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Grace and Ambivelance
on December 4, 2003
Women in Love, as the title would suppose, should be about women in love. Herein lies the complexity of Lawrence: the novel is about men in love, who only through there female counterparts, are able to foster the emotional disposition necessary for what they really strive for, namely, each other.
Meet Birkin, a morose and exasperated cynic, who is tired of Aristocratic English life and wants something more, deeper, spiritual. However, this 'spirituality' he is so fond of is not that of religion, but of 'sensuality', which in this particular novel is the code-word for 'sexuality'. His rather heated and ambivalent relationship with Gerald, his strong, virile, and confident friend, borders on homo-erotic. (In one memorable scene, the two men get naked and 'wrestle' eachother.)
However, Birkin and Gerald are technically straight, and acquire amorous relationships with Ursula and Gundrun, respectively. The women are independent minded artists, who despite their strong personalities, wrestle with the idea of marriage, and the subordination that goes along with it. This implicates a broader theme of the book: Being trapped- whether it be by gender roles, love, desire, one's country, social economic standing, etc. All four characters suffer the peril of their own stagnation, trying to transgress any boundary they can, which in this book, between their bodies.
The novel was infamously banned by England upon publication, and was only printed for subscribing Americans. Some of the most vivid parts of the book are the sex scenes, which are not necessarily 'graphic', but highly suggestive, using words like, 'erect, explode, release, etc.'
Lawrence is remembered as a troubled man (he had an Oedipal relationship with his mom, some suggest). His characters are gritty, obtuse, even crass. Yet he writes about nature with the compassion and earnestness of Thoreau and Woodsworth. Lawrence is not a philosopher of the cerebral, but of the visceral- be it human bodies or nature. For Lawrence, union between all things is only possible where the irrational counters the rational. This novel investigates such polarities.