When Paul is twenty-three, a letter arrives one morning which tells him that he has won another prize for one of his paintings and that a customer has bought this piece of work for twenty guineas. Mrs. Morel is ecstatic with pride and Paul begins to grow ambitious as an artist. Paul insists that he will share this money with his mother. Mr. Morel is proud when he hears, although he obviously wishes it were more money, and laments that William would have been just as successful by now.
Mr. Morel still always thinks about himself. He hopes that Paul will win more money so that he can have more money.
Paul gets an invite to a dinner party at Mr. Jordan’s and Mrs. Morel gets William’s old suit tailored for him to wear. He is very excited to tell her all about the party and the other guests and would like it best if he could take her along. Now that the family have a little more money, Mrs. Morel can afford to dress better and everyone in the family seems to have “come along,” all except Mr. Morel, who has not changed.
Mr. Morel does not change because he has no ambition or desire to change. He has been a miner since he was a child and does not think of it as a lowly profession; it is the others who are ambitious and feel inadequate with their lot in life—not Mr. Morel.
Paul is no longer as religious as he once was and is more interested in life than what happens after death. However, he still insists to his mother that real life and spirituality are to be found among the “common people,” whereas the middles classes have intellectual ideas. Mrs. Morel says that this is nonsense because there is just as much life and just as many ideas in all the classes. She worries that Paul seems snobbish and is concerned that he still hankers after Clara, who is still married to Baxter Dawes.
Paul romanticizes the working class because he wants to reject intellectual pursuits entirely and prove to himself that he is a physical, pragmatic person and that he has done the right thing in casting off Miriam. Mrs. Morel, however, does not believe that class or social background is an indication of intelligence.
Mrs. Morel tries to convince Paul to meet a younger woman; someone his own age who is uncomplicated and unattached. Paul despises this idea and says it is typical of a woman to take the easiest route in life. Mrs. Morel protests that she has not had an easy life and Paul says that this is a good thing, as it has given her substance. Mrs. Morel says that she dislikes seeing Paul struggle so much and only wants him to live a happy life. She sees that he does not care about himself or his own life and she is afraid that he is looking for ways to kill himself slowly. On some level, she blames Miriam for this.
Paul idealizes his mother and ignores the reality of her life. He likes to believe that she is fundamentally different from other women. He does not see that Mrs. Morel has simply made the best of her circumstances and that she would not have chosen the life she has. Mrs. Morel recognizes Paul’s self-destructive tendencies, as she recognized William’s. She blames Miriam for Paul’s problems, just as Paul himself blames the women in his life.
Paul, however, spends very little time with Miriam now. Arthur and his wife have a baby and Arthur gradually settles into his responsibilities as a father. Paul falls in with a group of young people interested in politics and knows several suffragettes through his acquaintance with Clara. One day, he is asked to deliver a message to her by one of these friends and he arrives at her mother’s house in Nottingham where Clara lives.
Paul develops a social life apart from Miriam and Clara. There was a lot of interest in political groups and social reform in this period and Lawrence himself was a member of several intellectual and political circles in his youth.
The house is small and dingy, and Paul is invited in and offered a drink by Clara’s mother, Mrs. Radford, a formidable but generous woman. Clara blushes when Paul is shown in and he sits in the kitchen with the two women and watches them make lace. Mrs. Radford asks Paul if he still sees Miriam. Paul evades the question and Mrs. Radford says that she likes Miriam but that she finds her a bit haughty and spiritual.
Lawrence’s mother was a “lace maker” and the detailed descriptions of this process reflect Lawrence’s own experience. Paul tries to align himself with Clara over Miriam when he criticizes Miriam to Mrs. Radford.
Paul asks if making lace is hard work and Clara answers that all women’s work is hard. Mrs. Radford shushes her daughter and says that women bring it on themselves when men mistreat them. Clara carries on quietly with her work. Paul asks her if she would like her job back at Jordan’s, and Mrs. Radford snaps at her daughter and tells her she would be lucky to have that job back because she has got so far above herself.
