Rupert Birkin a school inspector in the mining district of Beldover. As the novel opens, he has become disenchanted with Hermione Roddice and, in terminating their stultifying, prolonged affair, is finding his way toward a new mode of living. With some hesitation, he falls in love with Ursula Brangwen. After Hermione tries to kill him, he moves into his own lodgings at “the Mill” and struggles to reach an understanding with Ursula that will enable a marriage in which they can respect and preserve their separate identities. Impatient with conventions and the older generation, he argues fiercely with Ursula’s father when he asks for his daughter’s hand. Though sickly, he is essentially robust, and though his strong will and dogmatic pronouncements sometimes make him comical, he inspires Gerald Crich and the Brangwen sisters. His convictions ultimately are vindicated by events. He forms a deep friendship with Gerald and wants to swear blood brotherhood with him because he feels a need for a lasting friendship with a man in addition to marriage to a woman.
Ursula Brangwen, a primary school teacher in Beldover. She falls in love with Rupert Birkin, is initially put off by his demands, but ultimately reaches an understanding with him. Sensitive and thoughtful, she is horrified by Gerald’s treatment of his horse and retains a measure of distrust of Gerald throughout the novel. She has greater faith in traditional ideas of love and marriage than does Birkin, but she refuses to compromise her own soul and insists on speaking her mind. After learning that Birkin intends to see Hermione before she leaves for Italy, she impulsively throws away the rings he gave her. She relents, however, and they are reconciled. After her father forbids her marriage and strikes her, she immediately elopes with Birkin. It is the fact that she retains full possession of herself in the face of Birkin’s forceful personality that makes their relationship possible.
Gudrun Brangwen (GEW-druhn), an aspiring artist who has just returned home from art school in London when the novel opens. Immediately attracted to Gerald Crich, she is inclined to take a somewhat detached point of view. Her infatuation never becomes true love because, on a certain level, she always despises him. Sensitive and at times superior, she is nauseated by the squalor of the mining town of Beldover and the stares of the miners’ families. Gerald’s father employs her to tutor Gerald’s sister, Winifred, in drawing. She accepts Gerald’s advances, but in the alpine hostel she meets Loerke, whose corrupt aesthetics fascinate and ultimately seduce her. In the absence of Birkin and Ursula, her hatred for Gerald blooms, and she barely escapes being murdered.
Gerald Crich (krikh), the operator of the coal mine in Beldover and the son of Thomas Crich, the owner. Athletic, handsome, and a womanizer, he is also an efficient manager who imposes order, rejecting his father’s more benevolent methods. Although capable of brutality in his treatment of those in his power, whether they are animals or workers, he ultimately is unable to control events. His suicide is only the last in a series of tragedies that befall him. He has “worn the mark of Cain” since he accidentally killed his brother as a child. His valiant attempt to save his drowning sister Diana at the water-party comes to naught, and his father’s death and mother’s insanity precipitate his affair with Gudrun. The affair never involves deep understanding, and it inevitably sours. After almost strangling Gudrun to death, he commits suicide by wandering into the snow, and...
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he succumbs to exhaustion beside a crucifix in a mountain shrine.
Hermione Roddice, a wealthy, clever intellectual. At the outset, her relationship with Rupert Birkin is hopelessly frayed. Their bitter quarrels stem from her essential falseness. She plays hostess to the four principal characters at Breadalby, her country estate, yet at best the others admire rather than like her. Her violent, even murderous, nature emerges when she tries to break Birkin’s skull with a lapis lazuli paperweight, and at least unconscious malice is involved when she drops Gudrun’s sketchbook into the water and when she later advises Ursula not to marry Birkin. Her role ends when she leaves for Italy, just as Ursula and Birkin seal their commitment.
Loerke (LEHR-keh), a German sculptor who is staying at the lodge in the Tyrolean alps with his young companion, Leitner. Although amoral and physically unattractive, he fascinates the Brangwen sisters and exerts a profound and disastrous influence over Gudrun, appealing to her tendency to draw a sharp distinction between art and life. His homosexual relationship with his companion already has soured. He disdains Gerald, who knocks him over before he starts to strangle Gudrun. When he revives and strikes Gerald, the blow brings Gerald to turn from murder to suicide.
Draper, R. P. D. H. Lawrence. New York: Twayne, 1964. An accessible introduction to Lawrence’s chief works, including useful biographical background and extensive commentary on Women in Love.
Kermode, Frank. D. H. Lawrence. New York: Viking Press, 1973. Sheds light on the novel’s philosophical concerns.
Leavis, F. R. D. H. Lawrence: Novelist. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1968. Includes a lengthy chapter on Women in Love that draws attention to overlooked themes. Reassesses the novel’s importance.
Miko, Stephen J., ed. and comp. Twentieth Century Interpretations of “Women in Love.” Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969. Does not cover recent studies, but provides convenient access to a range of important earlier essays and opinions.
Oates, Joyce Carol. “Lawrence’s Götterdämmerung: The Apocalyptic Vision of Women in Love.” In Critical Essays on D. H. Lawrence, edited by Dennis Jackson and Fleda Brown Jackson. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1988. A brilliant discussion of symbolism and eschatology in Women in Love, informed by Oates’s own experience as a novelist.