawrence went to Florence to meet Rosalind, who had travelled there from England with her three young daughters. The purpose of her trip to Italy was to avoid scandal due to the reasons for her divorce from her husband, psychiatrist Dr. Godwin Baynes.
Rosalind had been unfaithful and her third child was the child of a man not her husband. This gave Lawrence and Rosalind the opportunity to develop their friendship, which began when they met the previous year in Berkshire. At that time, he had given her advice about moving to Italy.
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The Beginning of the Affair with Rosalind
Their affair began on the evening of D.H. Lawrence’s 35th birthday when he and Rosalind had supper on her terrace in Florence. It must have been a romantic scene as they walked for a while in the hills and gazed down on the lights of Florence. Lawrence, however, came straight to the point.
According to Rosalind’s diary, says Maddox, “Lawrence said: “How do you feel about yourself now without sex in your life?”
When Rosalind admitted she missed sex, Lawrence asked her why she didn’t have it, and at her reply that she was “damned fastidious,” and she wanted “more than a few pretty words, and then off to bed,” he countered with, “Most people one can hardly bear to come near, far less make love with. I do not see why you and I should not have a sex time together.”
So the next day, Rosalind prepared her bedroom although nothing happened, but the following day, he came to lunch. After they played with the baby and then put her down to sleep, the two of them sat there, holding hands, until Lawrence said “And so to bed.”
Rosalind did not elaborate further in her diary.
This time with Rosalind was one of great inspiration for Lawrence, and he wrote a number of poems of a highly sensual nature and full of metaphorical allusions.
Similarities Between Real Life and Lawrence’s “Fiction”
Brenda Maddox describes Rosalind:
“Rosalind, at 29, was at the height of her beauty – a blend of pre-Raphaelite brown hair, rich colouring and large brown eyes.” Compare this with Lawrence’s description of the so-called “fictional” Lady Chatterley: “A ruddy, country-looking girl with soft brown hair and sturdy body, and slow movements, full of unusual energy. She had big, wondering eye and a soft, mild voice.”
There is irony in the way in which Lawrence feared independent women yet in his private life, he was continuously drawn towards them. Rosalind was no wallflower. She was a free-thinking woman, well-educated, and she moved in respectable social and artistic circles in London. Her father was a sculptor and her mother a feminist.
There are many more similarities between Rosalind’s background and upbringing, and that of Lady Chatterley. Maddox points out that it was not recognised at the time that Rosalind was the model for Lady Chatterley, but that “she was, Frieda apart, the main one.”
Apparently, Lawrence related well to Rosalind’s children right from the start of their relationship. During the time in Berkshire, Lawrence impressed Rosalind by getting up to wash up the dishes. “She had never seen a man do that before,” explains Maddox. When he visited Rosalind, he often brought gifts for the children.
More Bluff Than Swagger!
Brenda Maddox points out that it is unlikely, as other academics suggest, that Lawrence was a latent homosexual. The problem was related to how he was unable to reconcile the male and female parts of his own psyche. His confusion about sex is neatly summed up in an analysis of the texts of some of his poems which appears in “Selected Poems,” edited by Dr. Jan Todd. Here are some excerpts:
“Lawrence’s ideas about sex can be seen most clearly in the context of his ‘religious’ thoughts… Sex can be experienced as an anguished tearing apart of the self, a death, from which a new life may emerge… Lawrence felt that in the modern world, sex had become bloodless, an affair of the mind and the nerves, compulsive but unsatisfying… an obsessive interest in achieving shallow gratification without the full consent of the body.”
Lady Chatterley, Exposed
Brenda Maddox concludes her article Lady Chatterley Exposed, as follows: “Yet a man who could also write, ‘It is hopeless for me to try to do anything without I have a woman at the back of me,’ is hardly a macho swaggerer in the Henry Miller-Norman Mailer class.”
D.H. Lawrence’s amazing voices, the one sublime, the other vitriolic, fell silent on the 2 March 1930 in the South of France. The cause of death was tuberculosis and Lawrence was only 45 years old.