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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The loves and frustrations of ordinary working-class life

Title: Sons and Lovers
Author: D. H. Lawrence
Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza 
 After hearing endless plaudits about Sons and Lovers (1913), I exploited the recent election madness in Kampala and stayed indoors reading the book. By midway, I was getting a little disappointed that it was not holding me as magically as expected. 

   And that’s not to mean the book’s boring really. Far be it from me to impugn the skillfulness of D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930), who some critics have called the greatest English writer. But I feel this book’s weakened by the rootlessness of its plot. 

    I couldn’t figure out who drives the book. Is it Walter Morel, the hardworking coal miner who puts in the best he can for his family but is least appreciated? Is it his resolute little wife, Gertrude that’s as difficult to please? Is it their excessively handsome first son, William, whose early promise is obstructed by his dull-witted girlfriend before death finally snuffs out his young life? Is it their sensitive last son, Paul, struggling to divide his love between three women: the intricate Miriam Leivers, the busty Clara Dawes and his jealous mother? 

Everyone in the Walter Morel household, around which the 474-page volume revolves, is a protagonist and antagonist in one way or the other. Therein is the uniqueness of this sensual novel. To be admired also is the lucidity and sincerity with which Lawrence captures the loves and frustrations of ordinary working-class life, giving us new perspective into human behaviour.

Love’s gone out of the Morel homestead except for that of a mother for her children. Basically life offers little fulfilment, and some resentment sneaks on in the hearts of the children who find their father irritable. He seeks solace in work and the bottle while Gertrude escapes from the claustrophobic home by talking to Paul, who in turn finds release in painting. To William, it's dances and women while Arthur lives recklessly, eventually joining the army.

Throughout, the restlessness and listlessness of the main characters heightens the tension, bespeaking of the complex relationships among the sexes. After the death of his mother, Paul finally, determinedly, extricates himself from his attachment to Miriam, and quickly walks “towards the city’s gold phosphorescence,” symbolic of a new life ahead; a life devoid of the mistakes and failures of his parents.  

Sons and Lovers was turned into film in 1960, which I must watch to fully appreciate the merits of Lawrence’s first major novel. 

--Sunday Monitor, March 13, 2011