Volume Five, December 2004

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that all progress, whether social, intellectual or spiritual develops painfully only after passing through an indefinite number of hardships and eventually, of relative failure. The problem appears when those who experience these hardships and this failure feel incapable (and perhaps, sometimes, even unwilling) to go beyond them and reach a stage of superior understanding, revealing the possibility of meaningful human relationships.
Yet, no meaningful relationship is possible before a realization of one’s own sense of identity, for the acknowledgement of identity in others (the only real basis for the achievement of true relationships, in D. H. Lawrence’s view) rests largely on a capacity of constructing it on a personal level. Moreover, neither the sense of individuality, nor that of community can exist without a deeply felt integration into a larger universe, which transcends psychologically or socially constructed categories. We felt therefore the need to proceed in our thorough analysis of the characters, on two mutually interdependent levels: the personal level (or the level of individuality/selfhood) and the social level.
These levels will be taken and analysed together because there is a very close interconnectedness between them. In fact, they largely depend on each other, insofar as any construction of identity depends upon the acknowledgement and respect of alterity (which is, as we have seen, clearly D. H. Lawrence’s own view of the mechanism of authentic interpersonal relations); and given the fact that the establishment of any authorised opinion about the characters (coming from the reader or an abstract reader-function) is, almost always in D. H. Lawrence’s case, dependent upon the perception of the degree and quality of the relationships they enter in, it becomes redundant to further stress the importance we should be giving to a pertinent and (we hope) complete analysis of the above-mentioned.
According to Lawrence’s own account, Sons and Lovers follows this idea:

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. These sons are urged into life by their reciprocal love of their mother – urged on and on. But when they come to manhood, they can’t love, because their mother is the strongest power in their lives, and holds them... As soon as the young men come into contact with women, there’s a split. William gives his sex to a fribble, and his mother holds his soul. But the split kills him, because he doesn’t know where he is.
The next son gets a woman who fights for his soul – fights his mother. The son loves the mother – all the sons hate and are jealous of the father. The battle goes on between the mother and the girl, with the son as object. The mother gradually proves stronger, because of the ties of blood. The son decides to leave his soul in his mother’s hands, and, like his elder brother, go for passion. He gets passion. Then the split begins to tell again. But almost unconsciously, the mother realizes what is the matter and begins to die. The son casts off his mistress, attends to his dying mother. He is left in the end naked of everything, with the drift towards death.1

Mrs Morel’s behaviour and mental structure are heavily imprinted and ‘trapped’ by the social milieu she comes from as well as by her education based on rigid moral principles (Puritanism), excessive intellectualism, a yearning for sensuality (her reason, in fact, for marrying Morel) which she finally denies and stifles; therefore, she’s never able to live a well-rounded, natural psychic (and physical) life – because she is too stubborn, powerful and unyielding. Her unhealthy tendency is towards domination and she exerts this proclivity of hers on whoever is around her (her husband, her sons), thus making futile any attempt of theirs (the extent of her success, however, is debatable as we shall see further on) to come to terms in a personal way with reality.
In Walter Morel’s case, she simply cannot let him ‘indulge’ in a life which to her appears not only ‘in-authentic,’ but alien (“she stove to make him intellectual...”2) and therefore she constantly forces upon him (or rather attempts to do so, because Walter Morel remains, in most of the cases, ‘immune’ to her attacks) a degree of consciousness and morality that he not only doesn’t possess, but that he cannot even comprehend. This obviously produces the adverse effects in Walter Morel, and much of his ulterior, despicable, behaviour, derives from this constant imposition of his wife and her stubborn refusal to incorporate in her psychic life any of Walter Morel’s attributes – which, of course, finally leads to the widening of the original existing gap between them and makes all prospects of communication and understanding impossible.
For Mrs Morel, her husband is nothing but a drunkard and a bully, a man with whom she shares neither intellectual, nor moral or religious sympathies, so it is natural that she should loathe him. However, what the book plainly shows, time and again, is that the Morels are at least equally responsible for the failure of their marriage; and yet Morel is here presented as feeling that the ruin is of his making. Indeed, if ultimate responsibility for the ruin must be fixed, then, on the objective evidence offered by the book, it is Mrs Morel who has the most to answer for. The moments of rare marital harmony depicted in several passages illuminate the nature of her responsibility. Body counts for more than she realizes, and through failing to make the most of Morel’s physical glow, she has forfeited not only the loveable husband that he is shown to be but her own transfiguring blaze of passion, which for a moment lights her up in middle age:

