Women in Love | Study Guide

D.H. Lawrence

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Women in Love | Chapter 20 : Gladiatorial | Summary



After the farcical proposal, Rupert heads directly to Shortlands, where he finds Gerald consumed by feelings that are new for him: boredom and emptiness. Gerald has done all he can do, and now there is no more. He tells Rupert there are only three remedies: taking intoxicants, being soothed by Rupert, or sex with women. Rupert suggests Gerald "try hitting something." He offers to show him the jiujitsu, or Japanese wrestling, he learned from "a Jap" in Germany. They agree to strip, and Gerald tells the butler to ensure their privacy.

As they wrestle with each other's nude bodies, "They seemed to drive their white flesh deeper and deeper against each other ..." As the fight continues, "Rupert's whole physical intelligence interpenetrated into Gerald's body ... through the muscles into the very depths of Gerald's physical being." When it is over, both men are exhausted and semiconscious, with Rupert the narrow victor and the more exhausted. Rupert slides in and out of consciousness. As he falls over Gerald's body, both Rupert himself and the known world seem to be cleaning themselves out and transforming into darkness. Rupert hears his own heartbeat as something external to him. When Rupert's heartbeat draws near to him and resumes its place inside him, he regains control of his mind. Spontaneously, Gerald clasps Rupert's hand, and Rupert responds in kind.

When they are able to speak again, their conversation is full of silence as they contemplate the sense the meaning of their match is yet unfinished. Gerald agrees with Rupert it makes sense their spiritual and emotional intimacy should be accompanied by physical intimacy. Rupert tells Gerald he finds his body beautiful, with its "northern kind of beauty—like light reflected from snow." Gerald says he feels much better. But as Rupert sits by the fire, he finds himself returning to Ursula in his mind. He explains to Gerald he has just proposed to her. Gerald is delighted at the story and calls himself Rupert's "good angel." Rupert says he thinks he loves Ursula. Gerald says he believes in abiding, unchanging true love. He says he has never found it with a woman to the degree he's felt it for Rupert. Gerald says he doesn't care what happens, as long as he feels fulfilled in life.


Gerald experiences ennui for the first time. He has made himself useless through his own success in business. His comment on the outcome of capitalism recalls Rupert's earlier "what then" statement. It also reveals Gerald's inability to sit alone with himself, hinting at a darkness in his psyche he cannot yet face. This turns him toward the idea of love or oblivion. The undertones of homosexuality become blatant. Gerald wants Rupert, the individual, whom he loves. He mentions women, but not an individual woman, because he has never loved a woman the way he loves Rupert.

Nude wrestling is a respectable manly sport with a long history. It is the perfect way for Rupert and Gerald to experience physical intimacy while maintaining a pretense of heterosexuality and noncommitment to each other. Yet, through their movements, Gerald and Rupert find each other in the place Rupert has often spoken of. It is the place beyond the mind's knowledge where knowledge lives in the blood. Despite his deep physical and spiritual communion with Gerald, once it is over, the thought they are too different makes Rupert grow distant. There is some discrepancy in this because he has always spoken of a love where each remains a singular being and balances the other. It reveals Rupert's confusion. Just as Rupert is given the chance to move deeper into a relationship with Gerald, he refuses by turning back to Ursula in his mind. This signifies Rupert perhaps lacks the courage of his convictions.

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