Women in Love | Study Guide

D.H. Lawrence

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Women in Love | Chapter 11 : An Island | Summary

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Summary

Having left Gudrun sketching on the banks of Willey Water, Ursula finds Rupert fixing a punt, or small wooden boat, at the millpond. They row out to an island in the middle of the pond. They haven't seen one another since Breadalby. Rupert has been ill—a result of his failure to live correctly, he says. Ursula claims to be happy but is, like Rupert, in search of "a way out." Anxiously, she folds paper boats out of chocolate wrappers. Rupert begins to explain his beliefs, while Ursula questions and challenges him.

Rupert claims to loathe humankind and himself. He compares humanity to a bush covered in "dry-rotten" fruit—the individuals who refuse to "fall off the tree when they're ripe." Humanity is "a tree of lies," insisting upon love's supremacy while really cherishing hate. Rupert presents his vision of a world that has been cleaned of humanity. It is "just uninterrupted grass, and a hare sitting up," where something better might arise. Ursula contemplates the mixture of fury, amusement, and tolerance in Rupert's personality. She realizes that "in spite of himself, he would have to be trying to save the world." She hates this because she wants him to herself.

Ursula insists Rupert must, nonetheless, "believe in individual love"; Rupert counters love is merely one emotion among many. She silences Rupert by arguing if he really hated humanity, as he says, then he would withdraw from it. Ursula's hatred for him grows because she dislikes his "certain priggish Sunday-school stiffness," yet she is simultaneously attracted to him. They argue about the meaning of the word love until Ursula moves away and Rupert begins "unconsciously" picking daisies and letting them float away. Watching the flowers in their "slow, slow Dervish dance," Ursula feels as if "some sort of control was being put on her." They row back to the mainland, and Ursula nearly cries with mystic wonder at the sight of the daisies on the pond.

Rupert tells Ursula he's living at the millhouse and plans to assume a solitary, self-sufficient lifestyle. Assuring her his relationship with Hermione Roddice is over, Rupert tells her to get the "freedom together" he ultimately wants, he must "throw everything away." They hear Gerald Crich and Hermione Roddice arrive to see his rooms, and Rupert convinces Ursula to join them.

Analysis

This chapter follows Ursula's perspective as she challenges Rupert's beliefs. Ursula compares him unfavorably to a preacher. This is not something Rupert would be flattered by, nor is it something he would admit about himself. Yet, Ursula is not the only character in the book to take note of this preacherly aspect of Rupert's personality. Indeed, Rupert uses a number of biblical references in this chapter to support his argument for humanity's rottenness. He calls people "dead sea fruit," which literally refers to a tree infested with galls that grows in the Middle East. It also conveys the idea of something that looks good but is disappointing. Rupert's references to love and charity are "the greatest" echo of the book of Corinthians in the New Testament of the Bible. His words—"by their works ye shall know them"—echo the New Testament book of Matthew.

Rupert's use of biblical ideas and his longing for an apocalypse that will erase humanity show his foundation is in Christianity. Ursula's sensing of his "Salvator Mundi" (savior of the world) tendencies point to a Christian understanding of the world. It mirrors the Christian story of creation, degradation and decay, and salvation. Yet, Rupert is made more complex by the fundamental contradictions Ursula senses in his personality. He is angry but also amused. He claims to loathe people, but actually—in his work in education and in his relentless philosophizing—is bent on saving them. These contradictions in Rupert—hateful anger paired with a desire to help—create contradictory feelings in Ursula: hatred and attraction.

Just as Ursula's contradictory emotions mirror Rupert's internal contradictions, the chapter's setting mirrors the form of their conversation. Their passage by boat from shore to island is symbolic of a much longer, more significant journey. This journey takes place not in space, but in their conversation ranging from the inward and personal to the cosmological. There is also a mirroring of boat imagery. Besides the boat they travel in, Ursula makes paper boats. Rupert sends daisies off onto the water like boats. The daisy boats convey the unity of humanity and nature, and this union strikes Ursula deeply and seems to put a spell on her. Their movement in a spinning "Dervish dance" is a reference to the traditional dances of Sufism, a branch of Islam. The Sufi dervish dance is a means of achieving ecstatic union with everything through the participation of one's body. In contrast with Rupert's philosophizing, Ursula responds deeply to these daisy boats. This suggests that "the way out" they both seek involves ecstatic, sensuous participation with the nonhuman world.

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