Sons and Lovers

Sons and Lovers Study Guide

Though D. H. Lawrence's third published novel, Sons and Lovers (1913) is largely autobiographical. The novel, which began as "Paul Morel," was sparked by the death of Lawrence's mother, Lydia. Lawrence reexamined his childhood, his relationship with his mother, and her psychological effect on his sexuality.

The roots of Sons and Lovers are clearly located in Lawrence's life. His childhood coal-mining town of Eastwood was changed, with a sardonic twist, to Bestwood. Walter Morel was modeled on Lawrence's hard-drinking, irresponsible collier father, Arthur. Lydia became Gertrude Morel, the intellectually stifled, unhappy mother who lives through her sons. The death by erysipelas of one of Lawrence's elder brothers, Ernest, and Lydia's grief and eventual obsession with Lawrence, seems hardly changed in the novel. (Both Ernest and his fictional counterpart, William, were engaged to London stenographers named Louisa "Gipsy" Denys.)

Filling out the cast of important characters was Jessie Chambers, a neighbor with whom Lawrence developed an intense friendship, and who would become Miriam Leiver in the novel. His mother and family disapproved of their relationship, which always seemed on the brink of romance. Nevertheless, Chambers was Lawrence's greatest literary supporter in his early years, and he frequently showed her drafts of what he was working on, including Sons and Lovers (she disliked her depiction, and it led to the dissolution of their relationship). Lawrence's future wife, Frieda von Richtofen Weekly, partially inspired the portrait of Clara Dawes, the older, sensual woman with whom Paul has an affair. To be fair, Lawrence met Frieda only in 1912 at Nottingham University College, and he started "Paul Morel" in 1910.

Considered Lawrence's first masterpiece, most critics of the day praised Sons and Lovers for its authentic treatment of industrial life and sexuality. There is evidence that Lawrence was aware of Sigmund Freud's early theories on sexuality, and Sons and Lovers deeply explores and revises of one of Freud's major theories, the Oedipus complex. (Lawrence would go on to write more works on psychoanalysis in the 1920s.) Still, the book received some criticism from those who felt the author had gone too far in his description of Paul's confused sexuality. Compared to his later works, however, such as The Rainbow, Women in Love, and Lady Chatterley's Lover, Sons and Lovers seems quite modest.