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D.H. Lawrence

 

 

D.H. Lawrence

English writer
in full David Herbert Lawrence

born September 11, 1885, Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, England
died March 2, 1930, Vence, France

Main
English author of novels, short stories, poems, plays, essays, travel books, and letters. His novels Sons and Lovers (1913), The Rainbow (1915), and Women in Love (1920) made him one of the most influential English writers of the 20th century.

Youth and early career
Lawrence was the fourth child of a north Midlands coal miner who had worked from the age of 10, was a dialect speaker, a drinker, and virtually illiterate. Lawrence’s mother, who came from the south of England, was educated, refined, and pious. Lawrence won a scholarship to Nottingham High School (1898–1901) and left at 16 to earn a living as clerk in a factory, but he had to give up work after a first attack of pneumonia. While convalescing, he began visiting the Haggs Farm nearby and began an intense friendship (1902–10) with Jessie Chambers. He became a pupil-teacher in Eastwood in 1902 and performed brilliantly in the national examination. Encouraged by Jessie, he began to write in 1905; his first story was published in a local newspaper in 1907. He studied at University College, Nottingham, from 1906 to 1908, earning a teacher’s certificate, and went on writing poems and stories and drafting his first novel, The White Peacock.

The Eastwood setting, especially the contrast between mining town and unspoiled countryside, the life and culture of the miners, the strife between his parents, and its effect on his tortured relationship with Jessie all became themes of Lawrence’s early short stories and novels. He kept on returning to Eastwood in imagination long after he had left it in fact.

In 1908 Lawrence went to teach in Croydon, a London suburb. Jessie Chambers sent some of his poems to Ford Madox Hueffer (Ford Madox Ford), editor of the influential English Review. Hueffer recognized his genius, the Review began to publish his work, and Lawrence was able to meet such rising young writers as Ezra Pound. Hueffer recommended The White Peacock to the publisher William Heinemann, who published it in 1911, just after the death of Lawrence’s mother, his break with Jessie, and his engagement to Louie Burrows. His second novel, The Trespasser (1912), gained the interest of the influential editor Edward Garnett, who secured the third novel, Sons and Lovers, for his own firm, Duckworth. In the crucial year of 1911–12 Lawrence had another attack of pneumonia. He broke his engagement to Louie and decided to give up teaching and live by writing, preferably abroad. Most importantly, he fell in love and eloped with Frieda Weekley (née von Richthofen), the aristocratic German wife of a professor at Nottingham. The couple went first to Germany and then to Italy, where Lawrence completed Sons and Lovers. They were married in England in 1914 after Frieda’s divorce.


Sons and Lovers
Lawrence’s first two novels, first play, and most of his early short stories, including such masterpieces as Odour of Chrysanthemums and Daughters of the Vicar (collected in The Prussian Officer, and Other Stories, 1914), use early experience as a departure point. Sons and Lovers carries this process to the point of quasi-autobiography. The book depicts Eastwood and the Haggs Farm, the twin poles of Lawrence’s early life, with vivid realism. The central character, Paul Morel, is naturally identified as Lawrence; the miner-father who drinks and the powerful mother who resists him are clearly modeled on his parents; and the painful devotion of Miriam Leivers resembles that of Jessie Chambers. An older brother, William, who dies young, parallels Lawrence’s brother Ernest, who met an early death. In the novel, the mother turns to her elder son William for emotional fulfillment in place of his father. This section of the original manuscript was much reduced by Garnett before publication. Garnett’s editing not only eliminated some passages of sexual outspokenness but also removed as repetitive structural elements that constitute the establishment of a pattern in the mother’s behaviour and that explain the plural nouns of the title. When William dies, his younger brother Paul becomes the mother’s mission and, ultimately, her victim. Paul’s adolescent love for Miriam is undermined by his mother’s dominance; though fatally attracted to Miriam, Paul cannot be sexually involved with anyone so like his mother, and the sexual relationship he forces on her proves a disaster. He then, in reaction, has a passionate affair with a married woman, Clara Dawes, in what is the only purely imaginary part of the novel. Clara’s husband is a drunken workingman whom she has undermined by her social and intellectual superiority, so their situation mirrors that of the Morels. Though Clara wants more from him, Paul can manage sexual passion only when it is split off from commitment; their affair ends after Paul and Dawes have a murderous fight, and Clara returns to her husband. Paul, for all his intelligence, cannot fully grasp his own unconscious motivations, but Lawrence silently conveys them in the pattern of the plot. Paul can only be released by his mother’s death, and at the end of the book, he is at last free to take up his own life, though it remains uncertain whether he can finally overcome her influence. The whole narrative can be seen as Lawrence’s psychoanalytic study of his own case, a young man’s struggle to gain detachment from his mother.


