“Well,” said Paul, “if she looks at a man she says haughtily ‘Nevermore,’ and if she looks at herself in the looking-glass she says disdainfully ‘Nevermore,’ and if she thinks back she says it in disgust, and if she looks forward she says it cynically.” –D.H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers (254)
There is a satisfying onomatopoeia in the word frustrate. Your mouth must build up steam to run up and down all the central consonants and then just when things start going again- full stop on the hard “ate.” There is plenty of time to consider the word in one’s mouth while reading Part Two of Sons and Lovers- the sentiment sputters out of the novel at a consistent rate. Part Two’s focus is the “Lovers” of the title, but only frustrated lovers lie therein. Perhaps it is…. Englishness that lends even the dialog a frustrated rhythm, the fits and starts of people full of something to say fracturing under the magnitude of self-edits, fears, and censures.
But no; she dared not put her arms round it, take it up, and say, “It is mine, this body. Leave it to me.” And she wanted to. It called all her woman’s instinct. But she crouched, and dared not. She was afraid he would not let her. She was afraid it was too much.
Lawrence develops the character of Paul so slowly and naturally from boy to man that even though I wanted to throttle him, my heart ached for him, as a mother and as a woman.
Paul’s inability to Love anyone other than his mother, whose own passion was sacrificed to an unhappy marriage, renders his heart an otiose, useless thing. And yet it still beats. So what to do? The usual course in love and novels is: act stupidly.
So he left her, and she was alone. Very few people cared for her, and she cared for very few people. She remained alone with herself, waiting.
Knowing that you want something is not the same thing as knowing what you want. This is Paul’s problem, his heart calls, but he has hidden it behind the door of his loyal and passionate love for his mother. He tries to love, but only makes misery.
Everyone tries to love, in fact. There is Miriam and Clara, Clara’s husband and more mothers, the fellas in the mines, the girls in the office, all trying to satisfy their hearts. The bucolic beauty described throughout the novel where one loses oneself and dirties their shoes on amorous walks in the wood makes it more bearable, but also more poignant. You just want someone to become sane for a moment, like that wonderful moment in E. M. Forster’s A Room With a View when George climbs a tree in a spectacular field and just starts shouting the truth, “Beauty! Beauuttyyy!!!!” I love that. Sons and Lovers is a beautifully told story, but it is all a maddening circle that coils and festers.
There is a wonderful scene towards the end of the story when Paul and his sister are smashing up morphine pills to essentially kill their mother. She is already dying, but they wish to relieve the suffering- hers and theirs.
“What are you doing?” said Annie.
“I s’ll put ’em in her night milk.”
Then they both laughed together like two conspiring children.
On top of all their horror flicked this little sanity.
It’s a lovely, touching, funny moment: Paul trying to disguise the bitterness of the pills in the sweet milk, just as he had tried so valiantly to disguise the bitterness of his mother’s life. It’s so bitter, is all she can say. And it is. The heartbreak is that Paul’s effort has shut his heart off from ever really being pierced, and fulfilled. His heart lives in the shadow of his mother’s trying to fill the space that should have been absorbed by her husband, her man.
No; her life’s nothing to her, so what’s the worth of nothing? She goes with me – it becomes something. Then she must pay – we both must pay! Folk are so frightened of paying; they’d rather starve and die.”
And that is Lawrence’s point- people starve themselves. Suffering from an emotional anorexia nervosa, the frustrations create a sort of insanity: the insanity of an inability to love, and a reluctance to feel. To go so forcefully against our nature is not possible without damage. In the end I think Paul will be alright. I want him to be. I want to agree with Lawrence: listen to Forster’s George – open your heart.