Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence
After reading several of Lawrence’s books, I have come to the conclusion that what keeps D. H. Lawrence in the Modern Library Top 100 list is his inexhaustible capacity to describe the human psyche. Perhaps not your psyche or mine, but the psyche of his eclectic characters. However, unfortunately I found it very difficult to relate to most of them in Women in Love.
The two young Brangwen women, Ursula and Gudrun, share many characteristics. They both crave independence, loathe social decorum, have a burning desire to find true love, and have an adventurous spirit. Yes, they wanted it all! Today that might be possible, but around the year 1915, it would have taken rare circumstances to acquire the prized combination of eternal love and independence.
They pick two very different men. Ursula (after several failed attempts at love in The Rainbow) falls for an anti-social cynical nihilist who professes to hate sex, love, passion, marriage, children, and all forms of domestic life. I never did figure out exactly what the attraction of Birkin was to Ursula, but Lawrence must have known because he claimed this character, Rupert Birkin, was in essence himself, and Ursula resembled Lawrence’s wife Frieda.
In contrast, Gudrun, an artist, an idealist, and as skittish as an untamed animal, pairs up with a wealthy, successful, handsome, and aristocratic business manager, Gerald Crich. On the surface he is totally in control – the ideal man. But under the surface he suffers a deep dark feeling of emptiness and sense of impending doom. Again, an unlikely match, but Lawrence makes an effort to force his characters to behave as the plot demands.
While Lawrence is leading his characters on a twisted labyrinth of human emotions, drama and the illusive search for happiness, he is with very little subtlety sermonizing his personal philosophy- extreme right wing autocratic politics and ultra liberal sexual ideals. His cynical attitude about love and traditional marriage oozes from every page. And a common thread from three of his highly praised novels is his disdain for women; most of his female characters seem to be selfish, vain, and manipulative. I almost get the feeling that the title Women in Love was flagrantly intended to be a mocking slap in the face, essentially stated in sarcastic contempt.
Perhaps Lawrence may have deserved the Modern Library recognition for Women in Love at one time, but to say today that it is one of the best novels ever written in the English language is just a damned shame… in spite of his sweeping sardonic language. Overrated and extremely disappointing.
Rated 2.5 Stars May 2012
All contents © 2012 Lois Weisberg. All rights reserved.