English 272D
Fall 1998
Wollaeger
Obviously Hidden
 Molly Martin
 
 

In Women in Love, Gerald Crich sublimates his homosexual inclinations in favor of the more traditional and acceptable relationship with Gudrun. He neglects his true sexual and social needs by denying himself the love of another man, Rupert Birkin. The canceled chapter, "Prologue," depicts the bond between the two men that will never receive acknowledgment. Gerald, automatically denying the male/male connection, mistakes his need for a maternal figure, a replacement mother, for physical and emotional desire for the love of a female. The homoeroticism of the "gladiatorial" scene, considerably more orgasmic than the love scenes with Gudrun, betrays Geralds need for male passion. However, unable to reconcile his homosexual affection for a man, Gerald practices a form of negation, repressing it and disallowing himself the potential happiness of that experience. This dichotomy, a reflection of the standards of society, drives the man into his melancholy state. This ambiguity of need and of emotion mirrors the conflict of the author, D. H. Lawrence. Openly he presented an aversion to homosexuality, but his writings often indicate otherwise.

Gerald’s emptiness necessitates companionship, but he is unable to derive true pleasure from any relationship because he never accepts the truth about himself. Gudrun plays an essential role in the man’s life, but she can not satisfy him while he ignores what attracts him to her. She substitutes for his mother in this novel, because Mrs. Crich does not act in a maternal fashion. Her instincts toward motherhood faded as time progressed:

Her children, for whom she had been so fierce in her youth, now meant scarcely anything to her. She had lost all that, she was quite by herself. Only Gerald, the gleaming, had some existence for her. But of late years, since he had become head of the business, he too was forgotten. (Women 218)
 
 
In the past, the mother had connected with her children, and maintained the appropriate affection for her son until recent years. Gerald himself notices the change in his mother; after his sister’s death, he explains to Birkin: I don’t know. It’s a shock, of course. But I don’t believe mother minds. I really don’t believe she takes any notice. And what’s so funny, she used to be all for the children-nothing mattered, nothing whatever mattered but the children. And now, she doesn’t take any more notice than if it was one of the servants. (Women 203)
 
 
This loss pervades the very being of Gerald and leaves him with an emptiness that he cannot define. Crich senses the void which must be filled, but can not understand his own needs well enough to realize that he does not need a girlfriend or a wife.

Gerald desperately attempts to insert Gudrun in the stead of the emotionally absent mother. Unknowingly, he establishes a sexual relationship, mistaking the nature of his needs. What he takes from his mutually unsatisfactory connection with Gudrun reflects a mother’s role as a comforter and a healer in the life of her son:

And she, she was the great bath of life. Mother and substance of all life she was. And he, child and man, received of her and was made whole. His pure body was almost killed. But the miraculous, soft effluence of her breast suffused over him, over his seared, damaged brain, like a healing lymph, like a soft, soothing flow of life itself, perfect as if he were bathed in the womb again…The lovely, creative warmth flooded through him like a sleep of fecundity within the womb…Like a child at the breast, he cleaved intensely to her, and she could not put him away…He was infinitely grateful, as to a God, or as an infant to a mother’s breast. He was glad a grateful like a delirium, as he felt his own wholeness come over him again, as he felt the full, unutterable sleep coming over him, the sleep of complete exhaustion and restoration. (Women 344-5)
 
 
Gerald derives his physical and emotional pleasure through relation to the womb and infancy, periods when the child is wholly reliant on the mother. Gerald’s relationship with Gudrun revolves around this dependency. He seeks sleep and the flow of healing from her, indicating his desire for a connection which cannot be achieved. This flow is the sustenance a mother gives to her child; no other relationship can recreate this bond. Also, the repetition in this passage, as we get into the head of the needy man, resembles a child’s thought and speech pattern, focusing on a need and emphasizing it as necessary. Toward the end of the novel, Gudrun becomes aware of Gerald’s impetus throughout the relationship: "What then! Was she his mother? Had she asked for a child, whom she must nurse through the nights, for her lover. She despised him, she despised him, she hardened her heart. An infant crying in the night, this Don Juan" (Women 466). Gudrun resents the use Gerald has made of her, employing her as a maternal substitute, receiving the bounties of her womanhood deceptively and erecting in her the comforter and healer he needs.

