Alexis Garcia
Professor Wollaeger
English 272D
November 3, 1998
 
[See further below for particularly well-integrated discussion of criticism; note also the opening structure: a specific issue in the novel is identified and critical response is quickly survey before the focus returns to the novel--MW]
Of Men and Men:
The Relationship Between Gerald and Rupert in
Women in Love
"There, in these womenless regions of fight and pure thought and abstracted instrumentality, let men have a new attitude to one another. Let them have a new reverence for their heroes, a new regard for their comrades: deep, deep as life and death...and the extreme bond of deathless friendship supports them over the edge of the known into the unknown." D.H. Lawrence
        If Oscar Wilde had written Women in Love, there would be no question about the relationship between Gerald and Rupert. The refusal of society to accept homosexuality would clearly justify the tragedy of their suppressed love affair. And contemporaries could have labeled male naked wrestling as stereotypically gay as Wildes affection for cooking.  However, with D.H. Lawrence at the helm, such a reading cannot be that simple. While the intimate dynamics of their friendship cannot be denied, just as Rupert’s desire for male love appears clearly throughout the text, the motivation and significance of their relationship have undergone various interpretations. And these readings all take into account the author behind the work, a man who clearly defined his views on homosexuality, which is the obvious question at hand. Any critic wishing to respond must deal with the infamous wrestling scene, a physical climax in their relationship charged with erotic energy and unrestrained flesh.

 On one end of the spectrum is the rejection of any homosexual indications in favor of physical, nonsexual male communion. This can be justified simply as male bonding or taken to a deeper, more symbolic level, as Mark Spilka does in his essay "No Man’s Land," calling it a "spontaneous rite." This view defends the characters from the "straight" perspective, one grounded in masculine brotherhood. On the other side, critics like Christopher Craft argue that "Gladiatorial" reveals the climactic revelation of homosexual desire that runs through the characters. However, the explanation may not lie in such simple poles. Instead of a companionship bound by brotherhood or a love affair repressed by society, the relationship between Gerald and Rupert can be classified as unified by "male homosocial desire." This term, created and elaborated upon by Eve Sedgwick in Between Men, basically sets up the dichotomy between such oppositional views as those offered by Craft and Spilka and creates a continuum in response. Though her argument does not deal directly with Lawrence’s text, it provides the best explanation for the behavior of the characters.

        In the first chapter of Between Men, Sedgwick reevaluates the familiar idea of erotic triangles as a means of introducing her subject. As she explains, the basic idea behind such triangles involves two rivals (usually male) in pursuit of the third member (usually female). The "erotic" comes into play because of a study Sedgwick refers to by Rene Girard, in which he points out "that the bonds of ‘rivalry’ and ‘love,’ differently as they are experienced, are in many cases equally powerful and in many senses equivalent" (21). Naturally, Sedgwick also includes some of Freud’s viewpoints concerning the Oedipal triangle. Both studies present a conflict between desire and violence as their focus. The bond between rivals is seen to be as strong in a struggle for power as in the quest for the female. Hence, the relationships are seen in either sexual (towards the woman) or nonsexual (towards the rival) terms. What Sedgwick reconsiders then, is the symmetry of such a schema. Whereas this aforementioned model, with its sharp barriers, portrays the triangle as a symmetrical relationship, Sedgwick argues the opposite. To strengthen her point, she points to a study by Levi-Strauss to conclude that the "normative man uses a woman as a ‘conduit of a relationship’ in which the true partner is a man" (26). Finally, Sedgwick solidifies her introduction by quoting Luce Irigaray: "Male homosexuality is the law that regulates the sociocultural order. Heterosexuality amounts to the assignment of roles in the economy" (26). Sedgwick quickly points out that the use of "homosexuality" here does not represent sex between men but a means of establishing the power in society, obviously in a patriarchal sense. Therefore, women become property with the purpose of balancing the society and filling in the sexual (as in the act) gap. "Homosexuality" as it is known today then gains a status of taboo which Sedgwick compares to incest (26). And to complete the triangular relationship, women in turn control the continuum within which the parameters of intimacy between men are explored. In other words, the actual structure of gender and class within a society, especially including the role of women and the view of femininity, determines the sensitivity of what is considered homosexuality. But the desire within each individual male for the other earns motivation from a search for homosociality rather than sexual gratification.