The Rainbow and Women in Love
During World War I Lawrence and his wife were trapped in England and living in poverty. At this time he was engaged in two related projects. The first was a vein of philosophical writing that he had initiated in the “Foreword” to Sons and Lovers and continued in “Study of Thomas Hardy” (1914) and later works. The other, more important project was an ambitious novel of provincial life that Lawrence rewrote and revised until it split into two major novels: The Rainbow, which was immediately suppressed in Britain as obscene; and Women in Love, which was not published until 1920. In the meantime the Lawrences, living in a cottage in remote Cornwall, had to endure growing suspicion and hostility from their rural neighbours on account of Lawrence’s pacifism and Frieda’s German origins. They were expelled from the county in 1917 on suspicion of signaling to German submarines and spent the rest of the war in London and Derbyshire. Though threatened with military conscription, Lawrence wrote some of his finest work during the war.

It was also a period of personal crisis. Lawrence and Frieda fought often; Frieda had always felt free to have lovers. Following a 1915 visit to Cambridge, where he met Bertrand Russell, Maynard Keynes, and other members of the Cambridge secret society known as the Apostles, Lawrence began to question his own sexual orientation. This internal conflict, which was resolved a few years later, is evident in the abandoned first chapter of Women in Love.

In The Rainbow, the first of the novels of this period, Lawrence extends the scope of Sons and Lovers by following the Brangwen family (who live near Eastwood) over three generations, so that social and spiritual change are woven into the chronicle. The Brangwens begin as farmers so attached to the land and the seasons as to represent a premodern unconsciousness, and succeeding generations in the novel evolve toward modern consciousness, self-consciousness, and even alienation. The book’s early part, which is poetic and mythical, records the love and marriage of Tom Brangwen with the widowed Polish exile Lydia in the 1860s. Lydia’s child Anna marries a Brangwen cousin, Will, in the 1880s. These two initially have a stormy relationship but subside into conventional domesticity anchored by work, home, and children. Expanding consciousness is transmitted to the next generation, Lawrence’s own, in the person of their daughter Ursula. The last third of the novel describes Ursula’s childhood relationship with her father and her passionate but unsuccessful romantic involvement with the soldier Anton Skrebensky. Ursula’s attraction toward Skrebensky is negated by his social conventionality, and her rejection of him is symbolized by a sexual relationship in which she becomes dominant. Ursula miscarries their child, and at the novel’s end she is left on her own in a convalescence like Paul Morel’s, facing a difficult future before World War I. There was an element of war hysteria in the legal suppression of the book in 1915, but the specific ground was a homoerotic episode between Ursula and a female teacher. Lawrence was marked as a subversive writer.