There is a generational difference between Clara and her mother. Mrs. Radford blames women for their own misfortune, which ignores misogynistic and patriarchal constraints faced by women. Clara, however, is part of a generation of women who are beginning to discuss these larger societal problems and who realize that women are treated unfairly.
Paul realizes that Clara is extremely miserable living with her mother. Although he has found her very proud, he thinks she seems like a prisoner in her home. A few weeks later, he hears that one of the Spiral girls at Jordan’s is to be married and that she must, reluctantly, give up her job. Paul goes to see Clara as soon as possible to tell her about the opening at the factory. Clara tells him that she will apply as soon as she sees the advertisement.
Paul takes pity on Clara because he can see she is unhappy. Women were generally expected to give up work when they got married so that their husband could provide for them and they could raise children. Lawrence demonstrates that, although this was seen as normal, women were not always happy to do this.
Clara gets her job back at the factory. She is naturally reserved, and the other girls do not like her much. She spends the afternoons with Paul when he is painting. He despises her opinions about his work, which she often criticizes. Paul is irritated by Clara and sometimes dislikes her. At the same time, he feels drawn to her and feels as though she is always very close to his body when they are in the same room.
In contrast to Miriam, who always praised Paul’s paintings, Clara is very practical and cannot see anything in them. Miriam is very imaginative and responsive to art because it appeals to her emotional nature. Paul feels Clara’s presence physically because he is so attracted to her, even though they do not have much in common intellectually.
Clara has gained an education through her association with the women’s movement and Paul sometimes finds her superior and is annoyed by her lack of interest in him. He catches her reading French at work and expresses his surprise that she can read another language. Clara barely acknowledges him and, when she does, she is scornful. Paul swears at her because she has ignored him and because he believes that she thinks herself too good to work in the factory.
Political and activist circles were responsible for educating a large number of working-class women in this period. These groups set up night schools and evening classes which married women could attend, and this was hugely important in the overall development of the women’s movement. Paul dislikes Clara because he thinks he is more intelligent than her and yet she is not impressed by him.
At work, Paul teases and abuses Clara. When he sees her wearing a flower, he reminds her about her rule not to wear dead things. Clara is confused and does not know why he harasses her. He then challenges her knowledge of French poetry and makes a joke about her past, which Clara responds to coldly. To apologize, Paul brings chocolates into the office for her. She does not eat them, and they are left out overnight. When Paul sees this the next day, he pointedly throws them out of the window in front of Clara.
Paul constantly tries to provoke a reaction from Clara. He does not approach her in a mature way, because he is emotionally immature, and instead torments her. Clara does not know how to take his behavior and is confused. He tries to make her feel guilty for not accepting the chocolates by throwing them out of the window so that no one can have them.
Later that day, he buys more chocolates and offers some to Clara. She timidly accepts but is generally confused by his behavior. The other girls love Paul but, like Clara, they are often startled by his erratic moods or afraid of his temper. On his twenty-third birthday, Fanny gives him a set of paints paid for by all the Spiral girls except Clara and gives these to him early in the morning before the others arrive.
Paul feels guilty about how he treats Clara and makes another peace offering. As usual, Paul struggles to communicate his emotions. Fanny implies that Clara has refused to contribute to Paul’s present.
At dinner time, Paul is surprised to find that Clara has not gone home to eat as she usually does, and he invites her to talk a walk with him. They walk up to the Castle and look down across the town from this high point. Clara laughs at how small the people look, milling about below, and says that the trees look much bigger and more important. She says that she is pleased the town is small because it is like a “sore” on the land, and she looks longingly out towards the country beyond. Paul thinks she looks like a tragic, fallen angel.
Clara is very bitter because she has been so hurt in her marriage. She thinks the town is ugly and prefers the natural world because she is a very physical person and prefers laboring tasks to manufacturing work. Paul believes that Clara is flawed in some way and that this has ended her marriage. However, he does not know the circumstances and can only make assumptions.