        Rather than attempt to clarify and unify Sedgwick’s points on the erotic triangle and homosexuality through further elaboration, I shift the focus to Women in Love and probe into the roots of the relationship between Gerald and Rupert in order to do so. The first description of their relationship occurs in the second chapter, following a brief interaction between the characters. In a friendly argument, Birkin takes a Freudian stance in accusing Gerald of first desiring to cut everybody’s throat and then being afraid of being murdered. The inherent violence of the discussion is evident; but before further examining the implications of the topic, examine how Lawrence follows this by stepping back from their dialogue in the narrative and disclosing the psychological and emotional background of their relationship:

        There was a pause of strange enmity between the two men, that was very near to love. It was always the same between them; always their talk brought them into a deadly nearness of contact, a strange, perilous intimacy which was either hate or love, or both....They burned with each other, inwardly. This they would never admit. They intended to keep their relationship a casual free-and-easy friendship, they were not going to be so unmanly and unnatural as to allow any heart-burning between them. They had not the faintest belief in deep relationship between man and man, and their disbelief prevented any development of their powerful but suppressed friendliness. (33-34)
        The presumable paradox of the first sentence and the repetition of violent adjectives reflect the aforementioned erotic triangle. As their argument implies, their bond has elements of competitiveness on top of its violent undertones. Gerald and Rupert are rivals; however, in this case, a particular woman is not the focus of their pursuit but the female herself. As men, they represent parts of a possible whole. Where one embodies masculinity and mechanization, the other embraces nature and spirituality. Their involvement with the Brangwen sisters completes the triangle. They women form the apex while the relationship of rivalry occurs at the base.

        This point aside, other elements of Sedgwick’s introductory chapter appear in Lawrence’s description. The paragraph reveals the repression of the true relationship which the characters enforce. They know that they "burn" for one another. They do not fail to realize it but rather to "admit" it. Furthermore, their intentions include a "free-and-easy relationship" setting up what they truly desire as the opposite. As the rest of the sentence reveals, this kind of relationship lacks the kind of "heart-burning" which they have for one another. Finally, the last sentence and a half divulge justification for their repression. They feel the need to avoid being "unmanly and unnatural;" so this implies their desire for intimacy and possibly sodomy. Also, they simply do not believe in the possibility of a "deep" relationship between two men. However, Freud would argue that through negation, the very consideration of this matter means that they do believe in the possibility. So why the suppression and the restrictions? As previously mentioned in Sedgwick’s argument, the importance of femininity within a society dictates the balances between homosexuality and mere companionship between men. In the wake of Wilde’s trial and the beginning of modern homosexuality, Gerald and Rupert must each exercise caution in the development of their relationship out of homophobia. Their society imposes their fears upon them, in conflict with the true desires inside. While this passage allows this idea to be evident, it only forms the foundation for their relationship. It does not distinguish it as homosexual but at the very least leans toward the idea of Sedgwick’s male homosocial desire.

        In terms of this relationship, the first major shift appears in the chapter fittingly entitled "Man to Man." However, an examination of Gerald’s behavior seems appropriate since he will offer more resistance or hesitation in the affair. Chapter VII opens on the morning after Gerald sleeps with Pussum in Halliday’s apartment. Gerald awakes and upon looking at his companion feels an "unsatisfied flame of passion" (77). Rather than wake her up to make love again, he wanders out into the sitting-room and finds Halliday and Maxim stark naked. Though Lawrence dodges any moments of clear homo-eroticism, repetitively justifying their nudity through the desire for simplicity and sensuality, the sexual implications of the scene are inevitable. However, this aspect does not carry as much weight as the homosocial idea behind their actions. The sitting-room serves as a shelter for the men, where they can lose their worries along with their clothes. The apartment closes its door to the inhibitions imposed by society, and the men can reduce themselves to their "true" state. For even Gerald thinks of clothes as an illusion, as Lawrence explains to the reader before this character strips as well (79). The whole scene seems to take place from Gerald’s perspective. He begins it by entering upon the naked men and ends it by leaving naked, his initial surprise and inhibition shed by the desire to join the men. As the chapter ends, Lawrence highlights the erotic triangle which includes Halliday and Gerald as the visit ends in confrontation and near violence, adding some possible psychological justification to the events.

