Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sons and Lovers

I've had some trouble figuring out what I was going to say about Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence.  I read it by the recommendation of friends and fellow book bloggers, but it was not at all what I had in mind.  My earlier impression of Lawrence must be coming from what I've heard of Lady Chatterly's Lover because this was so different.  And when I finished, it took me some time to dissect how I felt about it.  But I did really like it, and I do think it's valuable literature.

Overall, I think there is a lack of excitement in Sons and Lovers.  The plot moves steadily, and there are no significant high moments or thrilling achievements.  I'm not saying it's boring; I'm just saying it's not The Three Musketeers.  Yet I think that the slow pace may have contributed to my uncertain feelings at the end of the novel.  I didn't feel like it was moving toward a dramatic climax, and the one thing that the story seemed to be moving toward wasn't even realized.  (I won't explain this any further to avoid spoiling it for you).  In the nature of the plot, I found that there wasn't even something in particular I was hoping would happen.

However, it didn't take me long to realize the true strength of this novel.  In fact, I was almost startled when it occurred to me because I should have picked up on it right away.  The characters in the story are extraordinarily realistic.  Lawrence so carefully developed each of them that it is hard to believe they are fictional.  Each character of focus has a significant back story to help us understand how he or she become the person in the story.  For example, by learning all about Mrs. Morel's ambitions and desires, we see how her marriage became a bitter disappointment.  This also helps us to understand why she began to live through her children.  And yet it's not so simple as an unhappy marriage.  In a delicate way, Lawrence weaves in an underlying and reluctant love between man and wife.  They fight and they put each other down, but they are bonded in an inseparable way until the very end.

I thought William was going to be the protagonist and was surprised when the focus shifted to Paul.  And somehow, by carefully crafting the personal and emotional details of William, we are prepared for an even deeper understanding of Paul.  As for Paul, he is a tormented character, and I was frustrated with him for most of the story.  However, I could thoroughly understand his actions even when I didn't agree with them.  Even Miriam and Clara, Paul's two loves, have a significant amount of depth to them.  They are very different women, and their respective attraction to Paul comes from unique needs and desires.  Naturally, this adds dimension to the relationships he has with each of them.  There is just nothing silly or frivolous in this novel.  All of the characters are flawed and yet so very real.  It feels so profoundly human that I began to view the characters in a different way than I usually do for fictional people.  I think I was processing their motives and feelings on a deeper level because they themselves have so much depth.

Despite the remarkable realism in the characters, Lawrence somehow achieves this subtly.  He is not imposing the background stories on the readers or forcing us to attach ourselves to them.  In fact, in my opinion, there's not a single character we are meant to really love.  There are no heroes, and yet this is the genius of it.

Although I enjoyed it, I don't think I'll be rereading Sons and Lovers.  The characterizations are not enough for me to go back repeatedly to the text the way an exciting plot might pull me in again.  I read somewhere that this is Lawrence's most autobiographical work, which is probably how he managed to create such realistic characters.  So I have a feeling his other works may be more exciting, and I will read them at some point.  But for now, I just want to rest in admiration of how truly human these characters seemed to be.  What do you think of the novel?  Was this similar to your experience?

1 comment:

Agrippina said...

Sons and Lovers is on my to-read list, but it's not one I've been particularly looking forward to, although I can't really place why. I think it intrigues me more, after reading your review. I love well-crafted characters, so perhaps it's my kind of thing after all!