A reconsideration of the author of Lady Chatterly's Lover by an avowed admirer, focusing on his decade of superhuman writing and travel between 1915, when The Rainbow was suppressed following an obscenity trial, and 1925, when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis.
Wilson’s target is less a straightforward biography than a sifting of Lawrence’s legacy for what remains urgent and alive, the aim being to shed its infernal baggage in search of an abiding paradise. One threat to her Dante comparison is how remote from heaven Lawrence increasingly appears, his attachment to the physical world growing shriller the weaker his grip on it becomes. But these tensions are all part of the drama ... Wilson’s Guilty Thing, her life of Thomas De Quincey, is one of the finest recent literary biographies. Partial portrait though it is, Burning Man is in the same league ... this is a book that performs a rare and laudable task: of saving a writer, posthumously, from himself. We are all beneficiaries of Wilson’s articulate and persuasive advocacy.
... an ambitious biography ... Lawrence was a procession of one, 'the sole member of his own party' as his biographer neatly puts it. It is to the author’s great credit, then, that hardly any of the vast pile of dirt that has accumulated around Lawrence in the 90-odd years since his death is swept under the carpet ... Lawrence is certainly the victim in Burning Man, as well as being its hero and also, you infer, its agent provocateur ... Ms. Wilson is good on the self-consciously performative aspects of the Lawrences’ union ... Far from being a conventional life and times, Burning Man is a triptych based on a Dante-esque pattern, full of highly imaginative detours into Lawrentian dualism ... there is something rather satisfying about the final conundrum that Frances Wilson sets out to solve.
Frances Wilson, who has been quietly in thrall to the novelist since she was a student, does not grill him lightly over charcoal; not for her the righteous disgust of Kate Millett ... Nevertheless, her book is a highly flammable thing. If its subject is a crazed prophet, sex-obsessed and violently contrarian, who stalks Bloomsbury drawing rooms breathing fire all over everyone he meets, her own style is hardly any less combustible ... I cannot recall when last I felt so uncertain of a book’s essential merit, so confused by its intensity, its digressions, the way it disappears down wormholes. But equally, I cannot remember the last time one left me feeling so exhilarated, so challenged and absorbed. Will it restore Lawrence’s reputation? Will it make people want to read the old fox again? I’m not sure it matters if it doesn’t. Burning Man is a work of art in its own right, as wanton and as magnificently flawed as anything Lawrence ever wrote; an object lesson in all that can happen when literary passion is allowed to go completely mad in the archives ... There are longueurs. I was bored and confused by the more than 100 pages she gives over to Lawrence’s escapades with Magnus. Were the two men lovers, or not? ... But Wilson writes so brilliantly, and with such conviction. If you believe, as I do, that to live life well is to fail in ways that may be unimaginably huge, this strange and confounding book is for you.