Women in Love
by D.H. Lawrence

Review by Edward Tanguay
September 9, 1996

It is many pages into _Women in Love_ that you realize there are animals beneath the surface of these characters, raw beings ready to turn into tigers and beasts and lurch out in very uncontrolled and primitive ways. It's like reading Jane Austen with Freudian glasses-- the characters are polite, gentle types but the descriptions of them are raw and fleshy and full of animal drives and desires. Here, Gerald swimming in a lake:

He loved his own vigorous, thrusting motion, and the violent impulse of the very cold water against his limbs, buoying him up. He could see the girls watching him a way off, outside, and that pleased him.

It was not till he was quite close that he perceived the girl. He recoiled, went pale, and said, in a high squealing voice: "Pussum, what are you doing here?" The cafe looked up like animals when they hear a cry.

These types of images constantly occur, making you feel that the characters burst into animals now and then, then metamorph back into their fine English selves, yet rumbling a bit below the surface. There are desires and urges described which are contradictory and show a new set of drives behind the characters' actions:

His licentiousness was repulsively attractive.

Gudrun was as if numbed in her mind by the sense of indomitable soft weight of the man, bearing down into the living body of the horse: the strong, indomitable thighs of the blond man clenching the palpitating body of the mare into pure control; a sort of soft white magnetic domination from the loins and thighs and calves, enclosing and encompassing the mare heavily into unutterable subordination, soft blood-subordination, terrible.

There is also a continued double description: that which happens on the surface and that which is going on underneath:

They were gone. Ursula stood looking at the door for some moments. Then she put out the lights. And having done so, she sat down again in her chair, absorbed and lost. And then she began to cry, bitterly, bitterly weeping: but whether for misery or joy, she never knew.

They looked at each other and laughed, then looked away, filled with darkness and secrecy.

And what do we make of the numerous references to an extreme, intense HATE for one another? I've never read of a hate so often and passionately described:

. . . Halliday was turning in an insane hatred against Gerald, . .

. . . But underneath she knew the split was coming, and her hatred
of him was subconscious and intense . . .

. . . She hated him in a despair that shattered her and broke her down, so that she suffered sheer dissolution like a corpse, and was unconscious of everything save the horrible sickness of disolution that was taking place within her, body and soul.

Now THAT is hate! Here are some more:

And it was the duality in feeling which he created in her, that made a fine hate of him quicken in her bowels.

He hated her as if his only reality were in hating her to the last degree. He had all hell in his heart.

She did not notice the curious, glad gleam of pure hatred, with which he looked at her.

He remained only a few minutes longer, then took his leave. When he was gone Ursula felt such a poignant hatred of him, that all her brain seemed turned into a sharp crystal of fine hatred. Her whole nature seemed sharpened and intensified into a pure dart of hate.

The fascinating side of these descriptions is that this book is not a book about hate, but about women in LOVE! Fit in the story like they are, you don't know where these feelings are coming from! In this Emma-like environment of lovely England and its quaint, refined people, you have men and women who regularly erupt into feelings that "sharpen and intensify their whole nature into a pure dart of hate!" This duality gives an uncanny, sinister eeriness to the book, especially a book about human relationships.

Bowels and loins and skin and smell, domination, strength: it's a new outlook on human beings and relationships (who else at that time wrote like this?). Birkin and Ursula seem to give each other to themselves and bloom harmoniously in their interdependence and loss of selves to each other, whereas for Gudrun and Gerald, that same animal drive to unite the sexes explodes into a nasty scene of violence, a near-murder, and a death.

Most of all, I like the charged language in this book. When kissed, a Lawrence character does not feel "heavenly bliss" or "ephemeral love" or "romantic longing", but stands "swooning with the perfect fire that burns in all his joints." Now THAT's a 20th century kiss, when you feel it burning in your joints! I like this turn that Lawrence takes, and his book is full of it. He never backs off. He uses Gerald as the spokesman of this charged, wasteful, industrial megalomaniac type of new life:

"Very well. But you, you spoil your own chance of life--you waste your best self." Gerald was silent for a moment. Then he said: "Waste it? What else is there to do with it?"

Gerald is the machine whose steely loins forcefully pump his soulless body faster and faster into the world until it derails and dies a frozen corpse in the snow. He is the most memorable character of this book. His hardness coupled with the softness of Gudrun charge especially the European segment of this book with high energy. I liked the comment of Gudrun after Gerald died in which she stated that it was fine that the police wrote the death off as a love-triangle tragedy, but she knew that the third man Loerke was merely incidental, that it has always been Gudrun verses Gerald, and it would have ended this way no matter who had gotten in the way. It was a fascinating relationship.

I found the male-male love of Birkin and Gerald refreshingly new. With Lawrence, it seems you get past the standard stereotypes of sexual relationships and down to organism loving organism on not only a simply, physical level, but also on a psychological and philosophical level. The comparison of thinking (Hermione) vs. living (Birkin) made me think quite a bit of Sartre's philosophy from his book _Being and Nothingness_ in which he describes man as nothingness with the goal of becoming being. Knowledge and thoughts are simply flittering wastefulness. The human soul wants to become something solid and simple, without thought.

"When we have knowledge, don't we lose everything but knowledge?: she asked pathetically. "If I know about the flower, don't I lose the flower and have only the knowledge? Aren't we exchanging the substance for the shadow, aren't we forteiting life for this dead quality of knowledge? And what does it mean to me, after all? What does all this knowing mean to me? It means nothing."

The theme of losing oneself in an Eastern religious way or even in a Sartrian way recurs throughout the book.

"There's the whole difference in the world," he said, "between the actual sensual being, and the vicious mental-deliberate profligacy our lot goes in for. In our night-time, there's always the electricity switched on, we watch ourselves, we get it all in the head, really. You've got to lapse out before you can know what sensual reality is, lapse into unknowingness, and give up your volition. You've got to do it. You've got to learn not-to-be, before you can come into being.

Whatever lessons you may learn or insights you may acquire from the two relationships developed in this book, it is the newness of their presentation and the lurking, psychological uncertainty that they portray which makes this book significant for our time.

Edward Tanguay

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