Women in Love by DH Lawrence (1920)

Book review: Women in Love by DH Lawrence (Book Club Associates, 1980 [1920])

Lawrence’s finest, most mature novel initially met with disgust and incomprehension. In the love affairs of two sisters, Ursula with Rupert, and Gudrun with Gerald, critics could only see a sorry tale of sexual depravity and philosophical obscurity.

“Women in Love” is, however, a profound response to a whole cultural crisis. The ‘progress’ of the modern industrialised world had led to the carnage of the First World War. What, then, did it mean to call ourselves ‘human’? On what grounds could we place ourselves above and beyond the animal world? What are the definitive forms of our relationships – love, marriage, family, friendship – really worth? And how might they be otherwise?

Without directly referring to the war, “Women in Love” explores these questions with restless energy. As a sequel to “The Rainbow”, the novel develops experimental techniques which made Lawrence one of the most important writers of the Modernist movement.

This is a review I’ve been meaning to finish for … most of the year now. The above description was taken from the Wordsworth Classics edition, but that’s because the heavy brick of an omnibus I actually read isn’t around right now. And the mere description above makes my eyes glaze over. If it wasn’t for the fine audiobook version read by Ruth Golding (Librivox), I might not have finished it at all. In fact, by the end, knowing how the story ended in the miniseries was the only thing – sheer determination aside – that kept me going.

This review will contain spoilers.

Women in Love is a tale of two dislikable sisters, Ursula and Gudrun, and their two dull friends, Rupert and Gerald. Together, they form two miserable couples. One of the sisters is a free-spirited and flamboyant artist, the other one a more subdued school teacher in the Midlands. One of the men is rich, the other not so much, but it doesn’t matter because the poorer one fancies the socks off his more well-to-do friend, who is definitely more into the ladies.

They all spend the novel faffing about and being angsty about relationships and each other to the point where I wish Lawrence would’ve done us all a favour and killed them off once and for all. Which he doesn’t. (Except for one, at which point I fancied breaking out into spontaneous applause.)

This is a novel generally regarded as DH Lawrence’s best. Well, critics – and academics, to be fair – would say that, wouldn’t they? The common people, who don’t have degrees in literature or like to spend time dissecting symbolism and hidden meanings, are likely to find this a snoozefest. Which is good if you have trouble falling asleep, but less good if you’re wanting some sort of entertainment factor. Sure, there’s a bit where they have sex, but even that isn’t exactly arousing [sic] my enthusiasm.

One of the things that I also don’t appreciate is when the author isn’t consistent enough. There are too quick mood changes to really fit in. One moment, someone laughs, the next scorns and the next it’s another emotion again. Over very little dialogue input. I’m left feeling very confused. Maybe because my reading-between-the-lines skill is more of a hindrance than an asset, seeing as how I tend to say (and write) things plainly – what I say is what I mean, there’s no hidden agenda – and therefore also automatically expect the same from others. (It doesn’t work very well, I know.) Or at the very least, I should be able to expect it from a novel, that the author gives it to the reader straight about the characters.

I don’t like mindgames, and the mindgames they get up to (Gudrun in particular, especially when they’re in Germany in the end) just makes me despise the characters. Problem is, of course, that when you’re not liking the characters you read about, there’s little to make you want to invest emotionally in them. Like I said, for all I cared, if they had all died in some great train crash on the way to Germany, I would have been delighted. No such luck. Just lots and lots of “I love you! No I don’t actually, I just said that to see how I’d feel about it and how you’d react. I hate you, really. No, I don’t mean that. Yes, I sort of do. Argh, I despise you and your horrible, yucky man ways … but I still want you to sleep with me and I want to be your meek little wife. Did I mention I used to love you?” For the love of gods, MAKE YOUR MIND UP, WOMAN!!

Also, the text is interspersed with Lawrence philosophising / preaching making the dialogue feel very contrived at times, so it adds to the feeling of “why are you making your characters have this discussion when all you really want to do is to have a philosophical argument with yourself? Go write non-fic for a bit, would you?”

No, this is not a novel I’ll be coming back to, it’s way too boring to read and the characters need some serious therapy. And then I haven’t even mentioned the attempted murder, which was so out of the blue I actually said, “wait, WHAT just happened?!” and had to go back a page and read again. Because all of a sudden, Hermione (another one for the literary gallows, that one) has a blunt object in her hand and sneaks up on the sleeping Gerald (or is it the other one? I can never remember which one’s which, but I mean the closeted homosexual) and hits him over the head. From out of nowhere. And then it’s back to its normal pace and sedate events again, with me scratching my head saying “huh” in as perplexed a manner as Mal in Firefly when he discovers what the doctor’s hiding in that super secret freezer crate.

See, now Firefly is highly entertaining. Women in Love isn’t. Even if DH Lawrence is an awright writer. He just has moments where he’s very engaging and brilliant and you can see what all the fuss is about and then there are the moments where you sort of wish he’d become a miner like his barely literate father. Ahh, I so prefer his short stories over this.

1 out of 5 arguments about furniture, and likelihood of me ever getting around to reading The Rainbow: slim to none.

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