‘In Sons and Lovers, Paul is not really torn between Miriam and Clara but rather between his mother and his father. ‘ Discuss. Sons and Lovers is considered one of the greatest English novels of the twentieth century. Centred on the lives of an English rural family, the novel explores issues relating to marriage, family, industrialism, class and sexuality. While the first sections of the book focus on the early marriage of Mr and Mrs. Morel, it is their second son Paul who comes to dominate the work. Shy, clever, sensual, and in many ways mirroring D. H.
Lawrence himself, Paul is an artist brought into the orld as an unwanted burden and by the end of the novel left meaningless and derelict. It is the interim, the life of Paul, that makes up the bulk of the novel. One of the defining features of Paul is the very intimate relationship he has with his mother. Its influence is inescapable, especially when it comes to his affairs with women. As the novel progresses this influence takes its toll on Paul. He in some ways moves away from his mother, asserting for himself sexual relationships and contrary views such as those on class.
Yet, the effect his mother has on him remains strong throughout and even lasts beyond the grave. Paul’s battling with this, the tie with his mother on one hand and his search for independent satisfaction on the other, is indicative of his divided character as a whole. This character division is most apparent in his affairs with women. This essay will look at two such affairs. First it will look at the division Paul feels for Miriam and Clara, both separate of and in comparison to each other.
It will be shown that Paul is torn specifically by each due to the nature of his relationships with them and from this it will be deduced that Paul is torn in a more general way. Secondly, Paul’s division between mother and father and how and if this is related will be examined. Paul is not really torn between Miriam and Clara. He ultimately does not want either. Miriam Leivers, the first of his love interests, offers him an intense, deep and soulful connection stemming out of and moving beyond friendship. The character Miriam is almost solely designed to represent this sort of relationship. She is intimacy personified.
Everything about her reflects the deep platonic relationship her and Paul have. The first incident on meeting her demonstrates her restraint as a character. Unlike her playful brothers she is afraid of feeding a hen corn from her hands, she will not jump where Paul and Clara have no difficulty, and she refuses to allow Paul to push her high on the swing. The swing episode illustrates Miriam’s sexual restraint. Her fear of swinging high when Paul pushes her, and of the strength and inevitability of each ‘thrust’, suggests her fear of sexuality. Throughout, Miriam is removed from the physical human world.
We are told that, “she could very rarely get into human relations with anyone” and so, “her lover was nature” (p. 205). She is contrasted against her ister Agatha who “insisted on worldly values” (p. 211). She is contrasted against her “naturally antagonistic” Brother Edgar who was a “rationalist” and “scientific” (p. 195). Miriam also despised things trivial and was deeply religious. Her other worldliness and her removal from the physical world shown by her restraint towards sex, all correspond with the relationship of abstract, platonic, intimacy that Paul has with her.
With her he is “always on the higher plane of abstraction” (214) and immobile towards physical connection. For Paul this type of love is overbearing and insubstantial. You make me so spiritual! ‘ he lamented. ‘And I don’t want to be spiritual'” (p. 232). Instead of just the spirit Paul felt he needed more. “He felt she wanted the soul out of this body and not him” (p. 239). What Lawrence gives us next is the inverse of Miriam. While Miriam was of the soul and abstraction, Clara Dawes would be of the body and the physical. The narrator tells us, “Clara belonged to Nottingham, to life, to the world” (p. 37). The division between abstract intimacy and worldly satisfaction is referred to by Miriam as the desire for higher things versus the desire for lower things. Paul opts for the “lower desires” in choosing Clara. From the offset, it is clear that their relationship is much more physical. Their raunchy outdoor adventures and visits to the park are in stark contrast to Paul and Miriam’s friendly walks in the wood. Furthermore, the corporeal descriptions and body imagery Lawrence uses in detailing Paul and Clara together reflect the physical nature of their relationship. We are told, “He touched her.
