Let me launch right into it: Sons and Lovers is not at all what I thought it would be.
For such a massive novel, Lawrence could have at least provided us with a crescendo, a pinnacle of sorts.
Instead what we get is a detailed, almost microscopic view of Paul Morel's path toward adulthood.
Sure, there's something sinister in Paul's relationship with his mother, and that in itself lends the book a subversive quality.
But why Paul loves (and on several occasions leaves) Miriam isn't exactly clear; nor is it clear what he sees in Clara - beside, perhaps, a more modern manifestation of his mother.
For me, Sons and Lovers was about moving away from love: at one point Paul recognizes that his entire affair with Miriam is built on the idea of release, of relinquishing himself from a relationship he never should have entered. Why he cannot maintain things with Clara, though, is less clear: perhaps by this point in the book he's tired of thinking (and so, too, is Lawrence).
To a lesser extent, the novel is also about ownership and attachment: toward the end, Lawrence casts Miriam, for instance, as "belonging to him [Paul], but not being claimed by him." She is, in a very real sense, the book's greatest victim: paralyzed as she is in her waiting for a moment that will never come.
Ultimately, I was most affected by Lawrence's attention to a perpetual present: that is, his fascination with the complexity of our emotions, their three-dimensionality, their unwieldy ways.
Gertrude Stein built a bridge in her work toward Lawrence: that's for sure. At any moment, Paul is many things, and the 500 pages it takes him to come to terms with his emotions serve as a testament to our ability, to his ability, to spend endless amounts of time thinking things through.
One wishes for Paul that he might have experienced a sense of relief. But that sort of relief was not to come until later, in the form of Chatterly...or even later yet, across the Atlantic, with a new generation of authors committed to uncovering that condition Lawrence describes as: taking what you want, and giving back the rest.