Title: Women in Love

Published: 1920

Author: D.H. Lawrence

Challenge status: #75 on Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century, and frequent target of banning attempts (frequently challenged classics) according to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Book #34 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why: A-ha! was seized by John Summers (Sumner??) of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice and declared obscene (1922). Check out this gig: the Society was chartered by the New York state legislature, allowing the group to search, seize and arrest…and get 50% of all fines levied in resulting cases. Hmmm!!! At least the conflicts of interest are writ large for this group established to police the morality of the public.

First line: ”Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen sat one morning in the window-bay of their father’s house in Beldover, working and talking.”

Synopsis:

Let me just start off by saying that D.H. Lawrence has not just one but THREE novels in the Radcliffe Top 100 and they are ALL on the ALA OIF frequently challenged classics list, as well. I’d read one of them already (Lady Chatterley’s Lover), but, had to read at least one more to fulfill my summer project. Lawrence is a good writer but getting through some of these books is like getting through molasses.

So, Women in Love. Imagine, if you will, a classic Jane Austen set-up. Two nearly spinster (i.e. almost 30 years old) sisters who are frightfully well-bred, a little too educated, a little too proud for their neighborhood. They end up meeting their respective matches and go through a hyper-extended courtship, after which one pair ends up “happily” married and the other pair ends up in a longish-term love affair, not quite as happily. And then something bad happens, which, seems almost fated given the horrible karma associated with love gone bad.

The thing about Lawrence, that made him a pioneer, but also makes him a bit tiresome from my personal perspective – is that he himself is in love with this concept of naturalism as applied to the human psyche and human relationships. His male protagonists are always in a dirty business, literally – gardeners or coal miners for example. Connected with the earth. While his female leads tend towards being refined; disconnected from their earthy, raw natures. Either too innocent or too cold/distant to be connected to their most human of impulses. These ladies tend not to understand nor get along with their earthy female counterparts – rough peasant stock. In this way the refined women are attracted to the earthy, dirty men because their senses are overwhelmed, these men-of-the-earth unlock their hidden selves & desires…and then la la la. (I mean, isn’t this also one of the formulae of the modern romance novel?)

In Women in Love Lawrence does attempt to look at love through many lenses by focusing in on the relationships of many characters: parent to child, sibling love, intellectual love, potential lovers, former lovers, casual lovers, rivals, friends, etc. And I do think his take on his characters’ inner monologues often strikes true notes – however it also feels like he only captures parts of each character’s inner thoughts – and if you’ve got voices in your head like I have in mine – it’s when internal dialogue is in conflict that it is most interesting. Impulses clash with expectations, strategic plans versus in-the-moment decisions.

In contrast, Lawrence’s characters are remarkably simple as far as what they’re thinking/feeling – it’s *communicating* that causes the problems for these young people. They speak to each other and can’t understand each other, but pretend they do and then the misunderstandings fester and rot. This may be a comment on the innocence of the characters but it reads of weakness. For example towards the end of the book: Ursula is terribly jealous of any other relationship her husband has – even with his family, even with platonic male friends – and cannot understand why his relationship with her can’t fulfill ALL of his needs. Is that a joke? Is that really a thought pattern of a healthy woman in the early 20th century? Maybe it is/was, but in the character of Ursula it reads more like weakness, obstinacy, unwillingness to consider the thoughts/feelings of others, of one-dimensionality.

Lawrence writes interesting characters and puts his interesting characters into vivid, well-illustrated situations. It would just be nice if they seemed a little more human and a little less like cartoon characters with unchanging thought balloons following them from scene to scene.