Chapter 25: Marriage or Not
The Brangwen family decides to move from Beldover because Mr. Brangwen has a change in his work situation requiring him to be in town. Winter approaches, and Birkin takes out a marriage license in his eagerness to marry Ursula. She wavers, however, not wanting to fix any definite time. It has only been three weeks since she filed her one-month notice to leave the grammar school. Gerald awaits Birkin and Ursula’s marriage, speculating that it may help to hasten his possible marriage to Gudrun.
One afternoon while talking to Birkin, Gerald proposes the possibility of a double marriage, and Birkin asks between whom. When Gerald replies “Gudrun and me,” Birkin is taken aback and asks if Gerald is joking. Gerald says no, and Birkin responds that he didn’t realize things were so serious between them. Gerald goes on to say he truly wants to know Birkin’s opinion on the matter, but Birkin simply tells him that marriages are like noses – there are all sorts, “snub and otherwise.”
Gerald continues to press him on the question, and Birkin says that if he were Gerald he would not marry, but he should ask Gudrun what she thinks. Gerald responds that he thinks marriage is a “pis aller” - a last resort. But he then wonders what direction one takes, if not toward marriage. Birkin tells him that he thinks marriage in the old sense is repulsive, but Gerald again asks what else there is to be done with one’s life.
Birkin then says that a new possibility must be found for a man and a woman to share a life in a broader way, which would be “additional to marriage” but equally sacred and significant. Gerald, meanwhile, feels only a sense of doom and despair about such prospects. He feels himself divided between the prospect of loving Birkin and entering into an agreement with him, or of marrying Gudrun. Yet neither option seems possible to him, despite feeling “strangely elated” at the idea of Birkin’s alliance.
Chapter 26: A Chair
One Monday afternoon Birkin and Ursula visit a weekly junk market in town, browsing for furniture. Ursula is fascinated by the working-class, “common” people and watches them while Birkin focuses on the goods. She notices a young pregnant woman looking at a used mattress along with a young man. Birkin meanwhile finds a pretty wooden chair and points it out to Ursula. They both admire its craftsmanship, although a new wooden seat has been nailed into it, which detracts from the chair’s original beauty. They decide to buy it.
Birkin says the chair reminds him of England’s more glorious past, when production was more of an art and less mechanical. Ursula laments the fact that Birkin always seems to “praise the past at the expense of the present.” They bicker. Ursula says she is sick of Birkin’s exalted idea of the past, while Birkin says he is sick of the “accursed present.” The two decide against taking the chair, because it represents for them the accumulation of unnecessary material things to make a socially conventionally home.
They retrace their steps to tell the peddler that they in fact don’t want the chair, and Ursula again notices the young couple. She tells Birkin to give them the chair. At first he protests, but then agrees and tells Ursula to give it to them. Ursula approaches them and asks if they will have the chair, saying it would please her and Birkin. The young couple is confused, and the young woman’s body language becomes defensive. Birkin comes into the conversation to assure them that he and Ursula simply want to give them the chair, no strings attached, and not to worry if they don’t want it. Ursula then explains that they chose not to take it because they decided to go abroad after they marry.
The couple relaxes, and the young man begins to joke about marriage. He tells Birkin that they plan to be married on Saturday, and asks when he and Ursula shall marry. Birkin tells him whenever Ursula decides to do so, and the young man jokes that there’s “No ‘urry.” They accept the chair, and the young man decides to carry it away himself. They thank Ursula and Birkin, wishing them luck, and the two couples part ways.
As they walk away, Ursula looks back at the couple and says they are “strange” to her. Birkin tells her they remind him of Jesus and his pronouncement that “the meek shall inherit the earth.” The two climb onto a tram, and imagine their married future being quite different, wanting not to inherit anything at all and simply to live in their own separate world. Birkin adds that “perhaps there’s Gerald – and Gudrun –“ but the two agree that they cannot attempt to force Gerald and Gudrun to marry, even if they want to bring them into their world. Birkin insists that he wants a fellowship that extends beyond the two of them, and Ursula tells him that such things must simply happen. She suggests that he willfully attempts to force people to love him, and then rejects their love, and cites Hermione and Gerald as examples. The chapter ends with Birkin wondering aloud to Ursula whether in fact he wants a “final, extra-human relationship” with Gerald, in addition to the pursuit of his “perfect and complete relationship” with Ursula.
Chapter 27: Flitting
At home later that evening, Ursula unexpectedly announces to her family that she and Birkin are going to be married the next day. Her father reacts with extreme surprise and frustration at not having been informed of this plan. Ursula tells him that he already knew the two were planning to be married, and that what really matters is that she is ready. Her father is outraged, and accuses her of only thinking of herself. She responds that he has only ever cared to bully her, and her marriage indeed only affects her. Mr. Brangwen loses control and slaps Ursula across the face, sending her flying across the room. She continues to defy him and he advances toward her, but she flees to her room. Soon thereafter she emerges with a small valise, and announces that she is leaving.
