If you are interested in actually reading this novel DO NOT buy this particular edition. This edition of "Sons and Lovers" by D.H. Lawrence is a photographic reproduction of an early edition of the work. This does not mean that it is lacking in value per se. But since the goal of the publisher was to reproduce the look and feel of the early edition (including imperfections and missing content) it is not suitable for a customer who simply wants to read the novel. This edition has missing pages, clipped margins where text is cut off, and heavy black marks obscuring text on the corners and edges on many of the pages. In short much of the novel's content is simply missing or illegible. Unless you are a literary historian or interested in the the publication history of "Sons and Lovers" including the quality of published texts as a concept in general, this is not the book for you.
Written in 1913 and often regarded as Lawrence's best work, the novel is based on Lawrence's own life. Paul Morel is the son of a rough miner in Nottinghamshire who develops into an artist. His mother grows to despise her husband and turns her affection to her son William and after his death at a young age to Paul. The novel relates Paul's development, his failed loves and his relationship with his cloying mother. Regarded by some as obscene at the time of publication, it now stands a pre WWI English classi .
While "Sons and Lovers" would not be a best seller if it was written by a current day author, it was, for its times, quite controversial and forward-leaning and should always be considered one of fiction's classics. On its published date, 1914, the world was enamored with Freud's Oedipal fixation and found itself newly-awoken to the sexual side of humanity. Before this era, sexuality was either repressed or made a separate entity away from emotional caring. D.H. Lawrence relit the 'Oedipal candle' and the mother/son controversy went on. While neither Freud nor Lawrence ever fully understood their own sexuality, let alone that of others, this piece of autobiographical fiction allowed society to continue in its personal understanding of its physical self.
While I fully agree with other critics that the main thrust of this novel is the interaction of mother and son, I also feel there is much more that can be psychosocially understood from its reading. The mother, in today's terminology was a narcissist. All of her actions throughout this tale are directed back towards herself and her own happiness. She married a very handsome and well-built man because she mistakenly thought that he owned the house in which he was living and that he could provide for her in the manner in which she felt she deserved. When this proved false and her plans became futile, she turned her selfish need for personal fulfillment towards her sons. She felt that it was their duty, and not their choice, to make her happy. Throughout the novel Paul, the younger of the two, is left with this onerous and suffacating burden. In very short order he, too, changes his need structure to rely on her for his recognition and fulfillment. But, his mother being a narcissist, she can never provide this in a mature and caring manner. Instead, she does so in a self-devised and incomplete manner making Paul to always wanting more and more and never feeling complete. He, in turn, was never able to fulfill her insatiable needs of attention and personal fulfillment. Neither person took any responsibility for their own actions or their own psyche and, because of that, eventually developed a love/hate relationship with each other. This is dramatically shown in the fact that Paul, while continuing to profess his love and caring for her, actually murders his mother while she lie on her death bed.
In social situations the damage that Paul suffered at the hands of his mother, were generalized into the rest of his life. His work was never fulfilling, his love/hate relationship with his mother translated into an approach/avoidance behavior with women and his ultimate goals in life continued to focus on what would make his mother happy with little or no concern for himself. Because his mother had never equated her sexual life with any type of caring or emotion, Paul, too, made a divide between sex and love and often mistakenly confused one with the other. He never allowed himself to feel both together or, for that matter, had the capability to do so. The women in Paul's life had their own irrational agendas. One sacrificed her life while waiting for Paul to eventually admit his love for her and the other lived her life based solely on her own selfish and ego driven emotions while leaving rational thought unheeded. The author, if this truly is his autobiographical sketch, certainly lived and most probably died a very lonely and disturbed life. He never made the effort nor probably never had the emotional strength to understand himself as an independent being apart from the maternal demands that were continually laid at his feet.
While the subject of this book does merit 5 stars, I only gave it 4 stars because of the rambling and diffuse writing that occurs in the first half of the book. Yes, I understand that the author himself viewed life as a rambling and purposeless process but we, as readers. do not need to re-experience his self-confusion in order to fully understand it. We, too, have our own life experiences from which we can draw and do not need our hands held while we come to understand the author's internal insecurities. Nor do we need to have the various derivatives of the work 'hate' be used in nearly every paragraph in order to understand the love/hate relationship that the author had with everything around him. We, too, have a degree of intelligence that can comprehend intense negative feelings directed towards the world.
Literature features few characters as blown this way and that and as snuggly tied to a mother's apron strings as Paul Morel, D. H. Lawrence's stand-in for himself. If ever existed a mater as possessive, as obsessed with her son, and as controlling and manipulative as Gertrude Morel, I'm hard pressed at the moment to recall one. Married to a coal miner whom she has grown to hate, invested in a first son who, when on the verge of promise, dies, Mrs. Morel establishes an unbreakable bond with her second son Paul, an attachment that only death can sunder, and even then the reader is left to wonder. This may be among the most engrossing, at times infuriating, and always stirring accounts of a dysfunctional mother-son relationship, all the more so as it parallels Lawrence's upbringing.
In the first part of the book, Lawrence tells the story of Gertrude and Walter Morel, their meeting, marriage, his work in the mines, his drinking, the birth of their children, her falling away from him, and her emotional investment in first son William. The second part recounts the death of William and Gertrude's obsession with Paul. This hold she exerts over Paul makes it impossible for him to have any kind of true relationship with another woman, as the women, Miriam and Clara, learn, though Miriam persists in her pursuit even after the death of Mrs. Morel.
In addition to portraying the Gertrude-Paul dynamic, Lawrence gives us an inside look at what life was like in an early 20th century mining town, essentially a company town. Of particular note are the strong relationships of the miners and the miners' families with each other. It's the kind of community spirit of helping each other that seems to have all but vanished in the developed world. Doubtless, it was hardscrabble, but people pulled together, particularly in stressful times.
Lawrence, as those who have read him know, also possessed a knack for depicting male relationships in his later novels. Here, you can see it in the relationship between Paul and Baxter Dawes. Baxter is Clara's husband, from whom she is estranged. He and Paul come to blows. Paul comes up short and badly injured. Later, Baxter has an accident that severely incapacitates him. It is Paul who spends time with him and to whom Baxter reveals himself.
Sons and Lovers (Oxford World's Classics) deserves its place as among the greatest English-language novels. However, it's best appreciated after you've lived some years and experienced your own good and bad relationships.
As for this edition, Oxford World's Classics, a different introduction would probably better serve the reader. Editor David Trotter focuses on literary technique when, perhaps, it might have been more illuminating to show how the novel reflected both Lawrence's life and that period in English social history.