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Women in Love

Women in Love is a 1920 novel by English author, poet, and short story writer D.H. Lawrence. It is a character-focused novel that depicts developing relationships against the backdrop of tragedy and philosophical turmoil.

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Women in Love

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Women in Love is a 1920 novel by English author, poet, and short story writer D.H. Lawrence. It is a character-focused novel that depicts developing relationships against the backdrop of tragedy and philosophical turmoil.

Below is a summary of Women in Love and an explanation of its genre. You will also find an exploration of key characters in the text, Lawrence's biography, and a selection of important quotes.

Women in Love: summary

Women in Love is the second in a pair of novels, following on from Lawrence's 1915 novel, The Rainbow. It revolves around two sisters living in 1910s England, Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen. Ursula is a teacher and Gudrun has just returned from art school. They are intelligent and philosophical women; the novel opens with them musing on the purpose of marriage. Ironically, Ursula and Gudrun then attend the wedding of a local woman. At the wedding, they meet Gerald Crich, whose sister is getting married, and Rupert Birkin. Gerald is in charge of a local mine that employs many townspeople and Rupert is a school inspector. Over the course of the novel, Rupert and Ursula fall in love, as do Gerald and Gudrun.

Rupert and Ursula's romantic journey is a complicated one. When they meet, Rupert already has a lover, the wealthy and overbearing Hermione Roddice. Rupert struggles to decide between Ursula and Hermione as his feelings for Ursula grow stronger. His decision is made for him when Hermione attempts to kill him in an episode of violent rage. Rupert then begins pursuing Ursula properly. Ursula is not initially sure what she wants and so Rupert goes to France for a time. After a number of arguments, Rupert and Ursula sleep together, move in together, and get married in relatively quick succession. Both have strong opinions that regularly clash.

During this time, the friendship between Rupert and Gerald is also developing. At first, the two intensely dislike each other. They gradually grow closer, being brought together by one particular instance. Rupert falls very sick for a period and cannot leave his bed. Gerald visits and the two men chat comfortably. Rupert asks him to commit to a special bond between them as men. Gerald does not explicitly promise this but there is obvious shared affection and love present. Many have asserted that there is a homoerotic element to the friendship between Rupert and Gerald.

Meanwhile, there is also much romantic tension present between Gerald and Gudrun. Gerald works at the local mine that his father owns. However, Mr Crich falls very ill and does not have long left. Gerald takes over the running of the mine. Mr Crich and Gerald organise for Gudrun to tutor Gerald's younger sister, Winifred, in art. Mr Crich also builds Gudrun an art studio in the Crich family home. This brings Gerald and Gudrun much closer. Mr Crich eventually passes away and Gerald is left devastated. He wanders outside late at night and sneaks into Gudrun's house, spending the night in her bed.

Gerald organises a trip for the two couples to the Austrian alps. Here, they meet a sculptor named Loerke who shows a romantic interest in Gudrun. Ursula soon concludes she dislikes the Alps and persuades Rupert to leave. Gudrun remains and spends time with Loerke. Gerald finds himself intensely jealous. He interrupts a picnic they are having, hitting Loerke and attempting to strangle Gudrun. Gerald realises what he is doing and lets Gudrun go, running off into the Alps and committing suicide. Gudrun tells Ursula and Rupert what has happened via telegram and they immediately return. Rupert is struck with deep grief over Gerald's death.

Women in Love ends with Ursula and Rupert discussing the limitations of relationships. Ursula believes having one person is enough, whereas Rupert argues that people, himself included, need more than just this. This way of thinking has been brought on by the loss of Gerald.

Women in Love: book

Women in Love is a modernist novel, regarded as one of the most important texts of the genre.

Modernism as a literary genre began in the early twentieth century. It was a reaction to old-fashioned Victorian literary techniques. Modernism abandoned these techniques and encouraged experimentation instead. Modernist texts explored the chaotic and unpredictable nature of life, particularly in the wake of the First World War. They also investigated the idea that because every individual experiences life differently, there are no universal truths in life. Famous modernists include T.S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf.

D.H. Lawrence is known today as an influential Modernist and this can be seen throughout Women in Love. Many of the philosophical and psychological questions that modernist texts are known for posing are discussed by the four central characters in Women in Love. They ponder over the value of marriage and love, often coming up with very different answers. There are few universal truths in Women in Love.

Lawrence's novel also explores the concepts of chaos and instability that are common to works of modernism. Both relationships depicted in the text are extremely turbulent and change constantly. Lawrence wrote Women in Love against the backdrop of the First World War, even though the conflict is not directly mentioned in the novel. The violence of this time is represented in the character of Gerald who is so overcome with rage and jealousy that he attempts to murder the woman he claims to love so dearly.

Women in Love: characters

Below is an explanation of the key characters in Women in Love.

Ursula Brangwen

Ursula is a teacher and the eldest Brangwen sister. At the beginning of Women in Love, she is grappling with what she should believe and what she shouldn't regarding philosophical questions about life. She and her sister agree that marriage is something negative. It was a very confining experience for many women in the early twentieth century. However, Ursula's opinion gradually changes once she falls in love with Rupert. She is still unsure of some things and often takes a long time to make decisions, frustrating Rupert. By the end of Women in Love, Ursula has shown significant growth. She stands her own ground and has lively debates with Rupert. While the ending of Lawrence's novel is somewhat ambiguous, it seems that Ursula and Rupert will continue in a happy marriage.

