Sons and Lovers is widely considered by critics and readers alike as D.H. Lawrence’s masterpiece and a classic interpretation of the Oedipal complex. Surely one of the greatest autobiographical novels ever written, it tells the story of Paul Morel, a sensitive artist with a far stronger attachment to his mother than his working-class, alcoholic father. Searching for love and human connection, Paul is torn between two very different women, but neither of them measures up to his mother.
Lawrence's 1913 classic, widely censored in its time but pretty tame today, portrays in astonishing depth the relationship between Paul Morel and his overly doting mother, herself trapped in a loveless marriage. Though Paul falls in love with women his own age, it is his mother whom he really loves, emotionally and psychologically, if not physically, and who poisons these other relationships until her death. Narrator Jenny Sterlin is special, consistently on target with character differentiation according to education and status, poignant, dramatic, eager, and able to tell this fine story in a fine manner. Listeners who have yet to hear this story should rush to get it.
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This is an extraordinary novel. I have never read anything quite like it, especially in terms of how it delineates mother-son relationships in terms of the most advanced psychology, all played out through the scenes and characters rather than through explanations. This makes it very in touch with how feelings create reality, and also an endless source of psychological truth which is as current today as ever. It's also impeccable in its language, both simple and lush, and seems to have been painstakingly crafted to give it that simplicity and weight.
Jenny Sterlin's performance is very strong and earthy, and I think this lends a lot to the feeling and texture of the book. One thing that's great about her performance is that one feels the presence of the mother at all times in her, which is what the book is about - the son's enmeshment by the mother. I chose a female narrator for that reason, and I was not disappointed. There are times when her performance almost seems grim, and sometimes I was aware of happy moments in the book that were read with that same veneer of grimness over the upbeat tone, but in the end I think that is also correct for this novel. She also does regional accents and men's voices extremely well. The deliberate slowness with which she reads also highlights Lawrence's deliberate and careful sentence construction. Highly recommended.
There are many astonishing moments in the book, particularly towards the last half. I found my jaw dropping open repeatedly as the relationships that were set up in the first half start to have their consequences later. Particularly haunting for me were the scenes between Paul and Miriam, in which his inability to love her is played out in all sorts of ways, all painful. But I don't want to give too much away!
AP Required Reading? Really?
- Professor Abbie Griffin