D. H. Lawrence’s Vision of the Novel and
Sons and Lovers
- Author: Yoon Haeryung
- Publish: The Journal of English Language and Literature Volume 58, Issue3, p395~411, June 2012
This paper concerns D. H. Lawrence’s idea of the novel manifested mostly in his
Phoenixand Phoenix IIand how such a novelistic vision is exemplified in his Sons and Lovers. As well known, the greatness of Lawrence’s literature has to do with, among other things, his literary pride in the “sacred” function of the novel and the novelist as distinguished from other art forms or other sciences or even religion. For Lawrence, it is only literature, especially, the genre of the novel that makes humans see beneath themselves and the materialistic universe, and that eventually makes human life worth living through inner revolution. To serve this purpose, Lawrence argues, the novel should have, for example, such three elements as being “quick,” “interrelated in all parts, vitally, organically” and most importantly “honourable” ( Phoenix II). Accordingly, this paper explores how such a Lawrencean vision of the novel is reflected first in his most autobiographical novel, Sons and Lovers. My argument is that in the novel it is the hero Paul that is rendered as the most central representative of Lawrence’s philosophy about being “quick,” about the importance of passionate inspiration far beyond the world of the conscious or self-conscious or all those social pretensions. Second, this paper also stresses that the novel is connected not by the structure of a conventional plot, but rather by a Modernist technique depending heavily on imagery and symbols. Also, Sons and Loversis a good example where Lawrence imaginatively tests his idea of morality that is new to most of other novelists, especially to most of the early twentieth-century readers. Equating being “honorable” with being “moral” in the novel, Lawrence portrays the way such a character as Miriam is in her puritanical religiosity not honorable, compared to other characters like Paul acting more on his inspirational instinct and impersonal grasp with reality. For Lawrence, to be religious and to be moral is not a religion. Morality is, for him, only the subtle, trembling balance between self and circumambient universe. To reread Sons and Loversin terms of Lawrence’s novelistic vision is a worthwhile business, a new opportunity to understand better the implication of the novel and also the novelist’s original idea of the novel-genre.
D. H. Lawrence , the Vision of the Novel , the Novelist , Sons and Lovers , Phoenix , Phoenix II , Morality
“The world is a wonderful place,’’ she〔Mrs. Morel〕said, “and wonderfully beautiful.” (
Sons and Lovers, 154)1
1The words in each bracket in this paper are all mine supplemented for better understanding. And hereafter, all the quotations of the text will be based on Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence (Penguin Books, 1948).
Despite D. H. Lawrence’s declining literary position and influence these days, especially in the academia, he has continued to be claimed as one of the most original and prophetic writers who have ever existed in world literature.2 To take a few examples, D. H. Lawrence is, as well known, a major writer in the Leavisean “Great Tradition” along with such novelists as Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James and Joseph Conrad. In the midst of all those attacks done on Lawrence in the name of conventional morality, F. R. Leavis contends that Lawrence has greatly contributed to shaping the beautiful tradition of English mentality and sensibility through his unique, literary vision that could have been misunderstood and misinterpreted by immature, unliterary minds. E. M. Forster in
Aspects of the Novelalso includes D. H. Lawrence as a major writer on his “list of prophetic singers,” along with such writers as Dostoevsky, Melville and Emily Brontë. As for Lawrence’s creative process of prophetic songs, Forster thus explains:
Moreover, for Forster, Lawrence is even “the only prophetic novelist writing today,” “all the rest” being at best “fantasists or preachers.” As “the only living novelist,” Lawrence creates the song that predominates with its “rapt bardic quality.” According to Forster’s vision of “the prophet,” she or he is someone who is “irradiating nature from within, so that every colour has a glow and every form a distinctness which could not otherwise be obtained” (130-31). Aldous Huxley is also an important critic in D. H. Lawrence’s canon, who sharply discriminates Lawrence’s unique talent from other ordinary writers.’ Huxley, an original intelligence himself, praises Lawrence as, among other things, “someone with a gift for sensing the mystery of otherness” (10). In other words, Lawrence’s gift is “an extraordinary sensitiveness to what Wordsworth called ‘unknown modes of being’” (7). In a quite recent book published in 2005,
Novelists and Novels, Harold Bloom also pays great attention to what D. H. Lawrence achieved in literature. According to the master-critic, there are “only three criteria for greatness in imaginative literature” and they are “aesthetic splendor, cognitive power and wisdom” (13). Lawrence is, for Bloom, a rare novelist satisfying all these criteria for imaginative genius. Bloom also contends that Lawrence’s epiphanies revealing all these three merits are unique and original, above all, in that they are “times when elemental forces break through the surfaces of existence” (298).