Women in Love takes up the story, but across the gap of changed consciousness created by World War I. The women of the title are Ursula, picking up her life, still at home, and doubtful of her role as teacher and her social and intellectual status; and her sister Gudrun, who is also a teacher but an artist and a free spirit as well. They are modern women, educated, free from stereotyped assumptions about their role, and sexually autonomous. Though unsure of what to do with their lives, they are unwilling to settle for an ordinary marriage as a solution to the problem. The sisters’ aspirations crystallize in their romantic relationships: Ursula’s with Rupert Birkin, a university graduate and school inspector (and also a Lawrence-figure), Gudrun’s with Gerald Crich, the handsome, ruthless, seemingly dominant industrialist who runs his family’s mines. Birkin and Gerald themselves are deeply if inarticulately attached to each other. The novel follows the growth of the two relationships: one (Ursula and Birkin) is productive and hopeful, if difficult to maintain as an equilibrium of free partners. The other (Gudrun and Gerald) tips over into dominance and dependence, violence and death. The account is characterized by the extreme consciousness of the protagonists: the inarticulate struggles of earlier generations are now succeeded at the verbal level by earnest or bitter debate. Birkin’s intellectual force is met by Ursula’s mixture of warmth and skepticism and her emotional stability. The Gerald-Gudrun relationship shows his male dominance to be a shell overlying a crippling inner emptiness and lack of self-awareness, which eventually inspire revulsion in Gudrun. The final conflict between them is played out in the high bareness of an Alpine ski resort; after a brutal assault on Gudrun, Gerald wanders off into the snow and dies. Birkin, grieving, leaves with Ursula for a new life in the warm symbolic south, in Italy.

The search for a fulfilling sexual love and for a form of marriage that will satisfy a modern consciousness is the goal of Lawrence’s early novels and yet becomes increasingly problematic. None of his novels ends happily: at best, they conclude with an open question.


Later life and works
After World War I Lawrence and his wife went to Italy (1919), and he never again lived in England. He soon embarked on a group of novels consisting of The Lost Girl (1920), Aaron’s Rod (1922), and the uncompleted Mr. Noon (published in its entirety only in 1984). All three novels are in two parts: one set in Eastwood and sardonic about local mores, especially the tribal ritual of finding a mate, the other set in Europe, where the central figure breaks out of the tribal setting and finds what may be a true partnership. All three novels also end with an open future; in Mr. Noon, however, Lawrence gives his protagonist Lawrence’s own experience of 1912 with Frieda in Germany, thus continuing in a light-hearted manner the quasi-autobiographical treatment he had begun in Sons and Lovers. In 1921 the Lawrences decided to leave Europe and go to the United States, but eastward, via Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Australia.

Since 1917 Lawrence had been working on Studies in Classic American Literature (1923), which grew out of his sense that the American West was an uncorrupted natural home. His other nonfiction works at this time include Movements in European History (1921) and two treatises on his psychological theories, Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious (1921) and Fantasia of the Unconscious (1922).

Lawrence wrote Kangaroo in six weeks while visiting Australia in 1922. This novel is a serious summary of his own position at the time. The main character and his wife move to Australia after World War I and face in the new country a range of political action: his literary talents are courted alike by socialists and by a nationalist quasi-fascist party. He cannot embrace either political movement, however, and an autobiographical chapter on his experiences in England during World War I reveals that the persecution he endured for his antiwar sentiments killed his desire to participate actively in society. In the end he leaves Australia for America.

Finally reaching Taos, New Mexico, where he settled for a time, Lawrence visited Mexico in 1923 and 1924 and embarked on the ambitious novel The Plumed Serpent (1926). In this novel Lawrence maintains that the regeneration of Europe’s crumbling postwar society must come from a religious root, and if Christianity is dead, each region must return to its own indigenous religious tradition. The Plumed Serpent’s prophet-hero, a Mexican general, revives Aztec rites as the basis of a new theocratic state in Mexico whose authoritarian leaders are worshiped as gods. The Lawrence-representative in the story, a European woman, in the end marries one of the leader-gods but remains half-repelled by his violence and irrationality. After pursuing this theme to its logical conclusion in The Plumed Serpent, however, Lawrence abandoned it, and he was reduced to his old ideal of a community where he could begin a new life with a few like-minded people. Taos was the most suitable place he had found, but he was now beginning to die; a bout of illness in 1925 produced bronchial hemorrhage, and tuberculosis was diagnosed.

