Lawrence's Sons and Lovers IV
Bill Long 10/17/08
Biblical References in Miriam and Paul's Relationship
Miriam is one of Lawrence's unforgettable characters. She lives not far from Paul Morel on Willey Farm. Paul first met the family through her brothers, and she was standoffish. Lawrence, however, brings her alive through his description:
"The girl was a romantic in her soul. Everywhere was a Walter Scott heroine being loved by men with helmets or with plumes in their caps" (p.173).
Yet she saw hereself, in her own imagination, as a swine girl and wondered if Paul might see her that way. The main point Lawrence wants to make about her, though, is her temperament. The "romantic" part of her is translated into a "mystical" temperament when it relates to religious life:
"Her great companion was her mother. They were both brown-eyed and inclined to be mystical, such women as treasure religion inside them, breath it in their nostrils, and see the whole of life in a mist thereof. So, to Miriam Christ and God made one great figure, which she loved tremblingly and passionately..." (p. 173).
No doubt Lawrence had run into many of this sort in his nonconformist religious upbringing. Well, she was sort of a unique one among her siblings, since her older sister was a teacher who had deeply quaffed the elixir of secularism, and her two brothers were rambunctious lads. But Paul, already influenced rather deeply by his own mother's strictly moralistic religiosity, was drawn to her.
"He watched the strange, almost rhapsodic way in which the girl moved about, carrying a great stew-jar to the oven,...The atmosphere was different from that of his own home, where everything seemed so ordinary. When Mr. Leivers (Miriam's father) called loudly outside to the horse...the girl started, looking round with dark eyes, as if something had come breaking in on her world. There was a sense of silence inside the house and out. Miriam seemed as in some dreamy tale, a maiden in bondage, her spirit dreaming in a land far away and magical" (p. 174).
So, her "romantic" or "mystical" disposition gave the impression that she was always slightly removed from the world of flesh and blood. Yet, behind it all was a sense of deep feeling suppressed, an intense sort of emotionalism or pent-up energy that was always held back only by the greatest effort.
Even though Miriam's brothers tormented her no end, her mother insisted on the doctrine of "the other cheek" (p. 178), i.e., Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount to bear wrong from others. The boys hated this doctrine and, again with Biblical phraseology very present (from the preparation for Christ's crucifixion),
"they spat on her and hated her" (p. 178).
She walked in proud humility, "living within herself." Lawrence is wonderfully skillful at pointing out the effect of this approach to the world on the sons, even though they had rejected the "other cheek" doctrine. The sons couldn't establish themselves in the world with the "ordinary human feeling." They became:
"restless for something deeper. Ordinary folk seemed shallow to them, trivial and inconsiderable. And so they were unaccustomed, painfully uncouth in the simplest social intercourse, suffering, and yet insolent in their superiority" (p. 178).
On To Miriam and Paul
Much perceptive stuff is here about people, but let's hasten on to the biblical language between Miriam and Paul. Gradually Paul begins to notice her, and she becomes entranced by his artistic temperament, knowledge of French and elegant manner. He "had come into her life before she made any mark on his" (p. 180). When she shows Paul the swing, where he dreamily swings while talking to her, she watches him, fascinated (p. 181). When she experiences the vertigo and freedom of the swing it is a sign of her gradual abandonment to Paul:
"She felt the accuracy with which he caught her, exactly at the right moment, and the exactly proportionate strength of his thrust, and she was afraid. Down to her bowels went the hot wave of fear. She was in his hands...She gripped the rope, almost swooning" (p. 182).
Why so fearful? Because she was losing her "grip" or "control" over the situation. From here on out, she will be giving herself up to or over to her feelings for and to her image of Paul. She was fascinated:
"There was something fascinating to her in him. For the moment he was nothing but a piece of swinging stuff, not a particle of him that did not swing. She could never lose herself so, nor could her brothers. It roused a warmth in her..." (p. 182).
She would look at the pictures Paul painted, talk with him about them and be ensorcelled by them. "And she, with her little finger in her mouth, would ponder these sayings" (p. 183). The major figure in the Bible who "ponders" sayings is Mary the mother of Jesus (Luke 2:19). She was brought to life by his manner and paintings. One days he painted some pine-trees which caught the "red glare from the west." He tells her:
"Now look at them and tell me, are they pine trunks or are they red coals, standing-up pieces of fire in that darkness. There's God's burning bush, for you, that burned not away" (p. 183).
The last reference is to Moses' decision to "turn aside" to see why the bush was burning and not consumed (Ex. 3). Now we see that Lawrence, when describing a religious young person (Miriam) suffuses his language with biblical references. She is brought alive, vivified by her mystical sense of God's presence; so Lawrence will "baptize" the Bible and use it frequently to describe aspecxts of Paul and Miriam's growing relationship.
Miriam's problematic nature resided in the fact that she just wasn't "ordinary." Everything was swathed in a sort of divine aureole. This comes out clearly in the way she treated her five year-old brother. She would sing to him in a voice "surcharged with love." Quite naturally, he would back off from this effusiveness. Paul, when seeing this, sometimes would hate her (p. 183). He said:
"Why do you make such a fuss for!..WHy can't you be ordinary with him?" (p. 184).
Lawrence notes one other feature of Miriam with biblical overtones: her eyes.
"All the life of Miriam's body was in her eyes, which were usually dark as a dark church, but could flame with light like a conflagration. Her face scarcely ever altered from its look of brooding. She might have been one of the women who went with Mary when Jesus was dead" (p. 184).
This last reference has to do with the serious-minded and frightened woman who first discoverd the tomb of Jesus (John 21; Luke 24). So Miriam seemed to be to him.
Their relationship will proceed with the Bible and her "mystical" nature or lack of "ordinariness" providing the proper context to understand them. Lawrence skillfully brings us in. My next essay continues the description of their relationship.