Sons and Lovers

Sons and Lovers Summary and Analysis of Chapters 10-12

Chapter X Summary:

Paul, now twenty-three, wins first prize in an exhibition for a painting, which he also sells. Morel is jealous of his son's achievement. Mrs. Morel gives William's old evening suit to Paul. Paul tells his mother he does not want to belong to the middle-class, but prefers his status among the "'common people.'" He continues his halfway relationship with Miriam, neither breaking it off nor committing to her. Mrs. Morel approves of neither her nor Clara, and urges him to meet a woman who will make him happy.

Arthur is married, has a child, and leaves the army and works. Paul becomes connected to the Socialist, Suffragette, Unitarian people in Nottingham through Clara. One day, Paul is sent to deliver a message to Clara. She seems ashamed of her mother, Mrs. Radford, with whom she lives. Later, Paul learns that the female overseer of the Spiral girls is leaving Jordan's. He asks Clara if she would want her job back there. She soon resumes working there, though the girls who remember her dislike her. Being educated, she considers herself "apart" from her class, and does not mingle with the other workers. Paul is intrigued by her sense of mystery. They often talk and argue at work.

On Paul's birthday, Fanny and the girls‹except for Clara‹get Paul premium paints. Clara tells Paul that she is aware of some secret the girls have been plotting without her. He tells her about the paints, but tells her they are jealous of his relationship with her. She later sends Paul a volume of verse. They discuss her unhappy marriage; her husband "'degraded'" her, and ultimately she left him because he was unfaithful to her. Paul believes if he ever marries, it will be to Miriam; he can only be friends with Clara, since she is still married. Clara's friendship with Miriam wanes. Paul tells Clara he thinks Miriam wants only a "'soul union'" with him, but Clara says Miriam wants him.


This chapter details various class tensions. Paul believes he doesn't want to belong to the middle-class although, as his mother points out, the people he prefers to associate with‹especially Miriam‹are middle-class.

Clara's superiority at work, and her reluctance to converse with the working-class women, on the other hand, suggests that Paul is much closer to the working-class than he might otherwise be. He is good friends with all the girls, and their gift to him of paints‹a decidedly middle-class, artistic gift‹indicates their hope that he will rise beyond the factory and someday paint for a living.

Paul's attraction to Clara's body continues. When he watches Clara at work, there are some similarities to when Miriam bent over the daffodils in Chapter IX: "She bent over her machine, grinding rhythmically, then stooping to see to see the stocking that hung beneathŠHe watched the handsome crouching of her back." Miriam's actions with the daffodils were nearly sexually explicit but, in the end, virginal and pure, whereas even Clara's manual labor is tinged with sexuality.

Paul calls Clara "Penelope," a direct reference to Penelope in Homer's Odyssey. While Paul makes the connection with Clara's habit of waiting and weaving, the name also recalls the theme of fidelity in the Odyssey. Penelope held off her suitors for twenty years as she waited for her husband's return, while Clara is separated from her husband but not legally divorced. Exposition about the marriage complicates this allusion; Clara's husband was unfaithful to her, not the other way around. Though Paul vows to remain only friends with her, we sense that soon she and Paul will develop a sexual relationship.

Chapter XI Summary:

Paul's feelings are still conflicted over Miriam in the spring; he believes his shyness and virginity defeat whatever physical desire he might have toward her. He feels he should try to be physical with her, though it seems there is an "eternal maidenhood" about her. Mrs. Morel's hatred for Miriam increases as Paul visits her more, and she decides to give up her struggle.

Paul tells Miriam he must marry a woman and suggests that they have been too pure. They kiss and, when Paul walks home with her, he asks her to "'have'" him. She says she does not want to now, and admits she is afraid. They part, and Miriam worries Paul only wants his "satisfaction" from her.

Paul courts her more, though he never gives in to passion with Miriam. He picks some cherries at her farm and throws them at her; she hangs two over her ears. Paul watches the fiery sunset and rips his shirt coming down from the cherry tree. They walk into the darkness of the woods, where Miriam "relinquishe[s]" herself to Paul in a "sacrifice in which she felt something of horror." It rains on them as they lie on the ground for a while.

Miriam's grandmother becomes ill and Miriam takes care of her. Around the holidays, her grandmother feels better and stays with her daughter in Derby; Miriam has the house to herself, and Paul visits her. She cooks him a great dinner. Paul makes love to her at night for the first time.

Paul worries that Miriam does not find sex pleasurable; she denies this, and says she will like it more when they are married. Paul's love for her diminishes, and his interest in Clara renews. He tells his mother he will break off his relationship with Miriam. He tells Miriam that since he does not want to marry her, they should break it off and live separate lives. She is bitter and wonders why he has such power over her. They part, and Paul goes to a bar, where he flirts with some girls and soon forgets about Miriam.


This chapter is the most explicit thus far in terms of sexuality, but Lawrence's descriptions are still a far cry from his later work. The preponderance of sexual euphemisms‹"'You will have me,'" "'belong to each other,'" "'his satisfaction,'" "relinquish," "sacrifice"‹reflect both what the prudish Paul and Miriam would say and what was permissible in literature in Lawrence's repressive time. He was instrumental in breaking literary sexual boundaries, but Sons and Lovers seems to suffers in accuracy from its puritanical language; while Miriam "relinquishe[s]" herself to Paul in the woods, they have intercourse for the first time in the cottage, so it is unclear exactly what "relinquish" means.

