Tag Archives: Women in Love

Life is Poetry

Life, lived on the same plane as poetry and as music, is my distinctive desire and standard. It is the failure to accomplish this which makes me discontented with myself (3).
– 
Lady Ottoline, quoted in Lady Ottoline’s Album.

Lady Ottoline, by Simon Bussy

Lady Ottoline, by Simon Bussy

As I read Selected Letters of André Gide and Dorothy Bussy the name of Lady Ottoline came up with some frequency. By an odd coincidence I happen to have the book, Lady Ottoline’s Album, in my possession (with a postcard of the portrait of Ottoline by Dorothy’s husband, Simon Bussy, laid in). Last year when I worked as a companion to elderly (mostly) women, I had a client who delighted in knowing and discussing what I was reading, which delighted me, naturally. More often than not she had a personal connection: Isak Dinesen? “My husband had lunch with her, she was like a bird! All she ate was fruit and champagne!” I loved that- to quote my youngest son, that’s  “my always dream!” But I digress.

When it was time for me to move on, she told me to take whatever books of hers I wanted to “start my library.” I hadn’t the heart to tell her that I was  in the process of a massive book downsizing to make my move manageable, not to mention the fact that I am actually a full fledged book-accumulating adult, but when one is 104, I guess I would seem a mere girl starting out in life….Anyway, at the very least, on sentimental grounds, I couldn’t resist. And of course, I cherish them now, as they recall her to my mind.

One of the books I choose was Lady Ottoline’s Album, but I had not yet read it. André Gide and Dorothy Bussy had reminded me, but it wasn’t until yesterday, whilst in the midst of a quasi-quarterly cleaning and reorganization spasm that I came upon it.

André Gide

André Gide

It had not, until this moment, occurred to me that Ottoline was a woman who would allow me to make love to her, but gradually, as the evening progressed, the desire to make love to her became more and more insistent. At last it conquered, and I found to my amazement that I loved her deeply, and that she returned my feeling (38) Bertrand Russell, quoted.

Lady Ottoline seems to have been the type of woman who had an exquisite understanding of the excellence of social interactions- conversation, humor, passion, intellect – the poetry of life. Pursuing the myriad photographs in the book one can’t help being fascinated by her face -her countenance is strangely appealing- she should be unattractive, and yet, she is, in fact, quite strikingly beautiful.

The list of guest that she hosted is extraordinary, she had a knack for attracting artists and writers to her home, Gide and Russell, of course, but also Yeats, D. H.  Lawrence, E. M. Forster, T. S. Eliot, Ian Fleming, Hardy, Henry James, Auden, Huxley, Katherine Mansfield, and Virginia Woolf, among others:

“…I remember spending some dark, uneasy, winter days during the first war in the depth of the country with Lytton Strachey. After lunch, as we watched the rain pour down and premature darkness roll up, he said, in his searching, personal way, “Loves apart, whom would you most like to see coming up the drive?’ I hesitated a moment and he supplied the answer: “Virginia of course.” (78) – Clive Bell, quoted.

Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf

The book is comprised of her and her famous guest’s writings or letters and a huge array of photographs that Ottoline, for the most part, took. An intimate peek into the lives of a wonderfully influential group of people. The photos of these towering figures in casual moments, is fascinating, and extremely endearing…I can’t stop picturing Yeats, described perfectly by Stephen Spender as having “something of the appearance of the overgrown art student” (100).

Despite Lawrence’s rather scathing sketch (presumably of Ottoline) in Women in Love, which would seriously breach their friendship, (and yet seems a plausible description)…she is a mesmerizing woman. Her relationships, by all accounts burned bright; there is a ferocity about her that makes me trust Lawrence….but still, her insistence that life be lived as poetry – reduced to pure feeling and experience, is so appealing. I suppose Lawrence wondered if she ever really achieved her desire.

Nevertheless, She and Lawrence, have philosophical congress. Concentrated in our bodies, for good or bad, life is meant to be felt, loved, and savoured. It is a lovely little book- an erstwhile golden age, elegantly composed by a passionate woman who had, truly, a genius of repose.

