Study Guide

Women in Love

by D. H. Lawrence

Women in Love Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Women in Love, begun as early as 1913, was tentatively entitled “The Sisters,” then later “The Wedding Ring.” As the sprawling manuscript began to take shape over the next two years, Lawrence published the first part as The Rainbow (1915). With considerable revisions and a complete rethinking of the material, he published a second Brangwen novel in 1920. In its final form, Women in Love is less a continuation of The Rainbow than an altogether different novel. To be sure, Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen persist in their quest for happiness. Yet the Gudrun of The Rainbow was a minor figure; in Women in Love, she is a major protagonist, with a fully developed psychology. Ursula’s change is even more dramatic. In the earlier novel, she was a woman of passionate independence, whereas in Women in Love she is subdued—less impulsive, less heroic, more nearly domesticated.

Their lovers, Gerald Crich and Rupert Birkin, complement the sisters’ essential temperaments. Like the fiery, strong-willed Gudrun, Gerald is a controlling, domineering sensualist—one as habituated to subduing horses to his iron command as to overworking his laborers in the coal mines. In contrast, Rupert (a Lawrence-like personality) is sensitive, introspective, emotionally fragile in spite of his intellectual vitality and his charm.

Unless one reads Lawrence’s canceled prologue to Women in Love, a chapter that can be examined in the author’s posthumous volume Phoenix II: Uncollected, Unpublished, and Other Prose Works (1968), one cannot fully understand the reason for Rupert’s timorousness as a lover. Yet this prologue is an essential key to perceiving what follows in the novel. Even as Rupert was pursuing with dutiful but passionless zeal his affair with Hermione Roddice, he was attempting to put behind him a far more satisfactory emotional friendship with Gerald. Whether the men’s earlier relationship had become one of physical homosexuality is not entirely clear, although Lawrence seems to exclude the physical element. Nevertheless, Rupert is erotically stimulated more by men than by women and certainly not by Hermione, in spite of his frantic lovemaking or his earnest wishes to love her with tenderness:He wanted all the time to love women. He wanted all the while to feel this kindled, loving attraction toward a...

(The entire section is 981 words.)

Women in Love Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Ursula Brangwen and her sister Gudrun first notice Rupert Birkin and Gerald Crich as the sisters are watching a wedding party arrive at a church. Ursula explains that Rupert, the best man, is trying to terminate his prolonged affair with Hermione Roddice, one of the bridesmaids. Some days later, Rupert comes to inspect Ursula’s classroom with Hermione in tow. Hermione, after arguing fiercely with Rupert, invites Ursula and Gudrun to visit her home. Once alone, Ursula inexplicably weeps. Gudrun is drawn to Gerald, the bride’s older brother; when the sisters catch sight of him swimming, Ursula tells Gudrun that when he was a boy, Gerald accidentally killed his brother.

When Rupert and Gerald meet on a train to London, they discuss whether love is the “center of life”; Rupert expresses his pessimism about humanity. That evening, Gerald joins Rupert and some bohemian friends at a café and sleeps with a young model after they all retire to her former lover’s flat. In the morning, Gerald joins Rupert and his friends as they chat, naked, around the fireplace.

The Brangwen sisters become better acquainted with Rupert and Gerald when they visit Breadalby, Hermione’s home. Gerald finds Gudrun arousing when the women, in silk robes, improvise a modern ballet. After Rupert and Hermione again quarrel, Hermione tries to break his skull with a paperweight.

Some days afterward, Gerald appalls the sisters when he brutally forces his horse to stand as a train passes. Gerald and Hermione later find Gudrun sketching by the lake. Gudrun clumsily drops her sketchbook into the water. Gudrun, though blaming Gerald, establishes a silent intimacy with him. Meanwhile, Ursula finds Rupert repairing a punt, and, on an overgrown island, they discuss true happiness. Ursula finds Rupert’s misanthropic vision of a world rid of humans strangely pleasing. Afterward, having tea with Gerald and Hermione at Rupert’s new lodgings, Ursula objects when Rupert compares a horse’s will to submit to its master to a woman’s will to submit to a man. When she meets Rupert alone, however, he avows that while he does not “love” her, he seeks a relationship deeper than love, a “pure balance.” They watch as a cat playfully cuffs a female stray, and Rupert suggests that the cat wants the same equilibrium, like a star in orbit. Ursula still believes he wants a mere satellite.

When Gerald’s father gives the annual “water party” for the townspeople, the Brangwen sisters take a canoe to a clearing on the far shore. There, Gudrun dances as Ursula sings, and when some cattle appear, Gudrun brazenly dances before their horns until suddenly Gerald intrudes and, alarmed, shoos them...

(The entire section is 1103 words.)