Ursula flees to the train station but finds there are no more trains and is forced to walk. She arrives at Birkin’s home disheveled and saddened, and meets him in his study. She relates the story of her fight with her father. Birkin tells her that perhaps her father does in fact care about her, but Ursula insists he only ever wanted to bully her into following his will. Birkin tells her that she shouldn’t worry, and a bit of time will resolve the conflict. Meanwhile, he tells Ursula she may stay with him, since they are as good as married.
Birkin feels extremely happy that Ursula has arrived, and thinks that her “undimmed” soul is rejuvenating his spirit. He considers his marriage to Ursula to be a promise of resurrection from his descent down the “slope of mechanical death.” The next day, the two are married. Ursula writes to her parents at Birkin’s request, but only her mother responds.
Ursula remains at the mill house with Birkin, having no contact with her parents for some time. Gerald visits one afternoon. He tells her she looks quite happy, and she agrees with him. She asks if he thinks Birkin is also happy, and Gerald says yes but averts his eyes. Ursula then suggests that he too could be happy, should he choose to ask Gudrun to marry him. Gerald asks if she thinks Gudrun would agree. Ursula says yes, and that she thinks Gerald is “the right man for her.” But she suddenly reconsiders, saying that Gudrun is a bit unpredictable. Gerald proposes that he should take Gudrun on a trip, and suggests that Birkin and Ursula might join. Ursula finds the idea appealing, and that it could be a kind of test to see if Gudrun would be favorable to a marriage with Gerald.
Two days later Ursula and Gudrun return to their parents’ now empty home. They find it desolate and depressing, since the furnishings have been removed and the air is heavy. The sisters also agree that the conventional lives their parents lived would make each of them miserable. Gudrun tells Ursula that above all else, she thinks one must remain free and only marry a companion who acts as a fellow traveler. Birkin arrives, and also finds the home to be a “ghostly situation.” They talk a bit about Gudrun’s fear of marriage, without announcing the implication that she is considering a partnership with Gerald. Eventually the group packs up Ursula’s things and leave in Birkin’s car.
During the ride home Gudrun experiences some pangs of jealousy for the ease with which Ursula and Birkin seem to inhabit their marriage. She wonders if she could in fact have the same situation with Gerald, since she does feel a “strong and violent love” for him. But she also thinks of herself as a wandering outcast, poorly suited for marriage. Birkin and Ursula invite her to tea, and though she wants to join them she feels an odd compulsion to go to her cottage at Willey Green, alone. They drop her off, and she feels bitter.
Gudrun sits at home and wants to go to the mill, but decides against it until the following morning. She visits Ursula there and asks her if she knows that Gerald had asked Birkin about a group trip at Christmas. Ursula tells her yes, and that Birkin likes the idea. Gudrun also likes the idea, but finds the proposition a bit awkward and socially improper on Gerald’s part, since it suggests that he is treating Gudrun as if she were his mistress. Ursula continues to play up Gerald’s straightforwardness as a positive quality, and encourages Gudrun to accept the invitation. Gudrun sours when she finds out that Ursula already knows where Gerald plans to take them – Tyrol, a small German town with excellent winter sports. Gudrun worries about the appearance of impropriety, and reveals to Ursula that she knows of Gerald’s liaisons with a “model in Chelsea,” meaning Minette Darrington (The Pussum). Ursula attempts to laugh it off with a joke, but Gudrun remains glum.
Chapter 28: Gudrun in the Pompadour
Christmas approaches and Gudrun has decided to go on the trip with Gerald, Birkin and Ursula. Gerald and Gudrun plan to go to London for a night, then to Paris and on to Innsbruck, where they will meet Birkin and Ursula. During their night in London, they decide to go to the music-hall and then to the Pompadour Café. Gudrun detests the petty vices and social ills of the café. Gerald and Gudrun sit at a table and watch the crowd, which Gudrun finds foul. Julius Halliday and his crew are seated at a nearby table, and exchange looks with Gerald. Suddenly, Minette stands up and approaches Gerald and Gudrun’s table.
Minette greets Gerald and shakes his hand, though he remains seated. She asks about Birkin and if it is true that he is now married. Gerald confirms it. Minette asks how long he is staying in town, and if he will come say hello to Halliday. Gerald says no. Minette then tells him he is “looking awf’lly fit,” and asks if he is “having a good time” which is taken by Gudrun as a backhanded insult. Minette leaves and Gudrun asks Gerald if she’s a friend. He tells her he met her while staying with Birkin at Halliday’s house, and Gudrun knows that Minette is one of his mistresses.
