Richard Somers is a highly autobiographical character. Lawrence wrote all but the last chapter of the novel during his four-month stay in Australia, and many of Richard’s characteristics and concerns were those of Lawrence at the time. Like Lawrence, Richard is living in a relationship with a strong-willed but loving and supporting wife. Like the characters of Richard and Harriet, Lawrence and his wife were persecuted during World War I, and they fled England in despair. Also, and most important to the art of the novel, Richard Somers, like Lawrence, is a man filled with inner paradoxes. He values his relationship with his wife above everything, until those times when it threatens his own individuality. During those times, he finds that this close, life-giving relationship becomes emotionally stifling, and he feels the need to escape it in order to preserve his sense of himself. Such inner paradox in a character in a marriage relationship is typical of protagonists in Lawrence’s other novels.
Richard senses the spiritually deadening aspects of contemporary Western civilization; he yearns for some kind of rebirth in man linked to a different concept of a godhead. In Lawrence’s fiction, Richard stands out as a protagonist in his desire to move into the world of political action, to become a leader among men. By the end of the novel, however, Richard realizes that political action will not accomplish this goal. He comes to the knowledge that the achievement of a new man can be made only through an inner, spiritual conversion in each individual that is beyond the outer structure of politics.
Although the character of Harriet is drawn closely along the lines of Lawrence’s wife, Frieda, she is not an idealized figure. Rather, she is an emotionally complex character who is as fully developed as Richard. She seems to have an instinctive knowledge of her husband, and she serves as his emotional touchstone in the world.
As in most of Lawrence’s fiction, the love relationship is the central concern in this novel. The other characters outside that relationship, such as Jack Callcott and Kangaroo, achieve life only in conjunction with the principal characters, yet Lawrence’s rendering of such characters is so powerful that their figures become fully realized to the reader.