‘Sons and Lovers’ is the most popular novel of D.H. Lawrence. First published in 1913, it was the first English Psychological novel, which established Lawrence among the front ranks of the English novelists. The book is highly autobiographical, and according to Graham Hough, presenting the “Freudian Oedipus imbroglio in almost classic completeness”. ‘Sons and Lovers’ is developed in three stages and is influenced by a woman in each stage: Mrs. Lawrence, Jessie Chambers and Frieda Weekley.
The Life of Women in That Time
The novel was written in the Edwardian era, at a time when women had minimal decision in the path their lives would take. It was not seen reasonable for a woman from the center or privileged societies to be in paid work. They were viewed as a family’s ownership, to be prepped for marriage, the more extravagant the better, have and bring up kids, run a family, very little transformed from the Medieval impression of women. These suppositions of what a lady could or would do depended on the rule that a lady would wed. However, things started to change during the final decades of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century. As Carol Dix mentions in her novel ‘D.H. Lawrence and Women’, “Women’s education had expanded faster than anything else in the society around them, so women knew what was available to them but were frustrated in their attempts to take advantage- either in the professions or a way of life that would be financially independent of marriage”. These were the circumstances that led to the rise of the suffragette movement in England, and even though Lawrence lived in Croydon, he couldn’t help but be exposed and influenced by this intellectual outcry. Cornelia Nixon demonstrated how Lawrence’s response started in 1915, during the wartime tranquility of the Feminist agitation, not long after his visit to Cambridge, when the Lawrences isolated for a brief span, and it developed in the most troublesome long stretches of their marriage.
The Invective against Women
According to Ashok Celly, “Sons and Lovers has also been critiqued from a feminist point of view”. In the true fashion of the position of women during the Edwardian era, much of Lawrence’s work is an actual “explicit invective against women” which is direct hatred and anger, roused by fear of their emasculating power. Such comments have been picked up by some female critics as the mainstream of his writing. Kate Millett, for instance, “obviously saw Lawrence as a man who hated women, and whose literary output was devoted to castigating women”. Simone de Beauvoir criticizes Lawrence, saying that “his only concern was to show women how to be mastered”. Kate Millet in her well known book ‘Sexual Politics’ has denounced Lawrence as a “male chauvinist pig and Paul Morel as a cynical manipulator of women”. Millet in her polemical essay points out that, “Miriam is Paul’s spiritual mistress, Clara his sexual one- the whole arrangement is carefully planned so that neither is strong enough to offset his mother’s control. Yet the mother too is finally dispensable…. So that he may venture forth and inherit the great masculine world…”. In fact, Clara is seen by numerous individuals as a mother-surrogate. A lot more established and wedded, she satisfies the stifled inclinations of Paul in his association with his mother. Faith Pulin saw Lawrence as a merciless user of females and contended that his primary motive was consistently to look at the male mind and utilize his female characters with that in mind.
Revolving Around Men
The lives of the women in the Edwardian era very much revolved around men, even if the modern women ventured into jobs and politics, they did so as subordinates to men, a fact well demonstrated in ‘Sons and Lovers’. According to Faith Pulin, Lawrence is a ruthless user of women, the mother, Miriam and Clara are all manipulated in Paul’s effort at self- identification, the effort to become himself. Faith Pulin also feels that “Lawrence isn’t concerned with women as themselves, but only as examples, he…. Undervalues individuality in women (clever women he distrusted and hated).” Undoubtedly, Mrs. Morel symbolizes a mother’s stifling hold on her son, a frustrated, strong- willed woman, determined to impose herself on the world through her son, which strongly demonstrates the nineteenth century women’s efforts at expanding their public roles. Mrs. Morel is a distinguished and formidable woman, but, as Aruna Sitesh points out, “the novel is about the tragic aftermath of her insistence to possess her husband and later her son and then control their lives in every possible sense”. Hilary Simpson summarized various stages of Lawrence’s thinking about women’s independence and concluded that he was sympathetic to the feminist goals as long as they were not achieved. Simpson saw Lawrence’s antifeminism of the 1920s as a reaction to the public changes in women’s status and behaviour.
Through the relationship of Paul and Miriam, Lawrence establishes a remarkable “example of sexual sadism disguised as masculine pedagogy and essentially male supremacy”. As pointed out by Kate Millett, “Miriam is a bright youngster restless within the narrow limitations of her class and anxious to escape it through the learning which has freed Paul”. Less fortunate than he, having no help from a home where she is tormented by her siblings and showed the most deadliest assortment of Christian acquiescence by her mother, she holds some rebellious expectations regardless of her conditions. Having nobody else to go to, she asks Paul, whom she respected as her senior and unrivaled, to assistance her in getting an education. And when she cannot measure up, cannot pass his demanding examination, he throws her away and takes up Clara. Virginia Woolf, Rebecca West, Katherine Ann Porter, Elaine Reuben and Carolyn Heilbum had very strongly felt that Lawrence’s heroines were normally given very limited choices and were without will and individuality. Men in later Lawrence books, men, for example, Aaron, always scorn female endeavors at working or thoughts. Given such perspectives, it isn’t extremely surprising that Paul should utilize females, Clara included, and when they have outlasted their helpfulness to him, dispose of them.
The New Woman
Further, one of the most prominent themes discussed in ‘Sons and Lovers’ is the idea of the ‘new woman’, which emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century England- Edwardian era. The term was first used by Sarah Grand in 1894, to describe the growing number of the independent, educated, feminist and radical women of the Edwardian England. According to Aruna Sitesh, “Clara Dawes is the ‘new woman’ – intelligent, economically independent and socially emancipated with distinct capacity for independent judgement”. She is a suffragette, she is honest and straight. There is nothing underhanded about her. She refuses to indulge in any sentimental admiration and critically analyses Paul’s art, “You are affected in that piece”. She would shrug her shoulders in scorn of his work which would infuriate him. Then he abused her, and went into passionate exposition of his stuff. This amuses and stimulated her. Gertrude, Miriam and Clara are all bold women with distinct individuality and strong will power. They defy social customs and norms, fight against odds of all kinds and try to live life on their own terms. The otherwise meek and reserved Miriam has always wanted a chance to know, learn, to do something in life, like anybody else.