His whole body was quivering with the sensation” (p. 369) and of his bodily tension he experiences when he is waiting for Monday to arrive so he can hold Clara. The corporeal escriptions of shoulders, hands, ears, hair, and breasts amid kissing stand in contrast to the descriptions we got of Miriam which were mostly limited to her While their relationship is physical in a way Paul and Miriam’s never was, it too is limited. In possessing the physical connection Paul loses the spiritual one. “His feeling for Mrs. Dawes… was shallow and temporal, compared with his love for herself [Miriam)” (p. 37). The two did not have the same intimacy of soul. This is highlighted by the fact that Clara does not have the same interest in his art; she does not understand it according to Paul. Mrs. Morel gives an accurate depiction in saying “She seems straight; you know – not a bit deep, not a bit”. Paul is thus left wanting again. The two women, one possessing depth of love, the other a fiery yet shallow passion, are incomplete in themselves it seems. Thus, Paul cannot commit to either. To make one choice would be to sacrifice the soul or the senses.
This brings us to the division which runs at the heart of the novel and which relates to the second half of the quotation i. e. Paul is torn between his mother and his father. It seems Paul faces a choice with Miriam and Clara. On one hand there is deep and abstract knowing and on the other there is a worldly and temporal existence. Lawrence gives so much attention to this division and uses it profusely with his characters. How often the word ‘recognise’ or ‘realise’ is used in the reflexive to denote introspective awareness. Arthur, “a good deal like his father” (p. 142), hated study and “never yet had he been forced to realise himself’ (p. 01). We are told that, “Our Annie is not one of the deep sort” (p. 200). We are told that Miriam’s brothers yearned for “soul-intimacy to which they could not attain” (p 184). William’s girlfriend Louisa was an extreme of one side of this spectrum. “You know, she’s not like you, mother. She’s not serious, and she can’t think” (p. 148). Mr. and Mrs. Morel both represent two sides of this divide. It is obvious that Mrs. Morel is the more intellectual and more intimate of the two. She likes books and talking of abstract concepts with learned men such as Paul’s godfather, the preacher.
Mr. Morel on the other hand is a life-loving uneducated miner with no interest in intellectual or deeper relationships. Any efforts at finer intimacy proved impossible early on in their relationship, with Mr. Morel trying to listen “but without understanding” (p. 20). It is in this sense that the quotation stating that Paul is really torn between his mother and father, both representing two sides of a divide, rather than between Miriam and Clara. Yet this is shown to be unfulfilling when one examines the nature of relationship with the two women.
While he is torn between them for much of the latter half of the book he realises, after being with them both, that fundamentally he cannot have either. His choice is therefore not a choice at all. He is not torn between Miriam and Clara. In the nd, he realises that they are both equally incompatible with him. While it may appear that Paul simply needs to find a woman with whom he can share both the pleasures of the soul and senses it seems more likely than Paul will never find any woman he will be happy with. In both relationships with Clara and Miriam Paul Morel is given the test of higher and lower pleasures.
He fails both. Rather than the absence of these two qualities occurring simultaneously it is Paul’s failure for each of these qualities experienced in turn that demonstrates his incapability to be with women. Why it did not work out ith Miriam was because he would not let it. In a moment of epiphany Miriam exclaims to Paul that their entire relationship has been “you fighting away from me” (p. 362). To his protests that they had some perfect hours she cries, “Never! Never! It has always been you fighting me off… Always from the very beginning always the same! ” (p. 362). Their relationship wasn’t real. All the time he had been imagining something where there was nothing’ (363). With Clara, he possibly never truly loved her. He loved being in love, the sensations, the touching, yet we are told “his experience has been impersonal, and not Clara” (p. 31 She even asks him “but is it me you want, or is it It? ” (p. 441 Those two italicised words differentiate Paul’s love, not for the woman but for the act itself. Because Paul actively fails to engage in either a sensual or a sexual relationship with two women who’s characters define those facets of love, it appears that he has fundamental difficulties with being with women in general.
He is not torn between these specific women. He is simply incapable of being with any woman. This leaves us with the fact that there is a divide in the novel between the characters who engage in introspection and those who do not. It has so far been shown that this divide is not relevant to Paul’s supposed choice between Miriam and Clara. While both characters lie on either side of the division their location does not weigh upon Paul’s decision. As has been pointed out he actively disallows himself to make a connection with either.
Before examining the mother/father divide in more detail, reasons as to why Paul is incapable of being torn between these two women will be given. A common analysis is the oedipal relationship Paul has with his mother. There are countless examples of the dubious interactions they share throughout the novel. Love okens, prolonged moments of intimacy, Paul acting in private and public like he is courting his mother, even the title of the book with its indiscriminate “and” between ‘Sons’ and ‘Lovers’ all point to an abnormally intimate relationship between mother and son.
