Re-reading Lawrence 55 years on

Using my Calibre reader on HP Junior I am rereading Sons and Lovers, having first read it in 1962. It holds up well. But how little of it did I really understand at the age of 18 in 1962?

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Hard to believe it was first published over a century ago! See Blake Morrison, Sons and Lovers: a century on.

Sons and Lovers is a great novel. A century of readers have reached for the same adjective. FR Leavis did, when he enrolled Lawrence in the “great tradition” of the English novel, comprising Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James and Joseph Conrad. And Philip Larkin did so, too, describing Lawrence as “England’s greatest novelist” and Sons and Lovers as his finest achievement: “Cock me! Nearly every page of it is absolutely perfect.” The perfection wasn’t apparent to those close to Lawrence at the time, including his childhood sweetheart Jessie Chambers, his editor Garnett, and his wife-to-be Frieda, all of whom suggested improvements and left their mark on the finished text. But the reviews were good, and 100 years later the novel’s reputation holds up, despite the recent dip in Lawrence’s critical standing.

To anyone of my generation, that dip is a puzzle…


2 thoughts on “Re-reading Lawrence 55 years on

  1. I was reading something by Jonathan Raban where he talked about his reading habits pre and post his encounter with William Empson. He described his youthful voracious reading as a voracious search for (vicarious) experience. I guess that is what you could get from Sons and Lovers when you first read it. Later, when you’ve had a bit more of your own experience, you are in a position to get more of the art and less of the, so to speak, journalism. Not that journalism ever presents straight facts, but I think when young it is only as a kind of journalism that we can consume fiction.

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