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Sons and Lovers begins before the birth of its hero, Paul Morel, as his parents and brother and sister are moving into the dreary miners' lodgings known as the Bottoms. Walter Morel is a rugged miner whose small, deeply religious wife, Gertrude, is unhappily pregnant with their third child, Paul. Of all the Morels, you get the clearest picture of Gertrude in this chapter. A proud woman who has married beneath her own social class, she feels quite condescending toward the miners' world of which she is now a part. Her one joy in moving to the shabby Bottoms is that she has an end house in this low-income development, affording the Morels the luxury and status symbol of a side garden. You'll see as the story progresses how important a sense of social superiority is to the educated, refined Gertrude.
NOTE: In this chapter the narrator concentrates on Mrs. Morel. Most of the time, he strongly sympathizes with her feelings. Some readers think that Mrs. Morel's importance in the novel is reflected by the fact that Lawrence chose to begin the story with her, rather than with Paul. Other readers tend to believe that her overwhelming presence here signifies the immense power she'll exert over Paul's life.
The narrator makes a point to tell you that by moving into the Bottoms, the Morels have "descended" from Bestwood, a more prosperous town atop a nearby hill. You also learn that Mr. and Mrs. Morel's marriage is a shambles. Consider why Lawrence starts his story with the Morels' social, economic, and marital decline. How does it serve to color your impression of Walter and Gertrude's passionate courtship and early married bliss? Does the placing of the baby Paul in such a traumatic environment help you to understand his personal trials and tribulations as a boy and as a young man?
Gertrude Morel is miserable. She fears this new child will bring grave economic hardship to the family's strained finances. Even more important, she does not want to have the baby, because it was not conceived in love. She and her husband have grown to hate each other.
In contrast to the unhappiness of the Morel household, the village is caught up in the fun and festivities of the wakes, or local fair. Annie and William, the Morels' two young children, badger Gertrude to take them to the exciting event. She sends the impatient William off to the fair and promises to follow shortly with little Annie.
William is in heaven at the wakes, with its games and sideshows. He's even more delighted when his refined and graceful mother arrives. Unlike the other coal miners' (colliers') wives, she has refused to let poverty and drudgery affect her poise and pride. William proudly presents his mother with two eggcups he's won. The puritanical Mrs. Morel, however, disapproves of these vulgar local festivities, so she soon departs with Annie, leaving William at the fair.
NOTE: A puritanical person is one who is extremely strict in moral and sexual matters. As a practicing Congregationalist of her day, Mrs. Morel disapproves of dancing, frivolity, sexual license, and drink. Congregationalists believe in the value of hard work and good deeds, and feel that nothing should be done for pure pleasure, only for self-improvement. You'll see how strongly these beliefs vie with the freewheeling attitude of her husband later in this chapter.
William's happy mood changes abruptly after Gertrude leaves him at the fair. He's struck with guilt because he let her go home without him. This is the first sign you have of Mrs. Morel's power over her children. Here, too, you see a foreshadowing of the adult William's fatal conflict between staying with his mother and living his own life.
Mrs. Morel reflects on her misery once she's tucked her children in bed for the night. She feels trapped, nearly buried alive in her bleak existence, filled with demanding children, household drudgery, and a drunken, irresponsible husband.
Late that night the tipsy Mr. Morel returns home, speaking tenderly and offering his wife gifts of gingerbread and a coconut. Instead of being touched by his presents, she launches into a furious lecture on his drinking habits and his unfulfilled duties as head of the household. Think about how begrudgingly Gertrude takes Morel's gifts compared to her joyful appreciation of William's eggcups. Some readers see Mrs. Morel as intolerant of her husband. It's their view that she even encourages his bad points by expecting him to live up to her ideals rather than accepting him for himself. Other readers feel that Lawrence slants their sympathy toward Mrs. Morel because he truly believed his own mother suffered unjustly at the hands of her crude, unreliable husband.
Now the story flashes back to a portrait of Gertrude and Walter before they married. Gertrude grew up in a steady lower-middle-class family with a strong work ethic and a great deal of pride in their self- sufficiency. Her father never recovered from the disgrace of the family's financial losses. He was a stern, self-righteous, satirical man who was unyielding in his joyless morality. Gertrude, as you shall see, inherited most of her father's rigid moral and religious beliefs, though she also has her mother's gentle, humorous streak.
Walter and Gertrude meet at a local dance. To the prim, sheltered Gertrude, the strapping young miner is like a stranger from another planet. He comes from a rough, low-class mining family and speaks a lilting Midlands dialect, with "thee" and "thou" substituted for "you," and many archaic words in his speech. She sees him as mysterious, even noble, as he tells her stories of descending day after day into the bowels of the earth. Unlike Gertrude's father, Walter is lighthearted and sensuous. She herself is intellectual and reserved. She's attracted to Walter because he's so different from her or from anyone else in her life. He, in turn, is fascinated by Gertrude- a woman with class, culture, and education- someone he assumed was beyond his reach.
Walter arouses a passion in Gertrude that she never dreamed existed. Based on this animal magnetism, they marry and share a brief, happy union. Soon, however, the vast differences in their social backgrounds divide them. Gertrude finds she can't talk seriously with her nonintellectual husband. She begins to feel desperately isolated in his coarse working-class world, where there is little time for the luxury of trading ideas. Walter also becomes dissatisfied with his new home life. A man of action rather than words, he can't sit around the house every night and soon takes to staying out late and drinking with his old cronies. Gertrude, a teetotaler, hates his drinking. And she discovers in Walter another unforgivable fault to her puritanical mind: he's lied to her about their finances. She finds out they don't own their home or even their furniture. Like her father, Gertrude considers debt not only shameful but sinful. In her eyes, it's a Christian duty to be financially responsible and constantly striving to improve the social rank of one's family. Such concerns are very far from the mind of fun-loving Walter. The couple begins to battle viciously as Gertrude embarks on an almost religious mission to reform her husband.
