"She saw, in the shaft of ruddy, copper-colored light near her, the face of a man. It was gleaming like fire, watching her, waiting for her to be aware. It startled her terribly. She thought she was going to faint. All her repressed, subconscious fear sprang into being, with anguish."
While teaching one day, Ursula is surprised by a visit from Rupert Birkin. When he suddenly appears at her classroom door, her heart leaps up at the sight of his face. Lawrence’s description of Birkin’s appearance, “gleaming like fire,” suggests that it corresponds with a passionate burning inside of Ursula. But this frightens her, and provokes a subconscious anxiety that illustrates the novel’s theme of repression and instinctual urges.
"He bit himself down on the mare like a keen edge biting home, and forced her round. She roared as she breathed, her nostrils were two wide, hot holes, her mouth was apart, her eyes frenzied. It was a repulsive sight, But he held on her unrelaxed, with an almost mechanical relentlessness, keen as a sword pressing into her."
This passage describes Gerald Crich’s mastery of his mare at the train crossing, as Ursula and Gudrun watch. Gerald violently forces his horse into submission and, in doing so, displays a sort of brute strength and prowess that he intends the two Brangwen sisters to observe. It is a highly masculine display that frightens both of them, and Lawrence uses a violently phallic description of Gerald’s body as a “sword pressing into her” to emphasize this aspect of his nature. The breaking of the mare is deemed good for the horse, in a clear allusion to the theme of marriage as a institution through which the will of a woman is broken - for her own benefit. The women's varying attraction and repulsion for Gerald in this moment symbolizes their feelings about both lust and marriage.
"Nevertheless, Gudrun, with her arms outspread and her face uplifted, went in a strange palpitating dance towards the cattle, lifting her body towards them as if in a spell, her feet pulsing as if in some little frenzy of unconscious sensation, her arms, her wrists, her hands stretching and heaving and falling and reaching and reaching and falling, her breasts lifted and shaken towards the cattle, her throat exposed as in some voluptuous ecstasy towards them, whilst she drifted imperceptibly nearer, an uncanny white figure..."
Gudrun Brangwen enters a joyful, trance-like state while dancing in the woods with her sister, Ursula. The two ladies have just escaped the water-party hosted by the Crich family. The change in setting from the socially conventional world of the party, to the pastoral environment of the forest among the cattle, represents a release into the natural world. Gudrun’s body takes on a powerful energy and an unconscious intensity that dislocates her from her everyday sense of being. The dance brings an ecstatic and joyful experience that can only be found beyond the world of manners, restraint, and society.
"'When the stream of synthetic creation lapses, we find ourselves part of the inverse process, the blood of destructive creation. Aphrodite is born in the first spasm of universal dissolution – then the snakes and swans and lotus – marsh-flowers – and Gudrun and Gerald – born in the process of creative destruction.'"
Rupert Birkin and Ursula Brangwen sit by Willey Water as Birkin discusses the deep connection between creation and destruction. For Birkin, all things are part of an endless cycle or eternal return of creation, including death and decay. Even Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess of love, has her beginnings in the dissolution of the universe. It is impossible to separate death from life, or beginning from ending. Birkin is a cosmic thinker whose idea of love is shaped by his perspective of the universal cycles of death and rebirth.
"There were two opposites, his will and the resistant Matter of the earth. And between these he could establish the very expression of his will, the incarnation of his power, a great and perfect machine, a system, an activity of pure order, pure mechanical repetition, repetition ad infinitum, hence eternal and infinite."
When Gerald Crich decides to return home, he begins to work alongside his father running the family’s mining operation. He comes to find purpose in transforming the company, but not because he seeks wealth. Rather, Gerald has a will to master the raw material of the earth, to exercise his power over the natural world by way of the mining operation. He brings advances in technology, increased productivity, and a new valuation of collective labor to the miners and their work. Gerald’s seeks liberation through the ceaseless mechanical repetition of this refined productivity.
"He stood there in his strange, whole body, that had its marvelous fountains, like the bodies of the sons of God who were in the beginning. There were strange fountains of his body, more mysterious and potent than any she had imagined or known, more satisfying, ah, finally, mystically-physically satisfying."
Ursula gazes at Birkin when they are having tea at the inn in Beldover. Earlier they had fought after Birkin gave her a gift of three rings, but now the two have reconciled, and Ursula begins to see in Birkin the promise of a sacred partnership, recalling the tale of Adam and Eve and the “sons of God” from the book of Genesis. She sees in Birkin’s physical body a wellspring of sensual power that is both material and metaphysical.
"And she, she was the great bath of life, he worshipped her. Mother and substance of all life she was. And he, child and man, received of her and was made whole. His pure body was almost killed. But the miraculous, soft effluence of her breast suffused over him, over his seared, damaged brain, like a healing lymph, like a soft, soothing flow of life itself, perfect as if he were bathed in the womb again."
Several days after his father’s death, Gerald seeks solace in Gudrun’s embrace. After sneaking into her bedroom one night and waking her, he falls into her arms. Her body becomes a source of rejuvenation, a maternal wellspring that heals and nourishes Gerald after the ordeal of his father’s slow and painful death. Lawrence’s imagery is religious and mystical, suggesting that this moment is a baptism and rebirth through the sensual body of Gudrun Brangwen.
"'When I see that clear, beautiful chair, and I think of England, even Jane Austen’s England – it had living thoughts to unfold even then, and pure happiness in unfolding them. And now, we can only fish among the rubbish-heaps for remnants of their old expression. There is no production in us now, only sordid and foul mechanicalness.'"
When Rupert Birkin and Ursula Brangwen visit the local junk market, they find an antique chair that Birkin admires. He tells Ursula that the chair represents a time long passed, when English handicrafts and production was more careful and aesthetically meaningful. Unlike the hyper-productivity of the modern industrial era of production, the time of “Jane Austen’s England” was determined by a relationship to production that was not merely mechanical.
"'They say the lice crawl off a dying body,' said Birkin, with a glare of bitterness. 'So I leave England.'"
When Birkin, Gerald, Ursula and Gudrun decide to travel to Innsbruck for a winter trip, all are glad to be away from England. But Birkin in particular finds the transition to Europe pleasing because he so detests the social standards and modern values that define England. For Birkin, the English political body is dead and spiritless, in part because of the rule of industrial production and the overvaluation of work. But his comparison is also shrewdly self-deprecating, since he imagines himself to be nothing more than “lice” crawling off the corpse of England.
"To herself she was saying ‘A pretty little sample of the eternal triangle!’ And she turned ironically away, because she knew that the fight had been between Gerald and herself and that the presence of the third party was a mere contingency – an inevitable contingency perhaps, but a contingency none the less."
When Ursula and Birkin return to the hostel after hearing the news of Gerald’s death, Birkin demands that Gudrun tell him exactly what Gerald said when she saw him last. She tells Birkin that Gerald said nothing but attacked Loerke and nearly strangled Gudrun. Inside, however, she compares the scene to an ironic version of the holy trinity or “eternal triangle.” In this case she imagines a trinity of hatred that leads Gerald to attack and then flee into the wintry darkness, where he dies of exposure.
Women in Love Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Women in Love is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Triangles of desire are everywhere in Lawrence’s novel, suggesting that human desire circulates in part by seeing and imitating the desire that another person displays. Gerald loves Birkin, but sees him desiring Ursula, which contributes to Gerald...
This is such a complex book that extends beyond relations between women and men. Still it is a major theme. Women in Love starts with two sisters, Ursula and Gudrun. Both of them are extremely modern ladies, but with really old-fashioned names....