        Unlike the previously mentioned chapters, "Man to Man" constantly appears in studies regarding the nature of Gerald and Rupert’s relationship. The scene takes a dramatic turn which begins when Gerald "looked at Birkin with penetrating eyes" (206). Craft would point out Lawrence’s choice of an adjective as indicative of Gerald’s desire for physical intimacy through sodomy. However, this penetration serves more clearly as a transition into each character’s respective feelings toward the other. Gerald uncharacteristically reveals insecurity and mistrust, as if he is afraid to commit himself to a deep relationship. "He knew Birkin could do without him -- could forget and not suffer," Lawrence writes (206). This describes the way Gerald treats his female lovers quite comfortably; but in this reversal of roles, he becomes the victim and shows hesitation to be treated the same way. Rupert, on the other hand, reflects on how to strengthen their bond and solve the "problem of love and eternal conjunction between two men" (206). He consciously admits his love and his consequent denial of it. His resolution then resolves from the idea of Blutbruderschaft, a union of blood. From the homosexual viewpoint and Craft’s argument, this desire for a mingling of blood again echoes sodomy and its consequent marriage of bodily fluids -- both blood and semen. For Spilka, the invocation of German knights implies the strengthening of brotherhood through ritualistic means. For both critics, the consummation or realization occurs later in "Gladiatorial." The apparent conflict between these ideas, which each author supports convincingly, can be resolved through Sedgwick’s idea of homosocial desire. Once again, each character’s inhibition and hesitation prevents the fulfillment of their passion. Rupert brings up the idea of the blood but quickly dismisses the physical aspect of it: "No wounds, that is obsolete.--But we ought to swear to love each other, you and I, implicitly and perfectly, finally, without any possibility of going back on it" (207). Gerald, despite the "luminous pleasure" in his face, can only respond with reservation, touching Rupert, "as if withheld and afraid." He wants to "leave it till I understand it better." Because of society’s crack in the continuum between companionship and homosexuality, Gerald cannot bring himself to make the full commitment. Perhaps he fears his own desires, or maybe his aforementioned insecurity prevents him. Either way, the lack of commitment foreshadows their eventual and tragic separation.

        In between this moment and the wrestling scene, each character advances his relationship with his respective Brangwen sister. In "Rabbit," Gerald symbolically and almost unwillingly follows through on the Blutbruderschaft idea. As he and Gundrun compare gashes from the rabbit’s claws, the eroticism builds towards an inevitable sexual consummation, beginning with the blood: "it was as if he had had knowledge of her in the long red rent of her forearm, so silken and soft. He did not want to touch her. He would have to make himself touch her, deliberately" (242). Gerald must force himself to "touch" Gudrun because he realizes the power of this moment, which was just described to him by Rupert. In her, he sees the heterosexual chance to fulfill his bloody desire of union. Hence, the woman becomes the object of fulfillment, reinforcing the erotic triangle. Likewise, Rupert realizes the necessity of giving himself to Ursula in "Moony" and owning her "golden light" (249). Only after these relationships are solidified will Rupert and Gerald be able to come together, physically entwined.

    Before the actual wrestling occurs in "Gladiatorial," both men refuse a drink. Stripped naked and about to engage in physical contact, the idea of something which would further reduce their inhibition scares them. Once again, nudity unites them in a homosocial bond, but here the eroticism is inescapable:

        So the two men entwined and wrestled with each other, working nearer and nearer...He seemed to penetrate into Gerald’s more solid, more diffuse bulk, to interfuse his body through the body of the other, as if to bring it subtly into subjection, always seizing with some rapid necromantic foreknowledge every motion of the other flesh, converting it and counteracting it, playing upon the limbs and trunk of Gerald like some hard wind. It was as if Birkin’s whole physical intelligence interpenetrated into Gerald’s body, as if his fine sublimated energy entered into the flesh of the fuller man, like some potency, casting a fine net, a prison, through the muscles into the very depths of Gerald’s physical being. (270)
        Lawrence repeats the ideas of flesh and penetration in the interaction; even intelligence is physical. The two characters violently melt into one another -- violent not because of resistance as in a rape but because of their struggle to unite such different beings. Spilka dismisses both the theory of sexual gratification and that of consummation of friendship in order to title the event a "spontaneous rite" (79). He claims that they unite in spirit, taking this step beyond heterosexual marriage only in order to make marriage possible. Also, he carefully distinguishes between sexual love and sensual love, which he attributes to the wrestling (80). In essence, his is a physical but nonsexual male communion, religiously parallel to marriage while at the same time necessary for the latter’s possibility. On the other hand, Craft proposes a total homosexual experience, in which the reader is a voyeur, watching the wrestling of two lovers, bodies, characters, as well as class, race, society, and authors (144). For him, the homosexuality can only be experienced in light of the influence of all these factors not despite them. The homosexual desire fulfills itself through violence, with wrestling as a substitution for sodomy. While the sexual parallel cannot be denied, down to the exhaustion following the act as they collapse into each others arms (which Craft parallels with "falling" in love on page 143), the homosocial idea once again unites both theories. Through the masculine action of wrestling, the characters engage in non-genital love, a result of homophobia. By engaging in this male bonding, they reinforce their heterosexuality while fulfilling their homosocial desires. They unite physically without indulging in acts they feel are reserved for heterosexual love.