She still had her high moral sense, inherited from generations of Puritans. It was now a religious instinct, and she was almost a fanatic with him, because she loved him, or had loved him. If he sinned, she tortured him. If he drank, and lied, was often a poltroon, sometimes a knave, she wielded the lash unmercifully...
...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 be, she destroyed him. She injured and hurt and scarred herself, but she lost none of her worth. She also had the children.3

Thus, it is clear what Mrs Morel has lost, and it is to make up for it that she turns possessively, and as relentlessly as she ruined her husband, to her sons. As a result of this, the children get alienated from their father, whose personality degenerates gradually as he feels his exclusion; the mother more and more completely dominates her sons’ affections, aspirations, and mental habits. Urged by her toward middle-class refinements, they enter white-collar jobs, thus making one more dissociation between themselves and their proletarian father. As they attempt to orient themselves toward biological adulthood, the old split in the family is manifested in a new form, as an internal schism in the characters of the sons; they cannot reconcile sexual choice with the idealism their mother has inculcated into them. This inner strain leads to the elder son’s death.4
In William’s case, we’re witnessing just the incipient form of an imposition, which will become painfully visible and crippling in Paul’s case. The difference however, rests largely on the strength of the two sons to assert themselves. Thus, we have a paradox concerning this strength of the characters: although William is presented as both physically and mentally stronger, with a more evident (but less deep, we are to understand) desire of independence, it is he who fails completely to adjust to a world which appears, without his mother, insecure and uncomfortable.
The same motif is repeated in the case of Paul, the younger one. In Paul’s case, the extent of his mother’s influence is huge. She prevents him from achieving any degree of “healthy” sexual and emotional maturity by twisting his fragile psyche (as an adolescent) away from the natural attraction for girls of his age towards herself, as a mother (and, ideatically at least, as a lover as well). As a result, he is incapable of sharing either physically (Miriam) or emotionally (Clara) with the women in his life.
She also hinders, in a far subtler way, and totally unwillingly (to blame her for his difficulties in this particular area would mean to grossly exaggerate, but it’s quite obvious that the consequences of her other ‘impositions’ turn, as a “law of diminishing returns,” even against that which she so much cherished in her son — the artistic impulse; in other words, her desire to aestheticize and feminize Paul robs him of a share of vitality without which any work of art is doomed to be a failure) Paul’s development of an independent artistic consciousness (she hinders, but she cannot stop). Thus,

by thrusting ‘success’ imperiously upon her sons for her sake, she imposes on them an almost ineradicable sense of guilt in their progress through a difficult world. Moreover, by sharing intimately their developing ideas, their crises, their deepest affections and hatreds at the most impressionable times of their lives, she possesses them as individuals and defeats them, almost, as lovers defrauding them of life.5

