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More prominently known as the author of the controversial ‘Lady Chatterly’s Lover’ (banned on the grounds of being obscene and vulgar), D.H.Lawrence’s ‘Women in Love’ is said to be based in part on Lawrence's own stormy marriage to German aristocrat Frieda von Richthofen. Written in 1916, published in the early 1920’s, it is a sequel to his earlier novel ‘The Rainbow’ (1915).
The plot opens with an introduction to the Brangwen sisters in their mid twenty’s – Ursula and Gudrun; in the coal-mining town of Beldover, England. The former is a class mistress in the local Grammar School, opinionated but shy; while the latter is an artist, who prefers living a studio life and seems to have a fetish for bright coloured stockings.
The male protagonists are Rupert Birkin – the school inspector, a man of eccentric spiritual philosophies, and Gerald Crich – the heir of the rich coal miner, a savage looking man who radiates virility. The four meet at one social gathering (a wedding in the Crich family) and slowly, as the plot progresses, it witnesses the blooming of love between Gundrun & Gerald, and Rupert & Ursula.
The foremost themes of the entire plot continue to remain love and marriage throughout, but at the same time, Lawrence has subtly and wittily infused topics of grievous discussions. Topics that vary from politics to art, from death to animal cruelty and everything under the sun. There are plenty of instances when there are fierce discussions between Gerald and Rupert, on topics that in today’s era seem absolutely petty and bizarre, but back then, were of grave importance; the half knowledge of which seems to leave the readers weary.
There remains a subtle sense of decorum and propriety, an invisible memoranda of social statuses, blatant expressions and bold conversations amidst the two couples, a sense of curiosity that attracts the reader to the plot. (A few captivating occurrences – Chapter 10: Sketchbook, Chapter 19: Moony). Love prospers at a very slow pace, but once it does, is followed with restlessness, anxiety, a need to possess the other, a demand for complete surrender, and much more; turmoil and feelings that one can relate to even today. The initial glow fades into a series of assurances and forced confessions of undying love.
On one hand the relationship between Gerald and Gundrun gets strained, while on the other, Ursula and Rupert are united in the bond of marriage. Ursula begins to become fussy and falls prey to fretfulness, while Gundrun starts feeling suffocated and begins flamboyant insidious communications with Loerke, a free willed German artist, that she befriends on the vacation that the two couples undertake to the snowy mountains.
The descriptive language used by Lawrence is a powerful tool that unconsciously makes the readers visualize the scenarios, making them feel an avid contributor to the story that is taking place. The most enthralling aspect is that the two women protagonists are portrayed in total contrast to each other, and yet have the common similarities of being confident and liberated in their thoughts.
Women in love is not a dove-eyed story of romance. Instead, it is a whirlwind of emotions; it questions everything that one believes in. All the four characters, at every stage of their life, in every circumstance, always feel that in spite of living in grandeur, there is something always missing.
There is no pure love without loss and there is no great story without tragedy. The ending resonates the same feeling of emptiness and incompleteness that one feels at times in life. The only drawback is that the entire story is too long and consumes a lot of time to reach the climax (in short, the book is long). Thus, Patience must always be a vital virtue that one must possess while devouring a classic!