-The New York Review of Books
Women in Loveby D. H. Lawrence
One of the greatest of twentieth-century novelists and poets, D. H. Lawrence wrote and lived with a passionate intensity that shocked his contemporaries. Lawrence composed Women in Love while at the height of his powers, and indeed, in its blend of lyricism, psychological revelation, and an eroticism that is never very far from violence, it can still startle and even… See more details below
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One of the greatest of twentieth-century novelists and poets, D. H. Lawrence wrote and lived with a passionate intensity that shocked his contemporaries. Lawrence composed Women in Love while at the height of his powers, and indeed, in its blend of lyricism, psychological revelation, and an eroticism that is never very far from violence, it can still startle and even discomfit readers. In this story of two very unconventional sisters, Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen, and the men they love, Lawrence argues urgently for a new conjunction between man and woman as "two pure beings, each constituting the freedom of the other." The ardent struggle of human souls coming into being, and into relationship with one another, is at the heart of Women in Love, and this wrenching, sometimes painful, thoroughly exhilarating process is brilliantly illuminated in Lawrence's masterpiece.
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Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen sat one morning in the window-bay of their father's house in Beldover, working and talking. Ursula was stitching a piece of brightly-coloured embroidery, and Gudrun was drawing upon a board which she held on her knee. They were mostly silent, talking as their thoughts strayed through their minds.
"Ursula," said Gudrun, "don't you really want to get married?"
Ursula laid her embroidery in her lap and looked up. Her face was calm and considerate.
"I don't know," she replied. "It depends how you mean."
Gudrun was slightly taken aback. She watched her sister for some moments.
"Well," she said, ironically, "it usually means one thing!But don't you think, anyhow, you'd be" she darkened slightly"in a better position than you are in now?"
A shadow came over Ursula's face.
"I might," she said. "But I'm not sure."
Again Gudrun paused, slightly irritated. She wanted to be quite definite.
"You don't think one needs the experience of having been married?" she asked.
"Do you think it need be an experience?" replied Ursula.
"Bound to be, in some way or other," said Gudrun, coolly. "Possibly undesirable, but bound to be an experience of some sort."
"Not really," said Ursula. "More likely to be the end of experience."
Gudrun sat very still, to attend to this.
"Of course," she said, "there's that to consider."
This brought the conversation to a close. Gudrun, almost angrily, took up her rubber and began to rub out part of her drawing. Ursula stitched absorbedly.
"You wouldn't consider a good offer?" asked Gudrun.
"I think I'verejected several," said Ursula.
"Really!" Gudrun flushed dark."But anything really worth while? Have you really?"
"A thousand a year, and an awfully nice man. I liked him awfully," said Ursula.
"Really! But weren't you fearfully tempted?"
"In the abstractbut not in the concrete," said Ursula. "When it comes to the point, one isn't even tempted.Oh, if I were tempted, I'd marry like a shot.I'm only tempted not to." The faces of both sisters suddenly lit up with amusement.
"Isn't it an amazing thing," cried Gudrun, "how strong the temptation is, not to!"
They both laughed, looking at each other. In their hearts they were frightened.
There was a long pause, whilst Ursula stitched and Gudrun went on with her sketch. The sisters were women, Ursula twenty-six and Gudrun twenty-five. But both had the remote, virgin look of modern girls, sisters of Artemis rather than of Hebe. Gudrun was very beautiful, passive, soft-skinned, soft-limbed. She wore a dress of dark-blue silky stuff, with ruches of blue and green linen lace in the neck and sleeves; and she had emerald-green stockings. Her look of confidence and diffidence contrasted with Ursula's sensitive expectancy. The provincial people, intimidated by Gudrun's perfect sang froid and exclusive bareness of manner, said of her: "She is a smart woman." She had just come back from London, where she had spent several years, working at an art-school, as a student, and living a studio life.
"I was hoping now for a man to come along," Gudrun said, suddenly catching her underlip between her teeth, and making a strange grimace, half sly smiling, half anguish.
Ursula was afraid.
"So you have come home, expecting him here?" she laughed.
"Oh my dear," cried Gudrun, strident, "I wouldn't go out of my way to look for him. But if there did happen to come along a highly attractive individual of sufficient meanswell" she tailed off ironically. Then she looked searchingly at Ursula, as if to probe her. "Don't you find yourself getting bored?" she asked of her sister. "Don't you find, that things fail to materialise? Nothing materialises! Everything withers in the bud."
"What withers in the bud?" asked Ursula.
"Oh, everythingoneselfthings in general."
There was a pause, whilst each sister vaguely considered her fate.
"It does frighten one," said Ursula, and again there was a pause. "But do you hope to get anywhere by just marrying?"
"It seems to be the inevitable next step," said Gudrun.
