Friends' Book Group Discussion

'My Beloved Son' by Catherine Cookson

Image of book cover for "My Beloved Son" by Catherine CooksonPlease join us for a discussion of My Beloved Son by Catherine Cookson, to be held Wednesday, March 13 at 6:30 p.m. in the small meeting room on the second floor.

The talk is next in the series on the subject of mothers and sons in Western Literature, sponsored by the West End Library Friends. 

The presenter will be Ori Z. Soltes, resident scholar in theology and fine arts at Georgetown University.  Refreshments will be served.

Set not far from the time (1926 at the outset) and place (the English countryside) of D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, this compelling story of Ellen Jebeau’s troubled, suffocating desires and ruthless ambitions that threaten the happiness of Joseph, her son, follows a 20-year ebb and flow of the struggle of Joseph to become himself—with moving and thought-provoking complications.
 
Ten Questions (some of them multiple questions!) for Thought:
 
1.  We have noted how, for Lawrence’s characters and Roth’s, as opposed to those of Homer, Aeschylus and Shakespeare (and the Bible), social class is an issue and an arguable factor in the shaping of the narrative and its issues.  How is that so here, in comparison with any and all of the above?
 
2.  So, too, how is religion a factor, if at all—and if it is, is it similar to or different from its role in our previous readings?
 
3.  How does the psychology of the situation with regard to Ellen and her motives and to Joe and his relationships connect this narrative to and differentiate it from that of Sara and Isaac, Clytemnestra and Orestes, Hamlet and Gertrude, Paul and Gertrude, Alex and Sophie?
 
4.  How, specifically, does this tale compare with Aeschylus’ Libation Bearers? How is the confrontation between Joe and his mother, Ellen (pp 144-146), similar to and different from the denouement between Orestes and Clytemnestra?
 
5.  Consider how other details here might compare with details in the two plays that frame Libation Bearers: Agamemnon and The Eumenides. For example, how do the actions of Clytemnestra and Ellen that precipitate the mother/son confrontation compare, and what succession of conditions follow that confrontation (are there equivalents in My Beloved Son to the Furies and the Eumenides [Blessed Ones/Graces]) in Aeschylus’ work?
 
6.  Madness is certainly a factor in this novel. How does it compare to other works with regard both to the storyline as we have it and to the larger context of fate, predestination, inevitability—and free will?
 
7.  War is also an important factor here. How does it compare as a factor with its role in the Iliad, Libation Bearers (Oresteia), Hamlet, Sons and Lovers, and Portnoy’s Complaint?
 
8.  Part of the drama in My Beloved Son revolves, for Joe, around shocks: two double deaths and an accusation of incest. How do these moments reverberate—both obviously and subtly—around the troubled and troubling relationship between Joe and his mother and their respective personalities?
 
9.  How do the concepts of “home,” “love and death” and “malevolence” play off each other at important moments? (What would Robert Frost or Alfred Hitchcock do with parts of this novel?!!?)
 
10. To whom, specifically, does the title of the novel in the end refer: to Ellen and Joe? to Maggie and Charles? to Joe and Charles? to Maggie and Joe? (to Aunt Lizzie and Joe)? What most obviously differentiates the ending of this novel from Lawrence’s ending with regard to the mother-son and husband-wife relationship—and how does the ending bring us full circle back to Genesis and the story of Sara and Isaac and Isaac and Rebecca (albeit with a very different nuance)?