Clara complains bitterly that the town is “unnatural” and that unnatural things are always ugly and unpleasant. Paul asks her what she means, and she replies that “everything man has made” is unnatural. Paul counters by saying that women made men and Clara seems sad and pensive. Paul asks if Baxter Dawes was “unnatural” and, although Clara is taken aback by this reference to her ex-husband, she indulges Paul because he seems so young and careless. Paul thinks that Baxter is perhaps “too natural” and Clara agrees. She feels her mood lift as she looks out over the view.
Clara implies that human beings are inherently corrupt. This is broadly in keeping with the Christian doctrine of original sin. Paul says that, if men are fallen, women are to blame for this because women give birth to men. This also relates to the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, in which Eve persuades Adam to disobey God with her. Paul suggests that Baxter is too volatile and cannot control his emotions.
Paul asks Clara what is bothering her and Clara replies that she feels left out by the other girls in the factory; they do not include her in their schemes and rub this secrecy in her face. She cannot stand it and it makes her feel like an outsider. Paul tells her about the secret birthday present and takes Clara’s hand as they look out from the parapet. He thinks that Clara wants someone to hold her hand even if she pretends not to. Peering down at the little town and the country beyond, Paul thinks about all the minute human struggles which take place below.
Clara has not refused to pay for Paul’s present—she was not told about it at all. Paul realizes that Clara is not reserved because she is haughty but because she is afraid to admit that she needs people in case they hurt her.
The same week, Clara sends Paul a book of poetry as a birthday present. After this, the pair become friends and often go out walking together. Paul likes talking to Clara, but the conversation is not intense as it is with Miriam. One afternoon, as they sit on a gate and look out across some fields, Clara tells Paul about her marriage to Baxter Dawes. She married him young, she says, and never really cared about him. She says that she left him because he was cruel towards her and tried to bully her into caring for him. When this pushed her away, he cheated on her.
Paul and Clara do not have the same intellectual connection that he and Miriam have. Clara admits that she was immature when she married Baxter and, possibly, did not love him enough to go through with the marriage. However, rather than try to compromise with or understand her, Baxter has been aggressive and tried to dominate her.
Paul feels slightly lost during this conversation and asks Clara if she ever let Baxter get close to her or if she really gave their marriage a chance. Clara seems despondent and distracted after this and, as they have tea in a nearby teashop, she plays absently with her wedding band. Although Paul spends so much time with Clara, he does not realize that he is attracted to her. The sight of her body fills him with warmth, but sex has become an overcomplicated idea in his mind, and he does not understand it. He still spends time with Miriam, but Mrs. Morel is pleased because he sees less of the girl.
Paul does not understand Clara’s point of view. He still insists that the separation between her and Baxter is her fault. Although he hates Baxter, he automatically sides with him simply because Baxter is a man. Paul does make Clara consider her position in the relationship, however, and this helps her develop emotionally. Paul is still immature, though, and so does not understand that he has done this. He thinks about sex in terms of religion and shame, rather than as a physical and pleasurable act.
Miriam, meanwhile, is still convinced that Paul will return to her. She feels that he will grow tired of Clara and that she has a stronger connection with him. Clara does not seem to be jealous and Paul tries to explain his relationship with Miriam to her. He says that, although he knows Miriam loves him, he cannot give himself to her and rejects her whenever she tries to claim him. Sometimes he hates her because she is kind when he is cruel. He wishes that their relationship could be normal, like his and Clara’s, but Clara says that this is not what love is like and suggests that he has not tried to love Miriam.
Miriam feels that emotional connection is more important than physical connection and so expects Paul to choose her. Paul is cowardly because he will not commit to Miriam, but neither will he fully reject her and allow her to move on. Once again he blames her for his own flaws. Clara recognizes that a relationship without emotional connection cannot really be love.