Andy H edited the summary of Sons and Lovers Thursday, February 4, 2010.
Gertrude Coppard, engineer's daughter, marries Nottinghamshire miner Walter Morel. The couple have four children and the early life of the family forms the first part of the book. Of the children, William (the first) and Paul (the third) are the most significant.
Walter Morel (despite ostentatious claims to tee-totalism) proves to be an alcoholic, violent and dishonest (though apparently very hard-working) husband. The marriage is characterised by passionate exchanges between Gertrude and Walter (and latterly their children) which often end in physical confrontation, often over money. Walter Morel is a physically robust character who, though injured badly at times, survives to the end.
Initially more important of the children is William. He grows into a strong, well-built and intelligent character. Growing up he demonstrates both sporting and intellectual prowess (teaching french, for instance). Eventually he gains employment locally before moving to London. There he becomes involved with a young socialite, works in the law and tries to learn latin in what spare time he has. Eventually he becomes sick and dies, his mother at his side in poor lodgings in London.
Gertrude sinks into despair at the loss of her eldest son and is only pulled out of it by serious illness to Paul. He (now working in Nottingham) develops pneumonia and nearly dies. At this point we are told Mrs Morel's life "rooted itself in Paul". This is the end of the first part of the book.
In the second part of the book the focus shifts to Paul. He, having 'launched into life' in part one, Paul now develops an intimate relationship with Miriam Leivers, a farmer's daughter who is at least as sensitive as Paul. The relationship oscillates between one of friendship and of romantic lovers- the source of great tension between the characters. Miriam is greatly disliked by Mrs Morel who claims that she would 'leave no room for me'.
Later, through Miriam, Paul meets Clara Dawes who is an older, beautiful woman. She is the estranged wife of Baxter Dawes (a working class man who, like Walter Morel, is not shy of using his fists). Initially glacial towards Paul the two quickly become involved sexually with one another. At this point Miriam is sidelined. Baxter Dawes finds out about the relationship and confronts Paul at work then waylays him (and badly beats him).
Meanwhile, Gertrude Morel's health has gradually been failing. She eventually develops cancer and deteriorates rapidly. The account of her sickness, and the effect this has on Paul, is the most poignant part of the book. She eventually dies and leaves Paul desolate. Clara and Baxter are reunited, Paul finally rejects Miriam and his fate is left unknown. He does, however, decide against suicide and the book closes with him walking"towards the faintly humming, glowing town, quickly."