Paul does well with his painting and his designs and believes that he can be a success as an artist. He sells his designs to a department store to be printed on upholstery and furniture. He often teases his mother about how rich they will be, and how she will need to learn to manage servants and let them do the housework (which she still does much of despite employing a maid), and he likes to work while she is in the room with him. While on a holiday to the Isle of Wight, Mrs. Morel suffers another bad fainting fit and, for a while, is ill. She recovers but Paul often worries about her health.
Paul’s work reflects the growth of consumer markets in this period and the popularity of cheap, fashionable items with which to decorate one’s home. Mrs. Morel is used to running her own house and does not like to hand over control to the maid.
As soon as he has broken up with Miriam, Paul begins to spend time with Clara. He flirts with her at work and then, finally, kisses her in the street one evening before he catches his train home. They arrange to go for a walk together on Monday afternoon and Paul finds the weekend torturous as he waits for Monday to come.
Paul is very physically attracted to Clara and cannot stop thinking about her when they are not together.
When Monday finally arrives, Paul rushes down to the spiral room to see Clara and confirm their date. She tells him she will probably meet him that afternoon. Paul feels as though he is moving at a great distance from life and as though he will faint with anxiety. Eventually, he can stand it no longer and tells Clara to meet him at two o’clock in the town. She agrees but Paul is nearly mad with dread because she is five minutes late.
Paul is clearly very invested in the idea of meeting Clara and is extremely worried that she will change her mind or that something will get in the way of their walk.
When Clara arrives, Paul buys her a red flower to wear in her coat. They catch a tram out towards the castle. Paul feels tense but excited being close to Clara as they sit together. It is a wet day and the river almost overflows. They walk into the woods, which are muddy and dripping with rain, and take the path along the riverside. Clara asks Paul why he ended things with Miriam and Paul struggles to explain. Clara says Paul has treated Miriam unfairly and Paul acknowledges this.
The flower signifies the revival of Clara’s romantic life, which she has thought of as dead. The river and the dripping forest reflect the idea that Paul and Clara overflow with passion and sensuality. Rain and water also symbolize baptism and cleansing; her relationship with Paul ideally means a fresh start for Clara.
As they trudge along under the soggy canopy of trees, Clara asks Paul if he ever wants to get married. He says no, and she asks how old he is; he is twenty-five and she is thirty. They climb over a stile together and Paul kisses Clara’s face. They continue through the woods and Paul asks Clara why she hated Baxter Dawes. She does not reply but leans over and kisses him.
Although Paul and Clara are together, there is an implicit barrier between them because Clara is still married. Paul can tell Clara that he does not want to marry without disappointing her because Clara cannot plan for marriage the way that a single woman could. Although women could get divorced and remarried, it was very rare in this time period.
Paul asks Clara if she will climb down to the water’s edge with him and she agrees. They scramble down the steep, muddy bank, clinging to the trees as they go. When they reach the riverbank, they find that the swollen river has eaten away the path and that there is not much space to stand. Paul drops Clara’s parcel, which she has given him to carry, and it falls into the river. Clara only laughs, however, and the pair decide to traipse on along the crumbling path.
Clara is active and brave and not afraid of physical exertion or messing up her clothes. She is suited to Paul in this way because she loves being outdoors and feels comfortable in her body, which allows Paul to in turn feel comfortable with himself.
They are almost at the spot Paul has chosen when they come across two fishermen. They slink past the men but find that there is no way back up the path because of the mud and the swollen river. Paul leads Clara to a secluded patch in the trees where the pair lie down together. When Clara gets up again, the flower on her coat has been shredded to pieces. Paul worries that Clara seems sad, but she kisses him tenderly and dismisses his concerns.
Paul has chosen a place on the riverbank to have sex with Clara. They try to hide from the men because Clara is married, and she will be judged if people hear she is out with another man. The battered flower suggests that Paul has broken down Clara’s walls and emotionally connected with her.
They hike back up the hillside to rejoin the path. Paul stoops in the road and cleans Clara’s boots of mud. They stop for tea in a cottage and the old lady who serves them is charmed by their cheerful manner. They laugh pleasantly together and think, “if only she knew.” On the walk back, Paul asks Clara if she feels guilty. Clara says no, but Paul suggests that Eve enjoyed her guilt in the garden of Eden.
Paul and Clara think the old lady would be horrified if she knew they had just had sex. Paul insinuates that Clara should feel guilty because she enjoys sex and likens her to Eve, who was seen as responsible for tempting Adam to sin and disobey God, just as Clara has “tempted” him.
That night, Paul tells Mrs. Morel about his walk with Clara. Mrs. Morel rebukes him and says that he should have thought of Clara before he went. Paul dismisses his mother’s concerns because he does not care for other people’s opinions and, besides, Clara is a suffragette. Mrs. Morel objects that Clara is married, but Paul insists that his mother would like Clara and tells her what a fine woman she is. He asks if he can invite her to the house for tea during the weekend and Mrs. Morel agrees.