Gudrun Brangwen

Gudrun is the youngest Brangwen sister. She has just returned from art school in London where she spent time surrounded by privileged and wealthy people. Gudrun spends a lot of her time searching for fulfilment. She sees both people and places as representing deeper concepts than are obvious on the surface. She is looking for meaning. Gudrun falls in love with Gerald Crich but the two come to a tragic end. They have an intense and passionate physical relationship but Gudrun's attention is caught by Loerke, the sculptor, while in the Alps. It seems they are intellectually matched. After Gerald's death, Gudrun remains with Loerke.

Rupert Birkin

Rupert is a school inspector. He falls in love with Ursula while still in a toxic relationship with Hermione Roddice. He eventually breaks out of this and pursues Ursula fully, marrying her in the end. Rupert has grand ambitions and ideas, frequently wishing to change the world for the better. However, he also experiences periods of apathy in which he cares for little and questions everything. Rupert also has quite poor health. It is possible that Rupert's character is bisexual. He tries to convince Ursula that one cannot be fully satisfied by only one person, insinuating that relationships with both sexes may fulfil this need. Rupert believes he had found this in Gerald before his death.

Gerald Crich

Gerald Crich becomes the owner of an important local mine upon his father's death. This death devastates Gerald who has already experienced a great deal of tragedy in his life with his sister accidentally drowning not long before. Readers are also told that, as a boy, Gerald accidentally killed his own brother. Gerald's character is one linked with violence and tragedy. He also has a keen business mind, effectively managing the family's mine. Gerald falls in love with Gudrun and wishes to develop their passionate and sensual relationship further. However, he soon loses her to Loerke. The violent side of Gerald rears its head as he almost kills Gudrun. Gerald fulfils what seems to be his tragic destiny as he wanders into the freezing mountains to take his own life.

Women in Love: D.H. Lawrence

D.H. Lawrence was born David Herbert Lawrence on 11th September 1885 in Nottinghamshire. Lawrence grew up in a working-class family, winning various scholarships in order to receive a full education. He also began writing at a young age, taking inspiration from his own life and experiences.

However, Lawrence's career as a teacher was brought to a sudden stop by poor health. He then began to travel widely with his wife Frieda. These explorations gave Lawrence significant inspiration for his writings. As the twentieth century progressed, Lawrence published many novels, including Sons and Lovers (1913), Women in Love (1920), and Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928).

Lawrence regularly went unappreciated in his time. Many considered his texts obscene and inappropriate, leading to multiple works being banned. Lawrence died in 1930 from tuberculosis. However, years after this, Lady Chatterley's Lover was subject to a censorship trial in 1960 as, up to this point, the novel had never been published in full in Britain. Today, Lawrence is known as a leading Modernist figure who was ahead of his time in discussions of philosophy and sexuality.

Lady Chatterley's Lover was finally published in its full and uncensored version in Britain in 1960, decades after it was first written. This was because the British government took the publisher Penguin to court over their attempt to publish the text and lost the case. Check out StudySmarter's explanation on D.H. Lawrence for more information on this!

Women in Love: quotes

Read on for key quotes from Lawrence's novel.

QuoteChapterExplanation
'"And if you don't believe in love, what do you believe in?" [Ursula] asked mockingly. "Simply in the end of the world, and grass?"'Chp. 11This quote comes from a conversation between Ursula and Rupert. This is one of Rupert's periods of apathy where he states he doesn't love anyone or anything. He also questions the value of humanity. This propels Ursula's indecision over being with him.
'And [Gudrun], she was the great bath of life, [Gerald] worshipped her. Mother and substance of all life she was. And he, child and man, received of her and was made whole.'Chp. 24Gerald has come to Gudrun's room after his father's death. He puts forward a strong and traditionally masculine image, but here he is vulnerable, seeking comfort and solace in Gudrun.
'[Rupert] looked at Gerald with clear, happy eyes of discovery. Gerald looked down at him, attracted, so deeply bondaged in fascinated attraction, that he was mistrustful, resenting the bondage, hating the attraction.'Chp. 16This interaction happens when Rupert is sick and asks Gerald to commit to a bond between them. Gerald does not explicitly say yes, but it is likely he wants to. He feels an attraction to Rupert but is angry at himself for feeling this. He tries to repress it. These depictions of same-sex desire contributed to the controversy surrounding the publication of Women in Love.

Women in Love - Key takeaways

  • Women in Love (1920) is a novel by renowned Modernist D.H. Lawrence.
  • It follows two different relationships as they develop against the backdrop of 1910s England.
  • The text was controversial upon publication as it contained frank discussions of sexuality and references to same-sex desire.
  • Women in Love fits in the genre of modernism.
  • The characters in Lawrence's novel spent a great deal of time discussing philosophical questions of love and the value of humanity.

Frequently Asked Questions about Women in Love

Lawrence began writing Women in Love in 1913 and continued throughout the 1910s until the novel's publication in 1920.

D.H. Lawrence wrote this novel.

Women in Love was banned because its frank depictions of sexuality were considered obscene.

Yes, today many consider the novel a modernist classic.

Themes in Women in Love include sexuality and the meaning of life.

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