D. H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers - Traditional Novel or Experimental Novel?



D. H. Lawrence has displayed a bold originality of his genius and his consummate artistic finesse in Sons and Lovers. With his pioneering artistry, he deviated from the traditional patter of fiction and tried to break fresh grounds. It was Lawrence’s unmatched artistic fecundity or rare ingenuity which was responsible for the genesis of a completely new type of fiction, popularly acclaimed as ‘physiological novel’. His originality paved the way for the emergence of a new literary genre, unknown to nineteenth century literary circle. His sharp or distinct departure from the conventional type of fiction is evident in the theme of this novel and in the presentation of the theme.

The primary concern of the conventional 19th century novelists was with the story-telling aspect. The element of story was very much important to them. They had a great inclination for a well-knit structure and they sought to abide by the strict rule or propriety concerning the unity of time, place and action. But Lawrence was motivated by an altogether different intention. Of course, in Sons and Lovers the story element has not been relegated to a secondary position. Lawrence gave due emphasis to the story-telling aspect. But at the same time he was very much conscious of his genius which was apt to strike a new note, hitherto unexplored and untouched by the so-called conventional novelists. Lawrence did not sell himself as a traditional raconteur. Hence, story-telling was not his forte. Nevertheless, in Sons and Lovers we get quite interesting and engaging story. The novel may appositely called as an autobiographical novel. The story is cast in the mould of his own life.

But Lawrence’s fundamental credit rests on his exquisite treatment of psychology. Lawrence had a rare gift psychological insight; and he has displayed this in Sons and Lovers which constitutes his unique contribution to the domain of this new genre. A particular psychological complex, popularly termed, ‘Oedipus complex’ forms the nucleus of this novel. Lawrence has experimented to incorporate psychology into the framework of a novel. The psychological analysis is interspersed with the story. Lawrence’s experiment was instrumental for the budding forth of this distinctly different type of novel. The story revolves round the life of Paul who becomes entangled in an imbroglio due to ‘mother fixation’ and finally fails to establish a perfect union or a healthy relation with any girl of his own choice. The dominant or possessive nature of his mother. Mrs. Morel is veritable detriment to his emotional life, which becomes ruthlessly stifled by the overweening preponderance of his mother. Paul falls in love with Miriam and Clara. But his relationship with both these ladies is imperfect and inadequate. The inadequacy is due to the excessive possessiveness of his mother. He tries again and again to dissociate himself from the central pull, i.e. his mother and to establish a healthy and perfect relation with agirl of his choice. But he repeatedly recoils to the mother and submits to her. His adherence to his mother was almost unswerving. In the revelation to the psyche of Paul, his mother, Mrs. Morel and two ladies, Miriam and Clara, Lawrence has exhibited a great psychological insight. Lawrence was primarily concerned with the inner mind of his characters.




He was not so much interested in the nare and outer surface of life. It was the interior and not the exterior that attracted him. He sought to portray the ‘shimmeriness of life’ and he considered this to be the essence. Other aspects were subservient to this. He has succeeded in delineating the inner mind of his characters, with the flawless precision of a true psychologist. He has displayed rare artistic excellence in vivifying the most complex and complicated thoughts of the characters figuring in his novel. In order to suit his purpose, Lawrence has had resource to a completely new style, known as impressionistic experiment. The style of a descriptive fiction or a historical or picaresque novel was not conductive to the purpose of Lawrence. Hence, he invented a new device which enjoined a symbolic presentation of human thought and emotions. This impressionistic style helped him greatly to reveal the inner life of his characters. It helped him to transgress the bounds of language and therefore his characters have become capable of giving vent to their complicated feelings and emotions and the most subtle shades of their thought and psychological actions and reactions. The resources of the language were not sufficient and that is why he has used symbols in plethoric abundance. Thus the swing at the Willey farm highly suggestive symbol; it indicated the touch-and go relationship between Paul and Miriam. In this way Lawrence has successfully portrayed ‘the shimmeriness of life’.

 Lawrence has deliberately flouted the rule concerning the unity of time. The traditional 19th century novelists maintained a chronological order of the sequence of events. A coherent plot is to be discerned in the 19th century fiction. But in Sons and Lovers the narration moves forward and backward. The logical consistency with regard to the flaw of narration in a chronological order is not there in Sons and Lovers. There is an element of lyricism or poetry in the novel and this constitutes one of the salient features of Lawrence’s art. Then again there is no hero in the conventional sense of the term. It was ‘the shimmering protoplasm’ which Lawrence sought to provide us'. J. Maynahan has observed; “He looked more closely than any other modern writer in English at the knotty fibers of human feeling and instinct which tie the ordinary men to one another, out of which the strange texture of human experience is woven, for life or for death”. Hence, the novel is more experimental than traditional and Lawrence’s genius flashed with rare originality in Sons and Lovers.


Ref: 1. Practicing Theory and Reading Literature An Introduction- Raman Seldon        

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