Women in Love | Study Guide

D.H. Lawrence

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Women in Love | Chapter 2 : Shortlands | Summary

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Summary

The wedding reception is held at Shortlands, the Crich family estate. Shortlands is "rural and picturesque, very peaceful." It is hidden from the mining operation the next valley over, separated by a narrow lake called Willey Water and the forest.

The chatter of the women dominates the gathering, while the men stand about seeming uncertain and bored. Mrs. Crich enters the room and begins to engage Rupert Birkin in a private conversation. Rupert notes her unkempt appearance, which seems to correspond to her confused, detached state of being. Mrs. Crich says she doesn't know most of the people present and wonders why she is expected to know them, as they have no significance for her. Rupert responds most people amount to nothing and therefore ought to be "wiped out." Mrs. Crich says she barely knows her own children, except for Gerald, whom she says has never had a friend. She asks Rupert to be Gerald's friend. Mentally, Rupert rejects the idea he is "[his] brother's keeper." He remembers these words are those of the biblical character Cain, who killed his own brother. Gerald is like Cain, Rupert thinks, because he accidentally killed his brother when they were boys. He ponders whether accidents truly exist or if "everything that happens has a universal significance." Rupert decides he does not believe in accidents.

The manservant, Crowther, bangs a gong indicating lunch is ready. The guests ignore this summons but respond immediately when Gerald blows into a conch shell. He makes a noise that is "almost magical" and "unearthly." At the table Gerald's 14-year-old sister, Winifred, chides Gerald for making such a loud noise when their father is trying to rest. Her sister Diana, who is slightly older, drinks wine in defiance of Gerald after securing the consent of their indifferent mother. Mrs. Crich sits next to Rupert and repeatedly asks him to identify various people at the table.

During lunch, Hermione criticizes patriotism because it encourages rivalry and creates "bad blood" between nations, which she compares to businesses. Gerald disagrees. He says nations are based on race and are like families. He claims competition between nations, or emulation, drives progress. Hermione is pleased when Rupert announces he "detest[s] the spirit of emulation." Gerald then argues laws are necessary to ensure liberty because they restrain humanity's violent and immoral nature. He offers the symbolic example of two men fighting because one has stolen the other's hat. Rupert counters with the argument a man can retain his freedom and avoid violence without the law because he can choose to be indifferent to the theft. Hermione says she would kill someone who stole her hat. Laura Crich ends the conversation by calling for a toast, and Rupert is consumed with hatred for humanity.

After lunch the party moves outside. Rupert tells Gerald he and the groom, Lupton, were late for the wedding because they were discussing the immortality of the soul. This interests Gerald, but he is irritated to learn his sister Laura raced her tardy groom to the church door. Rupert praises Laura's spontaneous and authentic behavior, saying all humans should behave so authentically. Gerald counters this would lead to constant murder. Rupert claims murders are a result of the mutual desire of "a murderer" and "a man who is murderable." He claims Gerald's opinion suggests "a profound if hidden lust ... to be murdered." The narrator notes this conversation has "brought [Rupert and Gerald] into a deadly nearness of contact, a strange, perilous intimacy of hate or love, or both." The two men suppress their deep, heartfelt desire for each other because each believes intimacy between men is "unnatural and unmanly."

Analysis

This chapter's action is continuous with the previous chapter, following the wedding party from the church in Willey Green to Shortlands, the Crich estate. The three settings so far presented (the first being Beldover) represent an ascension through the class stratification of the social world Lawrence writes about. All three settings are manifestations of the coal economy, but only one of them evokes horror and despair: Beldover, where the miners and their families work and live. Willey Green represents a middle step, with the church and school being links between the commoners and the lower crust. Shortlands, however, is at the apex of the socioeconomic hierarchy, being the home of mine owner Thomas Crich. Water is often evoked significantly in the novel, and it is important that Willey Water is situated as a threshold between these different worlds.

Despite the outward signs of success, this chapter hammers the point much is amiss within the Crich family. Both parents are absent from their daughter's wedding celebration. Although Mrs. Crich is physically present, she is mentally and emotionally removed. She even relies on Rupert, an outsider, to tell her whether her children are present. Lawrence takes care in describing the clothes and appearance of the characters, which are signals for their personalities. Mrs. Crich's utter lack of interest in the outside world is reflected in her unclean appearance. Though Gerald is a genial, charming host, his mother reveals to Rupert he has passed through his life without a friend. This comment leads Rupert to speculate on the connection between Gerald and the Cain of the Bible. In Genesis 4 Cain is cursed by God to be "a fugitive and a vagabond" throughout his life.

The conversation between Gerald and Rupert that closes the chapter shows Rupert insisting with utter confidence Gerald secretly longs to be murdered. This is a shocking statement that nonetheless fits with the biblical connection. After receiving his curse from God, Cain stated all who found him would try to kill him. Also, in this chapter Hermione reveals her penchant for violence when she states she would kill in response to someone taking her hat. This statement contradicts her initial argument it is wrong to provoke "bad blood" between nations. In this way Lawrence instantly associates both Hermione and Gerald with violence. He draws Hermione as a hypocrite who will say anything for the sake of argument and demonstrates Gerald's support for industrial capitalism.

Rupert, despite his feeling of disgust for humanity and contempt for most individuals, does not tend toward violence. His contempt manifests as indifference to preserve his personal peace of mind (in the example of the hat theft). It is evident as an abstract wish humanity be eradicated by some greater force. He says humanity, lacking meaning, would be better that it didn't exist. In this perverse way, two things are established. The reader realizes Rupert's nature as a seeker of profound truth and understanding. The reader also understands Rupert's sometimes grating overconfidence in his own ideas. Both of these elements will drive the novel's plot.

Finally, the closing interaction between Gerald and Rupert establishes two more important elements. The ambiguous nature of love and hate, including the close association of what are commonly presumed to be separate and opposing states, is a major theme in the novel. The suppressed attraction or love between Gerald and Rupert is also established. This also fortifies the idea social norms exert a distorting, falsifying influence on human self-expression.

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