The birth of their first child, William, regenerates the despondent Gertrude. Now she can put all her energy into this new life waiting to be molded into her ideal image. Walter feels left out and jealous of his son. As you read Sons and Lovers, you'll want to consider whether Mrs. Morel encourages the rivalry between her husband and sons and to what purpose.
The Morel family history flashback ends with Walter shearing off baby William's long curls. This act completely estranges husband and wife. Gertrude never forgives Walter for making their son a little man, even though she admits it's necessary. Why do you think she feels this way?
Now you return to the present. The Morels' love and passion has been totally transformed into a bitter, hateful ongoing war. It's a new day and Walter returns home very late and very drunk, as usual. This time, however, he's irritable and antagonistic. It's more than his pregnant, overworked wife can bear so she verbally attacks him. Being a simple, inarticulate man, Walter can't adequately combat his wife's tirade. He retaliates physically and shoves her out into the night.
Although locked out and feeling terribly alone in the world, Gertrude nevertheless finds herself refreshed by the glowing moonlight. She feels overwhelmed by nature's expansiveness after the claustrophobic torture of her small home and its domestic strife. Gertrude places her hand inside one of the pollen-filled white lilies in the garden. The scent of the flower almost makes her dizzy.
NOTE: This passage is a good example of Lawrence's use of poetic, or heightened, metaphoric language to elevate an ordinary scene. A pregnant woman, angry at her husband and sick to death with her difficult life, goes out into her garden and suddenly she "melted out like scent into the shiny, pale air. After a time the child, too, melted with her in the mixing-pot of moonlight, and she rested with the hills and lilies and houses, all swum together in a kind of swoon." The simple, struggling housewife whom Lawrence has depicted very realistically is also, as evidenced by the poetry of this passage, capable of communing with all of nature and humanity.
Soon the cold night air brings Gertrude back to her senses. She must get inside for the sake of her unborn child. Finally Morel wakes up from his drunken stupor and lets her in. As Gertrude returns to "the real world," her fury at Walter reestablishes itself. But she can't help smiling when she sees her golden pollen-smeared face in the mirror. Like the flowers, she is a fertile, procreative vessel of the life force. Nothing, not even her cruel husband or her humiliating life, can take this sense of the miraculous away from her.
Walter attempts to make up with his wife. He helps out around the house and tries to be a model, stay- at-home husband. But both of them are still happiest when they're apart. Why do you think this is?
While Gertrude is in labor with Paul, Morel is in the mine, working away at a difficult rock deposit. He curses and sweats and finally, exhausted, must give up the impossible task. There is one important difference between Walter's labor and that of his wife. While Morel struggles fruitlessly to break through a cold, lifeless rock formation, Gertrude's struggle produces a warm, living child.
When Morel comes home and is informed of his son Paul's birth, he doesn't even go up to see mother and child. He simple grumbles over the inconvenience of her confinement. Does Morel come across as selfish and heartless?
Today many men actually assist in their babies' deliveries. But in Lawrence's era, men were supposed to stay clear of such female concerns. Giving birth was woman's work. It's possible that like many men of the post-Victorian Age, Walter feels alien to the whole idea of birth and the raising of children.
Perhaps Walter feels Gertrude has shut him out of family life to such an extent that he has nothing to do with his own children. She runs the house; he brings home the money. It's also possible, considering how arduous mining is, that Walter is truly too tired to be sensitive to anyone else's needs. As you read Sons and Lovers, you'll see that the narrator seldom gives clear-cut reasons for his characters' often extreme actions. You'll have to come up with your own interpretations, since Lawrence depicts human beings and life itself as mysterious configurations that cannot be easily explained.
Soon after Paul's birth, Mr. Heaton, the young local parson, drops by to see Mrs. Morel. They enjoy discussing religious ideas. Mrs. Morel is particularly hungry for intellectual stimulation since few other people in the Bottoms have any education. On this particular visit, the preacher tells Gertrude about his upcoming sermon on the relevance of the Wedding at Cana.
NOTE: The Wedding at Cana was the event at which Christ performed his first miracle in order to show the Apostles that he was truly the Messiah. The wine at the wedding was spoiled, so Jesus took water and turned it into wine for the marriage feast.
Mr. Heaton uses the Wedding at Cana to show his parishioners that the sacred love of marriage turns water, an uninspired substance, into a heady wine, which he sees as a symbol of the Holy Ghost. Through the bond of matrimony, human beings experience their bond with divine love.
How do you defend the reference to this biblical passage in a house where there is little marital love and where drink leads to domestic brutality rather than bliss?
Mrs. Morel cynically believes the young preacher has such lofty notions about marriage because his own wife died early. The Heatons never had a chance to get to know and hate each other, as the Morels have.
Mr. Morel unexpectedly bursts in on this deep conversation. Like a bull in a china shop, he upsets both the talk and the beautifully laid tea setting. Walter is hostile toward Mr. Heaton, who, unlike himself, reaches Gertrude's heart and mind. He goads the young preacher, with his clean starched collar and refined hands, to touch his grubby mining clothes. Walter declaims on the nobility of plain, honest work and also tries to make the preacher feel sorry for his unhappy, thankless lot in life. Gertrude is embarrassed and angered by Morel's crudity and self-pity. Is Morel acting like a small child having a temper tantrum for the sake of adult attention? Do you think his actions are justified?
Once again, the frustrated Gertrude finds solace and strength in nature. She takes Annie and the baby out for a walk. The fiery sunset and the peaceful stillness of the countryside, full of flowers and trees, make her problems with her husband seem miles away.
