Sons and Lovers | Study Guide

D.H. Lawrence

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Sons and Lovers | Part 2, Chapter 11 : The Test on Miriam | Summary



The spring finds Paul with the same fear of physical contact with Miriam and the continued realization that they belong to each other. Paul sees other men who are also virgins, the sons of mothers who were brutalized by their husbands and willing to sacrifice their own needs rather than hurt a woman like their mother. These men prefer "to suffer the misery of celibacy, rather than risk the other person." Mrs. Morel sees Paul visiting Miriam more frequently and does not like it when he comes home late. One evening he tries to explain his conflicted feelings to Miriam, telling her it's time to marry and maybe they "have been too fierce in" their purity. They kiss for the first time, and Paul holds her. He tells her he will want more than a kiss at some time and she says "not now" and admits she is afraid. Then she grips his arms and says "you shall have me." But afterwards she thinks of submitting to him only as a religious sacrifice.

Paul continues to court her "like a lover," but Miriam always stops him and brings him "back to a deliberate, reflective creature" who must just "look at her with eyes full of love" but not desire. Then one day after picking cherries, Paul takes Miriam among the trees and holds her. She decides to relinquish herself to him, feeling the horror of her sacrifice. Afterward, he realizes "she had not been with him all the time, that her soul had stood apart" in horror.

Miriam's grandmother becomes sick, and Miriam stays with her. When the grandmother is taken to Derby for two days, Miriam remains in her grandmother's cottage, and Paul visits her there. They spend the day together, cooking dinner, and then going to the bedroom. Paul realizes Miriam's beauty as she lies on the bed, and she gives "herself up to sacrifice" out of love for him. He goes home late that night, feeling "initiated" and no longer a youth. He then stays with her for a week "and wore her out with his passion." He could only make love to her if he "put her aside," afterward feeling a "sense of failure and of death." Paul asks her if she really wants him and she replies, "Yes," but adds that she could only get used to him if they were married. She explains that her mother always told her that sex "is always dreadful, but you have to bear it" and she believed it. But now she sees that it is "the high-water mark of living" and wants to have children. Paul asks her to marry him, and she says "not yet" because they are too young. Troubled by this indecision, Paul tells his mother he will not be going to Miriam's so often. He remains faithful to Miriam, but the sense of love that filled him that one day "never came again"; he feels a sense of sadness and failure that pulls them apart "instead of drawing them together."

During this same period Paul chooses to spend very little time with Clara and more with his male friends. He does sketches of Clara's arms and hands at work, and Miriam sees the drawings. Paul is annoyed by the way Miriam "pored over his things," feeling that she is always taking emotionally but giving nothing in return. He thinks of her as "never alive, and giving off life ... she was only his conscience, not his mate." He starts seeing more of Clara instead and tells his mother that he is going to end it with Miriam. One Sunday he goes for a walk with Miriam and tells her they should break it off because things are not good, and he does not want to get married. She is surprised but realizes she has "hated her love for him from the moment it grew too strong." He has dominated her, and she has resisted. She tells Paul that "it has been one long battle between us" and not love. He feels bitter that "she had really played with him, and not he with her." Paul tells Miriam that he meant everything he has said to her but that it has failed. Miriam replies, "It has failed because you want something else." He feels that she has deceived him, despising "him when he thought she worshipped him." Now he hates her, and she is bitter that he was false and mean to her. They agree to see each other only rarely. On his way home Paul stops in a pub for a drink, and four girls offer him some chocolates and they sit and laugh together. He tells his mother that it is over. Miriam remains "alone with herself, waiting."


Paul sacrifices his own sexual needs to avoid hurting Miriam. He is choosing celibacy as a means of protecting her. Miriam sees sex as a form of religious sacrifice. Paul notes that "her soul had stood apart" in horror as she lay there. Miriam's spirituality prevents her from feeling physical pleasure.

Their first sexual encounter is outdoors among the pine trees. This seems fitting because nature is such a strong part of who they are. Paul picks cherries from the farm's cherry trees and throws them at Miriam. Since a cherry is a symbol for virginity, this symbolizes either Paul's sexual frustration or foreshadows that they will soon lose their virginity. It starts to rain, which may be symbolic of washing away their sin. The scene is described in such a vague way that it isn't completely clear if they actually do make love when Miriam "relinquishes" herself.

Their next attempt at intimacy is in Miriam's grandmother's cottage. When Miriam lifts her hands "in a little pleading movement" she appears to be praying. Paul describes the look in her eyes as "awaiting immolation." Miriam sees sex in a religious way, associating it with sacrifice and spiritual thoughts rather than with physical pleasure.

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