Summary of Sons and Lovers

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Sons and Lovers book summary

Literary Classic

  • Novel
  • Modernism

What It’s About

They Mess You Up Your Mum and Dad

D.H. Lawrence remembered that his mother would collect him and his siblings to tell them spiteful horror stories about their father. In 1926, he wrote to a friend: “We can’t help being more or less damaged.” Sons and Lovers is his mostly autobiographical account of the damage done to him by an overbearing mother and underwhelming father, but also the damage he did to the women he engaged with. Many of his contemporaries were aghast at the brutal realities and sexual liberties he described. Today some scholars snub their noses at him for being a reactionary misogynist. Yet none of that addresses his fundamental points. In this early 20th century masterpiece, the author described the effect of emotional alienation, broken dreams, borderline incestuous motherly love and repressed sexuality in a way that still resonates today – if only because we all can’t help being more or less damaged ourselves.

Take-Aways

  • Sons and Lovers, D.H. Lawrence’s first great novel, scandalized the public and established his reputation as an erotic writer.
  • Paul’s unhappily married mother chooses him to be her closest confidant. This keeps him from having healthy relationships with other women. He gets intellectual satisfaction from his childhood sweetheart Miriam, and finds sexual fulfillment with the married Clara. Only after his mother dies can he start his own life.
  • In the ground-breaking novel, published in 1913, the author tackled his own overly attached relationship to his mother.
  • A keen student of Freud’s psychoanalysis, he used the Oedipal complex as an overarching theme.
  • Believing in the supremacy of the flesh over the intellect, he elevated sex to a quasi-religious state.
  • His editor shortened the final draft by about one tenth, taking out some of the most suggestive passages, which were only restored in 1992.
  • Despite this, many critics took issue with what they saw as a morbid obsession with sex.
  • People were also scandalized by his private choices: In 1912 he eloped with the German Frieda Weekley, a married mother of three.
  • Lawrence’s literary reputation has fluctuated over the decades, from a writer of obscenity to sexually liberating genius to reactionary sexist and now, more justly, to a gifted and complicated author.
  • “She bore him, loved him, kept him, and his love turned back into her, so that he could not be free to go forward with his own life, really love another woman.”
 

Summary

The Brief Happiness of Gertrude Morel

Bestwood, a small town between Nottingham and Derby, is a coal- and iron-mining area. Black pits blight the once sweet, rural countryside, where living conditions among the working classes are notoriously awful. This is where Gertrude Morel lives. She was born into a distinguished puritan family, yet has committed the most fateful error of her life by marrying the uneducated collier Walter Morel. Initially she was fascinated by his sensuous and jolly character, but soon discovered its flip side: He lives on debt, is a swindler, drunkard and womanizer. Their married bliss lasts but a few months. Slowly, Gertrude begins to feel disgusted with her life choices, and after a time she ceases to care for Morel at all, and he becomes an “outsider” for her.

If it were not for William and Annie, she was sick of it, the struggle with poverty and ugliness and meanness.

Her firstborn William is followed by Annie and eventually Paul. Gertrude lives for her children alone, becoming increasingly alienated from herself and her former dreams. She finds peace and contentment at night, alone in the garden in front of their humble home. Walter, an early bird, is mostly even-spirited and peaceful in the morning, yet he doesn’t know how to show his feelings for the family or be helpful. That makes him both unhappy and aggressive. He drowns his frustration in alcohol, failing to assert his authority as husband and father, which makes him even more irritable and resentful. Moreover, he is jealous of the clergyman Mr. Heaton, with whom his wife has hours-long, cultivated conversations. The whole family suffers from this atmosphere of powerlessness and alienation. Each of them is happier alone; together, they make each other’s lives hell.

