“The Bottoms” is a housing estate for coalminers, built on the site of an old estate which was called “Hell Row.” “Hell Row” burned down and was replaced when the small mines, or “gin-pits,” closed and the large mining company, Carston, Waite, and Co., took over the area. This company opened six large coalmines, all connected by the railway, which loops around the surrounding countryside.
During the Industrial Revolution (a period of rapid industrial and technological expansion which took place in the nineteenth century) many new coalmines were opened in the north of England. Coal was an essential source of energy for industry and a source of light and heat for the country’s population. Increased demand for coal during the Industrial Revolution meant that large companies took over old mines and rejuvenated them. Lawrence’s novel is set towards the end of this period, in the early twentieth century. The railways connected these mines, which were often rural and located some distance from the cities.
“The Bottoms” sits in the valley facing Selby and has “twelve houses in a block” and six blocks altogether. It lies at the foot of the hill underneath the larger, finer houses of Bestwood. The front of the houses in “The Bottoms,” which face out onto the street, look pretty and the gardens are neatly kept and full of flowers. The back doors, however, open onto a grimy alley facing the “ash pits.” The kitchens are at the backs of the houses, facing onto the alley, and the people who live there spend most of their time in these kitchens.
Mining was considered a working-class profession and miners often earned low wages and lived in poor conditions compared with those in middle-class jobs. Despite their poverty, the mining families make the best of what they have and keep their gardens neat and tidy. This suggests that they are proud and want to disguise their poverty. However, the “ash pit” outside, filled with smog and pollution from the mine, reflects the reality of life for miners and their families: one of hardship, hard labor, and unsanitary conditions.
Mrs. Morel is not pleased when she is forced to move from Bestwood to “The Bottoms.” At thirty-one, she is pregnant with her third child and married to a miner. Although she and her husband find a house at the end of a row, she worries about how she will get on with the local women. They have lived there for three weeks when a fair comes to town. Mrs. Morel worries that Mr. Morel will “make a holiday” of it, but the children, William and Annie, are extremely excited.
Mrs. Morel is from a middle-class home and has grown up in better conditions than those she finds in “The Bottoms.” She has compromised her middle-class lifestyle to marry her husband. Mrs. Morel worries that Mr. Morel will use the fair as an excuse to drink.
On the day of the fair, William can hardly contain his excitement and rushes out after lunch, as soon as the “wakes” are set up. Mrs. Morel follows later with Annie, but she is unsettled by the noise and bustle of the fair. William is delighted to see Mrs. Morel and seems to enjoy the fair even more when she is there. He shows her a pair of eggcups he has bought her as a present and feels proud that his mother looks like a lady, in her bonnet and shawl. He is disappointed when, just after four o’ clock, she decides to go home.
“Wakes” is a regional word for festivities and refers to the tents and stalls set up for the fair. William is deeply attached to Mrs. Morel. This is normal for child of his age and suggests that, as with most young children, his identity and interests are partly shaped by his mother. William is proud that his mother dresses nicely and makes herself look wealthy, even though she is not. This shows that William has already learned about class divides and that poverty is looked down upon in his society.
As Mrs. Morel leaves the fair, she passes the bar tent, the “Moon and Stars” and, hearing the men drinking inside, she fears that her husband is in there. William returns to the house for his dinner and seems exhausted after his day out. He tells Mrs. Morel that he saw his father, Mr. Morel, serving in the bar tent. Mrs. Morel knows that her husband has no money, and that he is working for drink.
Mrs. Morel’s worry suggests that Mr. Morel is a heavy drinker and that she does not trust him to behave responsibly. It is implied that he works for beer because he has run out of money.
Mrs. Morel puts the children to bed and then goes into the garden and watches people pass on their way home from the fair. She notices that most of the women and children are alone and that many of the men who go past are drunk. She feels “heavy” and burdened by her pregnancy and wonders how her life has reached this point. She is not looking forward to having the child, or to her future, and she worries that they cannot afford to keep the family.
The women and children are alone because their husbands have stayed behind to drink. It was common in this period and society for men and women’s roles to be separate, even in marriage. Women were considered responsible for domestic chores and childcare, while men went out to work and could do as they pleased in their spare time. Wives were financially dependent on their husbands and if their husbands spent money on drink, the wives and children would be left with little.
Mrs. Morel goes back inside to wait for her husband’s return. When he finally arrives home, he is affectionate and maudlin and has brought presents for the children. Mrs. Morel accuses him of being drunk but Mr. Morel denies it. Eventually, Mrs. Morel tires of his excuses and his “chatter” and goes to bed without him.
