Women in Love | Study Guide

D.H. Lawrence

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Women in Love | Chapter 12 : Carpeting | Summary



Ursula Brangwen and Rupert Birkin join Hermione Roddice and Gerald Crich inside the millhouse. The kitchen is full of caged canaries who sing wildly as if conversing until Mrs. Salmon simulates night by covering their cages. Ursula is astounded: "How absurd! Really, how can anyone have any respect for a creature that is so easily taken in?"

The task of the afternoon is to measure Rupert's rooms so they can be furnished. Hermione acts as if she is in charge of it all and addresses Rupert with flirtatious concern. Rupert submits to her will as Gerald and Ursula stand by, annoyed. Hermione insists upon giving Rupert a carpet for his room. He doesn't want anything from her but resigns himself to her will.

After the measuring is done, the four move outside to take tea. Ursula tells Gerald how she hated him the other day for his mistreatment of the horse at the railroad crossing. This begins a discussion about the natural order between humans and animals, with Ursula advocating for humane treatment of animals. Gerald claims the horse exists to serve him and its will must submit to his superior will. Hermione claims to have "made herself right" using her own willpower. Rupert tells Gerald a horse, unlike "human beings," has two contradictory wills. One wants to submit to "human power," but the other seeks freedom. He continues, "And woman is the same as horses: two wills act in opposition inside her. With one will, she wants to subject herself utterly. With the other she wants to bolt and pitch her rider to perdition." Ursula scoffs, saying her will wants freedom.

Hermione and Ursula go outside to walk and talk, and a sense of connection arises. They share the feeling intellectual analysis of the world destroys its "beauty" and "true holiness," and that "something must be left to the Lord." Agreeing, they begin to distrust each other and return to the men. Inside, Ursula refuses to join the group for dinner. She tells Gerald man's supremacy over animals does not give him "the right to violate the feelings of the inferior creation." On her way home, Ursula attempts to persuade herself not to dislike Hermione. Ursula realizes she and Rupert are going to fight each other, and their conflict will bring either "death ... or new life."


This chapter develops the theme of the will as a source of power. It places this idea in the context of male-female relations and the relationship between humanity and other creatures. Rupert's argument comparing horses to women implies the existence of a natural order based on will, where men are at the top of the hierarchy. Below men are women and other animals of inferior, divided will. Rupert claims human beings have a complete will, unlike horses. He says the wills of horses and women are the same, implying women are not complete human beings, like men. Ursula directly challenges this offensive, misogynistic idea. However, her tone is mocking, almost flirtatious, and the men ignore her. Hermione simply zones out.

However, the earlier events in the chapter suggest a discrepancy between Rupert's intellectual position and reality. In Chapter 11 he told Ursula the relationship between him and Hermione was finished. Now, however, he allows her into his home. He submits to her control of the situation and her insistence he furnish his room with her carpet. Fearful of her anger, he "obey[s] her subduedly." In this battle of wills, Rupert is the one "defeated": the carpet is the symbol of Hermione's superior will. Hermione does not need to challenge his argument like Ursula does. She knows she has Rupert under her control. Undermined by the actual situation, Rupert's argument about horses and women seems like defensive, hypocritical, intellectual bluster. Ursula recognizes she and Rupert are bound together as opponents in a shared search for truth. Their fight will either destroy their lust for truth (and connection) or it will bring them together, to that which they seek.

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