My “50” project is to read, starting with number 50 and working my way to number one, the top 50 of the top 100 titles on the Modern Library’s Top 100 Novels List. We’ve created a “Dave’s 50 After 50” tag, and you are welcome to read along with me.
H. Lawrence’s Women in Love is set in pre WWI Britain, and is a deep examination of British society, relations between men and women, and the interactions of propriety and desire. It continues the story of the Brangwen sisters, Ursula and Gudrun, who were first introduced in The Rainbow. Their courtship of two men in the village, Rupert Birkin, a teacher, and Gerard Crich, an industrialist, is the main story arc of the book.
The relationships are very different. Ursula and Birkin’s pairing revolves around his attachment to a former partner whose controlling ways still have him under her spell. Gudrun and Crich have a strong sexual attraction, but as time goes on, Crich is less able to connect emotionally. The denouement of both relationships and their eventual success or failure culminates in the Tyrolean Alps during a winter holiday.
This is a book which is clearly “of its era”. It’s a fascinating glimpse into British society and the conflict between social and sexual mores of the time. It dives deeply into a person’s relationship between their will, intellect, and desire. Can one integrate all three? Is it best to follow your intellect, or your desire? How do you “will” yourself do something you don’t desire, or to control your desire to do something your intellect knows is wrong? The juxtaposition of both relationships at times draws the other in sharp relief.
H. Lawrence’s Women in Love is a great book, though a bit dated in its concerns with morality. I preferred it very slightly to the 50th book of the top 50, Tropic of Cancer.
As a work in the United States public domain, Women in Love is available as a free ebook download from Project Gutenberg.