        In order to fully understand the implications of such an act, it is necessary to step back and ground the argument in Lawrence’s feelings about homosexuality itself. As support for his ideas, Spilka argues that Lawrence rejected homosexuality and points to the character of Loerke as well as Ursula’s apparent lesbian activity in The Rainbow (74). Craft also brings up Loerke’s homosexuality for his opposing argument; but in the hopes of restraining the scope of my argument within the text, I point instead to Lawrence’s other writings and avoid Loerke for the moment. In his "Prologue" to Women in Love, which Lawrence does not include in the final draft of the novel, he spends the majority of the chapter describing Rupert’s love and desire for men. He does so here in a much more direct and comprehensive manner than anywhere else throughout the book. Take the following passage for example:

He could never acquiesce to his own feelings, to his own passion. He could never grant that it should be so, that is was well for him to feel this keen desire to have and to possess the bodies of such men, the passion to bathe in the very substance of such men, the substance of living, eternal light, like eternal snow, and the fluz of heavy, rank-smelling darkness. (514)
        While other parts point even more towards a physically intimate, homosexual desire, this one allows for examinations of both sides. Craft would pick out the obvious sexual elements of the chapter and in this passage point to the final words as indicative of Rupert’s hunger for sodomy, the absolute homosexual consummation. However, Rupert’s desire transcends the sexual aspects. He wants to "bathe in the very substance" of men, to "possess" them, to become one with them. The act of sex cannot capture the spiritual desire which possesses him. What Rupert wants is to become the ultimate male, to control bodies and minds which he does not have on his own, to be united in a homosocial nature, away from women and the heterosexual demands of society. The fear of his desire, the unwillingness to give in arises from his homophobic learning, his mind associating any such desire with the homosexual tendencies branded as taboo by society. In this light, the wrestling, the blood vow, and his endless wish to have a true relationship with a man, takes on this purely homosocial principle, one nonetheless filled with desire but not of a homosexual, genital nature.

        Finally, I turn to Lawrence’s writings in Fantasia of the Unconscious. Here, he emphasizes the difference between men and women: "Every single living cell is either male or female, and will remain either male or female as long as life lasts. And every single cell in every male child is male, and every cell in every female child is female. The talk about a third sex, or about the indeterminate sex, is just to pervert the issue" (131). Hence, the relationship between Gerald and Rupert should not be characterized as homosexual, as if their true intimate desire lies in the physical consummation of their relationship. Lawrence later goes into detail about the act of sex itself, writing: "The psychoanalysts, driving us back to the sexual consummation always, do us infinite damage. We have to break away, back to the great unison of manhood in some passionate purpose. Now this is not like sex" (152). In this writing, he makes the effort to distinguish this higher "purpose," only attainable among men, and the act of sex. They differ greatly in meaning, partners, and value. His primitive call of returning to a homosocial setting does not leave room for sex itself; yet it does allow for passion, which supports Rupert’s desire.

        Many aspects of the homosocial relationship between Rupert and Gerald remain to be explored, such as the resulting misogyny towards women and the fate of each couple’s erotic triangle. However, the argument of male homosocial desire stands as the basis for their relationship. Because of the woman’s role in the society, Rupert and Gerald’s union comes to a tragic end, commitment unfulfilled. As Ursula put it, "You can’t have two kinds of love...because it’s false, impossible" (481). Because of this dominant view, the homophobia imposed upon Rupert and Gerald led to hesitation and death of the reluctant masculinity. But Lawrence, through Rupert, allows hope for a homosocial environment, which breaks free of the demands of heterosexuality as he answers back, "I don’t believe that."
 
 

 Works Cited

 Craft, Christopher. Another Kind of Love: Male Homosexual Desire in English Discourse, 1850-1920. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

Lawrence, D.H. Fantasia of the Unconscious. New York: Thomas Seltzer, Inc., 1930.

Lawrence, D.H. Women in Love. England: Penguin Books, 1995.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial  Desire. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

Spilka, Mark. "No Man’s Land."  In Twentieth Century Interpretations of Women in Love.  Ed. Stephen J. Miko. New Jersey: Prentice -Hall, 1969.