Women in Love
When I was in high school, I cannot remember what year exactly, one of my Christmas gifts that year was an omnibus edition of D.H. Lawrence novels. I may have heard of Lawrence before that voluminous book came my way, but once I read the novels contained in that edition, I wanted to read more of him, and about him.
When we read Lawrence now, some of us may marvel at the skill of his writing, at how much psychology is at work in all of his novels, or how he writes of the human condition. Back when he was writing, however, Lawrence could not get published for the things he wrote about. His works were controversial for the candid way in which he treated sex. He often had to do revisions and some publishers refused to publish his work. Today when we read his work, we may wonder what all the hoopla was about, but mores were different in the England post-World War I. As recently as the 1980s, Lady Chatterley’s Lover was banned in China for fear of “corrupting the minds of young people”, and “going against the Chinese tradition.” In the 1960’s, a group called Mothers United for Decency, got a trailer, turned it into a “smutmobile” and displayed books considered objectionable, including Sons and Lovers. This novel closely examines working-class conditions in a mining town, as well as relationships. It also has significance vis-à-vis psychology in that it depicts the Freudian oedipal complex. What was once considered smut, is now considered one of the finest books of the 20th century.
My favorite novel by D.H. Lawrence remains Women in Love. It is a sequel to The Rainbow, but it can be read apart from that. It is the story of two sisters, Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen, and their relationships with Rupert Birkin and Gerald Crich, respectively. This novel was published two years after the end of World War I. Reading it, we see a world in
crisis, or humans in crisis, through the conversations of certain characters, such as Ursula and Birkin. We see Lawrence digging deeper in search of a more vital life, a life fully lived in every way. Not as he felt many people were living in his day. In the passage below, Birkin expresses his feeling for humanity at present:
Birkin looked at the land, at the evening, and was thinking: “Well if mankind is
destroyed, if our race is destroyed like Sodom, and there is this beautiful evening
with the luminous land and trees, I am satisfied. That which informs it all is there,
and can never be lost. After all, what is mankind but just one expression of the
incomprehensible. And if mankind passes away, it will only mean that this particular
expression is completed and done. That which is expressed, and that which is to be
expressed, cannot be diminished. There it is, in the shining evening. Let mankind
pass away—time it did. The creative utterances will not cease, they will only be
there. Humanity doesn’t embody the utterance of the incomprehensible any more.
Humanity is a dead letter. There will be a new embodiment, in a new way. Let
humanity disappear as quick as possible. (Lawrence 50-51)
What Birkin is hoping for is a new humanity, with a new expression. Not the old, tired ways of doing things. What precedes this thought process is Birkin’s dissatisfaction with the way people live life now, calling it “dreary.” He suggests breaking up society altogether to form something new, to change. How he intends to do that is never quite certain. Whatever it may be, will be different from the social order that exists.
It is this digging in search of a deeper meaning or fulfilment of life that gives Women in Love its flavor. There is much more to Women in Love than women being in love. It is an exploration of the possibilities of different kinds of love. It is a conversation on how to be fully alive. If you like philosophical discussions as well as psychological explorations, I recommend this book that remains on the list of Banned and Challenged Classics.