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Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence
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Sons and Lovers (1913)

by D. H. Lawrence

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English (59)  Dutch (1)  Danish (1)  German (1)  All languages (62)
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Sons and Lovers may well be (considered) a classic. But from my limited perspective, I’d have to say that it is not without faults — and plenty of them.


For one thing, there’s the dialect of northern England, which I find almost impenetrable. While there’s nothing ipso facto wrong with using regional dialect in dialogue, a little goes a long way. Lawrence — and we — would’ve been better served if he’d merely hinted at the dialect, but otherwise written in standard English.


A bigger problem, however, is D. H. Lawrence’s syntax and, occasionally, vocabulary. I quite honestly felt at times as if I were reading someone whose native language wasn’t English. Fluent, yes — but just off enough to raise a suspicion or two that the language wasn’t really his. I give as just one example (of which there are hundreds) the following pair of paragraphs from p. 138:

“But, in spite of himself, his blood began to boil with her. It was strange that no one else made him in such fury. He flared against her. Once he threw the pencil in her face. There was a silence. She turned her face slightly aside.

“‘I didn’t’ — he began, but got no further, feeling weak in all his bones. She never reproached him or was angry with him. He was often cruelly ashamed. But still again his anger burst like a bubble surcharged; and still, when he saw her eager, silent, as it were, blind face, he felt he wanted to throw the pencil in it; and still, when he saw her hand trembling and her mouth parted with suffering, his heart was scalded with pain for her. And because of the intensity to which she roused him, he sought her.”


Is the above egregiously incorrect? No, of course not. It’s just a scintilla off. But multiply that scintilla by a thousand, and you have the beginnings of a glare. I mean, the succession of brief sentences in the first paragraph is hardly evidence of grace. Moreover, is “blood began to boil” not a rather obvious cliché? Is “no one else made him in such fury” really English? Can one feel weak “in all (one’s) bones” — even in the bones of the middle ear? Can a bubble be “surcharged?” And why the repetition of “still?”


While we don’t see an instance of it in these two paragraphs, his adverbs are sometimes all over the place — again, an understandable peccadillo for a non-native speaker, but not for a native English-speaking writer! And while the rules of punctuation have certainly known the shift of a goalpost or two in the course of the last several centuries, this book was first published only 101 years ago. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, however, sometimes reads as if it pre-dates Fielding — or even Chaucer!


I, personally, just don’t get it.


But to beat a dead horse yet deader, allow me two more illustrations of my point. On p. 324, we find this: “(h)is mother had been used to go to the public consultation on Saturday morning, when she could see the doctor for only a nominal sum. Her son went on the same day. The waiting-room was full of poor women, who sat patiently on a bench around the wall. Paul thought of his mother, in her little black costume, sitting waiting likewise. The doctor was late. The women all looked rather frightened. Paul asked the nurse in attendance if he could see the doctor immediately he came. It was arranged so. The women sitting patiently round the walls of the room eyed the young man curiously.”


And then again on p. 346: “(s)uddenly the door opened, and Annie entered. She looked at him questioningly.

‘Just the same,’ he said calmly.

“They whispered together a minute, then went downstairs to get breakfast. It was twenty to eight. Soon Annie came down.”


I mean, never mind the barbarous sight and sound of “questioningly.” Was Annie’s first descent to get breakfast (in the company of Paul) just a figment of Paul’s imagination? Or did she come down with him first in the flesh, and secondly only as an apparition? Yikes!


One of the odder things I found in this story is that Lawrence’s characters burn — and I mean burn — hot and cold in the space of the same paragraph…over and over again. I had a rather uncanny sense that I was reading a monograph on romance among the bipolar set. I mean, is this any way to tell a love story, especially when the coup de grâce of that story is clearly oedipal?


And finally, the inevitable Oops! in this text. Yes, I know … it’s annoying. But should we forgive the copy editors of a “classic” when that classic has been around for over a hundred years — in other words, has had plenty of time to collect not only dust, but also corrections? On p. 223, we have “‘Very well, then. They (sic) why talk about the common people?’” On p. 276, we find “‘(t)hat’s what one I must have, I think,’ he continued.” And finally, on p. 309, we find “(s)he invariably waited for him at dinner-time for him to embrace her before she went.” Methinks she’s doing a tad too much waiting. For him, that is.