Thus, apart from personal preference or distaste for Lawrence, it would be hard to deny that he still needs our attention, in his original literary mode and emphasis on the possibility of living, despite his occasional, stylistic slips or narcissistic, male-centered philosophy. Among other things, Lawrence strikes one with his special emphasis on the importance of the novel. As to his being primarily a novelist, he once wrote: “I consider myself superior to the saint, the scientist, the philosopher and the poet . . .” (
Phoenix535). He also said that “the novel is the highest form of human expression so far attained” ( Phoenix II416). According to Lawrence, the novel is, of all the art forms, the most perfect medium through which man and life can be understood and, therefore, can be given direction for life.3 Lawrence maintains that writers necessarily should come up with their new visions, new interpretations of the world and through literature should convey “the passionate and emotional reactions which are at the root of all 〔human〕thought” ( Phoenix350). Although it is known that Lawrence made various comments on his vision of the novel and of the novelist’s mission throughout his numerous essays, especially his essays in Phoenixand Phoenix II, reality is that up until now almost no essay on Lawrence’s novels has been written mainly to explicate how his theory of the novel is reflected in his individual novels. Accordingly, this paper aims to revisit with such a critical purpose Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, the first of the so-called Lawrencean Trilogy, including The Rainbowand Women in Love.
2Harold Bloom, one of the most important critics on Lawrence, notes him as “an absurdly neglected writer, because of a feminist crusade that has largely exiled him from the academies of the English-speaking world” (Novelists and Novels, 18). 3One of the major American philosophers, Richard Rorty also, in his book, Contingency, Irony and Solidarity, argues that literature, especially, the novel takes the most important position in change of the heart and the improvement of society, possibly of all sciences and arts. According to Rorty, the best medium for this purpose that has ever existed is the novel where readers get emotionally involved in the pain of others, in suffering humanity.
PhoenixIIhe diagnoses these three elements as “the great merits of the novel”: “quick”; “interrelated in all parts, vitally, organically”; and “honourable” (422-23). First, being “quick” in the novel means that Lawrence values energy, vitality, in other words, blood philosophy inherent in great novels and consequently, adores “man alive” as opposed to “man dead inside.” Being a great prophetic singer, Lawrence, as seen through his essays on human civilization, laments over, above all, what he thinks is the collapse of the modern psychology. In many places of Phoenixhe points out that modern man has tamed his feelings and impulses and in return has only increased his self-consciousness. Now the mind didactically controls feelings and impulses. As a result, ironically enough, modern man has lost his capacity for command and his whole direction at all. Thus, Lawrence is a great believer in the positive force of the mysterious, “natural” man within man. “When a man remains a man, a true human individual,” he says, “there is at the core of him a certain innocence or naivete which defies all analysis . . .” ( PX540).4 Unless man proceeds to connect himself up with his own primeval sources, he will only degenerate ( PX758). For Lawrence, it is right here, the sensual, instinctive and intuitive body in man where God resides.