Ursula pondered this, with a little bitterness. She was a class mistress herself, in Willey Green Grammar School, as she had been for some years.
"I know," she said, "it seems like that when one thinks in the abstract. But really imagine it: imagine any man one knows, imagine him coming home to one every evening, and saying "Hello,' and giving one a kiss"
There was a blank pause.
"Yes," said Gudrun, in a narrowed voice. "It's just impossible. The man makes it impossible."
"Of course there's children" said Ursula, doubtfully.
Gudrun's face hardened.
"Do you really want children, Ursula?" she asked coldly.
A dazzled, baffled look came on Ursula's face.
"One feels it is still beyond one," she said.
"Do you feel like that?" asked Gudrun. "I get no feeling whatever from the thought of bearing children."
Gudrun looked at Ursula with a mask-like, expressionless face. Ursula knitted her brows.
"Perhaps it isn't genuine," she faltered. "Perhaps one doesn't really want them, in one's soulonly superficially."
A hardness came over Gudrun's face. She did not want to be too definite.
"When one thinks of other people's children" said Ursula.
Again Gudrun looked at her sister, almost hostile.
"Exactly," she said, to close the conversation.
The two sisters worked on in silence, Ursula having always that strange brightness of an essential flame that is caught, meshed, contravened. She lived a good deal by herself, to herself, working, passing on from day to day, and always thinking, trying to lay hold on life, to grasp it in her own understanding. Her active living was suspended, but underneath, in the darkness, something was coming to pass. If only she could break through the last integuments! She seemed to try to put her hands out, like an infant in the womb, and she could not, not yet. Still she had a strange prescience, an intimation of something yet to come.
She laid down her work and looked at her sister. She thought Gudrun so charming, so infinitely charming, in her softness and her fine, exquisite richness of texture and delicacy of line. There was a certain playfulness about her too, such a piquancy of ironic suggestion, such an untouched reserve. Ursula admired her with all her soul.
"Why did you come home, Prune?" she asked.
Gudrun knew she was being admired. She sat back from her drawing and looked at Ursula, from under her finely-curved lashes.
"Why did I come back, Ursula?" she repeated. "I have asked myself, a thousand times."
"And don't you know?"
"Yes, I think I do. I think my coming back home was just reculer pour mieux sauter."
And she looked with a long, slow look of knowledge at Ursula.
"I know!" cried Ursula, looking slightly dazzled and falsified, and as if she did not know. "But where can one jump to?"
"Oh, it doesn't matter," said Gudrun, somewhat superbly. "If one jumps over the edge, one is bound to land somewhere."
"But isn't it very risky?" asked Ursula.
A slow, mocking smile dawned on Gudrun's face.
"Ah!" she said, laughing. "What is it all but words!"
And so again she closed the conversation. But Ursula was still brooding.
From the Paperback edition.
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Meet the Author
David Ellis is the author of Lawrence's Non-Fiction: Art, Thought and Genre and Wordsworth, Freud and the Spots of Time. He has been commissioned to write Volume HI of the New Cambridge biography of Lawrence.
- Date of Birth:
- September 11, 1885
- Date of Death:
- March 2, 1930
- Place of Birth:
- Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, England
- Place of Death:
- Vence, France
- Nottingham University College, teacher training certificate, 1908
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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, 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.
It is hard to give a definite thumbs-up or thumbs-down to this this story. On the one hand, it is very disjointed. It is filled with many long inner monologues that have no relationship with each other. The ending is bizarre and unsatisfying. On the other hand, the writing is brilliant and beautiful. When there is diaglogue and interaction between the characters, the story comes back to life. The study of human nature, and the differences in what all people (not just men vs. women) want in love is very insightful. It is certainly not a book for everyone.
By far what I found most interesting about this novel was the relationship between Gerald and Birkin. These two men are involved in an emotional dependency...that sometimes verges on erotic...but they are unsure of what do do with their feelings, in light of social propriety and the current age in which they live. The last two pages of the novel, to me, make the book worth reading. It totally sums up the entire book in a seemingly simple conversation between Birkin and his wife Ursula. Why shouldn't he be allowed a different kind of love? Why isn't this the way? Why is it considered unnatural? Makes you think.
In this D.H. Lawrence tale, he bravely focuses on the love men feel for both women and men. Two sisters, Gudrun and Ursula are school teachers who are dating Gerald and Birkin, respectively. The relationships take tumultuous turns because the men have not fully admitted their feelings for each other. It ends with one marriage, one death and a newly wedded wife feeling shock when she sees her husband’s grief for the other man. Women in Love is believed to be based on some the Lawrence’s personal experiences with a miner, according to his wife. It was risqué to approach such topics and certainly in 1920; but he does it in a tasteful manner.
I am not a fan of his at the best of times and the three is for classic literature that was once coniidered daring and rated x and banned in boston m.a.@sparta