I wasn’t looking forward to this book. I had vague memories of reading it when I was a lot younger and of finding it so unutterably dull I could not even finish it.

(And I was a child into 19th and early 20th century fiction. I read Dickens, Hardy, Austen, Bronte, Woolf and all their ilk. I didn’t find them boring, only D H Lawrence! – so much so that I couldn’t even be bothered to read Lady Chatterley’s Lover when it came my way…)

What with that, and the hideosity of my last two BRP books (191 and 192) I was starting to lose heart, to lose faith in this whole venture.

Imagine my surprise, delight and deep satisfaction then, when I discovered Sons and Lovers to be absolutely the best novel I have read in ages. It was powerful, affecting and wonderful.

Gertrude Morel is a woman who, married to a brute who she loved passionately but now cannot stand, turns all her affections and aspirations to her children, particularly her two oldest sons. William, the elder, is her great pride but his downfall comes in the form of a glib lover who seems to leech his finest qualities out of him. Paul, her third and most faithful child and her second son, remains besotted with her and loyal to her to the end. But he too struggles with lovers. Miriam suffocates him with her tragic soulfulness, and cannot satisfy his zest for life. Clara cannot satisfy his soul. Will he ever find peace or happiness with a woman who is not his mother? Perhaps her love, her need to assert herself through her sons, and to live through them, has damaged them so that they cannot relate properly to other women. Or perhaps it is their overbearing, drunkard father who has scarred them and left them unable to face or even to imagine a happy, natural marriage.

Even from my new feminist viewpoint, the novel was interesting for lots of reasons. I will mention only one: Clara.

Clara enters the story as a scornful, rather superior woman, separated from her rather despicable husband. She is a women’s rights activist and is called by one of the characters a “man-hater”. Yet she is portrayed sympathetically, as a human being, as someone bitterly hurt and miserable. She is not merely a defective woman.

And yet from her relationship with Paul she learns that men are “not the small egoists she had imagined”. She learns to love, and not to hate. She learns that she has learned enough, with her feministing ways, and that what she really needs in the end to make her happy is a committed, successful relationship with a man. She is brought back to conventionality.

So – was her appearance in the novel an opportunity to portray a radical feminist activist sympathetically, as a human being? Or was her ultimate return to the fold of conventional femininity merely a reminder that what women’s rights activists really need is to mend their ways in the loving arms of a good man? As usual, with this novel, it is complicated and I am left feeling that not only am I a bit hazy on answers, I’m not too sure on the questions either.

One to read again, I think. I loved it!

Here’s an Amazon link.
I read a library copy, but no doubt one of my own will find its way onto my bookshelves some day soon.

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