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Sons and Lovers - Family and HappinessSons and Lovers - Family and Happiness


Sons and Lovers (1913)


Written by the Englishman, D. H. (David Herbert) Lawrence (1855-1930), pictured right.


How does it relate to Lawrence's life?

Paul Morel is D. H. Lawrence.

Walter Morel is his father, a Nottinghamshire miner (in Eastwood, Bestwood in the book)

Gertrude Morel is his mother (a middle class schoolteacher)

Lawrence was profoundly influenced by:Sons and Lovers - Family and Happiness

  • their unhappy marriage.
  • his mother’s possessiveness.
  • his working class upbringing.

Lawrence's family is pictured right (Lawrence is third from the right).


Fun factsSons and Lovers - Family and Happiness

  • Made into a film in 1960 and two British TV productions in 1981 and 2003.
  • Lawrence's books have all been attacked for their obscenity (particularly Lady Chatterley’s Lover which was published after a famous obscenity trial in 1960).


Key characters

Walter and Mrs (Gertrude) Morel, a miner and his wife

Paul and William, their children

Miriam Leivers and Clara Dawes, Paul’s girlfriends

 Sons and Lovers - Family and Happiness

The story

Gertrude Coppard (Mrs Morel), a schoolteacher, marries a local coal miner, Walter Morel, but they are very unhappy (pictured right with Paul in the 1960 film).

He is often drunk, occasionally violent and hated by their four children. Mrs Morel is ambitious for them all, particularly William, her eldest son, who goes to work in London.

But she is mortified by William's death and only becomes very close to his brother, Paul, when he is ill with pneumonia.

During his convalescence, his mother takes him to her farmer friends, Mr and Mrs Leivers. He falls in love with their religious and impractical daughter, Miriam, but his mother possessively disapproves of her.

This disapproval and their sexless relationship lead Paul to become the lover of Miriam’s friend, Clara Dawes, a suffragette who is separated from her husband, Baxter. Paul's mother dislikes her, too.

(Paul and Clara are pictured right below in the 1960 film)Sons and Lovers - Family and Happiness

Baxter physically attacks Paul, who is badly hurt.

After nursing him, his mother dies, leaving Paul distraught and contemplating suicide.

He, and his sister, Annie, agree to give her an excessive dose of morphine to relieve her long and painful illness.

He reunites Baxter and Clara after realizing that sex was the only reason for his relationship with Clara.

He sees Miriam and leaves her again. But he now has the will to live on.


Lessons for family and happiness

 Sons and Lovers - Family and Happiness

1. Parents don’t own their children

His mother’s possessiveness (shown by her disapproval of Miriam and Clara) keeps Paul under her control.

Paul has what Sigmund Freud (pictured right) called an Oedipus Complex, when mother and son have an unusually close, even sexual, relationship.

He is only able to lead his own life when she is dead.


2. Relationships need friendship and passion

Paul’s relationships are unsuccessful, because he only gets:Sons and Lovers - Family and Happiness

  • companionship (from Miriam).
  • sex (from Clara).

His parents aren’t happy because they:

  • have nothing in common.
  • aren’t friends.

 Paul (Dean Stockwell) and Clara (Mary Ure) are pictured right in the 1960 film


3. Make the most of life

Paul:Sons and Lovers - Family and Happiness

  • is always curious.
  • is alive to the beauty of nature, painting and literature.
  • constantly questions his life to improve it.
  • loves life (despite all its problems).

So he rejects suicide after his mother's death.


4. Knowing people means recognizing their faults

Paul’s idealization of his mother blinds him to her snobbish superiority that partly contributes to her disastrous marriage.

 Sons and Lovers - Family and Happiness

5. Self-discipline is vital

Paul’s father is destroyed by

  • drink.
  • violence.


6. Don’t let the dead bury the living

Paul’s serious illness shows his mother that she must concentrate on him and not his dead brother, William.

 Sons and Lovers - Family and Happiness

7. Empathize with people (even if you don’t like them)

Paul empathizes with his mother’s painful last illness, and gives her an overdose.

But he forgets his father’s:

  • kindness towards him.
  • misery from his wife’s rejection.

Paul's father:

  • is heartbroken by her death.
  • deeply regrets their unhappy marriage. Sons and Lovers - Family and Happiness

Miriam loses Paul, because she fails to comfort him after his mother’s death. She is:

  • humourless.
  • insensitive (to other people’s feelings).

 Paul is pictured right with Miriam (Heather Sears) in the film.


8. Do something worthwhile

Paul is a talented artist but finds unfulfilling work with a surgical appliances manufacturer, so becoming a “prisoner of industrialism”.

His mother is determined that Paul and William don’t go down the mines, work that is:

  • dangerous.
  • socially inferior (she thinks).


Key quote on relationships

I shall never meet the right woman while you live, Paul (about his mother)


Key quote on marriage

Nothing is as bad as a marriage that’s a hopeless failure, Mrs Morel


Two literature websites to recommend 

1. sparknotes.com

2. litcharts.com


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