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Sons and Lovers

Sons and Lovers, Bildungsroman, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

a novel by D. H. Lawrence, published in 1913. Freely based upon events in his own life, Lawrence's third novel Sons and Lovers was his first clear success. It adapts the popular nineteenth-century form of the Bildungsroman to recount the early life of Paul Morel. The novel is set in a small Nottinghamshire mining community where Paul's mother's social and cultural aspirations separate her from her hard-drinking husband. The rift within the family, the tragic death of the eldest son William, and Paul's growing alienation from his father and community occupy the first part of the book. The second part is largely concerned with Paul's early work experiences in a Nottingham factory, and the legacy of his unusually close relations with his mother as seen in two doomed love affairs: the first with a girl of his own age, Miriam Leivers, and the second with an older, married feminist, Clara Dawes. The novel ends with the death of Paul's mother and the collapse of his relationship with Clara, who returns to her estranged husband. Paul's own situation at the close is left carefully uncertain. Although the novel is in part autobiographical, it is also very much a work of its period and is often compared to Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man published only a year later. Both novels use the budding artist's experience (Paul is a talented painter) as a way of exploring the strains and limits of provincial communities and, as in many works of the period, the dynamics of the family are a particular object for scrutiny. Lawrence himself was keen that the novel be understood in general terms. He changed its original title—‘Paul Morel’—to the more wide-ranging Sons and Lovers, and, as has often been noted, Paul's relations with his mother correspond closely to those described by Freud in his exactly contemporary work on the ‘Oedipus Complex’. Lawrence knew something of Freud's work through his German wife, Frieda. In literary terms, Sons and Lovers is in many respects stylistically innovatory. It emphasizes moments of sharp personal conflict and intense psychological process which is conveyed in the charged, symbolic prose characteristic of Lawrence's best work.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Lemn Sissay Biography to Southwold Suffolk