A version of the Oedipus complex seems to drive Gerald in his futile quest for Gudrun’s love. Freud explains this phenomenon of male children:

When a boy (from the age of two or three) has entered the phallic phase of his libidinal development, is feeling pleasurable sensations in his sexual organ and has learned to procure these at will by manual stimulation, he becomes his mother’s lover. He wishes to possess her physically in such ways as he has divined from his observations and intuitions about sexual life. (Outline 46)
 
 
Gerald, having transformed himself into the child dependent on the mother, has replaced the real Mrs. Crich with Gudrun and thus experiences the confusion between the two types of love which is concomitant with the Oedipus complex. The man envisions Gudrun as his maternal figure, providing him with the comfort denied him by his actual mother and consequently sexualizes her. Freud’s theory involves also the extreme hatred one feels toward any rival or threat to and exclusive relationship with the mother. Thus, Gerald seethes with envy and contempt for Loerke, whom Gudrun fancies. Indeed as Freud explains, Oedipus, once coming to the realization of his actions, inflicts self-punishment upon himself. Gerald enacts the portion of the complex as well, thrusting himself from the painful situation and into the deadly cold winter, which will encapsulate and kill him. Caught in a web of confusion and mistaken emotions, Gerald suffers endlessly his inability to build a relationship.

The nature of the sexual encounters that Gerald participates under the confines of the traditional heterosexual relationship betray the inadequacy and the lack of true pleasure. The overt homoeroticism indicates a physical bond between the two men, Gerald, and Birkin, unrivaled in the novel. The "Gladiatorial" scene, outwardly a play at some Japanese wrestling, contains multiple allusions to a sexual situation. The diction lends itself quite readily to physical sexuality. Homoeroticism pervades the scene as the two men engage in this intensely personal, intimate, and naked contact. The struggle begins rather innocently, but quickly elevates to a scene in which the main focus is the contact between the flesh of the two men: "they became more accustomed to each other, to each other’s rhythm, they got a kind of mutual physical understanding. And then they had a real struggle. They seemed to drive their white flesh into a oneness" (Lawrence, Women 270). Just as sexual partners are expected to unite themselves, Gerald and Birkin create a "oneness" and find a shared rhythm and understanding. Soon after, Lawrence reaffirms this unification of the two bodies into one: "the physical junction of two bodies clinched into oneness" (Women 270). This repeated stress on the two bodies becoming one with such intimate contact exemplifies a functional sexual situation. The author emphasizes the togetherness of these two bodies as the action becomes a single action: not Gerald doing one thing and Birkin responding, but rather a single unit performing a single act: "So they wrestled swiftly, rapturously, intent and mindless at last, two essential white figures ever working into a tighter, closer oneness" (Women 270). Despite being separate entities, the intense physical connection breaks down the barriers of each individual and effects the creation of a cohesive unit.

When discussing the sexual relations of Gerald and Gudrun, Lawrence does not mark the relationship with the unity evident in the contact between Gerald and Birkin. On the contrary, the intimate contact in between the male and female partners does not effect the "oneness" that is so vital for the two men. Gudrun cannot accept her lover as her all, and will never be able to do so. Gudrun emotions as she reflects upon the recent consummation of her relationship with Gerald expose the rift: "They would never be together. Ah, this awful, inhuman distance which would always be interposed with violent wakefulness, cast out in the outer darkness" (Women, 346). This couple can never experience fulfillment through heterosexual relations. Always there is an inequality of some sort, an inequality which companionship between two men does not involve, for their homoerotic meetings are not ones of domination and subjection, as is the relationship he shares with Gudrun.