And did I mention that Lawrence’s choice of words to italicize (which he does plenty of, by the way) is nothing less than bizarre? Or are Lawrence’s 19th century English ear and my 20th century American ear so radically different?


All of the above notwithstanding, is the writing memorable? At times, absolutely — and I suspect I’ll remember this novel, in substance if not in detail, for the rest of my life. Take, for instance, the following two examples (and please forgive the length of each, but I wanted to give Lawrence is due):

“Their two hands lay on the rough stone parapet of the Castle wall. He had inherited from his mother a fineness of mould, so that his hands were small and vigorous. Hers were large, to match her large limbs, but white and powerful looking. As Paul looked at them he knew her. ‘She is wanting somebody to take her hands – for all she is so contemptuous of us,’ he said to himself. And she saw nothing but his two hands, so warm and alive, which seemed to live for her. He was brooding now, staring out over the country from under sullen brows. The little, interesting diversity of shapes had vanished from the scene; all that remained was a vast, dark matrix of sorrow and tragedy, the same in all the houses and the river-flats and the people and the birds, they were only shapen (sic) differently. And now that the forms seemed to have melted away, there remained the mass from which all the landscape was composed, a dark mass of struggle and pain. The factory, the girls, his mother, the large uplifted church, the thicket of the town, merged into one atmosphere – dark, brooding, and sorrowful, every bit” (p. 237).

“A flush came into the sky, the wan moon, half-way down the west, sank into insignificance. On the shadowy land things began to take life, plants with great leaves became distinct. They came through a pass in the big, cold sandhills on to the beach. The long waste of foreshore lay moaning under the dawn and the sea; the ocean was a flat dark strip with a white edge. Over the gloomy sea the sky grew red. Quickly the fire spread among the clouds and scattered them. Crimson burned to orange, orange to dull gold, and in a golden glitter the sun came up, dribbling fierily over the waves in little splashes, as if someone had gone along and the light had spilled from her pail as she walked” (p. 310).

Please forgive the paltry two stars, but I hold "classics" to a higher standard.


RRB
10/08/14
Brooklyn, NY

( )
  RussellBittner | Dec 12, 2014 |
First published more than a century ago (around 1913), it's no wonder that SONS & LOVERS has become a classic.

The repetitiveness of the writing (if I had to read once more how "bitter" one of the characters were, or how much one character "hated" another I'd have screamed!) did not detract from the sheer brilliance of Lawrence's characterisations of the slyly poisonous mother and her castrating effect on the men in her life.

Gertrude Morel's disappointment in her marriage to the rough miner Walter Morel (the character I felt most sympathy for) soured her into becoming a manipulating, horrible woman who lived out her romantic fantasies through her sons.

First, her eldest son William who, in his struggle for an identity and life separate from his mother's passions, almost broke free of her control by choosing a wildly inappropriate lover. His unhappiness had tragic consequences, which turned Mrs Morel's hopes onto her son Paul, the main character of the book.

Sensitive, romantic, artistic Paul was a sitting duck for his mother's emotional blackmail: the inner battle he waged trying to establish some sort of manhood and masculine identity under her powerful influence drives the story forward. Ultimately, it led him into cruel power struggles with the two lovers in his life. He treats both Miriam and Clara shockingly, reflecting the emotional abuse his mother inflicts on both her sons and her husband.

SONS & LOVERS is worth the struggle to read : the language is dated and requires concentration and, as mentioned above, there is a lot of repetition. The descriptions of life in a mining village, the poverty, the daily struggles were, however, well depicted (and resonated deeply as I come from a 3-generation mining family).

However, there is so much spite and anger underlying the story it was almost an unpleasant read, leaving a sour taste in my mouth. To see how damaging a mother’s influence can be, not only for her son, but for his lovers as well, made for painful, if interesting, reading.

