Surely there was great disappointment when no winner was chosen for this year’s Pulitzer for fiction. However, considered by many one of the greatest novels written in the 20th Century, D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers never received one either! Published in 1913, it pre-dated the establishment of the awards in 1917 by four years! It would be interesting if the Pulitzer Board created a retroactive category.  In a sense, the Modern Library has done just that by ranking Sons and Lovers the 9th greatest novel of the 20th century. Quite right, quite right indeed!

Though technically a novel, Sons and Lovers is without doubt auto-biographical. D.H. Lawrence  is clearly writing of the struggles of growing up in a dysfunctional family in a poor mining community in England. The mother had married below her class to a husband that turned out to be not much beyond the daily retreat to the local pub with his co-workers.  In the novel, the mother is left with only her son to whom to direct all of her affection and emotion.  She would not let go of  what she perceived as all that remained important in her life.

I opened my Modern Library paperback version of Sons and Lovers and by chance the following paragraph unfolded. You will understand quickly why this great novel, once read, may erase any disappointment over their being no 2012 Pulitzer for fiction.

“Paul and Miriam stood close together, silent and watched…Paul looked into Miriam’s eyes…She was pale and expectant with wonder, her lips were parted, and her dark eyes lay open to him…Lets go, he said…Something made him feel anxious and imprisoned…The two walked in silence…Till Sunday he said quietly and left her and she walked home slowly feeling her soul satisfied with the holiness of the night…Always when he went with Miriam his mother was fretting and getting angry with him…when he walked into the house his mother had been sitting thinking…She could feel Paul being drawn by this girl and she did not care for Miriam…That there was any love growing between him and Mariam, neither of them would have acknowledged…She is one of those who will want to suck a man’s soul out til he has none of his own left.”

This magnificent novel rises to new heights on each page. If you have not read Sons and Lovers I commend it to you now. At 99 years of age it is contemporary and worthy of every accolade and honor that has been bestowed upon the book and its author.  Lawrence’s other better known novels are The Rainbow, Women in Love and of course Lady Chatterley’s Lover.  His last novel was The Virgin and the Gypsy written in 1930.

A footnote. In 1920, the year that Women In Love was published no Pulitzer was given for fiction! Also published in that same year was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise and Sinclair Lewis’  Main Street.  Good company!


Followers of this blog know that I enjoy delving  back among the best known authors and retrieving works that I have not read. Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust is one more example. Written in 1934, A Handful of Dust is listed as number 34 of the Modern Library’s 100 Best English Language Novels of the 20th Century. 

A Handful of Dust  is set in 1930s Victorian England, and focuses on the breakdown of the marriage of Tony and Brenda Last. The aristocratic Tony is preoccupied with the maintenance of his family country estate, Brenda is bored with her isolation there and also with Tony. Enter John Beaver, a self-interested and impoverished social climber who invites himself to Hetton ( Tony’s estate)  for the weekend. The affair with Brenda, who yearns for urban excitement, begins when she takes a flat in London and “goes back to school!”

In his introduction to the Everyman’s Library publication ,  William Boyd quotes from  Waugh’s Labels, a travel book Waugh wrote after his own broken marriage. “Fortune is the least capricious of deities, and arranges things on the just and rigid system that no one shall be very happy for very long.”  Are many great novels autobiographical? You bet!

And so the story of infidelity unfolds often reminiscent to me of  Idina Sackville in The Bolter although a littler less tawdry!  In an amazing twist, the reader of the Everyman’s Library publication of A Handful of Dust gets the option of the two endings!  When the book was to be serialized in an American magazine they determined Waugh’s original ending too dreary so he wrote a new one!  I like the latter the best which includes a sort of just rewards for Tony Last.   I think it made Waugh feel better.  Enjoy!

The best known of Waugh’s novels is Brideshead Revisited ( 1945)  and later Sword of Honor ( 1952-1961),  his World War II Trilogy. A Handful of Dust and Brideshead Revisited were made into motion pictures.