Discuss the character of Clara Dawes in D.H.Lawrence’s novel “Sons and Lovers”

In D.H.Lawrence’s novel Sons and Lovers, Clara Dawes is the daughter of an old friend of Mrs Leivers. Her husband, Baxter Dawes, is a smith at Jordan’s. She is separated from her husband and is temporarily lodged with her mother.

Clara is a woman of considerable physical appeal. She has a skin like white honey and a full mouth. Her bar shoulders and arms and her curvaceous body have a strong fascination for Paul. In fact, he is so attracted by her shapely arms that he makes a number of their sketches in his sketch book. Her hands are large and firm and ‘fill the grasp’. Her physical appeal is repeatedly emphasised in the novel. “She looked beautiful… Her costume of dark cloth fitted so beautiful over her breast and shoulder”. Again, “Her hair was done fashionably. The firmness and softness of her upright body could almost be felt as he looked at her. He clinched his fists”. Paul finds her physical charms just irresistible. Her beauty was a torture to him.

Basically, Clara is a simple, affectionate, and unambitious girl. She is neither sensitive nor intellectual like Miriam. But there is an air of sincerity about her. She feels humiliated by the brutality of her husband and affects a scornful attitude towards all men. When Paul meets her for the first time, he is struck by her ‘slightly lifted upper lip that did not know whether it was raised in scorn of all men or out of eagerness to be kissed’. Paul, in fact, develops a liking for her because she has a grudge against men. However, when he meets her again, he soon discovers that ‘the upward lifting of her face was misery and not scorn’. Her hostility to men is a mere pretense. She suffers from extreme loneliness and there is a feeling of restless hunger below her outward composure. When Paul asks her if she is happy after her separation from her husband, she remarks that she will be happy so long as I can be free and independent’. But this is only a hollow consolation. There is a definite tragic air about her. Sitting in her room and working at the Jenny she feels stranded there among the refuse that life has thrown away’.

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Clara is, however, an independent and emancipated woman. She is too self-respecting to take down lying all the cruel strokes of fate. She refuses to meekly submit to her husband’s inhuman behaviour and leaves him. She now lives with her mother and earns an independent living by working at the Jordan’s. At the factory, on account of her pride and dignified bearing, she keeps aloof from the other women who scornfully give her the title of ‘the Queen of Sheba’. So heightened is her sense of self-respect that she feels much tormented when Paul visits her at her humble quarters and discovers her poverty. She has also identified herself with the movement for women’s emancipation.

After breaking with Miriam, Paul goes off almost straight to Clara. Clara does not make any spiritual demands on him. She is sensuous and passionate. She realises that Paul needs passion and she offers him that ‘immensity of passion which Miriam could not’. In Chapter XII, entitled Passion, Lawrence describes a number of love scenes between the two. In one of these scenes, he meets her in a long, whole kiss. Her mouth fuses with his, their bodies are sealed and annealed. And he makes love to her by the riverside. And when Clara rises after this, red flowers fall from her bosom, streaming down her dress to her feet, as if nature were showering its benediction upon the perfect happiness they have just experienced together. The dominant note of these scenes is that of freedom, spontaneity, relaxation, and gaiety. With Clara, there is a feeling of pervasive joy, untarnished by any tensions and reservations.

However, she too fails to satisfy Paul for any length of time. Mrs Morel’s final comment on Clara is: “But you’ll tire of her, my son, you know you will.” In fact, both of them tire of each other. Their relationship is too trivial and superficial to last long. Clara is too physical to keep his soul steady for long. And he is too involved with his own self to satisfy her. In the very next chapter, their passion appears to be marked by anxiety and uncertainty. Clara looks at Paul closely and feels that ‘there was something in him she hated, a sort of detached criticism of herself, which made her woman’s soul harden against him”. Lawrence makes a very perceptive comment about their relationship:

But Clara was not satisfied. Something great was there, she knew; something great enveloped her. But it did not keep her. In the morning it was not the same. They had known, but she could not keep the moment.

After this, there is a very quick decline of their relationship. During Mrs Morel’s illness, whenever Paul goes to her for comfort, she is cold to him. There is fear and hatred in her eyes even when she gives herself to him.

When she comes to know that Baxter is ill, she feels moved. Clara realises that notwithstanding his insensitivity, he has loved her thousand times better than Paul, Paul now looks paltry and insignificant to her. She is happy to go back to Baxter Dawes as his wife.

Unlike Miriam, she is not modelled after any real woman but is a product of the novelist’s own imagination. She plays a brief but significant role in the latter half of the novel. There she is presented as a foil to Miriam. If Miriam represents the spirit, she represents the flesh. If Miriam is sexually inhibited, she is sexually aggressive. This enables the novelist to explore the various aspects of sex-relationships and to emphasise the importance of both the soul and the body in the attainment of sexual harmony.

Also read; Discuss “Sons and Lovers” as a social study as well as a psychological and emotive analysis.

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