Constance realizes that she is becoming restless in life. She is also getting thinner. She finds a refuge in the woods, as a place where she can get away from everything. But she doesn't think of it as a spiritual place. Vaguely she knew that she was losing touch with the vital world. Her father suggests that she find herself a lover.
Michaelis is a young Irishman, who was a successful playwright for a time, but who was discovered to be "anti-English," and is no longer successful. Clifford invites him over strategically knowing that he has many connections. Constance wonders at Clifford's desire for publicity -- his desire to please the "bitch-goddess" of Success (21), to whom he wanted to prostitute himself.
In a dialogue given in the novel, Michaelis talks about having money as a sort of permanent accident, that one just needs to make one's way into. He does not think that there is something in his plays that makes them popular, but they are just like the weather.
Constance thinks of Michaelis as somewhat handsome, and sometimes he even has the beauty of a "carved ivory negro mask" and the timelessness of a "Buddha" (23). She feels sympathy for him, as an outsider. Michaelis seems to notice that Constance is interested in him, but he is not quite sure where he stands with her.
One afternoon Michaelis goes up to Constance's sitting room, after being asked by Constance to go there. Her room is the only place at Wragby where her personality was revealed. Constance is interested in his family and asks why he is such a lonely bird. He asks why she herself is such a lonely bird. He then asks to hold her hand, as if sending out an appeal directly to her "womb" (25). He goes to her and buries his face in her lap. She feels tenderness and yearning towards him.
The narrator tells us that he is a "gentle lover." To her, it meant nothing but that she gave herself to him. When they are done (having sex), he turns to leave and says that she will probably hate him. This puzzles Constance. She doesn't think it was wrong, even though she knows that Clifford would be hurt by it. She tells him she thinks he's rather nice, and he is glad she is not saying she loves him.
Later, Clifford tells Constance he can't stand Michaelis, and Constance expresses pity for him. Constance wonders if Michaelis' ways and means are any more despicable than those of Clifford. She thinks of Michaelis as after the "bitch-goddess Success" as well (27). However, when Michaelis returns with a handful of flowers for her, she wonders if he is a sad dog instead of a proud one. At dinner, Clifford feels an inner affront with Michaelis' presence, but Constance does not actually give herself away.
The narrator tells us though that Constance is in love with Michaelis now. Michaelis is described as "grateful" and glad at Constance's kindness.
They have sex again, and he climaxes quickly. Eventually Constance learns to hold him inside of her after he climaxes, until she herself reaches her "crisis [i.e., climax]" (29). Michaelis feels proud when she climaxes. Michaelis stayed three days, and after that he writes letters to Constance, with a hopeless affection in them. Constance doesn't understand him, but she loved him in a way, the narrator tells us, feeling "the reflection of his hopelessness in her" (29). They went on for a time writing to each other and meeting each other in London.
During this time, Constance is better at inspiring Clifford to write, since she is more cheerful. He reaps the fruits of her "sensual satisfaction" (30).
Constance knows her affair with Michaelis is hopeless. She thinks he is a lone dog whom she will have to break with. She is attached to both her husband, but wants something that Clifford could not give her. Clifford's fame grows from his writing, and more people come to visit. Three of these visitors are intellectuals: Tommy Dukes, Charles May, and Hammond, who all went to Cambridge with Clifford and believe in the life of the mind. They weren't interested in inquiring about other people's ordinary lives - their sex lives, money, etc.
The story recounts a dialogue between these men, in which they discuss the "sexual problem" (32). Hammond thinks that knowing about another person's sex life as interesting as following a person to the toilet. Charlie May jokingly asks if Hammond would not mind if someone slept with his wife, Julia. Hammond replies he would mind because it is a private thing. Tommy Dukes notes that Hammond has a strong property instinct and a will to success, and he thinks that this desire for individuality has become overdeveloped in modern society. He links the sex drive to this success - if a man is unsuccessful, he flirts.
Charlie May thinks that making love to a woman is just an interchange, just like an exchange of ideas. He then compares it to being hungry, and needing to be satiated without over-eating. He thinks marriage though might stultify his mental processes. He refuses to feel condemned by anybody's morality.
Tommy Dukes is taken by the idea that sex is just an exchange of sensations and emotions, like conversation is an exchange of ideas. Hammond thinks Charlie May squanders too much energy by being with women. Charlie May thinks Hammond is going dry for lack of sex. The group asks Clifford what he thinks, and he blushes, since he says that he is "hors de combat" (out of combat), but they insist that his mind is still intact. Clifford thinks that a perfect intimacy can be achieved between a man and a woman who care for each other.
