Paul spends a lot of time at Willey Farm with the Leivers family. Although he is friendly with the younger boys, Miriam will have little to do with him and is scornful of him when he visits. Secretly, this is because Miriam disdains her life on the farm and thinks of herself as the heroine in a fairy tale or a Walter Scott novel; a “princess” transformed into a “swine herd.” She has an extremely romantic and spiritual temperament and feels out of place with her family and with most people. She keeps her distance from Paul because she worries that he will perceive this and that he will not understand her.
Miriam is so afraid of being misunderstood by Paul that she avoids him. She cares deeply what he thinks because she is attracted to him and wants him to see the best in her. Miriam is not fully aware of this, however, because she has such a refined, spiritual view of life and does not think about things in physical terms. Walter Scott was a Scottish novelist whose romances were extremely popular throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Miriam is also very religious (like her mother, Mrs. Leivers), and is extremely reserved. At sixteen she is quite beautiful and thinks that Paul is handsome, like a hero in a novel. When she hears that he is ill, she thinks that he might fall in love with her because he will be weakened by his illness and she will be much stronger than him. She waits eagerly for his next visit to the farm and, sure enough, when Paul has recovered some of his strength, he rides to Willey Farm on the milkman’s cart.
Miriam believes Paul must be in a weak state and, therefore, reliant on her, before he will pay attention to her and take her seriously—essentially, he wants a mother figure to take care of him. She does not want to take the risk of approaching Paul while he is well and decides to approach him when he is vulnerable instead.
Miriam greets him and Paul remarks on some daffodils which are growing in the garden and which he thinks must be cold in the spring weather. Paul loves the farm and Mrs. Leivers greets him warmly and sits with him while Miriam cooks dinner. Although they are kind to him, Paul finds the atmosphere strange because Miriam and her mother are both so serious and sensitive about mundane household affairs. Miriam burns the potatoes and Mrs. Leivers somberly rebukes her because her sons will be upset. Paul wonders why Mrs. Leivers puts up with them.
Again, flowers are a symbol of the budding relationship between the pair. Miriam and Mrs. Leivers are not practical women and do not see the chores as something which just need to be done. Instead, they regard the housework as something personal and meaningful because this is how they approach everything in life. Mrs. Leivers allows her sons to take advantage of her peaceful temperament.
When the boys return for their dinner, they complain about the food and criticize Miriam. Miriam takes this to heart, but Mrs. Leivers implores her to let them say what they like. She insists that Miriam must be strong enough to bear their complaints and to “turn the other cheek.” Paul thinks it is strange to bring religion into everyday interactions, but Mrs. Leivers seems highly disappointed in Miriam because she trusted her to make the dinner and Miriam did it wrong. Mrs. Leivers is very different from Mrs. Morel, who Paul thinks is “logical” and practical in her approach to household chores.
Instead of telling her sons off for their ungratefulness, Mrs. Leivers allows them to blame Miriam and encourages Miriam to sacrifice her own feelings rather than fight back. Rather than view the dinner as a banal, unimportant affair, as Mrs. Morel would, Mrs. Leivers and Miriam make it personal. This demonstrates a difference between Paul and Miriam and their early familial experiences.
Paul finds the boys slightly awkward too. Although they are rude and seem to disdain their mother’s religious attitude toward life, they also struggle to make small talk or bond with people over everyday things. Paul is both fascinated and repelled by this intense and complex family dynamic that is so different from his own. At times, he both loves and hates it at the farm.
The boys are like their mother even though they don’t want to be. Whereas Paul is proud of his practical, determined mother, the Leivers boys disdain Mrs. Leivers because they see her as weak. Paul is attracted to things which also repel him. This relates to both his veiled attraction to his mother and, later, his relationship with sex.
After dinner, Paul and Miriam walk across the fields with Mrs. Leivers. Miriam admires Paul’s love for nature and the pair look at a bird’s nest together. Both Miriam and Mrs. Leivers are interested in Paul because he is an artist and his artistic approach to the beautiful countryside around them seems to bring the world to life for Miriam. As Paul spends more time at the farm, he grows close to the Leivers boys and finds that they are very genuine and loyal once he gets to know them.
