Women in Love – a study guide

textual history, study resources, plot, and web links

Women in Love (1921) begins where Lawrence’s earlier novel The Rainbow leaves off and features the Brangwen sisters as they try to forge new types of liberated personal relationships. The men they choose are trying to do the same thing – so the results are problematic and often disturbing. Many regard this as his finest novel, where his ideas are matched with passages of superb writing. The locations combine urban Bohemia with a symbolic climax which takes place in the icy snow caps of the Alps.

D.H. Lawrence is a writer who excites great passions in his readers – which is entirely appropriate, since that is how he wrote. He is the first really great writer to come from the (more or less) working class, and much of his work deals with issues of class, as well as other fundamentals such as the relationships between men, women, and the natural world.

At times he becomes mystic and visionary, and his prose style can be poetic, didactic, symbolic, and bombastic all within the space of a few pages. He also deals with issues of sexuality and politics in a manner which is often controversial.

Women in Love

Women in Love – textual history

Both The Rainbow and Women in Love have their origins in a 1913 draft called ‘The Sisters.’ The next year, Lawrence revised it further into a novel entitled The Wedding Ring, which Methuen agreed to publish in 1914. The outbreak of war late that year caused the publisher to renege on the agreement, and Lawrence decided to rework the source material, separating it into two novels.

The Rainbow, treating the early lives of the sisters, was suppressed shortly after its publication in 1915 on grounds of obscenity. Lawrence then spent four years revising the remainder of The Wedding Ring into a second novel, shopping it to publishers without success until 1920, when Thomas Seltzer published the first American edition.

Women in Love - first editionWomen in Love was originally published in New York City as a limited edition (1250 books), available only to subscribers; this was due to the controversy caused by The Rainbow. Because the two books were originally written as parts of a single novel, the publisher had decided to publish them separately and in rapid succession. The first book’s treatment of sexuality, while tame by today’s standards, was rather too frank for the Edwardian era. There was an obscenity trial and The Rainbow was banned in the UK for 11 years, although it was available in the US. The publisher then backed out of publishing the second book in the UK, so it first appeared in the US in 1920.

It was printed in England the following year by Martin Secker. Although both editions were based on the same copies prepared by Lawrence, the fate of The Rainbow led Secker to limit his exposure by cutting sections of the text which might run foul of the censors. In fact, in the English second printing, Heseltine’s threat to sue for libel resulted in changes to the descriptions of Halliday and the Pussum, changing the one from pale and fair-haired to swarthy and the other from red-haired to blonde.

In fact such are the textual complications behind the text that there are now two or more versions, some of which reproduce the original, and others which include formerly deleted scenes. The most authoritative are those published in the Cambridge University Press series of the definitive works of D.H.Lawrence.

Women in Love – study resources

Red button Women in Love – Oxford World Classics – Amazon UK

Red button Women in Love – Oxford World Classics – Amazon UK

Red button Women in Love – Wordsworth Classics – Amazon UK

Red button Women in Love – Wordsworth Classics – Amazon US

Red button Women in Love – Kindle eBook edition

Red button Women in Love – York Notes – Amazon UK

Red button Women in Love – A Casebook (Criticism) – Amazon UK

Red button The First Women in Love – definitive edition – Amazon UK

Red button Women in Love – eBook editions at Project Gutenberg

Red button Women in Love – audioBook edition at LibriVox

Red button Women in Love – audioBook (Talking Classics) – Amazon UK

Red button The Complete Critical Guide to D.H. Lawrence – Amazon UK

Red button The Cambridge Companion to D.H.Lawrence – Amazon UK

Red button The Complete Short Novels of D.H.Lawrence – Amazon UK

Women in Love – plot summary

Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen are two sisters living in the Midlands of England in the 1910s. Ursula is a teacher, Gudrun an artist. They meet two men who live nearby, school inspector Rupert Birkin and coal-mine heir Gerald Crich. The four become friends. Ursula and Birkin become involved, and Gudrun eventually begins a love affair with Gerald. The dynamics between them all are complicated, however, by the strong connection between the sisters, as well as the more ambiguous bond between the two male friends.

Women in LoveAll four are deeply concerned with questions of society, politics, and the relationship between men and women. Ultimately however, the two relationships go in very different directions. The initial strife between Birkin and Ursula over his lingering attachment to the controlling Hermione Roddice is resolved by his eventual willingness to break off their relationship, and Birkin and Ursula give up their jobs as teachers to take up a more bohemian lifestyle.

Gerald and Gudrun begin on the firm ground of mutual sexual attraction, and their bond intensifies when Gerald’s ailing father invites Gudrun to become the art tutor for the family’s young daughter Winifred.