Throughout the "Gladiatorial" scene Lawrence employs multiple images of penetration, images which are certainly laden with sexual connotations. He describes the struggle: "He impinged invisibly upon the other man…and then suddenly piercing in a tense fine grip that seemed to penetrate into the very quick of Gerald’s being" (Women 269-70), and then later: "He seemed to penetrate into Gerald’s more solid, more diffuse bulk, to interfuse his body through the body of the other" (Women 270). The author’s word choice is very sexually suggestive in these passages. Terms such as "impinge," "piercing," "penetrate," and "interfuse" cross the line from a simple wrestling scene to an act of sodomy. Lawrence reiterates this body-entering-body imagery:

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. (Women 270)
 
 
Again, words such as "interpenetrated" and phrases such as "into the very depths of Gerald’s physical being" and "Entered into the flesh" describe actions easily interpretable as sexual entrances into the body. The author unabashedly throws open the door for sexual references in this scene.

Throughout this scene there is a very definite rhythmic pattern. Thus the author establishes a flow of activity and inactivity resembling a sexual act. The use the present participle heightens the excited passion throughout the encounter. Lawrence uses "heaving," "converting," "counteracting," and "piercing" (Women 270) to draw the reader directly into the action and consequently experience the eroticism as it occurs. He continues with this incessant use of this verb form, continually bringing life to the action of wrestling, of intimacy. The participants are "working," "knotting," and "flashing" (Women 270) as they proceed to the climax of the wrestling match. At the height of the action, of the passion, the author employs auditory phrases so that the reader may hear both men in their excitement: "Now and again came a sharp gasp of breath, or a sound like a sigh, then the rapid thudding of movement on the thickly-carpeted, then the strange sound of flesh escaping under flesh" (Women 270). They reach this stage of "rapid thudding" and the prose does not let this fact escape the reader. Following this combustion of action, the final stages of the fighting, there is a very rhythmic breathing as the two men recover from their erotic and physical encounter. Lawrence’s language blatantly appears post-orgasmic in its nature:

At length Gerald lay back inert on the carpet, his breast rising in great slow panting, whilst Birkin kneeled over him, almost unconscious. Birkin was more exhausted. He caught little, short breaths, he could scarcely breathe anymore. The earth seemed to tilt and sway… (Women 271)
 
 
The two men, having tested their physical limits, recuperate in their own ways. Gerald slowly breathes, and thus his recovery is described with longer, more flowing phrases. Birkin’s exhaustion outweighs that of Gerald and thus his breaths, much like the sentences Lawrence uses to convey those breaths are short and staccato. Lawrence intentionally manipulates the language so as to illuminate the pace of this gladiatorial scene and to convey the underlying eroticism.

The body plays a large role in this depiction of Gerald and Birkin wrestling each other in such an intimate fashion. Lawrence describes each man in his nakedness as they prepare to "fight." No such elaboration on the nudity of the lovers exists in the heterosexual associations. Then, during the entire passage, the author frequently refers the reader to certain parts of the men’s bodies, particularly the flailing limbs. Birkin is "playing upon the limbs and trunk of Gerald like some hard wind" (Women 270). Then later, the two males exhibit an "octopus-like knotting and flashing of limbs…a tense white knot of flesh gripped in silence" (Women 270). These limbs are in constant motion; they are entwined and free to move. The physicality of this struggle mirrors the closeness of sexual encounters. In addition to limbs, Lawrence pays close attention to the heart and blood. The loud beat of the heart controls the passion within Birkin following the wrestling:

He came to consciousness again, hearing an immense knocking outside. What could be happening, what was it, the great hammer-strokes resounding through the house? He did not know. And then it came to him that it was his own heart beating. But that seemed impossible, the noise was outside. No, it was inside himself, it was his own heart. And the beating was painful, so strained, so surcharged. (Women 271)
 
 
Birkin’s passions have been so much so raised, he has become so connected with Gerald that he can no longer distinguish his own heart as a part of his body, throbbing after his excitement. This inability to realize even the sensation of his own pulse betrays the true homoerotic nature of the physical contact which he has just shared with Gerald because it indicates that the contact drives him beyond the body. The pleasure transcends simple touch.