“Religious faculty,” for him, only means “the inward worship of the creative life-mystery” ( PX608). Therefore, to educate ourselves in creative feelings inside, Lawrence contends, it is the “real” novel that we should turn to, where we can listen to “the dark cries in our body,” the “low, calling cries of the characters, as they wander in the dark woods of their destiny” ( PX759-60). In the novel characters do nothing but “live.”5 According to Lawrence, in a great novel the hero is not any of the characters, but “some unnamed and nameless flame behind them all” ( PX419). Lawrence interprets “character” only as “the flame of a man,” which changes according to changing circumstances, while changing itself continually, yet remaining as one single, separate being ( PX II423). Consequently, in a real novel, Lawrence suggests, there are no such things as villain-figures or angel-figures. The novel only helps us distinguish between man alive and dead man in life, the quick and the dead ( PX537; PX II419). For Lawrence the novel should be a kind of descendent journey into the natural, organic man more than anything else. But contemporary novels tend to put much less emphasis on man as human flesh than on man as a social being. Lawrence laments that one of the fatal, modern changes is the collapse from the psychology of the free human individual into the psychology of the social being ( PX540). The dominant note of the modern novel is, Lawrence criticizes, “the repulsiveness, intimate physical repulsiveness of human flesh” ( PX270). Good literature should provide readers with “physical feeling for life” more than anything else. In modern novels, however, there is no “physical sympathetic flow,” which naturally connects a human being to another human being. And this is the reason why modern novels, despite their increasing stresses on man’s benevolence and social belief, only fail and moreover, bring about the ironic result of stressing man’s repulsiveness to man ( PX270). In his famous foreword to Women in Love, Lawrence thus sums up his idea of “man alive”:
Sons and Loversthe hero Paul Morel represents “the creative, spontaneous soul” as contrasted with his lover Miriam Leivers (although this theme is to be extended further in Lawrence’s later novels like The Rainbow and Women in Love). Being Lawrence’s first attempt of an autobiographical hero (although the degree is still debatable), Paul in the novel strikes one with being faithful to, above all, his passionate feelings and sensibilities. Like other Modernist heroes, he just observes life and the world and copes with what has happened to him intuitively and vitally. Of course, in the first part of Sons and Lovers, where the focus is mainly on family predicament with the structure of potential love-triangle among the hero, his mother and father, this theme—Paul as an embodiment of the Lawrencean vision of vital humanity, is hidden under the surface of the novel’s main plot.6 But by and large, the rest of the novel most concerns how the young hero confronts things happening around him and despite all these, never stops appreciating all those little things and every moment in the dark, mysterious universe. In the novel nothing significant enough ever happens in terms of conventional plot. The novel starts with the history of Paul’s birth and ends with his determination to leave his place after his mother’s death. But the greatness of the novel lies in that every part in the novel is connected so organically and aesthetically that readers could be easily indulged in the novelistic world in spite of its lack of conventional plot. The novel revolves around the hero as Lawrence’s embodiment of “man alive” in the process of mystic growth toward a potential artist like the novelist himself.7 In a sense the novel is mainly about a young man’s struggle with his own soul, independently from what has been happening around him. In his letters, Lawrence keeps saying about the importance of soul:
In the novel Paul often comments about the relationship between “one’s own soul-knowledge” and possibility of living. To take an example, Paul thus say to his soul-mate, his mother:
Living to the full by “soul-knowledge” is for the hero the most important business, other things being just inessential and artificial. And this is the reason why the novel often seems to be so foreign and the hero so incomprehensible. Frank Kermode comments that the novel is “so unselfish and unsentimental” (24) whereas Harold Bloom interprets as “the principal defeat of
Sons and Lovers” Paul’s character that does not always seem “energetic or sympathetic enough to sustain our interest” (297).