NOTE: In Sons and Lovers nature often makes the characters' everyday, individual problems seem small and insignificant. How petty squabbles can seem when you're looking at an awesome sunset or a beautiful landscape! Nature also reflects the characters' emotions. For example, Gertrude's anger when she walks out of her home is reflected by the fiery sunset.
Gertrude muses whether her new son will be like the biblical Joseph and deliver his family from their economic and emotional famine. She holds the baby up to the sun, as if to give it the elemental heat and energy of life. A sad, guilty feeling creeps over her, as she remembers not wanting this child. Gertrude vows she'll make up for that by nurturing and loving him with all her might. She worries, too, that the baby might feel she didn't want him. Suddenly, Gertrude decides to name the baby Paul, after her father's favorite disciple.
NOTE: Paul was one of the twelve apostles and was most noted for his asceticism and his missionary spirit. You'll have to wait to see if Paul Morel turns out anything like his biblical namesake.
Morel continues his old pattern of drinking and lashing out at his family. One evening he hurls the silverware drawer at his wife and injures her. Blood from her cut drips down onto little Paul and soaks into his scalp. Why do you think D. H. Lawrence created that incident?
Morel is ashamed of himself for harming Gertrude. However, like many people, Morel then just drinks more to forget his inadequacies instead of trying to do something about them. Haven't you noticed that feeling bad about yourself can sometimes make you crueler rather than kinder?
When Morel throws the drawer at his wife, he deepens the gap not only between husband and wife, but also between father and family. How would you feel growing up with a father who might start lashing out at you without the slightest provocation? Most likely you'd stay clear of him and cling to the more stable parent in your family, just as the Morel children cling to their mother.
Morel feels so alienated from his family that he does childish, desperate things. One day he steals his wife's household funds to buy liquor. Gertrude desperately needs every penny for the family, so Walter's theft is like stealing bread from his children's mouths. Mrs. Morel accuses her husband, but, instead of owning up, he threatens to run away, like an overgrown Tom Sawyer. But he's tied to his family, regardless of how horribly he treats them. And they need him, too. Despite his faults, he is the family breadwinner.
Morel falls sick and has to stay home, nursed by Gertrude. Oddly enough, this brings some tranquility to the wretched household. Even though Morel acts like a big, sick baby and there's little money coming in with him out of work, Gertrude prefers her husband's dependence.
Mrs. Morel has resigned herself to the fact that her husband will never really reform. Without this expectation, she finds it easier to be kind to him. Gertrude has finally lost the last vestiges of emotional dependence on Walter. Now, all her hopes and dreams lie in her children, particularly the eldest son, William.
Knowing that it's really all over between them, Gertrude and Walter come to a kind of truce. They even regain some of the simple joys of their first married months, as she sews by the fire and he putters around the house. During their brief peace, the Morels conceive another baby. Again, Gertrude worries over the economic burden of an additional child. But, unlike her pregnancy with Paul, she doesn't feel any guilt for the baby's sake. She doesn't feel this child will suffer. Why do you think this is?
Many readers believe that Paul was the hardest child for Gertrude to bear because he came forth from an agony of love that was not yet dead but dying. The new child, Arthur, is born on clearer ground- there is no longer any love or passion between his parents. Gertrude, hungry for domestic peace, is even happy that Arthur loves his father, whereas the other children hate and fear Walter. It's ironic that Gertrude still wants Walter to have some place in the children's hearts, even though she's helped turn them against him.
Harmony never lasts long in the Morel household. Paul, a moody, sensitive child, has unexplainable crying fits and Mrs. Morel has to hide him from his quick-tempered father. Do you think Paul's fits are as unexplainable as his parents think?
There's a violent confrontation between Mr. and Mrs. Morel when a neighbor accuses William of ripping her son's clothes. Gertrude, always protective of her brood, immediately takes William's side. Just as quickly, Mr. Morel sides with the neighbor. Mrs. Morel boldly defends William against his infuriated father. Morel, always somewhat afraid of his wife, backs down. It's clear that she now rules hearth and home.
The children are growing up, and Mrs. Morel finds time to join the Women's Guild, where she can exercise her intellectual faculties.
NOTE: Women's guilds were an important part of the industrial working-class life. They were the women's divisions of the cooperative societies, which were the lower classes' forums for trying to work together for social betterment. The women's guilds often dealt with the domestic problems of the poor as well as the prevalence of alcoholism among working-class men. The guilds were self-help groups that provided emotional, economic, and intellectual support to their members.
When William turns thirteen, Mrs. Morel, determined to keep him out of the coal mines, finds him a clerical job. Mr. Morel makes fun of William for taking such a sissy job. Besides, he could make much more money as a miner. But mining is a dead-end field, and Mrs. Morel wants her children to get as far away from the working-class life as possible. Clerking, though vastly underpaid, will offer William a chance at middle-class respectability in the future.
NOTE: Why doesn't Walter want his son to escape the mining life? It's possible he doesn't want his son to outclass him. It's also possible Walter is proud of his working-class background and its honest, arduous toil. Walter may also view the middle class with disdain. Many miners considered middle-class people such as clerks, shopkeepers, schoolteachers, and even preachers to be pretentious frauds, out of touch with nature and life.
William is an excellent clerk and progresses rapidly at his work. Do you get the feeling he's doing it all for his mother's approval?
William may be pragmatic and socially ambitious like Mrs. Morel, but he's also very much like his high-spirited father. He's a great athlete and, to his mother's chagrin, an expert at dancing and romancing. Some people consider parents the greatest influence on a child. Others think that environment is more important. Still others vote for education as being the most important factor. Which would you select and why?