Mrs. Morel and Her Sons

Paul is an unusual baby. He is born with knitted brows and heavy eyes, as if something had terrified him even before he saw the light of day. Gertrude will love this child even more than the others, precisely because she hasn’t wanted it in the first place, and she feels guilty about it. Hoping that a great future is in store for him, she holds the infant towards the setting sun performing a symbolical baptism of fire. Against her gnawing loneliness she seeks solace from William, who is torn between conflicting emotions. Eventually the adolescent boy sides with her against Walter, undermining his father’s authority as head of the family. Yet the collier keeps on raging and rampaging. One day he threatens to run away, only to return that same night. Another day he injures his wife in a drunken stupor. Eventually, Walter falls seriously ill with an inflammation of the brain. Gertrude nurses him out of a sense of duty and fear of destitution, knowing full well that there is nothing left of her love for him. Still, some time after Walter’s illness Arthur is born, fruit of this temporary truce between the spouses. 

Looking ahead, the prospect of her life made her feel as if she were buried alive.” (about Gertrude Morel)

While Paul grows into a delicate and melancholic boy, William evolves into a vigorous young man. He is intelligent and an excellent student, quick-tempered, a dancer and heartthrob like his father. Mrs. Morel is jealous of his “floozies,” while he yearns for his mother’s attention and approval. After a while, William loses weight and with it his cheerfulness. He goes to London and is doing quite well. But pretty soon he stops sending any money, much to his mother’s chagrin. He lives in style and hooks up with women who take advantage of him. Paul, on the other hand, takes after his mother and, after William’s departure, grows ever closer to her. He adores her, feeling affection, pain and guilt at the same time, along with a sense of disempowerment. It’s highly confusing. When Paul is sick, his mother sleeps with him in the same bed. She chooses him as a friend, thus making her firstborn jealous. Meanwhile, in London, William has become a snob. He begins to turn his back on his modest family background, and this worries Gertrude. She fears that he won’t live up to his potential. She shares her concern with Paul, who is beginning to feel like the important man of the house. He is extremely sensitive. The unfamiliar daunts him; he thinks that he’s constantly under observation and evaluation. He loves painting, but in order to make money he has to take up a trade – and is indifferent to what it might be. In an ideal future, after his father’s passing, he would like to live with his mother, dedicating himself to art and a quiet existence.

His wife was casting him off, half regretfully, but relentlessly; casting him off and turning now for love and life to the children. Henceforward he was more or less a husk.” (about Mr. Morel)

Paul finds a position with a manufacturer of surgical appliances in Nottingham, Annie becomes a junior teacher and the handsome but quick-tempered Arthur wins a scholarship to grammar school, going off to live with Gertrude’s sister in town. All the children have become utterly disgusted with their aging and increasingly degenerate father. Out of hurt and spite, the old man turns even more offensive, which makes them loathe him more. One day, William introduces his newly betrothed; a dim and simple girl who acts all posh at the Morel’s house and expects to be waited on by everyone. William despises her for being foolish and empty-headed, yet he seems caught in a dead-end love-hate relationship with her. It drives a wedge between him and his mother. She wants to save him from a loveless marriage such as hers, while also demonstrating her intelligence and conversation skills to her son. Premonitions of death haunt William, who soon falls ill with pneumonia and erysipelas, a rare skin disease. Gertrude hurries to London, but too late: She brings back a dead son. In her grief, she shuts herself off from everybody for three long months. Then Paul contracts pneumonia. Her sense of guilt brings Gertrude back to life. Now she lavishes all her remaining attention on Paul: Mother and son save each other. Henceforth, they are more deeply connected than ever before.

