DH Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers

Hello all and welcome to another blog post!

So as you’ve probably been able to gather from my slightly delayed absence, I’ve had my nose buried in another book. This time, said book is DH Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, a semi-biographical novel which gives us as readers an interesting insight into what Lawrence’s life may have been like and also gives us a good number of lessons to learn about life and how it runs for different people in different spheres of existence. Not only this, but as a work in itself Sons and Lovers aims to show us how we might live our lives better, and in a more fulfilling manner.

Sons and Lovers deals with a number of themes, all of which seem to be fields that are not covered by many modern-day books. Is it because modern authors have a different take on them, or perhaps they are just not writing about them? It’s hard to tell. Lawrence is one of the classic English writers of the 1900s, and throughout a number of his novels (Lady Chatterley’s Lover, to mention one) he focuses on ideas of love, sex, and relationships among not just partners, but also families, and of the individual to society. These aren’t easy fields to write about, but Lawrence tackles them with a fluent and often very raw approach that allows readers to see exactly how life may have been for his characters, and in the case of Sons and Lovers the biographical element of the piece is explicitly evident throughout.

The novel has a number of characters that could be considered the ‘protagonists’, however like the characters the book seems to have stages of development where one character is ‘required’ over another and so focuses on said character. The start sees Gertrude Morel – a lady of character and distinction – marry a man who is below her class in society. He – Walter Morel – is a miner with a fiery temper and a young, lithe personality. The two marry “in a passion”, and so their four children – William, Annie, Paul and Arthur – all become people with a lust for life. William dies young of disease, after becoming engaged to a woman he calls ‘Gypsy’ – an upper class woman with a flair for the risque and carelessness in life. She does not fit in with the homely and down-to-earth lifestyle of the Morels, and this is when we first become aware that Gertrude’s opinions have great sway over her male children. William seems greatly concerned by his mother’s disapproval of his fiancee, and desperately seeks for her approval of the marriage. His death causes great upset for Gertrude, who the replaces William with her second son, Paul. Gertrude wants her boys to become ‘lovers’, to become the best men that they can be and to be there for their partners. As William died before he could become that kind of man, Gertrude focused on Paul after William’s death.

It is interesting to note that the marriage between Gertrude and Walter degraded very quickly after the initial first months. Psychologically speaking, it may be possible to surmise that in encouraging her boys to become ‘lovers’ Gertrude was trying to create for herself a man she could rely on, to act as a husband emotionally and to replace Walter in that respect. With Paul, she got her wish, but in the process disabled his ability to love another woman and have a relationship of his own even after she died of a cancerous growth.

As we see Paul mature throughout the novel, there are two main instances in which he attempts to pull away from his mother and falls in love with other women. The first of these is with Miriam Leivers, and for Paul his attraction to her lies in a strange soulful connection that he cannot seem to pull away from. He is at once joined to his mother through love for her as if she were his wife, and joined to Miriam through their shared ‘souls’. Through Miriam he meets his second interest, Clara Dawes, the separated wife of Baxter Dawes. He and Clara fall madly in love with one another, but Clara cannot bring herself to divorce her husband as she senses Paul’s attachment to his mother and his inability to give her (Clara) any of his affection. Paul himself is torn between the security and love he receives from Gertrude, and the possibility of breaking away from her and becoming his own man that Clara and Miriam represent.

It’s a messy situation that, inevitably, leaves Paul alone and very much feeling sorry for himself after Gertrude dies, Clara leaves him and Miriam he rejects because they cannot love each other completely, even after Gertrude’s death. He decides to ‘go abroad’ and follow his own path, but it is not known to what end this path leads him. Given that this is a heavily biographical work, as a reader it did make me curious to find out which parts of Sons and Lovers applied directly to Lawrence’s own life. Turns out the majority of it does. It is interesting to note that once the first draft of Sons and Lovers was completed Lawrence sent it to his then lover Jessie Chambers, who returned the manuscript unread and ceased all communications with Lawrence. He had based Miriam’s character on that of Jessie Chambers, and Jessie felt as if she had been betrayed and portrayed inaccurately by Lawrence. It is known that Lawrence was extremely close to his own mother, who did die of cancer as Gertrude did.

Plot and realism aside, one of the most interesting things to consider about Sons and Lovers is the point I was alluding to earlier: that writers of today don’t tend to write about these themes of life and love and relationships in such a way as Lawrence did. I wonder personally if perhaps there is simply a different timbre to life now, a fast pace and demand for excitement that is nothing like the slower, more leisurely way of functioning within society during the early 1900s. People often don’t have the time to spare for romance and deep thought on matters like this, or at least that’s what society tells us. So, what do people make of Sons and Lovers in the 21st Century?

My personal take on Sons and Lovers is that we do have much to learn, still, as human beings. People say that romance is dead, and that the 21st century is an age of progress and quick development. It’s always want want want and nobody takes the time to just sit back and appreciate the flowers in their own special way, even if it’s just to check on how tall they are, what they smell like, or the way the colours blend together so harmoniously. Like Paul – and like Lawrence, when people set out they don’t know what lies ahead of them. Perhaps Sons and Lovers could be a reminder, to maybe just slow down and appreciate what you’ve got and stop wanting so much and so quickly for a while. But it could also be a warning, to develop as an individual person and so experience life on your own terms.

I’ll let you, dear readers, make up your own minds on what Sons and Lovers could mean in this new age and what you might take away from it. But, at the end of the day, it’s a book that speaks of a journey, and of personal growth. And perhaps we can all learn from it, to improve our lives in one small way or another.

Oh, and it certainly one I would recommend and intend to read again.

Stay tuned for my next update and second entry to the ‘Women as Writers’ series!

Never stop reading;

AdmiralCarter

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