Sons and Lovers

By D. H. Lawrence; David Trotter | Go to book overview
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IN January 1914, eight months after the publication of Sons and Lovers, already 340 pages into his next major work, 'The Sisters', the original version of The Rainbow ( 1915) and Women in Love ( 1920), Lawrence looked back with horror on a period of his life when it seemed his only achievement had been to wound and disfigure himself and those around him: two years, from the summer of 1910 to the spring of 1912, during which he had broken off intense relationships with Jessie Chambers and Louie Burrows, and watched his mother die of cancer. But he had survived. He now felt secure in his relationship with Frieda Weekley, whom he had met in April 1912, and that security was beginning to have an effect on his writing. 'The Laocoön writhing and shrieking have gone from my new work,' he reported, 'and I think there is a bit of stillness.'1 His fierce desire to put the Laocoön phase of his life behind him, without disavowing it altogether, gave him an extraordinarily sharp (almost acrid) sense of the book it had produced. He knew that the distinctiveness of Sons and Lovers lay, for better or worse, in the writhing and shrieking.

A month earlier, in December 1913, Lawrence told his friend and mentor Edward Garnett, who had edited Sons and Lovers on the publisher's behalf, that he would never again write 'in that hard, violent style full of sensation and presentation'.2 The book he had written about disfigurement--about the pain caused by waste, separation, and death--was itself in some respects disfigured: hard, violent. The meaning of the terms he found for its stylistic writhing and shrieking--'sensation', 'presentation'--is not absolutely self-evident; but, defined in the context of the literary

Letters, ed. James T. Boulton and others, 7 vols. ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979-93), ii. 137-8. Laocoön was a priest of Apollo who on account of his misdemeanours was made to go a few rounds with a brace of sea-serpents.


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