Between Motherly and Girly Love

Paul gets to know Miriam Leivers on a local farm. She doesn’t want to be a “swine-girl” for the rest of her life, but rather open herself to the world through education. Together, they read and discuss books, while Paul is teaching her French; the local library becomes their favorite meeting place. The pubescent Paul is fascinated by how emotional and entirely detached her family is from worldly affairs, seeming to imbue everything with some deep religious meaning – a stark contrast to his mother’s rationality. A purely spiritual exchange and reflection of nature nurtures Paul and Miriam’s love, which slowly becomes complicated: They end up being tender and rough, passionate and hateful to each other, a true emotional roller-coaster. When Miriam shows him a wild rose bush, they are closer to each other than ever before. Miriam is ecstatic in her worship. But her parted lips and dark eyes rouse something different in Paul. He says goodnight and runs all the way home. His mother is waiting for him, constantly fretting in her jealousy. He is happiest when he can sit with his mother at night, painting.

They used to flame in the window in the March sunshine as he sat on the sofa chattering to his mother. The two knitted together in perfect intimacy. Mrs. Morel’s life now rooted itself in Paul.

One night, when Miriam sees Paul stand out in the rich and golden evening sunlight, she has a revelation. She admits that she loves him and that her body aches for him. She even starts dreaming of him. But she swiftly inflates her desires into something mystical and religious. Paul, too, yearns for physical love, but Miriam only grants him mental and spiritual satisfaction. He feels rejected and incomplete, becoming increasingly frustrated and abusive towards her. When the moment arrives to exchange their first lover’s kiss, he shrinks from her in fear, anger and shame. Moreover, his mother hates Miriam with a passion, and this throws Paul into yet another dilemma. In the end, all three of them despise one another.

Is It Carnal Love?

For the first time, Paul exhibits some of his paintings and wins prizes for them. Paul’s success gives his mother a sense of fulfillment, and Paul, in turn, dedicates all his art to her. In the factory he is promoted to being an overseer, making progressively more money. Simultaneously he studies textile design. Miriam introduces Clara Dawes to him – immediately recognizing the effect she has on Paul’s masculinity. Clara is a suffragette, and she lives separated from her husband. She is Miriam’s complete opposite: While the younger one meekly lowers her head, the older of the two stands proud. Paul continues to struggle with the cerebral nature of his relationship with Miriam, and he can’t figure out the confusing signals she is sending. Sometimes he dreams of marriage and a bourgeois life with her. But he remains unconvinced. Gradually they realize that they might not be meant for each other after all, which makes them infinitely sad. The only significant other in Paul’s life is his mother. Their reconciliation has an erotic touch, but Paul also realizes that his mother has grown older and more frail. Having returned to her makes him feel at ease and trapped at the same time. In a way he is fighting against both women, Miriam and his mother. On the one hand, he tells his mother he’ll never marry and stay with her forever, on the other he can’t wait to break free and start his own life like his siblings Annie and Arthur.

Paul looked into Miriam’s eyes. She was pale and expectant with wonder, her lips were parted, and her dark eyes lay open to him. His look seemed to travel down into her. Her soul quivered. It was the communion she wanted.

Miriam is willing to wait until Paul’s mother will release him from her tight grip and Paul will have quenched his desire for Clara. Just like the other men in his family, Paul loses himself in frivolous activities. Unlike Miriam, he sees Clara as a tantalizing sexual being. He courts her, although she often rubs him the wrong way. In a letter to Miriam he calls her a nun and points to the inherent flaw in their relationship: Her quest for immortal, spiritual love is irreconcilable with mortal and commonplace affections. He decides to follow his own sex drive. Miriam hesitates, her whole body clenches at the idea of physical love. Paul frightens her when he is reduced to fits of passionate desire, and when she tries to look into his eyes, he cannot withstand her gaze. Eventually she decides to sacrifice herself for the sake of their love and sleeps with him. But Paul realizes that she can only bear it by escaping into a religious sphere, remaining entirely absent from the act. She tells him that she wouldn’t mind it as much if they were married, yet also claims that, at 24 and 23, they are still too young to do so. Her distress makes Paul feel like a brute. He realizes that the whole thing has been a failure, and he stops asking her to have him. Eventually, he leaves Miriam altogether.