Miriam feels that Paul helps her understand the physical and the natural world. His artistic approach makes the world feel real to her because it transforms the world into metaphors and ideas; without this, Miriam is totally detached from life, clinging to the spiritual and rejecting the spiritual.
It takes Paul longer to get to know Miriam. One afternoon, during one of his visits, she takes him out to the barn and shows him a rope swing. Paul loves this, and Miriam admires the way he seems to give himself entirely to the motion of the swing and is not physically awkward at all. Paul encourages her to have a go, and pushes her on the swing himself, but she is afraid and asks him to stop. She is almost envious watching him, of the way he can “lose himself” in the physical activity.
Miriam is attracted to Paul because he is so different from her. Although he is also thoughtful, he can be carried away by physical experience in a way that is impossible for her. Paul tries to bring this reaction out of Miriam by coaxing her to try physical experiences, but it is not possible within her nature.
As time goes on, Paul becomes good friends with Edgar and with Mrs. Leivers. He often spends time with Miriam because he feels sorry for her (she seems so sad and modest) and the pair share an interest in Paul’s paintings. Miriam loves his work; she finds it meaningful and spiritually charged. However, sometimes Paul feels that he dislikes her because she is never “jolly” or relaxed and is always brooding. He finds her too intense and religious, and it irritates him because she can never be “ordinary” and even her good moods are too extreme.
Paul attaches himself to Miriam because he feels sorry for her, just as William felt sorry for Louisa. This is because Paul and William do not want to rely on any woman but their mother and so can only have relationships with women who they see as not their equals, but who rely on them instead, and who they do not need or rely on in turn.
Still, Paul and Miriam fall into a habit of going for walks together. One day, he asks her if she enjoys living at home and she tells him she hates it because she is a girl and, therefore, she does all the housework for her brothers. She thinks life would be easier if she were a man, but Paul thinks that men have to work harder than women do and have more responsibility. Miriam complains that, if she were a man, she could get an education and do something with her life.
Miriam dislikes social conventions that leave women responsible for all the housework. She resents the professional and educational opportunities that her brothers have because they are men. Paul is only thinking about professional work and does not account for the domestic work done by women, which is unpaid.
Miriam’s bitterness unnerves Paul, and that night, he asks his mother if she ever wanted to be a man. Mrs. Morel answers wryly that she’d be a better man than most are, but she adds that a woman who wants to be a man is probably not much good at being a woman. Not long after this, Paul decides to teach Miriam algebra. He is impatient with her, however, and Miriam is self-conscious and is easily intimidated by sums which Paul thinks are simple.
Mrs. Morel is aware that she is emotionally stronger and more disciplined than her husband and suggests that she would have been better at providing for the family than he is. Mrs. Morel is resigned to her role, however, and feels that, if Miriam is angry about it, then she must know that she is not cut out for the job of being a wife or raising a family, which were women’s traditional roles.
Although Paul tries to keep his temper, he finds Miriam’s slowness infuriating and is often cruel with her. When Edgar takes an interest in the subject, Paul finds he can explain it easily to him and Miriam resents this. She is very different from her brother, who has a very scientific, logical approach to life. She takes no interest in politics or the practical aspects of life, which her brothers, father, and Paul enjoy.
Paul is like William in that he is an impatient teacher and does not sympathize with Miriam when she struggles to understand. It is implied that Paul looks down on Miriam because she takes a different approach to life than he does and is more emotional than practical.
Paul continues to paint during this time and feels most inspired when he works in the evening, while Mrs. Morel sits in the room with him and sews. However, he always takes his paintings to show Miriam when they are finished because, through her eyes, he sees what his work is about.
Mrs. Morel is Paul’s closest companion and he feels most at ease and most himself with her; hence why he is so productive when she is with him. Mrs. Morel is a practical, worldly person, however, and Paul likes Miriam’s abstract approach when it comes to his art. Paul does not think for himself, and instead relies on Miriam’s opinions just as he relies on his mother’s guidance and comfort.
