D. H. Lawrence and the Idea of the Novel by John Worthen (auth.)

By John Worthen (auth.)

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William is clearly trying to live by a social code which sees engagement as obligation; and just as clearly he feels sexually responsible to her, too: 'for some things I couldn't do without her'. Far from being possessive, Mrs Morel is actually sympathetic and understanding. She goes out of her way to be nice to the girl, and she gives William utterly sensible advice: 'remember there are worse wrongs than breaking off an engagement' (SL 164). She sees 'the despair on his face', and she wants to help.

Then the split begins to tell again. But, almost unconsciously, the mother realises what is the matter, and begins to die. The son casts off his mistress, attends to his mother dying. He is left in the end naked of everything, with the drift towards death. (19 xi 1912) The insistence 'form-form' is obviously designed to persuade Garnett (now a publisher's reader upon whose advice Lawrence depended, as well as a friend) that Sons and Lovers had a shape of its own: and so is the plot outline, with its particular emphasis.

W. McLeod, he wrote that 'I felt you had gone off from me a bit, because of Sons and Lovers. But one sheds one's sicknesses in books-repeats and presents again one's emotions, to be master of them' (26 x 1913). That suggests rather more of what was involved, even if (with the awareness of hindsight) Lawrence's first word for the novel's contents was 'sicknesses'. As befits a book written so much out of his own life, it is the only one of his novels which we find him rethinking later. When, for instance, he read The White Peacock in Mexico in 1924, for the first time in fifteen years, it seemed simply 'strange and far off and as if written by somebody else' (Nehls ii 414); but Sons and Lovers was a book which, in 1922, he 'felt like rewriting' because 'he had not done justice to his father' (Nehls ii 126); and Aaron's Rod (completed the previous year) arguably demonstrates an attempt, in part, to recreate the figure of his father with a good deal more sympathy.

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