The use of color throughout the gladiatorial match and the love scenes in Gudrun’s chamber also mark a distinction between the two types of sexuality. Throughout the description of Birkin and Gerald wrestling, Lawrence constantly uses white images. Gerald’s movements are "white, heaving, dazzling" (Women 270) and the two together form "a tense, white knot of flesh" (Women 270). White represents not only goodness and peace, but also intense heat, as of an uncontrollable passion. Also the author notes that "Gerald flushed smart red where he was touched" (Women 270). Red is the color of love and of passion, such as these two share, though it is cloaked in the form of wrestling. On the other hand, the scene involving the heterosexual couple seems to revolve around darkness, an indication of impurity and evil. The black of night envelops Gerald and Gudrun during their escapades in "Death and Love." Both the bridge and her bedroom provide dimly lit environments in which their sexual encounters may occur. Only a "faint, white light emitted from him, a white aura, as if he were a visitor from the unseen" (Women 331). Even this departure from pure blackness is qualified by the mysteriousness associated with it. This juxtaposition of sexuality and color elucidates the importance of the homoeroticism in the lives of the men. The whiteness, as both purity and passion, is derived only from the male relationship, while evil lurks in the darkness of the traditional, heterosexual relationships.

Lawrence’s own sexuality, wavering from staunchly heterosexual to ambiguously bisexual, plays into this text. A married man who openly mocked homosexuality, thus following the common strain of the day, the author apparently explored alternative routes to sexual pleasure without ever actually declaring himself gay. He scolds a friend, David Garnett, for his sexual choices in a letter dating to April of 1915:

It is foolish to say that it doesn’t matter either way-the men loving men. It doesn’t matter in the public way. But it matters so much David, to the man himself-at any rate to us northern nations-that it is a blow of triumphant decay, when I meet Birrel or the others. I simply can’t bear it. It is so wrong, it is unbearable. It makes a form of inward corruption which truly makes me scarce able to live. (Letters 97)
 
 
Here Lawrence follows the trend of assailing this non-traditional lifestyle. He describes the love between to men as potentially cataclysmic, a danger to all peoples. It is this very notion that prevents Gerald from succumbing to his true desires.

Despite this strongly stated opposition to homosexuality, Lawrence at the least very confronted his own sexuality in a questioning manner. In a biography of the man, Brenda Maddox explains that deep down Lawrence perhaps feared that there was this other side to him:

The war had released in Lawrence a terror that he might be homosexual. He could not hide from himself his attraction to Murry’s neat trim body, handsome square face, dark eyes. That this panic coincided with his obsession with Rananim suggests that what he really sought to escape was a despised part of himself. (Maddox 202)
 
 
Thus the dichotomy emerges in Lawrence. He lies torn between two worlds: what he considers the ideal and what he considers grotesque. However, he cannot simply eliminate the grotesque from his mind, because the urges run through his body. Maddox further describes Lawrence’s situation: "Homosexuality, for Lawrence, threatened more than the criminality and social ostracism of the time. It meant being locked in the tomb of himself and his own sex, shut off from Woman, the unknown and the current of life" (Maddox 203) Some biographers even suggest that Lawrence experimented sexually, with a man named William Henry Hocking, a relationship seemingly described in his novel Kangaroo. Maddox expands on Lawrence’s straying from his purported heterosexual lifestyle: "Frieda [his wife] never denied the Hocking episode. To Murry she later said ‘I think the homosexuality in him was a short phase out of misery-I fought him and won’" (Maddox 238). Lawrence perhaps went to the arms of another man, but at a low point in his life, and he was never able to openly admit his sexuality, except in the guise of his literary works, in which his voice could be surreptitiously imposed upon one or more of the characters.