In the novel Miriam Leivers is portrayed as Lawrence’s target of subtle criticism. Throughout the novel Paul feels Miriam not so much as a lover of his wish, but rather as his “conscience,” his better, higher part that, however, occupies only one quarter of himself. Paul thus explains his double, ambiguous and even inhuman treatment of her:
In Lawrence’s philosophy the word “conscience” is not used as a very positive meaning as usual. The world of “conscience” encodes, for him, something contrasted with the dark, unconscious and impersonal world he adores throughout. “Conscience” rather symbolizes the “conscious”life of human civilization that he thinks is the source of modern man’s unhappiness. In his letter he makes a vehement comment on modern civilization:
Sons and Lovers, Miriam represents “the conscious life” that is deceptive, unrealistic and narcissistic as opposed to the energetic, real and impersonal world that Paul represents. In many places of the novel Lawrence lets the reader glimpse Miriam’s character in her attitude toward her lover, sex and religion. First, in the novel Miriam is seen to make Paul retreat physically and keep distance from her unconsciously. “With her” he constantly feels as if “bound up inside himself” (340) and he “can’t physically〔love her〕any more than 〔he〕can fly up like a skylark. . .” (272). Her attitude toward sex is an obvious sample of Lawrence’s denunciation of Victorian notion of sexuality, which he thinks is too personal, artificial, and even hypocritical. For Miriam, physical love is nothing any more than a ritual of spiritual love, only something that she should go through involuntarily. In their sex-scene of the novel she is seen to sacrifice her body for her lover: “She only realized that she was doing something for him” (353-54). Sex, is for her just “one thing in marriage that is always dreadful bu〔t that we〕have to bear” as her mother has kept saying to her (355). Moreover, Miriam always dichotomizes spirit and body, “higher” and “lower” things in man. To test Paul’s sexual vulnerability, in the scene of their stay at Strelley Mill Farm, Miriam tries to give him a chance to see Clara Dawes there, to whom she knows he feels sexually attracted. For Miriam, his giving in to Clara the object of his sexual desire only means his choosing the “lesser” side. Lastly and most importantly, Miriam is characterized as deeply religious in the sense of conventional Christianity. She believes that “one should be religious in everything, have God, whatever God might be, present in everything” (307). Accordingly, her routines are all colored with religious spirit, even her attitude toward nature like flowers is seenas sensual and affectionate only in a religious way, which naturally annoys Paul throughout the novel (214; 267-68). Christian sacrifice and renunciation are, among other things, the values that Miriam adores most. Lawrence thus describes her:
For Paul, she reminds of “Mary Queen of Scots” and for readers, she is Lawrence’s satirical version of Victorian heroines like Dorothea or Maggie in George Eliot’s novels. Paul, Lawrence’s obvious mouthpiece here, criticizes Miriam’s religion and values in many different terms. Paul regards her life-attitude as “negative” in essence (268) and her soul as of “self-mistrust” (271). About Miriam’s religion, Paul thus talks back:
Thus, Lawrence’s characterizations of the hero and the heroine in
Sons and Loverscan be interpreted, among other things, as an artistic medium to convey his life-philosophy and to perform the sacred mission of the novelist.
4Hereafter, Phoenix will be abridged as PX and PhoenixII as PX II.. 5George A. Panichas posits that Lawrence’s adoration of “everlasting wonder in things” and of living to the full has to do with Greek influence (338, 346-47). 6For this reason, some critics tend to see the novel as more social than aesthetical in Lawrence’s canon. For example, Harold Bloom in Novelists and Novels interprets the novel as rather unique in its potential indictment of socioeconomic inequality—as at least, the most social novel in Lawrence’s canon. (298) 7Many critics have agreed on this point, including Dr. Phil Joffe, who interprets Sons and Lovers as “Lawrence’s affirmative portrait of the questioning artist as he seeks to enlarge the possibilities available to the self” (61). 8This part reminds the reader of Shakespeare, who lamented that “our little life is rounded with a sleep” (The Tempest).
The second point that Lawrence made among the three merits of great novels is that the novel should be “interrelated in all parts, vitally and organically.” In
Sons and Loversnothing very significant in terms of conventional plot happens, the novel is only connected with fragments of small episodes and images although “the novel has force of narrative” as Harold Bloom well observes (298). In the novel all the major symbols of nature such as the moon, flowers, darkness and night are marvellously orchestrated and are treated as more important, or at least as important as human life. In other words all the impersonal presences and forces existing in the universe are paralleled with human psychology, quite unlike such as Romantic Fallacy where nature is rather predominantly romanticized. As Dorothy Van Ghent early observed, among all English novel-ists Hardy and Lawrence probably have “the most faithful touch for the things of nature and the greatest evocative genius in bringing them before the imagination.” Moreover, Lawrence’s touch of nature is “multiple rather than dual,” everything having its own separate otherness and all these being connected creatively for each other (12-13).