Mr. Morel has spent money on presents and has not considered the family’s money worries because he is drunk. He will not admit he is at fault, either because he does not realize how drunk he is or because he does not like to be questioned by his wife. Mrs. Morel struggles to respect Mr. Morel.
Mrs. Morel comes from an industrious, middle-class family. Her father was an engineer but was poor and bitter because of this poverty. Mrs. Morel remembers him as an “overbearing” man and she disliked the way he treated her mother, who was a kind, gentle soul. Mrs. Morel was an intelligent and “proud” young woman and remembers being given a Bible by a young man called John Field, who grew up in the same town with her.
Class was not based solely on wealth but also on education and profession in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although Mrs. Morel’s father was “poor,” she is a different class from her husband because she has been educated and expects better prospects in life. Middle-class people could improve their situations through learning and profession, whereas a miner would rarely change jobs in his lifetime.
Mrs. Morel and John Field were friends and he wanted to be a minister. Mrs. Morel encouraged him in this, but John insisted that he could not go into the church and that he must go into business instead. Mrs. Morel thought that “being a man” meant that John Field could do whatever he liked. Now, as a married woman, she realizes that “being a man” is “not everything.”
Mrs. Morel perceives that men have a great deal of freedom compared with women. Although John feels pressure to make money, he is still free to choose his profession. As a woman in this period, Mrs. Morel is expected to marry and raise children. Married to Mr. Morel, Mrs. Morel now sees that men are also limited by class, education, and temperament.
Mrs. Morel met Mr. Morel at a Christmas dance when she was twenty-three and he was twenty-seven. She was attracted to him because he was lively and vigorous and not at all like her own father, who was “rather bitter” and intellectual. Walter Morel, in turn, admired Gertrude (Mrs. Morel) because she was the opposite of him; she was religious and reserved. She watched him dance and was flattered when he approached her. She was attracted to his strong, Northern accent, in which he “thee’d” and “thou’d” her, and she was fascinated by the fact that he was a miner and put his life in danger every day to go down the pit.
Mrs. Morel is drawn Mr. Morel because he is so different from her in terms of class and experience. He is strong and physical rather than cerebral and enjoys pursuits like drinking and dancing, which Mrs. Morel’s religion and sense of propriety prohibit. This suggests she is attracted to him because she knows she should not be. His accent marks him as working class because he speaks in a regional dialect. She is also impressed by his bravery, as mining was an extremely dangerous profession.
Walter and Mrs. Morel are married not long after this meeting and, for the first few months, they are very happy. However, as the months go by, Mrs. Morel begins to feel restless and find that, when she tries to talk to her husband about anything serious, he shuts down. Although she clashes with his family, who believe that she thinks herself too good for them, she still feels secure and content in her marriage.
Mrs. Morel wishes to connect with her husband emotionally, but he is not open with his feelings and does not like to talk. Although Mrs. Morel is very physically attracted to him, she discovers as time goes on that she wants more from the relationship. Mrs. Morel feels that Mr. Morel will side with her against his family and that they do not need their approval.
Walter is a very practical man and Mrs. Morel loves how “handy” he is around the house. However, she is shocked when she discovers that the home they live in – which he told her was his own – really belongs to his mother and that they are still paying her rent. Mrs. Morel objects to this arrangement and finds herself growing cold towards her husband. Although she is tolerated by the neighbors, the local women feel she is “superior” and laugh at her when she says that Mr. Morel does not drink.
Mrs. Morel finds that she cannot trust her husband and that he lies to her, and she loses respect for him because of this. The neighbors are working-class women and clash with Mrs. Morel because of the difference in their backgrounds. Although Mrs. Morel learns later that Mr. Morel does drink, it is implied that, early on in their marriage, he lies to her and tells her that he does not. The local women, who knew Mr. Morel before his marriage, laugh at Mrs. Morel because she has naïvely believed him.
Two years into their marriage, Mrs. Morel gives birth to their first child, a son called William. She is ill for a long time after his birth and feels lonely and disconnected from her husband. She dotes on her baby, however, which makes Mr. Morel jealous, and she is frustrated and abandoned when he begins to spend more and more time away from home. The couple begin to “battle” with one another and it becomes clear that, although they are married, their personalities clash.
Mrs. Morel does not love her husband and, to compensate for the lack of love in her life, she gives all her time and attention to her son. Rather than try to connect with his wife and revive his marriage, Mr. Morel retreats from the situation and leaves mother and son alone.
Mrs. Morel is extremely proud of her son and loves his long, blonde hair. Mr. Morel is affectionate with the boy when he is in the right mood, but often he is rough and even hits the child. One morning, Mrs. Morel comes downstairs and is horrified to find that Mr. Morel has cut William’s hair off. She is furious with her husband and this incident finally turns her completely against him and ends her love for him.