Lawrence returned to Italy in 1925, and in 1926 he embarked on the first versions of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and wrote Sketches of Etruscan Places, a “travel” book that projects Lawrence’s ideal personal and social life upon the Etruscans. Privately published in 1928, Lady Chatterley’s Lover led an underground life until legal decisions in New York (1959) and London (1960) made it freely available—and a model for countless literary descriptions of sexual acts. The London verdict allowing publication capped a trial at which the book was defended by many eminent English writers. In the novel Lawrence returns for the last time to Eastwood and portrays the tender sexual love, across barriers of class and marriage, of two damaged moderns. Lawrence had always seen the need to relate sexuality to feeling, and his fiction had always extended the borders of the permissible—and had been censored in detail. In Lady Chatterley’s Lover he now fully described sexual acts as expressing aspects or moods of love, and he also used the colloquial four-letter words that naturally occur in free speech.

The dying Lawrence moved to the south of France, where in 1929 he wrote Apocalypse (published 1931), a commentary on the biblical Book of Revelation that is his final religious statement. He was buried in Vence, and his ashes were removed to Taos in 1935.


Poetry and nonfiction
The fascination of Lawrence’s personality is attested by all who knew him, and it abundantly survives in his fiction, his poetry, his numerous prose writings, and his letters. Lawrence’s poetry deserves special mention. In his early poems his touch is often unsure, he is too “literary,” and he is often constrained by rhyme. But by a remarkable triumph of development, he evolved a highly spontaneous mode of free verse that allowed him to express an unrivaled mixture of observation and symbolism. His poetry can be of great biographical interest, as in Look! We Have Come Through! (1917), and some of the verse in Pansies (1929) and Nettles (1930) is brilliantly sardonic. But his most original contribution is Birds, Beasts and Flowers (1923), in which he creates an unprecedented poetry of nature, based on his experiences of the Mediterranean scene and the American Southwest. In his Last Poems (1932) he contemplates death.

No account of Lawrence’s work can omit his unsurpassable letters. In their variety of tone, vivacity, and range of interest, they convey a full and splendid picture of himself, his relation to his correspondents, and the exhilarations, depressions, and prophetic broodings of his wandering life. Lawrence’s short stories were collected in The Prussian Officer, England My England, and Other Stories (1922), The Woman Who Rode Away, and Other Stories (1928), and Love Among the Haystacks and Other Pieces (1930), among other volumes. His early plays, The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd (1914) and The Daughter-in-Law (performed 1936), have proved effective on stage and television. Of his travel books, Sea and Sardinia (1921) is the most spontaneous; the others involve parallel journeys to Lawrence’s interior.


Assessment
D.H. Lawrence was first recognized as a working-class novelist showing the reality of English provincial family life and—in the first days of psychoanalysis—as the author-subject of a classic case history of the Oedipus complex. In subsequent works, Lawrence’s frank handling of sexuality cast him as a pioneer of a “liberation” he would not himself have approved. From the beginning readers have been won over by the poetic vividness of his writing and his efforts to describe subjective states of emotion, sensation, and intuition. This spontaneity and immediacy of feeling coexists with a continual, slightly modified repetition of themes, characters, and symbols that express Lawrence’s own evolving artistic vision and thought. His great novels remain difficult because their realism is underlain by obsessive personal metaphors, by elements of mythology, and above all by his attempt to express in words what is normally wordless because it exists below consciousness. Lawrence tried to go beyond the “old, stable ego” of the characters familiar to readers of more conventional fiction. His characters are continually experiencing transformations driven by unconscious processes rather than by conscious intent, thought, or ideas.

Since the 1960s, Lawrence’s critical reputation has declined, largely as a result of feminist criticism of his representations of women. Although it lacks the inventiveness of his more radical Modernist contemporaries, his work—with its depictions of the preoccupations that led a generation of writers and readers to break away from Victorian social, sexual, and cultural norms—provides crucial insight into the social and cultural history of Anglo-American Modernism.