The Morel children feel a deep conflict between the traits they picked up from their mother and those they got from their father. Why do you think they're so confused? It's possible that their ties to their stern, future-oriented mother are so strong that they feel guilty enjoying life vigorously, as their father always has.
William is very popular with the girls. Like his father in his heyday, he has many girls whom he doesn't care an ounce about. Mrs. Morel encourages his rudeness. She wants him to concentrate on his work and schooling, and fears he'll end up sidetracked. Is she reflecting on her own marital mismatch?
William receives a wonderful job offer in London. He's so excited that he doesn't realize how deserted his mother feels. She's happy William is embarking upon the road to success she primed him for. At the same time, however, she doesn't want him to leave her. For Gertrude, William, rather than Walter, is the indispensable "man of the house."
Have you ever loved someone and found yourself torn between what's best for them and what's best for yourself? Gertrude has problems letting go of her children. All parents, at one time or another, must decide how and when to "cut the apron strings." What do you consider a mature, healthy parent/child relationship?
Now that favorite son William is making his own way in the world, Paul begins to take center stage.
NOTE: CHANGE OF PERSPECTIVE
Paul is a slight boy with reddish hair and gray eyes that seem to absorb everything they light on. He's terribly shy and is oversensitive to the way others see and treat him. Since he's often sickly, Mrs. Morel is even more protective of him than of the other children. He, in turn, follows her like a shadow. Paul is very different from the other boys in the village. Being less robust, he tends to spend most of his time playing with his sister Annie. But Paul's dependence on Annie is a formidable foreshadowing of the more serious dependence he'll have on his mother and his lovers when he becomes a man.
Paul does begin to assert himself in a strangely destructive incident. He accidentally breaks Annie's beloved doll and then suggests that he and Annie burn the battered doll like a sacrifice. He now hates the thing he mutilated.
NOTE: This scene helps you understand Paul's later cruelty to his sweethearts, Miriam Leivers and Clara Dawes. Even as a child, a part of Paul wants to obliterate or thoroughly erase those he's hurt. In what way is Paul like his father? You'll have to decide for yourself why Paul at times would rather reject and destroy than soothe those he has hurt.
Another remembrance from Paul's childhood flashes before you. Paul comes home one evening to find his mother with a black eye, his father looking ashamed, and teenaged William glaring. William threatens to beat up his father for hitting Gertrude. Morel dares him to try, and Paul, who hates his father even more than the other children, wishes his brother would hit Walter. Mrs. Morel stops father and son from fighting. After all her suffering, why do you think she makes William back off? It's possible she prefers to control their rivalry by keeping father and son mired in a war of words where she emerges looking like the ultimate peacemaker. It's also possible that she still feels some love for her husband and doesn't want him humiliated. What do you think her motives are and why?
Much of the time, Lawrence gives you brutal confrontations or facts and leaves you to decide the motivating forces. There are usually many forces at work at the same time. Lawrence creates characters with many dimensions. They're ruled by a combination of reason, instinct, love, fear, and hate. Would you say this is typical of many people?
The narrative now flashes back farther into the past, showing the family's move from the Bottoms to a cozy home atop a hill. What Paul remembers most about this house is the eerie wind that screams around it. The children are terrified by this strong natural element and identify it with their father's drunken violence. But what scares them even more than the wind is the stillness, the silence that follows the stormy battles that go on night after night between their parents.
NOTE: In this chapter, stillness denotes blood, destruction, even murder, Silence is associated with the aftermath of Morel's violence against his wife. Normally, you associate stillness with peace and tranquility. Later in the novel, stillness will take on such a meaning. But now, while Paul is a powerless child, silence takes on the dimensions of a frightening nightmare.
When you were a child and unable to control what was happening around you, did you ever wish grisly ends for certain adults and then become frightened that your wish might come true? Paul hates his father and even wishes him dead, but then takes it back in his very next breath.
Did you ever wait and wait for parents to come home from work and for some reason they were late? You may have been afraid they'd never come back and you'd be left to fend for yourself. The Morel children daily experienced this terrible uncertainty that their father may abandon them. It's no wonder Paul is so insecure and clings to his mother right into adulthood.
As the Morel children begin to live up to their mother's ambitions, Walter feels more and more like an outcast. He retaliates against his family's success the only way he knows- by becoming cruder and more brutal.
How have you felt about Walter Morel up to this point in the novel? It's likely you've come to dislike him almost as much as his own family does. But now that he's the lonely outsider, are your feelings toward him softening? If so, why? What could you say on his behalf?
The narrative suddenly changes from gloomy despair to lightheartedness. You see the bright side of the Morel children's relationship with their father. Morel is always at his best when he's working around the house. As Morel works away, he tells his children funny mining tales and sings folk ballads in his rich, beautiful voice.
Morel's vitality is like the explosives he uses in his work. It can hurt, even destroy. But it can also lead the way to joyful, carefree abandon. His ability to live in and enjoy the present moment is something the restrained, future-oriented Mrs. Morel lacks. Much of the children's passion for life's immediacy comes from their father.
When Paul, always fragile, falls ill with bronchitis, all he wants is his mother; he can't bear his father's gentle attentiveness. Perhaps Paul feels that Mr. Morel is putting on an act, that he doesn't really care that his son is ill.
Now that you have a good idea of some family factors affecting Paul's deeply sensitive personality, the narrator gives you an example of his sensitivity. Paul dreads his Friday chore of picking up his father's pay at the mine office. He's so small and delicate he's a perfect target for adult teasing. Paul is sure that everyone there is watching and laughing at him. He also feels, as his mother does, that he's better than these ignorant, common folk.