*Lady Ottoline’s Album: Snapshots & Portraits of Her Famous Contemporaries (and of Herself) Photographed for the Most Part by Lady Ottoline Morrell from the Collection of her Daughter Julian Vinogradoff. Edited by Carolyn G. Heilbrun, with an Introduction by Lord David Cecil.

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Etiolated Lives

She was the doorway to him, he to her.  At last they had thrown open the doors, each to the other, whilst the light flooded out from behind on to each of their faces, it was the transfiguration, the glorification, the admission. 
-D.H. Lawrence, The Rainbow (87)

IMG_1258I recently watched an adaptation of Women in Love. I like it well enough, but there were more than a few mystery bits that I had no recollection of from the book. Upon closer inspection I saw that the adaptation was actually of both Women in Love and The Rainbow.  Now that I’ve read The Rainbow I’m sorry I didn’t read it first, not least of all because Women in Love continues the story of Ursula and Gudren. But more than that, for missing out on the natural development of the story in which Lawrence shows an unraveling of human confidence in love over the generations.

Is heaven impatient for me, and bitter against this earth, that I should hurry off, or that I should linger pale and untouched? (265)

The story follows three generations of women, finding, failing, or groping with anguished hope towards love: “the admission”- I love that. Admitting entrance to the other into one’s soul as well as admitting to oneself that the possibility exists. Running  forward chronologically, the story seems almost to run backwards novelistically. The satisfaction of true love comes early in the first section concerning the Polish immigrant widowed mother, Lydia Lensky. Tom Brangwen falls in love with her, and after the usual bouts of trammeled passion they arrive at their font of love. Things are more difficult for Anna, Lydia’s daughter adopted by Tom:

And in this state, her sexual life flamed into a kind of disease within her. She was overwrought and sensitive, that the mere touch of coarse wool seemed to tear her nerves. (314)

The tragedy here is passion without love. Lawrence describes with startling insight the gaps that motherhood fills, still, when Anna marries Will Brangwen having made the all important physical connection,  emotional  communion eludes them. Through their children the painful smolder of life and love half-lived is abated until eventually, separately yet peaceably, they find a lesser path, but at least it is a path –

And since she was nearly forty years old, she began to come awake from the sleep of motherhood, her energy moved outwards. The din of growing lives roused her from her apathy. She too must have her hand in making life. (395)

Let’s pause here for one brief moment to remind ourselves that this book was written in 1915. What Lawrence so boldly put forward- the physicality of life’s desires, is a truly remarkable thing. Sure, it’s no longer difficult to find myriad books focused on sex, even focused on the female’s perspective of sex, but it takes profound nerve to combine those human needs with a divine call to love.

Always, always she was spitting out of her mouth the ash and grit of disillusion, of falsity. (412)

The story ends with Ursula. The depth into which Lawrence takes the reader is awing and inspiring. The questions and possible answers he raises become deeply embedded in the reader’s thinking and feeling soul. Woven into each part of the story are philosophical musings on religion, God, the suffragette movement, the horrors of corporal punishment, the sickness of institutions, the emptiness of formal education, social hypocrisy, and then, at long last he gives us – the rainbow, spread over it all, in regal refulgent splendor.  The beauty. The beauty.

She wanted so many things. she wanted to read great, beautiful books, and be rich with them; she wanted to see beautiful things, and have the joy of them forever; she wanted to know big, free people; and there remained always the want she could put no name to. (384)

Kicking Against the Pricks

Sometimes life takes hold of one, carries the body along, accomplishes one’s history, and yet is not real, but leaves oneself as it were slurred over. (9)
– D.H Lawrence, Sons and Lovers

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In Stephan Zweig’s short story Burning Secret, he writes something along the lines of – there comes a time in every woman’s life when she must decide, is she a mother, or a woman? For me it begs the question- why? Why must we ask ourselves that question? Because society says so? I certainly can not imagine a man having to face this sort of a false dilemma, nor can I deny that there is truth in it. And that is the real pity.

Suddenly, looking at him, the heavy feeling at the mother’s heart melted into passionate grief. She bowed over him, and a few tears shook swiftly out of her very heart.

