Forget Robin Hood, Trent Bridge and the innovative tram; our city and university actually boast a far more intriguing and controversial claim to fame. D.H. Lawrence, author of the (then) shockingly sexually explicit Lady Chatterley’s Lover, poet, artist and teacher, was born just miles from the city centre, in the small mining town of Eastwood, in 1885. Surprisingly, while most Nottingham students have heard of D.H. Lawrence, few know he attended our University.
Lawrence wrote ground-breaking literature. His novels are not only famous for his “I don’t care if people call my work obscene” attitude, but also because he captured the local ambiance of Nottingham like no other author, before or since, has managed to do. Pick up Sons and Lovers, give it a go (it’s not to everyone’s taste, but it’s classic Lawrence) and your eyes will be opened to the Nottingham which a true genius lived and breathed. Maybe I’m biased, maybe I’m doing a dissertation on Lawrence’s major phase, maybe I love him a little bit too much… But despite this, it is unarguable that he is a world-renowned literary celebrity, infamous to some, saint to others. As students of Nottingham University, we should at least be aware of his connection to the county.
Outside the Law and Social Sciences building there’s a statue of Lawrence; if you take a glimpse on the way to lectures, you’ll notice he wasn’t a classic fitty, with his slight frame, gingery hair and beard and pointy chin. However, it seems he oozed sex appeal to some, managing to seduce one of the lecturer’s wives (a certain Frieda von Richthofen) whilst attending our University, and subsequently eloping with her. She was a large German lady, he was a small, fiery Midlander who felt what John Worthen, his autobiographer and Emeritus Professor of D.H. Lawrence Studies at Nottingham University, describes as a sensation of being an ‘outsider’ for the majority of his life. At Nottingham there is also the D.H. Lawrence research centre, an exhibition on the author in the Lakeside, and several Lawrence experts, including Sean Matthews, John Worthen, Keith Sagar and Peter Preston. Nottingham really is at the centre of Lawrence literary culture, as it should be, and as it should remain.
However, the D.H. Lawrence heritage centre, Durban House, in Eastwood, is currently under threat of closure due to a severe lack of funds. This year, Broxtowe Borough Council plans to slash £60,000 from the centre’s budget, meaning it would be forced to close its doors, as it costs £150,000 to run. This is not only a tragedy for literary culture, but also for the tourist industry in Nottingham. In the face of economic crisis, culture seems to be the first place we are cutting back, as people have less money to spend on leisure time. The effects are obvious; recently, The Tales of Robin Hood, another heritage centre of sorts, shut down, while Nottingham’s other cultural asset, the Lace Centre museum, is also contemplating closure. This seems silly; surely a bit of culture is just what the public needs to take its mind off the recession? Moreover, cultural tourism is a huge part of our local economy, and if centres such as Durban House close, less money will be brought into the area and a definite loss will occur. In 2008 22,000 visitors came to Durban House and the Iraqi TV station Al Sharqia filmed a programme about Lawrence there. If the centre closes, numerous literary, financial and international benefits will be lost.
Fortunately, Dr. Sean Matthews, Director of the D.H Lawrence Research centre, has come to the rescue. He has requested a £1 million grant from the council, which, if successful, will allow the University and Durban House to embark on a 3-year investment plan of improvement. In a recent interview with the Evening Post, Matthews stressed that “the bid is about Lawrence and the mining heritage, it is not specific to Durban House, which will benefit enormously”. It is thus a win-win situation if the grant is given; the University will benefit from unlimited access to the D.H Lawrence and mining sites in Eastwood (an added bonus for anyone taking the Lawrence short stories subsidiary module), and research opportunities will be enhanced. Perhaps this will only excite hardcore Lawrence fanatics specialising in his literature for their dissertations, but nonetheless… Within the bid the University will work alongside Eastwood Comprehensive and five local junior schools to develop programmes in creative writing. So, fingers crossed the money will be granted and all these positive, culture enhancing initiatives can lift off; Nottingham’s most prized literary figure will be rejuvenated and his international followers from North America, Korea and Japan will still have a place to visit and remember Mr Lawrence by.