Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Book #10: Sons and Lovers, The Release

This novel (1913) by D. H Lawrence, originally titled Paul Morel after the main character, certainly contains a language "elusive and vague," as noted in the Introduction by Victoria Blake, specially when describing the spiritual aspects of sexual union.

The emotional complexity of this novel is staggering. I found the reading experience dense, often uncomfortable in the depiction of household violence and the central sweeping current of Paul's Oedipal love for his mother. Also, as noted in the introduction, D. H. Lawrence's writing can be heavily symbolic. There were passages I had to re-read several times. While I would not argue against the novel's immense artistic merits, I found that this writing style did not appeal to my aesthetic sense nearly as much as some of the other classics I've read so far this year (Hardy, Crane, Greene). At times I felt like Lawrence's efforts to describe the unnameable experiences of emotion were too constrained by his choices of extreme tonal states; Paul "loves" and "hates" with such intensity and such frequency during two thirds of this four-hundred and fifty page novel, for instance, that we must learn to read these words in a new way or quickly become de-sensitized to the intensity and subtlety of his experiences, his longings and passions and confusions. I found the first and final sections most gripping, and became a little exhausted with the emotional meanderings in the central part.

There is certainly enough here for me to return to Lawrence in his later-period, more accomplished, masterpieces, but some time will probably pass before I do.

Here follow, from my reading notes, some selected passages I particularly enjoyed, and which may help to give a sense of the style.

"Sometimes life takes hold of one, carries the body along, accomplishes one's history, and yet is not real, but leaves oneself as it were slurred over." (p. 8-9)

"There were many, many stages in the ebbing of her love for him, but it was always ebbing." (p. 52)

"Now, when all her woman's pity was roused to its full extent, when she would have slaved herself to death to nurse him and to save him, when she would have taken the pain herself, if she could, somewhere far away inside her, she felt indifferent to him and to his suffering. It hurt her most of all, this failure to love him, even when he roused her strong emotions." (p. 97)

"A thin moon was coming out. His heart was full of happiness till it hurt." (p. 141)

"He kissed her, and went. She raked the fire. Her heart was heavy now as it had never been. Before, with her husband, things had seemed to be breaking down in her, but they did not destroy her power to live. Now her soul felt lamed in itself. It was her hope that was struck." (p. 146)

"She suddenly became aware of his keen blue eyes upon her, taking her all in. Instantly her broken boots and her frayed old frock hurt her. She resented his seeing everything. Even he knew that her stocking was not pulled up. She went into the scullery, blushing deeply. And afterwards her hands trembled slightly at her work. She nearly dropped all she handled. When her inside dream was shaken, her body quivered with trepidation. She resented that he saw so much." (p. 162)

"Recklessness is almost a man's revenge on his woman. He feels he is not valued, so he will risk destroying himself to deprive her altogether." (p. 210)

"And after such an evening they both were very still, having known the immensity of passion. They felt small, half-afraid, childish and wondering, like Adam and Eve when they lost their innocence and realised the magnificence of the power which drove them out of Paradise and across the great night and the great day of humanity. It was for each of them an initiation and a satisfaction. To know their own nothingness, to know the tremendous living flood which carried them always, gave them rest within themselves. If so great a magnificent power could overwhelm them, identify them altogether with itself, so that they knew they were only grains in the tremendous heave that lifted every grass blade its little height, and every tree, and living thing, then why fret about themselves? They could let themselves be carried by life, and they felt a sort of peace each in the other. There was a verification which they had had together. Nothing could nullify it, nothing could take it away; it was almost their belief in life." (p. 385)

"He shook hands and left her at the door of her cousin's house. When he turned away he felt the last hold for him had gone. The town, as he sat upon the car, stretched away over the bay of railway, a level fume of lights. Beyond the town the country, little smouldering spots for more towns--the sea--the night--on and on! And he had no place in it! Whatever spot he stood on, there he stood alone. From his breast, from his mouth, sprang the endless space, and it was there behind him, everywhere. The people hurrying along the streets offered no obstruction to the void in which he found himself. They were small shadows whose footsteps and voices could be heard, but in each of them the same night, the same silence. He got off the car. In the country all was dead still. Little stars shone high up; little stars spread far away in the flood-waters, a firmament below. Everywhere the vastness and terror of the immense night which is roused and stirred for a brief while by the day, but which returns, and will remain at last eternal, holding everything in its silence and its living gloom. There was no Time, only Space." (p. 455)
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