Sons and Lovers, Lawrence’s third book, is an apprenticeship novel that, in many respects, defies the conventions of its genre. Among early twentieth century English apprenticeship novels that preceded Lawrence’s work, the main character usually undergoes an “education” or “apprenticeship” toward a meaningful life experience. As part of his (or, rarely, her) apprenticeship, the protagonist begins with innocent, often mistaken notions about the nature of reality; only after some painful experiences does he grow to mastery in the game of life. Specifically, he learns valuable lessons about himself, especially his limitations and illusions, but by the completion of his youth he often can answer three questions: What is the nature of love? What vocation is appropriate for me? What is the meaning of life?
In contrast with the main characters in earlier apprenticeship novels or in subsequent ones, Paul Morel, Lawrence’s protagonist, fails to find answers to any of these questions. By the end of his life apprenticeship, he has learned only that he is incapable of intense sexual feelings to sustain a relationship with a young woman, that he lacks a true vocation for his considerable talents, and that he cannot fathom the “meaning of life,” except narrowly in terms of his own sensibility.
Grappling with a modern version of the classic Oedipal problem, Paul loathes his father, the hard-drinking but convivial miner, Walter, and he attaches himself emotionally to his mother, Gertrude. As a result of this psychological conditioning, in Freudian theory, Paul has been crippled emotionally. Following his mother’s death from cancer, Paul is a “derelict,” isolated from all meaningful emotional contact with women. His...
(The entire section is 720 words.)
Walter Morel, a coal miner, was a handsome, dashing young man when Gertrude married him. After a few years of marriage, however, he proves to be an irresponsible breadwinner and a drunkard, and his wife hates him for what he once meant to her and for what he is now. Her only solace lies in her children—William, Annie, Paul, and Arthur—for she leans heavily upon them for companionship and lives in their happiness. She is a good parent, and her children love her. The oldest son, William, is successful in his work, but he longs to go to London, where he has promise of a better job. After he leaves, Mrs. Morel turns to Paul for the companionship and love she found in William.
Paul, who likes to paint, is more sensitive than his brothers and sister and is closer to Mrs. Morel than any of the others. William brings a young woman named Lily home to visit, but it is apparent that she is not the right kind of woman for him; she is too shallow and self-centered. Before long, William becomes aware of that fact, but he resigns himself to keeping the promise he made to his fiancé.
When William becomes ill, Mrs. Morel goes to London to nurse her son and is with him there when he dies. Home once more after burying her first son, Mrs. Morel cannot bring herself out of her sorrow. Not until Paul becomes sick does she realize that her duty lies with the living rather than with the dead. After this realization, she centers all of her attention upon Paul. The two other children are capable of carrying on their affairs without the constant attention that Paul demands.
At sixteen years of age, Paul goes to visit some friends of Mrs. Morel. The Leiverses are a warmhearted family, and Paul easily gains the friendship of the Leivers children. Fifteen-year-old Miriam Leivers is a strange girl, but her inner charm attracts Paul. Mrs. Morel, like many others, does not care for Miriam. Paul goes to work at a stocking mill, where he is successful in his social relationships and in his work. He continues to draw. Miriam watches over his work and, with quiet understanding, offers judgment concerning his success or failure. Mrs. Morel senses that someday her son will become famous for his art.
By the time Miriam and Paul grow into their twenties, Paul realizes that Miriam loves him deeply and that he loves her; for some reason, however, he cannot bring himself to touch her. Through Miriam, he meets Clara Dawes. For a long while, Mrs. Morel was urging him to give up Miriam, and Paul tries to tell Miriam that it is over between them. He does not want to marry her, but he feels that he does belong to her. He cannot make up his mind.
Clara is separated from her husband, Baxter Dawes. Although she is five years Paul’s senior, Clara is a beautiful woman whose loveliness charms him. Although she becomes his mistress, she...
(The entire section is 1163 words.)