Biblical Imagery in Sons and Lovers
Bill Long 10/14/08
2. (cont.) Gertrude realized that her reaction was overdone and even "brought herself to say to her husband, it was just as well he had played barber when he did." Yet, despite this:
"the act had caused something momentous to take place in her soul. She remembered the scene all her life, as one in which she had suffered the most intensely," (p. 24).
The description, for all practical purposes, is finished here, but then Lawrence goes on in a new paragraph with the following statement:
"This act of masculine clumsiness was the spear through the side of her love for Morel," (p. 24).
The reference is to the Gospel of John 19:31-37 where, uniquely among the Evangelists, he points to a soldier's thrusting his spear into Jesus' side while he is hanging on the cross, as a means of hastening the dying process. Thus, this Scripture functions not only to emphasize how cutting William's hair was the "final straw" (we use "final straw" in our language much more often than "spear through the side," don't we?) between Gertrude and Morel but how the breaching of the relationship could be compared to a crucifixion. Morel had, as it were, thrust the sword through the side of his wife, finishing her off for him. After this happened, she continued to strive with him and engage him, because of her "high moral sense" (p. 25), but something had forever been extinguished between the two. As a result, she began to direct her love exclusively at her children, and especially at her sons William and Paul. Then, when William was unexpectedly taken away from them by illness, Paul became the single focus of her life-giving (and life-stealing) love.
3. The Rev. Mr. Heaton, Congregational pastor, was a daily visitor to Mrs. Morel at her home. His wife had died at the birth of their first baby; "so he remained alone in the manse" (p. 44). He became a family friend and the godparent of Paul. On one occasion he shared his ideas with Mrs. Morel about his preaching. His text for the day was the story of Jesus' miracle of turning water to wine at the marriage festival at Cana (Jn. 2:1-11). He was already working on his exposition of the passage:
"'When He changed water into wine at Cana,' he said, 'that is a symbol, that the ordinary life, even the blood, of the married husband and wife, which had before been uninspired, like water, became filled with the spirit, and was as wine, because, when love enters, the whole spiritual constitution of a man changes, is filled with the Holy Ghost, and almost his form is altered," (p. 45).
But practical, down to earth Mrs. Morel would have none of this spiritualized exegesis. She first thought to herself, "Yes, poor fellow, his young wife is dead; that is why he makes his love into the Holy Ghost," (p. 45). This is quite a perceptive comment to make both about a pastor's reading of the Scriptures and her reaction to it. Then, she continues:
"'No,' she said aloud, 'don't make things into symbols. Say: 'It was a wedding, and the wine ran out. Then the father-in-law was put about, because there was nothing to offer the guests, except water--there was no tea, no coffee, in those days, only wine. And how would he like to see all the people sitting with glasses of water in front of them. The host and his wife were ashamed, the bride was miserable, and the bridegroom was disagreeable. And Jesus saw them whispering together, and looking worried. And He knew they were poor. They were only, perhaps, farm-laboring people. So He thought to himself 'What a shame!--all the wedding spoiled.' And so He made wine, as quickly as he could.'--You can say wine isn't beer, not so intoicating--and people in the East never get drunk. It's getting drunk makes beer so bad," (pp. 45-46).
Note not only interpretive twist that Mrs. Morel gives to the story, but also imagine the way that Lawrence had to have been "attentive" to biblical expositions while growing up in order to have "heard" this story. I hasten to add, however, that this was a sort of locus classicus or a "problem text" that those in the temperance movement, such as his mother, had to be able to deal with. So, she gives the passage both a practical and temperance "spin." She takes the preacher out of his mystical "in love with the Holy Ghost"-type reading and says that the issue here was one of social embarrassment. How can you hold a wedding feast and have your wine run out? So, she shows herself to be a down-to-earth non-mystical type of Christian. This is important to note because she will frequently come into conflict in later years with Paul's first "flame" Miriam, a girl of intense spirituality and religious conviction. While most commentators on Sons and Lovers stress that the problem between Miriam and Mrs. Morel is because the latter wants to "possess" Paul for herself, I think that a better explanation is that they were of different religious temperaments. The practical, down-to-earth, no-nonsense reader of the Bible often has few nice things to say about the mystical readers.
Then, we also note the temperance "twist" to the sermon that she encourages Heaton to preach. People from antiquity drank wine but not beer. They enjoyed their wine but they didn't get drunk. The reason beer is bad is because it gets people drunk. Thus, she can have both her social commentary as well as her biblical exposition in the story of the wedding at Cana. We see we are up against a formidable person here, one whose convictions and loves are not to be brooked by anyone who still wants to retain her affection or attention.
These few religious quotations in the first 50 pages help to anchor the novel for the reader. We not only learn about the Morels but we learn how the Bible functions for them and for Lawrence as a writer. Its cadences are as familiar to his ears as are Midlands color of celandine to his eyes...