Lawrence's depiction of the relationship between Paul and his mother, of how Mrs Morel subtly and selfishly uses her immense personal power (disguised as a fragile and delicate femininity) to set up her sons in opposition to their father, is a masterpiece in describing the psychological phenomenon known as the Oedipus complex. This gripping aspect of the story is what kept me reading and is why I highly recommend SONS & LOVERS. ( )
  JudyCroome | Oct 27, 2014 |
It took me approximately 500 years to read this book. Partly because it was long, partly because it was slow in places, but mostly because my copy of the book (where did I get it? and why did I bother?) was full of underlines and notes in the margin. Clearly, it was an assigned text, I'm going to guess high school (really? what were they thinking?), and whoever was forced to read this book found it as tedious as I found their notations. I kept telling myself not to read them, but couldn't help it, and they were SO INSIPID that I would have to put the book down in disgust. (Real life example: "hyper-sensitiveness" is underlined -- in the margin it says "sensitivity to an extreme degree.")

Really, I should have ditched this copy and found another, because it's hard for me to differentiate my impatience with the text from my impatience with the notes. But I kept plodding slowly on. And I did find things to admire. Lawrence's sentences and descriptions are skilled and often beautiful. But for all the descriptiveness and detail in just how the relationships between people get so tortured and complicated, I never really felt like I understood or could empathize with any individual character directly. Maybe Mr. Morel I understood the best, which is odd, because he clearly seemed designed to be the least sympathetic.

I don't know. Towards the end I found myself moved by the book, but now, a few weeks later, I feel very meh about it all. ( )
  greeniezona | Sep 20, 2014 |
This book...

Ugh, I can't really think of enough bad things to say about it.

It was boring. It was insanely sexist. The main character was a selfish jerk with very few redeeming qualities. There was no plot. Women were used as plot devices at best, plot devices that were generally responsible for all the ills in the world. Abusive men were forgiven and the women blamed in their place. The main character used women for mindless sex and then got angry at the women when they didn't want to "belong" to him. In addition, I wasn't overly impressed with the writing style, blah. It was flowery and stupid at some points, while being repetitive and banal in other places.

A terrible, terrible book. ( )
1 vote sammii507 | Aug 19, 2014 |
Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence was published a hundred years ago, in 1913. As many see Lawrence as one of the exponents of modernism, the lapse of time of a century allows for a more balanced appreciation, which may show that Lawrence early work still had many characteristics of the traditional novel, so much so that Stella Gibbons also particularly targeted Lawrence in her parody Cold Comfort Farm.

In Sons and Lovers Lawrence explores various sides of human love relationships, particularly in the social setting of the backward rural-industrial proletariat. While apparently Mrs Morel hold her husband, who works as a collier in the mines, in contempt, their bonds of love are at least as strong as their bond of marriage, and the view that Mrs Morel might not love her husband, are the result of the way Paul Morel views that relation.

Paul Morel, the main character in the novel, grows up in poverty. The story of the novel is seen through his eyes. This perspective creates the raw, apparently loveless view of the relationship between his parents, and Paul's relation to his mother gradually takes the form of Paul being his mother's eye-apple while Paul grows up as a protective "mother-lover".

As Paul grows up and benefits from getting an education, under his mother's care he is able to develop his artistic talent as a painter. The education and his talent enable him to literally "open his eyes" and see new possibilities, and other ways of life. This is reflected in the novel's writing which becomes increasingly lyrical and beautiful, as the reader sees the world through Paul's eyes.

Paul's first love is a farm girl whom he has known for a long time. Their relationship evolves out of Miriam's shared love for books, and Paul's admiration for her attempts to learn French. However, when Paul meets the much more emancipated Clara Dawes he passionately falls in love with her. Clara is older than Paul, and has a husband. Baxter Dawes is a lowly character, but very jealous, and he comes after Paul attempting to kill him as they fight. Their struggle is a powerful description of the opposing powers of Baxter's brute and primitive love versus Paul's agility and spiritual love. However, Clara's love for Paul is adulterous, and like the deep and mysterious love that kept Mrs Morel married to her husband, the paradox of love-hate keeps Clara and Baxter together, which means she cannot leave Baxter for Paul. In the meantime, Paul has dropped Miriam. Their separation is described with all the cruelty on Paul's part to create a rough separation, hurting Miriam's feelings deeply to sever their love-relation, while later on Paul attempts to mold their relationship into one of Platonic love. Paul wants Miriam to remain a friend, but not a lover.

At the end of the novel, Paul Morel is alone. His mother has died, and neither of his two lovers, Miriam and Clara, are what he wants. The end of the novel, while dark, shows that Paul is, barely, able to turn away from his background, the love of his mother, and the land, and turn towards the light, moving to the city where a new lifestyle beckons, and, probably, new chances.

