9. Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence

Year Published: 1913 (unexpurgated text in 1992)
Pages: 464 
First Sentence: "The Bottoms" succeeded to "Hell Row."
Rating: 2/3 (meh)

After reading The Rainbow and skipping Women in Love, I wasn't too sure what to expect from Sons and Lovers, the third D. H. Lawrence novel on The List. I certainly hoped that it would be better, given its position.

In this book, Lawrence is once again writing at great length about a family, in this case the Morels. Mr. Morel is a coal miner in Nottingham and Mrs. Morel ends up married to him despite her higher social status because he's a vibrant personality and a good dancer. They're soon tremendously unhappy together, but have four children, three boys and a girl. The two older boys, William and Paul, are the "Sons" of the title. William gets work and goes out into the world, while Paul develops a bizarre codependent relationship with his mother. The "Lovers" in the title are Paul's two love interests, who show up about halfway through. At that point, the novel becomes exhaustively about Paul and his feelings, and therefore a lot less interesting.

All that being said, I did like this better than The Rainbow. I didn't necessarily like it, but I liked it better. Lawrence is exploring the same themes, which is to say sexuality and its impact far beyond the sexual act itself, as well as all the other kinds of human connection and how fraught they are. We not only see Paul's dysfunctional romantic relationships, but also the Morels' abusive marriage, the relationship between Paul and his mother and his older brother William, and on and on. Lawrence is good at this, and he's good at describing the way it feels to be conscious of one's body moving through indoor and outdoor spaces, alone or with others.

What Lawrence isn't good at is succinctness, and wow does the book ever get repetitive, especially in the second half. On a prose level, nothing in this book annoyed me as much as the word repetition in The Rainbow. On a plot level, I was annoyed to find myself again and again reading about how Paul feels about his father, his mother, his lover Miriam, his second lover Clara, wash, rinse, repeat, circling through all of these in various permutations and combinations. The book can also be unfocused and sometimes feels sloppy. The Morel family are constantly moving around from house to house in their town and this is always mentioned as an afterthought and for no clear purpose. Or sometimes random friends of Paul's are introduced by name and then never heard from again, but meanwhile a character with multiple lines of dialogue in a crucial scene is only ever named "the mutual friend."

For anyone who knows of Lawrence because of his scandalous reputation, I'll say that this book is more explicit than The Rainbow. However do note that I mostly read the "unexpurgated text" from 1992 rather than the 1913 version censored by the publisher. (I saw mostly because I started off reading the 1913 version as an ebook prior to getting a hard copy from the library, and was way too lazy to go back to the beginning once I realized they were different texts.) When I say "more explicit" I should also clarify that it isn't all that explicit to a modern reader, but there's definitely fornication involved.

The main trouble with this book is that even though I was interested in its themes, I was never very interested in Paul Morel or his mother. That, and there was an uphill battle to climb here thanks to my need for the book to prove itself compared with my preconceptions based on Lawrence's other work. 

So I dunno, this certainly wasn't a Top 10 book in my opinion and now that I'm done I probably won't be reading any of Lawrence's work in the future. Feel free to give him a try if you want.
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He looked round. A good many of the nicest men he knew were like himself, bound in by their own virginity, which they could not break out of. They were so sensitive to their women, that they would go without them for ever rather than do them a hurt, an injustice. Being the sons of mothers whose husbands had blundered rather brutally through their feminine sanctities, they were themselves too diffident and shy. They could easier deny themselves than incur any reproach from a woman. For a woman was like their mother, and they were full of the sense of their mother. They preferred themselves to suffer the misery of celibacy, rather than risk the other person.
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