“Do you love me?” “Do you love me?” “But do you really love me?” It’s been said that Daisy Buchanan (The Great Gatsby) is the most disliked female character in all of literary history. Maybe. But I found the needy and pathetic Ursula Brangwen of D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love more insufferable and her sister Gudren colder and crueler. It got to the point that I would find myself rolling my eyes or scoffing audibly at their dialogue. The women in Women in Love have no redeeming qualities. Can’t imagine wanting to be like them, having friends or family like them, let alone falling in love with them. And that’s what happens in Women in Love. Male characters as damaged as these female characters couple up with them and create further damaged relationships. And yet, Lawrence clearly respects his male characters, giving them more depth and redeeming qualities. They do love each other and the description of the male bonding is written with tenderness and admiration.
I didn’t find the book difficult to read. I just didn’t like it. I didn’t like the characters. I didn’t like the dialogue. “After all, who can take the nationalisation of Ireland seriously? Who can take political Ireland really seriously, whatever it does?” Umm, the Irish? People actually involved in the world and what’s going on in it? It was certainly a topical issue in 1916-21 England when the book was written and published. I didn’t find Daisy anywhere near as insufferable as this.
The only beauty I saw in the book was in the passages dealing with, whether narrative or dialogue, Birkin’s love for Gerald. This was beautiful writing. His mourning at the end was palpable, so wrought with real emotion that it brought tears. Why didn’t Lawrence write as beautifully when it pertained to the female characters in the novel? Was it a purposeful decision? Was he trying to further alienate them from the reader? It does add to their despicableness. But it also takes away from the book itself. How much better the work would have been if the writing had been so eloquent throughout and Lawrence had felt less of a need to preach to his reader. 500 plus pages is a lot to read for so little beauty with lengthy spaces of monotony and dislike.
Am I glad I read it? Not so much. I respect the opinion that Lawrence is considered one of the great English writers. As noted above, parts of the book were beautifully written. And I did keep reading until the end so it had something. I’ll try one more Lawrence novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, for which he is most known and then decide if I agree with that opinion. Or if I agree with one of my favorite authors, James Joyce, “The man writes really badly.”