David Herbert Lawrence was born in 1885, as the son of a Nottinghamshire miner. He had a great gift for writing, with which he wrote a great number of short stories and novels. He also wrote some remarkable poetry. His work was often seen as sensation literature, something from which Lawrence suffered very much, since it was not his intention.
In 1913 one of his more famous novels called ‘Sons and lovers’ was first published. It was a psychological novel, as well as an autobiographical novel.
Outline of the novel
Walter Morel, a sensual but practically illiterate man, marries the proud, intellectual and refined Gertrude. Their marriage is a failure, because they can not fully satisfy their different needs. Walter turns to drinking and brutalising the family, while Gertrude seeks refuge in the love of her children, especially that of William. William is the oldest of four. He is the one who receives all the love and affection his mother can no longer give to her husband. This way Walter becomes even more isolated.
William tries hard to live up to his mothers expectations. He succeeds, since he is an intelligent and ambitious gentleman. But after a while he becomes engaged with a shallow supercilious girl. He knows she would not please his mother and make a suitable wife, still he remains engaged to her out of sense of guilt. She makes him work hard to pay for her expenses. This way he falls ill of pneumonia, and eventually dies.
His mother is devastated by the death of her oldest son and slowly fades away. Though she is saved when her younger son, Paul falls dangerously ill. She feels very guilty for neglecting him all the time. ‘I should have watched the living, not the dead’ (page 175).
Paul survives and falls in love with Miriam, a mystically romantic and spiritually refined young woman. Gertrude does not like this woman and sees her as a rival, for she feels that Miriam wants to absorb Paul completely and make him exactly like her. Paul slowly finds out that their relationship can not work out, they are too different. Miriam is disgusted by the idea of physical love, while Paul believes it is necessary to have both spiritual and physical love for a perfect relationship.
Miriam feels Paul slipping away from her, but still believes they were meant for each other. She decides to test his love for her, by introducing him to Mrs. Clare Dawns, a beautiful woman, who lives separated from her husband. Paul falls for Clara’s charms, to the great horror of Miriam. Miriam makes a desperate attempt for winning him back, by surrendering her body to him. Paul seems to love her deeply, but he could feel her revulsion while making love to her.
Paul turns his affection fully to Clara, who satisfies his need for physical contact. Their relationship could have worked out, especially considering Gertrude liked Clara very much. It didn’t work out though, because Clara was unhappy with Paul, for he did not satisfy her spiritual needs. Her husband Baxter Dawes, satisfied him better, even though he brutalised her.
On one night Paul encounters Baxter and ends up in a fight with him. Paul visits Baxter in the hospital and thus began a strange relationship between Baxter and Paul. Paul finds out that Baxter still loves his wife deeply and eventually, he brings them back together.
In the meanwhile, Gertrude is terribly ill from a tumour. She has had the tumour for a long time, but did not pay any attention to it. She slowly falls more and more ill, but even though she suffers a lot, she stays proud and refuses to give in. Paul on the other hand can not stand seeing her suffer this much and decides to give her an overdose of morphine.
Paul feels terrible that he has given her an overdose and even wants to join her in the grave. When he meets Miriam by the grave of his mother, he realises they were more apart then ever and that he was all alone in the world. Still he decides to not give in, he clenches his fists and is determined to live on.
The main theme of ‘Sons and lovers’ is love: at the same time being the principal means of human contact and the cause of inner struggle and frustration. Lawrence believes in order to obtain the perfect love, there must be a harmony in a relationship between spiritual and physical love. Miriam satisfies Paul’s spiritual needs, his longing for physical love is satisfied in his affair with Clara. But in both cases, the relationship only satisfies one of his needs, this way both relationships are bound to be unhappy.
The plot is organised in a special and careful manner. The marriage between Gertrude and Walter fails, because the differences between them are too great. Walter is a primitive and non-intellectual man, who enjoys life as pure and as it comes, without moral restrictions. Gertrude on the other hand, is very refined, intellectual and conventional. Since she and her husband do not live a rich and pleasant life, she wants her children to climb the social ladder and find happiness there.
There are several results of this conflict:
- Because the mother can no longer give love to her husband, she seeks refuge and consolation in her children. She lists them on her side in the battle against the father, this way becoming more and more isolated.
- William seeks, even though unconsciously, for a woman who is refined like his mother. This way he becomes engaged with a shallow and supercilious girl, who merely pretends to be refined. She slowly drains the life out of him by making him work hard for her expenses. William dies of tuberculosis a little while later.
Gertrude is devastated by the loss of her son, and slowly fades away. Ironically, she is saved when Paul falls dangerously ill. She now realises she has neglected him, and now focuses all her love and attention on Paul.
- The relationship between Paul and Miriam somehow resembles the relationship between Gertrude and Walter; they are both separated by too great differences. Walter and Gertrude are separated because Walter is very sensual and Gertrude is very intellectual; Paul and Miriam are separated by the fact that Miriam is a very spiritual person. She believes that the perfect love does not need sex. Paul on the other hand thinks that in a relationship there must be both spiritual as physical love. This is also the reason why he separated from Clara; she fulfilled his sexual needs, but not his spiritual ones.
The setting of the story
The story is set in a colliery district in the early 1900’s. Walter is a miner, which means the family is very poor, especially when Walter gets older and can not work as much as before. Because the family is so poor and low in class, Gertrude thinks it’s very important for her children to have a decent education, so that way they can climb the social ladder.
The novel is written in two main parts, divided in several smaller chapters. In the first part, chapters I to VI, Lawrence describes the situation Paul grows up in. The second part, chapters
VII to XV, tells the events that occur to Paul.
It is written in the third person, with Lawrence as an omniscient narrator. By his long and intense descriptions, Lawrence takes you right into the psyche of the characters, which is why it is a psychological novel. Sometimes the novel even seems a bit poetically, an effect caused by his intense way of writing and the frequent use of symbols. One of the main symbols in the novel is the ashtree: every time it appears, disaster strikes.
My personal opinion
When I first saw the novel, published by Penguin Books, I regretted my choice of novel, because the picture on he front wasn’t very inviting to read. Sometimes I got a little bored too while reading ‘Sons and Lovers’, when the descriptions of a character or object became too explicit (and I was in a bad mood).Yet, overall, I can say I loved the novel.
I used the summaries and essays, found on the Internet. Though I was surprised there was very little information about ‘Sons and lovers’.
The picture on the front comes from the Encarta ‘98 CD-ROM
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