In Stephan Zweig’s short story Burning Secret, he writes something along the lines of – there comes a time in every woman’s life when she must decide, is she a mother, or a woman? For me it begs the question- why? Why must we ask ourselves that question? Because society says so? I certainly can not imagine a man having to face this sort of a false dilemma, nor can I deny that there is truth in it. And that is the real pity.
Suddenly, looking at him, the heavy feeling at the mother’s heart melted into passionate grief. She bowed over him, and a few tears shook swiftly out of her very heart.
In Part One of Sons and Lovers, Lawrence carefully chronicles the life of the Morels: a struggling family, a loveless marriage, and the children that come into the world trying to fill the holes in their parent’s lives.
Paul loved to sleep with his mother. Sleep is still most perfect, in spite of hygienists, when shared with a beloved. The warmth, the security and peace of soul, the utter comfort from the touch of the other, knits the sleep, so that it takes the body and soul completely in its healing.
That is a perfectly beautiful description of delicious sleep, when your hand can rest in perfect trust on a body, whether it be: child, friend, or lover. The peace of our souls is found in each other – from the touch of the other, a beloved. Lawrence is such a wonderful writer, his use of colloquialisms, details of meager material objects, and the shared rapture of the glory of nature in the lives of mother and sons gives a clear picture of the family’s daily existence, allowing the deeper significance of the story to fully develop. It is Lawrence’s sensibility and keen sense of the importance of intimacy that is at the center of his novel.
Now, when all her woman’s pity was roused to its full extent, when she would have slaved herself to death to nurse him and to save him, when she would have taken the pain herself, if she could, somewhere far away inside her, she felt indifferent to him and to his suffering. It hurt her most of all, this failure to love him…
Mrs. Morel, sadly, goes straight to motherhood, her chance to be a woman is never realized and the disappointment just grows. Putting all her passion into being a mother, the decision of whether or not to be a woman too, is moot. With no deep connection to her husband there is just the empty space of desire left. Reading this novel one becomes aware of the limited vocabulary we have to discuss love and passion. Lawrence never suggests incest, and yet the nomenclature of romantic love does. Both romantic intimacy and the intimacy of mothering are physically pleasing and intensely fulfilling, but part of our emotional retardation is to always talk about physical pleasure as only sexual. Breastfeeding is an excellent case in point- physically pleasurable, and fulfilling in an entirely non-sexual way, the fact that breasts provide sexual pleasure as well should not be a source of confusion for people. It’s gotten to the point that people don’t want to see a woman breastfeed because – breast are for sex, and we don’t do that in public – or talk about it. Lawrence, has no such inhibition, he will leave sensuous terms as they are and dare you to be puerile. Women in Love has been described as homoerotic, if so, Sons and Lovers is incestuous, Lady Chatterley’s Lover is pornographic and you have lost the point altogether.
What Lawrence was really trying to discover was how, how can we deeply connect with one another? In Lady Chatterley’s Lover the sexual connection that is possible between lovers is a sacred thing. But it is deep connections generally that give our lives meaning. Our language cannot scratch the surface of our feelings. The words that we have to describe the love of friendship suffer the same problem in Women in Love as parental love in Sons and Lovers. Even when Lawrence is talking explicitly about sex, he is not talking about sex. His cri de coeur was the sine qua non of intimacy and connection of all kinds. Lawrence takes care to explore the complexities inherent: no matter how wonderful being a mother is- a mother is also a woman. Mrs. Morel’s mothering love in the absence of the woman inside her is a heavy and mournful thing. After all, a son loves his mother passionately, but it is the mother’s job to eventually deflect that passion away from herself and peripherally enjoy the realization of the child’s happy fulfilled life. In a healthy home, this happens naturally. The woman however, has the opposite aim- if she finds passion with another, and if it is returned, that is something she must hold on to, cherish and let bloom. The poverty of our words is frustrating and the word “passion” is sorely overworked.
At the end of Part One, William, the eldest son, is caught up in a relationship that mirrors his parents. Even as his mother attempts to caution him, he feels already morally committed and helpless to do anything other than see it through. She can not give him the inner strength required to rebel against societal expectations. The price is, of course, his soul.
“My boy, remember you’re taking your life in your hands,” said Mrs. Morel. “Nothing is as bad as a marriage that’s a hopeless failure. Mine was bad enough. God knows, and ought to teach you something; but it might have been worse by a long chalk.”
That’s the trouble with morals that go against truth and love, in the end, they are short sighted and punishing for all.
* “Kicking Against the Pricks” is a biblical reference Lawrence uses to mean, “rebelling.”