In his introduction to The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, (Aldous Huxley, 1932) declared that Lawrence was ‘above all a great literary artist…one of the greatest English writers of any time. ’ Born in Eastwood near Nottingham, England on the 11th of September, 1885, D. H. Lawrence wrote novels that presented the dehumanizing effect of industrial culture and preached a glorified union with nature along with its corollary, sexual fulfilment. His experience growing up in a coal-mining family provided much of the inspiration for Sons and Lovers, his third novel, also considered his ‘crowning achievement’ (Qamar Naheed, 1998).
Written in 1913, it is considered a pioneering work for its realism, vivid characterisation, treatment of sex complications and faultless control over tone and narrative method. Sons and Lovers is referred to as a Kunstlerroman (a version of the Bildungsroman), which is a novel charting the growth and development of an artist. The novel contains many autobiographical details, leading Mary Freeman (1955) to define Lawrence’s ‘most pervasive aim’ as the attempt to link experiences in his writing; she declares Sons and Lovers as the starting point from which Lawrence ‘moved towards more complex speculations’.
Undoubtedly Lawrence used his own experiences very fully in the novel: his parents’ relationship, attitudes and personalities are mirrored in that of Morel’s. He remarked in a letter, ‘one sheds one’s sickness in books’ and Sons and Lovers is a way of his coming to terms with those formative experiences which made him the man he was (Jenny Weatherburn, 2001). Lawrence was an acute observer of the natural world who took great joy from it (Weatherburn, 2001) and the novel reveals a great preoccupation with nature.
One of the important artistic features in Sons and Lovers is the symbolic meanings associated with nature. Lawrence applies the symbolism of nature to reveal Paul Morel’s complicated relationships with the three women in his life – Mrs. Morel, Miriam and Clara. These characters bond deeply in nature and Lawrence uses nature, and specifically flowers throughout the novel to symbolize these deep connections. Nature is used as a central symbol throughout Sons and Lovers and it is intricately linked to Lawrence’s presentation of Paul’s female relationships.
Lawrence’s use of landscapes and nature images in Sons and Lovers directly contributes to the development of Paul’s relationship with his mother, Mrs. Morel. For Mrs. Morel, the garden proves to be a place of poetry, meditation and a means of escape from the ugly reality of her life. At the end of Chapter 1 when Mr. Morel, in a fit of rage and drunkenness, locks Mrs. Morel outside in the gardens to demonstrate his power in the household, the pregnant Mrs.
Morel wanders into the garden and succumbs to ‘a kind of swoon’ – ‘her self melted out like scent’ – and the child too melted with her in the mixing-pot of moonlight. Her stillness in the garden where she contemplates the flowers and finds peace in their perfume highly contrasts with the noisy restlessness of her husband – ‘Mrs. Morel gasped slightly in fear. She touched the big, pallid flowers on their petals, then shivered. They seemed to be stretching in the moonlight. ’ (SL Page 31. ) Here Lawrence uses pathetic fallacy as the garden mirrors her emotions and she seeks refuge and comfort among her flowers.
According to Stefania Michelucci, 2002; ‘In this nocturnal episode, the garden also represents a threshold from which she establishes a relationship with the unknown, with forces of nature which intoxicate and disturb at the same time. ’ (Page 38) Here the lilies in full bloom are symbolizing Mrs. Morel’s young exuberant life, while the pollen is breeding the new life. She and the embryo immerse and bond in the atmosphere all in a lethargic sleep; from the onset Lawrence uses flowers to reveal Paul’s and Mrs. Morel’s unordinary relationship.
Lawrence was aware of Freud’s theory and Sons and Lovers uses nature to underscore the Oedipus complex present in Paul’s relationship with his mother. Paul is hopelessly devoted to his mother, and nature is used to reveal the love that often borders on romantic desire. Paul was born when she no longer loved her husband, and did not want to have this child. Ms. Morel decides to love this child well, as compensation for bringing him in to a loveless world. Nature, specifically flowers, connects the two, as Paul shows love by giving flowers to his mother from as early as infancy.
