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66 pages 2 hours read

D. H. Lawrence

Women In Love

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1920

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Introduction

Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence was written from 1913-1917 and published in America in 1920, though it wasn’t published in Britain until 1921. The novel’s publishing was delayed due to its prequel, The Rainbow, being banned. The Rainbow and Women in Love were originally intended to be two parts of one novel, but the publisher ultimately decided to publish them separately. Both novels feature conversations about sexuality that were considered explicit in their era. Lawrence drew upon people from his life to create the characters for these novels. Rupert is closest to Lawrence himself, and he was sued by several people, including Lady Ottoline Morrell, for libel. A movie adaptation of Women in Love was released in 1969, and Glenda Jackson won an Oscar for her portrayal of Gudrun.

This guide cites the 2007 paperback Penguin Classics edition.

Content Warning: The original novel contains domestic violence, as well as offensive language in reference to African, Hindu, Jewish, and Japanese peoples.

Plot Summary

Women in Love continues the story of the Brangwen sisters, Ursula, 26, and Gudrun, 25. Both girls are in love, but in vastly different types of relationships. Lawrence pursues the consequences of these relationships over the course of World War I, and the novel ends when the sisters and their lovers are on vacation in the Tyrolean Alps.

Ursula and Gudrun live in Beldover, a fictional town in the Midlands region of England in the 1910s. Ursula, a teacher, pursues a relationship with a man named Rupert Birkin, who is a school inspector. Gudrun, an artist recently returned from London, seeks a relationship with Gerald Crich, the heir to the town’s coal mine.

The main characters, and the novel more generally, are concerned with questions of social class, politics, and the relationships between men and women. Gudrun and Gerald compete with each other, both trying to gain the upper hand and ultimately causing strife in their relationship. Gerald, having immersed himself in the dehumanizing industry of the coal business, looks for someone to reignite his sense of humanity and feels he has found this spark in Gudrun. Gudrun is intensely physically attracted to the handsome, manly Gerald; however, after their first sexual encounter, Gudrun realizes she does not want to be with him, though she cannot bring herself to tell him yet.

Rupert feels that he knows what he wants in a woman. He wants absolute trust so that both he and his partner can remain true to themselves. He finds love to be an abstract devotion to the universe through another person, and when Ursula asks him to tell her one simple thing, he reveals that he loves her. She understands what he means, and this seems to satisfy her. Rupert is also adamant that men should share platonic love that has erotic, if not explicitly sexual, overtones. During the novel, he asks Gerald to make such a vow of love with him several times, but Gerald refuses. Rupert believes he can only be truly happy if he has the love of both a woman and a man.

Gerald’s family suffers two serious tragedies that impact his fate. The first is the death of his sister Diana at the family’s annual lake party. That evening, while everyone is riding in boats and lighting lanterns, Diana falls into the lake and drowns. A party, including Gerald, searches all night, only to find her body in the morning. Not long afterward, Gerald’s ailing father, Thomas, dies. Thomas ran the mine according to Christian values to the best of his ability, but Gerald believes charity, such as giving the miners’ widows free coal, is a waste because it cuts into the mine’s profit. He plans to run the mine for maximum profit, and only sees the workers as cogs in his industrial machinery. Thomas’s death pushes Gerald to commit to Gudrun even though he does not believe in marriage.

When their relationships become more serious, the two couples decide to travel to the Swiss Alps for a vacation. Ursula and Rupert have decided to get married and have given up their jobs, hoping to find a home more suitable for fostering their unconventional ideas of love and society. At the same time, Gerald and Gudrun are delving deeper into their opposition to each other. During the trip, Gudrun befriends a German man, Loerke. He has a darkly sarcastic sense of humor, and he comments on everyone’s character. Like her, he is an artist, and Gudrun finds she can connect with him in a way that she cannot with Gerald.

Gerald becomes jealous of the increasing amount of time Gudrun spends with Loerke, especially because Loerke is small in stature and physically weak. One night, Gerald finally tires of Loerke’s snark; he interrupts a picnic Gudrun and Loerke are having, strikes Loerke, and tries to strangle Gudrun. He soon realizes that killing Gudrun would not bring him the fulfillment he is looking for, and he lets her go. Instead, he walks out into the blizzard and climbs the mountain, where he falls and freezes to death.

Ursula and Rupert, who have gone to Verona, return to the Alps to find their friend dead. Rupert is devastated, as he and Gerald experienced a profound attraction toward one another. He laments that making a vow of love to him could have saved Gerald’s life. However, Ursula convinces him that marriage to her is enough and that she can provide everything Rupert is looking for. Ursula believes that she has found true love in Rupert, the person who will complete her. Gudrun, on the other hand, has lost faith in the idea that love can be fulfilling. She decides to go to Dresden with Loerke and pursue her art.

The characters in the novel test the expectations of society at that time. The two women are not upper class, but they are fierce and independent. They do not wish to marry as their parents did and find their small-town lives stifling. Gerald and Rupert are their superiors in terms of class, but both are drawn to the sisters and attempt to pursue nontraditional marriages with them.

Rupert and Gerald differ in their views on the hyperproductivity of the modern age. Rupert believes that work will not save humanity, and he despairs of the way that humans have increased labor and productivity as a means of fulfillment and success. He believes that people must dissolve their current belief systems to emerge new and stronger, with more ecstatic lives. Gerald, on the other hand, believes that mastering productivity and technology will allow humankind to finally conquer nature.

Lawrence heavily draws on the idea of the triangle of desire. Humans see other people’s desire, and this initiates a similar feeling in themselves. Gerald desires Gudrun, and in response, Rupert finds himself drawn to Gerald. He is so attracted that he hesitates to marry Ursula because he doesn’t want to separate himself from Gerald. Loerke, Gudrun, and Gerald form another triangle, the dynamics of which spark Gerald’s attack and ultimately his death.

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