This marks my first experience of D.H. Lawrence, apart from practically memorizing a famous, passionate excerpt from “The Rainbow,” read during a grea...moreThis marks my first experience of D.H. Lawrence, apart from practically memorizing a famous, passionate excerpt from “The Rainbow,” read during a great episode of Northern Exposure (one of the greatest television shows of all time, in my humble opinion)…that excerpt may have generated some preconceived notions regarding the content of Sons and Lovers…in some ways, my predictions were correct…in others, wholly unmet and practically unfounded.
Sons and Lovers is the story of one family, the Morels, which filters into the story of one son in this family, named Paul. As though he absorbed the incredibly “bad vibes” in the Morel household during his fetal development, Paul comes into the world as an innocent baby with a palpable darkness and gloom about him— one inherited, perhaps, by the relentless struggle that binds him to his mother in a preternatural way from the very beginning.
And so, Paul grows in loneliness, frustration and despair, in a household that is patched together by a mother whose propriety is unmatched by many of the surrounding lower middle class mining families. This social backdrop is excellent fuel for social commentary, and Lawrence handles such timeless topics without being overbearing—and without diminishing the integrity of the story, which focuses on Paul’s internal and external conflicts.
In terms of what makes this a classic—Lawrence’s mastery of setting is undeniable…He utilizes the natural landscape as a sort of unyielding metaphor—you, as his reader, know Lawrence means business when he is writing about the “sleek, cool-fleshed fruit” of a cherry. It’s as though Lawrence uses the Earth as the most natural grounds for foreplay; his characters are at the mercy of the weather and the surrounding flora and fauna— they grow dumb and thick blooded at the site of a wet boulevard and seem to consider a row of poplars an open invitation for a raunchy romp in the thicket.
On the whole, the story of Paul Morel’s life and family made me feel more than unsettled... It was rather unpleasant to read about such a desolate and joyless existence as his, and filled me with a sense of fear—that people can actually suffer a fate as isolating and grim as his, his mother’s or his father’s. There is something very realistic about this novel—but the reality is peculiar and unique, as though it belongs to Lawrence alone. That this novel is, in fact, based on Lawrence’s own deeply personal experiences (as the son of a miner, whose relationship with his mother was unnaturally close by his own admission) is a testament to his sensitivity, introspectiveness and insight.
Read this one for the setting and insightfulness alone, and you’ll be able to gain something from it. It’s clear to me now—why Lawrence’s work is considered classic—and why Lawrence seems to be such an acquired taste.
I’ll end with one of my favorite segments from the earlier chapters in Sons and Lovers…Providing some context: Mrs. Morel and her husband just had a vicious fight. Mrs. Morel is several months along with her second child (Paul). She has been locked out of her house by her husband, who came home, senselessly drunk and raving. She is outdoors at night, still staggering from the severity of their argument:
“She became aware of something about her. With an effort she roused herself to see what it was that penetrated her consciousness. The tall white lilies were reeling in the moonlight, and the air was charged as with a presence. Mrs. Morel gasped slightly in fear. She touched the big, pallid flowers on their petals, then shivered. They seemed to be stretching in the moonlight. She put her hand into one white bin: the gold scarcely showed on her fingers in the moonlight. She bent down to look at the binful of yellow pollen; but it only appeared dusky. The she drank a deep draught of the scent. It almost made her dizzy...”
Some time passes and Mrs. Morel is finally allowed back into the house, shivering from the cold night. She has an empty, angry exchange with her husband and is getting ready for bed.
“…As she unfastened her brooch at the mirror, she smiled faintly to see her face all smeared with the yellow dust of the lilies. She brushed it off, and at last lay down. For some time her mind continued snapping and jetting sparks, but she was asleep before her husband awoke from the first sleep of his drunkenness.”
Something about her smiling in the mirror when she noticed the pollen caught me the way a poignant note in a song will. That Lawrence was able to convey such an intimate detail impressed me. It’s that sort of sensitivity that kept me engaged in this otherwise rather unpleasant account of a desolate, disconsolate life. (less)
This is the exact edition I read! I really did enjoy it, but I owe my enjoyment to my teacher...Without his encouragement and without class discussion...moreThis is the exact edition I read! I really did enjoy it, but I owe my enjoyment to my teacher...Without his encouragement and without class discussions, I don't think I would have extracted as much from this hunk a hunk o' Homer's brainchild.(less)