Constance meanwhile sits there, stitching quietly. The narrator tells us that she had to be there, that their ideas did not flow without her there, but she had to be quiet there. She thinks it is fun to hear their minds revealed to her, but she thinks their minds are very cold. She feels that Michaelis at least had his own ideas, unlike these men who just have a lot of words. She has a respect for the mind, but she feels that there is something like a "cat" there and it wouldn't jump (36). Michaelis she thinks of as anti-social, whereas these men seem bent on saving mankind, on "instructing" it (36).
That Sunday there is a conversation about love. The four men are there again and so is a new man, Berry. Tommy Dukes believes there is something wrong with the mental life, because it is rooted in spite and envy, and seems to separate people from each other. Hammond tells Tommy that he is confusing knowledge with critical activity, which is not the same thing. Tommy Dukes says that he was not talking about knowledge, but rather the mental life. He believes in something called "real knowledge" that comes out of one's penis and belly (37). The mind rationalizes this knowledge and criticizes it until it is dead. He claims that once one lives one's life, one is part of an organic unity, while if one has a mental life, one has severed an organic connection, and one has nothing in one's own life.
Berry asks everyone what they think of bolshevism. Charlie thinks bolshevism is driven by hate of the bourgeois, which is a kind of connection to capitalism, an extension of capitalist logic that is mechanistic rather than organic. Tommy agrees, believing that bolshevism hates life, and it shows how hate can be a driving force. He thinks that they are all bolshevists to an extent, insofar as they are detached from life. He puts forth the idea that one must have a heart and a penis, if one is going to escape being a bolshevist. Berry asks Tommy if he believes in love, and Tommy replies that he is only a "mental lifer" and does not believe in love (39). Constance raises her head and says that some women are nice. The men seem to resent it, and instead believe that it is more pure to stay separate from women, and not believe that one can really be in unison with them.
In Chapter 3, Constance begins her affair with Michaelis. Notably, this will not be the great affair of Constance's life, but rather Michaelis is actually quite similar to her own husband. He is also a writer, and he desires to be successful in life. However, unlike her husband, he is located on the outside of cultured society, not being as highborn as those who are interested in literature. As such, he is representative of the possibility for negating everything within this cultural milieu for Constance. (Notably, Lawrence thought of this section of his book as dealing with "negation," as Michael Squires has noted. xxv, Squires.) Yet, he still attains to the ideals of this society, notably as represented in the "bitch-goddess Success" as the narrator calls it. This gives the imagery of a sycophantic existence that these men live. It is worth reflecting on what "Success" means in this society. Why is it a bitch goddess? This allows us to envision that it is itself a dog, and not actually worth of humans. It also is empty as an ideal, even though it makes men slaves to it, because it will refuse men satisfaction even if they worship it.
Meanwhile, it is notable that Constance is something of a muse to the men around her. Her husband benefits from her ultimate attainment of sensual satisfaction, although he doesn’t know it. The fact that his intellectual work benefits from her physical life is reflected in the opinion which Tommy Dukes articulates in his conversation with the other men: he believes that the mental life needs to have some sort of attachment to the vital life of the body, to sexual satisfaction and the "penis." Lawrence is hinting at the fact that mental life likes to exploit sensuality all the while pretending that it is independent of it. However, he seems to want to articulate an ideal in which a fully lived, organic life needs to pay attention to the body to find real fulfillment, and that a mental life without bodily satisfaction is empty and superficial. Lawrence wants to destroy the belief in a mind/body dualism, which would belief that the body is merely a mechanical tool, while the soul/mind is the true being of man. Instead, he inverts this dualism, by privileging the body as something that is passionate and vital, while the mind is often subjugated to the mechanical forces of a rational logic.
The exchange of ideas, financial transaction, and sexual intimacy are all put onto the same level by the conversation of the Cambridge men. They are seen as mechanical exchanges between persons. In the novel, this idea, that love is merely a transaction between emotions, will be put to the test. Lawrence was after a deeper personal connection.
Another theme that arises here is the notion of privacy. Hammond wants to relegate sexual activity to the realm of the private, which had no influence on man's public and social existence. However, Lawrence is hinting at the interconnectivity between the private and the public spheres, seeing the division itself as something arbitrarily invented. He is hinting at the idea that these men's private lives influence how they pursue success in the real world. This opinion is put forth by Tommy Dukes, who believes that success is really influenced by man's hate and envy of others.