Mrs Morel is a failure, finally, because she projects all her unfulfilled dreams and desires, forcefully, upon her children, and thus fails to enter an authentic (in Lawrentian terms) relationship with them. This relationship is flawed from the very beginning by her unhealthy desire to possess and at the same time to impose. This means that she not only becomes a failure in terms of human understanding and behaviour (although, to be sure, D. H. Lawrence makes all the efforts he can to present her sympathetically; however, we should take his own advice: “Never trust the artist, trust the tale,”) but she is also to blame for William’s desperate, and finally meaningless quest for identity (which she undermines mentally) and for Paul’s painful efforts to establish meaningful relationships with other women and for his ambiguous status as an artist figure throughout the novel. To put it more bluntly: because she has failed in constructing the identity she aimed at, she (unwillingly, we have to grant her that) obstructs her sons’ search for their own identity by trying to impose upon them a borrowed one (her own). Furthermore, because she has failed in achieving even a reasonably acceptable degree of communication with her husband (and, to a larger extent, with the whole community to which he belongs naturally and intrinsically), she prevents her sons’ entering a meaningful human contact with their father (which does not mean she completely succeeds; on the contrary, and despite the surface appearances of the novel, Paul at least, does get into a meaningful – though largely unconscious, it is true - contract with Walter Morel) and their achieving true relationship with girls of their age (William’s apparent independent erotic life only couches a desperate attempt to gain a freedom which is finally denied him because he finds the girls – or rather the girl, Gyp – in his life just inadequate, incomplete and worthless imitations of a far superior being, which is his mother).
William’s failure is, as we have seen, a direct consequence of his mother’s excessive domination upon his adolescent self, which left deep imprints upon his further development as an adult. It is true that he yearns for independence; nevertheless, that which he finally achieves (on an economical, financial level only) is not a true one, in the sense that the hold his mother has upon him never ceases, despite the physical distance, which exists between them. This hold is quite obvious in his incapacity to sympathize emotionally with anybody else than his mother. We might have the illusion he has managed to escape her influence when we read about his relationship with Gyp, but it soon turns out that he doesn’t even love her (not even as much as Paul “loved” Miriam) – he despises her (for obvious reasons – she is rather stupid, narrow-minded, shallow, she cannot understand his own deeply troubled spiritual life); yet we feel that this contempt has at its roots Gyp’s failure to mould on the image of the ideal woman, who is, for William, his own mother. We might even speculate that he chose Gyp precisely because she was so much his mother’s inferior, for fear that he might know a girl, who, incidentally, might be ‘better’ than his mother in all respects: intellectually, as well as, of course, physically.
To that extent, William does have his own share in his failure to construct a satisfactory identity. Being, at least in terms of distance, so far away from the influence of his mother, having known a different world, which could have offered him multiple perspectives and choices, he sticks, spiritually, to the old world of his adolescence and hesitates to come to terms with a thoroughly different reality. London could have provided him with the necessary degree of independence, but he refuses it even in such small gestures as sending most of the money he earns to his mother (of course, this is an interpretation that suits our purpose, it might very well be that he sent that money with the laudable intention of helping out his family). He is socially still an outsider precisely because, spiritually, he has condemned himself to being one.
Paul’s case, however, is much more complicated. We cannot really term him a failure, because he actually is not – the end of the novel, although very ambiguous in itself, makes it clear that we are to expect a hard-won, painful, but real independence. However, the road leading to it is by far more complicated than one would expect.
The one overwhelming shaping influence on Paul’s early manhood is clearly his mother. Initially, her feelings for Paul derive from a complex of guilt (for she brought him into the world revulsively, as an unwanted and all-too present evidence of the degradation which her love for Walter Morel had turned into), and she somehow wants to atone for this initial rejection, which symbolically is quite clearly illustrated by Paul’s fragile physical constitution and his precocious inwardly directed and sensitive nature. Yet, she is not totally dedicated to her younger son as long as William is still alive and this reticent attitude of hers is immediately sensed by the deeply intuitive child. So, unwillingly, she produces that feeling of inadequacy and rootlessness, which seems to characterize Paul’s adolescence. He does not fit in the community any more than his mother does (we shall be analysing this larger sense of social failure a little further on). Furthermore, she makes him incapable of ever turning to somebody else, either for physical attachment or spiritual fulfilment. He attempts to break free, but the relationships he develops with the women in his life (Miriam and Clara) are always tenuous, unsatisfactory and, ultimately, unfulfilling. Any commonsensical view of Paul’s character and psychology will not fail to notice that there is a huge split both in his emotional make-up and in his consciousness of it, between, on the one hand, his aspiration towards affective fulfilment on the spiritual level (which is partly offered to him by his mother – but only partly) and the “call of the flesh,” as it were, the natural (and in Paul’s case) long-repressed erotic desire.
