Chapter 29: Continental
Ursula and Birkin depart from England, and travel on a boat from Dover to Ostend. Ursula senses a “paradise unknown and unrealized” in the world ahead of them. They arrive at Ostend, and take a long train ride to Basle. They spend one night in a hotel there, where Ursula feels restless and detached. The next day they take a train to Innsbruck, and arrive to find it wonderful and “deep in snow.” In the hotel lobby, Ursula sees Gudrun and calls out to her. The sisters are excited and happy to see each other. They wash and change, and send Birkin to smoke with Gerald while they catch up in Gudrun’s bedroom. Gudrun tells Ursula about the letter incident in London, as well as her and Gerald’s time in Paris with a group of artists, with whom Gerald was a great hit. The group goes to dinner and begins to talk about how refreshing it is to take leave of England. Birkin suggests that England is dying, and must transform itself. Gudrun and Gerald respond sarcastically, and Birkin feels that Gudrun is sucking the life out of Gerald.
The next day they decide to go deeper into the mountainous countryside. After trekking through a snow-filled valley and up into higher elevations, they arrive at a barebones hostel and take rooms. Gudrun and Gerald go to their bedroom and look out at the panoramic view. Gudrun is filled with pleasure and absorbed by the scene, but Gerald feels that she is suddenly detached from him, and an “icy vapour” covers his heart. He notices Gudrun is crying as she looks out the window, and a passion rises in him. He pulls her to him and tells her he loves her, but she does not respond. They go downstairs to meet Ursula and Birkin, and the friends enter the dining room to have coffee. They decide to go into the common room and meet the other guests. They are introduced to “Herr Professor,” a German professor who then introduces the two couples to a group composed of the professor's two daughters, three students, Herr Loerke and his companion – a large and fair young man. They begin to observe a comedic lecture given in German by Herr Loerke, which the sisters cannot understand. At its conclusion the German guests welcome the English group into their company. Ursula sings and they are impressed by her voice. The four companions decide to take a short walk outside, and the two couples break off, with Ursula and Birkin looking out into the night sky while Gudrun leads Gerald on a walk. They all eventually return to the hostel, to dance and party with the Germans. Ursula senses a strange licentiousness in Birkin as they dance.
Upon returning to their bedroom, Ursula continues to feel an oddly brutish desire coming from Birkin, which is both attractive and repulsive to her. Meanwhile, Gudrun and Gerald return to their room and feel increasingly alienated. Gudrun is quite nervous and uncomfortable with Gerald, who is equally uncertain of how to respond to Gudrun. Eventually they sleep, and Gudrun wakes up the next morning before Gerald. As she watches him sleep, she thinks about his efforts to reform his family’s mining company, and realizes that he is a “perfect instrument” and nearly superhuman in his abilities. She wonders if there is in fact room for her in his world, as it is so defined by the interests of industry, politics, and high society. She imagines that Gerald’s greatness is wasted on such games, and wants him to wake up and convince her that the two can create a life of more “perfect moments.” He awakens, and his smiling face fills Gudrun with joy. She tells him that he has convinced her, and he knows that she means he has convinced her to marry him. It is a beautiful day, and they decide to go out into the countryside on a toboggan, leaving Ursula and Birkin behind. Several fun days pass with the two couples skiing, sledding, and tobogganing to the point of physical exhaustion.
A day arrives when the snow falls relentlessly and the group must stay indoors. Ursula goes into the common room and begins a conversation with Loerke. It has become apparent to her and the others that Loerke and Leitner are together, but they are fighting and loathe each other’s company. Gudrun enters and sits with Ursula and Loerke, and the group talks about a large sculpture he is working on for a granite factory in Cologne. Loerke speaks quickly in German, and Ursula translates for Gudrun. Slowly, Loerke and Gudrun begin to find a common interest in one another, through their discussion of art, industry, and work. Loerke reveals that he once suffered great poverty, which Gudrun finds alluring. Ursula also likes Loerke, but both Gerald and Birkin find him disgusting. Birkin compares him to a “rat in the river of corruption” and says that women for some strange reason are drawn to such dark and repulsive qualities.
The sisters continue to develop their acquaintance with Loerke, which the men resent. One afternoon Ursula, Gudrun, and Loerke discuss a photograph of an old sculpture by Loerke. The figure is of a young, naked girl sitting on a powerfully upright stallion. Ursula and Gudrun ask Loerke penetrating questions, leading to a disagreement between the two sisters about art’s connection to reality. Ursula finds the statute repulsive because it implies that Loerke is the stallion and the young girl was someone he “loved and tortured and then ignored.” Gerald enters and joins the conversation, as Ursula leaves. She finds Birkin and tells him that she wants to depart from the snow and the cold, perhaps visiting Verona where the two can pretend to be Romeo and Juliet. The two make preparations, and that evening go to Gudrun and Gerald’s room to tell them. Gudrun and Gerald are sad to hear the news, and it is clear that Birkin and Gerald are cross with each other. The next day, Gudrun visits Ursula and they share a bittersweet goodbye. Meanwhile Gerald and Birkin speak briefly while waiting for the sledge, and Birkin tells Gerald that he has loved him “as well as Gudrun, don’t forget.” Gerald responds skeptically, asking him “Have you…Or do you think you have?” Birkin feels his heart freeze as the sledge takes off.
