Review: D.H. Lawrence’s “Women in Love”

by writereaderly

In contrast to the evidence of the title, this book was mostly about men in lust. Gerald lusts for women, Gudrun (Sister #1) and Birkin; Birkin for not-love, Gerald and Ursula (Sister #2) – please don’t tell me that all of those “loin” comments* and that nude Japanese wrestling scene were all about spiritual connection between male peers. To be honest, the women do quite a lot of lusting as well, and it gets pretty tiresome to read almost an entire novel of heavy, unconsummated sexual innuendo (e.g., man dominating mare) and emotional prevarication (Lord only knows what Birkin/Lawrence actually wants from a woman or the world: he doesn’t). The women are modern and liberated but brought to a standstill by the desire for love. Gerald lusts but believes he wants wuv, twoo wuv. Birkin wants spiritual transcendence, rabbits endlessly and contradictorily on about it, and settles for love and marriage. For a while.

I think Lawrence has hereby succeeded in establishing my underresearched theory that philosophers’ novels are tendentious and overwrought (a lot of Hesse can be pretty wooden, and let’s not even talk about Camus). This novel has some delightful descriptive passages – the lake scene, for example, is splendid – but really, it’s not especially well written, Lawrence’s symbolism is leaden (spoiler alert: it all means sex), and he is in dire need of a good editor. The words “loins”, “amaze” and “sordid” have no need to occur three times in any paragraph. Ever. All the main characters, plus power-tripping Hermione, are annoyingly argumentative and wilful – methinks that unending sexual tension could mayhap be involved – but only the men have the depth of characterisation to philosophise (endlessly) about their respective positions. The women seem to have no core or position or analysis of their own, just a belief in some kind of love and a contrarian will to argue with their men (cf. unsatisfied sexual tension).

While the novel was too long and too tedious, I didn’t abandon it and it’s not quite classic but shite. Rather, I rank it classic but overrated, which I think may be my most useful tag yet. Not recommended, and it’s not increasing my enthusiasm for the Lawrence novel which refuses to vanish from my Pillow Pile.

* Just for the record, I’d like to note that my favourite was “his suave perfect loins and thighs of darkness” (p.278).

* Just for the other record, the length of this review reminds me that bad novels can be more entertaining to slam/review than good ones. They provide so much great fodder!

Where it came from: Opshop
Time & manner of reading: Intermittently, and painfully, in long-distance car and train trips
Where it went to: KAM
Reminds me of: Clearly in the company of other Edwardian Queers I’ve been enjoying lately, and interestingly framed by my most recent A.S. Byatt (The Children’s Story)
Who I’d recommend it to: Yeah, not up to recommendation status, I’m afraid…
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; The Plumed Serpent by D.H. Lawrence; The Reivers by William Faulkner