“There seemed to be no hope in the world. One was a tiny little rock with the tide of nothingness rising higher and higher. She herself was real, and only herself-just like a rock in a wash of floodwater. The rest was all nothingness. She was hard and indifferent, isolated in herself.” Women in Love – D.H. Lawrence
Women in Love has no shortage of characters that seem to be full of rage. It would be a hard group to hang out with. Two love birds, for instance, might have exchanges such as this:
“Would you care for buttered toast?” He asked, almost hostile.
She turned to him full of hate; glaring at him she answered, “Jam, please.”
Ah, love. Obviously that is not a quote, but that seething anger, in truncated sentences is the gist of near half of the book. Why so angry? It can take some time to get used to the vehemence. Perhaps the biggest problem facing Ursula, Gudrun, Rupert and Gerald is the strong but common tendency to overthink things: What is love? Do we love each other? How much of ourselves do we have to sacrifice in order to be in love? Is it a sacrifice at all? Is falling in love a complete failure and collapse of one’s inner self, or is the inability to fall in love a failure to be a man or woman completely?
Isolated within there is only misery. We are told that nothing outside of ourselves will bring us true joy, that no one else can make us happy, but that can seem like a cheap dime-store philosophy designed to make all the emotionally or physically isolated people in the world feel better: if you’re not happy look within. Blame the victim- you.
In the books of D.H. Lawrence, he seems to ask over and over again: can we not admit that other people do make us happy? We are social animals after all and to be left alone in the world, abandoned, is the most pain our fragile beings can experience, particularly because it is the emotional kind of pain. A physical aloneness has an end point but emotional aloneness edges infinity.
The tension between men and women as well as the tension of our inner battles are the themes explored in depth in Women in Love. Lawrence takes his time in getting the feel of it right, the relationships are so deeply nuanced that by the time Rupert and Ursula get married their love is described beautifully and our understanding of them as individuals makes it that much more moving.
“In the new, superfine bliss, a peace superceding knowledge, there was no I and you, there was only the third, unrealized wonder, the wonder of existing not as oneself, but in a comsummtion of my being and of her being in a new one, a new, paradisal unit regained from the duality. How can you say ‘I love you’ when I have ceased to be, and you have ceased to be: we are both caught up and transcended into a new oneness where everything is silent, because there is nothing to answer, all is perfect and at one.”
Despite that sublime description, the book ends with the tragedy of Gerald and his inability to let himself love or be loved. As Gerald’s friend, Rupert struggles throughout the book to find a way to love Gerald without the intensity of sexual love. The modern angst of the possibility of deep but platonic love intricately consumes him. Unfortunately Gerald cannot hear him, or feel what he is after. His own prison of pain, despair and capitulation to the absurdity of his loveless life is tragic.
“If he had kept true to that clasp, death would not have mattered. Those who die, and dying still can love, still believe, do not die. They still live in the beloved.”
That the book is primarily about Rupert’s loves and yet is called Women in Love is not accidental. Certainly there are women in love throughout the story, but Lawrence seems to be highlighting the difficulty that men have in expressing love for other men. One could argue that one of the benefits of the more recent acceptance of homosexuals in society is that it frees everyone. As there become fewer reasons to hide one’s sexual identity platonic love is relieved of “suspicion.” Lawrence was for love of all kinds. His prose, full of urgency and vehemence, stemmed from a passionate belief in the power of love to save our souls through each other.