D. H. Lawrence: Writer, artist … hipster?


Today’s guest blogger is Sally Nightingale, D. H Lawrence Heritage services manager, who writes that our literary legend could have been a modern day hipster.

Apparently if William Shakespeare were alive today he’d be a daring and forward thinking hipster. This was the image presented earlier this year as part of an artistic project commissioned for the TV series Secret Life Of…. which depicted how a series of historical figures might have looked in 2013. Developed by a team of digital artists this updated edgy image represents Shakespeare as a ‘modern day playwright’ with an earring, shaggy, quiffed hair, Shoreditch shirt and waistcoat.

My response was ‘what’s a hipster?’ proving at the age of 36 my finger has well and truly fallen off the pulse of popular culture. Further investigation uncovered that hipsters have been around for a while, going back as far as the 1940s and became hippies, mods, punks and so on. Hipsters tend to be in their teens through to their 30s, who love clothes, music, food and activities outside of the social mainstream.

As manager of D. H. Lawrence Heritage, a visitor attraction dedicated to the life and works of the writer D. H. Lawrence in his hometown of Eastwood, this led me to wonder how Lawrence would have looked if alive today in 2013. Would he like Shakespeare be a hipster and part of this creative subculture? And, how does he match up against the common rules of being a hispter which populate so many online blogs?

D.H Lawrence the 21st century hipster.

D.H Lawrence the 21st century hipster.

1) Grow a hipster beard and hair

Facial hair for men (thankfully not women) is common with full and scruffy beards commonly grown by hipsters (with bonus points it seems for distinctive ginger beards). Lawrence took the decision to progress from a moustache to his now distinctive beard in 1914, saying:

“I’ve grown a red beard, behind which I shall take as much cover henceforth as I can, like a creature under a bush.”

In true Lawrence style this was a rebellious move against the norm. As the army allowed its soldiers only moustaches, the outbreak of World War One meant that the male population was shaving as never before.

Hipster hairstyles seem to vary but the overall look is either a messy, shaggy cut or edgy sculptured, quiffed hair. Described as the unruly mop on top which looked as though it never knew a combLawrence’s hair again appears to fit the hipster bill.

2) Be an early adopter

Not a fan of the increasing industrialisation he saw around him Lawrence was unlikely to have been the first in the queue for the latest technical gadget. However he was a literary pioneer pushing boundaries through his written work. His 1915 novel The Rainbow for example, which explores the topic of female sexuality, was seized by police and burned.

Today cursing in public and depiction of sexualised images is almost commonplace but in 1928 Lawrence was a Revolutionary and the world wasn’t ready for his novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover which he described as a bomb, adding: “Let’s hope it’ll explode and let in some fresh air.” The novel was published but heavily censored, due to what was regarded at the time as its pornographic content. But, while the scandal surrounding Lady Chatterley’s Lover was certainly notable in Lawrence’s own lifetime, it was not until the 1960 court case, when Penguin Books fought to publish the unexpurgated version of this novel, that both D.H. Lawrence and Lady Chatterley’s Lover became household names. Finally, the bomb did explode bringing in a new phase of openness to the 20th Century, ending the taboo on sexual discussion in art and entertainment.

3) Be prepared for critics

An online search for hipsters will no doubt bring up a collection of negative articles such as ‘Why we should hate hipsters’ with critics keen to derail hipster’s self-expression. Despite Lawrence’s liberal intentions his work frequently brought with it its share of negative reactions due to the perceived explicit nature of his work, leaving a trail of controversy in its path.

4) Become a master of reuse including wearing vintage clothes

Lawrence’s working class upbringing during the late Victorian period would have instilled in him the importance of being thrifty and reusing every material possible. Later in life, more due to economic necessity than anything else, the often penniless Lawrence, and his German wife Frieda, lived their lives frugally. Pursing a nomadic life travelling the world they would rent humble properties or stay in those of friends, living off the land and making their own clothes leading to Lawrence being described as a home-spun-clad figure’.

5) Be educated and creative

Hipsters are well read and educated, who tend to possess natural creativity. Born in 1885, in the mining town of Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, Lawrence with the help of his ambitious mother escaped the pull of the pit. Encouraged to read widely Lawrence would go onto attend University, as well as pursue his creative side through writing and art.

So was D. H. Lawrence a hipster?

Overall the most important rule of ‘hipster club’ is ‘never admit you are a hipster’, the second most important rule is ‘never admit you are a hipster’. If you truly are a hipster then you don’t need to try – it just comes naturally. We will never know if D. H. Lawrence would have worn Converse trainers or skinny jeans (although they would have suited his frail figure), sat listening to the latest emerging independent music or had the misguided belief that the pavement is a comfortable meeting area. The all-important ‘hipster image’ and fashion does not appear to have been important to Lawrence either. However if the general principle of being a hipster is to be a trailblazer, go outside the mainstream and to allude an effortless bohemian look then in many ways he cracked it. For someone who spent most of his life as an outsider, going against the grain, then this subculture could have provided him with a sense of belonging however Lawrence, being Lawrence, no doubt would have felt horribly uncomfortable being defined this way. Well, that’s got hipster written all over it.

Posted on 03 January 2014
Featured author: Natalie

Proud to represent the county I grew up in. Travel loving devoted mum of two who carries a torch for the city’s unsung hero, Captain Albert Ball VC.

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  • I found the article about D H Lawrence interesting and projecting him to today is a novel approach.

    Posted by Dacid Rose

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