Women in Love | Study Guide

D.H. Lawrence

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Women in Love | Chapter 18 : Rabbit | Summary

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Summary

Gudrun Brangwen decides to accept the offer of employment as Winifred Crich's governess, knowing this also means Gerald Crich will become her lover. She and Winifred, who "did not notice human beings unless they were like herself, playful and slightly mocking," immediately establish a rapport. Winifred sketches her ugly, elderly dog Looloo, perfectly capturing the creature's "grotesque appearance," which delights both her and Gudrun.

Gerald returns from having been away just as Winifred and Gudrun go to visit Winfred's pet rabbit, Bismarck. Gerald points out some flowers to Gudrun. She is thrown into a "reverential, almost ecstatic admiration" for their beauty. He feels as if he is in love with her. By comparison, he feels hatred for Mademoiselle, Winifred's French governess, who is hard and carefully put together, in comparison to Gudrun's soft, luxuriant appearance. He notes Gudrun's clothing of "startling colors, like a macaw" is her way of challenging expectations.

They approach Bismarck, an enormous black-and-white rabbit caged in a hutch. Gudrun asks to take out the rabbit, and Winifred warns her of the rabbit's enormous strength. Gudrun grabs the rabbit. It lashes out from her grip, so "magically strong" Gudrun almost loses her self-possession and Winifred becomes frightened. Recovering, Gudrun feels angry at how the stupid animal has clawed at her, and Gerald realizes Gudrun has a cruel nature. As Gerald takes hold of the rabbit, it lashes out demonically. Gerald hits the rabbit in the neck, and it makes "an unearthly, abhorrent scream in the fear of death." Gudrun feels the whole episode has "torn the veil of her consciousness." The rabbit, in Gerald's grip, seems dead. Gerald and Winifred joke about how the rabbit ought to be dead. Between Gerald and Gudrun there arises a "sense of mutual hellish recognition."

Gerald drops the rabbit, and it sits immobile. Gudrun and Gerald each have red gashes on their arms. The wounds "tear the surface of [Gerald's] ultimate consciousness, letting through the forever unconscious, unthinkable red ether of the obscene beyond." The rabbit begins to run in circles, as if under a spell. The chapter closes with Winifred soothing and praising the rabbit as "mysterious" and with Gerald and Gudrun confident of their diabolical connection to each other.

Analysis

The name of Winifred Crich's rabbit is a reference to Otto von Bismarck (1815–98). Known as the "Iron Chancellor," he was the Prussian politician who created a united German empire in the late 19th century. He promoted industrialization with a strategy known as realpolitik, which emphasized practical outcomes at any cost. Bismarck is famous for declaring the way forward was through "blood and iron." The rabbit's name provides some historical context for the story and associates Gerald and Gudrun with the cruel determination of Otto von Bismarck's legacy.

In this chapter Gudrun discards her plan to move abroad, choosing to move to Shortlands instead. She is partially drawn by the memory of Winifred's screams for someone to save Diana while Diana drowned the night of the water party. This reveals Gudrun's macabre attraction to horror and death as a driving force in her decisions.

Winifred's character is revealed through two elements that are repeatedly used in the novel with symbolic significance: animals and art. She is a person whose mocking stance gives her freedom from suffering, allowing her to play with the world rather than be hurt by it. Winifred, by virtue of her character, seems to bypass all the philosophical difficulties that so trouble the novel's protagonists. The problem of finding a new way to live is irrelevant for Winifred. She has found her own way. Unlike Rupert Birkin, she doesn't require union with anyone else to get there. Being united with herself is enough.

Bismarck, the giant rabbit, establishes the commonality between Gerald and Gudrun, based on their allegiance to animalistic violence and cruelty. Gerald subdues the rabbit when Gudrun is unable to. Unlike his domination of the horse in Chapter 9, Gerald does not escape unscathed. The event with the horse was only horrifying to onlookers. This time it horrifies both Gudrun and Gerald, and it is they who bleed, rather than the animal. The rabbit is portrayed as being insane and demonic, something Gudrun and Gerald not only recognize but find themselves experiencing. Like the rabbit, they are torn out of normal consciousness. The rabbit's movements are described as not manifestations of its conscious will, nor as instinct, but as compulsions by some violent, demon-like energy. Gerald and Gudrun share recognition of this quality in the rabbit, which Winifred reacts to first with fear and later by calling it "mysterious." This kind of energy foreshadows the quality that will come to dominate their relationship as the novel unfolds.

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