At a party at Gerald’s estate, Gerald’s sister Diana drowns. Soon Gerald’s coal-mine-owning father dies as well, after a long illness. After the funeral, Gerald goes to Gudrun’s house and spends the night with her, while her parents sleep in another room.

Birkin asks Ursula to marry him, and she agrees. Gerald and Gudrun’s relationship, however, becomes stormy. The four vacation in the Alps. Gudrun begins an intense friendship with Loerke, a physically puny but emotionally commanding artist from Dresden. Gerald is enraged by Loerke, by Gudrun’s verbal abuse, and by his own destructive nature. He tries to murder Gudrun, and when he fails he retreats back over the mountains and falls to a sort of voluntary death in the snow.

Principal characters
Rupert Birkin a schoolteacher
Ursula Brangwen a schoolteacher
Gudrun Brangwen her sister, an artist
Gerald Crich the son of a wealthy industrialist
Loerke a German artist

Women in Love – film version

Director Ken Russell 1969
Alan Bates, Oliver Reed, Glenda Jackson, Jennie Linden

Red button See reviews of the film at the Internet Movie Database

Further reading


Pointer Frieda Lawrence, Not I, But the Wind…, New York: Viking Press, 1934.

Pointer Harry T. Moore, The Life and Works of D.H. Lawrence, London: Unwin Books, 1951.

Pointer Keith Sagar, The Life of D.H.Lawrence: An Illustrated Biography, London: Eyre Methuen, 1980.

Pointer John Worthen, D.H.Lawrence: The Early Years: 1885-1912: The Cambridge Biography of D.H. Lawrence, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Pointer Brenda Maddox, The Married Man: A Biography of D.H.Lawrence, London: Sinclair Stevenson, 1994.


Pointer J.T. Boulton (ed), The Selected Letters of D.H. Lawrence, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.


Pointer David Ellis, D.H.Lawrence’s ‘Women in Love’: A Casebook, Oxford University Press, 2006.

Pointer John Worthen, The First ‘Women in Love’ (Cambridge Edition of the Works of D.HLawrence), Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Pointer Graham Handley, Brodie’s Notes on D.H.Lawrence’s ‘Women in Love’, London: Macmillan, 1992.

Pointer Harold Bloom, D.H.Lawrence’s ‘Women in Love’ (Modern Critical Interpretations), Chelsea House Publishers, 1991.

Pointer Anne Fernihough, The Cambridge Companion to D.H.Lawrence, Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Pointer Fiona Becket, The Complete Critical Guide to D.H. Lawrence, London: Routledge, 2002.

Background reading

Pointer button Mary Freeman, D.H.Lawrence A Basic Study of His Ideas, Grosset and Dunlap, 1955.

Pointer button F.R.Leavis, D.H.Lawrence: Novelist, London: Chatto and Windus, 1955.

Pointer button Mark Spilka, The Love Ethic of D.H.Lawrence, Dobson, 1955.

Pointer button Graham Hough, The Dark Sun: A Study of D.H.Lawrence, New York: Capricorn Books, 1956.

Pointer button Eliseo Vivas, D.H.Lawrence: The Failure and the Triumph of Art, General Books 1960.

Pointer button Kingsley Widmer, The Art of Perversity: D.H.Lawrence’s Shorter Fiction, University of Washington Press, 1962.

Pointer button Eugene Goodheart, The Utopian Vision of D.H.Lawrence, Transaction Publishers, 1963.

Pointer button Julian Moynahan, The Deed of Life: The Novels and Tales of D.H.Lawrence, Oxford University Press, 1963.

Pointer button George Panichas, Adventure in Consciousness: Lawrence’s Religious Quest, Folcroft Library Editions, 1964.

Pointer button Helen Corke, D.H. Lawrence: The Croydon Years, Austin (Tex): University of Texas Press, 1965.

Pointer button George Ford, Double Measure; A Study of D.H.Lawrence, New York: Holt Reinhart and Winston, 1965.

Pointer button H M Daleski, The Forked Flame: A Study of D.H.Lawrence, Evanston (Ill): Northwestern University Press, 1965.

Pointer button Keith Sagar, The Art of D.H.Lawrence, Cambridge University Press, 1966.

Pointer button David Cavitch, D.H.Lawrence and the New World, Oxford University Press, 1969.

Pointer button Colin Clarke, River of Dissolution: D.H.Lawrence and English Romanticism, London: Routledge, 1969.

Pointer button Baruch Hochman, Another Ego: Self and Society in D.H.Lawrence, University of South Carolina Press, 1970.

Pointer button Keith Aldritt, The Visual Imagination of D.H.Lawrence, Hodder and Stoughton, 1971.

