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Sons And Lovers

Sons And Lovers Summary


Here you will find a Sons And Lovers summary (D.H. Lawrence's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

Sons And Lovers Summary Overview

The narrative commences with Mrs. Morel, a woman ensnared in an unsatisfactory marriage with an alcoholic miner. Their disputes range from verbal confrontations to physical altercations, with Mrs. Morel enduring abuse, including being locked out of their home and even hit with a drawer. In her estrangement, she seeks solace in her four children, particularly her sons. Her eldest, William, becomes her favorite, causing her great distress when he moves to London for work. His untimely death shatters her, making her oblivious to her other children until her second son, Paul, also falls ill. This scare shifts her focus entirely to Paul, their lives becoming deeply entwined. Paul's affections are stirred by Miriam Leivers, a girl residing on a nearby farm. Their relationship is intense, yet devoid of physical intimacy, stretching over several years. Mrs. Morel disapproves of Miriam, which possibly influences Paul's hesitance to commit to marriage. His emotions for Miriam fluctuate continually. Through Miriam, Paul encounters Clara Dawes, a suffragette estranged from her husband. Clara suggests that Paul consider solidifying his relationship with Miriam, leading him to revisit his feelings for her. Paul and Miriam briefly bask in happiness after becoming physically intimate, but Paul soon concludes he does not wish to marry her, leading to their separation. Miriam reluctantly agrees, still feeling a spiritual connection to him, while Paul realizes his deepest affection lies with his mother. Subsequently, Paul's relationship with Clara intensifies into a fervent affair, complicated by her unwillingness to divorce her estranged husband, Baxter. Meanwhile, Paul's mother's health deteriorates, and he dedicates his time to her care. Her death leaves him shattered, and despite a final plea from Miriam, he chooses solitude as the story concludes.

chapter 1

The story starts in a miners' locality known as "The Bottoms," where the Morels reside. Mrs. Morel, pregnant with her third child, lives here with her miner husband and two kids, seven-year-old William and five-year-old Annie. The tale takes off three weeks after they move into their new house, during a fair known as wakes. William attends the fair, wins his mother two egg-cups and spends time with his family before choosing to stay on his own. His experience, however, dims after his mother leaves. When the kids go off to sleep, Mrs. Morel waits for her husband to return from his job at the bar. As she waits, she reflects on her life, her unwanted pregnancy, and her distaste for her husband's excessive drinking. Her only comfort lies in her children. After a dispute with her husband over his drunken state, she goes to bed. The narrative then delves into the Morels' past, presenting Mrs. Morel's early life as Gertrude Coppard. She grew up in a poor family and had a friend, John Field, whom she encouraged to pursue ministry. The tale recounts how Gertrude met Walter Morel at a Christmas party when she was twenty-three. They married the next Christmas and initially led a blissful life. However, seven months into their marriage, Gertrude discovers unpaid bills in Walter's pocket, revealing his financial irresponsibility. This leads to a change in their relationship, with Gertrude becoming cold and distant. She starts focusing more on her child. Significant events occur that further strain the couple's relationship. Morel cuts William's hair without consulting Gertrude, which deeply upsets her. Another wake holiday sees Morel heading to Nottingham with his friend, Jerry Purdy, whom Mrs. Morel dislikes. After their pub-crawl, Morel returns home, locks his wife out in a fit of rage, and falls asleep. Mrs. Morel spends an hour outside before she manages to wake him up.