Lawrence was ultimately a religious writer who did not so much reject Christianity as try to create a new religious and moral basis for modern life by continual resurrections and transformations of the self. These changes are never limited to the social self, nor are they ever fully under the eye of consciousness. Lawrence called for a new openness to what he called the “dark gods” of nature, feeling, instinct, and sexuality; a renewed contact with these forces was, for him, the beginning of wisdom.

Michael H. Black

 


SONS AND LOVERS
 

Òyðå of work: Novel
Author: D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930)
Type of plot: Psychological realism
Time of plot: Late nineteenth century
Locale: England
First published: 1913

 

Sons and Lovers is a partly autobiographical novel of education in which a young man's fixated Oedipal attachment to his mother destroys his chances for a successful romantic and sexual relationship with a girl of his own age.

 

Principal Characters

Walter Morel, an English collier in many ways typical of the literary image of the lower-class workingman. He is not interested in the arts, in matters of the intellect, or even greatly in his work, which for him is merely a source of income. He is a creature who lives for whatever pleasures he can find in eating, drinking and his bed. At first a warmly vital man, he later becomes rough and brutal to his family and fights with them verbally and physically. His wife, after the first glow of marriage fades, means little to him because of her puritanical attitudes and regard for culture, and he becomes alienated from his children. His one creative joy is mending odd bits of household equipment and his work clothing. A coal miner he has been since boyhood, and a coal miner he is content to be.
Gertrude Morel, Walter Morel's wife, a woman who has married beneath her class and who soon regrets her action. She is quickly disillusioned by her husband, and the glamour of their courtship soon fades. She discovers her husband has debts he tells her he has paid and that he constantly lies about the little money he brings home. He always saves out some money for his drinking, regardless of how little he earns at the mine. In her disillusionment Mrs. Morel turns to her children for understanding and affection, as well to protect them from their father's brutality when drunk. As the sons and daughter appear on the scene each becomes a focal point for the mother's love. She tries to help them escape the little mining community, and she succeeds. On her second son, Paul, she places a blight by centering her affections upon him and loving him too well, making him the recipient of love that should have been given to her husband. Her affection and attentions cause him to be stunted emotionally. She never realizes what she is doing to the talented young man but always believes that she is working in his best interest by keeping him at home and governing his affections. Her life, however, is cut short by cancer; Paul ends her terrible pain by giving her an overdose of opiates. Even after her death her influence lingers in his life, so that he shows little evidence of developing into an individual, fulfilled personality.
Paul Morel, the second child of Walter and Gertrude Morel. After his older brother goes off to London to take a job, Paul is the object of his mother's affection; she helps him find work as a clerk close to home so that he can continue to live with his family. He receives encouragement to study art and becomes a successful part-time painter and designer. But Paul's mother and her influence keep him from growing up. Though he fights against her ruling his life, he is trapped. He readily understands how she forces him to give up his love for Miriam Leivers, whom he courts for many years, but he fails to see that his ability to love any woman as an adult man has been crippled by his emotional attachment to his mother.
