Banned Book Club: Sons and Lovers
Title: Sons and Lovers
Author: D.H. Lawrence
Challenge status: #64 on Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century, and frequent target of banning attempts (frequently challenged classics) according to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Book #43 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.
Why: Ok. This made me laugh out loud so here’s the quote verbatim: “In 1961 an Oklahoma City group called Mothers United for Decency hired a trailer, dubbed it “smutmobile,” and displayed books deemed objectionable, including Lawrence’s novel“. I’ve looked for some other references: Wikipedia says it was banned as obscenity but I don’t see a source, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and The Rainbow seem to get more of the censorship press. Let’s go with “controversial” and/or “allegedly obscene” on this one.
First line: ”’The Bottoms’ succeeded to ‘Hell Row’”.
As you may remember from Women in Love, D.H. Lawrence is not my favorite author. But, this book was all that was standing between me and clearing the ALA OIF Frequently Challenged Classics list, so here we are.
Published in his 20’s, Sons and Lovers is considered by many critics to be Lawrence’s strongest work – though the infamy and popularity of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and some of his other, later works ended up eclipsing this novel. Loosely autobiographical, it is probably the best one to start with if you are going to review Lawrence’s books as a broader set of narratives, as we are able to grow with the protagonist Paul Morel – from birth through adulthood.
Like Lawrence’s other novels, Sons and Lovers concerns itself with romantic relationships, and difficulties with communication, jealousy, and the fundamental differences between men and women. One of the interesting aspects of this book is that Paul is actually the secondary protagonist: his mother Gertrude, is the primary character and we experience the world from her point of view for the first portion (20% or so) of the book, and the voice/inner monologue shifts over to Paul later. Her marriage to the dashing, but working-class Mr Morel is not a happy one: she resigns herself to a life of drudgery and takes solace in her love for her four children.
Mrs. Morel remains the pivot point of the book; Paul is a satellite who cannot quite escape his mother’s gravity even after her death at the end of the novel. So, while Paul grows up and begins romantic relationships, his mother’s influence affects and erodes connections he makes with others. Because he loves her best. And she doesn’t want to let him go. Thanks for the Oedipal framework, D.H.! We now have a modern template for the emotionally unavailable momma’s boy. As Paul is, in being completely dominated by his mother, unable to develop and sustain meaningful relationships with others.
“She had borne so long this cruelty of belonging to him and not being claimed by him.” ― D.H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers
Interesting to note: his mother’s ambition and emphasis on education (and not working in the coal mine) give Paul incentive to work his way up – out of the pits and into the middle-class. But Lawrence’s other books express a yearning for simpler approaches to life, anti-classism to the point of anti-intellectualism.
I think the most frustrating thing for me with Lawrence’s books are related to the characters’ inner monologues – one, being that the inner monologues are so flat and lack self-awareness, even in the characters that are highly educated or illustrated as “deep” or “spiritual”. The other piece being that the inner monologue seems to rarely match what is communicated externally – even when in pivotal situations where the characters are already vulnerable. And reading what they ARE saying, it makes no sense to me at all – extremely unsatisfying dialogue – and the character all are melancholy but none of them say what I want to say which is “what the hell are you talking about?” or “could you say that again in a language we both speak?” instead of despairing and dithering and looking sadly at dying flowers. For example: above and below are quotes, thought bubbles that repeated themselves a bit, and made me want to knock the characters’ heads together, Three Stooges style. Woob-woob woob-woob-woob, D.H.
“That’s how women are with me ” said Paul. “They want me like mad but they don’t want to belong to me.” ― D.H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers