Women in Love

Women in Love Summary and Analysis of Chapters 13-16


Chapter 13: Mino

Ursula waits impatiently, and finally receives an invitation to tea from Rupert Birkin. He invites both Ursula and Gudrun, but Ursula decides not to tell her sister so that she may go alone. As she arrives, she begins to feel taken outside of herself. She meets Birkin and sees that he too feels uneasy. He asks about Gudrun, and when Ursula tells him she could not attend, he instantly guesses the truth behind Ursula’s words. They begin to talk in earnest.

Birkin tells Ursula that if they are going to be friends, she must commit to a “final and irrevocable” sort of pledge - but not one of love. Ursula asks if he means that he doesn’t love her, and Birkin tells her no. He wants their connection to be founded on something “beyond [love], where there is no speech, and no terms of agreement.” He tells Ursula he wants this truer aspect of their individual selves, this impulsive and “inhuman” part, to fully take place and define their relationship. Ursula finds Birkin’s comments to be wearisome. She presses him, asking if he doesn’t find her attractive or have some feelings of love for her, why did he invite her to tea? She believes he loves her, but will not admit it. Birkin responds by saying quite earnestly that he wants a “strange conjunction” with Ursula, a “pure balance of two single beings.” Ursula tells him this all seems a bit sudden, and he laughingly replies that it is best to read the terms of the contract before one signs.

The two watch as Birkin’s male cat Mino rises from the couch and darts outside. They follow it to the garden, where they see a wild female cat that Mino is after. The two cats begin a game of wild flirtation, and Mino pounces on the stray, hitting her with his paws in a display of dominance. Ursula protests at Mino’s behavior, as Birkin laughs and says it is naturally appropriate. Ursula argues that it is a presumption of male superiority, and just like Gerald Crich’s bullying of the horse, very “base and petty.” Birkin says without the Mino, the female cat is merely a stray, and compares the situation to a star keeping a planet in its orbit. Ursula jumps critically onto his metaphor, saying that it gives away his true feeling about the terms of their relationship - that he would be the star and she the satellite, kept in his orbit. Birkin protests, and they are interrupted when the landlady calls them for tea.

As they sit for tea, Birkin argues that he meant he and Ursula should be as “two single equal stars balanced in conjunction,” rather than one orbiting the other. Ursula changes the subject by commenting on Birkin’s fine china tea set, but Birkin brings it back to his theory on the relation between a man and a woman. He says that love must be a commitment to remain in a balanced conjunction. Ursula tells him she doesn’t believe that he actually wants to be in love, however, because he talks too much about it and doesn’t simply allow himself to love. He retorts that her idea of love is to subordinate all aspects of the self to it, and to be subservient. They haggle until they grow weary.

Birkin shifts the conversation by asking Ursula to tell him about her family, the Brangwens. She relates her family history as well as an account of her first love, Skrebensky, while Birkin listens attentively and finds her beauty compelling. He jokes that all of us “have suffered too much,” and Ursula agrees with laughter. She moves closer to Birkin and asks him to tell he loves her, putting her arms around his neck. He kisses her and tells her in a half-mocking tone of submission that he loves her, and that he is “bored by the rest.”

Chapter 14: Water-party

The Criches’ annual party on Willey Water lake arrives, and the Brangwen sisters decide to attend along with their parents. Gudrun and Ursula dress stylishly and with flamboyance, and on the way to the party laugh at their parents’ more traditional attire. The Brangwens arrive and Rupert Birkin greets Ursula’s parents. Hermione Roddice comes to them and escorts the Brangwen parents to meet Laura Crich, who is acting as host, and Gerald Crich. Gerald helps to launch a boat full of party guests onto the water, and asks the sisters if they would like to go on the next turn. They tell him no, and Gudrun explains that she finds such boat rides to be overly crowded with banal, working-class types.

The sisters ask instead if there is a small boat they can take onto the water. Gerald offers to let them use his light rowboat, and to give them a picnic basket to take along. The sisters happily agree, and Gerald calls after Birkin to help him load the boat. Gudrun notices that Gerald’s hand is inured and bandaged, and expresses concern. He tells her he crushed his fingers in some machinery, but that the hand is now healing. The sisters enter the water on the boat, and row over to a removed knoll where a small stream enters the lake. Removed from the public eye, they decide to undress and swim. After they swim, the two sisters dance in the sunshine. They take tea, and begin to sing. A group of cattle watch them.

Suddenly they hear a voice call out and realize that Gerald and Birkin have come looking for the sisters. Gudrun expresses some anger at them for invading the sisters’ tea party, and marches away. Gerald follows her, while Birkin goes to talk to Ursula. He playfully dances for her. Meanwhile, Gudrun begins to frighten the group of cattle, and Gerald warns her against it. This makes her all the more lively, and she ends up backhanding Gerald across the face. “You have struck the first blow,” he tells her, and Gudrun replies that she “shall strike the last.” Gudrun turns away and goes back to the lake. Gerald follows, and when he arrives Gudrun softly tells him not to be angry with her. He responds that he isn’t angry, but he is in love with Gudrun. He takes her hand, and they rejoin Birkin and Ursula.

Birkin has been teasing Ursula about the nearby marsh, telling her that it “seethes and seethes” like a “river of darkness.” He goes on to describe a vision of the cosmos in which life is intermixed with death. The power of Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love, is combined with “universal dissolution,” and the beginning is mingled with the end. Ursula tells Birkin he only “wants us to know death” and Gerald suddenly emerges from the dusk, saying, “You’re quite right.”

Night falls, and the group begins to smoke cigarettes while Birkin lights lanterns. They decide to split up into two boats and return to the party – Gudrun with Gerald, and Ursula with Birkin. Gerald and Gudrun share a romantic exchange while on the boat, and both want to stay away from the party. Suddenly they hear a child’s voice cry out “Di-Di-Oh-Di” and Gerald recognizes that it must be someone calling out for his sister, Diana. They come to the large party boat and its captain informs Gerald that his sister Diana went into the water and is missing, along with the younger Dr. Brindall, who went after her. Gerald goes into the water, trying to find them. After several tries Rupert Birkin picks him up and takes him to shore, despite Gerald’s protestations.

On shore, Gerald and his father meet, and they decide that there is no longer any hope of finding the two alive. Mr. Crich says that the sluice should be let out to drain the lake. Gerald says goodbye to Gudrun and Birkin escorts him to the house. The sisters wait, and when Birkin returns Gudrun goes home. Birkin asks Ursula to join him in at the sluice. The two talk about death and love, and embrace passionately on the road above the lake. Birkin is overwhelmed and wanders back home, where he finds a group of men dragging the lake bottom for Diana and the doctor. Gerald is among them, and Birkin tries to make him leave and accompany Birkin home. Gerald insists that he must stay and see the task to the end. The two exchange an intense feeling of concern, and Birkin leaves. Near dawn, the bodies of the dead are found. Diana is grasping the neck of Dr. Brindall, leading Gerald to proclaim that she killed him by accidentally choking him as he tried to rescue her.

Chapter 15: Sunday Evening

Ursula is passionately in love with Birkin, and waits for him to visit her at home the day after the drowning accident. As the hours pass, she feels her life-blood weakening and despair set in. She mulls over her dark desire for death, deciding that death is better, more true to the spirit than a life of mechanical process and production. She finds a strange gladness in looking forward to “the pure inhuman otherness of death.” She feels as if she has gone deeply into the powerful and “ultimate darkness of her own soul.”

The bell rings, and it is Birkin. It is a rainy evening outside, as Birkin stands at her door and tells Ursula he is glad to find her at home. Ursula tells him that her parents, Gudrun, and the older siblings are at church. She is watching her two younger siblings, and tells them to get ready for bed. Birkin and Ursula go into the drawing room.

Birkin asks Ursula what she has been doing all day, and she tells him she has only been sitting about. He senses a shift in her but is unsure of its meaning. The two children, Billy and Dora, call out to her and she opens the door to find them waiting to be put to bed. The children reflect an angelic appearance, and Ursula asks them to say good night to Birkin. Billy gives Birkin a tender good night kiss, but Dora is afraid. Ursula takes them upstairs to hear their prayers and tuck them in.

When she returns she tells Birkin that he looks quite ill. He says he hadn’t thought about his health, and Ursula chastises him for not taking better care of himself. She says it is terrible that he is so out of touch with his own body he does not even recognize when he is sick. Her parents return from church along with Gudrun and the older siblings.

Mr. Brangwen greets Birkin, and Mrs. Brangwen asks him about things at Shortlands, the Crich home. Birkin says it is an “overexcited and unwholesome” scene there, and it would be better if the family grieved in private rather than having so many people present. Gudrun agrees with him, but Mrs. Brangwen says that bearing such events are extremely difficult. Birkin leaves. Ursula finds herself full of a pure and intense hatred for Birkin, but is utterly unsure of its source or reason. It continues for days, even when she hears that he has fallen ill again. She feels she cannot escape this sudden “transfiguration of hatred that had come upon her.”

Chapter 16: Man to Man

Birkin sits at home, feeling extremely ill and near to death. He reflects on Ursula’s offer of love to him, but feels that he cannot accept it because it is based on the “old way of love” that he views as a form of bondage or conscription. He associates Ursula with a female tendency to be overly maternal. He also imagines sexual difference between men and women to be the result of a process of increasing purification from a state of mixed being.

Gerald comes to visit Birkin while he is laid up. He feels love for Birkin, but continues to think a union with his friend is unreal and impractical. The two discuss Birkin’s poor health and Gerald’s continued focus on work and the company. Birkin asks Gerald about Gudrun, and Gerald tells him that the last time they saw each other she struck him across the face. Birkin jokes that perhaps “the Amazon suddenly came up in her.” Gerald tells him that his mother has been strangely unaffected by Diana’s drowning, and that Gerald has not been able to grieve.

