I have long been interested in the work of D. H. Lawrence. His reputation as one of the greatest novelists of the past one hundred years, as well as the censorship battles at the turn of the last century which led to some of his works being banned in England until the 1960’s were all reasons which led me, finally, to read him. I started with Sons and Lovers, which was originally published in 1913.
Sons and Lovers takes place in Nottingham near the coalfields. Paul Morel is one of three “sons” in the story and Miriam, Mrs. Clara Dawes as well as Paul’s mother, Mrs. Gertrude Morel are all the “lovers”. Mrs. Morel is married to a husband who pays her no attention, and who would rather go out all night drinking. She is thus devoted to her two oldest boys, William and Paul, and from an early age they are coddled to excess. They develop into mama’s boys who cannot make any decision without thinking of the effect it would have on their mother. When William dies after a brief illness, Mrs. Morel becomes almost frightfully attached to Paul, and their exchanges seem incestuous with the terms of endearment they use. Paul’s feelings towards his mother seem nothing less than Oedipean. The tender words exchanged between mother and son are far more passionate than the dialogue between either of Paul’s lovers, Miriam or Clara. Since I had not read about the plot of Sons and Lovers before I started the novel, I did not know if mother and son would develop a sexual relationship. It certainly seemed plausible by their dialogue. Since Paul confesses to his mother, as well as to his two lovers, that he can never marry them (and they soon figure out why) it is not far-fetched to imagine that possibility.
There is much passion in the story and the sex that takes place is subdued and not even written about in euphemism. Quite abruptly the younger characters turn on their lovers and Sons and Lovers suffers, in my opinion, from an overabundance of phrases such as “She hated him for it” or other such phrases using “detest” in its place. One minuscule fly in the ointment of sweet caresses might turn Miriam instantly against Paul with a phrase such as that. It grew tiresome to read that once again Paul “hates” Clara or that Miriam suddenly “detested” Paul.
Clara Dawes is separated from her husband Baxter yet both see other people on the side. One hundred years ago it might have seemed scandalous for a British woman who was still legally married to be seen in public courting other gentlemen. Clara’s mother, Mrs. Radford, was my favourite minor character in that she spoke like someone who has seen everything and wasn’t afraid to call a spade a spade. She spoke her mind and provided comic relief. She was also likely a target for the censors of one hundred years ago for her degree of openness.
I enjoyed Sons and Lovers for its descriptions of working-class England at the start of the 1900’s. Lawrence writes some characters’ dialogue in Nottingham dialect which fortunately was not difficult to decipher, despite the abundance of apostrophes and briticisms. Lawrence finds new ways to describe the countryside and flowers, coaly skies and hazy mornings. It was a delight to read his inventive descriptions for such dismal and dreary images. I plan to read more of Lawrence this year and thoroughly enjoyed Sons and Lovers.