Mrs. Morel thinks of Clara’s reputation, which Paul has not considered. Paul has the freedom not to care about people’s opinions because he is a man and will not be judged as harshly as Clara. Paul suggests that Clara does not care what people think because she is suffragette. The suffragettes were considered anti-establishment before the movement for women’s rights became more mainstream.
Paul still sees Miriam after church and often walks home with her. That weekend, he tells her about his walk with Clara and Miriam berates him because she says that he forfeits Clara’s reputation. Paul is blasé about this, but Miriam says that he does not understand the position women are in. Another day, Miriam asks Paul about Clara’s situation with Baxter Dawes and Paul tells her that he thinks Clara treated Dawes badly. He thinks that she felt superior to him and did not take him seriously.
Paul does not care that he may hurt Miriam when he tells her about Clara. Miriam, like Mrs. Morel, is immediately concerned for Clara’s reputation and calls Paul out on his thoughtlessness. Paul still automatically takes Baxter’s side and feels that Clara must have treated Baxter badly.
Paul is certain, though, that Clara and Baxter Dawes had “real passion.” Miriam asks if it was like his mother and father and Paul says yes; he believes their love was real. Miriam wonders if Paul has felt passion with Clara, but she is resigned to let him have this if it is what he needs before he returns to her.
Although Mr. and Mrs. Morel’s relationship began passionately, it quickly became abusive and dysfunctional. Paul idealizes his parents’ relationship because he does not want to face reality. Miriam thinks that Paul will get bored of Clara because she has nothing to offer him but passion.
Paul tells Miriam that Clara is coming to meet his mother on Sunday and Miriam feels bitter about this because Mrs. Morel has always disliked her. On Sunday, Paul can hardly believe that Clara is coming and is convinced that she will not arrive. He goes to the station to meet her and before the train has even come in is almost angry with her for failing to turn up.
Paul plays Clara and Miriam against each other but does not seem to realize that he is doing this. Paul is sure that Clara is going to let him down; he still struggles to love and trust people.
Clara does arrive on the train and is just as apprehensive and excited as Paul. They have a lovely walk through the fields and, when they arrive at the house, Paul introduces Clara to Mrs. Morel. Clara is slightly intimidated because she has heard so much about her from Paul. Mrs. Morel is friendly with Clara and chats happily with her about a mutual acquaintance. She watches Clara and Paul together, but thinks Paul is a little detached. Clara feels quite at home, however, as Paul shows her around and tells her about the family. She is greeted warmly by Mr. Morel and seems to fit in perfectly with the household.
After tea, Clara helps Mrs. Morel wash up. Paul wanders into the garden and Clara feels confined and strained to be left in the kitchen without him. It is a relief to her when the dishes are put away and she follows him outside. He shows her the flowers in the garden and, while they are flirting, Miriam arrives.
Clara is very drawn to Paul and is tortured by the distance between them. Paul does not seem to feel this to the same extent.
Paul is not surprised to see Miriam and does not feel awkward as he walks the two women round the garden. Miriam asks if she can borrow a book and Paul goes inside to get it. His mother asks tersely why Miriam is outside and she is shocked that Paul invited her. Paul tells his mother not to nag and returns to give Miriam his book. Back outside, he asks her again to come in, but Miriam says she is on her way to chapel and will see them there. She takes the book and leaves, a little bitter to see Clara accepted into the family where she has not been.
Paul does not consider Miriam and Clara’s feelings at this exchange. Mrs. Morel cannot understand why Paul has invited Miriam; it seems so thoughtless and insensitive to the young women. Miriam has visited to see how Paul and Clara get along together, so that she will know if Clara is really her rival or not.
Paul sees Miriam off and then heads back to the house. As he enters, he hears Mrs. Morel and Clara discussing Miriam. They both agree that they dislike her “blood hound quality” and that it “makes them hate her.” Paul is irritated with them for talking this way about Miriam, who he believes is extremely good. He and Clara attend the church service and Miriam watches as Paul helps Clara find the right hymn in the book, just as he used to with her.
Mrs. Morel and Clara imply that Miriam is needy and possessive. She is also meek, however, and this makes more confident women, like Clara and Mrs. Morel, despise her. Paul does not understand that Clara and Mrs. Morel are jealous of Miriam’s hold over Paul and does not consider that Miriam may be jealous of Clara. He seems oblivious to the women around him and only thinks about himself.
After the service, Paul feels slightly guilty as he says goodbye to Miriam. At the same time, however, he feels glad that she will see him walk away with Clara, who is very good looking. On the way home, Clara asks if Paul will stay friends with Miriam and turns cold and silent when he says he will. Paul is irritated by this and kisses Clara roughly. They walk up the hills in the dark and look at the stars and down over the coal pits.
Paul tries to elicit a jealous reaction from Miriam, which suggests that he loves her more than Clara. Paul does not understand Clara’s jealousy and disregards it, even though she has good reason to be jealous. It makes him angry because it implies that he has done something wrong and Paul does not like to admit this.
