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Sons and Lovers
Sons and Lovers is a 1913 novel by the English writer D. H. Lawrence, originally published by B.W. Huebsch Publishers. The Modern Library placed it ninth on their list of the 100 best novels of the 20th century. While the novel initially received a lukewarm critical reception, along with allegations of obscenity, it is today regarded as a masterpiece by many critics and is often regarded as Lawrence's finest achievement.
Development and publication history
The third published novel of D. H. Lawrence, taken by many to be his earliest masterpiece, tells the story of Paul Morel, a young man and budding artist.
The original 1913 edition was heavily edited by Edward Garnett who removed 80 passages, roughly a tenth of the text. The novel is dedicated to Garnett. Garnett, as the literary advisor to the publishing firm Duckworth, was an important figure in leading Lawrence farther into the London literary world during the years 1911 and 1912. It was not until the 1992 Cambridge University Press edition was released that the missing text was restored.
Lawrence began working on the novel in the period of his mother's illness, and often expresses this sense of his mother's wasted life through his female protagonist Gertrude Morel. Letters written around the time of its development clearly demonstrate the admiration he felt for his mother – viewing her as a 'clever, ironical, delicately moulded woman' — and her apparently unfortunate marriage to his coal-miner father, a man of 'sanguine temperament' and instability. He believed that his mother had married below her class status. Lydia Lawrence wasn't born into the middle-class. This personal family conflict experienced by Lawrence provided him with the impetus for the first half of his novel – in which both William, the older brother, and Paul Morel become increasingly contemptuous of their father – and the subsequent exploration of Paul Morel's antagonising relationships with both his lovers, which are both incessantly affected by his allegiance to his mother.
The first draft of Lawrence's novel is now lost and was never completed, which seems to be directly due to his mother's illness. He did not return to the novel for three months, at which point it was titled 'Paul Morel'. The penultimate draft of the novel coincided with a remarkable change in Lawrence's life, as his health was thrown into turmoil and he resigned his teaching job to spend time in Germany. This plan was never followed, however, as he met and married the German minor aristocrat, Frieda Weekley, who was the wife of a former professor of his at the University of Nottingham. According to Frieda's account of their first meeting, she and Lawrence talked about Oedipus and the effects of early childhood on later life within twenty minutes of meeting.
The third draft of 'Paul Morel' was sent to the publishing house Heinemann; the response, a rather violent reaction, came from William Heinemann himself. His reaction captures the shock and newness of Lawrence's novel, 'the degradation of the mother [as explored in this novel], supposed to be of gentler birth, is almost inconceivable'; he encouraged Lawrence to redraft the novel one more time. In addition to altering the title to a more thematic 'Sons and Lovers', Heinemann's response had reinvigorated Lawrence into vehemently defending his novel and its themes as a coherent work of art. To justify its form, Lawrence explains, in letters to Garnett, that it is a 'great tragedy' and a 'great book', one that mirrors the 'tragedy of thousands of young men in England'.
Lawrence rewrote the work four times until he was happy with it. Although before publication the work was usually titled Paul Morel, Lawrence finally settled on Sons and Lovers.
The refined daughter of a "good old burgher family," Gertrude Coppard meets a rough-hewn miner, Walter Morel, at a Christmas dance and falls into a whirlwind romance characterised by physical passion. But soon after her marriage to Walter, she realises the difficulties of living off his meagre salary in a rented house. The couple fight and drift apart and Walter retreats to the pub after work each day. Gradually, Mrs. Morel's affections shift to her sons beginning with the oldest, William.
As a boy, William is so attached to his mother that he doesn't enjoy the fair without her. As he grows older, he defends her against his father's occasional violence. Eventually, he leaves their Nottinghamshire home for a job in London, where he begins to rise up into the middle class. He is engaged, but he detests the girl's superficiality. He dies and Mrs. Morel is heartbroken, but when Paul catches pneumonia she rediscovers her love for her second son.
Both repulsed by and drawn to his mother, Paul is afraid to leave her but wants to go out on his own, and needs to experience love. Gradually, he falls into a relationship with Miriam, a farmer's daughter who attends his church. The two take long walks and have intellectual conversations about books but Paul resists, in part because his mother disapproves. At Miriam's family's farm, Paul meets Clara Dawes, a young woman with, apparently, feminist sympathies who has separated from her husband, Baxter.
After pressuring Miriam into a physical relationship, which he finds unsatisfying, Paul breaks with her as he grows more intimate with Clara, who is more passionate physically. But even she cannot hold him and he returns to his mother. When his mother dies soon after, he is alone.
Lawrence summarised the plot in a letter to Edward Garnett on 12 November 1912:
Literary significance and criticism
The critic Harold Bloom listed Sons and Lovers in his The Western Canon (1994) as one of the books that have been important and influential in Western culture. In 1999, the Modern Library ranked Sons and Lovers ninth on a list of the 100 best novels in English of the 20th century.
The novel contains a frequently quoted use of the English dialect word "nesh". The speech of several protagonists is represented in Lawrence's written interpretation of the Nottinghamshire dialect, which also features in several of his poems.
Film, TV and theatrical adaptations
Sons and Lovers has been adapted for the screen several times, including the Academy Award winning 1960 film, a 1981 BBC TV serial and another on ITV1 in 2003. The 2003 serial has been issued on DVD by Acorn Media UK.