chapter 2

Morel regrets his harsh treatment of his wife and starts showing a bit of compassion. One day, Mrs. Morel has her neighbor, Mrs. Kirk, bring the midwife, Mrs. Bower, as she is about to give birth. She delivers a baby boy, but suffers a lot during the process. Morel comes home to learn about his newborn son from Mrs. Bower. After asking her for a drink and finishing dinner, he pays a visit to his wife and the baby. Mr. Heaton, a clergyman, becomes a daily fixture at the Morel home, visiting the sick Mrs. Morel. Morel, one day, walks in during such a visit and tries to garner sympathy by discussing his mining woes, a behavior that repulses his wife. After an argument with Morel, Mrs. Morel, along with Annie and the infant, decides to take a walk near the cricket fields. In a moment of peace, she feels a strong connection to her newborn and instinctively wants to name him Paul. The peace doesn't last long as Morel returns home drunk one night, dislodges a kitchen drawer in his rush to eat, and hurls it at his wife when she refuses to serve him, injuring her forehead. Following this, Morel stays in bed for a few days before heading to his favorite pub, the Palmerston, where he spends his evenings. One day, he runs out of money, steals from his wife's purse, and upon being caught, announces he's leaving. Mrs. Morel is confident he’d return, but starts worrying when he doesn't show up as night falls. She soon discovers his bundle hidden in the coal-shed and laughs. A sulky Morel returns later and is told to get his bundle before heading to bed.

chapter 3

Morel falls seriously sick, speculated to be because of a past incident where he slept on the ground in Nottingham. As he recovers, he demands increased attention from his wife, which she rejects, dedicating herself more towards her children. During the calm after Morel's sickness, another child, Arthur, is conceived. Arthur develops a fondness for his father, pleasing Mrs. Morel. With time, William grows and Paul experiences bouts of unexplained sadness. A neighborhood lady, Mrs. Anthony, complains to Mrs. Morel about William damaging her son Alfred's collar. This leads to a heated argument between Mr. and Mrs. Morel when he tries to discipline William. Mrs. Morel becomes part of the Women’s Guild linked with the Cooperative Wholesale Society. At 13, William begins working at the Co-op office, causing a disagreement with his father, who wanted him to be a miner. William excels in his job and gains a prize in a running race, an anvil-shaped inkstand. However, issues arise between William and his mother when he takes up dancing and she turns away his female companions. At 19, William lands a job in Nottingham and starts studying diligently. He is then offered a position in London with a good salary, which he accepts with much enthusiasm, oblivious to his mother's sadness. Before leaving, he burns his love letters in a final shared moment with his mother.

chapter 4

Paul forms a close bond with his sister Annie, often following her around. He accidentally destroys her favorite doll, causing them both distress. Later, they decide to "sacrifice" the doll, burning its remains. Paul returns home one evening to find his father and older brother arguing. Their mother is the only thing preventing a fight. The family relocates to a noisy house by an ash-tree, which only their father enjoys. Paul becomes anxious as their father continues his habits of coming home late and drunk. One night, when his father is absent, Paul visits Mrs. Inger, their childless neighbor, for company. Upon his father's return, the family increasingly excludes him, evident when Paul only shares his achievement of winning a prize after being persuaded by his mother. However, there are instances when their father gets along well with his children, mainly when he is absorbed in his work and shares stories. On one occasion, Paul falls ill with bronchitis and finds comfort sleeping with his mother. He is also given the responsibility of collecting his father's pay, which proves overwhelming for him. After sharing his discomfort with his mother, she consoles him. Paul's regular Friday nights are spent baking while his mother is at the market. They enjoy discussing her purchases afterwards. In general, their life is enjoyable, with the children spending time outdoors and playing with neighborhood kids. Anticipation builds as they prepare for their brother William's Christmas visit. The delay of his train causes anxiety, but his arrival and the presents he brings spread joy. Despite being offered a Mediterranean trip, William chooses to come back home, pleasing his mother.

