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Sons and Lovers ()

Modern Library Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century (9)

Paul Morel grows up in The Bottoms, a community of coal miners in Nottinghamshire. His mother, Gertrude Coppard Morel--whose family were burghers until they went bankrupt, & father, Walter, have had a horrible marriage since she realized, six months into the marriage, that he was of a significantly different temperament than she:

    There began a battle between the husband and wife-a fearful, bloody battle that ended only with the
    death of one. She fought to make him undertake his own responsibilities, to make him fulfill his
    obligations. But he was too different timber. His nature was purely sensuous, and she strove to
    make him moral, religious. She tried to force him to face things. He could not endure it-it drove
    him out of his mind.

Things came to a head when he cut off their oldest sons curls: "This act of masculine clumsiness
was the spear through the side of her love for Morel."

And so, Paul grows up the mollycoddled son of a smothering Mother. As he grows to young manhood he becomes an artist and begins to have relationships with women: Miriam Leivers, a religious good girl, and Clara Dawes, married but estranged from her husband. Of course, his mother's looming presence overshadows these relationships and they end badly.

Meanwhile, when his mother contracts cancer, Paul murders her with morphine.  The novel ends with him striding confidently towards a golden future, borne up by the continuing support of her love for him.

My, what a tower of crap hath Mr. Freud wrought.

At the time Lawrence was writing, it was tres chic to accept the ridiculous prattling of the Freudians as gospel. And so, this semi-autobiographical novel would have seemed to be an expression of a universal condition; of course, he so loves his mother that it warps his development, it's the same for everyone. But as we look back, we see that he in fact is depicting a pathological condition.  The best art should be timeless and universal. Instead, Sons and Lovers is a tedious artifact of a moment in human thought, when a pernicious philosophy, Freudianism, had won temporary ascendance.


Grade: (D)