Welcome to a neighborhood quaintly called "The Bottoms." It's not all that nice, and the neighborhood ends at a place known as "Hell Row." As you might imagine, that place isn't all that nice either.
The neighborhood is in the Northern English village of Bestwood, which used to be a place where donkeys and their owners pulled coal out of the ground from small mines called "gin pits." As the narrator tells us, though, larger mining companies eventually came in to push out these "gin pits."
The first character we hear about is Mrs. Morel, who isn't very happy about moving into The Bottoms. But she has little choice in the matter. She is thirty-one, has been married eight years, and her husband is a miner.
She also has a seven-year-old son named William, and a five-year-old daughter named Annie.
It's the time of year for a festival called "the wakes."
Mrs. Morel takes the kids to the festival. While there, William leads his mom around the fairgrounds, totally happy she's there. He's all proud of how ladylike his mother looks and acts, like, totally in love with her, you know?
Finally, Mrs. Morel gets tired and leaves for home. On her way home, she smells beer and quickens her pace, knowing her husband is probably at the bar.
Waiting for her husband at home, she wonders about how there's nothing more to life than waiting for things.
She's pregnant with her third child, and is worried that she won't be able to afford it. She hates her endless struggle with poverty.
After a while, her husband comes home from "helping" at the bar, and he's brought home some treats and a coconut for the family. He expects to be thanked, but Mrs. Morel accuses him of being drunk.
She remembers when she first met her husband Walter, who always loved to laugh loudly and who was a man of simple pleasures. And now he's a dirty boozehound. Not quite what she was hoping for, we're guessing.
The book tells us that Mrs. Morel was always more of an intellectual in nature, but having no one to talk about philosophy with, she tended to listen to others talking about themselves.
When she first met Walter, she was attracted by how well he danced. He had that boom-boom pow. He was the complete opposite of her father, and therefore the opposite of Mrs. Morel herself.
She felt sorry that Walter had to go down to work in the mines when he was only ten years old, and she found him noble for risking his life so easily.
Basically, she built up a big fairy tale around him, and before you knew it, the two of them got married.
She quickly realized, though, that when she tried to talk to Walter about her deepest thoughts, he couldn't really understand what she was saying. This was the first sign that marriage wasn't going to be everything she thought. Um, yeah. You think?
Next, she realized that Walter lied to her about all his finances, saying he had money and property when he didn't.
As if all of this weren't enough, she starts hearing from women in the neighborhood about what a flirt Walter was in his younger years.
The women love to tell her this because they will use any opportunity to bring her down a peg. Girls certainly can be nasty about their gossipin' ways.
Later, she finds out that Walter has started drinking again, then she has her first child, William.
One day, after being away with his buddy Jerry, Walter comes home drunk and angry. The two get in a real row, and Walter ends up throwing Mrs. Morel out the front door. We think Walter should really cool it on the physical abuse.
Eventually Walter lets Gertrude back into the house, but when she sees her husband asleep, she knows instantly: this dude'll always have to have his own way. He'll never compromise.
And isn't a little compromise here and a big compromise there what life is all about?