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Women in Love (1920) is a novel by D. H. Lawrence, a sequel to The Rainbow (1915). It follows the Brangwen sisters Gudrun and Ursula, with Gudrun’s relationship with Gerald Crich and Ursula’s relationship with Rupert Birkin. Thomas Seltzer published the first edition of Women in Love in New York City on 9 November 1920, available only to subscribers due to the controversy caused by Lawrence’s previous work.
Lawrence’s novel Women in Love was written as part of a single novel, but was banned in the UK for 11 years. Martin Secker published the first trade edition of the book in the US, and its sexual subject matter caused controversy. Camille Paglia praised the book, and Harold Bloom listed it as one of the books that have been important and influential in Western culture. Francis Spalding suggested Lawrence’s fascination with the theme of homosexuality was manifested in Women in Love, and this could be related to his own sexual orientation.
Paglia compared Lawrence’s novel Women in Love to Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. Harold Bloom listed it as one of the most influential books in Western culture. Francis Spalding suggested Lawrence’s fascination with homosexuality was related to his own sexual orientation. Larry Kramer and Ken Russell adapted the novel into the film Women in Love (1969). Edit William Ivory combined the novel with Lawrence’s earlier novel, The Rainbow (1915), in his two-part BBC Four television adaptation.
Women in Love (Privately Printed ed.). New York: Thomas Seltzer. Lawrence, D.H. (1921). Women in Love (Trade ed.).
London: Martin Secker. Lawrence, D.H. (1982). Women in Love (Privately Printed ed.). Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Lawrence, D.H. (1998). Bradshaw, David (ed.). Women in Love. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lawrence, D.H. (2007). The First Women in Love. Oneworld Classics. ISBN 978-1-84749-005-6.
Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen are sisters living in The Midlands in England in the 1910s. They meet two men, school inspector Rupert Birkin and coal mine heir Gerald Crich, and develop romantic relationships. After a holiday together in the Austrian Alps, Gudrun begins an intense friendship with Loerke, a physically puny but emotionally commanding artist from Dresden. Gerald tries to strangle Gudrun and leaves them to climb the mountain, eventually slipping into a snowy valley.
The novel follows Gerald Crich and Rupert Birkin, two men who develop affairs that drive the action of the novel. At the beginning, they hate each other passionately, but after a chance encounter they begin to become friends. Hermione Roddie, an aristocratic woman, complicates Birkin’s growing fondness for Ursula and they become enemies. After the tragedy of Diana Crich, Gerald realizes that he loves Gerald and asks him to exchange a vow of lasting commitment. Birkin realizes he loves Gerald and asks him to exchange a vow of commitment. Meanwhile, Gerald’s father Thomas Crich falls ill and hires Gudrun to tutor Winifred in art. Birkin and Ursula exchange promises of love and Ursula decides she is deeply in love with Birkin. Birkin surprises Ursula at her school and gives her a gift of three. The novel follows Ursula, Gerald, Birkin, and Gudrun on a Christmas season trip to Europe. Birkin is devastated and insists that a lasting and intimate bond with Gerald was possible, even while remaining married to Ursula.
Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen sat in the window-bay of their father’s house in Beldover, working and talking. Gudrun asked Ursula if she wanted to get married, but Ursula replied that it depends how she meant it. Gudrun was slightly taken aback, but Ursula agreed that it would be a better position than she is in now. Gudrun and Ursula discuss a good offer, but Gudrun rejects it. Ursula suggests a thousand a year and a nice man, but Gudrun is not tempted to marry.
They both laugh at the strong temptation to not marry, but both have the remote, virgin look of modern girls. Gudrun wore a dress of silky stuff and emerald-green stockings, contrasted with Ursula’s sensitive expectancy. She had just come back from London and was hoping for a man to come along. She tailed off ironically and looked searchingly at Ursula. Gudrun and Ursula discuss the possibility of having children, but Ursula is doubtful. Gudrun looks at Ursula with a masklike expressionless face and Ursula falters. Gudrun and Ursula work on in silence, Ursula having a strange brightness of an essential flame that is caught, meshed, contravened. Gudrun is admired by Ursula for her charm, softness, richness of texture, and delicacy of line. Ursula asks why she came back home, and Gudrun explains that it was just a matter of jumping over the edge.
Gudrun then tells Ursula that she finds herself completely out of place, and Ursula asks how she finds home. Gudrun pauses for some moments before answering in a cold truthful voice, saying that she finds herself completely out of place.
Lawrence conceived The Rainbow and Women in Love as a unity to repair the division between men and women and restore the wholeness of a society torn by industrial modernity. In the seven years between The Rainbow and Women in Love, Lawrence’s elopement to his native Germany, the censorship and burning of The Rainbow in England, and the Great War intervene. Women in Love follows the Brangwen sisters, Ursula and Gudrun, into the classless world of English and international bohemia, where they encounter Gerald Crich, a young industrial magnate, and Rupert Birkin, a frail world-weary intellectual with a penchant for prophetic speechifying. The novel has no plot and is a long sequence of symbolic set-pieces. It is stylistically original and looks forward to the magical realist novels of the later 20th century. The characters have a symbolic dimension, occupying an individual dimension but also standing in for social classes, racial types, and cosmic principles.
Birkin proposes a marriage to Ursula, who had espoused an individualist worldview at the end of The Rainbow. The marriage will transcend love, sex, and the unsatisfying union of bodies, as it will join the husband’s and the wife’s souls in a sustaining tension. Birkin’s idea is a volonté de pouvoir, a will to ability, taking pouvoir as a verb. Ursula scoffs, but Birkin replies that it is a desire to bring the female cat into a pure stable equilibrium, a transcendent and abiding rapport with the single male. Ursula protests a misogynist sophistry from Genesis to Nietzsche, but for Rupert, the will-to-power in the union of man and woman finally consummates itself in a marriage of true minds.
Ursula imagines herself as a gnostic emissary of the true god on this alien earth, with no parents or antecedents. She feels that memory is a dirty trick played upon her, and she wants to have no past. Gerald’s ambition to modernize his father’s mining business and undo his father’s paternalist 19th-century Christian liberalism suggests he stands for some fatality in the northern spirit and the underworld of nature and animality. He fails to love two of the main characters, Birkin and Gudrun, and this superficial Platonism shades into outright homoerotics. In the novel’s most famous passage, Birkin and Gerald wrestle naked in a drawing room. Gerald and Birkin intertwine and wrestle with each other, but Gerald doesn’t understand Birkin’s offer of love or his obsessive lust for Gudrun. When they sojourn to the Alps, their affair culminates in an attempted murder and a successful suicide. Gudrun is likely the most mobile and talented of the novel’s characters, but she may lapse to the level of Birkin’s ex-girlfriend.
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