After Paul returns with the week's pay, Mrs. Morel goes off to market. Here's a scene filled with rich gaiety. When Mrs. Morel comes home with a bundle of simple treasures, the narrator makes you feel that the smallest bouquet of daisies or the tiniest cornflower-decorated dish are as precious as a king's jewels to this poor mining family. Lawrence is concerned not merely with the hardships of poverty, but with the way it helps people to appreciate the small pleasures in life.
Now the story returns to the present, with William clerking in London. The coal pits have gone bad for a while and the Morels find themselves in dire economic straits. William sends home very little money these days. Life in London is more expensive than he had imagined. Still Gertrude holds tight to her faith in him. William is her young hero, performing all his valorous deeds just for her.
William comes home for Christmas, loaded with dazzling gifts, including a gold-handled umbrella for his mother. This umbrella, which Gertrude will keep to her dying day, takes on a greater significance in chapter 7.
NOTE: While an umbrella is an appropriately practical gift for a poor woman in the rainy Midlands, it also has symbolic meaning. Umbrellas shelter human beings from the severity of the natural elements. Similarly, William offers his mother the umbrella as a token of his protection. The umbrella can also be seen as a symbol of Mrs. Morel's sheltering of her children from life's many vicissitudes.
The whole Morel brood feels united by William's return. They even become sentimental about being one big, happy family.
NOTE: Family unity was considered the backbone of Victorian society. Every family strived toward this ideal and believed in it regardless of how poorly their own personal experience matched up. As a writer, Lawrence did much to dispel the myth of the sanctity of home and family so prevalent in Victorian literature.
With William home and the Christmas spirit in the air, the Morels seem to forget their family problems. But, as you'll soon find out, the scars of their constant domestic strife can never be erased.
William's love and loyalty, so often questioned by the insecure Mrs. Morel, are soon reaffirmed. That summer he forgoes a much needed vacation in the Mediterranean sun so he can spend his next holidays with his family. The price William pays for this filial devotion will be seen shortly.
This chapter concentrates on the teen-aged Paul as he begins to discover his individuality and freedom. Here, as he becomes a more mature individual, the story begins to follow a more chronological pattern with fewer flashbacks.
NOTE: In this chapter Paul grows from child to adolescent. The forward-moving, chronological writing style emphasizes that he now has a certain amount of control over his life. A chronological style also reflects the idea that adulthood seems more sequential and causal than childhood, for it implies a history of feelings and experiences to draw upon.
The chapter begins with Walter Morel's injury and confinement in the hospital. Paul takes on the role of "man of the house" with his father sick and away. Paul also starts to develop his painting skills in the family's newfound peace and quiet. The children and Gertrude are clearly happiest when Walter is out of the picture.
At first Paul's painting is mentioned casually, as something he does for fun. For artists who start young, their first creative experiences are often enjoyable, but not very serious. You'll have to wait to see how Paul's relationship to art deepens.
NOTE: Sons and Lovers can be classified in the literary genre of the bildungsroman, a German word meaning "development novel." Books like James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Sons and Lovers are bildungsromans- novels that trace the development and growth of the main character. Much of the time, the protagonist of such a tale, like Paul, will grow up to be an artist, and the story reveals all the psychological and social developments that prepare the hero or heroine for his or her life's calling. Bildungsroman heroes are often overly sensitive and melancholy. Paul certainly has these traits, but he also expresses a sincere gusto for living.
Paul turns fourteen, and in the days depicted in Sons and Lovers that was time to start earning a living. Many children began working in the mines at the age of six or seven. Paul, on the other hand, spent his early years enjoying the rare luxury of an education, which his mother hopes will help him escape the mining life. For the shy, sensitive Paul, job hunting is terrifying. Not only is he afraid to be in the public eye, but he's certain that his days of freedom are over forever. He's off to become a cog in the big, impersonal industrial machine.
Gertrude Morel may pamper her children, but her belief in the Protestant work ethic demands that each of them, for economic and moral reasons, must learn the virtues of hard work. To the puritanical Gertrude, laziness is a sin. But Paul feels so ill-qualified for the job market. Compared to the stellar William, his work is sloppy and his handwriting, so vital to landing a coveted clerking position, is nearly illegible. Mrs. Morel, always concerned with having her children reach their own well-reasoned conclusions, asks him what he wants to do. Paul says the job itself doesn't matter. He just wants to make enough money to support his mother, live with her in a small cottage in the woods, and perhaps paint a little.
NOTE: Does Paul's wish sound like a childhood fairy tale? Notice that Paul does not include his father in his dream of an isolated cottage in the woods. Whether or not Freud's Oedipus complex theory fits Paul, he's certainly unnaturally passionate over his mother and abnormally dependent upon her. He's fourteen- why do you think he's not dreaming of girls his own age yet?
Meanwhile, William is a spectacular professional and social success in London. He works all day, parties at night, and yet tries to study to advance his career. Mrs. Morel worries that her son is burning the candle at both ends. She's most concerned about the beautiful, extravagant young woman that he's dating, Louisa Lily Denys Western, nicknamed Gyp by William, because she's an exotic gypsy in his adoring eyes. Gyp comes from a good, middle-class family that lost all its money, as Gertrude's own family did. But unlike Gertrude, Gyp is emptyheaded and frivolous. William may be fulfilling his mother's dream that he marry into a higher social class, but Gyp hardly fills Gertrude's moral or financial expectations of a good match.
Paul's inquiries pay off and he gets an interview at Thomas Jordan's surgical appliances factory in Nottingham. What a morbid place for a youth with an overactive imagination to work!
NOTE: The narrator states that Paul "seemed to feel the business world, with its regulated system of values, and its impersonality, and he dreaded it. It seemed monstrous also that a business could be run on wooden legs." Lawrence may have chosen to have Paul work at a surgical appliances factory because he himself did so briefly as a youth. However, this particular factory setting has a symbolic purpose, too. It points to a world of man and nature maimed by industrialism and patched back together, all too insufficiently, with artificial mechanisms.
