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October 21, 2017

Sons and Lovers, Mothers and Fathers

On this day in 1885 D. H. Lawrence was born in Eastwood, outside Nottingham, the fourth of five children. Lawrence's autobiographical novel, Sons and Lovers (1913) made famous the tortured conditions of his upbringing: his uneducated father's pit-and-pub life, his mother's contempt for this and her self-sacrifice in order that her children might avoid it, Lawrence's own conflicted feelings of being absolutely devoted to and yet smothered by his mother. The novel and all of the biographical documents covering the author's early life overwhelmingly support the idea that Lawrence shared young Paul Morel's nightly prayer that his father would either stop drinking or die in a mine accident. The later autobiographical writings show a turnaround, however, and by the age of forty Lawrence had concluded "that my mother deceived me." Her scrimping for his piano, paints and schooling, and her war with her husband, was just snobbery; his father was not a lout but a salt-of-the-earth who "rackapelted with his own gang" because of the "nagging materialism" at home. This revaluation was part of Lawrence's larger attempt to reject middle-class English culture and morality in favor of myth, instinct and "blood" -- as in his famous, "What the blood feels, and believes, and says, is always true."

Lawrence's mother died of cancer in 1910, assisted by a life-ending drug administered by Lawrence; Mrs. Morel dies with Paul's help at the end of Sons and Lovers, leaving him adrift, bound, and determined:
    Beyond the town the country, little smouldering spots for more towns -- the sea -- the night -- on and on! And he had no place in it! Whatever spot he stood on, there he stood alone.... Who could say his mother had lived and did not live? She had been in one place, and was in another; that was all. And his soul could not leave her, wherever she was. Now she was gone abroad into the night, and he was with her still. They were together. But yet there was his body, his chest, that leaned against the stile, his hands on the wooden bar. They seemed something. Where was he?-one tiny upright speck of flesh, less than an ear of wheat lost in the field. He could not bear it....

    "Mother!" he whispered -- "mother!"

    She was the only thing that held him up, himself, amid all this. And she was gone, intermingled herself. He wanted her to touch him, have him alongside with her.

    But no, he would not give in. Turning sharply, he walked towards the city's gold phosphorescence. His fists were shut, his mouth set fast. He would not take that direction, to the darkness, to follow her. He walked towards the faintly humming, glowing town, quickly.

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