A Mighty Desire

Paul gets Clara a job at the factory where he works. Being with and without her makes him mad with frustration and desire. The two of them constantly bicker and fight, in order to conceal their mutual affection. Paul still thinks that his soul belongs to Miriam, so he tries to separate sexual desire from everyday interactions with women. Clara tells him that he’s being unfair to Miriam, and that he simply doesn’t get her true needs and desires. But Paul is also very selfish towards Clara. He doesn’t appreciate the social price that she, as a married woman, has to pay for being involved with him. Basically he doesn’t care about her perspective on the matter. Miriam and even his mother both appeal to his conscience, but in vain. Leaving her husband, Clara did what Paul’s mother never managed to do – and that earns her some respect with Mrs. Morel. The latter is also relieved that Miriam seems to be out of the picture, yet doesn’t quite think of Clara as a suitable match for her son, either. She frightens Clara, and in the end the mother wins their mute duel over Paul.

See, you are a nun. I have given you what I would give a holy nun – as a mystic monk to a mystic nun.” (Paul to Miriam)

Paul and Clara experience a passionate adventure near a rapid stream. Paul mounts a steep bank of red clay and throws down his rainproof on the damp leaves between two beech trees, more or less out of sight from a group of fishermen. Then he waves for Clara to come over. Panting and kissing passionately, Paul gives Clara a forceful love bite. Later, while walking her to the train station after a visit to his house, he tells her that he wants to remain friends with Miriam, even if there’s nothing physical going on between them. Clara recoils from him, feeling distant and disappointed, which in turn enrages Paul. He turns cruel and ugly against her, grabbing her violently and telling her in a husky voice that she’s going to miss her train anyway. Now Clara is afraid, alone with Paul on this dark, lonely path. When she hears the rattling of the train in the distance she makes a run for it and catches it in the nick of time.

He spent the week with Miriam, and wore her out with his passion before it was gone. He had always, almost willfully, to put her out of count, and act from the brute strength of his own feelings.

But soon they reconcile again. Together, they go to watch a stage play starring the famous Sarah Bernhardt. Clara, wearing a tight, green dress, tortures him with her beauty. Bending down, he kisses her hand and wrist, and all through the performance he can think of nothing but her beautiful body. In the end, he tells her he loves her. Having missed the last train he spends the night at Clara’s, who lives with her cantankerous mother. When, after much ado and many a game of cards, the old woman finally goes to bed, he finds Clara downstairs, kneeling naked in front of the fireplace, warming herself. He caresses her body, holding her tight, adoring her. His tenderness heals her and she feels whole again. Hot blood waves up in him again, he wants to have sex with her in his room, with the mother next door. But Clara refuses. Paul goes to bed alone, without understanding, and swiftly falls asleep.

The Mother’s Passing

Clara’s husband, Baxter Dawes, begins to stalk Paul. The two of them get into a pub fight, and Baxter threatens Paul at work. As a result, Dawes is fired and summoned to court for assault. The affair is now as public as it can get. Clara tells Paul that she doesn’t love her ex, but that she doesn’t want to divorce him, either. She feels that Baxter at least gave her everything of him, while Paul just offers part of himself. One night Baxter beats up Paul. But he can’t talk about such humiliations with his mother. His sex life is a taboo between them. Suddenly their mutual bond seems too tight. He feels blocked and inhibited. It dawns on him that he’ll never find the right woman as long as his mother lives, and as if reading his dark thoughts, she falls ill with a tumor.

But all my life. Mother said to me: There is one thing in marriage that is always dreadful, but you have to bear it.’ And I believed it.” (Miriam to Paul)

Clara loves Paul passionately, but she feels that she gets shortchanged in their relationship. He doesn’t seem to love her as a person, but merely the idea of her as something sensuous and feminine. On the one hand, she wants to hold on tight to their moments together. On the other she knows that, as a married woman, she will never have him all to herself. After a while the initial fiery passion between them wanes. Their lovemaking becomes more mechanical and uneventful. In search of a way to rekindle the flame they end up having furtive sex in public spaces. Meanwhile, Paul is losing himself in endless soul-searching. Although it is him who withdraws from Clara, he urges her to get a divorce. But Clara refuses. From her point of view, Baxter offers a kind of consistency that Paul entirely lacks.