The two continue to talk about Gerald’s father, and his younger sister Winnie, whom Gerald thinks should be sent off to boarding school. Birkin says she is of a special nature and ought not to be sent away. He says that people with special natures, such as Winnie’s and Gerald, ought to make their own special world. He suggests that he and Gerald together can also make a special world. Gerald feels drawn to Birkin, and Birkin suddenly realizes that he loves Gerald, and has loved him for some time.

Birkin suggests that the two men swear an oath of love to each other - the "Bruderschaft", a brotherhood symbolized by the exchange of blood. Gerald hesitates, even though inside he is pleased by Birkin’s proposal. Gerald tells him he must wait until he understands it better. Birkin is hurt and disappointed, but does not say so. Birkin changes the topic by asking if Gerald can perhaps get a governess to educate Winnie. Gerald says Hermione has suggested they hire Gudrun to teach art to Winifred, as the girl has displayed an artistic sensibility. Birkin endorses the idea. Gerald decides he must leave and return to work, though he tells Birkin he will visit again soon. The men exchange a heartfelt goodbye.


In Chapter 13, Rupert Birkin attempts to draft a new model of a social contract, and proposes it to Ursula. This foreshadows his eventual marriage proposal, but it also reveals that Birkin does not want a conventional marriage, which would be founded on the norms of society. Instead, he longs for a mystical and cosmic equilibrium between two individuals. Birkin imagines a relationship that would abandon the terms of society and explore a more radical form of connection between he and Ursula. Birkin’s image of this unique relationship is a balanced conjunction between two heavenly bodies. Each body retains its own complete independence of spirit, but exists in harmony alongside the other. This cosmic imagery and its radical implications for a contract between Ursula and Birkin further aligns his character with the Nietzschean call for a “transvaluation of all values,” and continues to develop Lawrence’s theme of the conflict between the desire for a conventional marriage and a more unique union, often felt by passionate, creative souls.

When the Brangwen sisters are walking with their parents to the Criches’ water-party in chapter 14, their flamboyant style suggests their uniqueness and standing outside of the accepted social order. Their parents’ more traditional and frumpy attire contrasts with the sisters’ brightly colored and whimsical dress. The girls make fun of their parents’ appearance, which puts Mr. Brangwen in a foul mood and leads him to criticize the girls' ostentatious public display. As soon as they arrive the sisters decide to escape from the party, which reinforces the theme that they are liminal, outsider figures. The sisters don’t fit into the working class strictures handed down to them by their parents and position, but they also aren’t upper class aristocrats.

The sisters’ lack of a clear class fit is symbolized when they flee to the knoll, which is a pastoral escape from the confines of the party. The Criches’ party serves as an allegory for the social world of established class values, practices, and entertainment that the sisters detest. Lawrence compares them to nymphs, or seductive spirits of the natural world that defy the laws and standards of civilization. They dance among a group of cattle, a sacred and mystical animal in Hindu culture, which associates cattle with the gift of life. These associations with the Brangwen sisters in turn fuel Birkin and Gerald’s desire, as the two men leave the party and decide to follow the ladies to their secret shade. These are lively experiences in the forest setting, which contrast sharply with the scene of Diana’s drowning later that night at the party.

In chapter 15, Ursula sits alone at home and contemplates death. She connects death with sleep, and thus with a cycle of rebirth of which she is part. Her intense reflections recall the imagery of death and love that shaped Birkin’s strange cosmic rant in the previous chapter. When Birkin arrives to see Ursula, he notices a change in her. It seems that she has begun to shift her demeanor, becoming part of the aligned conjunction of stars that Birkin asks for in their contract of “friendship.” But this apparent connection with Birkin is suddenly transfigured into a sharp and intense hatred at the end of the chapter. She finds his remarks about the Criches’ response to Diana’s death to be callous and unfeeling. At the end of the chapter, Birkin leaves Ursula in a state of irrational yet transcendently pure emotion. She experiences a hatred that burns like a white flame and ties her to Birkin even more intensely.

Gerald’s visit to Birkin in chapter 16 solidifies the passionate bond between them. Gerald seems unsure of why he is so attracted to Birkin, which suggests a repressed erotic desires at work. Gerald sees in Birkin’s eyes an “amazing attractive goodliness” but he also fears the fact that Birkin is so fiercely independent. This prevents Gerald from giving in to his strong feelings for Birkin. Meanwhile, as the two men visit, Birkin finds himself suddenly “confronted with the problem of love and eternal conjunction between two men.” He realizes that he is in love with Gerald, but remains uncertain of the implications of that love. As with Gudrun, Birkin wants to establish a contractual bond or promise with Gerald, and so he proposes the “Bruderschaft.” But his idea frightens Gerald even more, because the idea makes him more attracted to Birkin. His only response is to suspend the possibility, and to repress his emotion even further. The scene of passionate love and attraction between the two men develops the novel’s theme of the nature of desire and social repression.