If we apply a Freudian pattern of interpretation to Paul’s relationship with his mother, the mechanisms of his inner psychological dependency upon her become obvious. All the early formative influences in Paul’s life radiate from his mother. His admiration for her knows no bounds. Everything he does, he does for her, the flowers he picks as well as the prizes he wins at school. Even the painting that he does is to a large extent somehow ‘dedicated’ to his mother. That is why the critic A. B. Kuttner, for example, in one of his articles on D. H. Lawrence, “A Freudian Appreciation,” considers that Paul never becomes a real artist. Paul, Kuttner argues, uses his painting “to please his mother and to court his women, but in the crises of his life his art means nothing to him either as a consolation or as a satisfying expression.”6
Thus, Paul has no friends and he doesn’t feel part of the community the way Walter Morel does, or his brother Arthur does (one relevant scene is when he goes to get his father’s wages, and he feels out of place and humiliated among the simple, unpretentious and coarse miners). One reason explaining this behaviour is his mother’s whole emphasis upon making Paul interested in some other occupation than his father’s dirty digging, as a protest against the sordidness of life that she herself has been compelled to lead with him. As a result of this, Paul feels estranged and alienated from his father, whom he rejects precisely because his mother herself rejects him (yet, as we shall see, the rejection is much less complete than it is apparent). To put it bluntly, his whole identity finds expression in the wishes and desires of his mother: “In the end, she shared everything with him without knowing... She waited for his coming home in the evening, and then she unburdened herself of all she had pondered, or of all that had occurred to her during the day. He sat and listened with his earnestness. The two shared lives.”7 He himself seems to have no ambition. All that he wants is “quietly to earn his thirty or thirty five shillings a week somewhere near home, and then, when his father died, have a cottage with his mother, paint and go out as he liked, and live happy ever after.”8 That is the real seed of Paul’s difficulties and of his need of breaking free. This he attempts to do by centering his affections upon some other woman.
The first woman to attract Paul is Miriam Leivers, but he approaches her indirectly: through his art and as her teacher. Both methods are really self-defensive; they are barriers that he erects against Miriam to prevent anything too personal from arising between them, to keep his real self (or his mother’s?!), as it were, inviolate. He resists every intimation that he is falling in love with Miriam. He indignantly repudiates his mother’s intimation that he is courting and hastens to assure Miriam: “we aren’t lovers, we are friends.”9 He can do nothing with her love because he cannot return it. Love seems to him like a “very terrible thing.”10 He even feels hatred for her, at times, because of the reproaches of his mother. He stands divided between his two loves: “And the felt dreary and hopeless between the two.”11 There’s a failure of true communication between the two, and one reason accountable for his failure is the lack of true physical passion (in D. H. Lawrence’s system of values the body plays a very important part, a vital one, in any true relationship). Their intercourse is, finally, a failure when at last he tells her that he does not love her, that he cannot love her physically: “I can only give friendship – it’s all I’m capable of – it’s a flaw in my make – up ... . Let us have done.”12 And finally he writes: “In all our relations, no body enters. I do not talk to you through the senses – rather through the spirit. That is why we cannot love in common sense. Ours is not an everyday affection.”13
Thus, he tries to spiritualise their relations out of existence. He would persuade himself about his own impotence. At this point, Paul begins to turn to another woman, Clara Dawes. She exerts a frankly sensual attraction upon him without having any of that mystical unattainableness about her, which he felt so strongly with Miriam. Since she is a married woman, he doesn’t feel committed in any way. And yet he is still inhibited: “Sex had become so complicated in him that he would have denied that he ever could want Clara or Miriam or any woman whom he knows. Sexual desire was a sort of detached thing that did not belong to a woman.”14
The full flood of his passion turns to Clara and he tries to wear it out on her in the same impersonal way, and for a time lives in sheer physical ecstasy. With her at last he has had some relief, chiefly because his mother has not stood so much between them (which doesn’t mean she approves of his relationship with her, it only means she partly tolerates it). But it is only temporary; he cannot give himself to Clara any more than he could give himself to Miriam. Thus, he rehearses his old difficulties with his mother: “I feel sometimes as if I wronged my women, mother.”15 However, he does not know why:

‘I even love Clara, and I did Miriam; but to give myself to them in marriage I couldn’t. I couldn’t belong to them. They seem to want me, and I can’t ever give it them.’
‘You haven’t met the right woman.’
‘And I never shall meet the right woman while you live.’16

A classical Freudian interpretation would run as follows:

Paul cannot expand towards the universe in normal activity and form an independent sex interest because for him his mother has become the universe; she stand between him and life and the other woman. There is a kind of bottomless about him; life in a pretty house with his mother – the iteration sounds like a childish prattle. Miriam feels it when she calls him a child of four, which she can no longer nurse. Nor can Clara help him by becoming a wanton substitute for his mother. Only the one impossible ideal holds him, and that means the constant turning in upon himself which is death. Paul goes to pieces because he can never make the mature sexual decision away from his mother, he can never accomplish the physical and emotional transfer.17

His giving up both Clara and Miriam, thus, represents for Graham Hough “the climax of his nullity, and invites the final condemnation of his neurotic refusal of responsibility for his own existence.”18 But this is only one side of the coin. Something good emerges, after all, from these painful experiences. They have definitely brought about a marked change in his attitude towards his mother. It is as if he realized at last that she is destroying his life’s happiness. When she is ill, mingled with his love and his anguish at her suffering, a new feeling emerges: the wish that she should die. The feeling that he cannot live a life of his owns as long as she is alive, run side by side. However, when the death which he himself has hastened overtakes her, he cries with a lover’s anguish: “My love –my love – oh, my love!” he whispered again and again. “My love – oh, my love!”19
Critic A. B. Kuttner is of the opinion that death has not freed Paul from his mother, but that it has completed his allegiance to her. For death has merely removed the last earthly obstacle to their ideal union; now he can love her as Dante loved his Beatrice.20 He avows his faithfulness to her by breaking off with the only two other women who have meant anything to him. He is completely resigned; life and death are no longer distinguished in his thinking. Life for him is only where his mother is and she is dead. So why live? He cannot answer, life has become contradictory: “There seemed no reason why people should go along the street, and houses pile up in the day-light. There seemed no reason why these things should occupy the space, instead of leaving it empty... He wanted everything to stand still, so that he could be with her again.”21 But life in him is just a hair stronger than death: “He would not say it. He would not admit that he wanted to die, to have done. He would not own that life had beaten him, or that death had beaten him.”22
Beyond a Freudian approach however, Paul’s relationships with the two young women are much more complex. They can be basically seen as Paul’s attempt at breaking free. Even in his relationship with Miriam, beyond the obvious Freudian overtones, there lies something deeper. What he shies from, clearly, is her intrinsic possessiveness, which denies the substance of his very attempt at breaking free. The end is ambiguous: on the one hand, if we accept D. H. Lawrence’s final words, then Paul is clearly left spiritually and affectively broken after the death of his mother.

There was no Time, only Space. Who could say his mother had lived and did not live? She had been in one place and was in another; that was all. And his soul could not leave her, wherever she was. Now she was gone abroad into the night, and he was with her still. They were together. But yet there was his body, his chest that leaned against the stile, his hands on the wooden bar. They seemed something. Where was he? – one tiny upright speck of flesh, less than an ear of wheat lost in the field. He could not bear it. On every side, the immense dark silence seemed pressing him, so tiny a spark, into extinction, and yet, almost nothing, he could not be extinct. Night, in which everything was lost, went reaching out, beyond stars and sun. Stars and sun, a few bright grains, went spinning round for terror, and holding each other in embrace, there in a darkness that outpassed them all, and left them tiny and daunted. So much, and himself, infinitesimal, at the core nothingness, and yet not nothing.
‘Mother!’ he whispered – ‘mother’.23

Nevertheless, the novel is open-ended and reinterpretable. It is a release, even if a hard-won and painful one.
Walter Morel is a very interesting character to whom criticism has devoted, we feel, much less attention than he deserves. He is in no way as ‘complex’ psychologically as Mrs Morel is, but his way of life, his integration into the community, his enjoyment of the small but extremely important pleasures of life, his whole organic existence, all point to a complexity which transcends psychological categories to rise to larger, cosmic levels. Yet we cannot completely ignore his own role in the failure of their marriage and his lack of responsibility as regards the education and the maturing of his children. His “sin” is partly motivated by his incapacity to rise, intellectually, to his wife’s level, an incapacity easily explainable by the social background and class to which he belongs, by his lack of education and ultimately, by a completely different scale of values. With all this however, although at times he makes desperate efforts to understand Gertrude, he never fully realizes the extent to which his social condition and his being so poignantly different from her have managed to produce her estrangement and bitter disillusionment. He has disappointed her aspirations, he has failed to fulfil the initial promise of his youth and vigour, he has enclosed her, albeit unwillingly, in a spiritually stifling space which has thwarted not only her ambitions, but her real possibilities as well. He never gets to truly understand that what she needs is far more than he could ever possibly give her and his frustration at what he feels to be her rejection of him manifests itself violently and brutally. At one point in the novel, the hidden authorial voice states bluntly that “he has denied the God in him,”24 and indeed, to the extent to which he could have offered her, if not spiritual fulfilment, at least an affectionate and understanding protection, this is true. He feels guilty whenever he hits her, but this obviously cannot function as an excuse for a brutality that is, principially, inexcusable.
As regards his attitude towards the children, we might perhaps mildly characterize it as a kind of ‘un-responsible love.’ It is quite clear that he loves his children, (this is fully proved in those – though rare – passages in which he is presented as involved in making all sorts of toys and little trifles for them) but his love never rises to the status of responsible love. As everything else that he does, his love is purely instinctual – the fatherly feeling – but he never seems to be aware that his children need something more from a father than his mere physical presence. His degree of ‘irresponsibility’ is clearly illustrated by the fact that he quarrels with Gertrude and even hits her, despite the presence of the children. He also fails to perceive that such an apparently harmless (and, from a practical point of view, quite normal) gesture as the cutting off of Paul’s childlike locks might cause a deeper spiritual injury to a sensitive person as, beyond the shadow of a doubt, Gertrude was. The result is an utter failure of achieving a meaningful and complete communication with his two most sensitive children (William and Paul) – though, as we shall see there is something between them which could be characterized as an intuitive understanding, beyond words – and a rather scantily described relationship with the other two (except for Arthur, who is so much like him).
All in all, however, he is perhaps the most ‘naturally redeemable’ character in this novel, precisely because he possesses that which all the others seem to lack: an organic relationship with the true sources of life and a basic (although entirely unconscious) connection with them.
Miriam’s case is in many ways similar to that of Mrs. Morel, especially in her inhibiting and unhealthy possessiveness. She falls in love with Paul on a purely spiritual level, yet she claims a kind of “ownership” that he shrinks from precisely because this is what he is running away from. She fails Paul because she re-enacts the same attitudes that caused his attempt at breaking free from the influence of his mother. She understands Paul intuitively, she is an intelligent and sensitive young woman, but just like Mrs. Morel, she represses the natural bodily functions of her organism and tries to sublimate them, unnecessarily, in a kind of religious and pathetic fervour which Paul cannot help but hating. Her attitude is a self-sacrificial, ‘Christlike’ one, but it is precisely this imposition of her ‘self- sacrifice’ that Paul hates so much, because it compels him, morally, to a similar renouncement to his own instinctual nature (which demands a breach that his relationship with his mother does not allow). He does not want to sacrifice himself, he wants to find himself, and although in many ways Miriam helps him do that, at the level of intellectual and artistic development, she fails him on the very level on which he feels the sorest need for fulfilment.
A more recent critic, Mark Spilka, finds that the chief split between Paul and Miriam comes from the abstract nature of their love and not, primarily, from the mother’s hold upon the young man’s soul. And the final responsibility for this split belongs to Miriam. She gives Paul, at the crucial stage of his development, much-needed intellectual stimulation – she is “the threshing-floor on which he (threshes) out all his beliefs”25 – but what she gives in this way is vitiated by her “sucking of his soul”:

He felt that she wanted the soul out of his body, and not him. All his strength and energy she drew into herself through some channel, which united them. She did not want to meet him, so that there were two of them, man and woman together. She wanted to draw all of him into her. It urged him to an intensity like madness, which fascinated him, as drug-taking might.26

As Keith Sagar insightfully remarks, this unnatural intensity “the clenched will of Miriam”, relates her unmistakably to Hermione Raddice of Women In Love, even in her physical manifestation, a heaviness, almost a clumsiness in her movements:27

Her body was not flexible and living. She walked with a swing, rather heavily, her head bowed forward, pondering. She was not clumsy, and yet none of her movements seemed quite the movement. Often, when wiping the dishes, she would stand in bewilderment and chagrin because she had pulled in two halves a cup or a tumbler. It was as if, in her fear and self – mistrust, she put too much strength into the effort, over charged, closed in on itself.28

The same physical inhibition prevents Miriam from enjoying the swing. When her turn comes, she grips the rope with fear, resisting the forces which tend to carry her. As for her attitudes towards sex, they are to be closely associated with this physical inhibition, and they all stem from her religious indoctrination by her mother, whom she imitates, thus repressing the surge of life and ultimately, of ‘separateness’ in herself. Mrs. Leivers is a woman who “[exalts] everything – even a bit of housework – to the plane of a religious trust,”29 and her influence on her daughter is far-reaching. It results, for one thing, is the unnaturally high pitch at which Miriam habitually lives, and it is her emotional intensity that so often irritates Paul – though, in this respect, he no doubt dislikes in her a quality he distrusts in himself. The lovers are too like one another ever to be wholly at ease. Mrs Leivers’ influence accounts, too, for Miriam’s shrinking from sex. At the crisis of her relationship with Paul she says, “Mother said to me, ‘There is one thing in marriage that is always dreadful but you have to bear it.’ And I believed it.”30 The combined effect of animadversions such as this and of inculcated concepts of ‘purity’ is to distort her view of life. ... Miriam’s sacrificial submission to sex is at once the crux and the climax of her relationship with Paul.31 And like Mrs Morel, who does not tell the doctor about the lump in her side, she too is masochistically self-destructive in her self-sacrifice, for it is she who deliberately provokes Paul’s affair with Clara. She does so ostensibly, to ‘test’ him, but that she can regard his going to Clara as equivalent to his going to an inn for a glass of whisky is yet another indication of her incomprehension of the significance of the sex act. If Paul fails to break down her frigidity, she, in her anguished martyrdom, fails as decisively to liberate him:

Since the fire has failed in me,
What man will stoop on your flesh to plough
The shrieking cross?32

In Clara’s case, the failure is different only in the way it manifests itself, not in its quality. It is, basically, the some self-sacrifice D. H. Lawrence so much abhors because, in his view, it thwarts individuality and a sense of personal integrity, which is precisely what Paul seeks for. Her self-sacrifice is a measure of her refusal to be more than just an ‘instrument’ of Paul’s sexual liberation. Although she is endowed with intelligence and intuition, she never tries to go deeper into the personal motivations of Paul’s choices. She is satisfied with a purely carnal relationship and doesn’t want (and perhaps doesn’t even need – although Paul does) more.
Paul’s relationship with Clara is the obverse of that with Miriam. He is attracted to Clara, of course, precisely because she is so different from Miriam, but though Clara satisfies his physical needs for a time; she does not give him the fulfilment he is seeking:

She toiled to his side. Arriving there, she looked at him heavily, dumbly, and laid her head on his shoulder. He held her fast as he looked round. They were safe enough from all but the small, lonely cows over the river. He sunk his mouth on her throat, where he felt her heavy pulse beat under his lips. Everything was perfectly still. There was nothing in the afternoon but themselves. When she arose, he, looking on the ground all the time, saw suddenly sprinkled on the black wet beech – roots many scarlet carnation petals, like splashed drops of blood; and red, small splashes feel from her boson, streaming down her dress to her feet.
‘Your flowers are smashed ‘, he said.
She looked at him heavily as she put back her hair. Suddenly he put his finger-tips on her cheek.
‘Why dast look so heavy?’ he reproached her. She smiled sadly, as if she felt alone in herself. He caressed her cheek with his fingers, and kissed her.
‘Nay!’ she said. ‘Never thee bother!’33

The scarlet petals, it should be remembered, are ‘‘like splashed drops of blood’’ and splash, like blood, from Clara’s bosom; they are, we should say, an emotional equivalent of the bleached cherry-stones, which hang like skeletons, rather than a sign of renewal. They are, that is to say, a similar intimation of the likely failure of the relationship, and what they point to is its exclusively carnal nature. Clara smiles sadly, we notice, “as if she felt alone in herself,” and indeed from the outset she resents the impersonality of Paul’s attitude to her.34 Nor is it exactly “a baptism of fire in passion” that Paul is seeking. He wants that, even desires it urgently after his failure with Miriam, but what he is searching for and finds neither with Miriam nor Clara is the more lasting satisfaction of a union both of soul and body. And as the affair with Clara runs its course, Paul comes to realize that passion alone is not enough: “it was not she who could keep his soul steady.”35
Before he breaks with Clara, Paul tries to assure himself that he loves her, but it is a heavily qualified love: “Sometimes, when I see her just as the woman, I love her, mother; but then, when she talks and criticizes, I often don’t listen to her” and “in the daytime he (forgets) her a good deal.”36
It is only a matter of time before the fire consumes itself and he begins to ‘feel imprisoned’ in her presence. In the end, the effect she has on him is not dissimilar to the feeling of suffocation he has when he is with Miriam. It is Paul, we feel, who is largely at fault with Clara, but she fails him too – and in a way that relates her failure to that of Miriam:

She caught him passionately to her, pressed his head down on her breast with her hand. She could not bear the suffering in his voice. She was afraid in her soul. He might have anything of her – anything; but she did not want to know. She felt she could not bear it. She wanted him to be soothed upon her – soothed. She stood clasping him and caressing him, and he was something unknown to her – something almost uncanny. She wanted to soothe him into forgetfulness.
And soon the struggle went down in his soul, and he forgot. But then Clara was not there for him, only a woman, warm, something he loved and almost worshipped, there in the dark. But it was not Clara, and she submitted to him. The naked hunger and inevitability of his loving her, something strong and blind and ruthless in its primitiveness, made the hour almost terrible to her. She know how stark and alone he was, and she felt it was great that he came to her; and she took him simply because his need even if he left her, for she loved him.37