Paul returns to work at Jordan’s, but the workdays are shorter, and he is given Wednesdays off. He and Miriam agree to meet at the town library on Thursday evenings, when Paul goes to collect books for his mother and Miriam goes to fetch books for her family. Miriam is often late, and Paul worries that she will not turn up and that his evening will be wasted. He is always relieved when Miriam does eventually arrive.
Factories were growing more aware of the needs of workers and there was a growing demand for more leisure time. Paul is clearly attracted to Miriam and likes spending time with her because he anxiously anticipates her arrival and is disappointed if she does not turn up.
One wet night, after checking out their books, Paul walks Miriam halfway home and the pair discuss religion. Paul says that he used to believe every human life was important but now, since William died, he thinks that life is important but that individual lives are not necessarily very special. Paul feels that people like William lose their way in life and that this causes them to die. He tells Miriam that, if a person follows their true course in life, then they won’t die. Paul believes he is following his proper course.
Paul has been deeply shaken by William’s death and now feels that individual life is not important, because people may die unexpectedly at any time. Life itself, however, including the natural and physical world, is something Paul thinks is spiritual and important. He feels that it is an extension of God. Paul implies that, if someone loses their way spiritually, they will destroy themselves because they will not know how to live well.
Miriam is delighted by Paul’s ideas and hurries home feeling inspired and revitalized. Paul, meanwhile, worries that his mother will be angry because he has stayed out so late and he rushes home when he and Miriam part ways. Mrs. Morel disapproves of their evening wanders together, so Paul resolves to leave Miriam earlier in the future, although he enjoys her company
Mrs. Morel is jealous of the time Paul spends with Miriam—and this makes him feel guilty and he cuts his time with Miriam short. This suggests that, although he likes Miriam, his loyalty is still with his mother.
On their next walk together, Paul tells Miriam he must go home at nine o’clock. Miriam dismisses his concerns, however. She is determined to show him a beautiful white rose bush she has found in the wood and is extremely anxious that she will not be able to find it again or that he will not have chance to see it. Paul follows her into the wood and Miriam finds the rose bush. She is breathless with excitement and seems to care passionately how Paul feels about the flowers. Paul thinks the roses are beautiful, but after he has seen them he hurries home; he knows his mother sits up waiting for him.
Miriam leads Paul away from Mrs. Morel’s influence by encouraging him to ignore her demands. The rosebush symbolizes the blossoming relationship between Paul and Miriam. However, it is also depicted as something fragile and uncertain – Miriam is not sure she can find it again – which suggests that their relationship is under threat from outside forces, like Mrs. Morel.
Mrs. Morel is irritated with Paul when he returns home. She disapproves of Miriam, who she feels will leech Paul’s manhood out of him and prevent him from growing up. She says that he and Miriam are too young to “court.” Paul complains that Annie has a boyfriend, but Mrs. Morel says that she trusts Annie more than she trusts Miriam. Paul tries to brush off his mother’s concerns, but he can tell that – somehow – he has hurt her feelings.
Ironically, it is Mrs. Morel who prevents Paul from growing up and developing adult relationships, but she projects this onto Miriam because she does not want to face what she herself is doing. Mrs. Morel is suspicious of Miriam because she does not understand her; Miriam is so unlike Mrs. Morel.
Although Paul and Miriam spend so much time together, they do not think they are in love. Paul believes he is too practical to fall for a woman in this way, and Miriam shies away from any notion of sensuality or physical love.
Paul believes he is too rooted in the physical, practical world to fall in love – which is an abstract, emotional thing – whereas Miriam is too cerebral to notice her physical attraction to Paul.
On Good Friday weekend, Paul arranges a walk to Hemlock Stone with Miriam and some of his friends. Miriam’s brother Geoffrey and Annie and Arthur go with them. That morning at breakfast, before they set out, Mrs. Morel calls Paul into the garden and delightedly shows him some flowers which have grown out of season, under a sheltering bush. The group set out together and reach the monument late in the afternoon.
Hemlock Stone is a natural standing stone in Nottinghamshire in England. The hidden flowers suggest hidden attractions or unrecognized desire.
