Saturday, March 14, 2009

Book Review - Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence

- reposted from my old blog -

sons and lovers

I loved this book. It reminded me again of my love for classic English literature. I love the realism in it.
Warning: the book deals with sex. I talk about it. If you're sensitive to that sort of stuff, don't read it.

"Sons and Lovers" is essentially about relationships. I thought it was going to focus on the relationships of the mother in the book, because the first part deals with her marriage and the stages it goes through - the disintegration of love, essentially, and what it's like to be a woman and have to rely on a man. Then it focuses on her relationship with her sons, and how she transfers that longing for love and hope for the future to her sons, to whom she is an amazing mother. In fact, TOO good of a mother, because the second half of the book is about one of the sons. Lawrence wrote the book to reflect his own relationships with his mother and then lovers, and you can see him trying to process that question we all ask, "Why do I do what I do?"

He was affected by Freud, who he knew through his lover (in real life), and he recognizes that his mother loved him too much, and the co-dependant relationship is like that of lovers without ever being sexual. He recognizes that this leaves him quite dysfunctional in the two relationships that Lawrence has, which are reflected by the two relationships that the son, Paul, goes through in the book.

My predominant reaction going through the book was frustration the character's actions even when I loved them, which is a good thing, it's a sign of being sucked in to the story. The mother is held up as a bit of a long-suffering heroine matched to a loser drunk, but I was even frustrated with her. She's married to a simple man, but a man of joy and loyalty and fun... he's quite quaint. She scorns his simpleness, and I kept thinking... gosh, if she would love him for who he is instead of scorn him because of what he's not, perhaps he'd stay at home instead of heading to the pub for drinks. I think that she ruins him. If she had chosen to love and invest in him even after realizing his flaws, he probably would have blossomed under that love.

And then it was frustrating to feel how trapped the mother is in her life as a woman in that time. She is an incredibly strong woman, and independent. She runs her home and raises her children and holds them together when the father is virtually MIA and totally useless, and begins beating her at times. What option does she have, though? She CAN'T leave, because she can't work. As a woman, she has no place to go where she could actually support a family if she left her husband, even in the worst of the abuse and neglect. I'm certainly glad to live in this day and age as a woman.

Paul, the son, is an incredibly introspective man who longs for beauty and love and connection, but struggles to love while he is so loyal to his mother, and she jealously holds him to her even as he's tentatively looking for a wife. It's so annoying, because you know the mother has placed so much hope in her son and therefore wants to hold him above a woman who might ruin him. In doing so, though, she IS ruining him, because he longs for a woman and yet can't give himself fully while his mother holds him back. Then, when he turns to a woman who will love him physically, the mother accepts this because it doesn't involve his soul, only his body. This also is devastating, though, because the body only satisfies for so long and the soul cries out for a deeper connection, a deeper love.

Reading of Paul's relationships made me SO thankful for Isaac and the way he loves me. Paul's first girl is a childhood friend who is also incredibly introspective, and they connect in a really REALLY deep way. They understand each other, seem to peer into each other's souls. They do this for years, all the time seeming to prepare for a life together, they seem made for it. One reason it doesn't work is Paul's loyalty to his mother, who hates the girl for her hold on Paul. The other reason, though, is the way the girl has idealized this spiritual connection that she and Paul have, and yet divorced it from sexuality. They are both raised in a puritanical religious environment, and the girl absorbs that puritanical revulsion towards sex. It is demeaned as an uncontrollable bodily urge that is essentially dirty. She realizes, though, that if she wants to keep Paul, after 7 years he as a man loves her and wants her. She has to give herself to keep him, so she does, but she does it as if she were a martyr going through a willing sacrifice for her lover.

Lawrence's description of this is amazing. He describes how Paul feels like he is dying as he realizes that when they should be fulfilling the height of love, connecting soul, spirit, and body..... she has essentially removed her self in horror. She is there in body but it was like her soul was just standing by and waiting until his physical lust was gone. Paul's grief here is so intense, because he DOES love the girl and does long to have her, all of her, and realizes that though she loves him intensely she won't love him physically, but only submit to him. SAD. I grieved for him. I worry often about the women I knew at Moody and at what they might do to their man if they go into marriage with that attitude.

Paul reacts by following his lover's example - he also begins to satisfy himself but remove his soul during the act of sex. Lawrence says at one point that the woman realizes that he isn't seeing her, Miriam, as a person, he has divorced her from the picture and is making love only to a woman. Again, sad. I have never had that experience and the description was striking to me.

This split between body and soul is too much for Paul, in the end, and he runs quickly to the opposite extreme. He meets a divorced woman who is beautiful and withdrawn because of how society has judged her. They fall madly "in love" (read: infatuated) and she is a willing and passionate lover in a way that seems to satisfy his very soul after the wrenching experiences of loving and feeling shame with the last woman. This physical love is powerful stuff, healing wounds in him but also in her from her divorce. I think Lawrence is right - most men long for a baptism in a fire of passion - they imagine loving so much and connecting equally powerfully sexually.

It's interesting reading Lawrence's description here, because he doesn't seem to be able to piece together why in his own life this deep, intense, and satisfying physical love is not enough, in the end. He seems to think that it should have been. In the end, though, it falls apart because they have no claim on each other. She won't remarry because of a lingering tie to her ex, even though she clearly loves Paul. He can never claim her and have her has his own. She realizes that while she has all of him when they are lovemaking, in life she can't touch his soul or understand him the way the previous girl could. They slowly feel alienated from each other, and it doesn't work.

See the power of it all? It is an intense, descriptive, and insightful work. It could be used in a counseling class about relationships. :) I loved it.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Kacie. Thanks for a thoughtful review on this book. You covered the sexual aspects quite discreetly. I read this in college and don't remember ANYTHING you mentioned so I don't know where my mind was. Maybe it's time to give the book a second look.