In Part One of Sons and Lovers, Lawrence carefully chronicles the life of the Morels: a struggling family, a loveless marriage, and the children that come into the world trying to fill the holes in their parent’s lives.

Paul loved to sleep with his mother. Sleep is still most perfect, in spite of hygienists, when shared with a beloved. The warmth, the security and peace of soul, the utter comfort from the touch of the other, knits the sleep, so that it takes the body and soul completely in its healing.

That is a perfectly beautiful description of delicious sleep, when your hand can rest in perfect trust on a body, whether it be: child, friend, or lover. The peace of our souls is found in each other – from the touch of the other, a beloved. Lawrence is such a wonderful writer, his use of colloquialisms, details of meager material objects, and the shared rapture of the glory of nature in the lives of mother and sons gives a clear picture of the family’s daily existence, allowing the deeper significance of the story to fully develop. It is Lawrence’s sensibility and keen sense of the importance of intimacy that is at the center of his novel.

Now, when all her woman’s pity was roused to its full extent, when she would have slaved herself to death to nurse him and to save him, when she would have taken the pain herself, if she could, somewhere far away inside her, she felt indifferent to him and to his suffering. It hurt her most of all, this failure to love him…

Mrs. Morel, sadly, goes straight to motherhood, her chance to be a woman is never realized and the disappointment just grows. Putting all her passion into being a mother, the decision of whether or not to be a woman too, is moot. With no deep connection to her husband there is just the empty space of desire left. Reading this novel one becomes aware of the limited vocabulary we have to discuss love and passion. Lawrence never suggests incest, and yet the nomenclature of romantic love does. Both romantic intimacy and the intimacy of mothering are physically pleasing and intensely fulfilling, but part of our emotional retardation is to always talk about physical pleasure as only sexual. Breastfeeding is an excellent case in point- physically pleasurable, and fulfilling in an entirely non-sexual way, the fact that breasts provide sexual pleasure as well should not be a source of confusion for people. It’s gotten to the point that people don’t want to see a woman breastfeed because – breast are for sex, and we don’t do that in public – or talk about it.  Lawrence, has no such inhibition, he will leave sensuous terms as they are and dare you to be puerile. Women in Love has been described as homoerotic, if so, Sons and Lovers is incestuous, Lady Chatterley’s Lover is pornographic and you have lost the point altogether.

What Lawrence was really trying to discover was how, how can we deeply connect with one another? In Lady Chatterley’s Lover the sexual connection that is possible between lovers is a sacred thing. But it is deep connections generally that give our lives meaning. Our language cannot scratch the surface of our feelings. The words that we have to describe the love of friendship suffer the same problem in Women in Love as parental love in Sons and Lovers. Even when Lawrence is talking explicitly about sex, he is not talking about sex. His cri de coeur was the sine qua non of intimacy and connection of all kinds. Lawrence takes care to explore the complexities inherent: no matter how wonderful being a mother is- a mother is also a woman. Mrs. Morel’s mothering love in the absence of the woman inside her is a heavy and mournful thing. After all, a son loves his mother passionately, but it is the mother’s job to eventually deflect that passion away from herself and peripherally enjoy the realization of the child’s happy fulfilled life. In a healthy home, this happens naturally. The woman however, has the opposite aim- if she finds passion with another, and if it is returned, that is something she must hold on to, cherish and let bloom. The poverty of our words is frustrating and the word “passion” is sorely overworked.

At the end of Part One, William, the eldest son, is caught up in a relationship that mirrors his parents. Even as his mother attempts to caution him, he feels already morally committed and helpless to do anything other than see it through. She can not give him the inner strength required to rebel against societal expectations. The price is, of course, his soul.

“My boy, remember you’re taking your life in your hands,” said Mrs. Morel. “Nothing is as bad as a marriage that’s a hopeless failure. Mine was bad enough. God knows, and ought to teach you something; but it might have been worse by a long chalk.”

That’s the trouble with morals that go against truth and love, in the end, they are short sighted and punishing for all.

 

* “Kicking Against the Pricks” is a biblical reference Lawrence uses to mean, “rebelling.”