Whenever Paul brings her flowers the mood is gay, lively, warm or poignant. In addition, Lawrence presents scenes that go beyond the bounds of conventional mother-son love: as the two spend a day in the country together at the Leivers’, the beauty and sensuality of the countryside are reflected in their relationship – ‘Then they went out into the wood that was flooded with bluebells, while funny forget-me-nots were in the paths. The mother and son were in ecstasy together’. (SL Page 145)
Throughout the duration of this isit to the countryside, the beauty of nature entrances mother and son; so much in fact, that they both insinuate that their feelings of happiness can be attributed to this intimate, countryside visit. Upon leaving ‘his heart was full of happiness till it hurt. His mother had to chatter because she, too, wanted to cry with happiness’. (SL Page 148) The description of their unordinary relationship is replete with sensual descriptions of nature, of budding flowers and dew speckled grass, as well as of passion expressed through art.
The imagery is clearly erotic and would have been unacceptable in Victorian England, therefore leading to harsh criticism upon publication. Similarly, Lawrence uses nature to symbolize Paul’s intricate relationship with Miriam. Nature has a strange fascination for both Paul and Miriam; the beauty of nature, her changing colours and forms stimulate them and Lawrence conveys this to the reader through descriptive paragraphs and dialogue. The nature aspects that are in the extract convey purity; the two characters are young and fresh and the descriptive language used reflects this.
Miriam is eager to show Paul a ‘certain wild-rose bush she had discovered’ and the emotive language used reveals Miriam’s belief that until Paul has seen the bush ‘it had not come into her soul’; the bush is a way of representing the relationship between Miriam and Paul as whilst it holds great importance to Miriam it meant nothing unless it was shared with Paul. The language used to describe the nature suggests the writer finds euphoria in nature.
The bush is described as ‘splashing darkness everywhere with great split stars, pure white’ which give is imagery of the night and the ‘stars’ are seen as the most beautiful aspect of the night. The ‘pure white’ reiterates the youth and beauty between the two characters. The ‘pure white’ can also be seen as representative of newness of the events. It is not only the characters’ love of nature that is portrayed in the extract but also the writer’s as the language Lawrence has used to describe the natural surroundings is beautiful and euphoric.
Romanticism depicts that external nature is described accurately and sensuously and should be centered with human experiences and problems. The rose bush, described as having a ‘cool scent of ivory roses- a white virgin scent’, symbolizes the sexual tension between Paul and Miriam and reflects Miriam’s inner battle whether or not to have a physical relationship with Paul. Here again, Lawrence focuses unflinchingly on sexual experience and sexual feeling –‘She saw the dark yews and the golden crocuses, then she looked at him gratefully. … And now he asked her to look at this garden, wanting the contact with her again.
Impatient of the set in the field, she turned to the quiet lawn surrounded by sheaves of shut-up crocuses. A feeling of stillness, almost ecstasy came over her. It felt almost as if she were alone with him in this garden. ’(S L, p. 190). This chapter begins to suggest that Paul needs some connection beyond what he shares with his mother. In his free time, Paul is a painter, and he still needs his mother to do his best work, but Miriam allows him to take his work to another level; she makes him feel an intensity he has never before experienced.
Miriam also seems to have some sense of this connection, evident especially when she feels that, until she shows him the rose bush, she will not fully have experienced it herself. The connection between Paul and Miriam may be one reason that Mrs. Morel dislikes Miriam – ‘She could feel Paul being drawn away by the girl. ’ She seems to view Miriam as direct competition for her son’s love and attention. Lawrence also links Miriam with nature in a psychological level.
