D.H. Lawrence’s first major novel that was initially called Paul Morel after the name of the central character was later given the title Sons and Lovers. The novel does not have different people as sons and lovers; it presents the story of a woman who, disillusioned with her husband, accepts two of her sons as lovers one after the other. This plan is made amply clear in a letter Lawrence wrote to Garnett: “A woman of character and refinement goes into the lower class and has no satisfaction in her own life. She has had a passion for her husband, so the children are born of passion, and have heaps of vitality. But as her sons grow up, she selects them as lovers-first the eldest, then the second. The sons are urged into life by the reciprocal love of their mother-urged on and on.” Thus it is clear that it is the sons themselves who, when they grow up, become the lovers of their mother.
The married life of the Morels is rather unhappy. Walter is a miner with crude and disagreeable manners. His wife takes pride in being considered intellectual and likes to hold arguments on religion, philosophy or politics with an educated person. Walter, incapable of understanding intellectual intricacies listens in deference but fails to appreciate. This eliminates the possibility of any finer intimacy between them. Mrs. Morel wants to mould Walter’s personality according to her wishes and, in the process, wrecks it completely. Lawrence gives a very relevant comment on their relationship:
“The pity was she was too much his opposite. She could not be content with the little he might be; she would have him the much that he ought to be. So, in seeking to make him nobler than he could, she destroyed him.”
After William’s birth, the relations between Walter and Gertrude quickly disintegrate. Walter takes to drinking heavily and becomes peevish and ill-tempered. He is alternately severe and penitent, harsh and tender, but Gertrude is put off by both. She also fails to realize that to a very great extent she is herself responsible for his disintegration. She looks down upon him herself and passes on this aversion even to her children. As William grows up, Gertrude rejected Walter gradually and seeks emotional fulfillment in William. William also responds to her. Once he buys at a fair two egg-cups with moss roses on them and brings them to her ‘almost like a lover’.
On another occasion, when William wins a prize at school and when he brings it home to his mother, she receives it like a ‘queen’. William is a handsome boy and a number of girls call at his house to meet him. But Mrs. Morel is jealous of these visits. She is also jealous of Gyp and vehemently criticizes her manners when William brings her home for a short visit. William feels torn between his attachment to his mother and his love for Gyp, suffers from an acute conflict and ultimately dies from it.
After William’s death, his place is taken by the second son, Paul. Once when Paul falls seriously ill and Mrs. Morel nurses him back to health, they ‘realise’ each other. After this, whatever Paul does, he does for his mother. Mrs. Morel becomes his confidante. She too waits for his coming home in the evening and unburdens herself of all that she has pondered over or all that has occurred to her during the day. The two share lives.
The fact that Paul treats his mother almost like a lover is clear from his relationship with his father and with Miriam. Unwittingly he looks upon his father as his rival and there develops a feeling of hatred and hostility
between the two. Once Paul wins a prize and Mrs. Morel asks him to show it to his father. But Paul feels that it would be easier for him to forfeit the prize than approach his father with the news. Paul often strokes his mother’s hair and fondles and kisses her. On their visit to Nottingham, he treats her like his ‘sweetheart’ and when they walk down Station Street together they feel the excitement of lovers having an adventure together.
On another occasion, he regretfully raves at having an ‘old’ mother for a sweetheart.
Paul fails in his relationship with Miriam mainly because of his love for his mother. It is true that Miriam is sexually inhibited and much of the responsibility for the failure of her affair with Paul lies with her, but it does not absolve him from his share in the responsibility. The mother-pull in him is so strong that he can never give himself freely to Miriam. He instinctively dislikes even a touch from Miriam:
“Sometimes as they were walking together, she slipped her arm into his. But he always resented it. The place where she was touching ran hot with friction.”
But there is no such feeling when he is with his mother. Once he kisses his mother on the forehead. His hand lingers on her shoulder after the kiss and he forgets Miriam. Thus it is true that Mrs. Morel accepts her sons as her lovers and this justifies the title-Sons and Lovers.
Also read: Oedipus Complex in “Sons and Lovers”