Women in Love | Study Guide

D.H. Lawrence

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Women in Love | Chapter 17 : The Industrial Magnate | Summary

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Summary

There is a period of distance between Ursula and Rupert as well as Gudrun and Gerald. Gudrun is preparing to move abroad, perhaps to Russia. One day Ursula and Gudrun go to buy honey from a woman named Mrs. Kirk who cared for the Crich children when they were young. She describes Gerald as having been "a proper demon" at six months old.

At Shortlands Thomas Crich is in the process of dying. He is consumed by a pain and a darkness that are inside him but are somehow directly related to his wife. Throughout his whole life he has maintained an attitude of pity in response to her violent and impatient personality. The narrator notes death will save him from ever facing the things he has failed to examine during life.

As an employer, Crich was guided by Christian morals to care for his men. His workers were "unconsciously his idol, his God made manifest." His wife always opposed this charitable attitude, but social norms kept her from leaving her ill-suited life with him. She was like "a hawk in a cage" and responded to her imprisonment by "sink[ing] into silence." Mrs. Crich isolated herself in disgust at her husband's seeming need to "feed on the miseries of the people." Their marriage diminished them both, destroying her mind while destroying his vitality. Thomas Crich will die with his idealized image of his wife as a "white snowflower" intact. In recent years she has lost interest in her children, with the exception of Gerald.

As Thomas Crich dies, he seeks sympathy from Gerald, despite the rivalry that has always existed between them. Thomas Crich's illness has also had the effect of putting Gerald in charge of running the mines. Now Thomas Crich clings to the idea he must ensure his daughter Winifred will have a good and happy life.

Winifred is a strange child, free from suffering because of her detached stance toward the world. Mr. Crich sees in Gudrun Brangwen a way to save Winifred. Meanwhile, Gerald is feeling lost. All the ideas that had guided him seem also to be dying. He has lost his faith in the idea of the machine and is consumed by episodes of hatred. As a child, he idealized the old warrior heroes of Greece. For him life meant the "savage freedom" of outdoor exploration. He attended college in Germany, fought in the war, and then "traveled into the savage regions." He was disappointed to find that "the savage was duller, less exciting, than the European."

Having inherited the task of revitalizing and modernizing his father's mining company, Gerald at last found a way to apply himself. He adopts a functional view of life. In this view the value of a person is based on how well they can perform the assigned task, what is known as "pure instrumentality." Gerald is motivated only by "the pure fulfillment of his own will in the struggle with natural conditions." He rejects his father's idea the mines should be run so as to provide a good life for the miners.

Gerald was a child when Thomas Crich was forced to close the mines in response to a wage dispute. This hurt his father because he "wanted his industry to be run on love." A state of war broke out, and Gerald found himself longing to fight with the soldiers.

Gerald saw how his father was trapped between his values of Christian charity and the necessity to maintain authority in running his business. Gerald, by contrast, discarded the idea of charity. He became the "God of the machine," as the entire enterprise was an expression of his singular will.

Gerald's reforms created efficiency without regard for the welfare of his workers. He reasoned without such reforms, the mines would not be able to operate and everyone would be without a job. Even though the work paid less and was harder than before, the miners adapted to Gerald's way. They felt they were part of one of man's great achievements, even though it was destroying them.

Gerald created such a state of perfect efficiency he made himself redundant. He had achieved his goal, and there was nothing left for him to do. As a result he begins to be afraid and to feel his face is "a mask." A talk with Rupert can reduce his fear temporarily. Otherwise, Gerald strove increasingly harder to hold off the dark meaninglessness that threatened to absorb him. He used to find relief in sex with women, but that, too, has ceased to satisfy him.

Analysis

In this chapter the reader gets a first look at the inner dynamics of the Crich family. The family appeared in the novel in Chapters 1 and 2, which described Laura Crich's wedding and reception. They appeared again in Chapter 14 when Diana Crich drowns at the annual water party. However, these chapters portrayed the Crich family from the outside, as an observer might see them in attending one of these events. Inside Shortlands, the family is undergoing a major transition in the wake of Diana's death, as Thomas Crich enters a long, slow, dying process.

The marriage of Thomas and Christiana Crich is a union that has destroyed them both. They were bound together despite extreme ideological opposition. Thomas Crich's guiding values in his business were Christian love and charity. His wife opposed what she viewed as an invitation for the workers to make parasitic demands of Thomas. But social norms prevented her from leaving the cage of marriage, condemning them both to a life marked by irreconcilable conflict. The suffering has given rise to a whole family of offspring who are unable to live well. This underscores the urgency of searching for a new kind of marriage and a new meaning for love Rupert and Ursula undertake.

Imagery of whiteness and snow is used to link Mrs. Crich to Gerald. Her husband understands her in terms of these elements, insisting despite all evidence to the contrary she is his pure, white snowflower. Gerald has also shared his mother's ideological opposition to his father, from the time Gerald was a boy if Mrs. Kirk is to be believed.

Thomas Crich's death has a meaning beyond the disruption of the Crich family. It symbolizes the death of the old values and the old way of life. Gerald Crich witnessed the problems his father's approach to business generated during his childhood. As the one in charge, Gerald has chosen values that are in direct opposition to his father's. These values are those of mechanized, industrial capitalism. Foregoing the messiness of love, Gerald has sought and achieved a degree of efficiency that is so perfect it is like a perpetual motion machine. Gerald set it into motion, but he is no longer necessary. All Gerald's worldly interests and activities were rooted in his involvement with the mining operation. He now faces an identity crisis and a terror of being absorbed within a deathlike state of meaninglessness.

Gerald's sense his face is a mask suggests, like his father, he has failed to examine inward truths and spent all his energy on the external world. But because the work of love is never done, Thomas Crich will be saved from this crisis by death's approach. Efficiency, however, has its limits. Gerald finds himself like a god at loose ends, who must turn to destruction now that his creation has been perfected.

The character of Winifred Crich represents a new kind of person. She contains elements of the other main characters, but they are arranged in a way that makes her freer than they could ever be. Like Gerald, she runs on her own will. Unlike Gerald, she is not marked by death. Like Gudrun, she is artistic and mocking. Unlike Gudrun, she does not feel pressured by insecurity to act against her own best interest. Like Rupert, she is entirely changeable. Unlike him, she doesn't form painful attachments or feel a need to dissect and remake the world. Her father senses these things. His clinging to life takes the form of a quest to ensure Winifred's nature is not deformed by the process of living.

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