Beyond the blatant homoeroticism contained in the "Gladiatorial" scene, there is also a social or emotional bond between the two men, indicative of a relationship considerably more potent and passionate than a friendship. Gerald finds himself inextricably drawn to Birkin: "Gerald was held unconsciously by the other man. He wanted to be near him, he wanted to be within his sphere of influence. There was something very congenial to him in Birkin" (Women 59). He can not explain the draw, but feels that it is "congenial," natural and agreeable. This word seems to indicate that although Gerald repeatedly asserts himself as a heterosexual, he knows the true nature of his sexuality. Gerald’s true feelings become evident again later in the text, when he visits the sick Birkin: "The two men had a deep, uneasy feeling for each other," and then "Gerald really loved Birkin, though he never quite believed in him" (Women 201). These glimpses into Gerald’s emotions depict a mutual relationship that transcends average friendship. This bond is "uneasy" because of the very fact that it is very closely related to homosexuality and that is a frightening prospect for Gerald. Also, Gerald’s visit immediately follows Birkin’s meditation on the concept of star equilibrium. This juxtaposition implicates Gerald quite heavily in his friend’s innovative theory on the ideal in love.

The canceled "Prologue" to Women in Love, not published along with the rest, unequivocally establishes the extraordinary friendship between the two major male characters in the novel. This portion of the story describes the first meeting of Gerald Crich and Rupert Birkin. In the early days of their acquaintance, evidence of a mutual and rather deep attachment accumulates. Lawrence originally intended to open the novel with "The acquaintance between the two was slight and insignificant. Yet there was a subtle bond that connected them" (Women 499). With these lines commencing the novel, Lawrence was setting a precedent for the focus of the entire tale. The tale would revolve around the relationship between these two, as Lawrence sparks the reader’s interest with mention of this ambiguous and intricate connection. As the novel was published, the opening scene involves the two Brangwen sisters and for that reason, their crucial relationships drive the novel. This adjusted entrance into the story bears a very heterosexual stance. Lawrence consequently diverts the reader’s, and perhaps his own, attention away from that obsession of his: homosexuality.

Lawrence continues to develop this intense and mysterious attraction between Gerald and Birkin throughout the discarded chapter. Gerald and Birkin are linked to each other in an unexplainable fashion, despite limited contact. At the very first meeting, each senses the bond:

Birkin and Gerald Crich felt take place between them, the moment they saw each other, that sudden connection which sometimes springs up between men who are very different in temper. There had been a subterranean kindling in each man. Each looked towards the other, and knew the trembling nearness. (Women 499)
 
 
This passage implies much more than a bond of friendship. The feelings derive from the "subterranean" depths of each man. These homosexual undercurrents stem from the very core of both Birkin and Gerald. Moreover, these instantaneous emotions elicit "trembling," a sensation certainly not regularly associated with casual meetings. There is much more between these two men. However, neither man is prepared to overtly acknowledge these shared feelings, so strong and so deep On the station they shook hands, and went asunder, having spoken no word and given no sign of the transcendent intimacy which had roused them beyond the everyday life…Yet there remained always, for Birkin and for Gerald Crich, the absolute recognition that had passed between them then, and the knowledge that was in their eyes as they met at the moment of parting. They knew they loved each other, that each would die for the other.

Yet all this knowledge was kept submerged in the soul of the two men. Outwardly they would have none of it. (Women 500).
 
 

Each man commits himself to his own secrecy, repressing, or "submerging," the wills of their souls. Lawrence here describes the most intimate of terms for two friends, laden with a sense of homosexuality. Yet, the author, just like his characters, will not let free these feelings. The deep feeling continue throughout the "Prologue" chapter: All the same, there was no profession of friendship, no open mark of intimacy. They remained to all intents and purposes distant, mere acquaintances. It was in the other world of the subconsciousness that the interplay took place, the interchange of spiritual and physical richness, the relieving of physical and spiritual poverty, without any intrinsic change of state in either man. (Women 503)
 
 
Although the intercourse between Gerald and Rupert is below the surface, this passage seemingly defines the ideal sexual and emotional relationship.

