Women in Love | Study Guide

D.H. Lawrence

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Women in Love | Chapter 31 : Exeunt | Summary

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Summary

When the body is recovered and news of Gerald Crich's death reaches Gudrun Brangwen the following morning, she wonders how she should respond. She asks Loerke if they have killed Gerald, and he says, "It has happened." She sends Ursula and Rupert a telegram. They arrive two days later. She describes the encounter with Gerald to Rupert in a way that suggests there was a love triangle with her, Gerald, and Loerke. She knows the conflict was between her and Gerald alone.

Rupert Birkin goes to see Gerald's frozen corpse and is horrified, feeling his heart is freezing, too. He is unable to reconcile his love for Gerald with the corpse's "almost venomous" cold. He goes to the spot where Gerald died and imagines his friend might have gone to the warm south instead. He then questions whether south represents a way out or another way in. He decides it is better not to care and to limit his struggle to himself, rather than take on the whole universe. He is comforted by the idea man is disposable to God: an error that can be removed and replaced by something better.

That evening Ursula finds Rupert weeping by Gerald's corpse. Rupert regrets when he clasped Gerald's hand, Gerald let go, because this eradicated the possibility their union would be permanent and outlast death. Gerald's corpse has only a look of "cold, mute matter." Rupert tells Ursula they shouldn't fear death, for their bond will surpass it.

Gerald is buried in England, and Gudrun goes to Dresden. A week after returning home, Ursula asks Rupert why he needed Gerald in addition to her. She tells him it is impossible to have the two unions, one with a man and one with a woman, he seeks. Rupert says, "I don't believe that."

Analysis

In this chapter Lawrence resolves the plot by presenting the emotional responses of the major characters to the death of Gerald Crich. Gudrun Brangwen, lacking an emotional and moral compass of her own, turns to Herr Loerke for confirmation of their own innocence regarding Gerald's death. In seeking Loerke's opinion, Gudrun is not seeking to relieve her conscience. She is seeking clues about what an appropriate response to the situation would look like so she may mimic it. Loerke's response is ambiguous, suggesting he feels his philosophy of life and art challenged but is unwilling to contradict it. This philosophy has likely never been challenged by such a difficult and significant situation as this complex encounter with another man's death. He does not like Gudrun asking him this question, and he is "crushed," although without definite emotion. These things suggest Loerke is attempting to push away a sense of responsibility he finds threatening to his identity.

Though Rupert Birkin and Ursula Brangwen arrive swiftly in response to Gudrun's summons, it is clear Gerald's death will forever alter the relationship between the two sisters. Ursula's emotional outpouring of grief is so different from Gudrun's coldness. Ursula intuits there is something corrupt and dark about her sister. Rupert understands more than Ursula does. Gerald told him of his premonition Gudrun would be his end. Rupert also has his theory murder only happens between two willing parties, a murderer and a man who is murderable. He has known since Chapter 2 Gerald was murderable. All clues point, for Rupert, toward Gudrun being the murderer.

It is Rupert for whom this death is the greatest tragedy. He repeatedly sits by the corpse, weeping, and ventures out into the terrifying snow to visit the spot where the body was found. This confirms the depth of his love for Gerald. Rupert compares the appearance of Gerald's corpse to that of his father, Thomas. He recalls the lifelike, youthful beauty of Thomas Crich's corpse. The image contrasts starkly with the appearance of Gerald's corpse as inanimate matter bearing no resemblance to the person Gerald was. Rupert knows this means Gerald went willingly to his death. Mrs. Crich became angry and admonished her children not to go to their deaths unwillingly. Gerald soothed his mother, assuring her it wouldn't happen again. Now he has fulfilled his promise to his mother by willingly going to his death. But for Rupert, this is not the positive it would be for Mrs. Crich. Rather, it pains him and makes him feel as if he should forever turn away from all concern with the problems of humanity. He should instead focus exclusively on his own happiness. He returns to his old idea of a permanent union outlasting death. He feels he could have had this with Gerald if Gerald had not let go of Rupert's hand the one time they clasped hands. He uses this same idea to comfort himself regarding his relationship with Ursula. They are beyond death, having committed fully to each other, and need not fear it.

The very end shows Gudrun makes a clean break with her entire past, choosing an immoral life of art in Dresden with Loerke. The novel closes with Rupert and Ursula resuming their familiar old argument. Though his experience with Gerald seems to deny the possibility of a permanent union with both man and woman, Rupert still believes it could be. Ursula, the weight of evidence on her side, argues against this. The last two lines of the novel are a description of this disagreement suggesting nothing is ever really resolved in the struggle to understand life. It also suggests Ursula and Rupert have an oppositional balance together with the fulfillment of the ideal Rupert always promoted. Ursula has not been absorbed into his beliefs, nor he into hers. Their continuing opposition will keep them both alive and alert to their thirst for truth. They will continue to seek it—and perhaps approach it—but they will never reach it. Yet it is this continual back-and-forth, this weighing of experience against ideas, this unending dialogue, that will give their lives meaning.

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