The most interesting thing about the novel Sons and Lovers,
an early work by D.H. Lawrence, is that it is nearly an autobiography.
Lawrence's own parents were severely mismatched. His father was a barely
literate miner and his mother was a schoolteacher who resented the hand life
had dealt her, which was to raise children in a grim, impoverished, uncultured
mining community while her husband spent every day in the pits and every night
in the pubs. Lacking any meaningful communication with her husband, she poured
all of her dreams into her children, and seemed to form a quasi-sexual
relationship with her sons.
David (D.H.) turned out as he did because of his mother's
solicitous if overprotective attentions. The good news is that he
eventually escaped the humble mining town of Eastwood and became
one of the most famous
authors of the 20th century. That was certainly no small achievement. The
bad news is that he was a mama's boy, which got him ridiculed by men and
caused him to fail in his early attempts to relate to women, since he could
never escape the oppressive influence of his mother. Fortunately, he
possessed the intellect and objectivity necessary to realize the problematic
nature of his relationship with his mother, and he was able to turn it into
literature, capturing the best and worst elements of her influence with
remarkable candor in Sons and Lovers.
The second most interesting thing about the book is that
you've never actually read it unless you are truly a dedicated scholar. Even
if you think you have read it, you probably have not. I was completely
surprised this morning to find myself in this group. As I was researching this
article today, I discovered for the first time that the uncensored work was
never really seen until 1994, which meant I had not read it since I
read the novel during my college days in the 1960s. Oh, there was a
version of it out there for me to read, but not the version Lawrence wrote.
E-notes reports: "Edward
Garnett, a reader for Duckworth, Lawrence’s publisher, cut about 10 percent of
the material from Lawrence’s draft. Garnett tightened the focus on Paul by
deleting passages about his brother, William, and toning down the sexual
content. In 1994, Cambridge University Press published a new edition with all
of the cuts restored, including Lawrence’s idiosyncratic punctuation." Oh,
well. I have read it now, since
available online in its entirety, or
available in summarized
To tell you the truth, I don't think I was really missing much.
If you want all the details of the plot, you can pick up a complete, concise
summary from Wikipedia. The short version is this: Paul (the surrogate for Lawrence
himself) is torn between the chaste, religious, and simple country woman who
loves him and a modern, freethinking married suffragette who wants him for
extramarital hanky-panky. Ultimately he is unable to relate very well to
either woman because of his Oedipal relationship with his own mother, and
mum's constant meddling in his romantic affairs.
There had previously been a relatively chaste film version
of the novel made in 1960 with an American (Dean Stockwell) in the lead. It
was directed by the famous cinematographer Jack Cardiff, who had a brief
directing career in the 1960s and 70s before returning to cinematography full
time. Cardiff did a good enough job in the director's chair that his version
of Sons and Lovers won him an Oscar nomination as the best director that year.
and his film was nominated for seven Oscars in all,
including best picture, and won for its impressive cinematography.
The BBC turned Sons and Lovers into a mini-series in the
1980s, and that version was seen in the United States on Masterpiece Theater.
(Although not by me. I don't even remember that there was such a thing.)
So what does this new version have to offer, other than the
hip, swingin' new ampersand in the title? ITV1 conceived of their 2003 version as an opportunity to
interpret the work for the first time without censorship, presenting the
sexual scenes as explicitly as Lawrence might have imagined them, and working
for the first time with the full text from the uncensored 1994 release of the
novel. (See the nudity report to the right.) The network threw a great deal of money into this production ($8
million), since they had reasons to believe in the project's appeal. First, there was the element of name recognition. "Sons and Lovers" is
one of the most widely recognized book titles in history. It was the most
popular of Lawrence's works during his own lifetime, and
The Modern Library list rated it among the ten best novels of the century.
Second, there was the story's inherent suitability for British television,
since it combines period costumes, solemn dialogue, an established and high-falutin' literary
and explicit sex - all in all, the perfect combination to provide housewives with
The scriptwriter did a lot of things right. First, he did a good job of working around Lawrence's
stiff, windy dialogue. He didn't make it contemporary because he wasn't doing
an episode of Xena, but was working with a recognized masterpiece that had to retain its feel.
So he kept the words, but reduced their quantity, either making the exchanges
terser and more natural or eliminating dialogue altogether in favor of pauses and glances whenever
The scenarist also did a smart job of condensation. In adapting the novel to the screen, he
eliminated Paul's younger brother altogether, a solid decision because the
younger brother's subplots
really add nothing to the story and serve only to distract us from the four
central characters. (Paul, his two lovers, and his mother.) Paul's laconic
miner father has not been eliminated, but has been given a greatly diminished
role He is still present throughout the story, but has been relegated to the
periphery and largely
reduced to an abstraction. While Trevor Howard had breathed life into that
character in the 1960 movie, and received an Oscar nomination for his role,
the actor's only real job in the new version is to stare ominously and
uncommunicatively. He has virtually no dialogue in the second half, thus focusing the
story completely on Paul (D.H. Lawrence's alter ego). The elimination of the younger brother and the reduction of
the father's dialogue did not eliminate anything important while giving the other
characters the screen time necessary to explore their relationships in depth.
I did think that the setting seemed too
sanitary. Given that the story took place in a mining and farming community at
the grimy peak of the industrial revolution, I
was astounded to see that it never seemed quite grim enough. These manual laborers
managed to keep themselves, their clothing, and their abodes quite clean and
salutary except for an occasional smudge of dirt on their cheeks.
With nothing more negative than that one minor complaint, I
felt that everything was going along swimmingly and was quite true to
Lawrence's spirit until the last fifteen
minutes. Then the
scriptwriter just sort of went off the track. Each of Paul's
relationships with his two lovers ends with a slightly different spin than
Lawrence had originally imparted. I assume that the author had to have had some specific point in
mind when he made the changes, but I can't pick up on it. I honestly can't
give you any reasons why the changes were any better or worse than Lawrence's
scenes. They were just
different, and I really have no objection to what he did to end Paul's two affairs.
The very last scene, however, was quite another matter. Paul sits
in a pastoral setting and reminisces to himself, imagining a rosy-tinted version
of the past, as portrayed by a repeat of earlier footage. This trite
narrative technique seems strangely out of synch with the rest of the story,
and totally outside the realm of Lawrence's inspiration. It feels like it was
tacked on to add some warmth and a more hopeful tone. The word "corny" comes to mind.