Middleton Murry has shrewdly remarked that “at the crucial moment, we cannot distinguish between Clara and Miriam.”38 Clara, in her submission, fails Paul. If Miriam is unable to respond to him sexually, Clara can cope only with his physical need of her: she is always “only a woman” to him and she gives up trying to comprehend him; she does “not want to know.” Both women ineffectually attempt to ‘soothe’ him by sacrificing themselves. But it is against just this sort of self-sacrifice that Paul pits himself, and, finally, he engineers Clara’s return to her husband. Dawes, it becomes evident, is more receptive to her pity: “she wanted now to be self-sacrificial.... So she kneeled to Dawes, and it gave him a subtle pleasure.”39
What is even more disturbing about Clara is that she fails herself as well, by renouncing her hard-won independence in the end, only to return to the husband whom she has formerly rejected. This gives us a measure of the weakness which, beyond all appearances, is still the dominant feature of her character. What redeems her, however, is precisely her capacity of rejoicing over the true essences of life, which, with D. H. Lawrence, have always very much to do with the animal instincts and basic bodily drives, on a metaphysical level, with the vital core of one’s selfhood.
The characters’ struggle for individuation (which is the crux of the whole novel, in fact) – whether conscious or unconscious – and at the some time the attempt at establishing meaningful human bonds on the basis, always, of an acknowledgement of the alterity in the others, are always presented in conflict with the drive towards possessiveness and the thwarted desires and ambitions which produce frustration and impinge on the very effort of building an authentic identity. The extent to which the characters fall prey to this unhealthy possessiveness provides us with the degree of their failure.

1. Ronald P. Draper, D. H. Lawrence. (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1964), 42.
2. D. H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers. (London: Wordsworth Editions, 1993), 18.
3. Ibid., 16.
4. Dorothy Van Ghent, “On Sons and Lovers” in Sons and Lovers - A Casebook. A Selection of Critical Essays, ed. Gamini Salgado (London: The Macmillan Press Ltd., 1979), 113.
5. Seymour Betsky, “Rhythm and Theme,” in ed. Salgado, op. cit., 134.
6. A. B. Kuttner, “A Freudian Appreciation,” in ed. Salgado, op. cit., 73.
7. D. H. Lawrence, 101.
8. Ibid., 125.
9. Ibid., 171.
10. Ibid., 75.
11. Ibid., 175.
12. Ibid., 176.
13. Ibid., 246.
14. Ibid., 272.
15. Ibid., 320.
16. Ibid.
17. A. B. Kuttner, “A Freudian Appreciation,” in Sons and Lovers - A Casebook. A Selection of Critical Essays, ed. Gamini Salgado (London: The Macmillan Press Ltd., 1979), 89-90.
18. Graham Hough, “Adolescent Love,” in ed. Salgado, op. cit., 156.
19. D. H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers (London: Wordsworth Editions, 1993), 346.
20. A. B. Kuttner, “A Freudian Appreciation,” in Sons and Lovers - A Casebook. A Selection of Critical Essays, ed. Gamini Salgado (London: The Macmillan Press Ltd., 1979), 81.
21. D. H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers (London: Wordsworth Editions, 1993), 364.
22. Ibid., 262.
23. Ibid., 365.
24. Ibid., 46.
25. H. M. Dalenski, The Forked Flame — A Study of D. H. Lawrence (London: Faber and Faber. 1965), 66.
26. D. H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers (London: Wordsworth Editions, 1993), 239.
27. Keith Sagan, “The Bases of the Normal,” in Sons and Lovers - A Casebook. A Selection of Critical Essays, ed. Gamini Salgado (London: The Macmillan Press Ltd., 1979), 208.
28. D. H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers (London: Wordsworth Editions, 1993), 133.
29. Ibid., 182.
30. Ibid., 355.
31. H. M. Dalenski, The Forked Flame — A Study of D. H. Lawrence (London: Faber and Faber. 1965), 70.
32. Ibid.
33. D. H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers (London: Wordsworth Editions, 1993), 271.
34. H. M. Dalenski, The Forked Flame — A Study of D. H. Lawrence (London: Faber and Faber. 1965), 72.
35. Ibid., 73.
36. D. H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers (London: Wordsworth Editions, 1993), 226-227.
37. Ibid., 269-270.
38. John Middleton Murry, “Son and Lover,” in Sons and Lovers - A Casebook. A Selection of Critical Essays, ed. Gamini Salgado (London: The Macmillan Press Ltd., 1979), 102.
39. D. H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers (London: Wordsworth Editions, 1993), 325.
40. Dumitru Ciocoi-Pop, Notes on Modern British Literature, (Sibiu: Editura Societatii Academice Anglofone din Romania, ULBS, 1997), 39.
41. Ibid.

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