D.H. Lawrence – Women in love (1916, 1921)

In the Foreward (1919), Lawrence takes aim at those critics that attempted to censor Women in Love in the same way that The Rainbow was censored back in 1915. He accuses those of living in the form of the old, in which they will perish, much like Birkin will theorize throughout the novel. He also preempts critics that would take issue with the forms of repetition that Lawrence uses throughout. He says that the “pulsing, frictional to-and-fro” motion working up to some sort of “culmination” is what fiction is.

The plot: Ursula and Gudrun Bragwen are two sisters, thoroughly modern, that will eventually be paired with Birkin and Gerald, respectively. Birkin is a stand in for Lawrence, spouting off a bunch of theories about passion, life, convention, etc. Gerald is a passionate captain of industry that eventually dies for love of Gudrun in the French Alps.

Nietzsche: In short, a vulgarized Nietzsche. Compare with Hardy in Tess, where dangerous activity of equating a character with a vital ontology leads to tragedy, whereas in Lawrence, he just assumes that ontology as that which needs to be embraced. This leads to all sorts of ethical problems, ranging from violence towards women to the environmental effects of over-extracting coal from the earth. Also, worth comparing to Tarr…in the Preface to that novel, Lewis talks about the English obsession with Nietzsche, and will go on to critique that sort of unrestrained passion in the form of Kreisler. But he of course turns the screw again by hollowing out the more traditional, Eliotic notion of the artist in the figure of Tarr himself.

Description as Repetition: Lawrence describes his mode of fiction as “repetition with modification,” and this bears out in the use of a single word multiple times within a single paragraph. In order to describe Ursula’s reaction to the urban, he uses the words sordid, ugly, amorphous, and formless mutliple times in different combinations. Similarly, a water-party is described with booming, splashing , drowned, all repeated twice. The effect is one in which the language takes on a mimetic power–not that it necessarily mimes the things it is describing, but that it mimes the sort of sexualized repetition and friction that characterizes the act of writing itself.

The Wrestling Match: Work out Lawrence’s  gender fantasies. It seems to me to be a vulgarized version of Nietzsche imported into, first of all, the blond beast that goes by the name of Gerald (the chapter on the Industrial magnate is one lone discourse on the will to power as manifested through the extraction of coal). But it is also present in the way that Lawrence attempts to excise the woman from the passionate impulse. He wants to make desire immanent to the person desiring, rather than locating it in the object of desire. Thus two men can love without loving something or someone–it is the motion of repetition and struggle that is characteristic of desire.

The classroom: this chapter is the first time we get Birkin lecturing on his theory if passion, life, etc. Ironically, it is Ursula’s classroom. He is accusing her of only wanting knowledge of passion, consciousness, etc., while what has real value is passion itself. Ursula hardly responds to any of Birkin’s point, making Birkin into the didactic, thus subverting his own attempts to live out his theories.


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