Jordan's is a dark, gloomy place that makes Paul feel he's on the executioner's block. Mrs. Morel however, views the factory in quite a different light. She's in awe of its spaciousness, neatness, and buzzing industry. She dreams of Paul becoming a great, respected businessman and elevating his whole family.
NOTE: WORKING CONDITIONS
It's a miracle that Mr. Jordan gives Paul a clerking job. His handwriting is unreadable and his translations of foreign orders are nearly as bad. Paul's haughtiness surfaces, too. He looks down on Mr. Jordan and sees him as an ill-educated, cloddish man, even though he owns this great, prosperous factory. At the same time, Paul is nervous and is intimidated by Jordan, who represents an authority figure. Young Morel is an interesting amalgam of insecure timidity and snobbish superiority.
Mrs. Morel, unlike her son, is jubilant over his first job. Now "she could think of two places, great centres of industry, and feel that she had put a man into each of them." As you read the novel, consider how Mrs. Morel's idealization of industrial life contrasts with the narrator's hatred of it.
But life at Jordan's does have its rewards for young Paul. His job makes him feel grownup, and now he can even contribute to his family's upkeep. Mr. Pappleworth, Paul's immediate boss, is a gum-popping, gaunt man who enjoys harassing the factory girls. Paul tries to protect the girls from Pappleworth's bullying, and, as a result, the shop girls dote on him. One girl in particular- Fanny, a hunchback- becomes a favorite of his. Paul begins to enjoy his independent life working in the big city.
NOTE: Pappleworth, Mr. Jordan, and the shop girls are caricatures- ludicrous exaggerations of characters for the purpose of satirizing (making fun of) them. Lawrence was an admirer of Charles Dickens, who often used this technique to criticize the excesses of industrialism.
Paul observes that men and women have different work attitudes at the factory. The women can't seem to absorb themselves in their jobs the way the men do.
NOTE: LAWRENCE ON WOMEN
Arthur Morel, the youngest of the brood, is growing up. He's a lusty teenager, more like his father than any of the other Morel children. Arthur is handsome, lively, good with his hands, and impossible to discipline. He loves his mother, but his thoughtless, selfish ways make her heart ache. Although close to his father as a child, Arthur has now come to hate Morel's vulgar ways as much as the rest of the family do.
The narrator presents a pathetic picture of the aging Walter Morel. His shriveling body reflects the withering of his soul and proud spirit. His defense against his family's constant rejection is to deliberately act boorish and mean. Morel resents his family's striving toward middle-class respectability. Can you totally blame him? Their successes shut him out of their lives.
William becomes engaged to Gyp and brings her home to meet the family at Christmas. Think back to the last time William came home for Christmas. He was a walking Santa Claus! Now, he returns home empty-handed except for the elegantly clothed Gyp.
Although Gyp is polite and refined, she doesn't win Mrs. Morel's approval. She seems shallow and treats Annie and Paul like servants. Mrs. Morel fears that this woman, with her lavish tastes and frivolous ways, will drain William of his hard-earned money. As it is, he never sends funds home, now that Gyp's a part of his life.
To the Morel children, Gyp looks like a fairy princess. Even the usually sulky Walter Morel can't help but admire this fine figure of a woman. He also likes the fact that she's as anti-intellectual as he is. Over all, however, the social-class differences between the working-class Morel and the middle-class Gyp are an uncrossable chasm.
Against the idealized image of his beloved mother, William becomes conscious of Gyp's shortcomings, and he begins to treat her rudely. Surprisingly, Gertrude defends Gyp from her son, even though she feels the girl is unsuitable for him. Some readers believe Gertrude is just being shrewd by taking Gyp's side. Perhaps then, William will feel he's decided against the girl of his own volition, rather than because of his mother's coercion. Other readers think Gertrude genuinely feels sorry for Gyp. Mrs. Morel knows how hard married life can be, particularly between a mismatched couple. What do you think motivates Gertrude's kindness to Gyp?
As William prepares to marry, Paul meets his own first sweetheart, Miriam Leivers. Mrs. Morel accepts an invitation to Willey Farm, where her friends, the Leivers, have recently moved. She hopes the fresh country air will revive Paul, whose health is suffering under the long hours at Jordan's. As mother and son walk happily to the farm, the narrative sparkles with exquisite images of rolling hills, colorful flowers, and brilliant sunlight. Paul is ecstatic to be out in the country with his beloved mother.
NOTE: Paul's joy at being with his mother is enhanced by the beautiful natural surroundings. Throughout Sons and Lovers, landscape descriptions often reflect the characters' emotional states.
As the Morels stroll along, Gertrude expresses her delight in the fields and flowers. Paul adds that the coal pits are wonderful, too.
NOTE: Paul is attracted to opposites. He loves the black coal pits just as much as the green landscape. The dark pits represent the fuel source of the fire that kindles life. Aren't they also as much a part of nature as Mrs. Morel's beloved flowers and fields? The pits are full of mystery and intensity. Remember, too, that the pits are the realm of Paul's father. They may also symbolize the subconscious, that ominous, deep place from which so many of our desires and actions spring.
At Willey Farm, you get your first glimpse of Miriam, who is to become essential to Paul's art and life in the years ahead. She's a strange, shy girl with a "rosy dark face" and tousled black curls. At fourteen, she's a year younger than Paul.
Paul and Miriam have their first conversation in the Leivers' garden. He asks her to name the flowers, but she knows only their shapes and colors. We'll see later how difficult it is for Miriam, a bright girl, to apply her intelligence concretely. She's a character who lives most comfortably in the abstract.