The major characters in
Sons and Loversare uncommonly sensitive about the elements of nature around and experience creative communion with nature. To take some examples, for Mrs. Morel, nature, especially flowers, is a constant source of solace in the middle of all those lifestruggles, Whenever she has had a violent fight with her husband, she gets relieved and refreshed spiritually and gets back to herself again after she has been in nature. In the great fight-scene with her husband, she feels mysterious peace in the midst of the magnificent moon and night and white lilies and rosebush that have suddenly loomed in her garden (34-35). Also, in the text what she has wished most to have is “a new garden with flowers” (202-30). And the scene of the path to Willey Farm, where Mrs. Morel and her son Paul feel great ecstasy, enjoying all those beauties of nature (154-55, 160), is in the novel portrayed as a little climax, a moment of Lawrencean epiphany, which balances the novel’s tension throughout and reminds the reader of the “Rananim” world.9 Miriam is also described as a child of nature. Her friend, companion and lover are not human relations, but such things as “the declining sun,” “the dusky, cold hedgerows” or “some red leaves” (205). Her intimacy with Paul is most possible in the landscape of nature. It is Paul in nature that Miriam’s soul most desires him and shares his loneliness. In Lawrence love without nature is almost unplausible, nature always being another partner for people in love.
For the hero Paul, too, nature is the center of his life and the great source of his imagination and wisdom. Especially, the image of night and darkness, as the symbol of
being, death and immortality, is what Paul most identifies with himself throughout the novel. For him, night is both a terrifying and comforting presence (510) and darkness and night are eventually “the realist thing” (499) and are the closest to truth that has ever been revealed to humans. Lawrence thus writes,
For Paul, in a piece of painting, too, what interests him is “the shimmering protoplasm” that is “real living” rather than “the stiffness of the shape” that is only “a dead crust” (189). And also, this is the reason why, after having tasted the beauty of the night—the moon, the scent of lily and darkness, Paul finally determines to “break off with Miriam” as his mother wishes (358-59). And it is only through night and darkness that in the end Paul comes to understand the reality of his mother’s death and decides to go out into the world—into the world of night and darkness (510-11).
Sons and Lovers, image and symbol play a far more important role than plot or characterization does and as many critics also have observed, image and symbol are alternatively objective correlatives for concrete idea. For example, Diane S. Bonds observes that in the novel “the concrete seems to absorb the abstract, and the abstract seems to absorb the concrete” (91). More recently, Jack Stewart in analyzing Lawrence’s writing style, also makes a similar point:
In Lawrence an abstract idea is explained through a concrete image and then the idea and the image merge into an aesthetic experience—into a Lawrencean epiphany. Accordingly, Lawrence’s novels are generally unplanned and unpredictable as he keeps saying, “never trust the artist, trust the tale.”
9“Rananim” means a Lawrencean version of imaginary utopia as contrasted with barren modern civilization.
The third prerequisite to become a great novel for Lawrence is to be “honourable” in itself. In the history of literature Lawrence is remembered as, among other things, a vehement critic of Victorian morality and as a person who definitely defines morality, being “honourable” in the way that he thinks it should be, and explicates how the novel should perform its sacred mission to distinguish between the moral and the immoral in a totally new way. In numerous places of his
Phoenixand Phoenix II, especially, Lawrence makes diverse comments on morality in his sense and the novel’s mission related to this theme. For Lawrence, idealism or absolute values is meaningless. For him, everything is relative, changing according to time, place or circumstance. For example, morality is simply the delicate, trembling balance between man and his circumambient universe ( PX528). “Moral character” only means, Lawrence suggests, “a good sense of proportion, a knowledge of the relative effects of certain acts or influences, and desire to use that knowledge for the promoting of happiness” ( PX II221). Accordingly, everything is in constant flux so that things can be true or right only in their own living relatedness to their own circumambient universe. “Relatedness” is really one of the key-words in understanding Lawrence’s vision. For him, things can be explained only in terms of relatedness. Lawrence defines “the business of art” as “to reveal the relation between man and his circumambient universe at the living moment” ( PX527). And “of all the art forms, it is only in the novel that the subtle balance of the relation is given full play.” “The novel is a perfect medium for revealing to us the changing rainbow of our living relationships” ( PX532). A great novelist always comes up, Lawrence contends, with new relationships between man and the universe. According to Lawrence, the novel should be essentially future-oriented, it should give readers a new world, a new mode of human existence ( PX520). And this new relationship between man and the universe, only as long as it is a true and vivid relationship, can be counted as a new morality. According to Lawrence, human life consists in achieving this pure relationship between self and the living universe, which eventually leads to the vision of eternity and perfection ( PX528).
