My purpose in this entry is not to add to the already substantial criticism that exists on this novel from D.H. Lawrence, but rather to share with you my experience in reading it. This post, then, should be read as a collection of emotions, senses, and feelings that occurred during the course of reading Sons and Lovers, as opposed to a critical analysis based on its literary merit.
When Sons and Lovers begins with its slow burn of introducing the Morel family and then following them as they grow up (Part I), I was struck by how little story there is. The whole first section of the book is all about the characters and the relationships between them. When we get to Part II, where Paul and his relationship with Miriam, then Clara, and always his mother, take over, Lawrence almost drowns the reader in the emotional struggles that envelop the characters. I felt as if I were in the center of the passion, hate, and indifference that characterizes these relationships. Again, there is no story, other than the story of people falling into and out of love, consuming others in their passion, and pushing them away in their hate. If I sometimes felt Part I lagged, Part II was so intense as to render my personal thoughts and emotions, as they existed in the real world, superfluous. All that existed were the emotions Paul and Miriam, then Paul and Clara, felt for each other, while in the background, always, lurked Paul’s mother.
Much of the turmoil created in me upon reading this book reflected the complexities and turmoil of the characters themselves. Amazingly, while Lawrence gives a strong biographical outline of each character who falls into and out of love with Paul Morel, their characters become defined, as does Paul’s, through their interactions with him. In this way, both the relationships and the people are three-dimensional in their complexities, including the relationship between Paul’s mother and father. None of these emotions are subtle, and so the second half of the book burns with powerful feelings on the part of its protagonists. This psychological depiction of people’s wants and desires, particularly their sexual ones, must have shocked the polite society that was the first to read this book (though not as much as his later books would). Because Lawrence is so poetic and frank in his portrayals of the inner workings of the human heart, these portrayals still grip the reader in their emotional surgings. No other book has worked on me as this book has. I’ve felt elation, and the divine, in reading novels before, but never emotional exhaustion. In fact, the impact was so strong that I’m not sure if I could survive another book by him, for this novel digs so deep that I found my emotions in a jumble every time I put the book down — a jumble which took a good night’s sleep to untangle again. It felt as if I were in these relationships, myself, with all the pining and heartache that these relationships contained.
So, while Lawrence is not the greatest writer I have read, his first great novel (third overall) holds an undeniable, earthy power, one designed to leave the emotions of the reader frayed by its conclusion. This is not a book you will soon forget about once you’ve read it.