chapter 5

Morel suffers a severe leg injury due to a rockfall at work. Mrs. Morel is initially distressed, but is soothed by Paul, their son before leaving to see her husband at the hospital. Upon her return, she informs the children of their father's serious injury. However, they are reassured by Morel's reputation as a strong healer. Their mother feels a paradoxical blend of guilt and emotional emptiness, given her lack of love for her husband despite her sympathy for his pain. Talking to Paul brings her some solace. Morel's recovery brings a fleeting sense of peace and happiness to the family while he remains hospitalized. At fourteen, Paul is pushed by his mother to find employment. She sends him to the Co-op reading room daily to explore job openings. Though unhappy, Paul notes down potential opportunities. He applies to several jobs, modifying a letter originally written by William, his brother. He is invited for an interview with Thomas Jordan, a surgical appliance manufacturer, which elates his mother. The mother-son duo travel to Nottingham for the interview. Paul dreads the process and the scrutiny it brings. He struggles to translate a French letter during the interview due to difficulty deciphering the handwriting. Despite his confusion over the French word 'doigts', he secures a job as a junior spiral clerk. They celebrate with a modest dinner and shopping spree, during which Paul enjoys his mother's company. Paul needs a season train ticket for the new job, and when he informs his mother about the cost, she wishes William could contribute financially. In the meantime, William, now a gentleman in London, is dating a girl named Louisa Lily Denys Western, or Gipsy. He sends his mother a picture of Gipsy, but Mrs. Morel finds it inappropriate due to Gipsy's bare shoulders. Gipsy responds by sending a more decent photo, but Mrs. Morel remains unimpressed. Paul begins his job at Jordan's where he is introduced to his supervisor, Pappleworth. He learns to draft orders, invoices, and prepare parcels for shipping. He also meets his colleagues, getting along best with the women. He forms friendships with a number of them and develops a liking for his work.

chapter 6

Arthur grows to despise his father, a sentiment shared by all the children. Arthur’s scholarship to a Nottingham school leads his mother to arrange for his stay with a relative in town, due to his strained relationship with his father. Meanwhile, Annie becomes a Board-school teacher while Mrs. Morel grows fond of Paul. William, now engaged, brings his fiancée home during Christmas. Her pretentious behavior, however, irritates William, who confesses to his mother about his lack of feelings for the girl. On a free Monday afternoon, Paul and his mother visit Mr. Leivers’ new farm, where Paul learns to feed a chicken from his hand. He later aids the timid Miriam in doing the same. William's fiancée continues to irk him and his family with her disdainful attitude. William contemplates breaking off the engagement but feels it's too late. One October weekend, William returns home alone. His mother observes his worsening health. After his return, Mrs. Morel receives a message informing her of William's illness. She rushes to his London's lodging and remains with him until his death. Morel then travels to London and the couple return home the following Saturday. In the aftermath of William's death, Mrs. Morel withdraws emotionally until Paul falls seriously ill with pneumonia. His recovery, however, brings her back to life as "Mrs. Morel's life now rooted itself in Paul."

chapter 7

Miriam silently admires Paul, but is apprehensive because he only recognizes her humble exterior, oblivious to her inner radiance. She yearns to care for him when he falls sick, hoping that this would ignite her love for him. Paul enjoys his visits to the Leivers’ farm, finding its spiritual aura refreshing compared to his mother’s practical demeanor. One day, a petty argument breaks out over Miriam burning the potatoes; this confuses Paul. Their shared fascination with nature brings Miriam and Paul closer, even though Paul initially befriends her brothers, namely Edgar, before noticing her. A swing in the cowshed marks the gradual deepening of their bond. Paul is unsettled by Miriam's emotional intensity, but her aspiration to learn algebra from him intrigues him. One day, Miriam takes Paul to a forest to show him a special bush, causing him to return home late. His mother disapproves of both his tardiness and his involvement with Miriam, leading to a heated discussion about their relationship. Paul denies any romantic involvement. On Good Friday, Paul arranges for a group walk to Hemlock Stone. Miriam realizes her love for Paul when she finds him alone on the road, trying to fix his umbrella. During a subsequent trip to Wingfield Manor, Miriam battles internal conflict over her love for Paul, deciding to discontinue her visits to his house. One evening, she breaks her decision and calls on him, prompting Paul to adorn her dress with flowers. He still denies their romantic involvement, maintaining that they are just friends. At the age of twenty, Paul manages to afford a two-week vacation for his family. Miriam accompanies them, spending one night at their cottage to avoid the early morning walk. One evening, while strolling on the beach, Paul struggles to make sense of his strong emotions for Miriam. Upon returning late to the cottage, Paul's mother scolds him, leading to his annoyance with Miriam for making him feel out of place.

