Women in Love | Study Guide

D.H. Lawrence

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Women in Love | Chapter 4 : Diver | Summary

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Summary

On a rainy Saturday morning a week later Ursula and Gudrun walk to Willey Water, the lake at Shortlands, the Criches' estate. All of a sudden Gerald springs out of the boathouse and dives into the water. Gudrun is envious of the freedom and happiness Gerald has to be alone in the water. This freedom, where he has a whole other world to himself, is his because he is a man. Gudrun exclaims with envy. She says, "You're a man. You want to do a thing, you do it. You haven't the thousand obstacles a woman has in front of her." Ursula, who does not share Gudrun's desire to enter the cold, wet world, is confused by her sister's intense reaction.

As they consider the Crich home, Shortlands, Ursula mentions how Gerald is busy making the latest technological improvements to the 18th-century home. The sisters agree Gerald has a drive for progress. Ursula remarks Gerald will "have to die soon when he's made every possible improvement and there will be nothing more to improve." Gudrun is shocked when Ursula tells her Gerald shot and killed his brother when they were playing with an old gun they found in a barn. Gudrun says this is worse and more frightening than murder because it is a pure accident without any intention behind it. Ursula doesn't agree. She says the boys playing with the gun and deciding to pull the trigger suggests an "unconscious will" or "primitive desire for killing."

Gudrun and Ursula encounter Hermione Roddice and Laura Crich across the field and help them lift a gate they are struggling to move. The barely disguised insincerity with which Hermione breezily addresses the sisters angers Ursula, who complains to Gudrun she finds Hermione impudent, or disrespectful. Gudrun agrees: "One knows these women are impudent—these free women who have emancipated themselves from the aristocracy." Ursula exclaims Hermione would be lucky to have her and Gudrun visit, given their beauty and intelligence. Gudrun remarks the fashionable way to carry oneself is to pretend to be common, a pretense the sisters mock. Ursula says she feels "like a swan among geese" and doesn't care to win the admiration of others. Gudrun replies that "the only thing to do is to despise them all." As she waits for the working week to begin, Ursula questions why so much of her life is spent waiting. She says she knows within her that "her life [is] like a shoot that is growing steadily but which has not yet come above ground."

Analysis

In this chapter the Brangwen sisters observe two people who are, at least seemingly, freer than they are. It is Gudrun who is resentful of Gerald's freedom, which is symbolized by his ability to enact his will without obstacles by diving into Willey Water. His freedom is a freedom of the body and of space, a freedom of singleness and solitude. Gudrun's active, more physical inclinations, as well as her tendency to jump and see where she lands, as she describes in Chapter 1, link her to Gerald.

The sisters discuss Gerald's childhood tragedy, wherein he killed his brother during their play with an old, forgotten gun. Their discussion suggests his freedom might not be as perfect, nor as perfectly correlated to his male privilege, as Gudrun imagines. Indeed, in the debate over accident versus unconscious desire, Gudrun's support is for the existence of pure, horrifying accident. She seems to be admitting chaos rules the universe and can alter any life at any moment with an unspeakable burden such as Gerald's. However, this does not dampen her resentment of his masculine personal liberty, as she will make clear in following chapters.

It is Hermione who rubs Ursula the wrong way, and her freedom is linked to class. She has "emancipated herself from the aristocracy." She supposedly possesses the freedom of economic means of her aristocratic background. She also holds a worldview that allows her to comport herself as she wishes, without the restraint of aristocratic custom. Again, the idea Hermione is free or advantaged is undermined symbolically by her inability to open a gate. This suggests she is trapped within herself. That Ursula and Gudrun are able to lift the gate Hermione cannot suggests the greater freedom is theirs. They are of the middle class and therefore can move freely between the commoners, the eccentrics, and even parts of the aristocracy. They can do this without the yoke of prior class indoctrination Hermione has supposedly thrown off. Her "impudence," or rude condescension, also suggests she retains the social elitism of the aristocracy within herself. Her habit of always speaking in a singsong tone suggests she is trapped in an inauthentic performance of herself.

The chapter closes with Gudrun and Ursula each voicing their own idea of freedom. Ursula's idea is to be her exuberant, beautiful self (encapsulated in the image of the swan) without regard for the opinions of others. Gudrun's idea of freedom is, by contrast, a freedom born of universal hatred. Gudrun's hatred is an inversion of Ursula's self-love strategy. It suggests Gudrun's freedom is at some level an illusion, as her price for "freedom" is a bondage to the dark energy of hatred.

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