She is depicted as having a pantheistic worship of the natural world – ‘Miriam went on her knees before one cluster, took a wild-looking daffodil between her hands, turned up its face of gold to her, and bowed down, caressing it with her mouth and cheeks and brow. He stood aside, with his hands in his pockets, watching her. One after another she turned up to him the faces of the yellow, bursting flowers appealingly, fondling them lavishly all the while. “Aren’t they magnificent? ” she murmured. “Magnificent! It’s a bit thick—they’re pretty! ”
She bowed again to her flowers at his censure of her praise. He watched her crouching, sipping the flowers with fervid kisses. ’ (SL Page 248) The disharmony between the two is evident from Paul’s annoyed reaction to Miriam’s almost sexual appreciation of nature – “Why must you always be fondling things? ” he said irritably. “But I love to touch them,” she replied, hurt. “Can you never like things without clutching them as if you wanted to pull the heart out of them? Why don’t you have a bit more restraint, or reserve, or something? ” (SL Page 248)
Paul’s complex innermost feelings are evident; e is evidently fettered by Miriam and yearns for freedom – ‘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 to be a sort of exposure about the action, something too intimate. ’ (SL, p. 199) The way she holds the flower symbolizes her attitude toward Paul. Finally, toward the end of the book when Paul makes his final break with Miriam, he presents her with a bowl of flowers. A flower in the novel, seems to represent life. For Miriam, the flowers represent the rootless flowers of death.
Nature is also used symbolically in the representation of Paul’s relationship with Clara. Lawrence uses nature to metaphorically symbolize the intense feelings Paul has for the women in his life and Clara’s connection to nature is portrayed to be totally antithetical to that of Mrs. Morel and Miriam – ‘The flowers were very fresh and sweet. He wanted to drink them. As he gathered them, he ate the little yellow trumpets. Clara was still wandering about disconsolately. Going towards her, he said: “Why don’t you get some? ” “I don’t believe in it.
They look better growing. “But you’d like some? ” “They want to be left. ” “I don’t believe they do. ” “I don’t want the corpses of flowers about me,” she said. “That’s a stiff, artificial notion,” he said. ’ (SL Page 270) According to Mark Spilka (1980), Clara ‘doesn’t want to be ‘picked’ or taken by any man; she has separated from her husband and for her flowers become as proud and frigid, in their isolation, as she would like to be in hers. ’ This ritual of picking flowers causes Paul and Clara to engage in their first spirited conversation which reveals opposing values of both characters.
The way they pick flowers reflects their values –‘Miriam with false reverence; Paul with love, like a lover; and Clara not at all – but at least she respects the life in them, and the flowers, in their turn, will defend her – whereas Miriam’s sheltered blooms will quickly die. ’ Lawrence entitles the lyrical chapter ‘Lad –and-Girl-Love’ and punctuates it with Paul’s intense enjoyment of the world of leaves and flowers, while relating it to the sexual attraction between Paul and the women in his life – Miriam Leivers and Clara Dawes.
In the cene where Paul, Miriam and Clara are together on an open field in the country, Miriam is evidently aware of the attraction between Paul and Clara and uses it as a test to see if her spiritual hold over his soul will prevail over his desires for Clara’s body –‘Clara’s hat lay on the grass not far off. She was kneeling, bending forward still to smell the flowers. Her neck gave him a sharp pang, such a beautiful thing, yet not proud of itself just now. Her breasts swung slightly in her blouse. The arching curve of her back was beautiful and strong; she wore no stays.
Suddenly, without knowing, he was scattering a handful of cowslips over her hair and neck, saying: “Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust, if the Lord won’t have you the devil must. ” The chill flowers fell on her neck. She looked up at him, with almost pitiful, scared grey eyes, wondering what he was doing. Flowers fell on her face, and she shut her eyes. ”(SL Page 271) The relation between man and nature is direct and vital. Lawrence’s characters experience moments of transcendence while alone in nature, much as the Romantics did. More frequently, characters bond deeply while in nature.
Lawrence uses flowers throughout the novel to symbolize these deep connections. Sons and Lovers, perhaps more than any other of Lawrence’s books, is full of images of flowers. The different traits of the characters personalities are brought home to the reader through the help of flowers. Throughout the development of the novel, as intimacy is shared, it is only through nature and natural elements that we see this “intimacy” occur. This comparable relationship with nature metaphorically symbolizes and is intricately linked with the intense feelings Paul has for the women in his life.