She bore him, loved him, kept him, and his love turned back into her, so that he could not be free to go forward with his own life, really love another woman.” (about Paul and his mother)

Paul’s mother suffers horribly from her illness for many long months. It is as if she can’t let go, no matter how much her body fails her. Paul can’t stand the pointless agony. He gives her a strong dose of morphine to drink. The next day she dies.

Paul Starts a New Life

Paul befriends Baxter, who has fallen ill with typhus and is in hospital, brooding. At the same time Clara and Paul’s relationship is coming to an end. Their passion is spent, and Clara can’t help with his mourning for his mother. He thinks that she can’t deal with his broken self. So she returns to Baxter, who has lost weight, become handsome again and emerged from his illness somewhat reformed. Paul and Walter Morel dissolve their household. Henceforth, Paul rents a small place in Nottingham, abandoning himself to his grief. He is unable to paint, and he doesn’t even notice how the weeks and months go by. He is pondering the meaning of it all. His mother is dead, but he’s alive. Why? To make her immortal through his own being? Thus oscillating between death and life, he goes to church one evening, where he runs into Miriam. It turns out that she will soon be making her own living as a teacher. To Paul, she seems to have aged prematurely, a stiff and almost wooden creature. Despite the fact that she disagrees with him on many things, she suggests they get married – if only so he doesn’t continue to waste himself. He refuses, knowing that she would smother him to death. Then he asks her if they couldn’t possibly have a relationship outside of marriage. This Miriam isn’t willing to do, and she leaves him for good, resenting him for having refused her sacrifice. Again, he feels tiny and insignificant, whimpering for his mother. Then he pulls himself together and walks away from the darkness towards the golden glow of the city.

About the Text

Structure and Style

The novel Sons and Lovers consists of two parts: In the first, the author tells the story of the passionate but unhappy relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Morel, their flawed family life and the sons’ childhood. This part ends with William’s death. The second part focuses on Paul Morel, his borderline incestuous love for his mother and flawed relationships with Miriam and Clara. The narrative flow switches between episodes that are told in slow motion with almost torturous detail, and a fast-forward mode spanning long periods of time. D.H. Lawrence zooms into the characters’ inner lives, laying open their painful battles and soul-searching, only to zoom out again to assume the perspective of the omniscient narrator, creating the impression that the text interprets itself. Although most of the characters are hard to sympathize with, Lawrence treats them with a basic humanity. Even the abusive, shiftless Walter Morel occasionally gets a break, as the reader glimpses what it must be like when your entire family gangs up against you. His complete isolation is reinforced by the fact that he speaks such a thick Nottinghamshire dialect that, for the modern reader, it is sometimes hard to understand him. And whenever Lawrence describes human passions and the natural world – two elements that are often interrelated – his language turns poetic, floral and expressionistic.

Interpretation

  • The novel is an autobiographical confession: Aside from Clara Dawes, all major characters are drawn from the author’s own life. Through Paul Morel, Lawrence relives his own troubled upbringing, his nearly overly attached relationship with his mother, flawed relationships with women and eventual sexual liberation. He once said about growing up in a dysfunctional family: “We can’t help being more or less damaged.”

  • Lawrence was a keen student of Freud’s psychoanalysis, and he was convinced that early childhood experiences had a profound effect on your adult life. In a letter to his editor he laid out the intended Oedipal structure of his novel. According to Freud, you have to either overcome the Oedipal stage or suffer from neurosis. In Sons and Lovers, Lawrence describes the neurotic separation of the flesh from the intellect.