chapter 8

Arthur impulsively joins the military, causing distress to his mother when she fails to reverse his decision. He finds the military discipline distasteful, but has no other option. Paul earns two awards in a student exhibition at the Castle, a feat that fills his mother with pride and compels her to view his work in person. Paul encounters Miriam and Clara Dawes, an old friend's daughter, during a town visit. When Miriam inquires his opinion on Clara, he expresses partial liking, causing Miriam to become sulky. Despite this, she is delighted when he invites her and Edgar to tea, much to his mother's displeasure, leading to an argument. Paul is torn between his mother and Miriam, developing resentment towards Miriam for causing his mother's pain. He upsets Miriam by informing her that their relationship is only platonic. During a baking session, a visit from Miriam makes Paul feel like they share a domestic life. He gifts her a cushion-cover he crafted, mirroring a curtain made for his mother. Engaging in discussions about his work, he finds himself happiest in Miriam's company. Their conversation is disrupted by Beatrice, a family friend who teases Miriam and flirts with Paul. This leads to a burnt loaf of bread and guilt in Paul for neglecting Miriam. After walking her home and discovering his mother and sister upset over the burnt bread, he realizes his deeper love for his mother. A fight ensues with his father, halting only when Mrs. Morel faints and Paul takes care of her.

chapter 9

Paul acknowledges his greater affection for his mother over Miriam, which Miriam also senses, understanding their bond will not progress further. During a visit, when pressed by a concerned Miriam, a grumpy Paul suggests they sever ties. Despite their agreement to remain friends, he expresses his dissatisfaction, implying he doesn't love her and wants her available for someone else. Miriam holds a belief he truly loves her, growing irate at him for heeding his mother's advice. She resents his family's interference in their relationship and wishes they could be left alone. While Paul misses visiting Willey Farm, he keeps returning to spend time with Edgar and his family, even though his time with Miriam diminishes. However, on a night when he finds himself alone with Miriam, an initial comfortable conversation turns awkward. Paul is invited by Miriam to meet Clara Dawes, which he agrees to. After a brief interaction, he forms a dislike towards Clara. He shares this sentiment with Edgar, even nicknaming Clara 'Nevermore' due to her sour demeanor. During a walk with both women, they encounter Miss Limb and her horse which Clara adores. After the meeting, they share their mutual belief that Miss Limb is peculiar and Clara suggests Miss Limb desires a man. Clara walks ahead, while Paul and Miriam reflect on Clara's disagreeable nature. They reach a wildflower field, and while picking flowers, they discuss the moral aspect of it. Paul takes his mother to Lincoln, to visit the cathedral but becomes worried about her health when she struggles to climb a hill. He expresses his regret of not being the eldest son and she reassures him she's only slightly old and not seriously sick. Annie gets engaged to Leonard, who after a conversation about their financial situation with Mrs. Morel, convinces her to agree to an immediate wedding. Mrs. Morel also decides to have Arthur discharged from the army, which delights him and he starts a relationship with Beatrice Wyld. Finally, Paul writes a letter to Miriam trying to clarify the breakdown of their love, marking the end of his first romantic phase.

