DH Lawrence and the Bible V
Bill Long 10/18/08
Miriam and Paul in Sons and Lovers II
With the ethereal and spiritually-oriented Miriam bulking ever larger in Paul's life, it was inevitable that she would either come into conflict with or be despised by Gertrude, Paul's mother. When Gertrude's husband, Morel, had treated her so badly, she quietly turned her affection from him and directed it at the children, especially her older two sons, William and Paul. Then, when William died unexpectedly in London, it was as if all her mother's love was telescoped onto Paul. He would be her "lover," her best thought by day and by night. Paul was probably unaware of the battle for his soul taking place between Miriam and his mother, but ultimately he would be unable to love a woman other than his mother as long as his mother lived.
While this larger drama is beginning to unfold, Lawrence carefully draws the contours of Miriam and Paul's relationship. We have already seen the spiritual "mist" in which she lives. Nothing is "ordinary" for her, while all things in Paul's home life are rather "ordinary." An indication of her special or spiritual way of seeing things happens when Paul is trying to teach Miriam algebra. She wants to learn things that men learn because she is convinced that it is a disadvantage to be a woman. Thus, Paul challenges her to learn some things he knows. But when he teaches her algebra he recognizes the obstacles that her spiritual approach to life presents to her. "Things came slowly to her" (p. 188). Paul got impatient, and struggled with how to related to her. "He was always either in a rage, or very gentle" (p. 189). Then he asked:
"'What do you tremble your soul before it for?' he cried. 'You don't learn algebra with your blessed soul. Can't you look at it with your clear simple wits?" (p. 189).
Lawrence has cleverly drawn a contrast in personalities. A "spiritual" approach to life makes it rather hard to learn, especially since so much of learning is of a rather mundane or down-to-earth variety.
Nevertheless, Paul was drawn to her. She appreciated his art, and he wanted to show her every product of his creativity. But there was more:
"In contact with Miriam, he gained insight, his vision went deeper. From his mother he drew the life warmth, the strength to produce; Miriam urged this warmth into intensity like a white light," (p. 190).
Thus, while his mother may have given birth to Paul's ability to be creative, Miriam nurtured it and drew it out of him. But his mother placed a negative construal on Miriam's ability with Paul. Rather than seeing it as a way of drawing out his creativity, she characterized it as a way of sucking life out of him.
"She could feel Paul being drawn away by this girl. And she did not care for Miriam. 'She is one of those who will want to suck a man's soul out till he has none of his own left,' she said to herself,' and he is just such a gaby as to let himself be absorbed. She will never let him become a man, she never will.'" (p. 196).
A Biblical Image
But Paul was increasingly fascinated by Miriam, as she was mesmerized by him. She loved to discuss books and ideas iwth him. "He held forth passionately, she listened and her soul expanded" (p. 193). While thinking about the new social philosophy "in the air" at the turn of the 20th century, most of which owed its articulation to Herbert Spencer and his followers, Paul said:
"It seems as if it didn't matter, one more or less, among the lot" (p. 193).
Then he explained, "I used to believe that about a sparrow falling--and hairs of the head---" (p. 193). The point is that he formerly believed the biblical story told by Jesus that God's care for each individual was evinced by the fact that He knew even if a sparrow fell to the ground. But Paul now disagrees with this philosophy (or text).
"Now I think that the race of sparrows matters, but not one sparrow: all my hair, but not one hair" (p. 193).
The latter comment refers to the passage in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says that "even the hairs of your head are numbered." In the Gospels these words are meant to comfort believers who live anxiously and often can't see their way out of current difficulties. If, indeed, God knows every hair on our heads, we can be confident that he won't abandon us. But Paul is abandoning that belief now and replacing it with a "social" or "group" understanding of things. God would notice if a whole species of birds perish or an entire nation of people falls, but God's detailed care doesn't reach to the individual.
She was electrified by his mind and his speech: "But to hear him talk was life to her: like starting the breathing in a new-born baby."
And she still wanted more. She continued to learn more about him. One day they were out walking in nature with some other people, but she became separated from him. She kept walking, turning down various roads. Finally, she came upon him again. And the way she saw him led Lawrence to compare it to the biblical Annunciation (in Luke 1):
"He remained concentrated in the middle of the road. Beyond, one rift of rich gold in that colourless grey event seemed to make him stand out in dark relief. She saw him slender and firm, as if the setting sun had given him to her. A deep pain took hold of her, and she knew she must love him. And she had discovered him, discovered in him a rare potentiality, discovered his loneliness. Quivering as at some 'Annunciation', she went slowly forward" (p. 201).
This seeing of Paul in a new "light" cut her to the heart. She was in love with him. Lawrence expresses this intimacy and sudden clarity of understanding with other biblical language.
"She always regarded that sudden coming upon him in the lane as a revelation. And this conversation remained graven in her mind, as one of the letters of the Law" (p. 202).
The latter image is drawn, of course, from the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses on the stone tablets (Ex. 24:12; 32:16). Note, then, the heft of the biblical concepts that swirl around Miriam and their relationship. We have an Annunciation in the lane, which is later characterized as a revelation. She would never forget the sight nor the conversation that followed from it. It would be as permanently fixed in her mind as were the letters engraved by the finger of God in the Sinai revelation.
One more essay completes these thoughts.