  • The work is an early expression of Lawrence’s sexual conversion: At age 23, when his mother was still alive, he claimed that he didn’t much care for “sex matters,” but he later elevated physical love to his personal religion. Another focus was the dehumanizing effects of modernity and industrialization. In the book, he contrasts the dark coal mines and company housing with the gorgeous, peaceful and bright English countryside, equating it with sensuality and intimacy.

  • It is also a coming-of-age novel with an open ending: Paul can only realize himself and escape from his narrow, stifling background after his mother has passed, severing all ties to his previous life – and paying dearly for it. In Lawrence’s own words: “He is left in the end naked of everything, with the drift towards death.”

  • Like his alter ego, Lawrence consciously chose the position of an eternal outsider: The world of his working-class upbringing in a coal town, which he chronicled with great care and in loving detail, remained just as alien to him as the sophisticated, intellectual literary world he passed by but never fully entered.

Historical Background

Decadence and Cultural Blossoming at the Edge of the Abyss

In the 19th century, Britain became the homeland of the Industrial Revolution due to favorable political, economic, social and geographic conditions. Science and technology made great leaps forward, and the growing population in the countryside supplied a never-ending stream of mostly impoverished laborers. Living conditions in the industrial centers were often horrific: Workers toiled for every waking hour, child labor was the norm, housing was miserable and sanitary conditions unspeakable. This so-called Social Question gave rise to conflict and laborers fought throughout the century for better conditions, from the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 through to the eventual founding of the British Labour Party in 1900. By that point, life for millions of miners and factory workers had improved somewhat. While not always enforced, child labor was officially banned in most sectors, and work hours were gradually reduced. A growing consumer culture combined with falling prices for mass-produced items such as textiles or china meant that people had some leisure time and money left over after covering their bare necessities.

The artistic avant-garde saw the turn of the century as the closing of an era and the onset of a new age – even if it wasn’t clear what was just over the horizon. Rapid urbanization and industrialization filled many fin de siècle artists with anxiety and dread. They revolted against materialism, the bourgeoisie and liberal democracy, staring into the abyss while living the good life as long as it lasted. In London, between 1908 and 1914, a number of writers gathered around the American poet Ezra Pound and began to challenge late Victorian aestheticism and decadent writers like Oscar Wilde. New ideas in anthropology, psychology and political theory gave birth to a more radical project that was utopian and reactionary at the same time, later labeled Anglo-American Modernism. It included writers like T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence and Wyndham Lewis, who were united in their disdain for rationalism and liberal democracy.

Development

Like most of his peers, Lawrence was critical of industrialization, equating it with democracy and capitalism. In his view, all three factors conspired to debase society and destroy people’s individuality. Yet it seems that, rather than being a firm believer, he was mostly ambivalent and reflexively contrarian when it came to politics: In 1915, he called for an absolute dictator to “lord over the lower peoples,” while in 1924 he denounced fascism and wrote that “a good form of socialism, if it could be brought about, would be the best form of government.” Lawrence was clearly influenced by Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis and agreed that the repression of sexual desires by society was disastrous. However, he disagreed with the Viennese doctor on fundamentals: While Freud dissected people’s sexual pasts and practices as a way to cure mental illness, Lawrence thought of a natural and sensual sex experience as a prerequisite for mental and physical health. He effectively sanctified the human body, writing in early 1913: “My great religion is a belief in the blood, the flesh, as being wiser than the intellect.” 

Lawrence began his first draft of the novel in 1910, while his mother was suffering from late-stage cancer. He abandoned the novel for a while after she died, before his own life was thrown into turmoil: First he fell ill with pneumonia, then resigned his teaching job, broke off an engagement, and, in March 1912, met his new lover and later wife, the married German aristocrat Frieda Weekley. She later told the story that one of the first things Lawrence talked about was the Oedipus myth about the Greek hero who accidentally killed his father and ended up marrying his mother, a story explored in his novel. The manuscript titled Paul Morel had been rejected by one publisher, when Lawrence sent it to Edward Garnett of Duckworth & Co. At his editor’s suggestion the author then produced a fourth and final version between July and November 1912, changed the title to Sons and Lovers, chose a broader theme and weakened some of the autobiographical aspects. Still, Garnett cut out 80 passages, about a tenth of the novel, before it was published in May 1913.