Chapter 30: Snowed Up
After Birkin and Ursula leave, Gudrun finds that Gerald pushes on her more and more, leaving her no room for freedom or privacy. One night he comes to her when she is sitting alone in the dark, and she tells him she thinks that he has never loved her. When she asks him if he ever could truly love her, he coldly tells her no. Gerald briefly fantasizes about killing Gudrun, and then asks her why she tortures him. This causes her to pity and comfort him, and she coaxes him to say he loves her and will love her forever. He does so, and she tells him “Try to love me a little more, and to want me a little less.” They have sex and Gudrun feels that Gerald is destroying her. The next day they both imagine leaving each other. But Gerald realizes that if he leaves Gudrun he must face the prospect of being utterly alone, and he is unprepared for it. Both Gudrun and Gerald continue to feel tortured by their vulnerability. As they watch the sunset one evening, Gerald tells Gudrun that some day he will destroy her because she is “such a liar.”
Gudrun and Loerke continue to meet to talk about art and life. They grow closer as Gerald watches with animosity. One afternoon Gerald and Loerke are in a heated conversation that becomes “a conflict of spirit between the two men.” Loerke looks to Gudrun and addresses her as Mrs. Crich, and she explains that she is not married to Gerald even though they had been putting on that appearance during their travels. Gerald takes this as a direct insult and attack against him. He withdraws, which only heightens Gudrun’s attraction to him. At the same time, she slowly comes to realize that Gerald’s lingering attachment to the social world prevents him from truly connecting with the deepest part of Gudrun’s soul. She thinks that Loerke is capable of this connection, because he does not care for the world. Gerald confronts her about Loerke, asking why she finds him appealing. Gudrun tells him it is because that Loerke isn’t stupid and “has some understanding of a woman.”
Loerke continues to pursue Gudrun. One afternoon while Gerald is off skiing, he tells her he desires her because they share an intelligent understanding, which surpasses physical beauty. Later that evening Gerald returns to the hostel, and when he sees Gudrun talking with the Germans in the common room, he feels an overwhelming desire to kill her. She comes to his room that night and tells him she wants to return to England, and that their attempt at being lovers has failed. Gerald is enraged and feels ready to attack Gudrun, but she perceives his madness and flees to safety in her room. She contemplates the men in her life – Gerald, Birkin, Loerke – and finds them all frustratingly mechanical and cruel. Gerald meanwhile passes the night reading, and sleeps only a couple of hours.
The following morning Gudrun tells Gerald that she plans to leave the next day. He makes arrangements for their departure, asking if she will at least go with him as far as Innsbruck. She says perhaps, but finds pleasure in leaving open the question of where she will go next. She considers returning to England with Gerald, going to Dresden with Loerke, or on her own to visit a girlfriend in Munich. She goes to see Loerke, and the two trek into the snow with a toboggan and picnic. They discuss Gudrun’s plans to travel, and she tells him she doesn’t know where she will go. Suddenly Gerald appears. Loerke offers Gudrun some schnapps, and Gerald smacks the bottle out of his hand. Loerke begins to joke about it, and Gerald attacks him, hitting him violently upside the head. Gudrun intervenes, and Gerald clutches her throat and begins to strangle her. Loerke calls out and Gerald’s madness breaks. He releases Gudrun, saying that he has had enough and “I want to go to sleep.”
Gerald leaves Gudrun and Loerke and marches off into the mountains. He keeps walking as the sun goes down, deeper and deeper into the wild. He comes upon a crucifix half-buried in the snow and believes that death is near. As he wanders into a deep, hollow basin of snow he slips and falls, feeling something break “in his soul.” He sleeps.
Chapter 31: Exeunt
The next morning, Gudrun is shut up in her room when they return with Gerald’s body. She feels no emotion, only coldness, and writes a telegraph to Birkin and Ursula telling them what has happened. She finds Loerke, who is just as “emotionless and barren” as Gudrun. She goes back to her room and waits for her sister and Birkin to arrive the following day.
When Ursula and Birkin return, Gudrun remains cold and detached. Birkin asks her to tell him exactly what was said when Gerald confronted her and Loerke. She tells him that Gerald said nothing, he only knocked Loerke down and “half strangled me, then he went away.” In her mind, she says it is “A pretty little sample of the eternal triangle!” Birkin leaves, and returns to Gerald’s body.
As Birkin looks at Gerald’s frozen body he feels disgust and horror, even though he loved him. Touching Gerald’s icy cold hair and face, Birkin feels himself freezing on the inside. He goes out to the slopes to see where Gerald froze to death, and finds himself consoled to think that it is best not to care at all about the universe, since the “eternal creative mystery could dispose of man” so easily and create a newer, finer being.
