D. H. Lawrence: Sons and Lovers, Women in Love

  • T. B. Tomlinson


A persistent criticism of Women in Love has been that it is the climax of a literary career expressing distrust in, and finally disgust with, modern life. I do not myself believe this to be true, any more than I believe parallel charges against Conrad to be true, but some of those who do would add that it is not just ‘modern’ life, or our mechanistic civilisation, that Lawrence distrusts, but humanity itself. Thus Gerald’s delight in choking Gudrun — ‘The pure zest of satisfaction filled his soul. He was watching the unconsciousness come into her swollen face, watching the eyes roll back. How ugly she was!’ — is mirrored in, for instance, ‘The Prussian Officer’, in Paul Morel’s treatment of Miriam, and in the twisted view of love that many of Lawrence’s stories seem to entail. On this reading the whole business is summed up in Birkin’s contemptus mundi; which, moreover, is literally ‘contempt’ since it appears to look forward to nothing beyond the mechanistic quasi-Darwinian hope that the ‘creative mystery’ will throw up new and ‘higher’ forms of life, superseding the now worn-out notion of humanity:

‘The whole idea is dead. Humanity itself is dryrotten, really. There are myriads of human beings hanging on the bush — and they look very nice and rosy, your healthy young men and women. But they are apples of Sodom, as a matter of fact, Dead Sea Fruit, gall-apples. It isn’t true that they have any significance — their insides are full of bitter, corrupt ash.’ (Women in Love, ch. xi)


Modern Life Symbolic Extension Parallel Charge Perfect Line Kitchen Fire 
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© T. B. Tomlinson 1976

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  • T. B. Tomlinson

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