NOTE: It's significant that Paul and Miriam meet first in the garden, an Eden-like environment that reflects the innocence of the two teenagers. Nature is also Paul and Miriam's first shared interest. As the novel progresses, observe how differently Miriam and Paul treat nature, though they're bound by their common love for it.
Paul also meets the Leivers boys, Edgar, Geoffrey, and Maurice. All the children go out gathering eggs. Poor Miriam is bullied by her brothers because she's so physically timid. Paul pities her and helps her overcome her fear of feeding the chickens; their pecking really doesn't hurt. He will continue to help Miriam master her physical fears throughout the novel. Eventually, though, these fears will prove insurmountable on the sexual level and destroy their relationship.
Once again, William and Gyp visit the Morels. Paul loves to go along on their romantic outings, and William is relieved to have someone to talk to. William is infatuated with Gyp but horrified by her shallowness. Just as his mother tried to do with his father, William wants to make Gyp into a responsible individual. He resents her for not being able to live up to his expectations.
William complains to Mrs. Morel about Gyp's stupidity and extravagance. When Mrs. Morel suggests they aren't suited to marry, William adamantly declares that it's too late to turn back.
Do children learn from their parents' mistakes? That's what Mrs. Morel wonders about William and his ill-advised engagement to Gyp. She's convinced his upcoming marriage will ruin him. Gertrude identifies so much with her son that she feels her own life wasting away, as well.
William's letters home become more and more manic. He's elated one minute, depressed the next. Is he just having the normal prenuptial jitters? Or is he fighting some deep inner battle? Many readers believe William is torn between his mother's tough puritanism and his father's moment-to-moment passion. They also feel he's motivated to marry Gyp because she satisfies his sexual needs without taking him away from his true love, Gertrude.
NOTE: Lawrence, in a letter to his mentor Edward Garnett, wrote of William's plight: "William gives his sex to a fribble [frivolous person], and his mother holds his soul. But the split kills him, because he doesn't know where he is." What do you think of Lawrence's comment? Does the story of William's conflict coincide with the author's own interpretation? As you read this chapter, try to see how Lawrence succeeds in his interpretation and how he fails in it, as well.
One of the last things William says to his mother on a visit home is that Gyp will forget him within two months of his death. How do you interpret that statement? Take into consideration the fact that it comes from a young man on the verge of marriage. It's possible William already knows that his inability to transfer his love from his mother to a mate will kill him. It's also clear to him that Gyp isn't the right woman. Why does he pick such an incompatible mate?
A few days later, back in London, William falls severely ill. Mrs. Morel rushes to her son and finds him alone and neglected, dying of pneumonia.
William's body is brought back home. The Morels solemnly guide the long, heavy casket out of the dark night and into the candlelit parlor.
NOTE: Light and dark and life and death are opposites that Lawrence saw as essential to one another. In other words, we can't know light without dark, or life without death. The darkness of death must enter the world of the living, depicted here as the Morels' lighted parlor, for the characters to know the full circle of existence.
Paul can't believe his big brother could be dead, especially amid all the buzzing activity of the mining town. Life goes on regardless of individual death. Paul tries desperately to communicate with his mother, but Mrs. Morel's thoughts seem to be at the grave of her eldest son.
Finally, when Paul becomes seriously ill with pneumonia, Mrs. Morel is aroused from her despair. She realizes she should have been caring for the living rather than communing with the dead. Through devoted nursing, she saves Paul's life, and he, at least emotionally, saves hers. Think about this scene when Mrs. Morel gets sick later on in the novel. Some readers that physical illness in Sons and Lovers is a manifestation of the characters' psychological sickness. They also suggest that the characters make themselves sick to get attention from those they love. Perhaps this need triggers Paul's illness after William's death.
The chapter ends with the fulfillment of a prophecy by William. Remember when he told his mother that Gyp would soon forget him? The Morel family receives a final note from the girl, describing a ball she has enjoyed- but with not one mention of William.
Part Two of Sons and Lovers focuses on the protagonist Paul. There is an enormous change in the Morel household after William's death. Paul's story can really be told only after the favorite son dies. He is now his mother's new champion. Only when he becomes the central figure in her life does Paul assume the role of hero in the novel.
Part Two also signifies the beginning of Paul's relationships with women other than his mother. Miriam Leivers will soon be Mrs. Morel's rival for possession of Paul's soul.
At this stage of the game, Miriam remains aloof from Paul. Like many teenagers, she lives in a fantasy world. She sees herself as a princess turned into a ragged "swine-girl." Miriam waits for a prince to discover her true noble identity and rescue her from household drudgery. You'll see how Paul comes to represent this prince as the novel progresses.
Like Paul and his mother, Miriam and Mrs. Leivers are suffocatingly close. Miriam is strongly influenced by her mother's religious mysticism, which infuses the most ordinary objects with a divine beauty. The religiousness of Miriam and Mrs. Leivers is very different from the self-improving pragmaticism of Mrs. Morel's Protestantism. The Leivers women are always trying to transcend reality through nature, art, and prayer rather than to experience the reality of the normal day-to-day existence. This quality appeals to Paul's sense of the wonder of life.
Miriam admires and even envies Paul's meager education, for girls of her day lacked educational opportunities. Miriam is certain that the only way to escape her lower-class drudgery is through learning. Paul will play an important part in her education.
At first, Paul is drawn to Mrs. Leivers rather than to Miriam. Mrs. Leivers believes in his art work so fervently that Paul himself begins to consider it something of a mission. Mrs. Morel is more concerned with Paul's ability to succeed in the world. She'd be just as proud of him if he became a respected businessman. While Mrs. Leivers and Miriam stimulate Paul's creativity with almost a religious fervor, Mrs. Morel instills in him the steadfast perseverance necessary to realizing his talent.