chapter 10

Paul's artwork earns him first prize in a Nottingham Castle exhibition and is sold for twenty guineas to Major Moreton. Rejoicing with his mother, Paul suggests using the prize money to buy his brother Arthur's departure from the military. With his rise in status, Paul begins attending dinner parties and discusses his place in society with his mother. She wishes for him to join the middle class, but Paul identifies closely with common folk. His relationship with Miriam remains unresolved as he feels obligated to her but simultaneously pulls away. Meanwhile, Arthur's grumpy demeanor changes after he marries Beatrice and they have a child, choosing to embrace his role as a husband and father. Upon delivering a message to Clara Dawes, Paul is struck by her humbleness, cutting through his prior perception of her as lofty. When a co-worker at Jordan's plans to quit for her upcoming wedding, Paul secures Clara's placement in the vacant position, much to the irritation of the other girls. After being impolite to Clara, Paul attempts to make amends with a gift of chocolates. Fanny gives Paul paints for his birthday, a gift from everyone except Clara who was left out of the plan. Clara feels excluded from the girls' secret, leading Paul to explain the gift was a surprise for his birthday. In return, Clara gifts him a book of poetry, bridging the gap between them. Conversations about Clara's estranged husband lead to the topic of Miriam. Paul confesses Miriam wants his soul, a commitment he can't make. However, Clara corrects him, stating Miriam simply wants Paul himself.

chapter 11

Taking Clara's guidance to heart, Paul decides that he needs to reconnect with Miriam. He ponders if their issues stem from the absence of physical intimacy in their bond. He harbors no dislike for her; rather, he senses that his attraction to her was suppressed by his bashfulness and innocence. He gradually devotes more time to Miriam, upsetting his mother. On one occasion, he broaches the topic of matrimony with her, inquiring if they have been "too fierce" in maintaining chastity. He professes his love for her, acknowledges his stubbornness, and kisses her. As they head home, he proposes they sleep together (indirectly), to which she agrees, but not immediately. Miriam perceives her consent to Paul as a sacrifice, one she's prepared to make. He begins to perceive their bond as an amour. During one evening in the woods, "she relinquished herself to him," though she remains somewhat detached and horrified. Miriam retreats to her grandma's cottage, where Paul often visits. On a holiday, he spends the whole day with her, enjoying a meal and the feeling of cohabitation. They stroll outside after dinner and then return to be intimate. Paul feels he is exploiting Miriam, who lets herself to be used because of her deep love for him. In the subsequent week, he questions her about her apparent hesitation towards him. She replies that she feels their relationship lacks legitimacy due to their unmarried status. He proposes marriage, but she feels they are too young. Paul starts to sense a feeling of defeat, and he distances himself from Miriam. He begins to spend more time with his male friends and rekindles his relationship with Clara. Paul communicates to his mother his intentions of ending things with Miriam, as he doesn't love her and has no desire to marry her. His mother encourages him to follow his feelings. He confronts Miriam about his desire to end their relationship. She reacts with sadness, referring to him as a four-year-old child, and says she had always known their relationship wouldn't last. This angers Paul, causing him to think she fooled him into believing she loved him. They part ways, both brimming with resentment.

chapter 12

Paul reconnects with his mother, and they vacation in the Isle of Wight. Mrs. Morel faints from overexertion, and although she recovers, Paul worries about her health. He also rekindles his relationship with Clara, informing her of his separation from Miriam. Passion between Paul and Clara sparks during a walk, causing Paul to eagerly anticipate their next meeting. Their next outing involves a country walk near a river where a washed-out path leads them to a secluded riverside clearing. Here, Clara playfully distracts Paul as he cleans her boots. They later have tea with an old lady who gives Clara flowers. Paul informs his mother of his relationship with Clara, despite her marital status. He suggests inviting Clara over for tea, to which his mother agrees. Paul continues to see Miriam and they discuss Clara's marital situation. Miriam attempts to draw parallels between Clara's marriage and Mrs. Morel's, but Paul disagrees, citing his mother's passionate love for his father, unshared by Clara for her husband. He informs Miriam of Clara's upcoming tea visit, implying his serious interest in Clara. Clara's visit goes well, with her getting along with Paul's parents. Miriam's unexpected arrival while Paul and Clara are in the garden makes her feel like an intruder in their marital-like bond. Miriam's presence upsets Mrs. Morel, but they all attend chapel together. Clara later questions Paul about his relationship with Miriam, which provokes him into a rageful kiss. They spend time in the fields until Clara rushes to catch her train. A theatre outing for Paul and Clara ends with a missed train and an invitation to Clara's house. Their elegant attire is mocked by Clara's mother, Mrs. Radford, who stays awake while Paul and Clara play cribbage. Paul's desire for Clara keeps him awake, but she declines his invitation to share his bed. The next morning, Paul is pleasantly surprised to find Mrs. Radford fond of him. He invites her and Clara to a seaside outing, and is further surprised when she accepts.

