Sunday, November 25, 2012

Women in Love (1920)

I read Women in Love voluntarily, on my own, prompted by a couple of people who separately, in a month's time, remarked how much they liked it. Whether it was the expectations thus engendered or whatever, I wasn't much impressed. D.H. Lawrence seems to me to be a writer who leans very hard into expressing the inexpressible by expressing over and over again how inexpressible it is. The profound and inviolate earth, etc. William Faulkner is another writer who indulges this, though I think he is a bit more successful with it. (For that matter, I'm pretty sure I do it too and so have little to complain about as I am hardly in the same league as either.) At its best, as with Faulkner, it can be positively hypnotic, describing the indescribable by describing so vividly everything around it, like the technique of defining and drawing negative space in sketching. I will give Lawrence this: it's a pretty big book and I was never tempted (well, never too tempted) to abandon it. But I had a hard time relating to any of the characters because I had a hard time relating to their experience of sexuality, which in many ways is all that it's about. Certainly I can see how it might be taken as daring and provocative, certainly for its times. But in these times I can't help finding it all a little outdated, even antiquated. I really don't mean to be complacent, but it seems to me that women, at least in much of the West, are more enabled now to resist the effects of the kinds of sexual repression in Lawrence's story—to never have to suffer them in the first place in some cases. Sexual activity is usually a given for adult women. I know it's likely that I'm missing some basic point about D.H. Lawrence in this novel. But a rural British village in the early 20th century doesn't offer me many ways in. In some ways it reminds me of the folks I've known from Western North Dakota. When it's you and the land and your family and your community, it's different from being surrounded by thousands and millions of people. And when you're the aristocracy—well, then. In fact, for me that was the most interesting part of the book, all the sideline various ins and outs of the labor relations and struggles.

In case it's not at the library.

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