(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prologue to Women in Love, a chapter that can be examined in the author’s posthumous volume Phoenix II: Uncollected, Unpublished, and Other Prose Works (1968), one cannot fully understand the reason for Rupert’s timorousness as a lover.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.)