During the walk, Miriam feels cut off from Paul and finds that she does not fit in with the others. She only feels comfortable with Paul when they are alone together and when he speaks about his deepest thoughts and feelings, rather than when he jokes and natters with the others. At the monument, she and Paul find a small secluded garden and walk around it together and, here, Miriam feels like she knows him again until they rejoin the others. As she watches him walk up the road behind the group, she realizes suddenly that she loves him and feels that this is an “Annunciation” of some kind.
Miriam only likes one side of Paul’s personality; his thoughtful, artistic side. Paul, however, is also a fun, bubbly youth. Miriam cannot appreciate this because it does not fit with her temperament. Miriam and Paul meet in the garden, which suggests that, while they can be natural and pure with each other, their relationship does not work when the demands of the outside world are involved. Miriam cannot recognize her physical desire in a simple way but views it in religious terms. The “Annunciation” describes the angel’s revelation to the Virgin Mary that she is pregnant with Christ.
Paul stops because his umbrella has broken, and Miriam goes back to join him. Paul is trying to fix the umbrella, which Geoffrey has broken, because it belonged to William and his mother will see it. Miriam feels a deep connection to Paul and, as they begin to walk along the road, he says that he believes that love always inspires more love. Miriam agrees that she hopes this is true because otherwise love could be terribly painful.
Paul is afraid that his mother will be hurt if she sees that William’s umbrella is broken. Paul’s comment about love is proved wrong throughout the novel, as Mrs. Morel’s overbearing love for Paul prevents him from finding love elsewhere.
On the following Monday, the group set out again and, this time, take a train up to “Wingfield Manor.” The boys eagerly explore the ruin and the group eat lunch in the “banquet hall” of the old manor. After they have eaten, the boys show the girls around the decrepit tower where Mary Queen of Scots is supposed to have been kept prisoner. Paul gathers ivy for Miriam from the side of the tower. Miriam daydreams romantically about the tragic queen locked up there.
Wingfield Manor is a ruined medieval manor where Mary Queen of Scots was once kept prisoner. Paul’s behavior is chivalric and draws attention to the romantic history of the tower, which Miriam is attracted to.
They walk out across the fields nearby and up the hill to another ruined tower, built on the windy high point which overlooks the surrounding country. As they walk, Paul and Miriam intertwine their fingers through the string of the bag Miriam carries. By early evening, Paul is exhausted and the others are flagging, and the group walks to a nearby station to catch the train home.
Miriam and Paul acknowledge their attraction to each other for the first time on this outing.
Miriam has a rivalry with her sister Agatha. The girls share a room, but Agatha has a job as a teacher elsewhere. Agatha has rejected the family’s general lack of concern about worldly affairs and, in protest, is deeply focused on status and appearance—ideas that seem trivial to Miriam. Both the girls like Paul and watch for his arrival from the bedroom window while they are getting dressed.
Paul is clearly attractive to women, and almost all the women in the novel jealously compete for his attention throughout. Miriam and her family are unconventional and do not care about social status or how they appear to the outside world.
Paul comes into the yard and Miriam hears him pet the old horse they keep. As she listens, she is struck by the idea that she is in love with Paul and suddenly becomes ashamed of her feelings. Agatha runs downstairs to meet Paul and Miriam hears the two of them flirting. Miriam falls to her knees and prays to God to stop her from loving Paul. Or, if she must love him, to make him love her. As she does this, she realizes that she is destined to be a “sacrifice” and feels grateful that she will be martyred in this way.
Miriam is ashamed of her love for Paul because it clashes with her religious notions of purity and virtue; she believes she should be physically pure before marriage and dislikes the thought of sex. She is also afraid of being hurt and she prays for Paul to reciprocate her feelings. Although she does not want sex, or to feel rejected, she realizes that she is willing to go through these things for Paul’s sake, and thinks that this is her purpose in life.
Miriam goes downstairs, but she is so embarrassed to see Paul, after her revelation, that she leaves him with Agatha. After this, Miriam and Paul stop meeting at the library on Thursdays. Miriam still often goes to Paul’s house and invites him walking, but as the summer goes on, she becomes convinced that the Morels do not like her, and she decides to break this habit. One evening, one of the last she spends at the Morels’ house, Paul takes her into the garden and pins flowers to her dress. Miriam is amused by this because she usually takes little care over her appearance. Paul, however, is annoyed; he dislikes Miriam’s carelessness and is irritated at the sight of her kissing the flowers he picks, as though they are her lovers.