Pointer button R E Pritchard, D.H.Lawrence: Body of Darkness, Hutchinson, 1971.

Pointer button John E Stoll, The Novels of D.H.Lawrence: A Search for Integration, University of Missouri Press, 1971.

Pointer button Frank Kermode, D.H. Lawrence, London: Fontana, 1973.

Pointer button Scott Sanders, D.H.Lawrence: The World of the Major Novels, Vision Press, 1973.

Pointer button F.R.Leavis, Thought, Words, and Creativity: Art and Thought in Lawrence, Chatto and Windus, 1976.

Pointer button Marguerite Beede Howe, The Art of the Self in D.H.Lawrence, Ohio University Press, 1977.

Pointer button Alastair Niven, D.H.Lawrence: The Novels, Cambridge University Press, 1978.

Pointer button Anne Smith, Lawrence and Women, London: Vision Press, 1978.

Pointer button R.P. Draper (ed), D.H. Lawrence: The Critical Heritage, London: Routledge & Keegan Paul, 1979.

Pointer button John Worthen, D.H.Lawrence and the Idea of the Novel, London: Macmillan, 1979.

Pointer button Aidan Burns, Nature and Culture in D.H.Lawrence, London: Macmillan, 1980.

Pointer button L D Clark, The Minoan Distance: Symbolism of Travel in D.H.Lawrence, University of Arizona Press, 1980.

Pointer button Roger Ebbatson, D.H.Lawrence and the Nature Tradition: A Theme in English Fiction 1859-1914, Humanities Oress, 1980.

Pointer button Alastair Niven, D.H.Lawrence: The Writer and His Work, New York: Scribner, 1980.

Pointer button Philip Hobsbaum, A Reader’s Guide to D.H.Lawrence, Thames and Hudson, 1981.

Pointer button Kim A.Herzinger , D.H.Lawrence in His Time: 1908-1915, Bucknell University Press, 1982.

Pointer button Graham Holderness, D.H.Lawrence: History, Ideology and Fiction, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1982.

Pointer button Hilary Simpson, D.H.Lawrence and Feminism, London: Croom Helm, 1982.

Pointer button Gamini Salgado, A Preface to D.H. Lawrence, London: Longman, 1983.

Pointer button Judith Ruderman, D.H.Lawrence and the Devouring Mother, Duke University Press, 1984.

Pointer button Anthony Burgess, Flame Into Being: The Life and Work of D.H.Lawrence, London: Heinemann, 1985.

Pointer button Sheila McLeod, Lawrence’s Men and Women, London: Heinemann, 1985.

Pointer button Henry Miller, The World of Lawrence: A Passionate Appreciation, London: Calder Publications, [1930] 1985.

Pointer button Keith Sagar, D.H.Lawrence: Life Into Art, London: Penguin Books, 1985.

Pointer button Mara Kalnins (ed), D.H. Lawrence: Centenary Essays, Bristol: Classical Press, 1986.

Pointer button Michael Black, D.H. Lawrence: The Early Fiction, Cambridge University Press, 1986

Pointer button Peter Scheckner, Class, Politics, and the Individual: A Study of the Major Works of D.H.Lawrence, Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 1986.

Pointer button Cornelia Nixon, D.H.Lawrence’s Leadership Novels and the Turn Against Women, University of California Press, 1986.

Pointer button Colin Milton, Lawrence and Nietzsche: A Study in Influence, Mercat Press, 1988.

Pointer button Peter Balbert, D.H.Lawrence and the Phallic Imagination: Essays on Sexual Identity and Feminist Misreading, London: Macmillan, 1989.

Pointer button Wayne Templeton, States of Estrangement: the Novels of D.H.Lawrence 1912-17, Whiston Publishing, 1989.

Pointer button Janet Barron, D.H.Lawrence: (Feminist Readings), Prentice Hall, 1990.

Pointer button Keith Brown (ed), Rethinking Lawrence, Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1990.

Pointer button James C Cowan, D.H.Lawrence and the Trembling Balance, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1990.

Pointer button John B Humma, Metaphor and Meaning in D.H.Lawrence’s Later Novels, University of Missouri Press 1990.

Pointer button G M Hyde, D.H.Lawrence (Modern Novelists), London: Macmillan, 1990.

Pointer button Allan Ingram, The Language of D.H. Lawrence, London: Macmillan, 1990.

Pointer button Nancy Kushigian, Pictures and Fictions: Visual Modernism and the Pre-War Novels of D.H.Lawrence, Peter Lang Publishing, 1990.

Pointer button Tony Pinkney, Lawrence (New Readings), Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Weatsheaf, 1990.

Pointer button Leo J.Dorisach, Sexually Balanced Relationships in the Novels of D.H.Lawrence, Peter Lang Publishing, 1991.