William Morel, Paul's older brother. When he leaves his family to go to London, his mother transfers her obsessive affections to Paul. William falls in love with a shallow, pseudo-sophisticated girl who takes his money readily, even for her personal clothing, and treats his family as her servants. Though he sees through the girl, William feels trapped into marrying her. A tragic marriage for him is averted only through his sudden and untimely death.
Miriam Leivers, a young farm girl with a highly spiritual yet possessive nature. She and Paul Morel are companions until their late teens, when Miriam falls in love with the young man. She spends a great deal of time with him, for he undertakes to educate her in French, algebra, and other subjects, but his mother objects strenuously to the girl, especially when Paul seems to return the girl's love. Of a highly romantic nature, Miriam is repelled by the physical aspects of love until she is slowly persuaded to give herself to her lover, who later breaks off his engagement to her, saying that in her need for a committed love she wants too much from him.
Clara Dawes, a handsome, married, but physically emancipated woman living apart from her husband. She becomes Paul Morel's mistress and comes as close as anyone can to helping him achieve the ability to love as an adult. At last even she despairs of him and, with his help, is reconciled to her husband, from whom she has been separated many years.
Mrs. Radford, Clara Dawes' mother.
Baxter Dawes, Clara Dawes' husband. Though he and Paul Morel are bitter enemies for a time and have a fight in which Paul is badly beaten, Paul's mother's final illness drives the young man to feel sympathy for his rival, the wronged husband. Dawes, who is recuperating from typhoid fever, is helped financially and morally by Paul, who eventually brings the man and his wife together.
Anne Morel, Paul Morel's sister. She escapes her home by becoming a schoolteacher. She achieves a happy, successful marriage and goes to live in Sheffield.
Arthur Morel, the youngest of Mrs. Morel's children, much like his father. He enlists in the army but later Mrs. Morel buys him out of the service. He is trapped into marriage with a young woman he does not love.
Louisa Lily Denys Western (Gipsy), William Morel's shallow fiancee.
Mr. Leivers, a silent, withdrawn man, the owner of Willey Farm and Miriam's father.
Mrs. Leivers, his good, patient, meek wife. Her philosophy is that the smitten should always turn the other cheek.
Agatha, a schoolteacher, Edgar, Geoffrey, Maurice, and Hubert Leivers, Miriam's sister and brothers. Edgar is Paul Morel's good friend. The Leivers boys display a brooding, almost brutal nature in contrast to Miriam's romantic spirituality.
Thomas Jordan, a manufacturer of surgical appliances in Nottingham. Paul becomes a clerk in his factory.
Miss Jordan, Paul Morel's patroness. She encourages his interest in art.
Mr. Pappelworth, a senior clerk, in charge of the spiral department, in Mr. Jordan's factory. When he leaves to set up a business of his own, Paul Morel becomes the spiral overseer.
Fanny, a hunchback, a "finisher" in the spiral department at the Jordan factory. She sympathizes with Paul Morel in his adolescent moodiness and unhappiness.
 



