OK, here’s my take on Sons and Lovers. Much has been said in Goodreads, Sparknotes (did I say, Sparknotes? No, I didn’t check anything there!), random reviews, etc. regarding Paul’s near-incenstuous relationship with his mother.
However, his relationship with his mother makes no difference at all. Paul is gay. He would not have married any of the women he befriended, no matter what his mother thought of them! He is just not romantically interested in any of them.
I don’t want to stereotype Paul, but he enjoys a close relationship with his mother and he enjoys the friendly company of the factory girls he works with. He’s always chatting with them over lunch and remarking over their dresses and hairstyles. While he enjoys his friendly companionship with both Clara and Miriam, it is difficult for him to take it further:
“Sex had become so complicated in him that he would have denied that he ever could want Clara or Miriam or any woman whom he knew. Sex desire was a sort of detached thing, that did not belong to a woman.” Page 252, location 3938
Yes, it’s complicated because Paul would rather have the company of a man, such as Miriam’s brother Edgar.
“It was a great bitterness to Miriam to see herself deserted by Paul for Edgar, who seemed so much lower. But the youth was very happy with her elder brother. The two men spent afternoon together on the land or in the loft doing carpentry, when it rained. And they talked together, or Paul taught Edgar the songs he himself had learned from Annie at the piano.” Page 142, location 2275
Paul does enjoy other male friendships as well, such as when he embarked on a four day holiday with his friend Newton.
“The two young men simply enjoyed themselves. Paul was like another man. None of himself remained – no Clara, no Miriam, no mother that fretted him.” Page 343, location 5236
I’m not sure if we’re to take the above passage, and earlier passages regarding Edgar, and infer that Paul enjoyed a sexual relationship with these men, or if he didn’t realize that he was gay and was just trying to make his way in the world with no thought to that. I hadn’t seen any other reviews mentioning Paul’s sexual orientation until I googled it, and then I saw some of the debates regarding the subject. Interestingly those seemed to center around his contentious relationship with Baxter Dawes, which was a plausible connection, but not the one that solidified this theory for me.
I’ve never been one to read into the text so far as to put words and ideas into the author’s mouth, although I feel strongly that this is what the author was implying. My high school English teacher would be proud, but that’s a post for another day!
Had this been 2011 and not 1911, I believe Paul would be able to be openly gay. He could’ve struck up a long-term relationship with Edgar, working and tending to his garden and lived his life much more happily. Or one would hope anyway! To be honest, I think his mother would’ve been fine with it too, because she would’ve always been his best gal.
Next up – Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. A classic, and a good time to join us on this journey!