Sons and Lovers

Sons and Lovers Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on D. H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of D. H. Lawrence

David Herbert Lawrence was born in a mining community in Northern England. Lawrence loved the countryside surrounding his home and spent a great deal of time outside as a child. After school, he became a clerk in an office in the town but came down with pneumonia a few months later which forced him to leave his position. During his recovery, Lawrence spent a great deal of time at a nearby farm where he became friends with Jessie Chambers, the inspiration for Miriam in Sons and Lovers. He studied at Nottingham University and then got a job teaching at a university in London. He received recognition for his fiction when Chambers sent some of his work to a literary journal edited by the poet Ford Maddox Ford, and Lawrence then began to pursue writing as a career. He published his first novel, The White Peacock, in 1910 shortly before the death of his mother. Lawrence was deeply affected by his mother’s death and based Sons and Lovers on this experience. In 1912, Lawrence eloped with a married woman, Frieda Weekly, and the pair left Britain to travel Europe. They returned to England in 1913 and became involved with the London literary and intellectual scene. Lawrence took an anti-war stance to the outbreak of WW1 in Europe. This made him a controversial figure and he was accused of obscenity because of sexual content in his novel The Rainbow, which was banned in the UK. His 1920 novel, Women in Love, and his 1928 novel, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, were also banned on obscenity charges. He eventually left England with Frieda in 1917 and moved to the United States. He was forced to return to Italy for the sake of his health in 1925 and died from tuberculosis in 1930.
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Historical Context of Sons and Lovers

Sons and Lovers is set in the early decades of the twentieth century in an industrial mining community. The housing estate the Morels live on is typical of the mining communities which sprung up across the north of England during the Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century. These areas were entirely reliant on the coal mines for work because they were generally rural and slightly removed from the large, northern manufacturing towns, like Nottingham, where Paul gets a job in the novel. In the early twentieth century in Britain, miners were considered working class people and, like Mr. Morel, were generally uneducated and would work in the mines their whole lives. There was a noticeable shift throughout the twentieth century, as young people gravitated away from these types of hard, menial jobs to take advantage of education and employment opportunities in the growing towns and cities. This often led to class divides within generations in the same families, a subject which is loosely touched on in Sons and Lovers, as the children of miners would often progress into the middle class. Britain in this period had a strict culture of convention and propriety which was based in class and which held considerable sway over how people lived their lives, whom they married, and their social reputation. The novel is set in a period when there is growing interest in women’s rights, with the rise of the suffragettes, who protested frequently for the right to vote, and a public interest better labor laws and better conditions for workers. There is a brief reference in the novel to the possibility of war in Europe. This demonstrates political tensions at the time which would gradually escalate and erupt into WW1, which broke out shortly after the novel was published.

Other Books Related to Sons and Lovers

Sons and Lovers relates to the work of the French realist Emile Zola in novels such as Germinale from 1885, which describes the day to day life of a mining community in rural France. It is also similar to novels, such as Tess of the D’Urbevilles and Jude the Obscure, by the English novelist Thomas Hardy, which deal with subjects such as industrial poverty, nature, gender, and lifestyle changes between the lower and middle classes at the turn of the twentieth century. The non-linear use of time and meandering structure of Sons and Lovers is similar to experimental modernist novels, such as Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf from 1925, which examines themes of human psychology in an industrial, urban setting. Lawrence’s use of symbolism through images of nature and his use of pathetic fallacy links Sons and Lovers to novels such as Howards End and Maurice by E. M. Forster. These novels also explore sexual taboos in early twentieth century Britain. Sons and Lovers is also similar to several of Lawrence’s later works. His novel The Rainbow charts the history and development of a farming family across several generations, while novels such as Women in Love and Lady Chatterly’s Lover examine transgressive sexual relationships against the backdrop of British propriety. Later British novels, such as Stars Look Down by A. J. Cronin or How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llwelleyn, which tackle the subjects of coal mining and familial struggle, are reminiscent of Lawrence’s work.
Key Facts about Sons and Lovers
  • Full Title: Sons and Lovers
  • When Written: 1913
  • Where Written: London, Germany, and Italy
  • When Published: London
  • Literary Period: Modernist
  • Genre: Literary fiction
  • Setting: Northern England
  • Climax: Mrs. Morel, who has an unusually close bond with her son, Paul, dies from cancer and leaves Paul lost and disorientated
  • Point of View: Third person

Extra Credit for Sons and Lovers

Jessie Chambers. Lawrence closely modeled the character of Miriam in Sons and Lovers on his real-life friend Jessie Chambers. Chambers took an active interest in Lawrence’s literary career and the pair had a brief sexual relationship. Jessie was so hurt by Lawrence’s portrayal of her as the zealous Miriam in his novel that she never spoke to him again after reading a draft of the work.

Utopian visions. When Lawrence moved to the United States with Freida, he had plans to set up a communist utopia with a group of friends on land that they bought in New Mexico, near an artist colony at Taos. This was a place where creators and bohemians congregated and mingled, and Lawrence spent several years here and documented his experiences in a series of short stories called Taos Quartet in Three Movements. Although Taos was supposed to be a place of utopian collaboration and peace, the atmosphere among the group was often strained and tempestuous.