Women in Love | Study Guide

D.H. Lawrence

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Women in Love | Chapter 21 : Threshold | Summary



While Gudrun visits London and contemplates a permanent move away from Beldover, a letter arrives from Winifred Crich. Winifred promises Gudrun access to a studio, which persuades her to accept the position at Shortlands. Winifred wants to give Gudrun a bouquet of flowers upon her arrival but struggles with the idea it is a silly thing to do. With the help of Wilson, the man who works in the greenhouse, the bouquet is assembled.

The next morning, Gudrun arrives. Winifred presents the flowers to her, and she is also greeted by Mr. Crich, who is close to death, and Gerald. Mr. Crich is warm toward Gudrun and tells Gerald she is "remarkable." Gerald finds himself wincing under the power of her spirit, which feels like a prison to him.

She comes and sits with Mr. Crich, who despite being obviously near death, maintains a jovial and energetic attitude. He tells her about the plans for a studio, and she feigns surprise. She assures him she would be happy to stay were a studio provided. In his attempts to cling to life, Mr. Crich fastens himself upon other people. Gerald cannot stand to be in the presence of his dying father, but Winifred visits her father constantly. When the studio is finished, Gudrun and Winifred move into it, a welcome relief from the heavy energy in the house.

Thomas Crich is in and out of consciousness when he asks to see Gudrun a final time. He asks her if Winifred has artistic talent and when she answers affirmatively, he replies, "Then her life won't be altogether wasted, you think?" He asks whether Gudrun enjoys life and says, "It's good to live, isn't it?" Later, Winifred asks Gudrun whether she believes Thomas Crich will die. When Gudrun says yes, Winifred asserts she doesn't believe he will. Gerald tells Gudrun this is a good attitude for Winifred to have. He says it is "best to dance while Rome burns since it must burn, don't you think?" This lets loose a furiously strong urge in Gudrun to experience wild passion with Gerald, but she shuts down the feeling.

They go to the lodge where Winifred is playing with a litter of puppies. Rupert arrives, and they all climb into the car, with Gerald and Gudrun together in the back. Gerald asks Rupert and Gudrun if there are developments toward marriage on Ursula's part. This intrusion into their privacy irritates Gudrun. Gerald and Gudrun begin to criticize Rupert's ideas about marriage. Gudrun asserts love lasts as long as it does, and marriage is separate, being a social arrangement. They share amusement at Rupert's incoherent ideas about what marriage will deliver. Gudrun says, "I can't make out—neither can he nor anybody. He says he believes that a man and wife can go further than any other two beings—but where, is not explained. They can know each other, heavenly and hellish, but particularly hellish, so perfectly that they go beyond heaven and hell—into—there it all breaks down—into nowhere." They agree they don't care for paradise and love to them is "real abandon."


In this chapter Thomas Crich's impending death provides a means for the other characters to examine their own attitudes about death. Both Gerald Crich and Gudrun Brangwen have certain ideas about how one should go through death. Their ideas are in opposition. Gerald is repulsed by his father's denial of death. His father's refusal to die quickly results in a prolonged process of death Gerald finds "unclean." On the other hand, Gudrun Brangwen admires the persistence of Crich's will and his refusal to submit to death or to give in to despair. Winifred Crich, unlike both Gerald and Gudrun, refuses to acknowledge at all her father will die. In this way she mimics her father's own attitude. Winifred's denial of death also underscores the girl's remarkable ability to live in a world of her own invention. Gudrun's admiration for Thomas Crich is surely linked to the fact she is more distant from the family, not being part of it. But the differences in attitude between Gerald and Winifred point to differences in character and perhaps destiny. Both Gerald and Winifred are set apart and singular, and both have been present at the death of one of their siblings. It was Winifred, after all, whose shouts alerted Gerald during the water party Diana Crich had fallen into the water. Winifred, therefore, bears no moral responsibility for her sibling's death. It is her capacity to accept contrast, her secure self-esteem, and her connection to animals and to artistic expression that set her apart. On the other hand, Gerald directly caused the death of his brother when they were children. Whether it was an accident or the surfacing of an unconscious, primal death drive, it is this dark event that has set Gerald apart. It ensures he feels his father's struggle with death viscerally inside himself.

Despite their differing opinions on how death ought to be approached, Gerald and Gudrun connect through the idea that one should "dance while Rome burns." This statement is meant to express Gerald's approval of Winifred's denial of death. It functions as a sort of come-on line, meant to shift the focus from death toward a passionate, violent sexuality. Gerald senses this passion has been aroused in Gudrun and subsequently shut down. He succeeds in reestablishing this connection by bringing up the topic of Rupert's potential engagement to Ursula. Rupert's insistence he wants "a binding contract" with Ursula provides a means for Gerald and Gudrun to express their distaste for such an idea. By criticizing Rupert, Gerald and Gudrun establish they have the same idea about love or what love could look like between them: a "real abandon."

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