Written more than a hundred years ago, Sons and Lovers, a bulky novel, has many characteristics of modern novels, especially a lot of Freudian symbolism. Restored editions give the reader the full sense of the modern character of the novel, and the open, realistic way relationships are described. ( )
  edwinbcn | Dec 31, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lawrence, D. H.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Anderson, BarbaraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Baron, CarlEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Baron, HelenEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Beal, AnthonyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Blake, VictoriaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brotherus, AuneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cancogni, FrancaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Daly, MacdonaldEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
de la Plaza, LuisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
DeMott, BenjaminIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Durov, ValerieEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dyer, GeoffIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Eyre, Sir RichardIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fournier-Pargoire, JeanneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Francioli, PaolaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gelli, PieroIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gibson, JamesEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gilpin, SamAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gopegui, BelénForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Halson, GeoffreyEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hilská, KateřinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ilona, RónaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jackson, DennisAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kazin, AlfredIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kliphuis, J.F.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kristensen, TomTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Martínez-Lage, MiguelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morrison, BlakeIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moynahan, JulianEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nordon, PierreTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Oeser, Hans-ChristianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Robinson, SheilaIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sagar, KeithIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Slack, PaulNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sterlin, JennyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thorne, BobIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Trotter, DavidEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vance, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Venning, ChristopherEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375753737, Paperback)

Sons and Lovers was the first modern portrayal of a phenomenon that later, thanks to Freud, became easily recognizable as the Oedipus complex. Never was a son more indentured to his mother's love and full of hatred for his father than Paul Morel, D.H. Lawrence's young protagonist. Never, that is, except perhaps Lawrence himself. In his 1913 novel he grappled with the discordant loves that haunted him all his life--for his spiritual childhood sweetheart, here called Miriam, and for his mother, whom he transformed into Mrs. Morel. It is, by Lawrence's own account, a book aimed at depicting this woman's grasp: "as her sons grow up she selects them as lovers--first the eldest, then the second. These sons are urged into life by their reciprocal love of their mother--urged on and on. But when they come to manhood, they can't love, because their mother is the strongest power in their lives."

Of course, Mrs. Morel takes neither of her two elder sons (the first of whom dies early, which further intensifies her grip on Paul) as a literal lover, but nonetheless her psychological snare is immense. She loathes Paul's Miriam from the start, understanding that the girl's deep love of her son will oust her: "She's not like an ordinary woman, who can leave me my share in him. She wants to absorb him." Meanwhile, Paul plays his part with equal fervor, incapable of committing himself in either direction: "Why did his mother sit at home and suffer?... And why did he hate Miriam, and feel so cruel towards her, at the thought of his mother. If Miriam caused his mother suffering, then he hated her--and he easily hated her." Soon thereafter he even confesses to his mother: "I really don't love her. I talk to her, but I want to come home to you."

The result of all this is that Paul throws Miriam over for a married suffragette, Clara Dawes, who fulfills the sexual component of his ascent to manhood but leaves him, as ever, without a complete relationship to challenge his love for his mother. As Paul voyages from the working-class mining world to the spheres of commerce and art (he has fair success as a painter), he accepts that his own achievements must be equally his mother's. "There was so much to come out of him. Life for her was rich with promise. She was to see herself fulfilled... All his work was hers."

The cycles of Paul's relationships with these three women are terrifying at times, and Lawrence does nothing to dim their intensity. Nor does he shirk in his vivid, sensuous descriptions of the landscape that offers up its blossoms and beasts and "shimmeriness" to Paul's sensitive spirit. Sons and Lovers lays fully bare the souls of men and earth. Few books tell such whole, complicated truths about the permutations of love as resolutely without resolution. It's nothing short of searing to be brushed by humanity in this manner. --Melanie Rehak

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:49:28 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

"Sons and Lovers is one of the landmark novels of the twentieth century. When it appeared in 1913, it was immediately recognized as the first great modern restatement of the oedipal drama, and it is now widely considered the major work of D.H. Lawrence's early period. This intensely autobiographical novel recounts the story of Paul Morel, a young artist growing to manhood in a British working-class family rife with conflict. The author's vivid evocation of the all-consuming nature of possessive love and sexual attraction makes this one of his most powerful novels."--Jacket.… (more)

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