Physical Consciousness in “Women in Love”

ron-edwards-exhibition-man-on-bucking-horseEven if Women in Love (1920) by D.H. Lawrence explicitly shows the problems between two heterosexual couples -Gerald and Gudrun; Birkin and Ursula-, it is nonetheless concern with masculinity depicting both the male body and the relationships between men. The focus on the male body is probably due to Lawrence’s misogyny and homosexuality (properly maybe bisexuality). Lawrence’s opinion of women is clearly expressed in his fictional works as well as in his essays such as Fantasia of the Unconscious (1922).

The male body appears especially as a source of power and strength; its physical characteristics are linked to one of the male goals which is the domination of the woman both physically and intellectually. This perspective towards the male body shows Lawrence’s ideas about the human sources of energy, which are mainly two: the one coming from the upper part of the body (sympathetic and intellectual energy), and the one coming from the lower part of the body (sensual and vitalistic). The second one includes as well the sexual desire and energy, in fact, sex means for Lawrence energy and the sexual act acquires a strong energetic significance beyond the fact of reproduction or the sense of pleasure.

The male body refers in Women in Love to animalistic and primitive conceptions. It is significant that scenes where the man shows his body or his physical strength or aims of domination, contain often animals establishing images between the man and the animal in a purely physical way. Moreover, it is this biological aspect which attracts women, especially Gudrun, to men. There is a first instinctual and biological attraction of the sexes, the man as a male and the woman as a female is what first constitutes the love relationship. Gudrun is consciously attracted by Gerald in the scene where he dominates the horse, which implicitly shows a parallelism in his later attempts to dominate Gudrun:

‘Gudrun was as if numbed in her mind by the sense of indomitable soft weight of the man, bearing down into the living body of the horse: the strong, indomitable thighs of the blond man clenching the palpitating body of the mare into pure control; a sort of soft white magnetic domination from the loins and thighs and calves, enclosing and encompassing the mare heavily into unutterable subordination, soft blood-subordination, terrible’.

She also perceives the manly attitude of the mine’s workers who, belonging to a lower social class, are free from cultural conventions and gentleness behaving properly as men. (According to Lawrence, culture has completely feminise men killing their innate vitalistic attitude).

The sexual act is mainly described through images of power and strength and the woman’s submission to them (it is supposed that women like it; it is not a forced submission). The word ‘energy’ is often used to express sexual experiences, as well as ‘dark flood of electric passion’, ‘rich new circuit’ or “new current of passional electric energy’; this energy comes mainly form the man’s body which, in a warm overcomes the woman’s passivity:

‘She closed her hands over the full, rounded body of his loins, as he stopped over her, she seemed to touch the quick of the mystery of darkness that was bodily him (…) the marvellous fullness of immediate gratification, overwhelming, out flooding from the source of the deepest life-force, the darkest, deepest, strangest life-source of the human body, at the back and base of the loins (…) She had thought there was no source deeper than the phallic source. And now, behold, from the smitten rock of the man’s body, from the strange marvellous flanks and thighs, deeper, further into mystery than the phallic source, came the floods of ineffable darkness and ineffable riches’.

In contrast, there are no such descriptions concerning the woman’s body; the woman is just a man’s recipient, which could be seen according to her  sexual function, nonetheless appealing to an exaggerating passivity. Lawrence sees the woman as the ‘place’ where the man comes back after his active daily life. He needs her to fulfil himself and to accomplish this mission women mustn’t be intellectual. The intellectual woman means death for both herself and the man. The woman’s self-consciousness is dangerous as Eve became dangerous through the temptation of the knowledge. Women must remain in a purely sensual state and never attempt to reach what should be just for men. The intellectual women in Women in Love, Gudrun and Hermione, are destructive and they tend to kill men in their love affairs. Gerald does not achieve to submit Gudrun as he does with the horse, and even if Gudrun is first fascinated by his manliness she finally acquires a stronger self-consciousness and choses her artistic career. Instead of her sister, Ursula, who accepts Birkin ideas of genre-relationships.

Lawrence is very extremely and critique regarding female positions. There is no middle point between an instinctual and biological attraction and the intellectual female world. He does not consider that both options are possible in a woman. However, the female fulfiment seems likely to be in the fusion of these two realities as they allow a complete sensual and sexual life experimented in the totality of the ‘being woman’ in the most biological sense, and a self-awareness which brings understanding and control of any experience and the self, and not necessarily destruction as far as one is able to avoid it.


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