Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence
Setting: England, 1890s-1900s
Summary: Paul D. , the young son of a passionate woman who married a miner below her class and sensibility, attempts to forge through life, love and art, leaving two significant women casualties on the wayside of his overwhelming love for his mother.
Rating: 4.5 stars.
Comments: D. H. Lawrence’s novel caused uproar when it was published, just like many other books on the “100 Greatest Novels” list, which I am trying to catch up on. It is perhaps the most famous representation of the Oedipus myth in a novel, and is based largely on the author’s own life and upbringing by a woman who poured all of her pent up emotions onto her offspring, concentrating the most on her artist son Paul (a barely camouflaged D. H. Lawrence). Although scandalous in its time, it will not shock most modern readers. Indeed, they may be as caught up in the poetic descriptions of walks through woods as I was and not realize exactly what Lawrence means when he says that in between cherry trees a heroine, “relinquished herself to Paul“ (especially since it turns out she didn’t, at least not at that point). The frank discussions of sexuality are not excessive or in bad taste, but they must have been sensational in their time.
In spite of what might seem a rather dark central theme, I rather enjoyed the novel. I feel Lawrence was able to distance himself from his emotions enough to be able to see them and relate them quite clearly. While he makes his readers feel the turbulent passions of his protagonists, mostly Paul, he is capable of a rational, sometimes brutal analysis of their motives.
Critics long ago decried Mrs D as the most interesting character of the novel while splitting into two camps of her supporters and critics. I believe this conflicting appraisal of his mother is something Lawrence was aiming for. He gives readers enough glimpses into her soul to make her overpowering love for her sons plausible and indeed human; at the same time, the consequences of this inordinate connection to her sons are made disastrously clear.
Who should read this novel? Anyone who is interested in great literature and prepared for a very realistic journey into the souls of a mother, son, and two female companions who all loved “not wisely, but too much” (to paraphrase… ).