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D. H. Lawrence: Sons and Lovers

Lawrence’s first major novel is an autobiographical novel set in Bestwood, the very thinly disguised Eastwood, Lawrence’s home town. Walter Morel and his wife are clearly modeled on Lawrence’s parents (though Lawrence later said he had been too harsh on his father). She is educated and sensitive and he is not. He is a drunk and lacks all refinement and she is turned off by his behaviour. Mrs. Morel spends much more of her time with her four children, particularly her two oldest boys, William and Paul. She is determined that her boys won’t be miners and manages to get them enough education for them to become clerks. Sadly, William dies of pneumonia and she becomes closer to Paul (modeled on Lawrence himself), particularly when he too becomes ill.

Paul, however, is a growing man and is interested in Miriam Leiver (based on Lawrence’s first sweetheart, Jessie Chambers), a sensitive girl. Mrs. Morel is jealous and tries to break up the relationship. Paul, himself, finds Miriam’s affection smothering and turns to Clara Dawes, a married (but separated) woman. The affair does not last long. Mrs. Morel, in the meantime, gets cancer. Paul and his sister, Annie, not wanting to her suffer, put morphine in her milk. Paul seemingly returns to Miriam and, despite his great sadness at his mother’s death, takes a positive attitude.

This has often been called the first genuinely working class novel to be written in England. It certainly marks a transition in Lawrence’s writing as, in his subsequent novels, his style was less realist, more impressionistic. It also seems to have given the impetus for other English working class novels, some good but many less so. While obviously not the first Oedipal novel, it was probably the first post-Freudian Oedipal novel, as Paul seems to be more in love with his mother than he ever is with Miriam or Clara. But while it does mark a transition, it also prefigures his later novels, particularly his relationships with his mother, Miriam and Clara. We will see similar intense relationships with women in later works.

Publishing history

First published 1913 by Duckworth