Mrs. Morel sees her husband’s act as a betrayal because he has done it behind her back and altered something that she loves. This incident parallels the Biblical story of Samson and Delilah. Delilah seduces Samson, who has superhuman strength, and cuts off his hair, which is the source of his strength. Mrs. Morel transfers her love from her husband to her son after this incident. This prevents William from forming relationships with women later in life, however, so she thus accidentally saps him of his vitality.
Still, because Mrs. Morel is a religious woman, she does not give up on her husband but strives constantly to make him a better man. He begins to drink regularly and spends most of his evenings and weekends in the pub. He begins to get into trouble at work because he does not like taking orders and cannot keep his opinions to himself; his wages are low as a result of this. In the slow summer months, when the mines often close early for the day, Mr. Morel earns very little and the family are poor. In the winter, when he earns more, he spends all the extra money in the pub.
Mrs. Morel is persistent with her husband because she thinks he can be redeemed. However, this only pushes him further away. Mr. Morel forces his wife into unnecessary hardship because he does not think about her, or the children’s, needs. Instead, he squanders what little money he earns without considering that this is the only money that Mrs. Morel gets to live on.
At the time when the fair comes to town, Mr. Morel is not earning much, and Mrs. Morel is trying to save money for the new baby. After the fair, there is a public holiday for two days and the mine is closed. Mr. Morel plans to walk to Nottingham with his friend, Jerry Purdy, whom Mrs. Morel hates. She knows that Jerry’s wife, who died recently, hated him too, and Mrs. Morel despises him because he believes that men are superior to women. Mr. Morel is pleased to go out for the day but tries to conceal this from his wife until the two men are away.
Mr. Morel does not seem to care about saving money to provide for the new baby and, instead, spends money on an outing for himself. He behaves selfishly and is irresponsible. Mrs. Morel hates Jerry Purdy because he is a misogynist and in his opinion, she should be totally subservient to her husband. Although this was still a widely held belief at this time, there was also a growing interest in women’s rights.
The men walk across the fields, stopping to drink at pubs along the way. Mr. Morel sleeps for a while on the ground, under the hot sun, and feels strange when he wakes up. The pair go on to the city and, when they arrive, continue to drink and start to gamble. Meanwhile, Mrs. Morel passes a miserable day at home, caring for the children in the oppressive heat.
It is implied that Mr. Morel contracts mild sunstroke by sleeping in the heat. While Mr. Morel goes out and has fun, Mrs. Morel is left at home, heavily pregnant, to do all the housework. Although Mr. Morel feels he has earned his pleasure because he works hard the rest of the time, working class wives in this period never had a day off from household chores or from childrearing.
Mr. Morel and Jerry catch an evening train back to “the Bottoms” and go to another nearby pub where they continue to drink. Mrs. Morel spends the evening at home; she prepares dinner and waits irritably for her husband to come home. Eventually Mr. Morel appears. He is very drunk and in a foul mood because he still feels odd after sleeping in the heat and because he must go back to work the next day. Mrs. Morel snaps at him because he is drunk, and he flies into a rage.
Mr. Morel makes himself ill with the long walk in the heat and by drinking too much. Rather than take responsibility for this, he takes his discomfort out on his wife when he gets home.
Upset, Mrs. Morel shouts back at her husband and tells him that she would have left him long ago if it weren’t for their children. Enraged, Mr. Morel turns her out of the house and Mrs. Morel finds herself alone, outside, in the dark. After forcing her out, Mr. Morel slumps into his armchair and falls unconscious after a few minutes.
Although it is summer, Mr. Morel’s drunkenness threatens Mrs. Morel’s safety when he locks her outside in the middle of the night while she is heavily pregnant.
Outside, there is a huge pale moon. Mrs. Morel is shocked by the sight of it and wanders blindly down the lane, replaying the fight in her mind. She feels the baby moving inside her and tries to soothe herself by walking among the flowers in her garden. In the light from the moon, she begins to feel calm as she breathes in the scent from the lilies. Her spirit seems to leave her body and mingle with the countryside around her. Eventually, she feels strong enough to return from the house, and she knocks on the window to try to wake Mr. Morel up. After several attempts, he hears her and opens the door. When he has let her in, he rushes from the room and up the stairs without speaking to her.
Nature has a calming and rejuvenating influence on Mrs. Morel. Her anguish after the fight is connected to Paul’s anguish later in life; it is suggested that Paul inherits this pain from his mother, and this supports the idea that they have an unusually close bond. The moon is associated with motherhood, and flowers with love and femininity in the novel. Mrs. Morel feels as though she merges with nature and becomes an extension of it. Later in the novel, Paul experiences this as well.