Thus, “the beauty of the novel” is created, Lawrence argues, when everything it is seen true in its own relationship (
PX II422). A true novelist should not attempt to go any further than this aim. If a novelist tries to nail things down in his novel out of his predilection for a special emotion, or tries to balance the novel according to his own conception of morality or view of life, the novel becomes unnatural, ugly, and even immoral. No emotion is supreme, or exclusively worth living for all emotions only go to achieving of a living relationship ( PX529). And only in the novel, he says, can the trembling instability of the balance of the relationship be presented and preserved to the end, unlike in religion or science, which aims to get a stable equilibrium eventually. For Lawrence, in this sense “the novel is the highest example of subtle interrelatedness that man has discovered” ( PX528). Of course, a novelist can put his metaphysic or philosophy into his work, but only under the condition that it will not be used for didactic purpose or interfere with the work itself. And the metaphysic must always subserve the artistic purpose beyond the artist’s conscious aim in his work, so that it may be prevented from falling merely into something like a treatise ( PX479). A true novelist always comes up not so much with a narrow metaphysic or a didactic purpose, but with “a large philosophy.” What Lawrence means by “a large philosophy” is ideas based on man’s passionate inspiration. The modern novel is, Lawrence laments, full of such narrow didacticism, which is utterly divorced from human passional inspiration. Any idea rendered in a novel that is not associated with human passional inspiration is unimportant and lifeless ( PX II417-18). And also, in a work of real art, awrence contends, the morality it adheres to must contain its criticism or its essential conflicts, however hard it may work toward its final reconciliation. This “sense of conflict contained within reconciliation” is prerequisite to all great art. And the degree to and the way in which any work of art makes its morality or metaphysic submit to criticism, determine the work’s value and satisfaction ( PX476). Consequently, the novelist is usually “a dribbling liar” ( PX II426). What the novelist can do is to show things in their true relation to other things. And as long as he or she reveals true and vivid relationships, his or her work is a moral work. The novelist cannot show or be expected to show in his work the whole and persistent vision of the truth of life.
Sons and Loversthe theme of morality again revolves around the characterization of Paul. The hero’s treatment of the three women around him makes him loom as a completely new and unique character, especially from Victorian standard of morality. First, Paul is the one who is almost the closest to his mother in all the previous English novels. Regardless of whether Lawrence was really influenced by Freudian psychology (it is known that he himself denied such an influence), the hero is struck as uncommonly empathetic toward his mother and her predicament. In the novel Lawrence boldly deals with all those sensual moments of the mother and the son—the scenes of kissing, stroking and pleading as if between lovers, which could look very revolutionary for contemporary readers (262). Paul throughout knows that “he still love 〔s〕his mother best” although the love is “the bitter peace of resignation” (264). His mother is, for him, “one place in the world that〔 stands〕solid and 〔does〕not melt into unreality” and she is “the pivot and pole of his life from which he〔 can〕not escape” (273). Moreover, such an excessive emotional tie functions as the major source of Paul’s inner conflict and strife in his relation with Miriam. His incomprehensible, ill treatments of the innocent girl Miriam also have much to do with his unresolved emotions with his mother.10 It is only after the mother has passed away that he first starts to think independently and to come to understand his feelings with the women—Miriam and Clara. The physical love between Paul and Clara is also obviously a part that defies and calls into question conventional morality expected in literature. In the novel Paul’s physical attraction to Clara is described as something unavoidable, something “impersonal” and on her part the young man’s physical affection as a sacred chance to find herself back—to become herself again in the middle of life-struggles (430-31). Accordingly, in Lawrence’s hands, even the relation between Paul and Clara’s ex-husband, Baxter Dawes, is romanticized as a thing transcending conventional morality. Even in their violent duels they see “the elemental man in each” and feel at once hostility and attachment toward each other, especially through their physical contact—through the moments of Lawrence’s “physical sympathetic flow” (415-16, 461).11 For Lawrence, the significance of the sexual world is in “the expansion of the passionate, vital self” (Joffe 55).
