Well, that was a slog. And let me be clear: I don't mean that as a compliment.
When it comes to Women in Love, I don't even know where to begin:
- It was either the case that sex wasn't much fun in 1920, or that D. H. Lawrence couldn't figure out how to write about it. Because I doubt the former is true, I've settled on the latter: for all of Lawrence's references to "loins" and "passion," I must admit, I missed the sex. I mean: I looked for it, and I thought it was coming a few times, but then when it did, it was so thoroughly obfuscated -- so vague and shadowy -- that it amounted to nothing at all.
- Women in Love is a novel of two couples: but the personalities of these individuals are so uncertain, and their motivation so unclear, that anything they have to say about love or sex is shrouded in a frustrated veil of philosophy. At least three of these characters have very little background, and the fourth, who is propped up with a generic story about early capitalism, doesn't fair much better: all of these characters approach sex as some moralistic thing warranting endless discussion. But as I say, I wondered by the end whether all this discussion was a sign of Lawrence's simple inability to capture the sex act itself.
- You could argue that, despite its title, this is a novel less about love and sexuality than it is about violence, gender relations, and humanity's relationship -- of all things -- with animals. And I suppose all of that would be true. But the fact is: there are other novels about these topics which are more successful, and which were written at about the same time as Women in Love.
- One area where I will concede that Lawrence has charted interesting ground is around love and its association with monogamy. Lawrence's characters -- especially the men -- wonder about this: whether marriage, for instance, precludes the ability to maintain loving, or "eternal," relationships with other men. Put differently, these men wonder whether they can have both: sexual intimacy with women and intellectual companionship with men. Lawrence seems to suggest that this dynamic -- this rivalry -- is a frustrated one, and the novel, which ends by engaging this topic, seems not to fully answer the question.
I don't mean to be negative, but Women in Love is not a novel to enjoy: it's a big hulking thing without a third dimension. There are ideas here, and there is a vague sense of time: but there's no character and there's no context. I can't imagine sex was as pained in 1920 as Lawrence presents it. Or put it this way -- I certainly hope it was not.