In Sons and Lovers how does Lawrence challenge conventional attitudes towards social and sexual relationships and what effect does this have on the narrative?

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Elaine Briggs; English; Year One; Kate Steedman

In Sons and Lovers how does Lawrence challenge conventional attitudes towards social and sexual relationships and what effect does this have on the narrative?

Social and sexual relationships are integral themes in Lawrence’s semi-autobiographical novel. Sons and Lovers can be described as a modernist text due to the unconventional relationship between the novel’s protagonist, Paul Morel and it’s heroine, Mrs Morel. This essay will discuss the effect of this love and the social conflicts on the narrative.        

        The novel begins with the chapter, ‘The early married life of the Morels’, and discusses the transformation of Walter Morel and Gertrude Morel’s marriage. This can be seen by Gertrude Coppard’s initial attraction to Walter’s carefree nature, ‘He came and bowed above her. A warmth radiated through her as if she had drunk wine’ (p. 10) and their eventual hatred and fear of one another, ‘“Why, nobody but a nasty little bitch like you ‘ud ‘ave such a thought.”’(p. 22). The breakdown in the relationship, is imperative to the narrative as it identifies Mr Morel as a violent husband, and Mr Mrs Morel as a strong, virtuous victim. This is illustrated when a violent, drunken Mr Morel, locks his pregnant wife outside in the cold. However, more objectively, both parties are bitter and violent to one another, ‘“Ah, wouldn’t I, wouldn’t I have gone long ago, but for those children”’ (p. 22), however Mrs Morel is instantly made the victim. Keith Sagar makes an interesting point regarding the subjectivity of Sons and Lovers,

        The question is whether Lawrence was in sufficient command of

        his experience, had come to a sufficient understanding of it, to be

        able to present it adequately in a novel. The charge against him is that,

        consciously or unconsciously, he distorted the story in order to make

        Paul and his mother come out of it better than they should, at the

        expense of Miriam and his father (Sagar 1981: 11)

This extreme breakdown is very important to the plot as this creates a hatred for the father and an obsession with the mother, reaching a climax with Paul Morel’s love for his mother and vice versa.

 It is debatable to say whether the novel is modernist in the sense of it being a Freudian text, however, this mother and son relationship is very unconventional, thus making it the central issue in the novel. Evidence of this is their inability to succeed in love, ‘“Paul-I’ve never had a husband-not really”’ (p. 213) and ‘“You know, I don’t care about them, mother,”’(p. 368). However, Lawrence does emphasise that the bond is a maternal one; this can be seen by their initial connection prior to his birth, ‘After a time, the child too melted with her in the mixing-pot of moonlight’ (p. 24).

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  The collapse of the marriage is mirrored by Paul’s unsuccessful relationships with Miriam Leivers and Mrs Clara Dawes, mainly because, like his mother, he sees himself to be superior and like his father he is brutal, ‘He hated her [Miriam] bitterly at that moment because he had made her suffer.’(p. 222). Furthermore, in light of the Oedipus Complex, mother and son sometimes behave overly passionate towards one another, ‘The mother and son walked down Station Street, feeling the excitement of lovers having an adventure together’ (p. 92) and ‘He stroked his mother’s hair, and his mouth was on her ...

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