 

The Story

Walter Morel, a collier, had been a handsome, dashing young man when Gertrude had married him. After a few years of marriage, however, he proved to be an irresponsible breadwinner and a drunkard, and his wife hated him for what he had once meant to her and for what he was now. Her only solace lay in her children—William, Annie, Paul, and Arthur—for she leaned heavily upon them for companionship and lived in their happiness. She was a good parent, and her children loved her. The oldest son, William, was successful in his work, but he longed to go to London, where he had promise of a better job. After he had gone, Mrs. Morel turned to Paul for the companionship and love she had found in William.
Paul liked to paint. More sensitive than his brothers and sister, he was closer to Mrs. Morel than any of the others. William brought a girl named Lily home to visit, but it was apparent that she was not the right kind of girl for him; she was too shallow and self-centered. Before long, William became aware of that fact, but he resigned himself to keeping the promise he had made to his fiancee.
When William became ill, Mrs. Morel went to London to nurse her son and was with him there when he died. Home once more after she had buried her first son, Mrs. Morel could not bring herself out of her sorrow. Not until Paul became sick did she realize that her duty lay with the living rather than with the dead. After this realization, she centered all of her attention upon Paul. The two other children were capable of carrying on their affairs without the constant attention that Paul demanded.
At age sixteen, Paul went to visit some friends of Mrs. Morel. The Leivers were a warmhearted family, and Paul easily gained the friendship of the Leivers children. Fifteen-year-old Miriam Leivers was a strange girl, but her inner charm attracted Paul. Mrs. Morel, like many others, did not care for Miriam. Paul went to work at a stocking mill, where he was successful in his social relationships and in his work. He continued to draw. Miriam watched over his work and with quiet understanding offered judgment concerning his success or failure. Mrs. Morel sensed that someday her son would become famous for his art.
By the time Miriam and Paul had grown into their twenties, Paul realized that Miriam loved him deeply and that he loved her; but for some reason, he could not bring himself to touch her. Then through Miriam he met Clara Dawes. For a long while, Mrs. Morel had been urging him to give up Miriam, and now Paul tried to tell Miriam that it was all over between them. He did not want to marry her, but he felt that he did belong to her. He could not make up his own mind.
Clara Dawes was separated from her husband, Baxter Dawes. Although she was five years Paul's senior, Clara was a beautiful woman whose loveliness charmed him. Although she became his mistress, she refused to divorce her husband and marry Paul. Sometimes Paul wondered whether he could bring himself to marry Clara if she were free. She was not what he wanted. His mother was the only woman to whom he could turn for complete understanding and love, for Miriam had tried to possess him and Clara maintained a barrier against him. Paul continued to devote much of his time and attention to making his mother happy. Annie had married and gone to live with her husband near the Morel home, and Arthur had married a childhood friend who bore him a son six months after the wedding.
Baxter Dawes resented Paul's relationship with his wife. Once he accosted Paul in a tavern and threatened him. Paul knew that he could not fight with Baxter, but he continued to see Clara.
Paul had entered pictures in local exhibits and had won four prizes. With encouragement from Mrs. Morel, he continued to paint. He wanted to go abroad, but he could not leave his mother. He began to see Miriam again. When she yielded herself to him, his passion was ruthless and savage. Their relationship, however, was still unsatisfactory, and he turned again to Clara.
Miriam knew about his love affair with Clara, but the girl felt that Paul would tire of his mistress and come back to her. Paul stayed with Clara, however, because he found in her an outlet for his unknown desires. His life was a great conflict. Meanwhile, Paul was earning enough money to give his mother the material possessions her husband had failed to provide. Mr. Morel stayed on with his wife and son, but he was no longer accepted as a father or a husband.
One day, it was revealed that Mrs. Morel had cancer and was beyond any help except that of morphine and then death. During the following months, Mrs. Morel declined rapidly. Paul was tortured by his mother's pain. Annie and Paul marveled at her resistance to death and wished that it would come to end her suffering. Paul dreaded such a catastrophe in his life, although he knew it must come eventually. He turned to Clara for comfort, but she failed to make him forget his misery. Then, visiting his mother at the hospital, Paul found Baxter Dawes recovering from an attack of typhoid fever. For a long time, Paul had sensed that Clara wanted to return to Dawes, and now, out of pity for Dawes, he brought about a reconciliation between the husband and wife.
When Mrs. Morel's suffering had mounted to a torturing degree, Annie and Paul decided that anything would be better than to let her live in agony. One night, Paul gave her an overdose of morphine, and Mrs. Morel died the next day.
Left alone, Paul was lost. He felt that his own life had ended with the death of his mother. Clara, to whom he had turned before, was now back with Dawes. Because they could not bear to stay in the house without Mrs. Morel, Paul and his father parted and each took different lodgings.
For a while, Paul wandered helplessly trying to find some purpose in his life. Then he thought of Miriam, to whom he had once belonged. He returned to her, but with the renewed association, he realized more than ever that she was not what he wanted. Once he had thought of going abroad. Now he wanted to join his mother in death. Leaving Miriam for the last time, he felt trapped and lost in his own indecision; but he also felt that he was free from Miriam after many years of passion and regret.
His mother's death was too great a sorrow for Paul to cast off immediately. Finally, after a lengthy inner struggle, he was able to see that she would always be with him and that he did not need to die to join her. With his newfound courage, he set out to make his own life anew.
 



 