In her biography of him, Maddox proposes that Lawrence’s complete obsession with all male relationships grows out of his overriding interest in relationships in general and specifically with his marriage. She explains that his union with Frieda needed mending and it spurred an evaluation that stretched beyond the confines of heterosexuality:

The enigma of Lawrence’s preoccupation with homosexuality must be weighed against his unswerving wish to get right the relation between male and female. Or even just between himself and Frieda. He was still deeply disturbed by their (or, as he saw it, his) failure to achieve simultaneous orgasm. (Maddox 276)
 
 
Lawrence’s fascination with this alternative to traditional love grew perhaps out of his feelings of inadequacy or just a period of general questioning. Even in his 1930 treatise on the symbiotic necessity of a relationship between males and females, We Need One Another, Lawrence ranks homosocial bonds as important: "Now there are two great relationships possible to human beings: the relationship of man to woman, and the relationship of man to man. As regards to both, we are in a hopeless mess" (One Another 35). This connection between two men Lawrence seemingly values above motherhood, fatherhood, kinship, and friendship. Innovative and experimental seems the author now, rather than a man subjecting himself to the norm and neglecting his own needs.

Despite the apparent perfection of his bond with Birkin, as it develops from the moment they meet, Gerald insists upon sublimating any homosexual tendencies, thus sacrificing his own happiness. On multiple occasions, Gerald rejects Rupert’s attempts to formalize and to acknowledge their deep connection. Gerald does not accept his homosexual feelings and must maintain the pretense of heterosexuality. To Birkin’s suggestion that they swear their love to each other, a love they both feel, Gerald hesitates, saying, "We’ll leave it till I understand it better" (Women 207). He excuses himself, justifying it with a plea of ignorance. Rather he denies his feelings in favor of the image he has produced for himself. Later in the novel, Gerald again favors a rejection of Birkin’s offer of true love, a love separate from and in addition to marriage:

The other way was to accept Rupert’s offer of love, to enter into the bond of pure trust and love with the other man, and then subsequently with the woman. If he pledged himself with the man he would later be able to pledge himself with the woman: not merely in legal marriage, but in absolute, mystic marriage.

Yet he could not accept he offer. There was a numbness upon him, a numbness either of unborn, absent volition, or of atrophy. Perhaps it was the absence of volition. For he was strangely elated at Rupert’s offer. Yet he was still more glad to reject it, not to be committed. (Women 353)

Gerald can not commit himself to any bond of the sort: it is a blatant admission of homosexual tendencies, although it allows one the pretense of love with woman. He is numb because he does not submit himself to his own will. He is numb because he is rejecting the love he desires and needs. He is numb because society would prefer it that way.

D. H. Lawrence composes, in Women in Love, a novel replete with overtones of homosexuality. He betrays his own ambiguity of sexuality through the decisions of his characters. Gerald represents the man beholden to the traditions of his people, traditions which scorn alternative routes to pleasure, particularly sexually "abnormal" modes of pleasure-seeking. Gerald sublimates his true needs, namely Birkin and the love he offers, and turns instead toward the poor substitute mother, in whom he combines the maternal and the sexual. Lawrence writes these deep homosexual emotions into his characters perhaps as a means of reconciling comparable feelings that he himself is trying to repress. In a socially stifling climate, Lawrence explores relatively uncharted portions of the human psyche, but is unable to collapse into the passion.
 

Works Cited
Boulton, James T., ed. The Selected Letters of D. H. Lawrence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

Freud, Sigmund. An Outline of Psycho-Analysis. Trans. James Strachey. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1969.

Lawrence, D. H. We Need One Another. New York: Equinox, 1933.

Lawrence, D. H. Women in Love. New York: Penguin Books, 1987.

Maddox, Brenda. D. H. Lawrence: The Story of a Marriage. New York: Simon and Shuster, 1994.
 

Works Consulted
Boone, Joseph. Libidinal Currents: Sexuality and the Shaping of Modernism. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Freud, Sigmund. A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis. Garden City, New York: Garden City Publishing Company, 1943.

Lawrence, D. H. Fantasia of the Unconscious. New York: The Viking Press, 1960.