Pointer button Nigel Kelsey, D.H.Lawrence: Sexual Crisis (Studies in 20th Century Literature), London: Macmillan, 1991.

Pointer button Barbara Mensch, D.H.Lawrence and the Authoritarian Personality, London: Macmillan, 1991.

Pointer button John Worthen, D H Lawrence (Modern Fiction), London: Arnold, 1991.

Pointer button Michael Bell, D.H.Lawrence: Language and Being, Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Pointer button Michael Black, D.H. Lawrence: Sons and Lovers, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Pointer button Virginia Hyde, The Risen Adam: D. H. Lawrence’s Revisionist Typology, University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992.

Pointer button James B.Sipple, Passionate Form: life process as artistic paradigm in D.H.Lawrence, Peter Lang Publishing, 1992.

Pointer button Kingsley Widmer, Defiant Desire: Some Dialectical Legacies of D.H.Lawrence, Southern Illinois University Press, 1992.

Pointer button Anne Fernihough, D.H.Lawrence: Aesthetics and Ideology, Clarendon Press, 1993.

Pointer button Linda R Williams, Sex in the Head: Visions of Femininity and Film in D.H.Lawrence, Prentice Hall, 1993.

Pointer button Katherine Waltenscheid, The Resurrection of the Body: Touch in D.H.Lawrence, Peter Lang Publishing, 1993.

Pointer button Robert E.Montgomery, The Visionary D.H.Lawrence: Beyond Philosophy and Art, Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Pointer button Leo Hamalian, D.H.Lawrence and Nine Women Writers, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996.

Pointer button Anne Fernihough, The Cambridge Companion to D.H.Lawrence, Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Pointer button Fiona Becket, The Complete Critical Guide to D.H.Lawrence, London: Routledge, 2002.

Pointer button James C Cowan, D.H. Lawrence: Self and Sexuality, Ohio State University Press, 2003.

Pointer button John Worthen, D.H.Lawrence: The Life of an Outsider, London: Penguin, 2006.

Pointer button David Ellis (ed), D.H.Lawrence’s ‘Women in Love’: A Casebook, Oxford University Press, 2006.

Other work by D.H.Lawrence

Sons and LoversSons and Lovers This is Lawrence’s first great novel. It’s a quasi-autobiographical account of a young man’s coming of age in the early years of the twentieth century. Set in working class Nottinghamshire, it focuses on class conflicts and gender issues as young Paul Morrell is torn between a passionate relationship with his mother and his attraction to other women. He also has a quasi-Oedipal conflict with his coal miner father. If you are new to Lawrence and his work, this is a good place to start.
Lawrence greatest works Buy the book at Amazon UK
Lawrence greatest works Buy the book at Amazon US

The RainbowThe Rainbow This is Lawrence’s version of a social saga, spanning three generations of the Brangwen family. It is the women characters in this novel who remain memorable as they strive to express their feelings. The story concludes with the struggle of two sisters, Ursula and Gudrun, to liberate themselves from the stifling pressures of Edwardian English society. They also feature in his next and some say greatest novel, Women in Love – so it would be a good idea to read this first.
Alejo Carpentier greatest works Buy the book at Amazon UK
Alejo Carpentier greatest works Buy the book at Amazon US

D.H.Lawrence – web links

D.H.Lawrence web links D.H.Lawrence at Mantex
Biographical notes, book reviews, study guides, videos, bibliographies, critical studies, and web links.

Project Gutenberg D.H.Lawrence at Project Gutenberg
A major collection of free eTexts of the novels, stories, travel writing, and poetry – available in a variety of formats.

Wikipedia D.H.Lawrence at Wikipedia
Biographical notes, social background, publishing history, the Lady Chatterley trial, critical reputation, bibliography, archives, and web links.

Film adaptations D.H.Lawrence at the Internet Movie Database
Adaptations of Lawrence’s work for the cinema and television – in various languages. Full details of directors, actors, production, box office, trivia, and even quizzes.

D.H.Lawrence D.H.Lawrence archive at the University of Nottingham
Biography, further reading, textual genetics, frequently asked questions, his local reputation, research centre, bibliographies, and lists of holdings.

Red button D.H.Lawrence and Eastwood
Nottinhamshire local enthusiast web site featuring biography, historical and recent photographs of the Eastwood area and places associated with Lawrence.

D.H.Lawrence The World of D.H.Lawrence
Yet another University of Nottingham web site featuring biography, interactive timeline, maps, virtual tour, photographs, and web links.

Red buttonD.H.Lawrence Heritage
Local authority style web site, with maps, educational centre, and details of lectures, visits, and forthcoming events.

© Roy Johnson 2010

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