Chapter 5: In the Train
The chapter opens with Rupert Birkin unexpectedly meeting Gerald Crich on the railway platform as both are on their way to London. Gerald approaches Birkin and suggests that the two travel together. They sit in the restaurant car and discuss a newspaper editorial that calls for a new leader with new values to remake society. As they reflect upon this idea, Birkin constantly criticizes the society’s emphasis on material wealth and production. Gerald suggests that people work because producing things is an essential part of life.
After perceiving a mocking tone in Gerald’s voice, Birkin candidly tells him he hates him. Gerald says he knows this is true, but asks Birkin why he hates him, and Birkin does not offer a clear reason. Birkin instead asks Gerald what he lives for, and Gerald replies that he lives simply to live – to find things out, to have experiences and to productively make things go. Birkin replies that he thinks life should be centered on one single and pure activity, and he uses love as a key example.
Birkin then says he wants to be deeply in love with and married to a woman, and to have it define his life’s center. Meanwhile Gerald says that he thinks life has no real center and is simply held together artificially by the “social mechanism.” The narrator describes Gerald’s unacknowledged desire to be near Birkin and enjoy the warmth and vitality of their interactions. Meanwhile, Birkin knows that Gerald wants to like him and be near him, but not take him seriously, which only makes Birkin feel colder and harder.
The conversation turns to London, and Gerald asks Birkin where he plans to stay. Birkin tells him he rents a room from a man in Soho, but that he tires of the people who hang around there. He describes them as Bohemian artists, musicians, and models, which intrigues Gerald. Gerald then tells Birkin he’ll be in London for several days, and suggests that the two may see each other. Birkin agrees and invites him to go with him and his crowd of Bohemian Londoners to the Pompadour at Piccadilly Circus that night.
As the train approaches London, Birkin feels a disdain for mankind growing in him, and quotes a few lines of Robert Browning’s poem, “Love Among the Ruins.” He tells Gerald that arriving in London always fills him with despair and doom, as if it were the end of the world. Gerald asks if the idea of the world ending frightens Birkin, who simply shrugs and says he doesn’t know – he just thinks that people make him feel badly. The two exit the train and get into a taxi together, where Birkin asks Gerald if he feels like one of the damned upon entering London. Gerald laughs and tells him no, and the chapter ends with Birkin saying, “It is real death.”
Chapter 6: Creme de Menthe
Gerald and Birkin meet in the Café Pompadour a few hours after they arrive in London. Gerald enters and sees Birkin seated at a table with a stylish, artistic blond girl. Birkin introduces her as Miss Minette Darrington (aka the Pussum), and their conversation reveals that she is an artist’s model. Gerald feels a strong attraction to her, which is based on his sense of power over her and his recognition that she is both a victim and capable of being easily destroyed by his cruelty. Julius Halliday, the owner of the house in Soho where Birkin rents a room, enters the café and comes to their table. He begins arguing with Minette, and Birkin calms him, suggesting that he join their table.
While Birkin and Julius speak with others, Gerald and Minette begin a quiet conversation during which she reveals that she has been romantically entangled with Julius and is pregnant. She resents the fact that Julius asked her to live with him, but now wants to keep her away from London in a country home. A young Russian, Maxim, joins their entourage. Birkin orders oysters and champagne for Minette.
While they are talking another young man comes to the table and begins making fun of Minette. She jabs a knife into his hand and he starts bleeding. Julius grows faint at the sight, and Maxim takes him away from the table. Gerald and Minette continue to flirt, and Gerald compares her to a young female panther. Julius returns to the table and complains about Minette’s behavior. He suggests that they all leave the café and go to his house.
The group of five crowd into a taxi, where Gerald and Minette squeeze in together. She holds his hand, stirring Gerald’s passion. They arrive at Halliday’s house and are greeted by his servant. Upon entering the sitting-room, Gerald notices a sculpture of a “savage” woman giving birth, which he finds compelling. Minette sits on a sofa and ponders her situation, wondering how to go about seducing Gerald in the house of Julius, her former lover. Gerald likewise wonders how he and Minette might manage to come together under the circumstances. Birkin rises to go to bed and says good night to Gerald. Julius then invites Gerald to stay the evening, and Gerald agrees. Minette mentions that there are only two rooms open for four people, implying that Julius is playing a game to call out her intentions to sleep with Gerald. Maxim says that he and Julius will share a room, and Minette leaves to go to her bedroom. Maxim then tells Gerald “you’re all right” - an implication of consent for Gerard to sleep with Minette.
Chapter 7: Fetish
The chapter opens the next morning with Gerald waking next to a sleeping Minette in their post-coital bed. Gerald watches her sleep and feels a mixture of attraction and pity, which arouses his lust. He decides to let her sleep, however, and leaves the bedroom.
Gerald enters the sitting-room where he finds Halliday and Maxim, both naked and seated by the fire. Gerald finds Maxim’s naked body animalistic and humiliating, whereas he compares Julius to the image of Christ in a Pieta. Julius tells Gerald he longs to live day to day without the need for clothing, and to be able to “feel things instead of merely looking at them.” Gerald looks again at Maxim’s body and wonders why its healthy and well-made appearance nonetheless repels him.
Birkin appears at the doorway, freshly bathed, “aloof and white, and somehow evanescent.” Gerald asks him to come in and give his opinion of the wooden sculpture of the woman giving birth. Birkin says it is “art” because it “conveys a complete truth” about the experience of giving birth. Gerald protests that it cannot be called “high art,” and Birkin responds that it shows a pureness of sensation and physicality that makes it supreme.
Gerald returns to the bedroom and finds Minette awake. She recoils from him and he decides to leave her alone. The four men, now dressed, eat breakfast together. Minette joins them at the end. Gerald leaves after they make plans to meet again that night and attend a party, minus Birkin. The narrator then describes the following two nights of increasing tension among the company, which culminates on the fourth evening of Gerald’s visit. Halliday and Gerald nearly get into a physical altercation at the café, until Gerald decides to leave.
Gerald is frustrated about leaving, because he did not give Minette any money. He muses that Minette used him to make Halliday jealous, which led him eventually to take her back under his protection. Gerald believes that this is because Halliday, Maxim, and other such characters are not “real” men, and therefore are easily manipulated by Minette. Gerald, meanwhile, is too manly for Minette to handle. But Minette has Gerald’s address, and he believes she may very well seek him out for money one day.
Chapter 8: Breadalby
Chapter 8 opens at Breadalby, Hermione Roddice’s estate. Gudrun and Ursula are just arriving for their second visit with Hermione. The sisters are embarrassed because Hermione comes outside to meet them on the path to the house, rather than waiting to greet them formally inside. The sisters join other guests, including Rupert Birkin, and Sir Joshua, a famous sociologist, for lunch outside. The Brangwen sisters find the conversation tedious, and Hermione consistently degrades Birkin. Lunch ends and Hermione’s brother, Alexander Roddice, arrives with Gerald Crich. Alexander has just been in London and he directs the conversation immediately to politics and education. Hermione says she highly values education, and Sir Joshua remarks “knowledge is, of course, liberty.” Birkin sneers at them both and states that all knowledge is only knowledge of the past. Tea is served, and the group is surprised at how quickly the day has passed.
Hermione proposes a walk, and everyone in the group agrees with the exception of Birkin. When she asks why, he tells her he doesn’t like “trooping off in a gang.” During the walk, the Brangwen sisters’ resentment toward Hermione grows, for her rude behavior toward Birkin. When the group returns to the house, Hermione immediately seeks out Birkin, who is in his room alone. Hermione asks what he was doing, and sees that he was copying a Chinese drawing of a gaggle of geese. When she asks why, Birkin responds cryptically, saying that by copying the drawing he is able to perceive and feel the “curious stinging bitter heat of a goose’s blood.” Hermione is at a loss for words. She feels that he has “destroyed her with some insidious occult potency.”
The time for dinner comes, and the guests reassemble for an extravagant night, with everyone dressed in evening wear except for Birkin and Sir Joshua. After dinner the guests go to the drawing-room, where they talk heatedly and mentally exhaust the Brangwen sisters. Hermione proposes a dance or a song, and it is decided that Ursula, Gudrun, and the Italian Contessa will perform a Russian style ballet based on the biblical characters Naomi, Oprah, and Ruth. During the dance, Gerald and Birkin are drawn powerfully to Gudrun and Ursula, respectively. After the performance the guests begin a lively dance, in which Gerald and Birkin show spirit. Hermione resents Birkin’s sudden eagerness, and the Contessa compares him to chameleon for his rapid change in attitude.
The group breaks up to go to bed. Hermione calls Ursula to her room briefly to talk, but Ursula feels uncomfortable and leaves when Hermione’s maid enters. Meanwhile, Gerald and Birkin begin a conversation in Birkin’s bedroom about the Brangwen sisters. Gerald learns that they are both teachers, that their father is a handicraft instructor, and that Hermione is upsetting traditional class distinctions by inviting them to her home. Birkin also tells Gerald that Gudrun makes compelling models, but he thinks she is too flighty ever to become a serious artist. Gerald informs Birkin of his near altercation with Julius, and his desire to give money to Minette. Birkin tells him not to bother, and to go to bed. Gerald lingers, and both men feel a faint sense of longing for each other. Birkin sends Gerald off to bed.
First thing next morning, Gerald revisits the question of paying Minette, and Birkin insists that he should simply forget about it. The two discuss the idea of marriage, and Gerald suggests that in the end it will not make Birkin completely happy. The men go down to the dining room for breakfast, and are the last guests to arrive. Hermione is rude to Birkin, and after assessing the room he decides to leave. Hermione suggests that the rest of the group go swimming. They all agree, except for Ursula and Gudrun, who watch the others swim in Hermione’s pond. Gudrun admires Gerald as he swims. Later, when Gerald asks Gudrun why she chose not to swim, she tells him that she “didn’t like the crowd.” Gerald decides he wants to please Gudrun, and “fulfill her idea of a man.”
At lunch, the group begins to discuss the social conditions of humanity. Gerald argues that society is a mechanism, and people should work to fit their public roles while doing as they please in their private lives. Hermione says that all humans are equal in spirit and the struggle for power and domination should end. The guests fall silent, and most of the group leaves the table. Birkin tells Hermione that in fact people are qualitatively different in spirit. He argues that one man is no better than another because they are irreducibly and uniquely different, not because they are equal. Hermione feels a “dynamic hatred and loathing” for him. Birkin leaves, but soon after decides to visit Hermione in her room and try to make up with her. While he is standing with his back turned, Hermione is overtaken by an intense aggression, grabs a paperweight and smashes it against Birkin’s head with the intention of killing him. The first blow stuns him severely, but he turns around and protects himself from Hermione’s second strike. He manages to escape and goes outside, heading for the nearest train station. He writes a note to Hermione, saying that she need not worry about attacking him but that things are over between them, and he is heading into town.
In Gerald and Birkin’s conversation on the train, Lawrence makes frequent allusions to the philosophy of Freidrich Nietzsche, of whom the author was an avid reader. The newspaper column’s editorial piece calls for a new leader to establish a modern set of political and social values. This was a common call in Lawrence’s Europe, where Marxist socialism and Freudian psychoanalysis, among other sciences of political economy and psychology, were being championed as new paradigms that could lead to a liberated humanity. But Birkin’s character is skeptical of such claims, and his position strongly resembles Nietzsche’s concept of a “transvaluation of all values.” Like Nietzsche, Birkin suggests that the desire to replace social values – religious, political economic, moral, etc. – with a new set of values cannot result in meaningful liberation. This is because such desire retains faith in the false concepts of good and evil, which Nietzsche argues are products of a weakened and dispirited form of morality, which Europe inherited from Christianity. Birkin reflects this Nietzschean position when he says that in order to truly “go for something better” we must completely “smash the old” and avoid making proposals that only amount to repetition of the same, tireless game. This is why Birkin appeals to the idea of “one really pure single activity” to occupy the center of life, driving the individual to his or her own truth.
As the train approaches London, Birkin quotes a few lines from Robert Browning’s poem, “Love Among the Ruins.” The poem is a melancholic memorial to a time long past, when heroic values and epic struggles defined human endeavors. Birkin’s citation of the poem implies a fallen, ruined condition of modernity – his contemporary European culture lacks the vital spirit that once determined societal values. It also reinforces the association of Birkin’s character with an apocalyptic view of humanity’s future. This feeling sets the stage for their entry to London, where Birkin and Gerald hobnob with a Bohemian, artistic group whose nihilistic, decadent behavior lacks meaning and vitality.
At Café Pompadour, Gerald becomes infatuated with Minette, and is especially impressed when she grabs a knife and stabs the hand of the man who insults her. Gerald then tells her that she is “a young, female panther.” This metaphor recalls Gudrun’s early association of Gerald with a totem of the wolf: at this moment, Gerald’s animalistic and instinctual urges rise up. A savage eroticism connects him with Minette, further developing Lawrence’s theme of the conflict between primal desires and social conventions, through a miniature drama of aggression played out at a civilized café table. This theme continues when the two arrive at the home of Julius Halliday, and Gerald observes the totem-like sculpture of a woman giving birth, which also symbolizes Minette’s imminent labor. The raw and unadulterated nature of the passion that Gerald and Minette feel is in stark opposition to the highly stylized artistry of Halliday’s home, and to the social decorum displayed when Julius invites Gerald to stay. The night ends with an elaborate game of conversation that ends with Maxim indirectly informing Gerald that he may sleep with Minette.
Maxim’s role as a “go-between” who sanctions Gerald’s erotic consummation with Minette also encodes a homoerotic suggestion of Maxim’s attachment to Julius. When Maxim announces that he and Julius will “share a room” and the narrator mentions that Maxim and Julius “were friends since Eton,” Lawrence suggests that the two men share an intimate and erotic connection, which was established when they were schoolboys. This implication is more fully developed in chapter 7, when Gerald emerges the next morning from Minette’s bedroom to find Julius and Maxim sitting by the fire, naked. In this chapter, Gerald both erotically aestheticizes and loathes male bodies. He compares Julius to a scene of the Christian pieta, while he finds Maxim’s naked figure simultaneously well made and disgusting. These mixed reactions develop another angle on Lawrence’s theme of repressed desire, in an exclusively male setting at a time when homosexuality was extremely taboo in English society.
In chapter 8, Hermione’s attack on Birkin can be read in light of their conversation regarding the nature of equality and the power of the spirit. It also resembles Minette’s attack on Julius in the previous chapter, although the social setting now is an upper-class estate rather than a seedy London nightclub. Just before she attacks him, Birkin rightly accuses Hermione of paying lip service to an empty and abstract principle of equality when she states that humans are “all equal in the spirit.” Hermione claims that the recognition of this fact should put an end to the struggles for power and domination in society. But Birkin forces Hermione to recognize that her position is facetious, and that a vital spirit of difference must drive human endeavors if they are to have true meaning. Birkin’s defense of a singular, unique spirit understands humans to be radically different from each other, and this Nietzschean position suggests that only through combative striving can individuals lift themselves and their worlds to new heights of achievement.
Hermione’s attack against Birkin represents her attempt to live up to this extreme concept of spirited individuality, since she is described as being overtaken by a “delirium of pleasure” and “ecstasy” when she smashes the paperweight against his head. But Lawrence also implies that Hermione’s response in this situation is a failed attempt, or a misunderstanding of this idea, because it is based upon her resentment for Birkin rather than a genuine act of creative, striving passion. Hermione’s failure is illustrated by the chapter’s concluding description of her extreme feelings of “exclusive righteousness” and “self-esteem” after attacking Birkin, which only lead her into a state of self-assured indulgence.