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Sons and Lovers: Industrialism Embodied

Updated on September 19, 2012

In the late 19th century, England underwent a difficult change. This change, brought on by the Industrial Revolution, broke the hearts of the nature-lovers, the artists, and the country folk. The industry brought England factories and coalmines, taking with it the lush pastures and floral landscapes. With a deep connection to nature and pastoralism, D.H. Lawrence cannot help but put vivid, beautiful imagery on paper in his novel Sons and Lovers. Even the characters represent this sorrowful change England has experienced. Lawrence uses the characters of Miriam and Clara as symbols to represent both pastoralism and industrialism, and the impossibility to fully embrace either.

D.H. Lawrence’s use of vivid imagery in Sons and Lovers begins early in the novel. He sets the stage on page one by describing the hometown of the Morel’s as “Hell Row.” This title is intended to create the images of hell that are associated with a coal-mining town: fire, smoke, and darkness. Lawrence describes the homes as appearing pleasant on the outside with flowers in the front, but this was only a façade covering up the true experience of life by the mines. “So, the actual conditions of living in the Bottoms, that was so well built and that looked so nice, were quite unsavoury because people must live in the kitchen, and the kitchen opened on to that nasty alley of ash-pits.”

Lawrence’s nature images arrive much later. In the heat of an intense argument with her husband, Mrs. Morel is forced to leave her home late at night and find solace in the garden. Here, the flowers are glazed with the light of the moon and Mrs. Morel feels dizzy with emotion. Everything is white and pure and the scents invigorated her. “She passed along the path, hesitating at the white rosebush. It smelled sweet and simple…Their fresh scent and cool, soft leaves reminded her of the morning-time and sunshine.” Even in the middle of the night, in the midst of a terrible argument with her husband, Mrs. Morel is reminded of a more peaceful and simple time. The purity and softness of this scene are a stark contrast to the “hellish” imagery of the mining town that they are entrenched in.

The emotional involvement Lawrence has with nature is deeply rooted in his writing. Mr. and Mrs. Morel’s story begins to wane as their son Paul matures. His story begins to take over the novel as he becomes involved with work in a factory and eventually in romantic relationships with women. Paul, like his mother, is a lover of nature. He relates very closely with her and in turn despises his coal-mining father. Paul is an artist, and is terrified of going to work. He views work initially as a prison that is keeping him away from nature and his art. “Already he was a prisoner of industrialism. Large sunflowers stared over the old red wall of the garden opposite, looking in their jolly way down on the women who were hurrying with something for dinner.” Eventually, however, he does begin to enjoy the working life, and whom he meets through it.

Paul often goes to a neighboring farm to visit his friends. Their sister, Miriam, takes great notice of him. One spring, he visits the family, and makes his first attempt at communication with the girl. She, like the flowers in her garden, is breath taking to him. They converse about the daffodils, and are set off into a whirlwind of romance. Paul and Miriam are drawn together by their artistic nature and shared love of natural life. They spend much of their time together exploring fields and flowers, and Miriam quickly become Paul’s artistic muse. She is deeply sensitive and at times very intense. Paul admires this quality about her, however, feels that her intensity can be quite overwhelming. “When she bent and breathed a flower, it was as if she and the flower were loving each other. Paul hated her for it. There seemed a sort of exposure about this action, something too intimate.” Paul admires her deeply, but feels incredibly torn about his feelings towards her. Mrs. Morel believes that “Miriam killed the joy and the warmth in him.” Miriam is also not the only romantic interest in his life. He is involved with a woman who is entirely Miriam’s opposite.

Paul meets Clara through Miriam, and she begins working at the same factory where he works. He is extremely attracted to her physically, however, she is emotionally reserved. At the factory, Clara keeps to herself. “Clara has always been ‘ikey,’ reserved, and superior. She had never mixed with the girls as one of themselves.” He longs to know more about her, as he knows Miriam so well. He learns that she is married, but separated. This experience attracts him to her, as she is eight years his senior. “She was not one to give herself away….She was to him extraordinarily provocative, because of the knowledge she seemed to possess, and gathered fruit of experience he could not attain” (252). Despite this coldness and closed off appearance, he eventually wins her over physically and they make love. Their relationship never goes as deep emotionally as he and Miriam have. Paul never feels that he truly “knows” her until he goes to visit her in her home. Despite her “high and mighty” appearance, her home life reveals her true social status of poverty. When he enters the parlor he sees that “it was a small, stuffy, defunct room, of mahogany, and deathly enlargements of photographs of departed people done in carbon.” Clara enters, seeing him there, and realizes that she cannot hide behind her appearance anymore. “She flushed deeply, and he was covered with confusion. It is seemed as if she did not like being discovered in her home circumstances.”

Just like the homes of the Bottoms, Clara hides behind a façade. She looks tidy and put together on the outside, but her home reveals a similar “nasty valley of ash-pits.” This juxtaposition of Clara’s character between Miriam’s reveals the two different worlds of industrialism and pastoralism. Their two characters foil one another in the extremes, and neither are fully capable of capturing Paul’s heart. He, like D.H. Lawrence, is stuck between two worlds: the bright, colorful past of pastoral life, and the dark, cold future of industrialism. Deep down, they both offer the world different things. Nature is peaceful and soothing, while the industry is fast-paced and futuristic. There are qualities to each that can be loved, however both Paul Morel and D.H. Lawrence are torn between the two and refuse to give themselves over to either. They will instead find the strength within to walk through life towards the things that they find beautiful in the moment. They will clench their fists and walk “towards the faintly humming, glowing town, quickly.”


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