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Women in Love | Symbols



In Chapter 9 Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen find themselves stopped at a railroad crossing along with Gerald Crich, who is mounted upon a beautiful female horse. As the train grows nearer, its noise sends the horse into convulsions of terror and she attempts to flee. Gerald grips the reins, as oblivious to the horse's terror as he is to Ursula's screams to let the horse go. Indeed, he seems oblivious to everything other than the actualization of his own will. The horse's attempts to assert her will and throw off her rider are like sporting amusement for Gerald. He throws his own weight against hers and forces her to spin in circles. Gerald's will wins. Ursula's empathy for the horse sends her into a horrified rage and strikes Gudrun so deeply within herself she dissociates from normal consciousness.

The language D.H. Lawrence uses to describe Gerald's position with regard to the horse has overtones of sexuality. Prior to the episode of terror, Gerald is "pleased with the delicate quivering of the creature between his knees." During the struggle, Gerald brings "her down, almost as if she were part of his own physique." Indeed, Gudrun is fascinated by the control he has over the horse, as if he were demonstrating his sexual prowess. The episode ends with the horse bleeding from Gerald's spurs, while Gerald retains his calm composure.

The train that has horrified the horse is another expression of Gerald's will because he is in charge of the mines. He has mastered inert matter. By controlling the horse in front of the horrified women, he also demonstrates his mastery over other animals. He shows an indifference to the opinions of others. He makes no concession to gentleness out of respect for the women who are watching him. In fact, when Gudrun rushes the gate to push it open and screams at Gerald for his pride, he is merely intrigued. The whole episode could become, for him, a successful flirtation.

Later on, Ursula tells Gerald he was wrong to treat the horse that way. Gerald is not offended. He is beyond morality. He merely explains to her it was a battle of wills. Because he is the man, his will must be the victorious one. That quality of unrelenting will, in fact, is what makes a man. In this way the victimized horse becomes a symbol of the horrors the unchecked masculine will inflicts on others. Such a will, devoid of empathy and seeking only to control, is a symbol of the values that threaten to become the norm. It fills the vacuum that has appeared as religion and the old values fall away.

Stoning the Moon

In Chapter 19 a nighttime walk through the woods brings Ursula to the edge of the water, where she finds Rupert Birkin, clearly angry. As Ursula walked, she had noticed the hard, cold moon overhead and felt distressed by it. But Rupert, believing himself alone, is actually throwing rocks at the moon's reflection on the pond's surface. He is trying to destroy the image of the moon on the water and momentarily sends it into chaotic fragments. Yet time and again, the moon gathers its reflection back together into wholeness.

The moon is traditionally a symbol of the feminine. This meaning is underscored by Rupert's cursing of Cybele and Syria Dea, ancient female goddesses. Rupert's accusation is the feminine creates lies, which makes truth necessary. If it weren't for female lies, there would be nothing to defend, he thinks. Rupert, after all, consistently exhausts himself attempting to defend what he perceives to be the truth.

In his stoning of the moon's reflection, Rupert is expressing his rage at a feminine power he perceives to be the source of all his discontent and bondage. If the pond's surface is regarded as symbolizing the conscious mind, Rupert's action becomes even clearer. It is his own consciousness that is persistently disturbed, filled by the presence of the feminine. He tries to eradicate his sexual passion. He attempts to arrive through intellectual gymnastics at conceptualizing a union with a woman that does not "stain" or intrude on his consciousness. However, he can no more separate the imprint of the feminine on his psyche than he can drive the moon's reflection off the surface of the water.


After she attempts to murder him with a paperweight, Hermione Roddice comes to the millhouse where Rupert Birkin plans to live. He has forgiven her for her violence, saying she was justified, and invited her—along with Gerald Crich and Ursula Brangwen—to view his rooms before they are furnished. Measurements for furnishing need to be taken, and Hermione commandeers the activity as if it were her house, not Rupert's, that was being evaluated. Rupert submits to her dominance, having learned the brutal consequences of offending her will. However, a brief power struggle erupts when Hermione tells Rupert she wants to give him a carpet she owns for one of his rooms. Rupert resists, telling Hermione he doesn't want her to give him things. Hermione responds, with a flirtatious tone, that she only wants to give him this thing. Rupert finally acquiesces and accepts the carpet, even though he clearly does not want it. That fact does not matter to Hermione.

Because Hermione represents the attempts of the aristocratic elite to remain culturally relevant during the years leading up to the First World War, her insistence upon giving the carpet to Rupert, who is not part of the elite but rather belongs to the new intellectual class that is struggling the most with making sense of the world, symbolizes this cultural struggle. The carpet itself, as a heavy, woolen, ornamental object brought to England by the imperial colonial trade of the previous centuries, suggests the actions of smothering and covering, despite its external beauty. Rupert's rooms are stark and austere and totally empty, suggesting not only his personal transition from a relationship with Hermione to one with the intellectually minded schoolteacher Ursula Brangwen, but also his in-between position of having rejected the old ways but not yet settled on new ones and of belonging neither to the aristocratic elite nor the working class. Not only does Hermione attempt to hold on to Rupert by smothering his will with her own and inserting herself in his life, the aristocratic class she represents attempts to ensure its fading dominance by smothering or covering the attempts of the new intellectual and artistic class to break free of old cultural forms and forge new ones.


Breadalby, the Roddice family estate, symbolizes the sickness of the old ways that masquerade as venerable tradition but are nothing more than elaborate prisons. Its appearance places it firmly in another era. As "a Georgian house," it is of an architectural style that was prominent during the 18th century. Artistic Gudrun remarks the place is "as final as an old aquatint," a printmaking technique that was in common use during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In Chapter 8 Ursula and Gudrun visit Breadalby after repeated invitations from Hermione. They are aware the invitations are offered as her way of portraying herself as liberated from the old aristocratic social rules. Those rules would preclude socializing between someone of Hermione's class and two schoolteachers. Ursula enjoys the feeling of the estate, which seems somehow enclosed within "a magic circle ... shutting out the present, enclosing the delightful, precious past." The pretense and dullness that characterize their time there soon have her and Gudrun feeling repulsed. The entire visit is orchestrated according to Hermione's will. A simple walk in the park assumes a needless formality that gives its participants a feeling of being "prisoners marshaled for exercise." Rupert muses one morning during the visit the delightful appearance of the place is nothing more than a trick. Rupert is drawn out of a brief reverie by remembering "what a horrible, dead prison Breadalby really was, what an intolerable confinement, the peace!"

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