Women in Love | Study Guide

D.H. Lawrence

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Women in Love | Chapter 3 : Classroom | Summary



It is a late afternoon shortly after Laura Crich's wedding. Ursula Brangwen is teaching her students about plant reproduction by having them sketch catkins, the phallic-shaped male flowers of certain trees. Rupert startles her when he appears in her classroom shortly before the end of the school day. She sees his face lit like fire in a beam of light through the window, and he is taken by Ursula's beauty. Rupert switches on the light and instructs Ursula to have the students use crayons to draw simple forms in their books to represent the male and female flowers.

Hermione Roddice comes into the classroom. At first she ignores Ursula and addresses Rupert exclusively. She is full of sangfroid (calm composure), but her energy is strange and mocking. Rupert shows Hermione the small female flowers. He explains that "from those little red bits, the nuts come; if they receive pollen from the long danglers." She becomes strangely entranced in a "mystic passion" by the red female flowers, calling them "little red flames." The class is dismissed, and Hermione asks after Gudrun Brangwen, praising her art as full of "instinct" and "primitive passion." She urges Ursula to come with Gudrun to visit her at her estate, Breadalby.

Hermione then begins an impassioned rant in which she questions the value of educating children. She claims knowledge is crippling to the soul and emotions and equates the mind with death. "Hadn't they better be animals, simple animals, crude, violent, anything, rather than this self-consciousness, this incapacity to be spontaneous?" she cries out. Rupert becomes angry and begins to rant against Hermione. He points out her intellect, her will, and her "lust for power, to know," are all she has. Her "loathsome little skull ... ought to be cracked like a nut" so she might achieve the spontaneous, passionate sensuality she claims to value.

The hatred between the two lovers scares Ursula, but her own mind is aroused by the subject matter being discussed. Rupert tells her he seeks fulfillment in true sensuality, which he describes as dark knowledge, which exists in the blood and not the mind. One's former self and all one's knowledge must be "drowned in darkness" before a new self can be born, he claims. Hermione mocks him, calling him a "satanist," and he retorts she is "the real devil who won't let life exist."

The ranting ends. Hermione is energized by the competition she feels with Ursula for Rupert's attention. Ursula challenges Rupert flirtatiously, pointing out people are already quite sensual. She becomes angry when Hermione cuts off Rupert's response. When they leave, Ursula begins "bitterly weeping: but whether for misery or joy, she never knew."


The association between love and hate established at the end of the previous chapter is now viscerally demonstrated between Hermione Roddice and Rupert Birkin. Despite being lovers thoroughly intermeshed in each other's lives, Hermione and Rupert hate each other. They hate so much they cannot restrain themselves from passionate conflict in the classroom of a school. They also show their distaste in front of a woman, Ursula, whom they barely know. This scene is the novel's first detailed depiction of a romance between man and woman. In the midst of this severe, unhappy, imprisoning dysfunction, Rupert describes to Ursula a process of death and rebirth he thinks will fulfill him. It is a theory, but Rupert, always a firm believer in his own ideas, states it as fact. Ursula's interest is piqued. Rupert's rapture at her beauty and his intrusion into a lesson on flowers that are explicitly phallic and explicitly feminine suggest the connection between them will deepen.

Hermione's rant against education and the intellectual dissection of reality introduces more important themes. Hermione is a character exclusively identified with the will and the mind. She is also empty and miserable. As a member of the aristocracy, she suggests the miners' children should not receive education that would rouse them to consciousness. She calls into focus the divisions and the mutual contempt and mistrust that characterize relationships between social classes. It is attitudes such as hers that bring not the freedom she rants of, but rather maintain unequal social divisions that are necessary for the capitalist machine.

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