Critical Evaluation

Although Freud was the first to provide a systematic analysis of the Oedipal relationship and its function in man's fate, this instinct has been a part of man's unconscious from his earliest beginnings as a social animal. The establishment of the taboo against a son's murdering his father and having a sexual relationship with his mother was man's initial step in the creation of civilization, because, according to Freud, this psychic drive lies deep in every man's subconscious or id as a reservoir of anarchistic energy. If man fails to acknowledge this biological compulsion and to incorporate its prohibition into his own ego, he invites annihilation, specifically in the form of castration by the father and generally in the loss of freedom and power.
One of the earliest and best-known dramatizations of this drive is Sophocles' play, Oedipus Rex. Without foreknowledge and culpable guilt, Oedipus murders his father and marries his mother. Since he has transgressed, however, he must be punished; he blinds himself, a form of castration. Shakespeare's Hamlet has also been explored and explicated, most notably by Ernest Jones, as a re-enactment of the Oedipal myth. Sons and Lovers, based directly on D. H. Lawrence's own childhood experiences, is the most significant post-Freudian novel dealing with a young man's murderous feelings toward his father and his erotic attraction to his mother.
Although it would be overly simplistic to explain Sons and Lovers as a mere gloss on a psychological concept, Freud's "complex" does offer a convenient way to begin understanding the character and cultural situation of Lawrence's hero, Paul Morel. He is the youngest and adored son of a mother who has married beneath herself. Of the failed middle class, she is educated to a degree, refined with pretensions toward the higher matters of life. As a girl, she is attracted to Walter Morel, a miner who possesses a passionate exuberance she missed on the frayed edges of the middle class. Their marriage, however, soon disintegrates under the pressures of poverty and unfulfilled expectations. As the father and mother grow apart and the older children leave home, Mrs. Morel turns toward her youngest child, mapping out his life and intending to free him from the ignominy of the working class. Her ambitions for Paul are not untainted by her own frustrations, and it becomes clear that she wishes to live out her life through him.
Sensitive and frail, Paul finds his father's drunkenness and rough-edged masculinity repellent. Reared by his mother as if he were a fragile hot-house plant, he is further alienated by his father's vulgar habits and degrading job. Without any sympathy or understanding of his father's suffering or his hard and abrupt love for him, Paul withdraws and joins his mother in the domestic battle. Morel becomes enraged and disappointed by the loss of his son and wife and withdraws into self-pity and alcohol.
Bereft of his father's influence, Paul's life becomes dominated by his mother. Smothered by her warm maternity, cut off from the real world, he returns her ardent affection, and they form a relationship designed to hold off the horrors of reality. As he grows up, however, he discovers that he has traded his own "self for security. His mother's protectiveness has cost him the power and freedom to relate to others. Every relationship he tries to create is inhibited by her jealousy and demands for his entire attention. Indeed, he comes to feel that every relationship he attempts to pursue is in some way a denial of her.
Paul's attraction to Miriam Leivers, which gradually develops into a love affair, is ironically both a rejection and a reaffirmation of his mother. Their immature love, which Mrs. Morel rightfully sees as a threat, is in some ways an acting out of the sexual implications of the mother-son relationship. In her passive dominance, Miriam unconsciously assumes for Paul the figure of his mother. Thus, if their love manages to remove him temporarily from his mother's sway, it also reinforces it. Both relationships are symbiotic; Paul draws sustenance from the women but loses the power of self-propulsion. It is evident that Paul does not completely acquiesce in the symbiosis in both his brutal sexual treatment of Miriam and his sexual ambivalence toward his mother.
Paul's connection with Clara and Baxter Dawes is much more interesting and complex. Clara provides him with an adult sexual experience unlike that which he had with Miriam. She is neither dominating nor submissive but demands that he meet her as an equal. He therefore must remain emotionally on his own; he is expected to give affection as well as receive it. Unfortunately, Paul cannot maintain such an independence, and this fact undermines their love. He cannot exist as a self-sufficient entity, and Clara will not tolerate an invasion of her self. Paul, however, does not understand this about their relationship until after Mrs. Morel's death. His subsequently successful attempt to reunite her with Baxter thus becomes his first sign of health; it is not only an admission that their romance is impossible but is also a reparation for having alienated her from Baxter.
Paul's act of reparation is also symbolic. Released from his mother's dominance by her death, a death that he hastened, he must continue his growth toward freedom and power by making peace with his father. Unable to confront him directly, Paul admits by bringing together Clara and Baxter the higher moral demands of marital love, a love he has helped to destroy—although innocently—between his father and mother. In this act, moreover, he negates the child in himself and salutes the reality of the father and husband.

 

 

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