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D.H. Lawrence - Sons and Lovers Legolas Send a noteboard - 15/10/2011 06:21:51 PM
Came across this in an Istanbul second-hand bookshop (along with Baroness Orczy's Scarlet Pimpernel), and figured I needed to read it at one point anyway, so might as well do it now, to get a break from the Qur'an. I did a quick search to see if someone's reviewed it yet here, and apparently nobody has yet, though Larry mentioned it once on his list of five best British books. I'm not sure I would go as far, but it wouldn't be far off - top ten, easily.

Sons and Lovers is, as the very helpful introduction to my (Penguin) copy explains, based on the author's own life (and that of his mother) almost to the point of being an autobiography. The novel starts with the marriage of his mother - from a lower middle class Puritan family in northern England - and his father, a jovial and intelligent but uneducated miner, in the final quarter of the nineteenth century. The marriage is not a happy one, and before long the mother has shifted her affections entirely to her children, particularly her sons William and Paul (Lawrence's alter ego). Paul comes of age and tries to make his own way in the world, professionally and romantically, but is hampered by his unusually close bond with his mother. He has romantic and - eventually - sexual relationships with two extremely different women, but in the end neither relationship works out, due to his mother, his issues and the women's own complicated emotional background.

The bond between mother and son is the most important theme of the book, and it's probably fair to say that writing this novel was of crucial importance in Lawrence's eventual success in detaching himself sufficiently to become an independent adult. The early drafts of the novel were written at a time when he still adored his mother and saw her as a tormented saint; as he started to realize she wasn't blameless for the ruin of her marriage, and even in a sense responsible for Lawrence's own romantic failures, the tone of the book became more conflicted. The book was published in 1913, when he was 28, a few years after his mother's death and his encounter with his future wife, Frieda (who doesn't appear in the novel) - after both Frieda and Lawrence's first girlfriend, "Miriam" in the novel, had read the drafts and offered critiques and suggestions.

Basing one's novels so directly on one's own life may seem like a sign of unoriginality, and it certainly is liable to hurt one's relationships with family and loved ones ("Miriam" was understandably unhappy with how the novel depicted her and would eventually publish an actual autobiography to set the record "straight" ). But on the other hand, all authors draw on their own experiences to some extent, and it's doubtful if Lawrence could have written as powerful a novel if he had gone further out of his way to invent an original plot on which to hang his themes. And he doesn't hide or excuse his own shortcomings - Paul is as flawed and well-rounded a character as the three women in his life.

What I also liked about the novel, though I suppose that isn't strictly speaking Lawrence's merit, is that it shows us romantic relationships in a time when they were very much evolving, at an early stage of both women's emancipation (Clara, Paul's second girlfriend, is a separated suffragette) and the liberalizing of attitudes towards sex, compared to Victorian times. Miriam's character in particular is fascinating in this regard - very Victorian in some regards, surprisingly modern in others. And for the most part the characters are working class, not middle class, as in most other great novels dealing with romantic relationships in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century (Madame Bovary comes to mind), which makes things more interesting as well (Paul's reverse snobbism about class becomes clear at one point when he proudly calls himself working class, even though he has far more in common with the middle class).

Sons and Lovers is a great book and I highly recommend it. The main characters are well fleshed-out (though Clara less so than the others), and Lawrence manages to turn his not particularly eventful life into a great read, with interesting things to say both about the relationships between men and women at that time and place, and about those relationships in general. The book will of course be most valuable to those who share my fascination with that historical period (besides many others, of course), but I don't think you have to be a fan of historical fiction to appreciate this book. If one can like Austen and see the relevance of her novels in this day and age, well, Lawrence is rather less cheerful, but certainly as good and as relevant, if not more so.
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D.H. Lawrence - Sons and Lovers - 15/10/2011 06:21:51 PM 7762 Views
I have yet to read this one - 16/10/2011 09:16:09 AM 1307 Views
Nice review. - 17/10/2011 05:44:27 PM 3958 Views
I was just thinking about reading this. - 24/10/2011 05:04:14 AM 1557 Views

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