One day Miriam takes Paul out to the family swing. He hops on and swings so high he feels as free as a soaring bird. Flushed with excitement, Paul offers to push Miriam on the swing. But timid Miriam is frightened- he's making her go too high, too fast. She can't control her own flight and fears placing herself so completely in Paul's hands.
Many readers see this passage as a symbol of the sex act and a foreshadowing of Paul and Miriam's sexual problems. Here on the swing, Miriam can't give herself up to Paul's rhythms. Miriam's physical inhibitions become even more pronounced when she and Paul become lovers later in the novel.
NOTE: Lawrence vigorously condemned Victorian morality, particularly the double standard for men and women. The author also felt that Victorianism turned many women into disembodied spirits, ashamed of their bodies and terrified of sexual pleasure. Lawrence characterizes Miriam as an extreme example of a sexually inhibited woman, crippled by the social and religious taboos of her time.
Paul again leaps on the swing. Miriam watches him, fascinated. He reminds her of a "flame that had lit a warmth in her."
NOTE: Men are often compared to flames in Sons and Lovers, Walter Morel reminded Gertrude of the very same thing when they first met. In Lawrence's world, male passion is the flame that sparks a woman into full, glowing life. Remember the flame image when you read later of Paul and Clara's "baptism of fire in passion."
Paul finds himself increasingly inspired by Miriam. At this point, he's not conscious that some of this inspiration is based on sexual, as well as spiritual, attraction. As you read this chapter, notice how the narrator subtly and gradually depicts Paul and Miriam's growing realization of their feeling for one another.
As much as Paul admires Miriam, he also dislikes a great many things about her. He is repelled by her hunger for intensity and religious significance in everything. Unlike Miriam, he knows that the simple, normal pleasures are the stuff of life. He both hates and loves her devotion to the uncommon.
Mrs. Morel grows increasingly nervous and jealous about Miriam's hold on Paul. Why do you think she feels so threatened by this meek girl? Mrs. Morel says Miriam will "suck a man's soul out till he has none of his own left." Is she sincere in her concern that Paul retain his individuality? Perhaps, even more than Miriam, Mrs. Morel wants to possess her son's soul. Mrs. Morel could feel threatened by Miriam because they're very much alike, especially in their devotion to Paul. She's afraid Miriam will come between them. After William's death, can Mrs. Morel afford to lose another child to a silly girl?
When Miriam visits the Morels, Gertrude and Annie snub her. They won't even let her help clear the dishes, which would have been a sign of acceptance. Compare Miriam's rejection with the warm reception Gertrude gives Clara Dawes later in the novel.
While everyone else sees that Paul and Miriam are falling in love, they themselves refuse to believe there is anything stronger than a platonic bond. Miriam is so physically prudish that no one can even mention a farm animal's pregnancy without revolting her. How odd for a farm girl! Lawrence wants you to see how perverse it is to deny your natural instincts. Like Miriam, you risk becoming neurotically repressed and ashamed of the most natural and wonderful things in life.
Paul is so sensitive to Miriam's sexual shyness that he denies his own growing passion. Do you think it is good for him to do so? He does creatively channel his sensuality into art and ideas. But, unlike Miriam, his sexual frustration makes him irritable and confused. He resents being cut off from the physical aspect of his being.
Three important journeys take place in this chapter. Miriam, Paul, and their families and friends travel to Hemlock Stone, Wingfield Manor, and the seashore. These journeys share two elements. First, they emphasize that Miriam can't socialize very well and prefers to keep Paul all to herself. Secondly, they show Paul and Miriam drawing closer together in their own private world.
On their first journey, the trip to Hemlock Stone, Miriam realizes she loves Paul. Miriam's realization of her love is an odd mixture of pain and pleasure. Lawrence often links these two extreme emotions in love relationships.
NOTE: The futility of her love is intimated by the name of the place: hemlock is a deadly poison, and a stone is the opposite of a vital, living organism.
As soon as Miriam surrenders herself to loving Paul, a crisis arises. Paul discovers that the cherished umbrella William gave his mother has been broken. He despairingly thinks he is responsible. Miriam knows- but doesn't tell Paul- that her brother Geoffrey is really the culprit. Miriam takes the breaking of Mrs. Morel's umbrella, a symbol of the sheltering protection of a mother's love, as a divine proclamation that Paul's soul now belongs to her, not his mother.
Miriam's love for Paul becomes stronger and stronger. She is suddenly struck by the notion that her love might include a special need. What do you think Miriam wants from Paul? She may, though she could never admit it to herself, want him sexually. She's fairly certain she wants his soul. Her fear of her own desire for Paul influences her decision to become a sacrifice to love rather than a healthy, active participant in it. Is Miriam's decision selfless or selfish? Or is it a little of both? She is selfless in wanting to give Paul what he needs, rather than to serve her own desires. At the same time, she may be selfish in her saintliness. Saints can't be controlled by anyone, because they deny needing anything. And Miriam fears Paul controlling her, particularly in a sexual or emotional way.
Meanwhile, Paul is still trying to figure out how he feels about Miriam. Are they still just friends? Or is there something more he wants from her, too? Although he can't bring himself to approach her as a woman, he realizes that their intense friendship is no longer enough for him.
The final journey in this chapter takes Paul, Miriam, and the Morel family to the seaside. One evening Paul and Miriam walk alone on the beach. It's spring and he's filled with desire. The flaming orange moon reflects his passion. Paul now knows he wants Miriam. Still, he can't even bring himself to kiss her. He tries to deny his sexual feelings, but this only makes him hate her. He's relieved to go back to the cottage and his warm, jolly family.
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