Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence. Highly recommended.
Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence is a sequel, but knowledge of The Rainbow is not necessary to appreciate the second novel. The title is somewhat misleading, as it is really about women and men, men and women, and men and men — and it’s not always clear with what they are in love. It is the tale of two teachers, sisters Gudrun and Ursula Brangwen, the son of the local mine owner, Gerald Crich, and school inspector Rupert Birkin.
Their complex relationships start to take shape the day of Gerald’s sister’s wedding, as Gudrun and Gerald and Ursula and Rupert are drawn together, often despite themselves. The Gudrun/Gerald relationship becomes a series of conflicts that are won only temporarily and that lead to more conflicts and then temporary reprieves of tenderness and sex. His emotional conflicts with Gudrun are mirrored in Gerald’s dealings with animals; he brutally forces his mare to stay at a railroad crossing despite her terror until blood is drawn and until the cars have passed. Later, when his sister’s rabbit resists being picked up so he can be sketched, Gerald punches him in the head so he will submit instantly. His blind will must triumph in all. The only time that he and Gudrun seem to find an equilibrium is when they balance each other by accepting but not gravitating toward each other. It becomes a tenuous relatonship at best and a dangerous one at worst. Gerald is incapable of love, as is his brooding mother.
Meanwhile, Ursula finds herself in a different kind of battle, with Rupert and his self-contemptous philosophies about relationships, death, and the will. His vision of love, if he even believes it exists, is of two planets circling one another in perfect equilibrium. He did not find that with his former lover Hermione, who does not satisfy his physical desires and who does not calibrate with his spiritual needs. At the end of the novel, he reinforces what he has said all along — his love will always have a missing component and be incomplete without it. As a side note, Rupert seems to be Lawrence’s own mouthpiece, reflecting many of his own views.
As with Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the setting for Women in Love becomes a character — the grimy village, the sordid town, and the sullen miners and their wives provide a backdrop of inevitable modernization and dehumanization that counterbalances the individual stories. As mining is mechanized to death, so is the human soul. The will either accepts the inevitable crush of the modern world or fights it to the death. The weakest part of Women in Love may be when the setting changes, that is, when the couples decide to leave all that England has become and to take their relationships and their futures to the Alps, where they find art truly does imitate life with its mechanism. The novel seems to lose a little of its footing at this point, giving in to its tendency to become an intellectual exercise in the arts rather than a human story in a regimented world.
Women in Love starts out slowly, as a lengthy series of vignettes and conversations that seem unlikely or unrealistic, but develops a crescendo as the battles begin. In the end, despite dramatic events and drastic changes, the conundrums remain, and even Ursula’s persistence and will cannot eliminate them now, let alone forever. Women in Love is about destruction and regeneration in an endless cycle and the human under the surface that we are not entirely aware of and cannot express.
29 March 2001
Copyright © Diane L. Schirf