Sons and Lovers: BBC Radio 4

Programme Broadcast on Friday  13th December

Like buses, we get little or nothing about Lawrence from the media and suddenly two presentations come along. This was another celebration of “Sons and Lovers”. I have to be honest, I haven’t heard of Frank Cottrell Boyce but his production was interesting.  The programme discussed some of the tensions within the Morel’s marriage, and the idea that parental aspirations are often the cause of driving children out of the comfort of the family home. Certainly this was evident in the Morel’s/ Lawrence households. Mrs. Lawrence was keen that her children should do well, should climb socially. George Lawrence moved away from home from an early age and always remained something of a remote figure, but not primarily driven out by his mother’s ambitions.

For Lawrence’s mother the harsh reality was that “bettering” her children drove them out, physically and emotionally, it certainly intensified the rift between Lawrence and his father. The programme did well to illustrate this from “Sons and Lovers” as well as from Lawrence’s real world.  George Hardy suggests that Mrs Lawrence gave her children the advantage of speaking ‘ a standard  dialect free English”. The Education Act of 1870 gave opportunities for working class children to benefit from a reasonable education. Ernest certainly did. I understand what the programme was trying to do, it is just a shame that, for me, it rather attempted too broad a canvas. It would have been interesting to examine Lawrence’s novel in terms of educational changes. Flx and change there certainly was. A passing reference was made to the fact that “Sons and Lovers” came out on the same day as the first performance in Paris of “Rites of Spring” It was a time of change “Things Fall Apart” (W.B. Yeats and Chinua Achebe—perhaps Achebe does for West Africa what Lawrence was doing for a socially changing England. If you haven’t read Achebe’s novel I would encourage you to do so.). What would have made a very good radio or T.V. programme, or even a series, would have been an examination and analysis, in detail, of how Lawrence records this social change that he felt was evident in the world of his early years.

As well as suggesting that ambition could, and did, fracture the closeness of the Lawrence family, and the Morel family, thE programme also attempted to look at how some mothers, at the time, were frustrated by their own lack of opportunity, and the sense of sacrifice. Mrs. Morel was “brave and rich with life”, Paul feels guilty about what his mother has given up. In the first chapter of “Sons and Lovers” Lawrence describes in detail some of the tensions that existed between the husband and wife, and within the family :-

“At last Mrs Morel despised her husband”   page 20  (Oxford Wrl Classics)

“She still continued to strive with him”   page 22

“Mrs. Morel’s intimacy with her second son was more subtle and fine, perhaps not so passionate as with her elder”. Page 82

Or

The happiness of the home when Mr. Morel was mending pots and pans.   Page 24   “It always gave her a sense of warmth and peace to hear him”

What I would love to have heard was a more detailed analysis of Lawrence’s technique within the novel. He was, after all, breaking new ground. Mrs. Morel is, surely, frustrated within the household but tied to a pre-existing role pattern. Only slowly will it change.

(There is a subject here for a reading group session in the D.H. Lawrence Festival in 2014.)

The programme praised Lawrence as an observer of live and as a realist. The presenter suggested that we should hear the writer’s voice in their work. A quotation from Raymond Williams was used to support the claim of ‘Realism’ in “Sons and Lovers”.

The programme strongly supported the value of reading, for adolescents “an eye opening experience”. The presenter rightly claimed ‘we can explore relationships through what we read.’ Stanley Middleton, a Nottingham novelist, had praised Lawrence for his ability to turn the insignificant experiences into something important e.g. Mrs Morel rediscovers a physical passion for her husband as she washes his back, but the emotion does not last long.

The old chestnut was raised again. Was Lawrence a misogynist? Here it rolled out American Feminist attacks again. Two writers were mentioned ;- Kate Millet, and John Carey’s “Intellectuals and the Masses”.  A reading of Norman Mailer on Kate Millet on Lawrence sounds  good fare.

Here again, I felt, the programme suffered from too short a time allocation. Paul Morel’s relationships with Clara and Miriam are both interesting. The subject is worthy of more detailed study. Maxine Peake’s contribution was interesting. She failed an audition because she was not considered sensual enough to ‘fit the bill’. Lawrence’s women, in his novels, and in his own life experience, were strong and intelligent people, often progressive in their attitudes.  Oh for a more detailed examination of just this aspect of Lawrence’s own writing and his own life experience. There is evidence in abundance of Lawrence’s attitudes to women, he writes at length about women and, I would argue, his female characters are probably better than most of his male creations. The writings of just two women who knew Lawrence well—Jessie chambers “D.H. Lawrence A Personal Record” by E T  or “Frieda Lawrence The Memoirs and Correspondence” Edt by E.W. Tedlock  both  give interesting perspectives into the subject of Lawrence and women.

The centenary of “Sons and Lovers” was almost bound to generate some media attention. The Radio 4 programme was interesting and served to bring Lawrence the writer back to a reader’s attention. I declare my bias, but Lawrence deserves greater recognition. If nothing else he is the Britten of the written word so deserves media exposure, or do we have to wait until March 2030 for that. Radio and T.V. could do worse than examine Lawrence and the Great War in 2014.

Malcolm Gray

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About DH Lawrence Society

The DH Lawrence Society, based in Eastwood Nottingham.
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