“Miriam went on her knees before one cluster, took a wild looking daffodil between her hands, turned up its face of gold to her, and bowed down, caressing it with her mouth and cheeks and brow. He stood aside with his hands in his pockets, watching her…..fondling them lavishly all the while” (page 198). Which I am sure was nice. Her approach to flowers, which decorate the book like a church in August, is summarised earlier:
People constantly behave in an extremely sexual way while continuing to avoid sex itself eg:
“She (Miriam again) took her finger from her mouth with a little pop, and looked up at him almost challenging. But still her soul was naked in her great dark eyes, and there was the same yearning appeal upon her.” (page 169).
“He (Paul) picked up a stick and began to stab the earth with it….He thrust, thrust, thrust at the ground with the pointed stick, digging up little clods of earth as if he were in a fever of irritation.” (page 200). One last example, when Paul is reading the bible to Miriam:
“She sat back on the sofa away from him, and yet feeling herself the very instrument his hand grasped. It gave her great pleasure.”
When the sex does finally arrive, which I can understand to a pre-Great War audience must surely have been shocking, not to mention titillating, it is usually presenting as the exercise of male lust against passive female acceptance. He conjures an extraordinary phrase to describe “married love” on this basis: “Being the sons of mothers whose husbands had blundered rather brutally through their feminine sanctities”.
If I were to do a word count I am guessing one of the words that would crop up most frequently in this novel is “hate”. An example is cited above, where Paul, the principal son of the title, hates his girlfriend for liking flowers just a bit too much. But people hate others and things at the drop of a hat, and for apparently little or no reason. We can thus conclude that these are people who are moved to deep emotions signified by their quivering breasts and moody silences. Stella Gibbons parodies this all wonderfully in Cold Comfort farm of course, especially through the character of Cousin Judith, and Seth and his mollocking. And delightfully there is also a Miriam in CCF who bears the fruit of too much blundering through her feminine sanctities.
The handling of the Oedipal relationship between Paul and his mother, Gertrude to remind us of Hamlet’s problems with women no doubt, reminded me of Seth’s comments to Flora that he won’t let women eat him:
“She wants to absorb him. She wants to draw him out and absorb him till there is nothing left of him, even for himself. He will never be a man on his own feet – she will suck him up”. (As Larkin almost said, they suck you up, your mum and dad). (Page 173)