Lawrence also uses a number of other techniques to comment indirectly on the budding sexuality of his characters. The cherry is a symbol of virginity‹specifically of the hymen‹and Paul's throwing the cherries at Miriam is an aggressive act that releases his frustrations over their virginity. To break the hymen metaphor open even more, Lawrence has Paul accidentally rip his shirt-sleeve. Miriam, ever the pure virgin, promises to mend it, but not before exploring his warm skin underneath, an action indicative of her sexual curiosity.

The colors of the sunset while Paul picks the cherries also mirror the climax of orgasm: "Gold flamed to scarlet, like pain in its intense brightness. Then the scarlet sank to rose, and rose to crimson, and quickly the passion went out of the sky." The use of weather to reflect a character's disposition‹known as pathetic fallacy‹is frequently used in literature, but Lawrence's erotically charged images allow him to explore the nature of sexuality without appearing indecent.

When Paul breaks up with her, Miriam frequently returns to the word "bondage." She feels enslaved to Paul, and is upset that he has so much power over her. This bondage, which we have seen in Mrs. Morel, is one of Lawrence's main concerns: how does a woman remain liberated yet still enjoy the romantic and sexual company of a man?

Chapter XII Summary:

Paul slowly rises in the art world, making some money and friends. On holiday with Paul, Mrs. Morel faints, which worries Paul. Immediately after his break with Miriam, he makes a pass at Clara, and kisses her a week later. He is anxious waiting to see her again, and during work they meet. They walk by a river, and Paul explains to Clara that he left Miriam because he did not want to marry, both to Miriam and in general. They kiss and hold each other's bodies. They go down the steep incline of the bank to the river and see two fishermen, then continue on. Paul finds a private spot. Later, they get off the ground, climb up the bank, and clean themselves up. Paul asks her if she feels like a "'criminal'" or a "'sinner.'"

Paul comes home late and tells his mother he was with Clara. He says he does not care what people say. Since his mother does not approve, he offers to invite her to tea on Sunday. With Miriam one day, he talks about his day with Clara, excluding the part about the river, and she inquires about Clara's marriage. She says she may visit them on Sunday.

On Sunday, Paul meets Clara at the train station, worried that she will not show up. They walk to his home past the coal-pits, and Paul introduces Clara to his mother. He shows her around the house, and Clara and Mrs. Morel get along fairly well, and Morel is pleasant, as well. Later, she and Paul walk through the garden, and Miriam arrives as promised. Miriam invites Clara to come up to her farm, but Clara says she does not know when she can come. Miriam leaves bitterly. Paul feels guilty, and feels worse when he later hears his mother and Clara discussing their hatred of Miriam.

They go to chapel and meet Miriam there. Later, Paul and Clara take another walk and discuss Miriam; Clara accuses Paul of still having feelings for her. He kisses her out of rage and they walk to a field. Paul holds her tight, but she says she must leave to catch her train. They run, and she makes the train. When Paul returns, his mother says he will tire of Clara. Paul goes to bed and cries. The next day, he is aloof with Clara, but soon warms up to her.

Paul and Clara go see the famous actress Sandra Bernhardt perform in Nottingham. They attend in fancy dress, and Paul admires Clara's body, frustrated he cannot touch her. He kisses her arm. After the play, he tells her he loves her. Since his last train has left, she invites him to sleep at her house‹she can sleep with her mother. They go to her house, where Mrs. Radford is insulting to them. Clara gets Paul a pair of her husband's pajamas. He and Clara play cards as Mrs. Radford slowly prepares for bed and Paul's hatred for her mounts. Finally, they stop, and Paul goes to Clara's room. He cannot sleep, and he hears Clara and her mother outside. Mrs. Radford goes to bed, and Paul goes downstairs into the kitchen, where Clara sits by the fire. They kiss and touch each other, but she refuses to back to her room with him. Paul goes to bed.

Mrs. Radford wakes him in the morning. At breakfast, Paul invites the two of them to the seaside on his expense.


Lawrence again omits explicit sexual information when Clara and Paul go to the river. Their descent down the wet riverbank mimics the act they are about to perform, and to indicate intercourse, Lawrence merely starts a new paragraph with "When she aroseŠ" The coquettish conversation afterward also implies sex, with Paul's denial that Clara is a "'criminal'" or "'sinner.'"

Lawrence again focuses on Paul's obsession with Clara's body. It seems that Paul spends as much thought on Clara's body as he did on Miriam's personality. We can see the reasoning behind this preoccupation; not only does her body arouse in him a new, sensual being, he is transformed‹into her. He loses himself in her body, identifying with her specific parts: "He was Clara's white heavy arms, her throat, her moving bosom." Paul gains access to a femininity previously unknown to him.

Oddly, Mrs. Morel is not jealous of her son's relationship with Clara, at least at first. Perhaps this is because Clara does not want to compete with her, and though the girls at work think Clara is snobby, Clara does not threaten her in the same way Miriam did. Mrs. Morel sees that Paul desires Clara most for her body, and not his spiritual connection with her, as he did with Miriam. However, as Mrs. Morel's own body decays in old age, she returns to her jealous ways when she says Paul's attraction to Clara will not last. Clara represents a displacement of her as a maternal figure for Paul, but a far younger, healthier, and more beautiful maternal figure.

Another mother figure is presented in greater depth here, Mrs. Radford. Her hostility towards Paul seems to stem from her sadness over her husband's death, alluded to just once.