Women in Love | Study Guide

D.H. Lawrence

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Women in Love | Chapter 14 : Water Party | Summary

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Summary

Ursula and Gudrun walk to Shortlands with their parents to attend Thomas Crich's annual party on the lake, Willey Water. Mr. and Mrs. Brangwen are exasperated and critical of their daughters' dress and manner. They are greeted by Rupert Birkin and Gerald Crich, the latter of whom has a hurt and bandaged hand.

Gerald offers Ursula and Gudrun a ride on the next boat to have tea on the lake. They refuse and ask for their own rowboat instead to explore the land farther down. Gerald is skeptical, but they reassure him of their skill at rowing and he lets them take his canoe. He explains his hand is bandaged because some machinery crushed his fingers. The sisters row, dismount at a hidden bank near a stream, remove their clothes, and swim "silently and blissfully." They are both happy and "quite complete in a perfect world of their own." Ursula begins to sing. Gudrun feels she is "outside of life, an onlooker, whilst Ursula was a partaker." They notice a herd of cattle watching them. Gudrun, emboldened by a "strange passion," dances toward the cattle, as if in a trance. Gerald and Rupert appear, and Gerald scares the cows away. Resentful, Gudrun follows the cows up the hill, with Gerald following her. Rupert asks Ursula to sing, and he dances toward Ursula, frightening her.

On top of the hill, Gudrun suddenly rushes toward the cows, who run off. Gerald criticizes her dangerous behavior. "You think I'm afraid of you and your cattle, don't you?" she challenges before punching him lightly in the face. The blow lets loose a flood of "black emotion" in Gerald. Gudrun feels "an unconquerable desire for deep violence against him." She tells him she will strike the last blow between them. As they return to Ursula and Rupert, Gerald tells Gudrun he is in love with her. Rupert has been explaining to Ursula the "dark river of dissolution" is the true reality.

They light the boat lanterns and row back toward the party. Gudrun rows Gerald in one boat, and Rupert rows Ursula in the other. As she rows, Gudrun relishes having Gerald at her mercy, to herself. Gerald drops his guard. He allows himself to merge into a perfect state of "oneness with the whole" for the "first time in his life." But shouts of his sister Winifred alert him his sister Diana has fallen into the lake. Gudrun rows as fast as she can to the boat launch. Captain Rockley informs Gerald a young man, Doctor Brindell, has jumped in the water to rescue Diana. Gerald jumps into the water to join the search, thus far fruitless. Gudrun remains in the boat, terrified of the water yet drawn to it, afraid Gerald is gone forever. When he climbs back in the boat, Gudrun realizes Gerald is her destiny. He dives once more, and Gudrun is enveloped in horrible isolation. When he finally emerges, Gerald is "defeated ... like an animal that is suffering." Ignoring Gerald's protests, Rupert rows back to the launch, where Thomas Crich tells Gerald to return to the house. Gerald tells his father, who is still hopeful, that he is responsible for the certain deaths. As Gerald leaves, he tells Gudrun his family is cursed with an inability to right what has gone wrong.

Ursula and Rupert go to the sluice to drain the lake. The horrible noise of the water escaping makes Ursula feel as if she must "struggle for her life." Rupert tells her it doesn't matter Diana Crich has died. He would like to die himself because the life they live "is ... the life that belongs to death." He wants "love that is like sleep, like being born again, vulnerable as a baby that just comes into the world." They walk toward Beldover. Ursula returns Rupert's tender kisses with hard passion. Rupert feels himself responding passionately. He doesn't want that, for it destroys his "first perfect mood of softness and sleep loveliness."

As Rupert walks back to Shortlands, his thoughts change. He finds himself welcoming the passion he just felt. He feels nothing matters but it, and without it he was "becoming quite dead-alive, nothing but a word bag."

Back at the launch on Willey Water, Gerald tells Rupert the topography of the lake bottom makes it impossible to retrieve the bodies. Rupert urges Gerald not to imperil his own life by this searching. "You force yourself into horrors, and put a millstone of beastly memories round your neck. Come away now," Rupert urges. He asks Gerald to come to his house. Gerald tells Rupert he means "more than he knows" to him, but refuses to abandon the search.

Near dawn on the following day, Sunday, the rescuers find the body of Diana. Her arms are in a choking embrace around the neck of young Doctor Brindell. The excitement of the catastrophe spreads through town. The miners and their families feel the presence of death in their own homes, as an "almost magical" thrill." Gudrun wonders how to behave toward Gerald. Ursula spends all day waiting for Rupert to come over, "deeply and passionately in love" with him.

Analysis

In this chapter all four major characters experience positive, transcendent states. These experiences are juxtaposed against the death of Diana Crich. The death has been a result of her own exultation, dancing on the roof of the party boat. Gudrun and Ursula both feel complete and joyful when they escape the party to swim naked through the lake like Gerald did in Chapter 4. Gerald feels a sense of peace and oneness for the first time in his life. He renounces his will to Gudrun and lets her row him over the lake. After Diana's death, Rupert feels the still, tender, sleeplike love he longs for when he kisses Ursula on their way to Beldover.

Thus far in the novel death has remained distant. It is something that happened in Gerald's past when he killed his brother. Rupert idealizes death as the remedy for humanity's problems. However, in this chapter death becomes a reality. The reality of it becomes personal for all the major characters as well as for the townspeople who did not attend the party. Gerald's dive into the lake recalls his dive in Chapter 4. Instead of experiencing the perfect freedom and mastery he felt before, he feels helpless and small inside an alien universe. He can do nothing, but his will forces him to keep trying. He and Gudrun both are drawn to the water, which in this chapter gains strong associations with death. Eerily, Rupert's comments to Ursula about the river of death occur moments before the drowning, foreshadowing it.

Faced with actual death, Ursula and Rupert react differently than Gudrun and Gerald. Rupert claims death is meaningless or even welcome. However, he finds himself turning toward passion with Ursula as a way to resolve his internal contradictions. Though he is alive, Rupert's tendency to analyze and intellectualize all aspects of life have made him feel dead. For her part, Ursula finds her ambivalent feelings of hatred and attraction toward Rupert have resolved into a singular feeling of love.

The relationship between Gudrun and Gerald also develops. Gudrun deals Gerald a blow to the face. The relationship takes on a tone of violence that will mark it to its end—something Gudrun notes with seeming foresight. Significantly, Gerald's hand is bandaged and useless, putting him in the weaker position. Like Ursula and Rupert, Gerald and Gudrun are locked in a struggle. But theirs expresses itself as a violent struggle of wills rather than a passionate debate in search of truth.

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