During my year at Bristol, one of the first things I learned was how much I didn’t know. My literary education paled in comparison to my professors. D.H. Lawrence was one such writer I had never read, and during second semester, I picked up a copy of Women in Love at a second-hand shop with the best intentions of finishing it one dreary English day. Said day(s) were consistently consumed with course reading, and thus it wasn’t until last month that I finally began chapter one.
Written in 1916, Women in Love is the complex story of schoolteachers and sisters, Ursula and Gudrun, and their resulting relationships with Gerald Crich and his close friend Rupert Birkin. This is a novel I now wish would have been on my course syllabus; understanding the frequent nuances and shifting complexities would, I think, be much more palatable through discussion. Even so, I admired Lawrence’s ability to vividly describe a character’s feelings while, at other times, effortlessly concealing them.
Beyond the fierce affairs of the four protagonists, Lawrence creates an equally engaging subtext on the relationships between women and women, and the spheres of the male world. The exchanges between Hermione Roddice and Gudrun divulge as much knowledge of the nature of women as does Gerald and Rupert’s often homoerotic conversations.
This novel felt especially true to life for me because the time period was the same as ‘Downtown Abbey.’ (And yes I mention Downtown because this isn’t a graded essay!!). Just as the Crawley family creates a vibrant picture of the class system along with Downtown’s urgent need to embrace modernization to save the estate, so does Women in Love confront the consequences of England’s class system and the question of how to manage modernity in light of long-held traditional systems of management.
Perhaps the best way to describe this novel is as a decadent eight course meal—a grand dinner for a special occasion intended to be savored, slowly digested, and inherently praised. Except in the case of Women in Love, the reader isn’t served the final course. We are prevented from enjoying our dessert because we are either too full from the seven other plates or, perhaps more accurately, because Lawrence planned to leave the reader wanting just a bit more.