Reviews and Legacy

Judging by contemporary criticism, his editor didn’t go far enough. Many were scandalized by what they perceived as a morbid obsession with sexuality, and some even accused Lawrence of peddling pornography. The novelist and playwright John Galsworthy commented: “The body’s never worthwhile, and the sooner Lawrence recognizes that the better.” The novel not only caused public outrage, but also ended the author’s year-long friendship with Jessie Chambers, the real-life model for the fictional Miriam Leivers, who was livid at having their awkward sexual encounters dragged out into the open. To Frieda, this sad side story proved “the amazing brutality of Sons and Lovers,” and Lawrence himself admitted, 15 years later: “You have to have something vicious in you to be a creative writer.”

To the literary establishment he remained an outsider, and it wasn’t until 30 years after his death, upon the publication of the unexpurgated Lady Chatterley’s Lover and the Academy Award-winning film adaptation of Sons and Lovers in 1960, that his fame began to rise. For a while he was considered one of the greatest geniuses of his generation, in line with Aldous Huxley, James Joyce or F. Scott Fitzgerald. In 1992, the missing text from Sons and Lovers was finally restored and published by Cambridge University Press. Yet, starting in the 1970s, fierce, primarily feminist criticism began to cast Lawrence as a sexist, racist and fascist, and he fell from grace again. His biographer John Worthen noted in 2006 that the author has practically “dropped off the map” in US and British English literature departments. However, Worthen and others have also pointed out that both Lawrence’s writing and the criticism leveled against him have been taken grossly out of context, and that when you restore them to their rightful context, a far richer and surprising image emerges.

About the Author

David Herbert Lawrence was born on September 11, 1885, in the mining town of Eastwood in Nottinghamshire. He was the fourth child of Arthur, a virtually illiterate and alcoholic coal miner who worked in the pits from the age of 10, and Lydia, a fairly educated former teacher. He won a scholarship to Nottingham High School, but left school at 16 to find work as a factory clerk. Because of a severe bout of pneumonia he had to quit his job after three months. While convalescing he often visited a nearby farm where he befriended Jessie Chambers, who encouraged him to write. Between 1906 and 1908 Lawrence trained to be a teacher in Nottingham and started working at an elementary school in a London suburb. He published work in the English Review and entered distinguished London literary circles. In late 1910, while working on the first draft of Sons and Lovers, his mother died. He had decided to quit teaching and go abroad to make a living as a writer, when he fell in love with Frieda Weekley (née von Richthofen), the German wife of his professor at Nottingham. They eloped first to Germany and then to Italy, but Frieda was torn by the loss of her children, which put a strain on their relationship. Lawrence had learned to hate being self-sacrificial in love, yet he was keenly aware that his love sacrificed motherhood for him. They married in 1914, remaining outcasts among their previous social and family circles. During World War I the couple was accused of spying and prevented from leaving England. In 1919, they moved to Italy, and two years later to the United States via Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Australia. In 1924, Lawrence acquired a ranch in Taos, New Mexico, with the intention of establishing a utopian community where people could “be free.” The experiment failed, and repeated bouts of tuberculosis weakened his already frail health. In 1925, they returned to Italy and eventually to the South of France. Aside from 10 novels, his oeuvre includes numerous poems, essays and travelogues. Much of it is autobiographical in nature, focusing on the conflict between tradition and modernity and the power of sexuality. Several novels – among them The Rainbow (1915), Women in Love (1920) and most famously Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928) – were suppressed for obscenity and even banned from publication for decades. On March 2, 1930, Lawrence died in a sanatorium near Cannes, aged 44.


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