My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Sons and Lovers by David Herbert Lawrence is a profound novel about love, if explained in a few words. And yet, you can’t limit it to that. Published in 1913, it received a lukewarm response but today, it is considered a classic masterpiece by many. How the book discusses the complexity of love and relationships and draws a contrast between nature and industry is, according to me, quite exceptional!
The story begins with a landscape of a mining town, urging the readers to see everything as it is. The third party omniscient narration first talks about Mrs. Gertrude Morel, who has married a miner, someone who is downward in caste to her people. Morel is an illiterate, an alcoholic and a simple minded man, with violent outbursts towards his wife and kids. Taking it fast forward, Mrs. Morel has three sons(William, Paul and Arthur) and a daughter(Annie), all of whom despise their father in their own ways, with a slight exception of the youngest boy, Arthur.
The mother who has never found happiness from her husband strives to look for it in her sons. In some way, she takes first the eldest, William, and then, the second eldest, Paul, as her lovers. (The story is not about incest, but rather about deep rooted feelings of companionship and adoration)
But her love for them makes all their lives crumble. The two sons could never love any woman through and through and that is what makes them miserable and suicidal. Paul (a character envisaged in similarity to the author himself) derives a bond of spiritual love with a farmer’s daughter, Miriam, who worships him. They have a relationship of mind, intellect and spirit. Paul also begins a passionate affair with a married woman, Mrs. Clare Dawes, who stays away from her husband. The harder they may try, they could never have Paul as a whole person.
Paul’s relationship with his mother is mingled with love and its produce, hatred. Sometimes, they are lovers enjoying a visit to different places and sometimes, they are distant to each other, brooding in their own worlds. Mrs. Morel could not approve of her sons’ lovers, her sons can’t devote themselves to their lovers, the lovers can never have enough of the sons, and everyone suffers in this overwhelming propinquity.
In the nexus of these characters, Lawrence brings forth a story of coming of age, of family, of love and hate, of relationships that are indefinable.
Some thoughts about the book:
1. The book was quite scandalous on its release, with its open portrayal of sex and related symbolic imagery. Lawrence has a knack for depicting the sensual moments in the form of colors, textures, and flowers, depicted in the scene.
2. The three lady characters: Mrs. Morel, Miriam, and Clara, form a circle around the male protagonist, Paul.
Mrs. Morel is the conscientious mother who has devoted her life and love to her sons. She derives happiness from Paul’s successes in painting. Paul succeeds for his mother. They have a bond deeply rooted in their need for each other. They make a whole, which no one is allowed to penetrate and if one does, one can’t stay for long. This relationship is naturally attributed to The Oedipean complex.
3. Miriam is my favorite character in the novel, and the most intricately structured, according to me. She is shy, introvert and deeply religious and finds first intellect and then, a love that goes beyond the realms of the world, in Paul. She is someone who lives for the afterlife much more than the life itself. Paul describes her love as, “You don’t want to love-your eternal and abnormal craving is to be loved. You aren’t positive, you’re negative. You absorb, absorb, as if you must fill yourself up with love, because you’ve got a shortage somewhere.”
4. Clara is a feminist, and yet, she is confused in her resolve. She is stuck between her husband and her lover, Paul. Paul’s relationship with Clara is that of passion, which withers with time. Clara is not a main character, but you can’t ignore her either.
5. The writing is impeccable; the sentences are short and poetic. The words weave living and breathing images and the complexity of the love is so finely articulated in these pages. This is a book which tends to get boring in between due to repetition, but that repetition is also necessary. It is quite long and is intended to be read patiently. It took me about 8-9 days for reading it.
Quoting an excerpt from the novel,
“To know their own nothingness, to know the tremendous living flood which carried them always, gave them rest within themselves. If so great a magnificent power could overwhelm them, identify them altogether with itself, so that they knew they were only grains in the tremendous heave that lifted every grass blade, its little height, and every tree, and living thing, then why fret about themselves?”
I would recommend this book to patient readers, who loves the art of language and the need for the understanding of love and relationships. It is quite a depressing read, and that must be taken into account before you decide to hurl yourself into this story.