Halliday’s table is loud and drunk, and they begin making fun of Birkin while Gerald and Gudrun listen. Halliday and Maxim recall Birkin’s intense letters, and his outlandish philosophical notions of desire, life, and destruction. Halliday pulls one of Birkin’s letters from his coat pocket, and begins reading passages. The table roars with laughter and Minette says she thinks it is extremely “cheeky” to write in such a way.
Halliday’s crew enrages Gudrun, and she tells Gerald she wants to leave. While he pays the bill, Gudrun rises and walks over to the other table. She asks Halliday if the letter he has is genuine, and he assures her it is. She asks to see it, and when he hands it over she walks out of the café with it. The crowd boos Gudrun, as Gerald follows her outside and into a taxi. He asks her what happened, and when she tells him she took Birkin’s letter he is extremely pleased, saying the table was a “bunch of jackasses.” Gudrun calls them “dogs” and says that she never wants to return to London again.
D.H. Lawrence further explores the pitfalls of marriage in chapters 25 and 26, through two different aspects of Birkin’s desire. The first is the male bond between Birkin and Gerald, which marriage potentially threatens. Birkin wants to preserve this bond with Gerald by treating it as an “addition” to his relationship with Ursula. When Gerald suggests that he and Gudrun might join with Birkin and Ursula in a double marriage, his idea implies that Gerald also feels at least as strong, if not stronger, a connection with Birkin. But Gerald hesitates to enter into a marriage that might divide them, while he also considers the possibility that marrying Gudrun, Ursula’s sister, could be a way of paradoxically bringing the men closer together.
In chapter 26 Birkin and Ursula visit a junk market, and their discussion of the future of the young couple they meet there becomes a discussion of their own future, and of the form of marriage that they want. Birkin continues to illustrate his strong desire to remain close to Gerald. He and Ursula agree that they want to care only about their own relationship, and imagine wandering the earth together as a way of creating their own world apart. But then Birkin tells her that “perhaps there’s Gerald – and Gudrun” which suggests that like Gerald he cannot bear the thought of his marriage dividing the bond between the two men. Ursula finds Birkin’s position confusing, and tells him that he must learn not to try and bully other people into loving him – he has Ursula, and that should be enough. But Birkin’s insistence illustrates the novel’s theme of the strong connection between desire and repression, since he cannot abandon his love for Gerald.
Chapter 27 further develops the theme of repressed desire between the two men. After Ursula flees her parents’ home, she lives with Birkin at the mill house and Gerald visits her one afternoon. Gerald’s averted gaze during his talk with Ursula is telling. His desire to marry Gudrun is equally tied to his desire to preserve his close bond with Birkin. This is clear when Ursula asks Gerald if he thinks that Birkin seems happier now that the two are living together, and Gerald says yes but averts his face from Ursula’s gaze. He finds it difficult to admit that Birkin is happy being with Ursula, but he knows it to be true, even while he cannot let go of his love for Birkin. This is why Gerald suggests that Ursula and Birkin might join him and Gudrun on their trip. From Ursula’s perspective, this seems to be a good idea because she worries that Gudrun may not be entirely open to the idea of marrying Gerald, but also since she knows Birkin is happy being near Gerald. The trip appears to promise an opportunity to resolve the competing desires and frustrations that are circulating among the group.
The novel’s focus turns to the two sisters and their views of love later in chapter 27, as they sit in the empty Brangwen home and reflect upon their parents’ lives and marriage. The desolate setting and emptiness of the house reflects the feelings of alienation and uncertainty that the sisters share. They find themselves in marriages or potential marriages with men they love, but both want to hold strong to their independent spirits and resist the conventional lifestyle that their parents have lived. Gudrun passionately defends the need for freedom, but soon after her talk with Ursula realizes that part of her also wants to be his wife and to have a home at Shortlands. Her inability to resolve this tension causes emotional turmoil, and she find herself refusing Ursula and Birkin’s invitation to tea, even though she desperately wants to accept it.
The next chapter makes a dramatic shift in setting, from Beldover to the Café Pompadour in London. This change also illustrates an aspect of Gudrun’s character that is sharply distinct from the previous chapter’s emphasis on her frustrated desires. At the café, Gudrun is horrified and enraged when she overhears Halliday and his table reading aloud and mocking one of Birkin’s letters. She displays creative ingenuity and strength of will when she approaches the table, tricks Julius into giving her the letter and calmly strides out of the café with it. Earlier in the novel, the setting at Café Pompadour illustrated Gerald’s uncertainty in the Bohemian atmosphere, and his reliance on wealth and social status to seduce Minette. But during this episode, the novel shows that Gudrun has a powerful ability to master the environment of the Bohemians, with which she is familiar from her time in London as an artist. Her spirited and quick-witted actions account for Gerald’s compulsive attraction to Gudrun, as illustrated by his admiration at the chapter’s close and the couple’s decision to leave London immediately.