Saturday, October 5, 2013

sons and lovers

I read D.H. Lawrence's (probably) most famous book, Lady Chatterley's Lover, a number of years ago, but I don't remember a lot about it. I found this copy of Sons and Lovers in the book sale at my library. Its a beautifully bound edition from 1929 by Martin Secker Ltd of London, in what they call a thin paper edition. The cover boards are also thin and flexible, and covered with red linen. The book was purchased by a man from Schenectady, NY while in Paris, in 1930, according to a hand written note on the plain, white endpaper.

I wonder if the book was purchased in Paris because it wasn't available or if the purchaser didn't want anyone to know he'd purchased it. I may be projecting here, but I did chose to read this book last week in recognition of banned book week. Sons and Lovers has been banned at various times as pornographic. Both Sons and Lovers and Lady Chatterley's Lover appear on the list assembled by the ALA of the 46 books out of the Century's Top 100 Novels according to Radcliffe Publishing Course. That's almost half of the best novel in the last century that were banned or challenged, including the top 9.


That being said, Lawrence writes--if I can generalize, based on my vague recollections of Chatterley--of the quiet, thoughtful and heartfelt agony of everyday life, with an occasional burst of passionate glory, which then smolders back down to anguish and angst. Sons and Lovers follows the life story of the Morel family who live near the coal mining pits north of Nottingham in central England. After reading I know what Pink Floyd was talking about when they sang:

"Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over,
Thought I'd something more to say."*

The story does give a glimpse at the forces society still had on the personal decisions people made for themselves but were just beginning to be pushed back at--Sons and Lovers was first published in 1913. It was also interesting to see how it was beginning to be possible for the lower classes to make their way into the middle class in a single generation. I wonder if it was Lawrence's intention to point out that upwardly mobile people continued to have their lower caste problems; that they brought their problems with them in other words, or if he was simply saying that even if you do improve your lot, the cares of the world don't necessarily get any lighter.

At its core however, Sons and Lovers is a study of a dysfunctional family. I was also interested to read how we use the words rage and hatred seem to have changed over time. Lawrence uses these terms to portray feelings that are much more subtle and transient, making the love-hate relationship almost the norm as his trouble character waffle and sway in their internal emotional currents.

Why the ban? There are lots of emotions, and some of them very strong, throughout the book. Love and lust, not least. There are some scenes of sex and lovemaking that are very emotionally charged, without being very explicit, but one gets the feeling that some of the techniques Lawrence used to be subtle, pushed the very boundaries of what was acceptable. Still more are the longing glances and the notice of such things as how a woman's breasts move inside her clothing as she stoops to pick a flower. And one great moment when the main protagonist, considering whether to speak frankly of sex decides against such intercourse. Oh yeah, I can imagine the folks up in arms about such terms.

A final note: when I finished this I started right in on David Baldacci's book and it took a few pages for me to change gears enough to even understand the language, the writing is so different.

* Pink Floyd. "Time." Dark Side of the Moon. 1973. Mason, Waters, Wright, Gilmour. 

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