Birkin returns to the hostel and again goes to look at Gerald’s body, continuing to think it best to remain quiet, patient, and emotionless. He alludes to a passage in Hamlet that mentions the death of Julius Caesar. But when he and Ursula go in to see Gerald’s corpse once again that evening, he breaks out in tears of anguish, which repulses Ursula. Birkin laments that “He should have loved me…I offered him.” Ursula tells him it would have made no difference, and he disagrees.
Birkin wants to leave Gerald’s body in the Alps, but they bring it home to England at the insistence of the Crich family. Gudrun goes to Dresden and writes “no particulars of herself.” Ursula returns to the mill with Birkin. One evening she asks Birkin if he needed Gerald, and Birkin replies affirmatively. Ursula asks, “Aren’t I enough for you?”, and he tells her that she is enough as any woman could be, but that he wanted “a man friend, as eternal as you and I are eternal.” Ursula tells him he is being obstinate and perverse, and that he cannot have “two kinds of love” because such a thing is “false, impossible.” The novel ends with Birkin insisting “I don’t’ believe that.”
When Birkin, Gerald, Ursula and Gudrun decide to travel to Innsbruck for a winter trip, they are happy to have escaped England, and look forward to their time abroad. Birkin in particular is pleased 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 modern rule of industrial production and the overvaluation of work. He believes that this is sucking the vital and creative spirit out of England and its inhabitants. But his comparison is also shrewdly self-deprecating, since he imagines himself to be nothing more than a “lice” crawling off the corpse of England. The image reinforces Birkin’s view of life as a cycle of decay and death.
Birkin’s comparison of England to a dead body also recalls the demise of Mr. Crich, whose decaying body can be identified as a metonymic image for England. Mr. Crich’s death represents the passing away of older Christian values and moral beneficence, and the emergence of Gerald Crich’s attempt to master the natural world through the labors of mechanical reproduction. As the end of the novel suggests, however, Gerald in fact remains bound to the tumultuous energy of his desire for Birkin, as well as his strangely compulsive attraction to Gudrun, because both of these individuals represent antitheses or direct foils to Gerald’s faith in the power of industry and advanced technology.
Later, when Ursula and Gudrun converse with Loerke about his artwork, he brings out a photograph of an old sculpture. Titled “Lady Godiva,” it is the figure of a proud, erect stallion and a young girl, cast in green bronze. The subject matter immediately recalls the novel’s many images of horses, which symbolize the contradictory nature of human desire and the difficult attempt to master the passions. In this instance, however, the sculpture serves as an occasion for the Brangwen sisters and Loerke to discuss their different perspectives on art and life. Ursula finds the image repulsive, because she connects art and life deeply, as does Birkin, and believes that the work implies Loerke is the proud stallion and the young girl is someone he once loved and discarded without second thought. But Gudrun believes, like Herr Loerke, that art and life must be strictly separate. In a later conversation with Loerke, she claims that “life doesn’t really matter – it is one’s art which is central.” For Gudrun, art is a supreme reality, and life is a form of unreality. This is because she believes that art elevates one’s being above the muck of life, making it the purest form of human expression in its ideal state.
Near the end of the novel, Ursula feels a coldness overtaking her and she tells Birkin that she wants desperately to leave the wintry environment of Innsbruck. Birkin suggests that they can leave the next day, and perhaps go to Verona – which is the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Birkin alludes directly to the play when he tells Ursula that they can go to Verona and “sit in the ampitheatre.” Ursula is greatly relieved by this prospect, and tells Birkin that she would love to. Her enthusiasm is odd, however, since Romeo and Juliet both die at the end of the play. The pair is also famously described as “star-crossed lovers”, which connects Birkin’s Shakespearean allusion to his own idea of wanting to be held in a stellar “conjunction” with Ursula. The comparison to Romeo and Juliet is therefore ominous, although on the surface it appears to be romantic.
Later, Birkin makes another Shakespearean allusion, to Hamlet, as he watches Gerald’s corpse and says “Imperial Caesar dead, and turned to clay / Would stop a hole to keep the wind away.” The line Birkin quotes is spoken by Prince Hamlet to Horatio at the end of the play. Hamlet contemplates the fact that all mortal bodies must eventually be reduced to nothing more than dust, no matter how powerful or regal they were in life. Even great rulers such as Julius Caesar end up as inert, lifeless matter turned to the most base of uses. Like the mighty Caesar, Birkin feels that Gerald was a magnificent entity in life, and Birkin loved him deeply. But now Gerald’s lifeless corpse is cold and spiritless, nothing more than its purely physical material. Birkin’s final two allusions to Shakespeare present tragic images of failed romance: one for the star-crossed lovers, Ursula and Birkin, and another for the two men, Gerald and Birkin. Although the novel ends with Ursula and Birkin together, Birkin’s insistence on his deep bond with Gerald implies that his marriage to Ursula will never be entirely fulfilling.