Miriam’s aversion to sex and the shame that her attraction to Paul makes her feel causes her to pull away from him. Miriam’s attitude towards flowers symbolizes her attitude towards relationships and love. She does not care how the outside world views their relationship, unlike Paul, who is influenced by his family. Paul dislikes the way she handles the flowers because he feels that she wants to consume them by putting them to her mouth, and that she wants to consume and possess him too.
When Paul is twenty, the family can finally afford to go on their first ever holiday. Paul and his mother select a cottage near the seaside for them all to stay in and Mrs. Morel is wild with excitement. Miriam is invited too, as she is still good friends with Paul, and the night before they drive out, she is invited to stay at the Morels’ so they can all set out together in the morning. Although the family are friendly with her, she does not fit in among them and her serious demeanor slightly deflates the jolly atmosphere.
Miriam is too spiritual and serious to fit with the lively and practical Morels. Her presence is a burden to them because she is too different from them and is awkward in their company.
They set out early the next morning and hire a cab to drive them to the cottage. They are excited and talkative on the way and are delighted with the little house when they arrive. Paul and Mrs. Morel take charge of the trip – Paul is keeper of the money and Mrs. Morel helps the woman who owns the cottage with the housework – and Paul loves taking his mother out in the surrounding countryside to explore the area with her. In fact, he spends more time with Mrs. Morel than he does with Miriam, and he and his mother act as though they are a couple.
Paul, again, takes on his father’s role and acts like the head of the family on the trip; he takes charge of the money just as men were traditionally controlled the finances in families during this time. Paul neglects Miriam in favor of his mother which, again, shows where his loyalties really lie, and which relationship is more important to him.
Paul only spends time with Miriam in the evenings, while he works on his drawings. They have long discussions about art and Paul tells her that he loves the English countryside because it is flat and reminds him of Norman architecture, which is all “horizontals.” For Paul, these “horizontals” represent human achievement gradually progressing step by step. He says that Miriam has more in common with Gothic architecture, which makes sudden leaps up towards Heaven and cannot be seen amongst the clouds from the ground.
Paul implies that he is practical while Miriam is emotional. He claims that, while he is interested in the gradual progression of day-to-day things, Miriam is only interested in extreme bursts of emotion. He implies that she is not grounded and cannot think about things in everyday terms. However, Paul ironically uses an artistic metaphor to explain this, which suggests that he is not very self-aware.
One night, as Miriam and Paul walk back from the shore in the dark, they are startled by the appearance of a huge, orange moon above the sandbanks. Miriam is amazed by the sight and thinks it must have some mystical, religious meaning. Paul feels an urge to clasp Miriam in his arms, but he cannot and there is an ache in his chest. He is immature and feels ashamed of himself because he is physically attracted to her, and this almost makes him hate her.
The appearance of the moon mirrors the incident when Paul is a baby, when Mrs. Morel holds him up to the sun. It relates Paul, again, to the figure of St. Paul—but unlike St. Paul, Paul Morel receives no revelation and does not understand what he feels for Miriam, which is sexual desire.
When they get back to the cottage, Paul feels irritable and is annoyed that Miriam has spoiled his composure. He snaps at his mother when she accuses him of being late for dinner and is gruff and moody all evening. Mrs. Morel blames Miriam for the change that comes over Paul and thinks that she changes his temperament for the worse. Annie agrees with her mother and Miriam’s distance from the family becomes more pronounced. Miriam does not care because she finds the family silly and trivial, but this divide causes Paul pain and he feels as though he struggles against himself.
Again, rather than try and understand his own feelings of shame and guilt, Paul blames Miriam for how he feels and takes this out on his mother. This demonstrates Paul’s misogyny, as he makes the women in his life responsible for his own feelings and hurts them in response to his own emotional confusion. Miriam knows her own mind, but Paul is not strong enough to stand up for Miriam against his family. He feels torn between two sides of himself; his practical, worldly side in his family, and his spiritual, intellectual side in Miriam.