Sons and LoversLawrence also stresses his philosophy that not being true to oneself, to one’s inner emotion and passion is a thing immoral for his moral standard. Although Paul can be seen as neither energetic nor sympathetic for critics like Harold Bloom, the novel has such magical power as to merge all the conflicting elements and immoral stuffs into a new ethic, a new morality and a new religion as many critics also have observed from different angles.12 For Lawrence, “the essential feeling in all art is religious” ( Apocalpyse155). It is not religious to be religious. Aldous Huxley probably best summarizes Lawrence’s concept of morality: “His ethical principle . . . is not to attempt to live above his human station, or beyond his inherited psychological income” (12).
10About Paul’s frequent, self-centered and cruel treatments of Miriam. Louis L. Marz defends Miriam, suggesting that Paul could have led Miriam (who is a Persephone figure) to a normal lover, if he had been a whole man (67). 11Jackson interprets these fight-scenes as a Lawrencean moment “to create a fiction of the vital, constant present” (25). 12Harold Bloom also never denies that Lawrence is hardly a libertine, having “the radically protestant sensibility” (294).
As seen above, Lawrence’s greatness as a novelist and literary critic lies in, above all, that he was a person who took literature more seriously than most of other writers and who felt deeply aware of what literature, especially, the novel could do to human beings (although all the literary efforts should, he would argue, be done so naturally and unconsciously). First, Lawrence seems to have tried to explore and emphasize the significance of every vital moment, of every immediate experience rather than that of external forces, of all those influences of non-self. Accordingly, his concern was more with the dark universe, all those elemental forces unknown as yet, but more important than environmental factors or social relationships. When Lawrence diagnoses his
Sons and Loversas “a great tragedy” ( Selected Letters48), he means a tragedy about man’s inner desire of feeling and passion, not a conventional tragedy mostly about the relation between man’s desire and frustrating environment (which is typical in Greek and Naturalist tragedies).13 This is why Lawrence in his letter also says that “tragedy ought really to be a great kick at misery” (45). Miseries from outer elements could be overcome. In this sense Paul’s predicament is rather that of “a vital hero who struggles to free himself from the forces of circumstance, environmental and hereditary, in search for an enlargement of life’s possibilities.” And the hero embodies “Lawrence’s faith in continuing, onward-moving development” (Joffe 49).
Lawrence’s idea of the novel having to be “honourable” also makes the reader rethink about the essence of morality, about the potential of hypocrisy in what we normally think is morality. For Lawrence, not to listen to dark cries, impersonal desires in the human flesh, not to pay attention to the vital, mysterious universe, is rather a sin, an act of immorality, at least, in his higher metaphysics. As many critics also have observed, his faith in the body as well as the spirit and his sacred adoration of the secret universe, could be interpreted as an attitude of honour toward the eternal, immortal world, as a form of religion, however it may be differentiated from Christianity in which he was brought up. As HarryT. Moore summarizes Lawrence’s philosophy in his book, the
Priest of Love, Lawrence always saw life itself as “a religious manifestation,” and was accordingly “one of the most religious men who ever wrote” (38). He only had “a religious awareness of moments of happiness” (190). On the whole Lawrence impresses one as a person who firmly believed in the final affirmation of life. In his essay titled “The Reality of Peace,” he writes that “we only know that the end is the heaven on earth” ( PX669). And for Lawrence the novel is a perfect medium through which this goal could be achieved; indeed “the novel is one bright book of life” ( PX535).
Lawrencean aesthetics of the novel and his notion of morality are, of course, always open to debate and criticism, especially, when one thinks of the potential danger of self-centered philosophy in terms of transforming literary vision and also of social responsibility. But still, one thing is clear. The novel,
Sons and Loverswell reflects Lawrence’s novelistic vision (although not enough as in his later novels, The Rainbowand Women in Love), and the early novel still remains as a novel that has made our life a little more wonderful, a little more beautiful in this rapidly- changing world where mere survival of paper-books is constantly threatened.
13Generally, critics regard British novels as more social than most of American novels, the focus of which is more on self. The theme of social relations has more weight in British novels, especially the novels up to the nineteenth century. In this respect, Lawrence’s novels have affinity with American novels and have significance as the early Modernist novel.