Bestwood. English coal-mining town in Nottinghamshire in which the novel is primarily set. Dominated by mine buildings, machinery, and towering slag heaps, Bestwood depends for its existence on the local coal company, Carson, Waite and Company, and its residents are virtually owned by the company store.
D. H. Lawrence modeled Bestwood on the real Nottinghamshire mining town of Eastwood, in which he was born and spent his early years. There, he lived in circumstances very similar to those described in his novel. His father worked for Barber, Walker Coal Company, on which he modeled his fictional Carson, Waite and Company.
The Bottoms. Bestwood neighborhood in which the Morel family lives. The neighborhood contains six blocks of miners’ homes, distributed “like dots on a blank-six domino,” with twelve houses to a block. Outwardly, the houses appear substantial and decent. They have pleasant little gardens in front, neat front windows, porches, privet hedges, and dormer windows. However, the insides of the houses tell a different story.
The main rooms of the houses are the kitchen, which is located at the back of each house, overlooking scrubby little back gardens and garbage dumps. Between the rows of houses and long lines of ash-pits are alleys in which children play, women gossip, and men smoke. Thus, the house that appears to be “so well built and that looked so nice, was quite unsavory because people must live in the kitchen, and the kitchens opened on to that nasty alley of ash-pits.”
Willey Farm. Home of Miriam Leivers, Paul Morel’s first lover. Located in the countryside outside Bestwood, Willey Farm stands in startling contrast to the Bottoms, where Paul lives, as it represents the natural world. There, Paul comes to know a family tied to the earth and to nature’s cycles—a strong contrast to the mining environment that brutalizes the land, the men who work in the tunnels, and their families. Willey Farm lives in accord with the rhythms and purpose of nature in its unspoiled state. Among its animals and crops, Paul begins to discover his own physical and emotional identity. As an antithesis to Bestwood, Willey Farm offers Paul a pastoral escape from the smothering presence of his domineering mother, his father’s drunken rages, and the drabness and dirt of the coal-mining town.
Lawrence’s novel begins in 1885 and ends in 1911, roughly following the outline of Lawrence’s own life. During that time, British miners battled their capitalist bosses for better pay and safer working conditions. However, large swings in demand for coal contributed to industry instability, and it was common for miners’ unions to be rewarded a raise one year and presented with a cut in salary the next. As the rate of industrialization increased, so did the gap between rich and poor. Nowhere was this gap more apparent than in the difference between how the miners lived and how the owners of the mines lived. Lawrence’s father, on whom Walter Morel is based, began working in the mines when he was ten years old. A typical week for him consisted of six twelve-hour days, with only two paid holidays a year. One way out of the danger and poverty of the mining life was through education. The Education Act of 1870, which attempted to provide elementary education for all children, gave hope to the parents of many working-class children. The act allowed local school boards to levy and collect taxes. Elementary schooling, however, was not entirely free until the 1890s, when “board” schools could stop charging fees. Before that, parents were expected to pay between one and four pence per week per child. William, Paul, Clara, and Miriam all went to school, which significantly increased their chances of finding better work.
At this time, there was also a difference between public and private schools. Public schools were more expensive than private schools, as private schools often received their...
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