Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Book Review: Women In Love - D. H. Lawrence

Synopsis - Women in Love reintroduces two sisters, Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen, who initially appeared in Lawrence's previous novel, The Rainbow (1915).  Ursula's relationship with Rupert Birkin, an introspective and misanthropic school inspector, is contrasted with that of Gudrun and Gerald Crich, an overbearing industrialist.  Set in a coal-mining town in the English Midlands, their stories explore the disastrous effects of industrialisation on the psyche and suggest that rebirth can be achieved through emotional intensity.

Review - Having just read the back cover (where I have taken the synopsis), I read that Lawrence considered this novel to be his masterpiece.  Oh goodness me!  If this is his masterpiece then what are his other books like!  D.H. Lawrence is considered one of our foremost classic fiction writers and with such status, I felt I should read his novels.  Whether this was the best one to read first, I don't know.  To be honest, I'm not sure I want to read any more to find out.

First of all, I found his writing style rather pompous and arrogant.  What was he trying to achieve?  I can see that he writes fairly typically of his time, and his audience were obviously the highbrow in literary circles.  I did not like the characters very much.  I found horrid Hermione to be vapid, manipulative and controlling - whatever gave her the right to hit people?  Mrs Crich, selfish, unloving and rather strange.  Ursula the elder sister, wasn't so bad, I could understand why she didn't want to rush into marriage with the introspective Rupert.  However once she did succumb to the idea and agree, she became very whiny and needy, constantly asking him if he loved her.  Gudrun, the younger sister - well - what a cold, manipulative character she was, withholding and driving her lover to nearly murder her and then kill himself!  Mrs Brangwen was the only likeable character and I really could not understand why her daughters saw fit to mock and laugh at her.  I find Lawrence's characterisations of women to be rather insulting.  Yes, women can be manipulative but I have not come across any who are as dreadful as this cast.

Let's look at the men.  We have Mr Brangwen the father who is always at loggerheads with his eldest daughter.  He is a school master and his daughters have followed into the profession, although Gudrun is an artist.  Mr B is controlling, quick tempered but the daughter's seem to be rather selfish and self indulgent.  Rupert Birkin is a rather wet character, very introspective and does not really know his own mind.  Rather idealistic but unrealistic too.  Gerald Crich, I actually found fairly likeable.  An industrialist who takes over the running of the family firm and tightens the ship somewhat.  Very good looking, a heartbreaker who could have any woman.  Although he does love Gudrun, he finds it hard to admit to her and they seem to have a continual battle of wills.  Mr Crich, Gerald's father who is dying does come across as a decent sort.  He looks after his workers (miners), despite the opposition from his hard hearted wife.  He is besotted with his youngest daughter Winnie and you feel that he will not let go and die until he is sure everything is settled.

This book was supposedly a shocker and I can see why for it's time.  Lawrence introduces us to fiercely independent women who initially are opposed to marriage but want to be lovers.  Ahead of its time, maybe.  We are familiar with discussion between both sexes on an intellectual level, read Jane Austen and other early authors and see the influence women had on their husbands in history.  In terms of graphic erotica, there is none, today's books can offer much more detail,  In this book you get the jist through Lawrence's choice of words rather than any blatant description.  It would not shock today.  However, a parallel runs along, we have the two relationships between the sisters and their partners but there is also a reference of a homoerotic nature between Rupert and Gerald although this is not followed through.

I'm not a fan of Mr Lawrence and I found this book quite a struggle. 2*

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