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M. C. Dillon LOVE IN WOMEN IN LOVE: A PHENOMENOLOGICAL ANALYSIS Despite his sexism, his turgid prose, and his antiquated social conscience , Lawrence is on every bookshelf. This is not merely because of the vicarious erotic entertainment to be found in the saga of John Thomas and Lady Jane, but because Lawrence remains a major guru of romance. We take him seriously, look to him for guidance, measure ourselves against Ursula and Birkin. If he is on our shelves—and his thoughts not far from our pillows—then his ideas starid in need of scrutiny. Women in Love is as much a treatise as a novel: we witness more talking about than making of love. The agon of ideas engulfs the agon of flesh. Hence, the book suits the present purpose. It cannot be taken as Lawrence's definitive statement on love—later works, notably Lady Chatterly's Lover, move in different directions—but it is his most philosophical treatment and, I think, most clearly expresses his conceptual framework, the parameters which define and limit his thinking. What he says about love in Women in Love may therefore illumine his depictions of the behavior of lovers in other works. Lawrence is a romantic. In the popular sense of the word he is one who makes of romance or erotic adventure a dominant life value. Lawrence is also a romantic in another sense insofar as he takes the transcendence or unattainability of the other as essential to the project of loving. These two senses are conceptually compatible but existentially in conflict. That is, if one's major undertaking in life is to seek erotic satisfaction, and if one desires only so long as the object is beyond reach, then one has established the groundwork for continual frustration. This, I will try to show, is what Lawrence has done. I Many writers have tried to bring the ideas implicitly present in and constitutive of romantic love to the level of explicit reflective awareness. 190 M.C.Dillon191 The most successful treatment I know is given by a writer who did not know—or at least did not say—that he was writing about romantic love. Sartre purports to reveal the inner structures of love itself—the unqualified, unrestricted essence of love. As I have tried to show elsewhere,1 he fails at this. But he succeeds admirably in unveiling the inner contradictions of romantic love. Our project here is to draw upon Sartre's insights: first, to develop a conception of romantic love, and then to discern the model of Eros which informs Women in Love. The key idea in romantic love is transcendence. Something is transcendent when it is beyond me, when I cannot adequately prehend it conceptually or master it with my will. The role of transcendence in romantic love is demonstrated clearly in Denis de Rougemont's book on Love in the Western World.2 There he shows that Tristan's passion for Iseult is directly proportional to her distance from him: he is increasingly attracted as she becomes further removed. On the other hand, when through various deeds of gallantry and subterfuge, he succeeds in winning her to his side, he loses interest and must create circumstances which put her again beyond his reach. The culmination of romantic love, according to de Rougemont, is death—it sets the other absolutely beyond reach. It also arrests and preserves at their apices the youth and beauty of the lovers and the intensity of the erotic relationship. It is, I believe, this complex of ideas that led Kierkegaard to this cynical reflection on the nature of romantic love: "When two beings fall in love with one another and begin to suspect that they were made for each other, it is time to have the courage to break it off; for by going on they have everything to lose and nothing to gain."3 The same idea, qualified by increased optimism, underlies Stendhal's notion of crystallization in his book On Love.* Love is predicated on the attribution of perfection to the beloved. Just as a plain bough emerges from the salt-saturated waters of the Salzburg mines encrusted with beautiful crystals...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 190-208
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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