It seems that the overbearing presence of the mother nihibigt Paul from wholly engaging in a relationship with another woman. While this view has merit another may also be possible. In reading Sons and Lovers it is difficult to look past Paul’s signs of latent homosexuality. His delicate composition in comparison to his brother’s William and Arthur, and his aptness or partaking in discussions conventionally pertaining to femininity, such as the discussions about flowers with his mother and his talk in the factory with the girls would be traditionally associated with ideas of dandies in the late 19th century.
They also set Paul apart from other male characters in the book. One particular point in the novel stands out in terms of the language Lawrence uses. On one particular page Lawrence describes Paul in an ambiguous way. “He went mostly in the company of men”, ‘The two young men set off gaily”‘, “Paul was very gay”, “Paul ran gaily up the steps” and “then the queer feeling ran over him” (448) ll so close together have a very conspicuous presence.
The term ‘gay’ had already acquired sexual connotations by the time of writing and a work notes a male prostitute using gay in reference to male homosexuals as early as 1893. Even if Lawrence did not intend these words to indicate it the relationship Paul develops with Clara’s husband Baxter also suggests homosexuality in a subtle way. The subtle rapport they develop, the physical fight they have (sometimes used as a metaphor for sex as may be the case in Women in Love) and they way their relationship mimics a sexual one as Paul almost courts Baxter during is convalescence by visiting him and bringing him sweets.
This could also suggest a latent homosexuality in Paul which would explain his incapability and active though subconscious rejection to form a connection with women. This character analysis echoes the contention over D. H. Lawrence’s own sexuality. The similarities between the author and the protagonist are strong. The relationship with the mother, the coal-mining father, his development of an art, its eventual commercial success and eventual journeying abroad hinted at by Paul in the final chapters, all reflect Lawrence’s own life.
The description of Paul’s artistic method as “painting figures full of light, in a landscape” and “working a great deal from memory, using everybody he kneW’ (p. 367) is very applicable to Lawrence who composes wonderfully deep characters in a beautifully natural landscape using persons from his own life. Given this affinity, and granted Lawrence’s own dubious sexuality, indicated by circumstances and quotes such as, “l believe the nearest I’ve come to perfect love was with a young coal-miner when was about sixteen” , it is entirely possible that Lawrence would transfer his sexual feelings onto Paul.
This, the inherent signs pointing towards latent homosexuality, enforced by the explanation as to why Lawrence would do this, should also be considered as evidence for why Paul is not torn between Miriam and Clara, but between himself and women in general. As for Paul being torn between his mother and father it does appear that there are qualities which Paul adopts which can be considered more in line with his father than his mother. Paul seems to be more tolerant and appreciative of his father, or at least his father as an abstract, as the book goes on. A major difference between the mother and the father is class.
She comes from the aptly named town of ‘Bestwood, he, a miner from ten, lives in ‘The Bottoms’. She speaks with well pronounced English, while Morel’s colloquial dialect sets him apart from most of the family. The mother is well aware of class differences. She is reserved towards her neighbours early on. She instils in the children an awareness for commonness. This is expressed by Paul multiple times. In the instance when he collects wage money he returns and tells his mother that the men are “common and hateful” (p. 93) as they drop their ‘h’s’ and use improper English. However, this negative attitude Paul shows changes.
He later questions it and asks, M/hat am I but a common clerk? ” (p. 224). On going out with Clara he remonstrates at the idea of putting on fancy clothing. “Think of me in evening suit at the theatre! ” (p. 402). Thus, as it is William’s old suit he feels uncomfortable in, he is denouncing that high-class London life his brother lived. While the mother “wanted him to climb into the middle class” and him “to marry a lady” (p. 314), Paul realises that ‘the difference between people isn’t in their class, but in themselves” and that “from the common people” you can get “life itself, armth” (p. 13). This shows a departure from the mother in terms social values. Furthermore, Paul abandons religion in favour of enjoying this life and even drinks alcohol, in contrast to when he was young preferring to rather have a tooth drawn than drink lemonade in a bar. Mr. and Mrs. Dawes & Mr. and Mrs. Morel. 386 consider you treated Baxter rottenly. Apology to father He half expected Clara to answer him, as his mother would. You imagined him something he wasn’t. Baxter sits in Morel’s armchair (493) He is a man. Mother tries to make father more than he is. It destroys him.