chapter 13

Paul encounters Baxter Dawes, Clara's estranged husband, in a bar where a heated exchange leads to confrontation. Dawes insults Paul about his exploits with a 'tart,' provoking Paul to retaliate with a thrown beer glass. Despite the ensuing chaos, Dawes is removed from the venue. Paul's friends suggest that he should learn boxing for self-defense against Dawes. He relays the incident to Clara, who unsurprisingly describes Baxter as a low-life. She urges Paul to arm himself for protection, a suggestion he dismisses. Later at work, Dawes confronts Paul again, escalating to a physical altercation that sends their boss, Thomas Jordan, tumbling down some stairs. Although unhurt, Jordan fires Dawes. Paul contemplates his inability to love in a conversation with his mother, who opines that he hasn't yet found the right woman. He believes he won't find such a woman while his mother is alive. Discussing the future with Clara, Paul plans to travel abroad and then return to stay with his mother. Clara, unwilling to divorce Baxter, cannot fully commit to Paul. They both accept their relationship's temporary nature. While out with Clara, they cross paths with Baxter, recognizing him only after passing by. Later, Paul encounters Dawes alone and a fight ensues, leaving Paul injured. Upon waking from his injuries, he is cared for by his mother, and expresses indifference towards Clara and Miriam who visit him. After his recovery, Paul vacations with his friend Newton, planning to meet his mother in Sheffield at his sister Annie's house. Upon arrival, he learns of his mother's illness - a tumor. He arranges for a doctor from Nottingham to examine her. After a two-month stay in Sheffield, they hire a motor-car to take her home, bringing her immense relief.

chapter 14

Dr. Ansell informs Paul that Baxter Dawes is ill in a Sheffield hospital, prompting Paul to pay a visit. Paul offers Dawes a recuperation spot in Seathorpe. After revealing to Clara he visited Dawes, she's overwhelmed with guilt for mistreating her husband and attempts to reconcile, although initially it's difficult. Paul makes several visits to Dawes, sparking a budding friendship. Paul's attention is diverted from Clara due to his mother's declining health. When Clara reminds him of her birthday, he takes her to the beach but spends the majority of their time discussing his mother's suffering. Upon his next visit to Dawes, he mentions his outing with Clara, their first shared mention of her. He also shares his intentions to go abroad once his mother passes. Despite the passing time, Mrs. Morel's condition remains unchanged. After receiving a letter from Miriam, Paul visits her and while she attempts to comfort him with a kiss, he refuses. Paul and his sister Annie take turns nursing their mother, but the burden starts to weigh them down. Paul opts to end their suffering by administering a fatal dose of morphia in his mother's milk. She passes away the following morning. Dawes, now in the convalescent home suggested by Paul, receives another visit. Paul encourages him to reclaim his life by winning Clara back. The following day, Paul and Clara help Dawes settle into his new residence before leaving them alone together.

chapter 15

After Clara returns to Sheffield with her husband, Paul and his father live separately in nearby lodgings. The death of his mother leaves Paul disoriented and unable to continue his painting. He immerses himself in factory work to cope, battling internal conflicts about living for his mother's memory while also contemplating surrender. He unexpectedly encounters Miriam at the Unitarian Church one Sunday evening. They dine together, during which she shares her plans of becoming a teacher at a farming college. She proposes marriage, but Paul expresses his uncertainty, stating his lack of interest. This closes their chapter, and Miriam departs, acknowledging that his spirit will always be with her. Paul grapples with thoughts of joining his mother in death but ultimately dismisses the idea of suicide. Instead, he directs his steps towards the town, choosing to persist.

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