Clara asks about the time – she wants to catch her train – and Paul reluctantly tells her. He is annoyed that she wants to go but, when she insists, he runs with her to the station so that she will just make the train. She jumps on without time to say goodbye to him and he walks home, very sullen and angry.
Paul is irritated that he does not get his own way when he tries to persuade Clara to stay overnight. He reacts very petulantly and blames her for not doing what he wants.
Mrs. Morel is surprised when he arrives home in this state and thinks he has been drinking. He asks his mother if she likes Clara and Mrs. Morel says that she does, but that she knows Paul will grow bored of her. Paul goes to bed and weeps with rage. He is angry with Clara and treats her coldly when he next sees her at work.
Paul is angry because Clara has not fulfilled his desire; she has not had sex with him. She also has not given him the type of emotional connection that Miriam provides (which Mrs. Morel points out.) This is very unfair and confusing for Clara, who does not know what she has done to upset him.
Not long after, Paul invites Clara to the theatre. He buys tickets and arranges to wear a suit for the performance. His mother is slightly snooty about this, but Paul says that it is not very often he does these things. Paul meets Clara and her friend, one of the suffragettes, just before the play starts. He thinks that Clara looks very beautiful in her evening gown. During the performance, Paul struggles to focus on the play and is tortured with desire because Clara is so near to him. It almost makes him hate her because he feels that she is the cause of his pain. When he can no longer resist, he leans down and kisses her arm.
Mrs. Morel implies that Paul is getting above himself. Paul is tormented by sexual frustration when he is close to Clara. Instead of taking responsibility for his emotions, Paul blames Clara for his discomfort because he sees her as the cause of his sexual frustration. This demonstrates that Paul externalizes his emotions, rather than taking responsibility for them.
Paul misses his train and plans to walk home, but Clara insists that he should come and stay at hers and that her mother won’t mind. They enter Clara’s house and Mrs. Radford appears in the lounge and greets them suspiciously. Clara explains what has happened and her mother wryly invites Paul to join Clara for supper. She gives him what’s left of the meagre meal. When Paul and Clara take off their coats and reveal their fine costumes, Mrs. Radford makes several sarcastic jibes.
Mrs. Radford believes that Paul has missed his train on purpose so that he can spend the night with Clara. She makes fun of Paul and Clara because she thinks that they want people to think they are upper-class in their fancy outfits.
Clara eats quietly, embarrassed by her mother, but Paul spars with Mrs. Radford and gradually placates her to a slightly friendlier tone. Clara goes to fetch Paul some pajamas and Mrs. Radford makes no sign that she is going to go to bed. Paul feels tense and hostile towards her and the atmosphere in the room is bad. Mrs. Radford says it is time they went to bed, but Paul says that he wants to play a card game. Mrs. Radford says this is fine by her and sits up determinedly as Paul and Clara play.
Paul likes Mrs. Radford because he can be rough and familiar with her and is used to this type of teasing in his own family. Mrs. Radford sits up for the sake of propriety, so that Clara cannot sneak into Paul’s room to have sex. Paul is angry with Mrs. Radford because she prevents him from fulfilling his desires.
Finally, Mrs. Radford says that they should go to bed and Paul gives in, hiding his hatred of the woman. Paul is sent upstairs to Clara’s room; Clara will share with her mother. He finds a pair of Clara’s stockings in the room, puts them on and sits on the bed in them, listening. He hears Clara tell her mother that she will stay up a bit and she asks Mrs. Radford to undo her dress. Mrs. Radford wearily agrees that her daughter may stay up and then lumbers upstairs to bed. Paul tries to sleep but finds he cannot. He is mad with desire for Clara.
Paul temporarily hates Mrs. Radford because he feels that she has won and denied him his sexual encounter with Clara. Paul wants to be close to Clara and puts on her stockings as a way of feeling near her. This also shows that Paul loses himself and his own identity when he has sex, and is drawn to this kind of sensual self-destruction.
He sneaks downstairs and shuts the door to the kitchen loudly, so that Mrs. Radford will not come down, then he creeps into the living room. Clara is crouched before the fire, naked. Paul approaches her and finds that she looks ashamed. Paul strokes her shoulder and the pair begin to kiss and embrace. They hold each other for a long time but Clara refuses to follow Paul upstairs. Back in bed, sometime later, he wonders why she will not defy her mother.
Paul sneaks down the stairs so that Mrs. Radford will not overhear and come out of her room to prevent him. He shuts the downstairs door loudly because he knows that she will not come down if she thinks they are having sex. It is ironic that Paul expects Clara to defy Mrs. Radford when he will not defy his mother.
Mrs. Radford wakes Paul early the next morning by bringing him a cup of tea in bed. Although the older woman teases him, he can tell that she likes him. Clara seems calm and pleased over breakfast and Paul is happy. He tells them that he is to get some money for a painting that day and wonders if they should go to the seaside. Mrs. Radford says that she will not go but agrees to let Clara “do as she likes.”
Mrs. Radford is worldly and cynical and is not surprised that Paul and Clara – who are young lovers – have disobeyed her wishes. She understands that this is normal behavior but keeps up a façade of disapproval for the sake of propriety.