Hi, friends. Today’s classic work reads like a Victorian familial story with a strong Modernist influence, but the main characters are from the working class, whereas most Victorian novels center on the, err, financially comfortable. [Sons and Lovers was written right after the Victorian period, smack dab in the Second Industrial Revolution aka Technological Revolution, right before WWI.] Apologies that the length was hard to limit on this one, but feel free to skim the bold sentences.
Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
Sons and Lovers, published in 1913, is a story that spans two generations and centers on a working-class family in Nottinghamshire, England. The first half of the novel observes the early days of marriage and children in the Morel family. The novel begins by describing the neighborhood where the Morels live, outlining the picture of their family life. Gertrude Morel, referred to as Mrs. Morel, is a no-nonsense puritan who married Walter Morel, an unintellectual miner who works long and hard but drinks away most of the money. The sharp Mrs. Morel raises a household of four children on a small allowance, but despite marital issues (even some domestic violence), the early years are good because the children give her life. She primarily latches onto her eldest sons, William and Paul. Due to events I won’t spoil, the second half of the novel focuses on Paul, though Mrs. Morel is still a vital character. Paul is a budding artist, but his development into a man is undergirded by his inability to “give himself emotionally” to the women he pursues because of his matriarchal loyalty (which Mrs. Morel willfully exploits). He’s an oddball: moody sometimes yet charming at other times, financially/socially successful yet emotionally stunted.
The novel is kind of strange but psychoanalytically intriguing (alludes to the Oedipus Complex). It is not physically incestuous; it merely explores the tension in mother-son relationships where the mother invests her whole self into her son (often due to an unfulfilling marriage, at least in this era) while the son struggles to become his own person.
Lawrence rewrote the book multiple times and edited it for years. The working title was Paul Morel. The story contains a lot of autobiographical influence because Lawrence A. grew up in a coal mining family and B. had several romantic affairs himself.
Many scholars consider this Lawrence’s best novel. Many criticize the novel primarily because they dislike Paul as a protagonist, calling him misogynistic and slimy. We shouldn’t assume that Lawrence condones all of Paul’s actions/attitudes; after all, he did write one of Paul’s lovers as a feminist suffragette.
The novel has been adapted for the screen multiple times, but the 1960 film version earned nominations for several Academy Awards.
Fun fact: William Heinemann, founder of Heinemann publishing house (published works from Rudyard Kipling, H.G. Wells, Sylvia Plath, etc), reacted angrily to the third and final draft of the novel, declaring “the degradation of the mother, supposed to be of gentler birth, is almost inconceivable.” Lawrence justified the novel, claiming that it illustrates “the tragedy of thousands of young men in England.”
Thanks for reading! Have you read any other works by Lawrence? Perhaps the best remembered is Lady Chatterley’s Lover (which I just bought and plan to read).