BOOK REVIEW / Return of the Barm man: John Worthen admires the restoration of D H Lawrence's Sons and Lovers
Saturday 05 September 1992
Some of the new details are psychologically significant: the son and lover Paul Morel, emotionally in thrall to his own mother, is deeply attracted to - and frightened by - those breasts: he kisses them 'fearfully'. But only one expurgated passage - Paul putting on a pair of Clara's stockings and thereupon realising that he wants to make love to her - has much erotic power. Above all, such passages represent only a tiny proportion (less than 2 per cent) of what was removed from the novel in 1913. The phrase emblazoned across the jacket of this edition - 'The unexpurgated text' - promises something that cannot be delivered.
But it is not an exaggeration to say that the text of Sons and Lovers has at last been completed. The novel in print for the last 80 years was literally decimated: one-tenth removed.
How did this happen? When Lawrence finished his final version of the book, in November 1912, he sent it directly to Edward Garnett, reader for Duckworth. Garnett had been counselling Lawrence on his literary career for the past two years. He persuaded Duckworth to accept the novel when Heinemann turned down the previous version, and advised Lawrence on how to rewrite his book (he had always taken Lawrence to task for his work's supposed formlessness).
Knowing Garnett's attitude, Lawrence sent him the manuscript with some trepidation. 'I want to defend it, quick,' he wrote: 'I tell you it has got form - form: haven't I made it patiently, out of sweat as well as blood.' Garnett, however, sent Lawrence a letter that made his ears burn - 'don't scold me too hard, it makes me wither up,' Lawrence responded. Garnett announced that extensive cuts would be needed before the novel could be published, and he, Garnett, would do the cutting. Lawrence could not protest. 'I sit in sadness and grief after your letter. I daren't say anything. Tell me anything considerable you are removing - (sounds like furniture)'.
Time after time Garnett saw where a cut might be made. He made massive deletions, especially in the first half of the book; he did a responsible, professional job. Yet the question remains: why should we have to read one of the world's great novels in the form to which it was cut down by a 1912 publisher's reader, with his own particular Flaubertian aesthetic and his own particular sense of the novel market?
Inevitably, oddities remain in the cut text. Mrs Morel - seen waiting for the Barm man (not one reader in a thousand will know what a Barm man is) - is later seen with a mug of barm. Readers assume either that Lawrence has been careless, or that barm is something you sell to a Barm man, just as you sell stockings to Hose. But barm is yeast for making beer: Garnett cut the explanation as well as the passages in which Mrs Morel buys her mugful. Again, when Mr Morel apparently walks out on his family, Mrs Morel is certain he has not really gone. Yet when she finds out for sure that he never went, she goes to bed 'relieved'. A careless author? No. Lawrence was describing the children's relief - but Garnett's cutting of the episode transferred the word to Mrs Morel.
Couple the removal of numerous oddities like these with the clarification afforded by the restoration of Lawrence's own punctuation, which was frequently ignored by the 1913 printer, and the novel starts to read as it has never done before. . .
But the most important difference comes from the way in which episodes and characters in the full text are now filled out. Garnett removed, for example, chunks of the quarrels between Mr and Mrs Morel; the new edition restores the blind, nagging fury expressed in Lawrence's original text. We also see far more of both Mr and Mrs Morel in the context of their friends and neighbours: we acquire another perspective on them both.
Above all, William Morel, Paul's elder brother and the other 'son' of the title, comes brilliantly into focus: from the moment when, as a small boy, we find 'his love for his mother vexing his young growth' to the point when - although still a boy - 'William was already a lover to her'; 'all his young soul was his mother's'. All three phrases were removed by Garnett, who also drastically pruned William's unremitting pursuit of women, and his terrible contempt for them - a pattern in the novel reaching its climax in William's catastrophic engagement to Lily ('Gipsy') Western and in his death.
Lawrence had established William's tragic destiny from the start: we find William fantasising 'if I were dead' while still at home - an ironic foreshadowing of what he both fears and rushes headlong into. But Garnett cut the words, just as he removed Paul's attempt to make sense of his mother's death: 'if we go wrong, we die. I'm sure our William went wrong somewhere.' Such links do much to confirm Lawrence's own claim that he had 'patiently and laboriously constructed that novel'. Ford Madox Ford, for one, had been immensely struck by the young Lawrence's 'gift for form, in this sort of long book'. Garnett was not so impressed.
Clearly, people who want to read Sons and Lovers should not have to go on reading the text Garnett produced. The editors Helen and Carl Baron must be congratulated on their labours of restoration, as should Cambridge University Press for making the novel available in a popular reading text (pounds 14.95) as well as in an expensive scholarly edition (pounds 70) complete with apparatus, explanatory notes, and so on. Forget the publicity: forget the glistening globes. A great English novel has become an even better one.
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